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      From the useful Elija Mangnier, 1 – Adherence to Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment and everything related to this science at all costs. Nuclear enrichment is a sword Iran can hold in the face of the West, which wants to take it from Tehran. It is Iran’s card to obstruct any US intention of “obliterating” […]
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White House vs Women: Joe Biden does it wrong

Gee, I hope the food was better than the conversation

Oooo, Joe Biden was on The View recently and discussed the allegations that surfaced in Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men about the problems senior staff women were having in the White House.  Ahem.  From what I can tell, Joe is trying to make it sound trivial or he’s in denial:

Vice President Joe Biden today disputed the controversial characterizations of the Obama White House author Ron Suskind made in his new book,”Confidence Men,” as a bastion of sexism that was insulated from a diversity of opinions.

“I don’t know who they’re talking about,” Biden said of former White House aides who reportedly told Suskind that the administration fostered a hostile work environment for women. “Obviously, they didn’t talk to Michelle Obama or Jill Biden. Because if there’s sexism in the White House, the person engaging in it is in trouble.”

The vice president made the comments during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” to talk about his nearly two-decade campaign to end violence against women.

“I’m not suggesting there’s not some instance where a staffer thought they were not treated well,” Biden said. “But look at  the high-ranking staff on my staff, on the president’s staff — 70 percent of the high-ranking people on my staff … they’re all women. I literally, when this came out, I asked them, I asked them had they seen it. And nobody is aware.”

Before we get to the substance of Joe’s remarks, let’s get one thing straight: the women in question have made very serious, not trivial, allegations of discrimination.  Those allegations should be investigated thoroughly.  These days, it is possible to measure the degree to which women and men were treated differently in their roles.  It is possible to mine data that is already retained on email servers and on digital recordings of meetings.  A variety of metrics can be used to determine whether there is a correlation between position, location of office, direct reports and access.  In fact, just about any parameter you care to measure can be dumped into a statistical package and trends, principal components and, probably, the truth, should come spilling out.  We rely on data mining and statistics for a wide variety of legitimate reasons these days and this is a perfect opportunity to get to the bottom of this.

OK, back to what Joe said and why we should ignore it.

1.) Joe says that if there was any of that hostility going on, by golly, Jill Biden and Michelle Obama would know about it.  First, excuse me, but are Jill and Michelle the house mothers for the senior White House staff?  From what I can tell, Michelle Obama is not a working woman.  She has decided to sit this administration out and weed the garden.  It is unclear to me what line of authority she would have with the female staff in the White House, nor is is clear what she could do about it if someone complained to her.  In fact, I can’t think of why anyone would complain to her.  It makes no sense.  Jill Biden, if I recall correctly, is an English professor.  Again, how would Jill be aware of the working environment of the professional women working in the White House?  Secondly, regardless of how Michelle and Jill are treated in their casual interactions with Obama’s male staff, the nature of such interactions are not professional, they are social.  It is unlikely that Rahm Emannuel is going to tell them to shut the f^&* up or talk over them in the reception line or at dinner.  Nah-gah-happen.

The only reason I can see that Joe would bring up Jill and Michelle is that he was appearing on The View, a chatty news show tailor made for women in a more traditional lifestyle.  If they’re watching The View, they’re not working.  (Maybe working women watch the view on the DVR but I personally can’t stand The View.  It’s the worst of the stereotype of women’s programming.  It’s watered down news discussed in a gossipy, coffee clatsch setting.  Something about it makes me think back to my vaguest recollection of Virginia Graham.)  View afficianados stay-at-home moms or senior women like my mother.  So, Joe is out there doing a political stump speech so as not to lose the ladies.  It looks to me like the White House is trying to get ahead of this.  November 2012 is going to be very scary for Obama.

2.) Asking your female staff if there is an issue is NOT going to get you anywhere.  It takes a lot of courage to say you think there might be a problem that needs to be investigated.  No one wants to walk around with a target on their back.  And lately, I have been reading (in more than one place) that the White House environment may be “tough” on women.  Once again, it’s OK if a high pressure environment is “tough”.  Presumably, the women who accepted those jobs knew that it would be when they signed on.  The question is, was “toughness” from women reciprocally appreciated?  My guess is that it is not.  We can find out by looking at the way women and men are described by their peers and supervisors.  Are men “tough” but women “abrasive”?  Are men driven but women “not team players”?  How about we ask Brooksley Born who was routinely described in such unflattering terms by her peers like Arthur Levitt, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin.

So, Joe goes to his female staff and asks them to rat on the guys who already potentially have the means to make their lives inconsequential and they say they don’t know what he’s referring to.  Big surprise there.  What would have happened if Joe had said to his whole staff, men and women alike, “These are serious allegations.  If I didn’t look into them, I might not be getting the best performance from my staff.  I think we should start an investigation and see if there are any trends in the data.  If there are, we can put a plan in place to make sure we address each one of the issues. Who’s on board with that?”

I might actually have respect for the guy.  If I were a woman, I wouldn’t be put on the spot.  If I were a man, I’d be reviewing my past behavior.  I’d expect some resentment down the line when the truth comes out.  “It’s just the way we’ve always done it” or “You can’t stop people from hanging out or working differently with people like them”.  No, you probably can’t stop it.  But you can make sure it isn’t rewarded.  But the only way to make sure it isn’t rewarded is to become aware of it in the first place.

Joe really screwed up.  And the lefty blogosphere is strangely quiet.  I have read nary a word from the Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias types out there.  Lefty blogosphere women are also quiet.  Are they afraid they’ll lose the access they already have?  How about it, Susie Madrak?  You think you’re not getting access because of your “dirty fucking hippy” remark?  More likely, they didn’t like your attitude.  You were too pushy, abrasive, aggressive.  I’ll betcha Josh Marshall could have gotten away with that.

The problem is real.  It’s not in your head.  The details are familiar to those of us who have had to put up with this crap in the corporate world.  Even Stieg Larsson, the author of the Millenium series wrote a subplot where one of his female characters runs into the same damn thing at her new job.  Same maddeningly familiar bad behavior with the email, meetings and phone calls.

It won’t get better unless you say something.  Women have very little real estate in the mainstream media opinion pages as it is and what women are there straddle the generational and gender divide uncomfortably.  Kathleen Parker at WaPo is a case in point.  In her post on the issue, the last few paragraphs couldn’t be less helpful:

Most of the complaints aimed at Obama’s house concerned Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. Both are now gone. And Obama has made efforts to create a more woman-friendly environment.

He knows how to listen to women, which probably explains his popularity with the gentler sex, but he’s still a guy and can’t be faulted for being more comfortable in his down time hanging with his male pals. Women like some girlfriend time, too.

But to the larger point of women feeling less engaged and appreciated at the elevated levels they’ve earned, there is a clear solution, as hinted above. More women. More women. More women. There are plenty to fill an equal number of slots — no more scrounging to find qualified candidates.

And the best part: Women no longer have to try to be like men. They can be women, which is, one humbly submits, even better.

Yes, let’s reinforce gender stereotypes.  Women are the purer, gentler sex.  Instead of encouraging them to get tough without penalty, women will civilize the White House.  And we’ll add more of them even if it doesn’t matter if 90% of them are female and the 10% that is male sets the agenda and has all of the access.  Women like Parker completely miss the point.  Women staffers don’t want more “girlfriend time”.  They want to be movers and shakers on the same professional footing as their male counterparts.  Please, don’t do us any more favors, Kathleen.

But I suspect that Kathleen and Joe Biden come from the same generational conditioning.  While we can ignore Kathleen as being insufficiently familiar with the aspirations and expertise of the White House female staff, Joe Biden should really know better.  If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t hire any more women.  No, seriously.  Why frustrate them and allow their efforts to meet with obstructions?  You’re only costing the tax payers money.  Just hire only guys and then shit will get done.  They might not be the best solutions to the issues they are dealing with but at least there won’t be ideas that will sit on the shelf because they couldn’t get an audience.  Let’s just see the White House in all of its sexist glory.

And if the White House is arguing that the problem is solved now that Summers and Rahm are gone, they must really think we’re stupid.  I don’t believe it for a second.  The President himself set the tone.  He’s the one who had the exclusive basketball games and golf outings.  He’s the one who mocked Christina Romer in a meeting.  He knows what he’s doing and if he doesn’t, someone should tell him before 2012.  Why any woman would vote for him after the past three years of economic disaster and poor treatment of his female staff defies logic.

Poor Republicans and Obama women.  Perfectly stupid together.

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Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Lisbeth Salander, that petite avenging angel with a wicked sting, is back in Stieg Larsson’s riveting conclusion of his Millenium Trilogy.

For those of you not familiar with Larsson’s novels, they can be described as a combination of James Bond journalist meets feminist hacker extraordinaire thriller mystery spy novels.  Larsson created an unusual pair of collaborators in Mikail Blomkvist, the publisher of the investigative journal magazine, Millenium, and Lisbeth Salander, an anti-social genius, who is her own one woman posse against the abuse of women.  Ironically, in the last two novels, the pair have two whole scenes where they are in the same room together.  The rest of the time, they have to find clever ways to communicate through an almost impenetrable wall of security.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, we pick up the threads from the previous novel, which ended with a cliffhanger.  Hornet’s Nest opens with Lisbeth in intensive care, having been shot in the head by her own father who she is accused of attempting to murder.  She lead Mikail “Kalle” Blomkvist on a chase throughout the last novel, where he gradually uncovers her troubling past and starts to realize the magnitude and power of her enemies.   In the final novel, Lisbeth’s case reaches into the very core of Swedish politics and its security services.  Lisbeth’s enemies want to disappear her to a psychiatric institution for the rest of her life in order to keep their secrets.  It’s Blomkvist’s task, along with an almost Dickensian cast of supporting characters, to expose the truth before Lisbeth gets carted away in a strait jacket.  To free her, he needs Lisbeth herself to employ her incredible hacking skills.  But how to do it from the hospital where she’s recovering, under tight security and the prison where she’s shortly to be sent to await trial?

There’s also a subplot regarding Blomkvist’s long time lover, Erica Berger, which should be subtitled “Men At Work”.  Berger leaves her post at Millenium to become Editor-in-Chief of what sounds like the Swedish equivalent of the New York Times.  She encounters institutional sexism of the subtle and maddening kind that only a woman would know about.  You know, the passive-aggressive non-compliance of her male colleagues, the continuous undermining of her authority by men who appeal to higher authorities, the guys that refuse to answer their emails and drag their feet when they’re summoned or “forget” to invite her to important meetings, the guys that change her work without telling her, substituting their own decisions for hers.  Shit like that.  It’s not sexual harrassment.  It’s just an environment of stone walling, dismissiveness and undermining.  In this case, Berger also has a cyber stalker who seems determined to sabotage her relationships with some of her employees as well.  The overall effect is to make Berger look less than competent, overwhelmed and not fully in control of her job.  Ladies, has this ever happened to you or someone you know?

Larsson died in 2004 and all of his books have been published posthumously.  But through his Millenium series, he has an uncanny knack for pinpointing the causes of modern societal decline.  He takes on the newspaper industry’s recent tendency to print lies uncritically, without examining the sources of leaks or their motives.  He lays out how shareholders and corporate CEO’s undermine their businesses by consuming profits at the expense of their core functions.  And he begins to get a grip on the violation of civil rights by his nation’s security apparatus.  It’s in this last area that we get an ironic taste of how far America has fallen since these books were written.  Larsson still looks to the United States as the gold standard in protecting an individual’s Constitutional rights against state abuse and he postulates that Lisbeth’s case would result in Congressional hearings here in the good ol’ US of A.  I guess he hadn’t yet heard of Jose Padilla.  It’s very difficult to sympathize with a suspected terrorist and yet, through Lisbeth’s case, it’s very easy to see how perceptions can be twisted and how an innocent person can be locked away for life if “state security” is invoked.

Hornet’s Nest ties up loose ends for the trilogy and could be seen as the author’s attempt at a satisfying conclusion.  The truth is stranger than fiction.  Larsson had almost completed a fourth book and had outlined the plots of several others when he died unexpectedly of a major heart attack at the age of 50.  The NYTimes profiled the struggle over his estate.  He died without a will and his family is battling with his long time companion, Eva Gabrielsson, over the rights to his books.  Gabrielsson says she didn’t write the books but suggests very strongly that she had significant influence over them.  Having read all three, I believe her.  It’s very difficult for me to believe that any man, even one as peculiarly sensitive and insightful as Larsson, could have this intimate a knowledge of what it’s like to be female in the modern and corporate world.  Gabrielsson says she’s not interested in the money so much as creative control.   Larsson’s father and brother got just about everything according to Swedish law but Gabrielsson has the hard drive from Larsson’s computer with the remaining novels on it.  The resolution of this battle of wills could be just as interesting as one of Larsson’s novels.

In Hornet’s Nest, Larsson portrays women who won’t back down, who learn how to protect themselves, don’t care what men think of them and have the courage to tell the world how incredibly annoyed they are about the whole state of affairs.  Go, Eva!

Highly Recommended.

Summer Reading: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Oh, stop your whining.  You won’t have to write a paper or anything.  (hmmm, maybe that’s only meaningful to the users here who have kids in school.)

Stieg Larsson, Swedish journalist turned thriller/mystery writer, created a fascinating character in the shape of a spritely, stinging, punk avenging angel named Lisbeth Salander.  He got off 3 books out of a proposed 10 in the Millenium series before he died of a massive coronary caused by years of heavy smoking, proving that nicotine truly is the most evil substance on the planet.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is the sophomore success to Larsson’s debut The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Run, do not walk to the nearest bookstore and buy the sucker.  If you haven’t read the first one, you’ll be doubly blessed this summer as you kick back on the beach with your SPF 50 and cooler full of beer.  We won’t see book three until some time in 2010 but there is plenty in these two books to chew on like Swedish granola.

The Millenium series revolves around two characters: Mikhail “Kalle” Blomqvist, investigative journalist exposing the nasty, sexist underbelly of Sweden’s cool exterior, and Lisbeth Salander, the twenty something computer hacker extraordinaire with the obsessively private personality.  Blomqvist and Salander’s last adventure has made her rich beyond her wildest imaginings and she disappears for 2 years to travel the world, while Blomqvist and his business partner and part time lover, Erika Berger, delve into the seemy depths of the sex trade.  When one of their contract investigative journalists working on the importation of sex slaves from the former eastern bloc countries is executed in his apartment, newly returned Lisbeth Salander becomes the prime suspect.  It’s Blomqvist’s task to put the missing pieces together to exonerate her without much help from the decidely unhelpful Salander as she goes on the run and communicates with him by hacking into his computer at night.

Larsson’s Millenium series is part mystery and part commentary on society’s uneasy relationship with women.  Mikhail Blomqvist is the ideal man- for both men and women.  He’s a Matt Taibbi type who has the suave and debonnair touch of a James Bond.  Women want to sleep with him because he respects them and treats them like adults.  In fact, maybe Larsson just wanted to suck in as many readers as possible but most of Blomqvist’s lovers are women in their forties, independent and with highly developed erotic personalities.  Jeez, it makes me want to move to Stockholm.  Salander represents a new generation of women who’s not partial to one sex or another.  She uses sex to get the little amount of intimacy she allows herself to experience.  But it is Larsson’s uncanny knack of getting into the heads of men and revealing what they really think about women that feels just about right.  His characters are not politically correct.  The sex trade gangs reduce their victims to a collection of human parts, police commissioners make no attempt to disguise their contempt for their female subordinates and Salander’s colleagues at the security company she works for cavalierly expose women’s private lives for money.

Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza would be right at home in Larsson’s world.  Several reviewers have remarked that the book loses momentum in the middle while the interested parties begin their investigation of the crime.  But those of us who are tuned into how the media works will immediately recognize that Larsson has laid out the anatomy of a media smear campaign, directed at a woman with few allies and all for the purpose of sensationalizing and money making.  The life of the character in question, her hopes and dreams and even the most sensitive details of her personal life are exposed to the world to the point where the media image is unrecognizable to the character herself.  Larsson shows that you don’t have to be a member of a sex trade gang to brutally dehumanize a woman.  It can be done with the flick of a pen.

Highly recommended.

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