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mmo Noteworthy

December 2006

public policy:

Hands off my FMLA!


The New Workaholics:
Study examines extreme jobs and the people who love them

New report recommends workplace solutions to ease parents' concerns about children's after school time

More notable news and commentary on women, work and family

mothers & mothering:

National survey tracks mothers' childbirth and post-partum experiences

Selected commentary on motherhood and mothering

women's issues:

News and commentary on gender bias & women in society

Making ends meet:

New welfare regulations create barriers to mothers success; news and commentary on income inequality and economic policy, American-style.

social issues:

News and commentary on radical school reform, same-sex unions in NJ, race, women and incarceration.

Reproductive health & rights:

Planning for Plan B, cool cloth dolls give birth and breastfeed!, the complicated ethics of screening embryos for genetic risk factors, more

past editions of mmo noteworthy ...
public policy:

Hands off my FMLA!

Given the nation's dismal track record on addressing the needs of the changing workforce -- the United States is the only economically developed country that does not guarantee universal health care coverage, paid and/or extended, job protected childbirth leave, and a minimum number of paid sick and vacation days for full-time workers -- it makes perfect (if somewhat sickening) sense that the U.S. Department of Labor is contemplating new restrictions on how and why eligible workers can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Noting that "the Department has heard a variety of concerns expressed" regarding the regulation and administration of the FMLA, on December 1, 2006 the DOL issued a request for public comments related to the impact of FMLA leave-taking on business operations and outcomes.

Describing the FMLA as "one of the most important advances for working families in decades," -- since the Act was implemented in 1993, an estimated 80 million Americans have taken job-protected FMLA leave to take care of their own or family health needs --advocates for working families suspect the primary purpose of the DOL's Request for Information (RFI) is collecting data to substantiate employer demands to scale back the type of health conditions covered by the Act and add regulations to prevent eligible employees from using FMLA leave in small blocks of time. (For more information about the current scope of the FMLA, see this National Partnership for Women and Families fact sheet.)

A close reading of the RFI does little to allay suspicions that the DOL is preparing to bow to anti-FMLA pressures. Although public comments need not address the specific technical information requested by the Department, the issues posed in the notice are heavily weighted toward identifying legal and administrative burdens the FMLA places on employers. Although the purported intent of the RFI is to ascertain "the effectiveness of the current implementing of regulations and the Department's administration of the Act," no information is sought on the health, employment and economic outcomes of workers who take FMLA leave, or for those who need family or medical leave but cannot take it because they do not work for covered establishments, do not meet working-time requirements for eligibility, or who are eligible but cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

While the DOL issue summary focuses almost exclusively on employer grievances, the notice clearly states that employer complaints about the FMLA are not universal or evenly distributed -- nor do they target the most common instances of leave-taking. For example, the Department

"has not received complaints about the use of family leave -- i.e., leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Nor do employers for the most part report problems with the use of scheduled intermittent leave as contemplated by the statute, such as when an employee requests leave for medical appointments or medical treatments like chemotherapy. Rather, employers report job disruptions and adverse effects on the workplace when employees take frequent, unscheduled, intermittent leave from work with little or no advance notice to the employer."

Nor are all employers equally likely to report that unforeseen, intermittent leave use is taking a toll on productivity and profits. In 2000, 88 percent of employers in covered establishments with up to 250 employees, and 80 percent in larger establishments, reported that FMLA leave-taking had little or no impact on productivity. Employers were even less likely to report that the use or administration of FMLA leave had a negative effect on profits, with only 7 percent of those in larger establishments reporting a large or moderate impact. Tellingly, employers who claim that the use of unplanned, intermittent leave for FMLA-covered reasons is hurting their operations do not perceive the use of unscheduled, intermittent leave by salaried workers as a pressing problem. According to the DOL, "some employers may not even record absences of a couple of hours or less because of the scheduling flexibility afforded to salaried workers, and because the absences often have no impact on such worker's pay and productivity."

The prevailing narrative of the conservative business lobby is that a critical mass of irresponsible and under-motivated hourly-paid workers are dragging organizations down by using unscheduled, intermittent leave to avoid work and circumvent requirements for punctuality and attendance. Yet in order to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave, workers must first provide medical certification to confirm they are affected by a covered condition (which employers may reject if they feel the health information provided is incomplete or insufficient). Employers may also require a second medical opinion at the employee's own expense, and -- for workers suffering from chronic conditions -- may require re-certification every 30 days. Although absences of up to 12 weeks are covered, the FMLA only guarantees unpaid leave -- which, for hourly paid workers, could serve as a strong disincentive for routine abuse.

While abuse of public or employer leave policies is probably inevitable and impossible to prevent, a 2005 industry survey found that only 14 percent of unscheduled absences were attributed to workers' "entitlement mentality" (healthy employees were far more likely to take time off to deal with family issues or personal needs). Human resource experts also see a link between high levels of unscheduled absenteeism and management practices that contribute to low employee morale. It seems entirely possible (and even likely) that in some establishments, a modest number of lower-wage, hourly-paid workers -- who, according to the latest work-life research, are least likely of all workers to have control over their working time and location -- are using FMLA leave to mitigate the inflexibility of their working conditions without losing their jobs and health coverage. Referring to a national survey which found that less than 1 percent of all workers in covered establishments take unscheduled, intermittent FMLA leave, the RFI does question whether "the temporary absence of less than 1 in 135 employees" has "a significant impact on the overall efficiency of most employers operations." But from the nature of the employer-controlled data requested by the Department, it appears that one of the principle objectives of the Request is to determine whether the actual incidence of unscheduled, intermittent FMLA leave-taking is significantly underestimated -- which would lend credibility to charges that the negative impact of leave-taking on businesses is more severe than government data implies.

Yet a quick survey of FMLA-related testimony and public comments on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce web site reveals a small but powerful group of employers reciting anecdotal evidence and individual examples of problematic leave-taking. A prevalent complaint among employers is that FMLA regulations interfere with programs to motivate workers by giving awards for perfect attendance -- hardly a ruinous development, considering that leaders in the human resource field rate "personal recognition" programs the least effective strategy for reducing absenteeism. Although anti-FMLA employers often suggest that worker entitlements under the Act constrain managers' ability to reassign or discipline problem employees, the DOL observes that "some believe the apparent concentration of workers taking unscheduled, intermittent leave [in particular establishments or facilities] may be due to poor management or labor relations problems." In other words, it's quite possible that the productivity and profit loss reported by employers cannot be attributed to the FMLA as it is presently regulated and administered, but is a reflection the failure of some employers to adapt to realities of the 21st century workforce.

Meanwhile, new research on the relationship between parental leave and healthy child development indicates that longer, paid leaves are associated with better infant outcomes, but shorter, unpaid leaves are not. If any modifications are in store for the FMLA, it should be to expand FMLA coverage to more workers (currently, around 60 percent of U.S. workers are both covered and eligible), extend the duration of leave from a maximum of 12 to a minimum of 16 weeks, and provide wage replacement for workers who need longer, continuous leaves for childbirth and infant care or serious health conditions. Considering exceptionally high rates of infant mortality in the U.S. and the fact that over 50 million U.S. adults are primary care providers for frail and disabled family members or children with special health needs, preserving and strengthening the FMLA is the very least we can do to protect the health of America's workforce and families.

Public comments on the FMLA may be mailed, emailed or faxed and must be received by 5:00 PM EST on February 2, 2007. In the coming weeks, a number of organizations -- including NOW, 9to5, the National Partnership and MomsRising --will be organizing online petition and letter-writing campaigns in response to the request for comments. To receive updates on these and other action opportunities, please subscribe to the MMO eList.

Federal Register/Volume 71, Number 231/Friday, December 1, 2006
Request for Information of the Family Medical Leave Act

(Pages 69505-69514)

Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act
National Partnership for Women and Families, 28 pages, in .PDF

Related articles:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The Right Wing's Right Hand in D.C.
Matt Stoller, AlterNet, 14.dec.06
"The Chamber wants to weaken or eliminate the Family and Medical Leave Act, the minimum wage, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They want to cut every possible tax despite massive deficits, privatize Social Security, and just generally pursue the right-wing agenda down the line."

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The New Workaholics:
Study examines extreme jobs and the people who love them

An article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review delves into the demands of "extreme" jobs -- high earning positions that require more than 60 hours a week and include the need for 24/7 availability, excessive workloads or levels of responsibility, frequent travel, or a selection of other work-intensive characteristics. Based on two large-scale surveys of top-earning professionals and managers, researchers from the Center for Work-Life Policy at Columbia University found that 21 percent of the top 6 percent of earners in the U.S. -- approximately 1.7 million workers -- hold all-consuming, extreme jobs (as opposed to run-of-the-mill, high-demand, long hours jobs common among most high-ranking professionals). "The 40-hour workweek is a thing of the past," note authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce in the HBR article. "Even the 60 hour workweek, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part time." According to the CWLP survey data, 62 percent of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week, 35 percent work more than 60 hours a week, and 10 percent work more than 80 hours a week, leading the authors to conclude that "Extreme jobs are no longer a rarity."

Despite relentless performance pressures and punishing hours, the study found that the majority of extreme jobholders love their jobs. "Far from seeing themselves as workaholics in need of rescuing, extreme workers wear their commitments like a badge of honor… extreme professionals don't feel exploited; they feel exalted." Another possibility is that extreme workers, like extreme sports fanatics, are addicted to the sensation of being superhuman -- among extreme jobholders, 90 percent of men and 82 percent of women were motivated to endure long, stressful hours and unreasonable workloads because "it gives me an adrenaline rush."

As Hewlett and Booth remark, extreme jobs may hold an irresistible allure for Type A personalities who are driven to succeed, but the personal cost are high. Predictably, extreme jobs take a heavy toll on workers' health and family life. 65 percent of fathers and 33 percent of mothers who hold extreme jobs say it has interfered with having a strong relationship with their children. 46 percent of men and women in the survey said their jobs conflicted with having a strong relationship with their spouse or partner. This may explain why many extreme workers see their current level of commitment as unsustainable: among extreme jobholders in the U.S., 57 percent of women and 48 percent men did not want to be working at the same pace in a year; only 13 percent of women and 27 percent of men wanted to have extreme hour/ultrahigh pressure jobs in five years.

As might be anticipated, women are underrepresented in the extreme workforce -- only 4 percent of extreme jobholders in the U.S. are female, although globally women comprise around one-third of extreme workers. According to the study, time may be a more critical filtering factor than strength and endurance when it comes to women self-sorting off the extreme job track. Significantly, among the extreme workers surveyed women were less tolerant of high hours jobs with low performance pressures than men were. The authors speculate that women may be less accepting of high-hours, low impact work because they are more aware of the 'opportunity costs:' "They see a direct link between their long workweeks and a variety of distressing behaviors in their children." Or it may be that unlike their male counterparts, high-achieving women encounter demoralizing pressures from subtle and not-so-subtle gender bias that make it less palatable to sacrifice the quality of their intimate relationships to the insatiable gods of the extreme work cult.

The critical shortcoming of the Extreme Jobs study is that it only assesses the effects of the normalization of the extreme work ethic on top-tier workers. A more thorough study would examine how the conversion of what some might describe as a personality disorder into an organizational ideal affects professionals on the lower rungs of the career ladder -- and all the rank-and-file workers who are expected to support them. For example, leaders and managers who get their buzz on by constantly pushing themselves to the limit may expect their staff to share their enthusiasm for round-the-clock work or be incapable of empathizing with other exceptional workers who want to lead more balanced lives.

Copies of the "Extreme Jobs" article may be purchased in electronic or print formats from the Harvard Business Review web site.

Center for Work-Life Policy at Columbia University

Podcast with Sylvia Ann Hewlett on "Extreme Jobs"
Harvard Business Review IdeaCast series, 21
Paul Michelman speaks with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, co-author of the highly provocative "Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek," featured in the December issue of Harvard Business Review.

Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek
Harvard Business Review, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, December 2006

Realted articles:

'Extreme' jobs on the rise
Marilyn Gardner, Christian Science Monitor, 4.dec.06
Workers who choose 80-hour workweeks and no vacations, put life balance at risk, experts warn.

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New report recommends workplace solutions
to ease parents' concerns about children's after school time

Parent's concerns about the safety and well-being of their children during after school hours can affect their productivity and job satisfaction, according to a new study by Catalyst and researchers from the Community, Work and Family Program at Brandeis University. The report concludes that the prevalence Parental Concern about After School Time (PCAST) among workers with school-age children contributes to the range of workplace stressors that cost companies up to 30 billion in healthcare-related costs and lost productivity each year. The report, After School Worries: Tough on Parents, Bad for Business, suggests most workplace factors that increase the risk of PCAST can be eliminated by promoting cultural changes and time management strategies that respond to workers need for flexibility.

While parents with primary caregiving responsibilities -- predominantly women -- were found to be at higher risk for PCAST, researches found that fathers who shared family responsibilities were equally likely to report stress from worries about the well-being of children during after school time. Overall, 5 percent of surveyed employees reported high levels of PCAST. Risk of PCAST was lowest for workers whose children were cared for by another parent during after school hours; 67 percent of partnered men in the study reported their spouse was non-employed or worked part-time, compared to 11 percent of partnered women. 22 percent of women included the study, but only 5 percent of men, were solo parents.

Other factors reducing the risk of PCAST include employees having more control over their work schedules and having older children they feel comfortable leaving home alone. Parents of daughters were more likely to report higher levels of PCAST than parents of sons. Surprisingly, parents who rely on formal after school care programs are no less likely to be at high risk for PCAST than those who use less dependable sources of after-school care. "In the case of formal after-school programs," the report notes, "so few after-school programs exist that parents may be forced to put their children in whatever program is available regardless of whether it meets their or their children's needs in terms of quality and content." In particular, older children may refuse to participate in after-school programs that do not match their needs and interests.

According to a related press release, work programs and policies that reduce after-school care stress  -- such as fostering results-oriented workplace cultures rather basing productivity on face time -- are often not costly to implement and offer a great deal of "bang for the buck." Nor are parents the only beneficiaries of progressive workplace practices. Strategies for reducing PCAST, including giving employees more control over when and where they work, are popular with workers across the board.

One caveat concerning the After School Worries study is that the survey sample, which was equally weighted between male and female workers, was drawn from employees of Fortune 100 companies and is not representative of the U.S. workforce overall. For example, 39 percent of the employees surveyed are in managerial or executive positions, and 69 percent reported annual household incomes of $90K and over. It may be more challenging to persuade employers of the benefits of instituting enlightened managerial practices when it comes to reducing workplace stressors on lower-earning service and support workers.


Study Finds Working Parents Concerned about After-School Care,
Companies Losing Billions in Job Productivity

Press Release, Catalyst, 6.dec.06. 3 pages, in .pdf

After School Worries: Tough on Parents, Bad for Business
Catalyst, with Karen Gareis and Rosalind Barnett, December 2006
56 pages, in .pdf

PCAST Fact Sheet
3 pages, in .pdf

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More notable news and commentary
on women, work and family

Wake Up, Employers: Working Moms Are Giving Up
Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet, 20.dec.06
The majority of working moms who leave their jobs do so because of inflexible office policy, not Martha Stewart fantasies.

Family-leave laws spur rise in complaints
Hillary Wicai, NPR Marketplace, 20.dec.06
A new area of anti-discrimination cases has arisen suddenly, and employers and their attorneys are looking for ways to understand the law and train their managers. Audio file and transcript.

'Maternal Profiling' Story Has Faint Heartbeat
Sheila Gibbons, Women's eNews, 6.dec.06
Last week Pennsylvania blocked a bill to protect women from "maternal profiling" in job interviews. Sheila Gibbons says most media have treated the legislation as a non-story, along with the woman who has battled for 12 years to get it passed.

Judges Weigh Woman's Wage Bias at Goodyear
Allison Stevens, Women's eNews, 29.nov.06
The Supreme Court heard an appeal Monday by a woman who, at the end of her career, discovered she had suffered wage discrimination for years while working at Goodyear. A decision in her favor could help narrow the persistent gender wage gap.

Smashing The Clock
Business Week Online, 11.dec.06
No schedules. No mandatory meetings. Inside Best Buy's radical reshaping of the workplace. "At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy. The nation's leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical--if risky--experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity.

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mothers & mothering:

National survey tracks mothers' childbirth
and post-partum experiences

Childbirth Connection, a national non-profit organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy to improve maternity care for all women and their families, has released the results of its latest survey on the pregnancy, childbirth and post partum experiences of U.S. women. Although 60 percent of survey participants agreed that "giving birth is a process that should not be interfered with unless medically necessary," the survey found that healthy women with low-risk pregnancies routinely experience medical interventions during labor and delivery, including electronic fetal monitoring (94 percent), intravenous drip (83 percent), epidural or spinal analgesia (76 percent), one or more vaginal exams (75 percent), urinary catheter (56 percent), membranes broken after labor began (47 percent), and the administration synthetic hormones to speed up labor (47 percent). More than four out of ten mothers surveyed reported their care provider attempted to induce labor, and one out of ten mothers reported that health care providers pressured them to consent to labor induction. The survey also found that despite high-profile media coverage of a growing trend toward elective c-sections, only one out of 252 mothers with an initial cesarean had a surgical delivery based on maternal preference. Overall, one-third of U.S. mothers had surgical deliveries during the period covered by the survey, a proportion that is consistent with national health statistics.

The Listening to Mothers II survey also found significant variations in women's experience and treatment during pregnancy and childbirth. African American mothers (49 percent) and white mothers (33 percent) were more likely than Latina mothers (24 percent) to have a surgical delivery during their first birth. African American and Latina mothers included in the survey were more likely to rely on Medicaid or other government programs for health care, and were more likely to report that their last pregnancy was unplanned. They were also far less likely to have met the attending physician prior to delivery. African American mothers -- who experience higher rates of infant and maternal mortality than all other U.S. mothers, with the exception of Native American women -- were also less likely than white and Latina mothers to rate the quality of maternity care in the U.S. as "good or excellent."

The survey, which also included questions about mothers' wellbeing during the post-partum period, found that eight out of ten mothers who had surgical deliveries experienced pain in the 8 weeks following childbirth, and 18 percent reported the problem persisted for six months or more. 62 percent of mothers reported some degree of physical exhaustion in the 8 weeks following childbirth, and one in four reported that physical exhaustion persisted for six months. Breastfeeding problems, including sore nipples and breast tenderness, were reported by 89 percent of mothers in the first two months post-partum, and more than one in ten mothers reported urinary problems that persisted for longer than six months. Of the entire survey sample, 66 percent of mothers who had vaginal deliveries and 80 percent of mothers who had cesarean deliveries report that childbirth-related pain interfered with everyday activities in the 8 weeks following birth.

On a related note, the survey found that 56 percent of mothers who returned to paid employment did so within 8 weeks, and 84 percent returned by 12 weeks (32 percent of mothers who participated in the survey had not returned to paid employment since their last delivery). 50 percent of employed mothers reported that finding adequate child care arrangements was a challenge, and 38 percent were dissatisfied with the amount of support they received from their partner or spouse. Over one-quarter (29 percent) reported that "lack of support in the workplace for me as a new mother" presented a major or minor challenge.

Although the Listening to Mothers II report exhibits a bias toward non-medicalized, low-intervention childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding (the survey was conducting in partnership with Lamaze International), the detailed information in the full report is useful for understanding variations in U.S. mothers expectations and experiences of pregnancy and childbirth and the stresses and health concerns women experience during the post-partum period. The survey sample included 1,573 participants and final results were weighted to be nationally representative.

The Executive Summary of the survey results provides information on general trends but is regrettably short on detailed findings. The full report may be purchased in electronic or print formats from the Childbirth Connection web site.

Childbirth Connection

Technology-Intensive Childbirth is the Norm for Great Majority
of Primarily Healthy Women

Press release, 19.oct.06, 5 pages in .pdf

Listening to Mothers II
Report on the Second National Survey of Women's Childbearing Experiences

Eugene R. Declerq, Carol Sakala, Maureen P. Corry and Sandra Applebaum, October 2006
Executive Summary, 11 pages in .pdf

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Selected commentary on motherhood and mothering

Raising Cain
Debra J. Dickerson, Salon, 11.dec.06
When I found out I was having a boy, I wondered: How can a feminist raise a man without becoming a hypocrite or a castrator?

A mother's love
Sallie Tisdale, Salon, 29.nov.06
My adopted son, already the father of three, faces a future of dead-end jobs and near poverty. What do I owe him and my unexpected, fragile grandchildren.

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Women's issues:

News and commentary on gender bias & women in society

Watch Out, Women Are Powerful
Katha Pollitt, AlterNet, 1.dec.06
"Is it just my imagination or are women wreaking more evil than usual these days? We all know the reason boys don't read is that female teachers assign books about girls, and girls have cooties; and the reason half of all marriages end in divorce is that women have outrageous expectations, like that their husbands should talk to them."

Stone Age Had Rocks, Not June-and-Ward Cleavers
Caryl Rivers, Women's eNews, 13.dec.06
Anthropologists who suggest early humans survived by dint of separate gender roles are grabbing headlines. Caryl Rivers says it shows the media's fondness for evidence--however dubious--of the species being hardwired for male dominance.

Boys Mow Lawns, Girls Wash Dishes
Sue Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal/CareerJournal.com, 8.dec.06
"A nationwide study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research shows boys ages 10 through 18 are more likely than girls to be getting paid for doing housework -- even though boys spend an average 30% less time doing chores. Boys are as much as 10 to 15 percentage points more likely than girls at various ages to be receiving an allowance for doing housework, says the institute's newly completed analysis of data on 3,000 children ages 10 through 18."

What She Wore: The Prevalence of Gender Bias in Reporting
Lucinda Marshall, AlterNet, 14.dec.06
Not only is it possible to write about women in power without referencing their appearance, it should also be the standard.

The Feminist Game Plan
Martha Burk, TomPaine.com, 12.dec.06
"It is tempting to buy the illusion of unlimited possibilities due to the president’s low approval numbers combined with loss of Republican control at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But women have been suckered by too much optimism before."

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making ends meet:

News and commentary on income inequality and economic policy

New Welfare Regs Called Barriers to Single Moms
Juliette Terzieff, Women's eNews, 14.dec.06
Single mothers with children are the vast majority of those receiving welfare. New federal regulations will make it harder for them to find time for further education, time with their children, or even domestic-violence counseling, advocates say.

12 Million Suburbanites Live in Poverty
Stephen Ohlemacher, on Common Dreams, 7.dec.06
"As Americans flee the cities for the suburbs, many are failing to leave poverty behind."

Show Me the Money
Walter Mosley, The Nation, 30.nov.o6
"Where does this money, which moves so unerringly into rich folks' pockets, come from? This is one of the most important questions in everyday working people's lives. Because the money that makes the rich richer comes out of the sweat, the sacrifice and ultimately the blood of working men and women."

As Pensions and Health Care Benefits Shrink, Life Gets Riskier
David Moberg, AlterNet, 1.dec.06
As employers and governments cut back on pensions and health insurance, the burden of taking care of ourselves increasingly rests on our own shoulders.

Countering Conservative Economics
Jared Bernstein and David Kusnet, TomPaine.com, 4.dec.06
"You may soon find yourself debating a conservative about economics. It may be at a neighborhood or family gathering, on a college campus, or at a city council hearing about a living wage ordinance. …No matter what the subject, these folks have only four arguments."

Same Old Same Old
William Greider, The Nation, 30.nov.06
"Why does Pelosi begin the education of her freshman members with a seminar on Rubinomics? … When labor officials heard about this, they asked to be included since they have very different ideas about what Democrats need to do in behalf of struggling workers and middle-class families. Pelosi decided against it."

Flattening the Great Education Myth
David Sirota, Common Dreams, 5.dec.06
"Sadly, the hard data tells us that, as comforting as this Great Education Myth is, we cannot school our way out of the problems accompanying a national trade policy devoid of wage, environmental and human-rights protections."

Ask For Little, Get Nothing
Jonathan Tasini, TomPaine.com, 5.dec.06
"When I read what passes for the economic agenda for 'liberal' Democrats and even progressives, I can’t help but think that they have lost their minds, their imagination or their spines."

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social issues

Selected news and commentary

Report: U.S. schools need radical fixes
Pauline Vu, Stateline.org, 15.dec.06
"Some students would go to community college after 10th grade, local schools would be run by private contractors, and teachers’ salaries would shoot up as high as $110,000 but their pensions would be slashed under a new set of recommendations likely to shake up the U.S. education system."

NJ gay couples get civil unions
Kavan Peterson, Stateline.org, 15.dec.06
New Jersey became the third state to bless civil unions as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples, choosing a middle ground that establishes a type of relationship that didn’t exist before Vermont created it in 2000.

Beyond Diversity To Justice
Rinku Sen, TomPaine.com, 21.dec.06
"Universal solutions, however, have to deal with discrimination if they’re to be truly universal. Policies designed without racial justice goals can actually deepen the divide, while creating the illusion that they’ve taken care of everyone."

Race matters
Debra J. Dickerson, Salon, 4.dec.06
Black History Month is coming soon. I wonder: Will anyone pay me to be black for them this year?

Why So Many Black Women Are Behind Bars
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet, 5.dec.06
Black female inmates outnumber white female inmates three to one, and their punishments don't always fit their crimes.

America Has Become Incarceration Nation
Marc Mauer, TomPaine.com, 11.dec.06
The United States has now become the world leader in its rate of incarceration, locking up its citizens at 5-8 times the rate of other industrialized nations.

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Reproductive health & rights:

Planning for Plan B; Cool cloth dolls give birth, breastfeed!

Planning Ahead Still Advised for Morning After
Jeanine Plant, Women's eNews, 30.nov.06
Plan B, the 'morning after pill,' became available without prescription this month, but access barriers persist. Advocates urge women to stock up ahead, prepare for the high cost and, if they prefer, send a guy over 18 to face the pharmacist.

Challenging the "Luxury" of Abstinence
Haider Rizvi, from CommonDreams, 1.dec.06
"With increasing pressure from women groups, religious organisations and health advocacy groups, Democratic lawmakers seem ready to challenge the notion that abstinence from sex until marriage is the best way to combat AIDS at home and abroad."

Cuddly Dolls Offer Honest Answers About Anatomy
Courtney E. Martin, Women's eNews, 10.dec.06
A large family of handmade cloth dolls provide children with honest answers about anatomy. Adult dolls have genitalia and pubic hair and mother dolls have breasts that can be snapped onto a baby doll's mouth to teach the importance of breastfeeding.

Screening Embryos for Disease
Joe Palca, NPR All Things Considered, 20.dec.06
PGD clearly represents a potentially important tool for preventing disease. But it has also opened some ethical debates. Audio file and text summary.

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December 2006

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