Weekend reading


Comedian Phoebe Robinson is tired of being the token black girl

Injured at work? Your gender could affect how much you’re paid

Despite legacy of racism, black women rock on

The female cinematographers of Neon Demon, Creed and Dope discuss their experiences in a male-dominated field

The Virginia driver’s license scheme that punishes poor people

Weekend reading


Female scientists asked how they would cope without men or makeup in space.

A new paper rebuts the notion of a “Ferguson effect.”

Gender inequality is not possible without abortion.

A new report looks at who runs for office in the US. 2 out of 3 candidates are white men.

New women-run site The Establishment talks to comedian W. Kamau Bell about comedy in the age of social media.

5 reasons why being poor can actually be incredibly expensive.

In honor of the great talk by Ta-Nehisi Coates I was lucky enough to attend last week, 2 throwback recommendations to his pieces on the case for reparations and the black family in the age of mass incarceration.

Weekend reading

Care Net ad

At NARAL Pro-Choice California, we had some fun “welcoming” an anti-choice conference to San Diego.

What would it look like to decriminalize sex work? Just ask New Zealand.

What it’s like to live on $2 a day in the United States.

Republican’s mind blown when witness tells him some Planned Parenthood patients are mothers.

Women aren’t here to smile for you.

5 female farmworkers will be awarded $17 million after facing rape and harassment.

Only 3 of 45 House Democrats who who voted “no” on Obamacare are still there.

The secret to Connie Britton’s amazing hair is feminism.

We need poor people in Congress

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was once a recipient of public assistance, talks about food stamps and lawmakers' SNAP challenge. Photo via accfb.org.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was once a recipient of public assistance, talks about food stamps and lawmakers’ SNAP challenge. Photo via accfb.org.

We all recognize on some level that the circles that members of Congress run in are very different from the ones where most of us live our lives. But a new piece by Stephen Lurie over at The Atlantic shows just how stark the disparity really is:

For the first time, more than half of the members of Congress are millionaires. Nearly 200 are multimillionaires. One hundred are worth more than $5 million; the top-10 deal in nine digits. The annual congressional salary alone—$174,000 a year—qualifies every member as the top 6 percent of earners. None of them are close to experiencing the poverty-reduction programs—affordable housing, food assistance, Medicaid—that they help control. Though some came from poverty, a recent analysis by Nicholas Carnes, in his book White Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policymaking, found that only 13 out of 783 members of Congress from 1999 to 2008 came from a “blue-collar” upbringing. None of them have experienced that poverty in decades; those who did did so under vastly different public-policy circumstances.

That’s less than 2% of members of Congress who have lived a “blue collar” lifestyle, compared to 54% of Americans who have held blue collar jobs as adults. It adds new meaning to the concept of politicians’ being out of touch.  Continue reading “We need poor people in Congress”

A little civil war can be a good thing

Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio (Credit: Reuters/Joshua RobertsAP/Ricardo Arduengo)
Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio (Credit: Reuters/Joshua RobertsAP/Ricardo Arduengo)

Joan Walsh writes in Salon this week that pundits and hopeful right-wingers trying to drum up drama are wrong in thinking there’s a civil war among Democrats. She goes after centrists who claim the party is threatened by “dead end” populism.

Personally, I think it’s really not helpful for Democrats to caricature other Democrats as selling “hate” if they point to the disproportionate income, wealth and political power currently enjoyed by the 1 percent. Hell, even some 1 percenters think the pendulum has swung too far. (Not crazy sore winners like Tom Perkins, of course.)

I debated Third Way’s Matt Bennett about this topic on “Hardball.” It was a friendly, civil debate; you can watch at the end of this post. But I was struck by a couple of things. Bennett — correctly, I think — insisted candidates and parties win when they have a vision for the future. And yet he – like his centrist comrades in the Balz-Rucker piece – continue to push Third Way’s 30-year-old Democratic Leadership Council approach, on a country that’s crying out for new ideas. It’s Third Way that’s looking backward, not progressives.

The attitude Walsh calls out is epitomized by a tone deaf op-ed by Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler in the Wall Street Journal:

If you talk to leading progressives these days, you’ll be sure to hear this message: The Democratic Party should embrace the economic populism of New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Such economic populism, they argue, should be the guiding star for Democrats heading into 2016. Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats.

While New Yorkers think of their city as the center of the universe, the last time its mayor won a race for governor or senator—let alone president—was 1869. For the past 144 years, what has happened in the Big Apple stayed in the Big Apple. Some liberals believe Sen. Warren would be the Democratic Party’s strongest presidential candidate in 2016. But what works in midnight-blue Massachusetts—a state that has had a Republican senator for a total of 152 weeks since 1979—hasn’t sold on a national level since 1960.

This debate surfaces eternal frustrations I have with the Democratic Party and people who would pull it to the center. It’s often repeated that the Democratic Party isn’t nearly as liberal as Republicans are conservative (though a recent Gallup poll showed liberal identification at it highest ever). But many of the policies that are painted with the liberal brush are hardly fringe.

Continue reading “A little civil war can be a good thing”

Weekend reading

A sports anchor invokes Audre Lorde in a statement supporting Michael Sam. The Daily Show made some similar points with its typical biting sarcasm. Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why the NFL will never be “ready” for an openly gay player.

There was a hung jury on the murder charge against Michael Dunn for the killing of unarmed black teenager Jordan Davis. Sadly, this list from Mother Jones of 21 things you can’t do while black is reinforced.

A tech writer engages in an experiment of only retweeting women for a year.

More on why marriage isn’t the solution to poverty.

How to get from blocking buses to saving communities?


The Google bus has become a powerful symbol for people outraged by the tech industry’s encroachment on San Francisco. The sleek buses embody a two-tiered system where wealthy interlopers ride in their tinted buses rather than investing in the public infrastructure that benefits and unites communities. The controversy has hit a nerve as the wider tragedy of this country’s income gap sits in the national consciousness.

As this outrage boils over, it raises interesting questions about how to respond to this seemingly inevitable influx, whom to hold accountable, and how we create or maintain the cities we want to live in.

Rebecca Solnit, an author with deep ties to the city and creative ways of chronicling its intersecting cultures and history, has been writing about the impact of the tech companies’ influence on the people:

A Latino who has been an important cultural figure for forty years is being evicted while his wife undergoes chemotherapy. One of San Francisco’s most distinguished poets, a recent candidate for the city’s poet laureate, is being evicted after 35 years in his apartment and his whole adult life here: whether he will claw his way onto a much humbler perch or be exiled to another town remains to be seen, as does the fate of a city that poets can’t afford. His building, full of renters for most or all of the past century, including a notable documentary filmmaker, will be turned into flats for sale. A few miles away, friends of friends were evicted after twenty years in their home by two Google attorneys, a gay couple who moved into two separate units in order to maximise their owner-move-in rights. Rental prices rose between 10 and 135 per cent over the past year in San Francisco’s various neighbourhoods, though thanks to rent control a lot of San Franciscans were paying far below market rates even before the boom – which makes adjusting to the new market rate even harder. Two much-loved used bookstores are also being evicted by landlords looking for more money; 16 restaurants opened last year in their vicinity. On the waterfront, Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle and the world’s sixth richest man, has been allowed to take control of three city piers for 75 years in return for fixing them up in time for the 2013 America’s Cup; he will evict dozens of small waterfront businesses as part of the deal.

If activists want to stem the tide, we must know what it is we want and how to get there.

The questions of how has sparked a great deal of heated debate. The series of protests blocking the Google buses has passionate advocates and detractors. It’s clear at least that the actions have increased awareness of the problem and enhanced the sense of urgency around addressing the problem.

The theory of change, or how to get action X leads to result Y, becomes more questionable looking at actions the like the recent one at the home of a Google employee. Natasha Lennard at Salon defends the action, seeing it as a means of chipping away at Google’s squeaky-clean image, and following in the footsteps of animal rights activists who warned investors, “We’re coming for you next.” Other than contributing to the publicity maelstrom, it’s hard to see how this is likely to impact a company with people waiting in line to work there, and risks alienating a public that is sympathetic to the cause.

An even bigger question is what specific change these actions are meant to bring about. San Francisco transportation officials approved a pilot to regulate and charge fees to the private buses, a victory for many activists but one that won’t extinguish the simmering outrage or keep people from being evicted if they can’t afford a $4,000/month rent check.

Google’s not going anywhere. How do massive tech companies coexist with vibrant cities? How do we make sure the people who made our communities what they are can afford to stay there? There are no easy answers, but as I reflect on these questions I look forward to seeing what the smart, thoughtful people engaging on this issue bring forth, and hope we come out with something better on the other side.

When an hour of wages won’t even buy you a loaf of bread

Through high school and college I waited tables at a handful of places, mostly chain restaurants in areas where there weren’t many other sit-down restaurant options. While I was lucky enough to be a student only working for spending money, that wasn’t the majority of the people I worked with. Most were women for whom waitressing was their main source of income. Or women like my mom, a single mother recently graduated after returning to college and supplementing her income to support the family, who waited tables at the same restaurant as me at the same time (yes, when you’re a teenager you find it annoying to have your mom on your case about cleaning at home and at work).

Opponents of minimum wage increases portray this underpaid workforce as plucky kids earning some pocket money and working their way up the chain. It wasn’t true when I was waiting tables, and it’s not true now. And making a living on the minimum wage is even more precarious when you work for tips. It’s mind-boggling that more than a decade after I stopped waiting tables, most servers are still making the same $2.13 per hour:

“When you earn a wage of $2 or $5, you don’t actually earn a wage at all. Your wage is so low it goes entirely to taxes and you get a pay stub that says ‘This is not a paycheck’. It says ‘$0’. And you live off of your tips,” explains Jayaraman. Restaurant workers are also required by law to claim their tips as income. The tax on their combined income – hourly wage plus tips – is considerably more than what they would pay on their hourly pay.

Relying mostly on tips for one’s income is not just an issue of income instability, but also that of job insecurity that comes with having a seasonal job. “When you live off of tips, your rent and your bills don’t go up and down, but your income does. It varies day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year,” says Jayaraman. “You don’t actually have an income. In fact, you are interviewing for your job every time a new customer sits down.”

Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United points out that 70% of tipped workers are women, and work at place like Applebee’s, The Olive Garden and Red Lobster. I did a brief stint at an Applebee’s in college, and in addition to a stifling amount of corporate lessons and paperwork, we were given a small number of tables to tend to so their customers would get good service–but we missed out on a high enough volume to make good money. I had the luxury of leaving if it was slow or passing off a table if I wanted to leave and hang out with friends, but a lot of the people I worked with took every customer they could get to supplement the meager hourly wage.

ROC United has a petition you can sign here to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage for all workers, including tipped servers.