Commentary Politics

The GOP: Fiddling With Your Uterus While Our Country Burns

Jodi Jacobson

At a time when the nation is facing numerous crises, including crumbling and increasingly dangerous infrastructure, the GOP leadership in Congress is deregulating and defunding services and agencies that save people's lives, while obsessing about abortion bans. And for this they are called "pro-life."

In early May, I headed out to Patapsco Valley State Park near Baltimore, Maryland, for a cycling event. The park opens at 9:00 a.m., the same time the event was scheduled, so I arrived early, hoping to reach the group on time. When I got to the park at 8:00 a.m. with coffee and book in hand, there was already a long line of cars, including bicyclists, families hoping to hike, people with fishing poles, and others just wanting to enjoy a beautiful day. When the gate opened, it took a very long time for cars to actually enter the park (and I ended up missing the cycling event), and at first I could not understand why.

It turned out that every car reached the ranger station only to be told that the park was closed, because overnight one of the stone bridges that carries freight trains into and out of Baltimore had begun crumbling onto the park road, and the rangers were, rightly, afraid someone might get injured or worse. Before making a U-turn to leave, I looked at the bridge—a beautiful old stone railroad bridge with a very long and heavy freight train sitting immobilized on top of it—and thought “this is our future… a nation of neglected and crumbling infrastructure that will begin to affect all of us.” In this case, no one was hurt but the potential for disaster was great, had the park opened before evidence of the crumbling bridge was discovered.

My experience, of course, pales in comparison to the crash earlier this week of an Amtrak train out of Philadelphia, which was responsible for at least eight deaths as well as injuries suffered by hundreds of others, not to mention the closure of a main transportation and economic artery in what is known as the Northeast Corridor. While an investigation is under way and the full story may not come out for as long as a year, there are several things we already know about this crash, many of which we’ve known for a long time.

One is that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, a system known as “positive train control”which checks and can control the speed of a train—could have prevented the crash. Another is that the lack of such a system also killed four people and injured dozens in a New York City crash, this one involving a Metro-North train in 2013. A third is that positive train control is both technically complex and very costly, requiring by some estimates more than $10 billion to implement fully. And there are many other problems with the nation’s train system, including, for example, old tracks and crumbling bridges. According to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, speaking Thursday on the Diane Rehm Show, there are at least ten railroad bridges used by Amtrak, some over 100 years old, that are badly in need of replacement or repair, and require $1 billion each to replace. The situation will only get worse: Replacing these bridges now will cost many times what it would have cost in the 1990s. And those costs, which do not include the increasing human toll in death and injury, will continue to rise each year we delay.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

These problems are by no means limited to Amtrak bridges or even just to our broader railway system. A 2011 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers stated that decaying infrastructure—roads, rails, bridges, ports—was then costing the United States $129 billion per year in lost economic activity, and would cost $430 billion within ten years. We are already halfway there.

This is a national crisis and one that would sensibly engender the question: What is the U.S. Congress doing to address it?

Yesterday, the GOP provided us with an answer.

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to cut Amtrak’s budget and refused to approve funds for hastening the installation of positive train control across the nation’s railroads. Their reasons? “Something, something, something, funding not related to the crash,” they mumbled in unison. In other words, their fallback is always to blame the individual and take no responsibility for the havoc their policies have wrought.

Meanwhile, the House GOP did take the time to pass a 20-week abortion ban that would increase the emotional, economic, and physical costs of abortion care and would, if signed into law, ultimately cost some women their lives and innumerable others their freedom. It is interesting to note that some of the most vociferous attacks on women and their bodies this year and last came from Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), whom the Baltimore Sun called “obsessed with abortion,” and who spent countless hours during this period leading the charge to overturn democratically approved abortion funding in the District of Columbia. Harris is on the House appropriations committee that voted to cut Amtrak funding, and also appeared as a guest on Diane Rehm’s show today, three days after the crash, to argue against funding for rail and transportation safety. Congressman Paul Ryan, author of one of the most cruel budgets in U.S. history and another supporter of abortion restrictions (because… “life”) appeared on Fox News, also to defend budget cuts to Amtrak.

These two votes tell us a lot about the real agenda of the Republican Party. In its quest to protect corporate power and profits and by extension its own interests at literally any cost, the GOP seeks to defund every public service, erase all forms of regulation, and render toothless every public enforcement agency under its jurisdiction. In short, the party follows a fundamentalist ideology in service of corporate interest and profits and that thing known as the “free market” that is in turn leading to cuts and deregulation so severe Republicans are actively, purposefully undermining the health, safety, welfare, and livelihoods of an untold number of American citizens. People will die and become injured and seriously disabled as a result of the neglect of the nation’s infrastructure and as a result of budget cuts and deregulation in many other areas. (And I am purposely leaving for another time other ways in which GOP policies lead to higher rates of death and illness, such as denial of Medicaid expansion, preventable outbreaks of disease, and other measures that endanger public health and welfare.)

To both divert attention from the slow motion train wreck that is our crumbling infrastructure, economy, and broader threats like climate change, the GOP has adopted and pursued another fundamentalist ideology: the obsessive, one might say pathological, campaign to control women’s bodies no matter the cost to women’s lives and health. Translation: They have the time, inclination, and desire to regulate your body, but not to protect it from known threats over which they have legal purview and for which they are, as elected officials, both responsible and accountable.

Ironically, and I would say audaciously, they still call their party “pro-life.”

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

On ‘Single Ladies’ Making History: A Q&A With Rebecca Traister

Katie Klabusich

In All the Single Ladies, Traister outlines the struggle and the strength of womanhood while demolishing myths, as well as flat-out lies, about the role and prevalence of single women through history.

The premise that unmarried women have driven social and political change in this country since before its founding is enjoying mass circulation thanks to author Rebecca Traister’s latest book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.

As a perpetually single woman rapidly approaching 40, I was on the edge of my seat for its March 1 release. It was exhilarating to discover that women who remained unmarried by choice or chance, married late, or had non-traditional marriages (for the time or even today’s standards) have always done movement work out of necessity and passion.

Traister opens her book with an exchange from 1896. In an interview with suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Nellie Bly asks, “What do you think the new woman will be?” Anthony responds, “She’ll be free.”

Perhaps our society is entering that era of the new woman: Traister’s book became a New York Times’ Best Seller almost immediately after it hit bookstore shelves, just in time for the conclusion of a presidential primary that might end with a female nominee at the top of a major party ticket.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

It does feel as if we are still defining and creating this “new woman” though—just look at the misogyny around this election, ongoing resistance to the Equal Rights Amendment, and rampant attacks on reproductive health. One has to wonder: When do we finally prove Susan B. Anthony right?

In All the Single Ladies, Traister outlines the struggle and strength of womanhood while demolishing myths, as well as flat-out lies, about the role and prevalence of single women throughout history. She was kind enough, via email while traveling to promote the book, to extrapolate on female friendship, the power of unmarried women in shaping electoral politics, and how far we have yet to go before common life choices like staying single cease to be considered “alternative.” Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

Rewire: Marriage as the “least bad” option is a recurring theme throughout the book. Some are choosing it because of social assumptions and the need to belong, others for economic reasons. Could we be reaching a tipping point for validating the choice not to be part of a conventional two-person union in law and tax code?

Rebecca Traister: I think we’re still quite a distance from a massive tipping point when it comes to altering policies, though certainly we’re at a tipping point when it comes to the way in which Americans live their lives and map out their adulthoods. Obviously, part of the problem is government dysfunction and part of it is the lingering, deeply entrenched attitudes that continue to privilege marriage and afford benefits to those (especially men) who marry.

I do believe that the new organization of the citizenry, the development of a massive (and potentially powerful) new population—of women living independently of this institution on which they have historically been dependent and which has in many ways confined them, especially in its older forms—will have some kind of political impact over the next few decades. (Gulp … century?) But, I imagine that the progress will be slow. Maybe I’m wrong! Maybe it will be swifter than I can imagine.

Right now I’m just hoping for paid parental leave, which makes so much sense yet it has been bizarrely impossible to move toward until very recently. And a higher minimum wage, which is also so crucial, but which has been considered a radical ask. And paid sick days! Which is also one of the most obviously humane ideas we could come up with, yet is still not federally mandated.

I’m hoping for a lot, in other words. I always hope for a lot.

Rewire: What makes single women so different electorally?

RT:  Well, there isn’t self-conscious politicization. But there are a bunch of factors. In terms of the rates they vote, single women move around more—to cities and around the country and out of the country—which makes it harder for them to vote. They are susceptible to voting restrictions, since so many single women are ironically so desperately in need of policies that would enable them to take the time it now often requires to cast a vote; and politicians have cut them out rhetorically for so long—speaking only of American families, pretty obviously in reference to traditional, hetero-nuclear family structures, and not other kinds of family formations.

Also, in terms of what they need in the world: they require support for their own independence (as male independence has been supported for centuries through enfranchisement, government-backed business and housing loans, infrastructure investment, tax breaks, etc.) in the form of higher wages, pay equality protection, mandated paid sick days and parental leave, lower college costs, subsidized high-quality child care, and unfettered access to safe and legal abortion, and also to contraception.

When we were organized in hetero, legally bound units in which one kind of American did the professional work (and accrued the economic benefits and enjoyed some of the government-subsidized benefits as well) and another kind of American did the domestic labor (enjoying no economic benefit, save being dependent on her husband), the need for these policies that might better support economic independence of all kinds of Americans didn’t seem so starkly necessary. Now it is. But of course, the conditions that make it necessary—the possibility of women having more liberated sex lives, higher-earning work lives, having kids outside of marriage—were won in self-consciously political battles, through civil rights and feminist movements. Those victories created conditions that now permit this more mass behavioral shift.

Rewire: You link the “new reality” of women logistically being able to live independently, and therefore choosing to do so, with the patriarchy’s panic about decreasing stigma around premarital sex. Could this anxiety over erosion of privilege and power be what’s driving the attacks on reproductive health two decades later?

RT: Well, it’s certainly part of it. Attacks on reproductive health and moves to regulate women’s ability to control their reproduction have always been linked to fears about women’s insurrection and eventual independence from male-dominated power structures. And it makes sense. Women’s bodies are the ones in which reproduction happens; men’s ability to exert influence—or ownership—over their offspring and to pass along their privilege to a next generation is all foregrounded in some sort of social and economic control over women and their bodies.

Abortion restrictions are one way to do that; making birth control inaccessible is another way to do that. Previously, it was keeping women from voting and out of workplaces. Basically, anything that saps women’s ability to live independently and forces them to rely on men for economic, social, and/or sexual possibility leads men to maintain their power. And, of course, that’s where marriage came in; it was for a long time the institution that organized and enforced men’s power over women. But as more people live outside of it, it’s changing, which is good news. It’s becoming more flexible, more egalitarian, more a thing that women and men are likely to enter into at varied ages—and only when it is going to enhance their lives, not simply because they have no other choice.

RewireIn the chapter “Single Women Have Often Made History,” you write:

The consumerist cycle both depended on and strengthened capitalism, and thus worked to allay other postwar anxieties about nuclear attack and Communism, both of which had become linked to fears about the power of women’s sexuality run amok. Historian Elaine Tyler May reports that “non-marital sexual behavior in all its forms became a national obsession after the war,” and marriage, in tandem with the repudiation of women’s recent advances, was the cure.

Is there anything—any “ill”—over the past several centuries that hasn’t been linked to female sexuality or insufficient submission?

RT: Environmental collapse? The recession and mortgage industry disaster? Probably those things are also linked in some quarters to women’s insufficient submission; there’s always someone out there willing to blame a hurricane, or an economic collapse precipitated largely by wealthy white men, on women’s promiscuity or whatever.

But yeah, more seriously, most everything that afflicts us can get blamed on women and their propensity for moving toward equality and away from dependency on men.

Rewire: You write about female friendships—a topic close to my heart—throughout the book. When you introduce your friend Sara you describe how deeply entrenched in your life she was for many years. My “Sara” and I have found that people often squint and “huh?” when we talk about each other in a way that indicates we might be each other’s “person.” Even though, as you write, tight female friendships have been common historically, our generation was taught to view each other as rivals, not to be trusted. Do/did people get your relationship with Sara? What are people missing when we talk about our platonic “person” and possibly missing in their own lives?

RT:  Well, the fact that not everyone “got” that relationship (or other close friendships that were so central to my adulthood) was part of what prompted me to first write about Sara, in a piece called “Girlfriends are the New Husbands,” back in 2004, then again in 2005, then again in 2012. The centrality of friendship to women’s adulthood is really a topic that has obsessed me for a while! Both because I’ve lived it and because almost every one of my peers has also lived it.

And no, as I write in the book, there’s no greeting card aisle, no specially trained therapists, to help us navigate the very serious emotional terrain of friendship, as there is for marriage and divorce or for parental or sibling relationships, though really friends do become our familial and most intimate partners for years at a time, often for our whole lifetimes. I think that as more of us stay single for longer, alongside each other, and experience friendship as a bedrock of our adulthoods, the better we’ll get at acknowledging and supporting friendship as a primary relationship.

In earlier eras, when marriage was much less likely to offer emotional sustenance or companionate pleasures, female friendships were recognized to some better degree. But our recent history (from mid-20th century) really encouraged marriage as the institution in which we put all our emotional stores, and encouraged those marriages to begin at the start of our adulthoods. So we have some work to do in moving away from that model and remembering that there are other patterns of commitment, and commingling of lives and responsibilities, and that they are just as valid—and often better for us!

Rewire: Most of the women I know have an impossible time doing nice things for ourselves. We judge ourselves the way you describe raising an eyebrow at Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection, but not Carol Brady’s hypothetical need for drapes. You write: “Any time women do anything with their lives that is not in service to others, they are readily perceived as acting perversely.”

I think all of us have internalized this. What can we do to unlearn this unhealthy drive to give of ourselves until we’re depleted and encourage ourselves and each other to pursue things that we like/want simply because they bring us joy? And can a shift in this thinking lead us to demanding more/better in all categories of our lives, including relationships and work?

RT:  Well, this calls on me to be a bit of an advice columnist, which I’m very bad at. (Though I should add that I think I’m very good at giving individual advice! Just not to masses of people).

My (slightly lame) answer to this is that the first step is one many women are already taking: simply putting themselves first—whether that means pursuing their own ambitions, crafting their own individual commitments and not adhering to old models that don’t fit them. As more women live in a greater variety of ways, the more they help all of our eyes to the fact that women have selves, and that those selves count for something—count for a lot.

This very basic first step has been a long time coming.

Rewire: At the end of your introduction you say, “Here we are,” meaning Susan B. Anthony’s “epoch of single women.” If we’ve arrived there, what comes next?

RT:  I have no idea! That’s what’s so exciting.

News Economic Justice

Oregon Senate Approves Highest State Minimum Wage in the Country

Nicole Knight Shine

The bill passed 16 to 12 following a marathon six-hour floor debate, with one Democrat joining Republican lawmakers in opposition.

The Oregon state senate on Thursday passed a watershed bill to make the state’s minimum wage the highest in the nation.

Senate Bill 1532, passed in the Democratic-led senate, would phase in a geographical, tiered system of minimum wage rates beginning July 1. The Portland metropolitan area would see minimum pay rise to $14.75 by 2022, with urban counties going to $13.50, and rural counties to $12.50.

The bill passed 16 to 12 following a marathon six-hour floor debate, with Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) joining Republican lawmakers in opposition, as the Oregonian reported.

“This measure strikes an important balance,” Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham) said in a statement emailed after the vote. “It provides a much-needed raise for hard-working Oregonians struggling to get by and the gradual six-year phase-in gives businesses more certainty about the future.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

An Oregonian working full-time for today’s state minimum of $9.25 an hour earns $19,240 a year, leaving them unable to afford basic necessities, such as shelter, food, and transportation, advocates say.

About 6 percent of jobs in the state pay the current state minimum, according to the Oregon Employment Department. A legislative analysis indicates that a $13.50 hourly wage hike could cost about $1.1 million over two years, while a $15 per hour increase could cost an estimated $4.8 million over two years.

Supporters and critics disagree about the wage hike’s effect.

The advocacy group Our Oregon says research indicates that higher wages cut small business costs by reducing employee turnover and absenteeism, and boosting worker performance.

Oregon business groups opposed to wage hikes cite research suggesting the wage increase would eliminate 62,700 jobs, primarily in the state’s hospitality and agriculture industries.

The state Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) in 2014 estimated that lifting the minimum wage to $13.10 would cut the monthly income of a single parent of two by $30. This would happen because a higher wage would make some workers ineligible for federal assistance programs and state tax credits. The same report from the LRO noted that raising the minimum wage more, to $14.10 and beyond, would counteract that loss and result in greater monthly incomes than before. 

Competing state ballot measures are also seeking a $13.50 and $15 state minimum, as the Oregonian reported.

“We have heard story after story of low-wage workers doing work that needs to be done,” Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “The people who do this work should be able to live their lives and provide for their families without resorting to charity or public assistance. They do not want to have to work two jobs or more to get by. They want to be able to make it on their own, performing the labor that we ask of them.”

The bill now heads to the house, where Democrats hold a 10-vote majority.

Jeff Anderson, secretary-treasurer of Local 555 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said in a statement that Oregon’s minimum wage hike mirrors a trend elsewhere, as the Associated Press reported.

“Cities up and down the West Coast already have $15 minimum wages on the books, and both Washington and California are considering ballot measures to raise the wage statewide to $13.50 or higher,” Anderson said.

The Los Angeles City Council in May 2015 agreed to lift the city’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour by July 2016. Lawmakers in San Francisco and Seattle have passed a $15 hourly wage increase. New York’s governor pushed through a $15 minimum wage for state workers that takes effect at the end of 2018.

A study by the Economic Roundtable found that an increased wage would be exceedingly positive for Los Angeles.

“We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales,” wrote Yvonne Yen Liu, one of the group’s researchers.

More than 200 bills in 2015 called for increases to state or federal minimum wage, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fourteen states began 2016 with a higher minimum wage, although the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour.