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Wednesday: Geeks vs Rentiers

This morning, Derek Lowe pointed to this post at Nature about the growing geek boycott against the Elsevier journals.  Elsevier is a scientific journal company based in Amsterdam that is pushing Congress to pass the Research Works Act.  The act would sequester scientific information that you the taxpayer have already paid for behind a paywall:

Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a winner of the Fields medal, mathematics’ highest honour, declared his boycott in a blog post on 21 January. He cited Elsevier’s high prices; the practice of bundling journals, which some see as forcing libraries to subscribe to journals they don’t want to get those that they do; and the company’s support for US legislation such as the Research Works Act (RWA), which would forbid government agencies from requiring that the results of research they fund be placed in public repositories. Elsevier is not the only publisher guilty of such practices, says Gowers, but it is the worst offender.

Since the protest began, more than 4,800 researchers from all fields have joined in; about 20% are mathematicians. After an initial burst of activity, the petition is now attracting around 200 new signatories each day. On 8 February, Gowers and 33 other mathematicians, including Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union, released a follow-up statement detailing their objections to Elsevier’s practices.

Here’s the problem: Elsevier and other scientific journal publishers, like ACS, charge extremely high fees to download an electronic copy of their papers.  Since I’ve been unemployed, I haven’t been able to download a copy from Elsevier or ACS servers for less than $30.00/copy  (here’s an example of a paper I’d like to read but not for $31.50).  I hear this complaint from a lot of unemployed scientists.  They absolutely must keep on top of the literature or they’re unemployable but they can’t afford to shell out $30 for each paper they need to read.  That leaves them with few options the best of which is to go to a local university and use their science library.  But if you don’t live close to one, it’s a major headache.  Getting a subscription is doable but the high cost of a subscription usually limits us to only one and research rarely stays in one journal.

But it’s worse than that.  Researchers don’t get paid for their papers when they publish.  Plus, for research that has been paid for by government grants from the NIH, it’s outrageous that any publisher would have the right to keep that information behind a paywall.  That means that American researchers end up paying at greatly inflated prices for work that Americans have already paid for.

I hope the boycott makes some progress.  There are some open access journals out there although their reputation is not well established yet.  But we have to break the stranglehold publishers have on information or only the people who can afford to pay will have access and you know who that means.

Finally, we are really surprised that NY Rep. Carolyn Maloney is onboard with the RWA.  She should be much more concerned with the American researchers no longer employed by corporations and suddenly on their own with dwindling resources,  and less concerned with the rentiers who are trying to keep the data to themselves screaming, “mine! mine! mine!”  If you’ve never had to do research this way, you have absolutely no idea how hard it is.

For shame, Carolyn.

For those of you in research who would like to join the boycott, check out TheCostofKnowledge, which frames the issue like this:

1.)They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.

2.)In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large “bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.

3.)They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

Thursday Morning Vamp and the Research Work Act Atrocity

Some interesting stuff to read while I get my s%^& together.

Happy Anniversary to us!  Yesterday, The Confluence turned 4.  This blog began as a refuge in the Oort belt of the blogosphere from the rampant Obamaism on DailyKos in mid-January 2008.  I was thrown out of DailyKos for being insufficiently programmable, wrote a polite note of thanks to Kos for all the good times and found my way to WordPress.  Never regretted it.  We would like to thank you for all for your friendship through the last four turbulent years.  We’ve had our ups, downs, layoffs and controversies but we’re still here.  And some of you are still reading, which either makes you dedicated friends or seriously nutz.  Or both.  During this election year, let’s try to break the 12,000,000 unique page hits milestone and not back down for a moment.  Consider this one of the few places on the web where you can feel safe to be unpopular.  Resistance is not useless.  You will not be assimilated.

**************************************

Back to the topic of scientific literature.  If you read my last post on the subject and the potentially negative impact SOPA would have on access to scientific literature, you will have learned that the bozos at ACS charge $30.00 a pop for a single paper.  By the way, I just have to take a moment here and point out that scientists get the shaft when it comes to earning money from their own discoveries.  No, companies and governmental entities that hand out grant money act like they’re doing you a favor by giving you money to live on.  Scientists who work for corporations sell their patents to that corporation for a token amount, typically $1.  If the company can successfully navigate the FDA to get approval, that patent could be worth billions.  And, ya’ know, for many years, I thought this was a fair arrangement.  Research is expensive and it’s great to work for a company that foots the bills in terms of lab space, reagents and software licences.  But then they started laying us off when the drugs couldn’t meet the FDA’s increasingly high standards or navigate the political and legal landscapes.  Suddenly, it’s OUR fault that the drugs aren’t perfect as if we have any control over every rebellious cell in the human body.  But whatever.  When scientists who have made a company billions on patents that we sold them for a buck are laid off, we’re going to start to wonder what’s in it for us in future negotiations.  And that, my friends, is a bad development.  But we have to eat too and now that so many of us are unemployed, our overhead costs for staying in science are exponentially increased.  Someone has to pay for that.  Why should we live in poverty while the MBAs live off the products of our creativity?

Anyway, the latest shameful maneuver is from scientific literature publishers like the Wiley and Elsevier.  They want the passage of a bill called, Research Works Act.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline sums up what is starting to feel very much like righteous indignation:

Back in December, a short bill was introduced in the House called the “Research Works Act“. Its backers, Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), describe it as something that will maintain the US’s standing in scientific publishing. After looking over its language and reading a number of commentaries on it, I have to disagree: this looks to me like shameless rent-seeking by the commercial scientific publishers.

And it pains me to say that, because I know several people in that business. But it’s a business whose long-term model has problems. (See the Addendum below if you’re not in the field and want a brief summary of how scientific publishing works). The problem is, the work of the editorial staff has changed a good deal over the years. Back when everyone sent in hard copies of papers, in who knows what sort of format, there was a good deal of work to do just turning the good ones into a consistent journal. Electronic submission has ironed a lot of the grunt work out – it’s still work, but it’s not what it used to be.

That leaves the higher editorial functions themselves, and here’s where the arguing starts. Most, and in some cases all editing of content is done by unpaid peer reviewers. There are journals whose editors exist mainly to keep the flow of submissions moving to the reviewers, and from them back into the official journal, while hardly ever laying a finger on the copy itself. They function as Peer Review Mailroom Managers. And while that’s a necessary job, it’s the center of the argument about scientific publishing today. How much, exactly, is it worth?

Scientific journal are expensive. I mean, really, really expensive to subscribe to. And if you’re not a subscriber, access to individual papers is pretty steep, too – typically in the $15 to $50 range. This is the business model for commercial scientific publishing: create a space with value (reputation, name recognition) and charge the maximum that that traffic will bear. And that’s fine; there are a lot of businesses that work the same way – if they can.

The problem is, the information-sharing capabilities of the Internet blow a large hole in some of the traditional publishing model. And another problem is that a large number of papers that come into the journals from US academic researchers have had some (or all) of that work paid for by government grants (NIH, NSF, DOE and so on). As it stands, articles funded by the NIH are available in PubMed Central for free access, no later (by law) than 12 months from the initial journal publication. Researchers can also submit their work to “open access” journals (such as those from the Public Library of Science), which charge a fee to authors to defray editorial costs, but then allow immediate unlimited access to all comers once a paper is accepted. (I should note that some commercial journals get away with “page charges” as well, and some have a model where the authors can pay extra to bring their paper out from behind the paywall).

And here’s where we have the Research Works Act. It would forbid any publication in an open access journal for anything funded in academia by US government grants, and it would forbid any public-access repository for such work. That’s its purpose. Well, to be more accurate, its purpose, as described by the head of the Association of American Publishers, is that it “ensures the sustainability of the industry”. Yep, make my business model part of statutory law, and beggar my competition: what else is a government for, anyway?

Read Derek’s update on this subject too.  He reports that the journal Nature, has come out against RWA.  Nature is one of the most prestigious journals and I am really happy to hear this.  In short, Derek thinks that like the major media conglomerates who are pushing for SOPA and PIPA, the science journal giants are stubbornly refusing to evolve and change their business model, forcing us to pay high rates for content that they get for free.  Without access to papers at a reasonable price, these journal giants will fail and for the scientific community, that’s probably a good thing.  Liberate the discoveries!  We don’t need no stinkin’ RWA to prop the greedy journal companies if they won’t accomodate us.

So, to recap: Corporations are actively destroying their research units, leaving about a hundred thousand scientists without careers and fending for themselves in little startup companies with extremely high overhead costs.  They need to have access to scientific literature in order to just stay alive.  You can’t do science without them.  And along come the big science journal publishers who want to keep their current business model, charging high licensing and subscription fees or $30 a paper on average for papers that were sent to them at no charge.  Yes, friends, you could be charged $30 for the privilege of downloading your own paper.  But wait!  There’s more.  It’s not good enough that they have exclusive access to the papers in their own journals that they can charge outrageous fees for.  NOW they want the government to stop providing free public access to scientific papers that were the result of NIH research grants.  Yes, Wiley, Elsivier and the ACS want to make sure that no one gets access to the science that you the taxpayer have already paid for unless they pay an exorbitant download fees.

I’m really shocked to find that Carolyn Maloney is co-sponsor to this atrocity.  If she doesn’t know what she is doing to the poor (and I mean that literally) scientists out there, someone should tell her.  She may be one of the persons who is going to set American research, what little is left of it, back even further.  We simply can not afford to keep paying through the nose for literature, especially for information we have already paid for.

She should be ashamed.  And this topic deserves as much attention as SOPA, PIPA and NDAA.  It’s outrageous that science that you have already paid for is going to be held hostage behind a paywall.  We may need an Occupy Science working group to look into this.

Caroline Kennedy drops out

In one of the most bizzarre articles I have ever read at the NYTimes, comes news that Caroline Kennedy decides to not pursue Hillary’s seat because of her uncle’s health.  But, her anonymous friends exclaim, she could have had the job if she wanted it.  It’s just that, um, she didn’t want it.  Did she mention her uncle was sick?  Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, according to a person told of her decision.

Ms. Kennedy on Wednesday called Gov. David A. Paterson, who will choose a successor to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, to inform him that she no longer wished to be considered.

The person told of her decision said that Ms. Kennedy’s concerns about the health of her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who suffers from brain cancer and was hospitalized after suffering a seizure Tuesday, prompted her to withdraw.

Ms. Kennedy believed that the job was hers if she would accept it, the person said, but aides to Mr. Paterson would not comment on whether that was true.

There have been conflicting signals about whether Mr. Paterson had settled on Ms. Kennedy for the job. Mr. Paterson said earlier this week that he had chosen someone, but some advisers, as recently as Wednesday, remained convinced that he not yet made up his mind on whom to pick.

One close friend of the governor’s said on Wednesday afternoon that “I would be totally shocked” if Mr. Paterson did not pick Ms. Kennedy.

“If he doesn’t go with her, how angry is the Democratic leadership going to be with him?” the friend said.

You know, I don’t think Harry Reid gives a flying fig whether the choice is Caroline or some other Democrat as long as the vote is there when he needs it and the person has a decent shot at retaining the seat. But it’s pretty clear that someone at the Times has it bad for Lady Caroline.  Anyway, the whole reason for dropping out is just silly.  Let’s me see if I can write better copy:

Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, according to a person told of her decision.  Ms. Kennedy was notified by Governor Paterson’s office shortly after Senator Clinton was confirmed as Secretary of State that the Governor had selected another candidate to fill the office.  Unconfirmed reports suggest that Senator Charles Schumer has been actively promoting Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) behind the scenes as the person who has the best combination of legislative and electoral experience to hold the seat for the Democrats.

Ms. Kennedy said that she will be spending the next several months with the elder statesman, Senator Edward Kennedy, her uncle, whose health has been in decline since the discovery last year of an agressive form of brain cancer.  Senator Kennedy suffered convulsions at the Inaugural luncheon at Statuary Hall yesterday.  Although he has recovered and has been released from the hospital, the convulsions are a clear indicator that the tumor has regained the mass that was removed in last year’s surgery.  Ms. Kennedy has expressed a desire to remain with her uncle and help him in any capacity.

Ok, see, that’s much more straightforward but a lot less entertaining than the NYT piece.  Still, I’m relieved.

Keep those cards and letters flowing.  Go Carolyn!

Escape Inauguration Mania With Activism: Just Say No to Caroline!

Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy

Governor Paterson of New York has just a few more days to decide who will be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Reports are flying through the New York press – some say the Governor is dead set on appointing Caroline, whereas others say he is giving other candidates a second look, including the redoubtable and incredibly worthy Representative Carolyn Maloney.

We still have a chance to make a difference. Call, write, email or fax the Governor’s office, and disseminate the open letter below as far and wide as possible.

Governor Paterson’s Contact Information:

To Write To The Governor:
David A. Paterson
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Call: 518-474-8390

Fax: 518-474-1513

To Email The Governor:
Click here to email the Governor.

———————————————————————————————————–

An Open Letter to Governor David Paterson:

Dear Governor Paterson,

The person whom you appoint to Senator Clinton’s seat should have two qualities:

1) She should be a woman; and

2) Like Hillary, she should be ready and qualified on Day One.

Satisfying the first requirement should be quite simple. However, it is the need to satisfy both requirements that seems to be escaping your attention.

To a certain extent, we need gender affirmative action in government. As a group that makes up 51% of the country’s population, women are severely under-represented in Congress, at an abysmal 17%. When Senator Clinton becomes Secretary of State, that already inadequate percentage will dip to 16%.

But in the case of the next New York Senator, there is no need to appoint a person who has literally no Congressional experience whatsoever; a person who has apathetically declined to vote in several New York primaries; a person who, with her fawning, disingenuous attempts to pretend Barack Obama was “a President like her father,” was instrumental in making sure that the highest, hardest glass ceiling was not shattered for women this year.

Yet that is what you may end up doing with Caroline Kennedy. And according to the Post story today, it is for no other reason than the Kennedy-Bloomberg money and connections she is promising you.

May I ask how this is ANY different than what Rod Blagojevich was arrested for doing? If you are unconcerned with the fate of your state, and only looking out for your own political future, then I say you are simply selling the Senate seat that Hillary Clinton worked so hard to earn, to the people with the deepest pockets and the most political influence. For shame, Governor Paterson!

Two outstanding Congresswomen, Carolyn Maloney and Kirsten Gillibrand, are more than ready and qualified on Day One. Should one of them be appointed, Ms. Kennedy could easily step into one of their seats and EARN her stripes as a New York Congresswoman before running for the Senate seat in 2010. Interestingly, Carolyn Maloney’s district is the same as Ms. Kennedy’s. It would be a seamless transition for both women, should you choose this path.

Honor the New Yorkers at whose pleasure you serve. Do not choose Caroline Kennedy as the next Senator from New York. Below are just a few of the many blog posts and articles stating that Caroline Kennedy would not be a good choice.

 Say It Ain’t So, Governor Paterson

Caroline Kennedy is Not Being Palinized

Say Good Night, Caroline

Caroline Kennedy No Whiz With Words

Caroline Kennedy Botches Debut

PUMAs Growl at Caroline Betrayal

Caroline Kennedy Lets Her Interest Be Known

Caroline Kennedy and The Bloomberg Connection

Bloomberg Maneuvers To Crown A Kennedy

Roundup of Caroline News

New Yorkers Saying No, NO, NO to Caroline Kennedy

Is Caroline Ready? No.

She’s No Jack Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy No More Qualified Than J. Lo

Caroline Kennedy Dismayed By Own Voting Record

Caroline Kennedy’s “you knows” Turn Into “You? No.”

In addition, here is a link to an online petition that has more than 100 signatures in support of saying no to Caroline and yes to Carolyn or Kirsten.

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/qualifiedwoman/index.html

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

(add your name here)

Monday: Live by the, you know, sword…

Dear Caroline,

He already had 15 Penis Years on you at age 3

He already had 15 Penis Years on you at age 3

If your brother were asking to fill Hillary’s seat, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  He would have been *well* qualified.  It wouldn’t have mattered a bit to New Yorkers how many times he had failed the bar exam.  He would have been a son of a president and we would have all passed pictures around the web of him saluting at his father’s funeral.  Little girls didn’t salute.  See, even at 3 years old, he had more in penis years than you did as his senior by 3 years.

The drubbing that you are getting in the court of public opinion is an unintended consequence of your ill-considered endorsement of Barack Obama.  Did your uncle put you up to that?  You passed up a hard working, well-respected, two term senator who earned her seat by campaigning and meeting the people of New York, for an empty suit who refuses to lead and will instead rely on the youthful hooliganism of his base in order to govern.

More than that, you have helped to set the bar so incredibly high for women candidates that it may be hard to find any woman in NY who will be able to meet the new standards set for them.  That is not to say there aren’t well qualified candidates who are women,  There most certainly are.  But there are an increasing number of people who are saying, “Well, it doesn’t *have* to be a woman as long as it’s the best candidate”.  See, that’s just wrong because the scales are unequal for men and women.  Hillary wasn’t good enough for the media and the DNC because they set the bar for her at 432 ft and expected her to pole vault over it while Obama’s bar was set at knee height and his friends carried him over, gently, so as to not upset his waffle digestion

And so it will be for the women in NY State who want to fill Hillary’s shoes.  Well, let’s just say for the record right now that it will be very difficult for anyone, regardless of gender, to fill Hillary’s shoes.  But for women like Carolyn Maloney and Kirsten Gillibrand, women who are well qualified to fill her seat, the fact that they are even lunped in the same category as Andrew Cuomo is kind of insulting.  The two women have real legislative experience and have competed in congressional races while Cuomo has served as an Attorney General and as a housing secretary during the Clinton administration.  All things being equal, he’s on the same par as Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, who was actually a state senator.  She says she has zero chance of being appointed (although the odds may have changed now that JJJr is out).  So, if Lisa isn’t being seriously considered, why is Andrew?

I’ll tell you why.  Penis years.  He’s a guy.  His name is almost always mentioned as a Hillary replacement in the articles about you.  Carolyn Maloney’s almost never and she has been elected to her seat in Manhattan eight times.  If that doesn’t demonstrate a record of achievement and fundraising ability, what does?  Yes, it’s unfair.  But not to you.

It was unfair to Hillary and Sarah and Linda Stender and every other woman who ran this year and lost.  It’s not fair to any of us that we can be reduced to a bunch of “you knows” and “I can see Russia from my house!” and “why didn’t Hillary cry for Katrina?”.  Now, Caroline Kennedy, that second in line to the throne after her younger brother, is going to be subjected to the same sexism and misogynism that reduced Hillary from one of the most powerful women in the world and Sarah from the governor of a crucial oil state with two international borders to charicatures of the calculating uber-bitch and brainless beauty queen respectively.  Your new role will be as one of the aristocratic “ladies who lunch” socialites whose family pulls out of private life to shore up the brand name.

I hear, you know, you are a lawyer.   Like, really?  You’d never know it from the press you’re getting.

You know.

Sincerely,

RD

PS.  The idea of Harriet Christian for senate is actually growing on me.  Few people understand the average New Yorker better than Harriet and she’s articulate and courageous.  What a combo!

Wednesday: Blitzing the media

I’m running a bit behind this morning so I’ll make this brief.

I am astonished at the number of persuasive articles that have appeared in the NYTimes over the past couple of days regarding Caroline Kennedy’s interest in the Senate seat.  It’s amazing that there is anyone else that is interested in the seat.  Remember Carolyn Maloney and Kirsten Gillibrand?  The NYTimes doesn’t.

There is a crossover article about Obama’s $10 billion for early childhood education as well.  Caroline’s recent “work” has been for the City of NY in the education department.

None of these articles has been very convincing- to me anyway.  So what if she has a lot of advisors who will help her.  Anyone who dives into a senate seat mid-term is likely to get a lot of advice.  And it’s not necessarily true that she only plans to serve out the end of Hillary’s term.  Incumbancy is worth a lot.

But the number of articles written about Caroline has the familiar feel of a haka.  It’s not as ugly as an Obama haka but the persistent, intense projection of inevitability is unmistakable.  The Kennedy’s and Obama’s campaign is pulling out all of the stops and spending a lot of money in PR over this appointment.  It’s a reward for having helped Obama snag the nomination.  And it comes with Ted Kennedy himself pulling strings if she makes it. I detect the single minded determination of Uncle Teddy to have his way, just like he almost pulled it off in 1980.  This time it will be different.  He won’t be the president but he will definitely be running the show.  When it comes right down to it, the bribery doesn’t feel that much different than JJJr’s for Obama’s seat.  Senator Kennedy is promising massive fundraising and personal attention for New York’s problems.  Was he sitting on New York’s legislative initiatives before?  Did he threaten to if someone other than his niece got or retained the seat?

The question is, who would Lady Caroline serve?  The voters of New York or her uncle?

Friday: Gov. Paterson, it’s CAROLYN, not Caroline

Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan

Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan

Lady Caroline Kennedy

Lady Caroline Kennedy

I have read persistent rumors that Caroline Kennedy is on Governor Paterson’s short list of replacements for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat.  Now, I don’t live in NY.  I live in the next state down.  So, maybe Paterson doesn’t give a flying f^&* what I think, although our two states *do* share a common harbor and the WTC was a joint operation so you might say I am a concerned citizen.  Then there is the whole concept of the Senate itself, which is supposed to be a cooling saucer for hot blooded mob rule that is the House of Representatives (snort!).  The Senate is supposed to be a different kind of legislative body, one that by its very number and makeup is intended to transcend state boundaries.  So, the fact that we have only 17 females in this august body is very disturbing indeed and we can’t afford to lose even one.  Percentage wise, the Senate should be more like 52% female to 48% male and we are certainly going to work very hard to bring those numbers up.  But if the Governor plays a game where he appoints Caroline Kennedy because she meets the gender requirement, he might as well be sticking a fork in our eyes.

Why should he pass on Caroline?  Let me count the ways:

  1. She’s not a politician.  Never has been.  She’s never run for political office, never advocated for legislation (that I know of), never even expressed an interest.  If Hillary were close to an election cycle, one might justify appointing Caroline as a symbolic gesture.  But Hillary has four years left in her term.  That would make Kennedy a rather strong incumbent.  She hasn’t earned it.
  2. The Senate is not the House of Lords.  I know the argument against dynasties has also been made against Hillary’s run for president.  But in Hillary’s case, she did the whole campaigning thing.  She’s worked on health care throughout her tenure as first lady.  She went into the senate having *earned* her seat through a legitimate election and her own accomplishments.  We saw her on the campaign trail for president.  She is smart, tough, assertive, unflagging, eternally optimistic.  We *like* her.  Just because her husband was a president doesn’t mean we had to deprive ourselves of the best presidential candidate in the past 15 years.  But in Caroline Kennedy’s case, the name is everything.  She is the closest thing we have to an American princess.  She’s an aristocrat and nothing more.  Oh, sure, she’s a lawyer and she’s published books.  But for her, it almost like finishing school.  She chose to lead a more private life.  Good!  Let her enjoy it.
  3. There are other women who would be passed over who would be legitimately and righteously indignant.  Kirsten Gillibrand and Carolyn Maloney are perfect examples.  For the upstate vote, Kirsten is the way to go.  She’s young, intelligent, well liked.  She’s very much in the Hillary model.  For experience, go to Carolyn Maloney, who has been elected from her Manhattan district *eight* times.  She has a track record of championing women’s issues.  For either of these true politicians who have earned their way to be queue jumped by Caroline Kennedy is a real slap to the face.

Wake up and smell the Starbucks, Governor Paterson.  You have an opportunity to earn some major mojo by appointing a woman who has *earned* that right through hard work and accomplishments.  Appointing a woman because of who she is and not what she has done further undermines women in the eyes of the public.  A woman’s accomplishments are always held to a higher standard than a man’s.  Caroline Kennedy would send the worst kind of message about women in politics.  Women will once again be beholden to male benefactors and not merit to get a seat at the table.  Forget about Lady Caroline and appoint Carolyn or Kirsten.

Do the right thing.

[UPDATE by katiebird] – And please take a minute to sign MadamaB’s petition: Appoint a Woman to Senator Clinton’s Seat

Interview With Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney – Part II

You Said It, Sister!

You Said It, Sister!

The following is Part II of my email interview with the gracious, intelligent, fiery and fabulous feminist, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, after reading her book: “Rumours of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.”

MadamaB: Your writing shows a real talent for framing that is sadly lacking in too many Democratic policiticans’ lexicons. For example, you make a great point that strip-club visits are considered tax-deductible, but child-care expenses aren’t. Have you had any success with framing the comparison the way you do in the book?

CM: Every once in a while you have an ‘aha’ moment – when you see the absolute correctness of a particular position. How you frame an issue helps other people have that ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes you get there by giving your issue a face – I called my DNA bill after Debbie Smith, a woman whose rapist was identified because of a cold hit after her DNA kit was processed. The prosecutors were able to obtain a conviction because of the DNA contained in the rape kit. Debbie came to be the representative of hundreds of thousands of women whose rape kits were gathering dust on the shelf. Every one of those kits belongs to a woman who has a compelling story, and we couldn’t tell all of them. But we could tell Debbie’s, and we could talk about what happened to her, and how processing the DNA in her kit made all the difference. And it helped other members of Congress understand the importance of passing my bill because they understood what happened to Debbie.

MadamaB: Another great frame is your concept of a bipartisan “decency deficit” Could you explain what you mean by that?

CM: Many on the right talk about ‘family values’ which often translates to being anti-choice, anti-gay and, I would argue, anti-family. How can you be for family values if you do not support laws that protect work/life balance? The most important values in my view are what I would call human values: tolerance, compassion, generosity, honesty, humility. Or, to sum it up in one word: decency. Over the past seven years we’ve had an inordinate abuse of power, arrogance, disregard for the constitution – in short, a decency deficit. We need to restore the decency and provide basic needs for those who require it most. We’re the richest nation in the world, but we don’t have paid family leave or paid sick leave. We have no child care system. Health care is unaffordable for millions of American families. As a nation, we need to pay down the decency deficit and restore human values – and I believe women will have a lot to do with that.

MadamaB: In the book, you demonstrate how punitive the second-income tax is to working women. Is this a secondary result of conservative anti-government activism, or do you feel it was specifically intended to punish women?

CM: The marriage penalty is probably an unintended consequence of an effort to end a system that some people felt discriminated against single people. I was surprised to learn that it was adopted in 1969, just before the women’s rights movement gained momentum. There are scholars who are far more expert than I in this subject. I would recommend a wonderful book by Edward J. McCaffery, Taxing Women, who has explored this subject in great detail.

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Interview With Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney – Part I

You Said It, Sister!
You Said It, Sister!

And speaking of “uneducated old women…” The following is Part I of my email interview with the gracious, intelligent, fiery and fabulous feminist, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, after reading her book: “Rumours of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” Part II will be posted tomorrow.

MadamaB: Your path to politics was far from direct. Could you share some of that journey?

CM: When I was growing up, I never dreamed of going to Congress. The options for women were very limited. I thought I would be a teacher, librarian or a nurse. Politics wasn’t even a possibility. I can remember reading an interview in Life Magazine with Margaret Chase Smith, Senator from Maine, that illustrates the thinking of women in politics when I was growing up. The interviewer asked Senator Smith what she would do if she woke up in the White House one day. She answered: “I’d apologize to Bess Truman immediately and leave.” It just shows how self-effacing a female politician had to be in those days – the idea that she might want to run for higher office was just too threatening. If you asked Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi what they would do, they’d have a list. It just shows how far we’ve come but, as I show in my book, not enough.

When I left college, I came to New York and became a teacher, teaching English as a second language to immigrant women in upper Manhattan. Within a year after I started, my program lost its funding. I was nominated by my colleagues to lobby the legislature to get the funding restored. I was successful, and my success got me noticed by the Department of Education, which hired me as a lobbyist. I soon realized that you can accomplish a lot more good by working for the legislature, so I became a staffer, first for the New York State Assembly and later for the New York State Senate. While I accomplished a lot as a member of staff, it soon became clear to me that you really have power only when you actually have a seat at the table as the elected official. So I ran for the City Council in 1982.

MadamaB: You have been a Congresswoman in New York since 1992. What prompted you to write this book now?

CM: During the years of Bush I saw a rollback, a stalling of progress on women’s issues, and in many instances an effort to roll back gains we had achieved in the ‘70s. I wanted to bring attention to the problems we continue to face and the danger that we might lose some of the civil rights protections we had struggled so hard to achieve – and more than that, I wanted to get women involved, to give them ideas of how they can work for change in their own communities. I wanted the book to serve as a wake up call, to galvanize women and like-minded men to take action to address some of the problems I talk about in the book.

MadamaB: The candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton seems to have brought out an awareness that misogyny is far from dead in our society. Yet the press, and many national figures, refuse to admit it exists at all. Is that what inspired the title of your book?

CM: Conventional wisdom about how far women have come far exceeds how far we actually have come. 2008 will go down in history as the year we finally came face to face with the level of misogyny that still persists in American society. While it was awe-inspiring to see Hillary Clinton as a major party candidate, the number of attacks on her for being a woman was simply astonishing. It came from every direction – from the hecklers at rallies who held up signs saying “Iron My Shirt” to the netroots who created a website “Make Me A Sandwich” to the politicians who compared her to the villain in the movie Fatal Attraction and vilified her for not giving up her run for the White House. Most of all, it came from the media who treated us to a nightly attack: Her supporters were called castratos in the eunich chorus; one commentator said she was scary, castrating and that he involuntarily crossed his legs when she came into the room; another said that when she spoke, men heard “Take out the garbage.” If that’s what they thought about someone as accomplished, intelligent and gracious as Hillary Clinton, what must they be thinking of us?

When I started writing the book, some people said that Hillary’s ability to run as a serious candidate would make the book seem out of touch with reality. How could I say that our progress was exaggerated when one woman was Speaker of the House and another could be the Democratic Presidential nominee? Well, not every woman is a Nancy Pelosi or a Hillary Clinton, and most women I meet are struggling because of laws that do not support work/life balance, because they do not have health care, because they’re not paid the same as their male colleagues; or because they’ve spent a lifetime with a wage gap and now have to live in old age on social security and pensions that perpetuate that gap. I wrote the book for all those struggling women – and hopefully to inspire the next Hillary Clinton to throw her hat into the ring and join me in trying to change all that.

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