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The Paycheck Fairness Act: Blocked by Republican Senators Again

April 16, 2014

Micaela Edelson ’17 Inside Politics

On April 9, 2014, the motion to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked by the U.S. Senate Republicans. Two days prior, President Obama signed an executive order that would encourage federal contractors to make salary information more accessible, so women and minorities would be able to know if they were being paid unfairly.

However, the Senate did not agree with President Obama’s advancements toward gender pay equality. The Washington Post states that the Paycheck Fairness Act would have allowed employees to inquire about another employee’s wages in a complaint or investigation without the risk of employer retaliation. Thus, female employees would be allowed to check if they are receiving the same wages as their male counterparts. This act would also require employers to provide the Department of Labor with wage data, organized by race and gender, as well as display the wage differentials between males and females in the same job position. April 9th was the third time this act has been blocked in Congress; it was only six votes short of being open for debate.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the period of time available for women to sue on the basis of gender discrimination. This law allows the 180-day time period to file a lawsuit be reset with every paycheck that is affected by the discrimination. However, this act did little to stifle the evermore present gender pay inequality. Currently, females receive an average of seventy-seven cents for every dollar a male earns. This disparity is even present in the President’s administration. In 2011, female federal workers received an average salary of 93% of what their male colleagues received.

Gender wage equality falls under the category of civil rights. An employee should not be discriminated against based on gender, race, religion, sexuality, and numerous more defining characteristics. However, President Obama argues that “this is not just an issue of fairness…it’s also a family issue and an economic issue.” As women consist of half of the workforce, the disparity just decreases the amount of economic activity in the market.

One argument in opposition of this act that has been made all three times it has been rejected, is that one of the only results would be an increase in lawsuits against employers. Some Republican senators have even argued that this law is condescending to women. Senator Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) states, “Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns, and find it condescending [that] Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failure of their economic policy.”

The significance of this vote is that the act was not even opened for debate. If Senate Democrats and Republicans cannot even agree to debate the gender pay gap, it is unlikely that an agreement regarding the best approach to address the inequality will be reached anytime soon.

Ready For Hillary, But Is Hillary Ready For Us?

April 11, 2014

Spencer Bradley ’16  Women in Leadership

“I’m ready for Hillary,” was the campaign slogan for Hilary Clinton’s campaign slogan in 2012. But are we ready for Hillary Clinton anymore today than we were eight years ago? While considered the front runner of the Democratic Party, should she choose to accept the nomination, Hillary Clinton faces challenges to her potential presidential run. First and foremost is the double edged sword of her tenure as the Secretary of State.

Clinton’s foreign policy record has left a massive mark in the eyes of the voters, with the Huffington Post stating that, “Clinton even surpassed her former boss, President Obama, by 14 percentage points in the category of ‘strong and decisive’ leader.” The population is backing Hillary’s credentials, as indicated by her service in the ending of the Iraq war, the Arab Spring and the strengthening of American international reputation. The philosophy of the state department was extension of American friendship, which for the most part worked well with our allies. However, Clinton’s foreign policy record is tainted by two State Department legacies that will impact her potential of taking the election for the Democrats: Benghazi and missing funds.

Benghazi was a devastating event for the State Department, as well as the Obama administration, giving Republicans the ability to call for restructuring of the State Department for, “competency issues.” Bear in mind that, “Benghazi was a tragedy for which the State Department bore much responsibility; but, after the Bush years, the rest of the Administration’s record is no minor achievement.” The State Department was faced with the removal from the Middle East conflicts, as well as other engagements within the region. Clinton’s policy as Secretary of State was characterized as clean up of the Bush years. If Clinton can use that momentum against the war and conflicts in the region, then Benghazi may be hand waved away in the eyes of Independents and Democrats. If anything, as characterized by her strategy as Secretary enacting Obama’s policy to the letter, Clinton may run against her party’s image. However, what is dangerous to her potential as president is missing funds from the State Department.

A recent report found that six billion funds went unaccounted for during Clinton’s tenure. The six billion in unaccounted funds poses a “significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions,” according to the report. The loss of funds in a recession is troubling to any candidate and calls into question Clinton’s ability to lead her own department and manage her house. This will prove to be the second challenge to Clinton.

However, what is of note is the “double standard” applied to women in politics, with Nancy Pelosi agreeing to the views of Clinton,  “If Hillary Clinton thinks there is a double standard – she’s been in the main event, and that is a presidential race – then I respect that.” If Clinton were a man, perhaps the vitriol towards her character would be focused on the overall State Department, rather than one human being. Whether Clinton was personally involved is currently irrelevant, but until the loss of funds is explained, this will be the weakness that could prevent Clinton from carrying the Democrats to victory during the 2016 election.

Americans want a more transparent government. Missing funds does not speak highly of competency in government. What Clinton must do, in order to alleviate the concerns about her department’s transparency, is to go on the offensive. The longer this goes undisclosed, the more likely Republicans will mobilize this as a quality against her credentials. If she takes a page out of Chris Christie’s recent handling of his own scandal and let an investigation clear her, she would speak volumes to voters as a trust-worthy politician, a commodity in today’s political climate.

 

The Perception of Women in Leadership

April 10, 2014

Katerina Krohn ’17  Women in Leadership

After the large success of her book Lean In, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s new campaign has continued to keep people talking. Her campaign, “Ban Bossy,” is working to stop the use of the word “bossy.” After addressing unequal representation of women in professional leadership roles in her book, Sandberg’s new movement focuses its efforts on a younger crowd. Sandberg and her supporters believe that the term “bossy” is too often being used to describe women young and old. The term labels the confident actions of young women as a type of negative behavior. Sandberg’s bold move to denounce bossy has gained the support of not only her followers, but also big name celebrities such as Beyoncé and Condedoleeza Rice, who have also taken the pledge to help eliminate the term bossy.

The campaign’s website states, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” Sandberg is working to eliminate the word in order to allow girls to step up as leaders without fear that they will be labeled as bossy. To accomplish this goal, Sandberg has recently teamed up with the Girl Scouts of America. The Girls Scouts share the similar goal with Sandberg of promoting young women in leadership. Research from the Girl Scouts Research Institute found that 53% of young girls involved in girl scouts has been called bossy at least once. U.S. Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez recently explained, “Girls are twice as likely as boys to avoid leadership roles for fear of being deemed ‘bossy’ by their peers.” Disappointed by the current setbacks to girls in leadership, Girl Scouts has added banning bossy into their programming. The Girls Scouts will ban bossy and focus on building confident leadership in young women.

As the campaign begins to gain popularity, critics have begun to question whether or not Sandberg’s campaign is necessary. Some wonder whether eradicating bossy from dialogue will actually change the way that young women are viewed by others and themselves. Others are unconvinced that the use of bossy is even a problem, doubting that the word is actually being used to describe women disproportionately. The success of Sandberg’s campaign is still unclear, but studies have shown that the term bossy is clearly being used more frequently to describe females. Nic Subtirelu, a third year Ph.D. student in applied linguistics at Georgia State University, studied Google and literature in order to investigate the use of the word bossy. Subtirelu found that bossy is a gendered word, currently being used to refer to women 1.5 times more frequently than to men.

Sandberg’s campaign may or may not be able to clear the term bossy from everyday vocabulary, but the movements that she has started have already brought light to the topic of women in leadership. Time will tell if her movement can succeed in “banning bossy.”

Good News for the Republican Party

April 7, 2014

Yanet Gonzalez ’17  Inside Politics

Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 run for the presidency has the Democratic Party thrilled in hopes of maintaining their hold of the White House. The Republican Party, however, is feeling the pressure as they work hard to find a candidate capable of battling Clinton. Despite the fact that neither party has announced its official candidate and that the election is still two years away, people are anxiously anticipating this election, feeling that it would cause a major historical moment. Although it is difficult to avoid getting tangled up in the 2016 presidential election, the more pressing issue for both parties should be the primary elections which are scheduled to take place on November 4, 2014.

Currently, the Senate consists of 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two Independents. However, according to Natalie Silver from The New York Times, it would be possible for the Republican party to seize control of the Senate while also maintaining control of the House after the primaries. Of the 35 seats that are up for election, 21 are held by democrats, while only 14 are held by Republicans. Though the Republican Party is currently the minority, this could be beneficial for the primaries because it means that they would have fewer seats to defend in states that are likely to remain Republican. Recent polls show that Democrats are likely to retain 15-16 of the 21 seats that they currently hold, although five of those seats are highly contested today. The Republican Party has the opportunity to obtain senate seats for West Virginia, Montana, North Carolina, Louisiana and South Dakota. If they are successful in doing so, the 114th United States Congress will favor Republicans.

Though they would need to win 6 additional seats in order to get a simple majority, Obama’s low approval rating of 41% is paving the way for Republicans to control both the House and the Senate. A recent poll showed that over half of the American people are unhappy with direction in which Obama is taking the United States. The slow economic recovery and unsuccessful implementation of the Affordable Care Act have not helped Obama during his second term, and are likely to affect voter outcome this fall.

Over the past few years Obama has had difficulty working with the House, which has significantly stalled legislation and has prohibited the Democratic Party from moving forward with their agenda. A Republican controlled Congress would mean that Obama’s last two years in office would be even more ineffective. History has shown us that the stage in which a particular party leaves the country in greatly influences how constituents vote for the following election. The lack of action from the Democratic Party over these next two years could hurt any Democratic candidate seeking office in 2016. Although the upcoming presidential election is important, in order to be successful, both parties ought to prioritize the primary elections first.

 

 

 

 

Eisenhower’s Burden

April 4, 2014

Vishal Bajpai ’16  Inside Politics

Does anyone remember what President Eisenhower had to say about military spending? No, not the military-industrial complex bit. The other bit, the bit most people never talk about. He said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” He calls it a theft. War, however, is not like shop lifting or even robbing a bank. War requires many hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives. So this begs the question: who are the thieves and who are their victims?

Our government holds an interesting position in all of this. It is the only body that can legally declare war in our name and it is the only body that can manage large scale aid programs on a federal level. It is all too obvious that the government has been choosing war over aid.

In May 2005 British journalist, Michael Smith, published the “Downing Street memo” in The Sunday Times. The memo recounts secret meetings between British government senior officials before the Iraq War. Those to whom the memo was sent included British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, and the head of the Secret Intelligence Service Sir Richard Dearlove. Smith won a British Press Award in 2006 for his work on the memo.

The most telling parts of the memo were a report of Sir Dearlove’s recent visit to the Bush Whitehouse. Sir Dearlove referred to in the memo as “C” (Emphasis added):

“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

And the British analysis of U.S. intentions (Emphasis added):

“The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”

The memo clearly outlines that in 2002 the Bush Whitehouse had already decided that war was “inevitable” and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. The memo itself has been tacitly confirmed by Prime Minister Tony Blair who claimed that nothing in the document demonstrated misconduct on his or the Labor government’s part.

The Republicans are not, however, the only group in Washington. It is important to remember that the last two Secretaries of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, voted for the Iraq war. Clinton is a favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and Secretary of State Kerry was President Bush’s opponent in 2004. It is clearly not a party issue.

The victims from Eisenhower’s quote are obvious as well. President Eisenhower himself identifies them as, “[T]hose who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” While that seems like a nebulous group of people we can narrow it down to statistics that the government actually keeps.

According to the Census Bureau in September 2013, after accounting for government programs and assistance, differences in price levels due to geographic area, and size of family, the U.S. poverty rate is 16.1%. The World Bank estimates that there are 313.9 million people living in the United States of America. Simple arithmetic puts the figure at 50.5379 million Americans who are being robbed.

So when legislators argue that we need to cut the budgets and reign in spending on “superfluous” programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, social security, or subsidized housing I wonder where they found the 3 trillion dollars for a war whose case was at best “thin”. And yes, 3 trillion is the low-ball number calculated by Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist for the World Bank and Nobel Prize winner in Economics. High-ball estimates run all the way up to 6 trillion dollars.

According to President Eisenhower, 3 trillion dollars have been plundered; plundered from some 50 million impoverished Americans and 32,239 injured soldiers. That is $59,358.76 dollars for each of them; keep in mind that the average annual wage in the U.S. is $55,000. 3 trillion dollars have been withheld from 50,540,139 impoverished people. The victims in this situation are clear.

 

 

The CIA: Patriotic Guardian or Constitutional Nightmare?

April 3, 2014

Michael Simonson ’16  Inside Politics

The atrocities committed by international terrorists against the United States on September 11th, 2001 forever changed the nature of American domestic security. As a result, defense policy became the priority, and public support for it skyrocketed. Things like privacy concerns and constitutionality had to take a back seat in order for the intelligence community, specifically the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, The Agency), to meet the needs of America and its people, and with a great deal of success. However, part of the reason why the CIA was so successful is because The Patriot Act gave it the authority to effectively break established law. Yes, national security is extremely important, but at what cost?

The clandestine ethos of The Agency is controversial by nature, but questions about the constitutionality of CIA operations seemed to not matter given the implications of the 9/11 attacks. However, America has adopted a new mentality towards the CIA. Given the dramatic decrease in terrorist activity, public support for the boundless power of the The Agency has decreased, and as a result the intelligence community can no longer operate with impunity. The recent accusations against the CIA for spying on congress speak to the growing concern of the legal boundaries of the Agency.

On Tuesday March 11th, Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein publically accused the CIA of illegally monitoring the activity of the committee. In a quote from an article on The Guardian website, Feinstein said, “…the CIA had transgressed its constitutional boundaries and prompted a crisis.” Later in the article, it is stated: “The Senate committee holds that the CIA crossed over a digital border established to protect the legislative body’s independent review of the interrogation-related documents.”

In another article, published by The Intercept, Feinstein strengthens her case by specifically referencing the laws that she claims the CIA broke, “Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.” Feinstein is clearly angry with the CIA, and she has the right to be. But there is another side to the story. While the actions of the CIA are clearly questionable, what kind of implications could the investigation into the CIA have on national security?

A former member of the CIA once told me that good intelligence is when you don’t hear about terrorist attacks because they never happened, and that by its nature good intelligence goes unnoticed. With this in mind, maybe it would be a good idea to allow the CIA to continue its work. Just because we feel safe now doesn’t mean that we should start to limit the CIA’s power. Maybe the act of the CIA spying on congress could lead to better national security. The tricky part is that we may never know. On the other hand, the United States was founded on principles like freedom, independence, and limited government control. How can Americans allow the CIA to contradict fundamental American values by spying on its own government? Has the CIA gone too far, and if so do the ends justify the means?

Women Still Fighting for Equal Pay

April 2, 2014

Chloe Tomlinson ’15  Women In Leadership

Discrimination against women in the work place is still extremely prevalent. Twelve women from Sterling Jewelers, the largest specialty retail jeweler in the United States, have come together to file a lawsuit against their employer for the gender discrimination they have suffered over the years. The women state that not only do women receive less pay than the men in the jewelry stores, but many also have reported cases of sexual harassment. If the class is certified, over 44,000 women will potentially be able to join the case and receive compensation for their treatment at work.

One woman said that she was examining the records at her store and found that a newly hired man with no experience was receiving $1.50 an hour more than the woman who was the top-seller. This caused her to further investigate and as she looked deeper she noticed that this was common: women were receiving significantly less pay than the men, even though the women were often more qualified. The women are arguing that the upper management team, which is significantly male-dominated, created an environment that devalued women and their accomplishments.

At Sterling, women do not hold as many high-tier positions as men. Out of the 24 people who have held the position of Vice President for regional operations, only ¼ of them were women.

Sterling has not taken the allegations against harassment and gender discrimination seriously. According to the New York Times, Ms. Souto-Coons was told by her boss to write a complaint about sexual harassment against women in the work place. She then found out a few weeks later that the story was twisted to make it seem not as extreme, and the man who the complaint was filed against was even promoted.

The twelve women who are coming together to file the lawsuit are trying to make a difference for the future of female employees of Sterling. They want to raise awareness about the unfair treatment of women.

This case shows how women who face discrimination in the workplace are uniting and attempting to get justice for the treatment they faced while working at Sterling. The fact that so many women from different branches across the country share similar experiences show that there could be a problem with the values and policies Sterling is enforcing.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, and if the case is taken further. Women are still less likely to ask for more money than men and usually do not stand up for themselves in the work place as often as necessary. But these women are showing a lot of courage by pursuing this case and making their grievances public.