Sunday, July 24, 2011

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF WOMEN'S LIBERATION

I was a feminist before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique appeared in 1963 and re-invigorated feminism. I have been blessed with smart, strong women in my life. My paternal grandmother was a leading volunteer, for, in her day, women of her socio-economic class did charitable work; they did not work for pay. My mother was a volunteer or employee, depending on what she wanted to achieve. My partners and wives have been smart and talented in their careers. A former girlfriend, famous in the women’s lib movement, declared me an honorary member of the sisterhood. I tease my feminist friends that I believe in gender equality because I believe that women are so much like human beings that it is hard to tell the difference!

So I hope that no one misconstrues as reactionary my mixed reviews of some consequences of women’s liberation.

Once, discouraged or denied careers in other fields, many of the best and brightest women became legal secretaries, librarians, nurses, and teachers. Now, encouraged and welcomed, they become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists and academics in all fields. Today, more women than men enter some of these professions, but nursing and teaching have suffered. A mix of good and bad consequences, intended and unintended.

Many women who would otherwise have stayed at home to raise children, cook meals, wash and iron clothes, and clean house—there is both good and bad in a life of such important routines—left for work. Some hoped to achieve the glamorous career life advertised by Gloria Steinham, who knew only the life of the privileged and the lucky. Some faced the grim reality of finding only the limited employment opportunities and positions which other women had had for years. But many have found careers worthy of their considerable and liberated talents—an intended consequence.

The larger numbers of women working outside the home led to the growth of the day-care industry, the growth of demands on schools to provide social services, and the increased number of latch-key children, who return from school to homes without adults to welcome and watch over them, and, too often, to the trouble an adult-free house enables—all unintended consequences.

This liberation of women seeking and securing jobs outside the home led to a greatly increased supply, even an oversupply, of labor for jobs of many kinds. As a result, this larger workforce has had a flattening effect on inflation-adjusted wages—an unspoken, unintended, and unhappy consequence.

Early on, everyone thought that a second job by a liberated woman would provide the extras for the family. Instead, it contributes to the necessities, as middle-class families with two modest incomes struggle to keep up with the rising costs of living. As the divorce rate has remained steady, it means that many single-parent—read: female-parent—families are in, or sliding into, poverty. For a single salary for most people no longer suffices to support a family of three (not to mention four, if a second spouse lives in). To the costs of food, clothing, housing, transportation, health (and health insurance), the mother adds day-care expenses while she works to pay them all.

The over-supply of labor, flat wages, and now high levels of unemployment are making a bad situation worse. People find the idea of cuts in tax rates appealing, but they count for very little, for most families of middle-class means already pay little, if any, taxes. Small reductions in taxes will do something, but not much, for families if they can barely make ends meet. Adequate savings for the future, whether invested in a private or a privatized account, are difficult, if not impossible, as well as risky. Hoping to better their lot, people will continue to borrow for education, homes, and cars, with loan repayments and loan interest adding to their expenses.

The current state of affairs is unsustainable if a middle class in America is to survive and thrive. Without some changes in the labor market, the children or grandchildren of the middle class will become peons in corporations.

If the problem is clear and the prospects are dim, the question is: what to do about it. The quick and dirty answer is: reduce the size the workforce and upgrade its skills. To the question how to do so, I have no definitive, only a possible, answer.

Consider the links among unemployment rates, level of education, and gender: dropouts, 14.3 percent; high school diploma, 10 percent; associates degree, 8.4 percent; bachelor’s degree, 4.4 percent—with higher percentages of women than men attending and graduating from college. If women like school and men do not, perhaps role reversals—women as breadwinners, men as homemakers—are answers. However, most men are too macho to imagine themselves doing domestic duties. Some can imagine looking for a smart partner—guys, not gals, would be the gold-diggers—, but smart women know that such men make poor mates. Men better start booking before looking and hooking.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

JUSTICE DONE

In the history of mass hysteria, the Casey Anthony trial may set some sort of record for triviality unless someone can identify underlying psychological disorders or social discontents joining mob folly and media frenzy.

I recognized such antics, I found them repugnant, so I did not follow her trial. From general news coverage and commentary, I saw and heard snatches from time to time. However, I paid close attention to a part of the prosecutor’s closing remarks. Her voice was loud and grating, her gestures stilted, and the manner of her presentation to the court irritating; I would have voted guilty if her rhetoric had been on trial. Worse, her argument was weak, less circumstantial than inferential. It boiled down to: defendant lied many times; ergo, defendant killed her daughter. I followed the fallacious inference but failed to see any relevant evidence. The Scot’s verdict of “not proven” would be a perfect verdict in this case, and, I think, the jury rendered it. So these twelve men and women did their job—which means that justice was done.

Yes, the death—the murder, if you will—of Caylee Anthony is terrible, and the loss of a young girl’s life is great and saddening. And, yes, the behavior of Casey Anthony is repugnant, if not downright psychopathic. But a guilty verdict is not indexed to some scale measuring emotional responses to the details of the crime, however gruesome or bizarre; the gravity of the allegation; or the character, mental condition, or conduct of the accused. Nor does a not-guilty verdict require the defendant to provide a plausible alternative to the allegation. It requires the state to prove, according to a standard of reasonableness, that the accused committed the alleged crime. So if, in this case, the jury did not believe that the state had met its burden of proof, then the jury did its duty, and, by definition, justice was done.

We may believe—I do—that Casey Anthony killed her daughter, but our belief is neither here nor there, no matter how strongly we hold it. What we should believe is that the state, after spending millions of dollars in three years of work, could not make a better, if not a convincing, case in support of its charges against the defendant.

Which makes me wonder about whether justice is done in most cases in America. How many court cases on less sensational accusations and with little or no media coverage proceed to guilty verdicts based on deficient evidence and flimsy arguments? I know of one minor case in which everyone in the legal system, from the arresting officer to the city attorney to the prosecuting attorney to trial judge to three appellate judges committed or abetted perjury to cover the misconduct of the state trooper. Indeed, from the bench, the trial judge testified against the defendant! Did I say Mansfield, Ohio, the notorious Black Hole of the state’s system of justice?

We often read about police “testilying” in cases. We often read about prosecutors withholding evidence—incriminatory evidence which the defense might rebut or exculpatory evidence which the prosecution cannot rebut. But we rarely read about judges who do not countenance such abuses of the judicial process and the miscarriages of justice which result. (We more rarely read about juries concurring in the malpractices of officers of the court on the one hand or indulging jury nullification on the other. But we more often read about them behaving badly in civil rights cases in the South in the 50s and 60s.) The system amounts to a mutual protection racket of police, lawyers, and judges. Thus, the Supreme Court declared that public law enforcement personnel are not liable to civil claims for damages from avoidable incompetence, even if it results in conviction of innocent people—justice most definitely not done.

So the larger questions are whether prosecutors and judges do justice, and how many unfortunate defendants are sentenced to long terms, life, or even death—all so that police can get credit for collars, prosecutors can win cases to advance their careers, judges can run on tough-on-criminals platforms, and all can work together to advance the others’ interests. The criminal justice system, now being widely supplemented by the privatization of prisons, has become an industry of injustice.

The Casey Anthony trial, even more than the O. J. Simpson trial, revealed deficiencies in the legal system, especially in police and prosecutorial work, not in the people sitting in the jury boxes. Thanks to them (and, in this trial, a no-nonsense judge), justice has been done, even if, in both trials, the defendants, the likely perpetrators of heinous crimes, went free. Better the freedom of the guilty than the loss of liberty of the innocent—a measure of respect for the individual in our society.

Friday, July 1, 2011

IN MEMORIAM

Recently, in flood-control operations below our home, city/county workers wantonly ruined much of the habitat. A last-minute effort saved most, but not all, of a small “island” created by a mesquite tree. But it was too late to save the family of foxes crushed or buried alive in their den. The restoration of the habitat will not restore them.

The foxes have been resident in this area for as long as anyone in the neighborhood can remember. They were our friends. They walked our wall and visited our yard. They hunted white-winged doves attracted by our feeder. Their kits used the yard for natural purposes! I am told that my cat Edgar visited them at their den. Some of you may remember that our holiday card two years ago featured the picture of one adult resting just on the other side of our wall. I include the picture in memoriam of them all.