Tuesday, December 30, 2008

With the Middle East in Flames...Would Women Do It Differently?

With images of bloodied Palestinians across the news, I am acutely struck by the sameness and senselessness of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. What will ever make the difference? It truly makes me wonder: what would women do? Not just one, two or even twenty percent women in power. Thinking BIG: if women held a majority of power on both sides, be honest, what does your instinct tell you? Wouldn't we have a different solution? Since that is so unrealistic as to be trite, where else do we begin to shift the struggle in a credible way?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sacre Coeur! Delanoe Cries "Faux", not "Non", to Caroline Kennedy's Candidacy

The New York Times published a letter from the mayor of Paris expressing his view that Caroline Kennedy's appointment would be "surprising and not very democratic". The only problem: the letter was a fake. Why did the editors miss this hoax when it arrived with a dot.com address instead of a dot.fr address, which one would expect? The New York Times has been circumspect if not tepid in its editorial commentary on Caroline Kennedy. Perhaps, they are looking for a foreign bad guy to say what they really mean.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Must Democracy’s Big Tent Include Torture, Kleptocrats and Plutocrats?

These are truly surreal times for democracy. We have two senate seats, whose most popular candidates (Caroline Kennedy and Beau Biden) imply a plutocracy and one seat up for sale. At the same time, our President just gave a news conference with the audible cries of a protester being beaten in the adjacent room. What kind of example are we setting for the countries that we would wish to emulate us?

I’m sure Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a Senator. I’m not a believer in endless dues-paying to status-quo enforcing political machines because that can result in very average candidates. It also creates a bias against women who typically begin their political careers later in life, after raising their children. The question is: who has the grit, political nose, aggressiveness, and charisma to get things done? Someone like Kirstin Gillibrand, a congresswoman from upstate New York, who just won her second term in Congress, has all of these qualities.

It is disappointing to read Willie Brown’s take on Blagojevich. In it, he encourages us to think more acceptingly of the GREY inherent in democracy, "Keep in mind, politics is a crazy business. When you're appointing people, you expect them to be supportive of you. You expect them to be loyal to you. You expect them to work for your re-election." Similarly, there are many recent writings that suggests Blagojevich is just a slightly more egregious example of everyday politics in Washington, including this post by Melanie Sloan of the ethics watchdog CREW. Yet, we must expect more from public officials. The public expects and deserves that its representatives appoint the most qualified, competent public servant who will bring integrity and the ability to accomplish great work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The “Madoff Index”: Is Your Investment Strategy in Keeping With Your Stakeholders?

The cluster bomb of the Madoff scandal is now reverberating throughout the progressive non-profit world. The JEHT Foundation, which funds progressive groups like Human Rights Watch, will suddenly close its doors in January. That begs the question: how many non-profits had their endowments and operating funds in alternative investments like Madoff’s hedge funds? And how much are non-profits taking into account their donor’s investment risk tolerance?

What about the latest news that CALPERS has lost 25% of its investmenst this year, requiring it to raise fees on state government and ultimately on the taxpayer?

Taxpayer funded and donor funded investments must take into consideration the risk profile of their funders. Fiduciary obligation is nothing new. What's new is the awareness and scale of losses. Future donation and taxpayer forms should include a short quiz on how funders prefer their money to be invested. Those profiles could be used to create a weighted average risk profile so that all funders felt that their money was managed at an appropriate risk level.

No wonder there's been such flight to T-bills. My irrational side wishes all these groups had been more conservative with their funding, particularly knowing that restoring funding levels in a down economy will be a monumental task.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Linguistic Thoughts on “Hook-up” Nation

An Op-ed in Today’s New York Times discusses the prevalence of hook-ups in lieu of dating among today’s teenagers. Hook-ups occur when groups of friends get together and some couples pair off for some level of physical intimacy. This is reportedly a result of collapsed advance planning, delayed marriage and relaxed values. The difference may also reflect a difference in semantics. Younger people have attached negative connotations to the word "dating": they view dates as pressure-cookers.

In any case, the de-formalization of mating rituals is real and has spread to older generations (ie, those in their 30s and 40’s). To the extent that I‘ve encountered it in my own dating life, it feels like a virus of passion-free ennui. It seems to mostly affect the lives of those who focus on building a great lifestyle. Those who emphasize building a life of significance, such as having a family or anything beyond simple material success, seem relatively immune.

I have lived in formal cities like New York and Paris and did not experience this style of dating. There is no equivalent French word or expression for the concept of “dating” in French. And as a result, if you have two dates with a French man, he’s your boyfriend.

I view many attitudes of younger generations as the positive result of a more egalitarian and practical culture. I have yet to discover the advantage of this new-fangled mating ritual. Perhaps, it's simply a practical strategy to keep marriage at bay. Age at marriage is the most significant factor in predicting marriage stability. According to NBER research by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, couples who are 30 and older at marriage have practically a nil chance of divorce.

A hook-up is devoid of the intimacy, passion and oneness that can drive an exuberance to marry. When the time is right, perhaps, we can borrow expressions from other languages to add some spice to our youngsters’ dating lives. For example, in the poetic Persian language, a common term of endearment translates roughly to “I sacrifice for you”. Now, that’s exciting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

Yesterday, on NPR's morning edition, Bill O'Reilly discussed his new memoir "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity", a moniker give to him by a grammar school nun, presumably with great affection. O'Reilly notes that anyone who "puts themselves on the line" risks being called evil. "Some people thought Jesus was evil; they nailed him to a cross," O'Reilly said. I LOVE the title of his book and deeply admire those who take a stand. With people like Bill O'Reilly, the question is whether they strike the most effective balance between being outrageous and being courageous.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Will "Stay-at-Home-Boyfriends" End the Gender Wage Gap?

A 24-year old market researcher told me that her same-aged gainfully employed boyfriend dreams of quitting his job and becoming her stay-at-home-boyfriend. They neither live together nor have children. The boyfriend simply would like to pursuit his interests during the day and finds nothing untoward in this choice.

If this attitude were pervasive among Millenials, we'd see the end of the wage gap among this generation in a hurry. In a recent study reviewed in Time magazine, researchers found that sex role stereotypes alone could explain a large proportion of the difference in earnings between men and women. Men with traditional views of gender roles (ie, men who have a wife to do all the housework and child care) have the highest income and earn 71% more than and women with traditional views of gender roles (those with two full-time jobs). Men who hold egalitarian views have much lower wages than traditional men and these men earn just 7% more than egalitarian-oriented women - even today.

Perhaps this is one of the keys to why younger women seem so unconcerned about feminism. Their generation's views towards gender roles are vastly more egalitarian than previous generations and they already assume a fairer outcome in wages.

With fewer men holding traditional gender roles, will there be fewer jumbo salaries and what does that imply for income inequality more broadly?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Might the Needs of Women Abroad Resonate With Young American Women?

Cecile Richards praised the appointment of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State because of its positive implications for women's health in developing countries. She states: "in some parts of Africa, women have a one-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth" I welcome Cecile's focus on what Hillary will represent to women in developing countries.

Young women have consistently rejected a domestic feminist agenda as so much uninteresting gas-bagging. I wonder if an appeal to younger women about the rights of women in other countries might have more resonance to them than appeals about women's well-being at home.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The End of Ideology? Millenials Embrace Pragmatism

In previous posts, I've marveled at how Millenial women find feminism irrelevant, somewhat like Alaskans' view towards heatstroke. As another indication that Millenials embrace a more pragmatic and less ideological view, Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, told Terri Gross on Fresh Air, that he looks forward to working with President-elect Obama on climate change and reducing unintended pregnancies. He said his views had softened over the past four years because he is becoming more like younger Evangelicals. Cizik stated that younger Evangelicals have different views towards gays and they are particularly concerned about the environment. Paraphrasing, Cizik said, "It is Godly to work towards Creation Care."

Older generations need to be be wary of being dismissed by Millenials if they continue with their customary appeals to ideology and group identity. Millenials are undeterred by slippery slope arguments over issues such as abortion. They seem ready to jump on a taboggan and slide down those slippery slopes into some practical solutions.