Project Wonderful

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Truth Is Stranger (Danger) Than Fiction

In case you haven't heard by now, disgraced Congressman and Mayoral candidate. Anthony Weiner confirmed yesterday that he participated more salacious sexting this time under the name of Carlos Danger. Really, the only surprising part here is "Carlos Danger" prompting me to ask the following questions.

1) Is it possible than Anthony Weiner is in fact just a really old looking 15 year old boy?
2) Carlos? He could so not pass for Latino.
3) What were his other options for pseudonyms?
4) At what point do you think he was like "okay, okay, okay I have a foolproof plan not to get caught and it is...?"
5) Do you think he is just being bought off by the stand up comedy lobby?
6) Why is anyone surprised that he's not dropping out? Once you have hubris to run after tweeting your lower case weiner, you pretty much just have the audacity to let it ride.
7) Can you imagine Huma Abadeen's face when he told her this? "Honey, remember that little scandal I got you embroiled in? Well there's just one more thing..."
8) How fast do you think somebody snatched up the Twitter name @carlosdanger?
9) How come all the articles keep calling the messages "sexually tinged"? Is that like a thing people say that I am unaware of?

Weiner Danger!

And for your enjoyment, the Carlos Danger name generator.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ask Nancy: What Happened With the Supreme Court and Voting Rights?

Many people are confused by the recent disappointing ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a case I wrote about earlier this year.You can read the entire opinion here. I answer some common questions about the ruling, and its potential implications, below.

Did the Supreme Court strike down the Voting Rights Act?
No, but they did strike down the coverage formula delineated in Section 4 which was one of its most important mechanisms of enforcement.

I thought you said this case was about Section 5.
It was. Section 5 required that jurisdictions covered under Section 4 have any changes in voting laws "precleared" by the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel in DC. Hence without Section 4, no Section 5.

What was the coverage formula based on?
When the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 any jurisdiction that maintained a "test or device" as a barrier to enfranchisement, for example a literary test, as of November 1, 1964 was included. It also included states where less than half of the voting-age population was registered to vote as of November 1, 1964 or where less than half of the voting-age population had voted in the previous Presidential election. In 1970, Congress renewed the act and added that any jurisdictions that fit the aforementioned criteria as of 1968 would be also be included. In 1975, when Congress renewed the act again they expanded the formula to include jurisdictions that fit the criteria as of 1972, they also expanded the definition of "test or device" to include a failure to provide election materials in a second language in areas where linguistic minorities were concentrated.

So once you were covered you were covered forever? What if you violated voting rights after 1972?
Jurisdictions that felt they no longer fit the critera could seek a declaratory judgement to "bail-out" and no longer be covered under Section 4. Any jurisdiction that violated any other part of the Voting Rights Act could be "bailed-in."

Why did the Supreme Court rule Section 4 unconstitutional?
It comes down to everyone's favorite loophole for discrimination: state's rights. The constitution gives all powers not specifically assigned to the Federal Government to the states, including the administration and regulation of elections. In addition, we operate under a principle of "equal sovereignty among the states." In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts ruled that Section 4 violated these principles by treating some states differently than others.

But wasn't that true in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was enacted?
Yes. However, in a 1966 case challenging this portion of the act the Court ruled that the “uncommon exercise of
congressional power” was justified by the “exceptional conditions” of widespread discrimination, voter suppression and intimidation. The Court argued that conditions have changed dramatically since 1965 while the VRA has not.

Is the court claiming that voter suppression and discrimination no longer exists?
No. It is claiming that discrimination has declined dramatically and that it looks very different than in did in 1965. The Court pointed out that when the VRA was enacted the formula was partially based on Jim Crow era measures like poll taxes and literary tests, while the most recent electoral schemes dismissed under Section 5 involve things like redistricting and voter ID.

Isn't it possible that discrimination has declined in covered areas because of Section 5?
Possible, nay probable. Quoth my personal hero, Justice Ginsburg in the dissent, "[t]hrowing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." This is evidenced by the fact that since the ruling previously covered jurisdictions have been running to implement redistricting schemes and voter id laws that they know to be discriminatory. Texas Governor and famous big jerk Rick Perry just approved the new Texas electoral maps that had been ruled discriminatory by a three-judge panel.

Surely some areas had evolved and no longer needed to be covered under Section 5.
Of course. That's what the bail-out mechanism was for. However, it was the districts trying to implement discriminatory measures that objected to Section 5. As famous civil rights attorney, Fred Gray pointed out if these jurisdictions had "developed to the point where they [were] interested in protecting the individual rights of minorities and the proposals [were] indeed not discriminatory, they would have nothing to worry about when submitting an issue for preclearance."

Without Sections 4 and 5, how are voters protected from discriminatory changes to election law?
The Court went out of its way to emphasize that Section 2, "which bans any'standard, practice, or procedure' that 'results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen . . . to vote on account of race or color,' applies nationwide, is permanent, and is not at issue in this case." Voting rights advocates are already gearing up to sue discriminatory jurisdictions under Section 2.

Section 2 seems like it's got us covered. What's the problem?
What Section 5 did was shift the burden of proof from the oppressed to the oppressor. Section 2 requires that oppressed groups be aware of changes to election law and have the organization and resources to fight them. Don't forget, Section 4 covered municipalities too. Sure it might make it on the news if there were a new statewide law, but what about a local change in early voting hours? By the time a suit is brought and decided against a discriminatory change it may have already had a deleterious effect. It's a lot easier to stop a law from being implemented than fight it once it's already in place.

So, is preclearance gone forever?
Not necessarily. The Court's main objection to Section 4 is that the formula is based on the discriminatory practices of yesteryear and that only combatting these practices justified what would normally be considered Congressional overreach. The Court deliberately left it open for Congress to come up with a new way to use preclearance to fight modern day discrimination. "To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions." Unsurprisingly, some Democrats have already begun formulating a plan to do just that and Republicans are formulating a plan to stop them.

Monday, July 8, 2013

An Affair to Pretend Not to Remember, Part II: Advocate from Where You Stand

Elliot Spitzer's story differs from Weiner's in that he broke the law. You know the law, that thing that elected officials help craft and enforce? He broke it. Being friends with many young lawyers who are afraid to jaywalk lest they be disbarred, I find the fact that Spitzer is now running for Comptroller unconscionable.

I'll leave it to better informed minds to argue whether prostitution should be illegal in the first place, but one thing I do know is that our current penal codes place a disproportionate burden on sex workers as opposed to their clients. Again for me it comes back not to sexual ethics, but gendered ones. Enter Kristin Davis, the self-described "feminist, entrepreneur, and former Wall Street Hedge Fund Vice President" and mostly notably former madam who arranged escort services for Elliot Spitzer. Ms. Davis recently announces that she will also be running for Comptroller. She began her campaign to draw attention to this and other double standards in the law.
“I’ve been waiting for my day to face [Spitzer] for five years...I sat ... in Rikers Island, I came out penniless and nothing happened to him. The hypocrisy there is huge.”
You said it sister! Davis now runs a non-profit whose mission is to combat sex trafficking, is a vocal critic of stop and frisk and advocates the legalization of marijuana. She is running as a Libertarian. I am supporting Scott Stringer in the Democratic Primary, but I gotta say if it comes down to her and Spitzer in the general election, she's got my vote.

An Affair to Pretend Not to Remember

Nancy's Note: I cut this post in half because it tells two different stories about two different politicians. Stay tuned for part II.

Devotees will remember that I have a personal relationship with the phenomenon of the disgraced politician. While leading a recent organizer training, I found myself in the somewhat new position of having to explain who John Edwards is and why I revile him so. "Wow, you must really hate Bill Clinton," one organizer responded. Well, no. For one thing, Bill Clinton never made a liar out of me. He never funneled money to his mistress while habitually being late with my paycheck. And, this last one is somewhat debatable, he didn't put control of the presidency in jeopardy for the Democratic party. Still, this organizer's question touched a nerve. Where do I draw the line when it comes to infidelity and indiscretion perpetrated by my elected officials? This question has become particularly salient since two such politicians announced their candidacy in elections in which I will cast a vote. I plan not to vote for Elliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner, although maybe not for the reasons one might think.

Bill Clinton had the good fortune of being done running for office by the time his infidelities took center stage. If he had been up for election in 1998 and I had not been 14 there is a good chance I would not have supported him. It isn't the infidelity I object to. Although I idolize Hillary Clinton, I don't pretend to know what goes on in other people's marriages. Besides, if she can forgive him, I certainly can. Moreover, when it comes to hiring an accountant or doctor, I want the person who will do the best job for me, not the person who is nicest to his or her spouse. Why should my choice in an elected official be any different? I would not have supported President Clinton because of the apparent power imbalance between him and Monica Lewinsky. She was a 22-year-old intern and he was President of the United States. You would be hard-pressed to find a clearer case for sexual harassment and abuse of power. The fact that he had been accused of other incidents of a similar nature does not help his case.

When we talk about Clinton in the liberal community, we tend to ignore the scandal that was once the focal point of his career. Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky's political future was doomed the moment their affair became public. To this day Lewinsky is the poster-child for intern jokes, while Clinton has gone on to have an illustrious post-Presidential career. All this despite the fact that Clinton's position of power and responsibility made him far more culpable than Lewinsky. Had this been another man, another profession or another time Monica Lewinsky would be considered a victim.

That said, my fervent admiration for and slight crush on present-day Bill Clinton is well-documented. His commitment to ending climate change and improving global health, continued support of Democratic candidates and apparently reformed private life have regained him my esteem. Clinton is exceptional for his charisma, ability to deliver a nuanced message and commitment to progressive causes. We have not seen such a politician since he left office and likely won't for a long time. I mention Bill Clinton's exceptional intelligence, skill and charm because the of the comparisons we are likely to hear from Spitzer and Weiner as they attempt to rebrand themselves. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, you sirs are no Bill Clinton.

Before he resigned from Congress, Anthony Weiner was often likened to Bill Clinton. He was known for his wit as a liberal bulldog. His wife, Huma Abedin, worked for Secretary of State Clinton and President Clinton even officiated at their wedding. Again, Weiner's infidelity is not the problem, if it was infidelity at all. Honestly, I could imagine being Huma Abedin, being several months pregnant working a full schedule in an often long-distance marriage and my husband saying to me, "Honey I want to wack it to some facebook chats about how hot I must have looked in my Bar Mitzvah pictures" and me saying, "Knock yourself out." My problem is Weiner's spectacularly poor judgment in the execution. When your career is on the line, one would think you'd be more careful with your tweets. When Weiner resigned, I argued that his judgement, poor though it was, was not reason enough for him to be ousted. If we kicked people out of elected office for having bad decision making skills, half of Congress would have to resign. At the same time, I am not running to vote for someone who could be so professionally careless.

When the smoke cleared it became semi-public knowledge that one of the reasons Weiner did not receive more cover from Democrats was that he was personally unpleasant to work with. I heard stories of him screaming and even throwing office equipment at his staff (by which I mean the people who work for him) an accusation I take seriously as a political staffer. In the end Weiner just doesn't have the track record that a legend like Bill Clinton does. For all his soapboxing, what did Anthony Weiner actually accomplish? Making Anthony Weiner famous, which evidenced by the fact that he entered a crowded primary already replete with qualified candidates, seems to still be his goal.

Beyond Leaning In: Seven Lessons from Women's Workforce Participation

The one good thing to come out of this latest wave of attacks on women's reproductive rights is a renewed call for more women in public leadership. Wendy Davis' heroic filibuster seems to have sparked another wave of questions as to why there aren't more women in key leadership positions defending our gender when our rights are being attacked. Even with recent electoral gains the 113th Congress is still only 18.3% percent female. There is a lot to be said about women's workforce and political participation- two phenomena that are inextricably linked. As you know, I spent two years studying why and how women participate in public life. I certainly could not cover it all in one article, nor do I intend to. However I have been promising to explore the subject for months and now that I'm no longer in school, I am finally able to share what I learned there. So without further ado, here are seven lessons from studying women's workforce participation that help illuminate why we still have so few women in public life.

1) It's not going to be 50% at the top until it's 50% at the bottom. Perhaps the biggest barrier to women's public achievement is that women still bear the disproportionate brunt of domestic responsibilities. Even when a women works as much and makes more than her husband (and yes we're talking two parent, hetero relationships here) she is still the default caregiver for children at home. Women are also far more likely to drop out of the workforce when a child comes along. As Sheryl Sandberg has pointed out, women often start "leaning back" years before they have children or even choose careers before they are married based on the assumption that childcare and other domestic responsibilities will fall on their shoulders. Working women on average get less sleep than their husbands and take fewer opportunities for self-care. In contrast, couples who set a gender balanced approach to care giving make more money overall, have lower divorce rates and more active sex lives.

2) We need to stop blaming women. Popular discourse would have you believe that women just need to assert themselves. Mentorship and sponsorship programs, leadership seminars, even talks on salary negotiation aim at combating this issue. While these measures are important, they don't tell the whole story. Studies now show that even when equally qualified women ask for the same salary as their male counterparts they are more frequently denied. Male bosses pass over women for promotions because of the natural bias to promote someone who reminds them of themselves. Double blind surveys show that in the exact same business scenarios men are seen as leaders where women are accused of being bossy. While men are "ambitious" women are "out for themselves." We can do it exactly the same and not get the same result. Of course women need to take responsibility for our career paths and even more importantly institutional norms, but our current pattern of professional victim blaming is setting us up for failure.

3) When women run they win at the same rates as men but... Political participation advocates are quick to point out that when women run for office they win at the same rates as men. What they don't tell you is that the average female candidate is more qualified than her male counterparts. Female candidates have more higher education, more professional experience and are more active in the political community than men. Society sets a higher bar for what kind of woman runs in the first place. Social scientists wonder why women tend to do better in general elections as conservative candidates. One answer is that for a woman to become a nominee of a conservative party she must have already faced so much scrutiny that she is exceptionally qualified for the job.

4)Women ask, "why me?" when men ask, "why not me?" The extent to which the pressure to be perfectly qualified for the job is imposed by society as opposed to self-imposed is one for the sages. My guess would be a lot of column a, but also some column b. Studies show that women underestimate their own abilities while men overestimate theirs. The first question a woman asks when offered a potential job opportunity is, "Are you sure I'm qualified?" The first question man asks is, "How much money does it make?" By the same token men are likely to apply for a job they want even if they meet just a few of the qualifications listed, while women are likely to apply only if they meet most or all of the qualifications. Whether applying for jobs or running for office, the implication for recruiting female candidates is huge!

5) "We can be anything" does not mean "We can be everything." Our mothers' generation broke barriers to ensure that that we could could grow up to be anything we wanted. The problem is that women are now expected and expect themselves to be perfect mothers, leaders, workers, partners, lovers, volunteers, and friends all at once. Our society was built around gender specialization, men worked and spent little time with their families and women raised families, kept house and spent little time in the workforce. The new work/life balance involves making trade-offs for both men and women. In an ideal future this will mean fathers splitting parental leave with mothers, it will mean some parents working part-time or taking a less demanding job in order to spend time caring for their families. It will also include families with a "traditional" male breadwinner model and that's okay too. Choices are meant to liberate, not constrain us. This does mean that women who run for office need to be excellent time managers. For this reason, women who run for office often do so before they've had children or after their children are grown.

6) You can't paint with the color grue. Telling a woman she can run for office is like telling someone in 1970 that they can be a software designer; there's no pathway, too few role models, no clear picture of what that would look like. Men grow up imagining themselves as leaders, women grow up being told they can be leaders, but not shown. Imagine me asking you for a picture in the color "grue." I can describe it but if you've never seen it, you won't know how to make it happen, and painting grue would have never occurred to you. For this reason women need to be ASKED to run for office and supported at much higher rates than men. Many women who would make excellent candidates simply haven't thought of it on their own or need to be shown a pathway for how it is feasible in their own lives. This is one of the reasons that I prefer to support women candidates in Democratic primaries. In order for more women to run for office, more women need to run for office.

7) Men have it hard too. I'll admit I've had a difficult time acknowledging that gender bias disadvantages men as well. In the past I have discarded these claims with likes of "why don't we have straight pride parades?" Still, a society that tends to equate masculinity with wealth and power and define men by their jobs sends a pretty clear message about what men's priorities should be. If we want men to take paternity leave and take more responsibility at home in general, we need to make that okay, both through public policy and a redefinition of masculinity.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! I can't wait to share more with you and hear what you have to say!

Campaign Love and Mine,