Anatomy of a “Beyoncé Voter”

Fox News host Jesse Watters recently declared that Hillary Clinton would need to win over the “Beyoncé voters” (aka “single ladies”) in order to win an election. While it may be true that Clinton would need to overwhelmingly win over single women at the polls if she decides to run for President in 2016, I’m confused by Watters’s definition of the “Beyoncé voter.”

Watters says that Beyoncé voters “depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands. They need contraception, health care, and they love to talk about equal pay.” To break it down rhetorically, according to Watters, the criteria of these voters are as follows: single, need contraception, need health care, and enjoy discussing equal pay.

Watters points out that President Obama won single “ladies” (women?) by 76 percent in 2012–and he’s maybe 9 points off, but for argument’s sake, let’s say the premise is correct. This demographic almost certainly includes all female voters who are unmarried. These voters reportedly make up 25 percent of the entire electorate. So my first question is: How does Watters jump in his reasoning from “single” to “dependent on government”–all while implying that the woman has chosen to be both single and dependent on government? Not every unmarried woman is dependent on government. And even if an unmarried woman is dependent on government, how can we assume that it’s because she’s unmarried?

Let me list a few potential ways a woman could be dependent on government and single, without one influencing the other. She could have been impregnated by a man who decided to leave her and left economically unstable due to the child (this would be the man’s fault). She could have lost her job (this would be the economy’s fault). She could have divorced an abusive, unfaithful, or somehow inadequate husband (this could be either the husband’s or circumstances’ fault). She could be a widow (unless she killed her husband, this would be circumstances’ fault, again). There are many more scenarios I could list, but it basically comes down to the Census’s definition of single: never married, divorced, separated, or widowed. But in nearly all of these cases, a woman’s singleness is not necessarily correlated with her level of dependency on the government.

So if we looks at Watters’s original statement about women being economically dependent on government because they’re unmarried, we can see that poor, single women are dependent on government not because they’re single–but perhaps because they lack access to contraceptives at a higher rate than economically stable women and thus more often have children at economically inopportune times. Which brings us to the next criteria: A Beyoncé voter needs contraception.

For this criteria, my question is: What does contraception have to do with being single? Among women of child-bearing age (15-44), the number of married women on contraception outweighs the number of unmarried women on contraception by 10-35 percent (depending on rate of sexual activity disparities between married and unmarried women). So why would a “single lady” care more about contraception than a married woman? By looking at rates of contraception use, they obviously don’t. Avoiding becoming pregnant is almost entirely an economic issue–women use contraception because they and their husbands or families don’t have the means or desire to support a child (or another child).

The third criteria, needing health care, isn’t really unique to single women. In fact, I’d wager that every single human being requires reliable access to quality health care. Every voter ever “needs health care,” so that’s a useless criteria to single out (pun intended) a Beyoncé voter from any other voter.

Being single doesn’t require a person to enjoy discussing equal pay. First of all, just as a preface to this paragraph, equal pay isn’t this crazy notion that people bring up at parties from time to time. It’s something that should exist in the United States of America in the 21st century. Equal pay isn’t one of those far-left communist ideas that needy people are asking for because they don’t want to work. It’s not a political talking point. It’s an embarrassingly obvious economic state of being. Maybe some people are under the impression that pay inequality a myth, but here are other things large groups of people have also argued are myths: the Holocaust, the 1969 moon landing, 9/11, climate change–just to name a few.

Everyone with the same experience doing the same work with the same results must be paid equally–it’s not rocket science. It’s literally common sense. That’s all I’m going to say about it because nothing else really needs to be said about it. Wait, also, it has nothing to do with being single. Plenty of people (male, female, married, unmarried, old, young, President, not president) talk about equal pay. And if we want to link equal pay to being dependent on government, we can do that: Women are more likely than men to be poor and economically dependent in some way on the government. So if you have a problem with “government dependent” single women, how about we try to pay them the same as their male counterparts?

I’m a Beyoncé voter. And I am proud to be a Beyoncé voter. I’m in school, obtaining a world-class education that will eventually lead me to a well-paying job to finance my unmarried life during which I will be single, probably need contraception, definitely need health care, and (hopefully not have to) enjoy talking about equal pay so that I make as much as the guy doing the same exact job that I have. I may be a “single lady” for the foreseeable future, but my lack of husband to depend on will never be an indicator of whether I depend on government–because I’m not planning to have to depend on anyone.

Guaranteed Basic Income: Crazy, or So Crazy It Just Might Work?

In last Sunday’s Boston Globe, this story appeared, posing the question: Should the government pay you to be alive? And it wasn’t rhetorical or just trying to be funny. It’s a serious question that, according to the article, economists and policy experts on both sides of the aisle have suggested as a strategy for alleviating poverty and avoiding the expansion of our overcomplicated welfare programs.

If you want to see what the people had to say about this–and this is probably the best part of the entire article–read the comments it got. Gems, one and all. But here’s what I think.

This is never, ever going to happen in the United States. Forget whether or not it’s plausible or actually has any merit–the simple fact is that it sounds ludicrous, and that’s all that matters. Guaranteed basic income (GBI) sounds like an uber-liberal utopian policy that gives a whole new meaning to the term “government handouts” in the worst way possible. Rhetorically it’s dead on arrival, but I’ll come back to this later.

Should a government have the responsibility to guarantee each citizen a flat rate income? For the sake of argument, let’s just say yes for a second. If everyone starts with the same basic income, aren’t we also guaranteeing inflation? The new “zero” would now be $10,000 or $80,000 or any other amount suggested by the article, and I can think of too many ways certain industries may take advantage of this (down payments on everything from homes to cars rise dramatically overnight, college tuition skyrockets, all types of insurance rates increase…). The moving pieces of the economy adjust and nullify any amount the government could ever hope to give out. A cynic might shrug and suggest that you might as well start at $0 if your $10,000 gets you next to nothing.

But perhaps if you’re trying to feed and clothe a family, $10,000 is a huge help. Maybe you can’t buy a house with it, maybe you can’t even buy and insure a car, but at least you can purchase enough food, clothes, school supplies, and basic necessities to get by, day-to-day. This raises another question altogether, however: What exactly is the goal of a guaranteed basic income? Is it to alleviate poverty? If so, it could temporarily raise families out of destitute situations, to be sure, but does it solve any long-term issues that impoverished families face? Housing? Transportation? Insurance plans? Savings accounts? Would a guaranteed basic income help tide over a family with two unemployed parents long enough so that they can get jobs to earn a healthier income?

Is the goal of a guaranteed basic income to get simplify or eliminate welfare programs? If so, it would probably do a great job of that. It cuts through all the red tape and just hands over the money without any of the mess. Of course, you’d still run into the issue of whether to provide a GBI to each citizen at the age of 18 or 21 years of age (an 18-year-old can fight in a war, vote, and buy porn, but can’t collect a GBI?). Then you run into the problem of undocumented residents over the age of 18 or 21 who can’t receive a GBI because they don’t have social security numbers, many of whom were involuntarily brought to the United States as children.

And then you get into whether or not you’d have to pay taxes on the GBI, which seems nuts seeing as the money comes from the government in the first place, but the underlying question becomes whether the GBI acts as a supplemental income or as an allowance. That is, if you’re comparing a person making $0 gets $10,000 a year (total: $10,000) and a person making $100,000 gets $10,000 a year (total: $110,000), how do you measure how much each pays in income tax? Does the wealthier individual pay a percentage of $110,000 or $100,000? Does the poorer individual pay a percentage of $10,000, or does he avoid paying taxes altogether? Does he only pay income taxes if his total income rises above a certain amount? Under our current tax code, the person making only a GBI have his income decimated by taxes (assuming he has to pay anything), whereas the person supplementing his income with the GBI would barely feel a difference.

There are more questions than answers when it comes to GBI, and before we can have a debate, we need to define the parameters of the discussion. To start, “guaranteed basic income” sounds like the government would be giving out lump sums of money for free, no labor necessary, as if its existence is encompassed somewhere in “life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what it is. But there’s got to be some better way to say it, a better way to define it, so that we can actually talk about it. Scholars, according to the article, have already started talking about the GBI–when will everyone else join in?

If you say it out loud, the concept behind a GBI sounds crazy. But in practice, maybe it’s so crazy that it just might work. Given what I’ve observed and read and learned about poverty in America, guaranteed basic income can’t possibly be any worse for poor people, in effect, than our current welfare programs. If anyone wants to seriously discuss the GBI, however, someone’s got to start by coming up with a better name for it. Maybe “BetterFare” or “Lifeline Credit” or “Starting Point.” I don’t know, just anything that doesn’t make me immediately think “free money.” Let’s just start there and see what happens.

#FossilFreedom

I haven’t promoted this blog reel at all because it has served mostly as a way for me to document the little things I have to say as I feel the need to say them. Today I want to express how proud I am to have been a part of the Fossil Free AU campaign at American University.

Back in January, I knew nothing about the fossil free movement. I didn’t really know what EcoSense was. I didn’t even know what ‘divestment’ meant. I’d been invited to a Facebook event to learn more about the fossil free movement that some students at AU were hoping to start, and my friend Sophie was going, so I decided to go also, just to see what it was all about.

At that first meeting on January 14, I knew about three people in a room of dozens, and I barely understood what everyone was talking about. I never considered the environment an issue I cared a lot about. As a Democrat, I cared about the environment insofar as I believed in global warming and tried to turn off the lights as often I remembered to when I left rooms. But I was always more into healthcare, education, and economic development. Learning the intricacies of divesting from fossil fuels would be a totally new topic for me.

So, Sophie and I sat in the general meeting and mostly listened. During the second half of the meeting, attendees were asked to split into groups so that work could be more effectively delegated to those who showed specific interests in certain areas. Sophie and I thought about the different groups that were forming, and I think we had this grand idea that we could lift this movement off the ground, give it wings, and let it fly [fossil] free. We barely had to say a single word to one another: She headed to the Outreach group, and I went to the Communications group.

I got to the Comm group and sat down with maybe half a dozen other people who were also interested in communications. At this point, the fossil free movement at AU didn’t even have a name. That’s how little footing the group had on campus. No name, no logo, no slogan, no Facebook page, no Twitter handle–nothing but a bunch of ambitious kids in a room. Let’s add that I still didn’t know what ‘divest’ meant, and that all I knew was that I wanted this group to succeed. I knew a good cause when I saw one. I was in.

The group of us, at this preliminary meeting, laid out the groundwork for a communications strategy. These kids were entirely un-hierarchical. It was all about equality and teamwork. Which is fine, usually, but not when it comes to comm. Comm is different. You can’t give all 50 kids administrative access to the Facebook page, or just hand out the password for the Twitter account. Messaging is all strategy and can’t be taken lightly. As much as I loved these passionate, well-intentioned kids, Marxism wasn’t really going to cut it here.

First, I designed a logo. (The original logo looked similar, but called the group “Divest AU,” which was struck down early in the process.) I designed a cover image for the Facebook page. I created a Twitter account. I set up a listserv. I opened an email account. I revamped the website. I designed about five different versions of a petition card that FFAU would use to collect over 600 signatures in support of a fossil free divestment referendum question on the April ballot. Today, the FFAU logo is one of the most recognizable symbols on campus. It pops up all over the internet if you search “fossil free AU,” and it has been translated to tons of giant posters that FFAU members have used for rallies, photo ops, canvasses, and other functions throughout the semester.

Once the ball got rolling with these comm/marketing things, I had to disengage myself because I had too many other responsibilities. The comm efforts kind of got away from me after mid-February, but it didn’t matter at that point because FFAU was already on the road to success and didn’t need me anymore. I always considered myself more of a consultant than anything else. I wish I could’ve been more heavily involved, but I had other responsibilities to worry about. I appeared in a few photos here and there, but didn’t really make a huge splash with regard to publicity.

My other role was completely behind the scenes. I didn’t get press coverage in the Eagle (AU’s newspaper), I was never mentioned in Facebook posts by affiliated organizations, such as 350.org. But I know that without the work I did in this respect, the fossil free movement at AU might not have been such a success. My second role was in Student Government.

From October 2012 to April 2013 I served at the Senator for the School of Public Affairs in the Undergraduate Senate. This role allowed me to take initiative in drafting legislation that would change everything for the FFAU campaign. With the help of a few other Senators, the then-Comptroller, and a couple founding members of the FFAU team, I drafted two pieces of legislation.

First, I wrote a referendum that we hoped to include on the ballot for the spring elections. Second, I wrote a resolution that, if passed, would express the Undergraduate Senate’s support for the Fossil Free AU movement. On March 24, 2013, I introduced both the referendum and the resolution (that’s me standing at the podium–super attractive, I know). Both passed almost unanimously (only the Senator who was serving as the Student Trustee on the Board of Trustees had to abstain from the vote, though he would have voted in support had he not held his position on the Board). Members of the FFAU movement showed up to that Senate meeting to offer their opinions during public comment.

FFAU kids campaigned for a long hard week. I only wish I could’ve been more involved in the campaigning; it looked like a lot of fun. They pulled out VoteBot‘s cousin, DivestBot. They took photos. They tabled. They were on fire. It was awesome.

On April 1 and 2, 80 percent of student body voted in favor of divestment. It was a big freaking deal. We celebrated by binge drinking (off campus, don’t worry), and the most dedicated members of the FFAU movement got to work again. This time, the goal would be to reach the Board of Trustees and AU’s President, Neil Kerwin, to persuade them to support a Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (CSRI) and hold an official campus-wide discussion on the merits of divesting the endowment from fossil fuels.

I cosponsored another resolution–a co-active resolution between the Undergraduate Senate and the Residence Hall Association General Assembly. The then-Comptroller of the Student Government created a petition to form a CSRI. FFAU launched its 50 Days of Fossil Free AU photo campaign, bringing in alumni to support the FFAU movement, ideally pledging not to donate to the university until the Board agrees to divest the endowment from fossil fuels. The month of May is/was dedicated to delivering a letter to Neil Kerwin, campaigning at commencement, meeting with the Board’s Finance Committee, and attending an open Board meeting.

The students executing all of these events, actions, meetings, canvasses, and social media plans are some of the most hard-working, dedicated, passionate, and intelligent people I know. I am so glad to have had a part in it, even minimally. I am, as we all should be, inspired by the work that these students have done for the FFAU movement. Amazing things truly can be accomplished when a group of creative people have a common goal and unparalleled ambition. This journey isn’t over, and I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish over the summer and what I can help with come fall.