the united states could pay for daddyland, no problem

I always assumed that the cost of parental leave in the US would be too high, that it would take some massive overhaul of our entire system to make Swedish-style parental leave a reality.  So I always talk about how we have to find an American way, a way that I can’t come up with myself, but there has to be some way – American ingenuity and all that.

Then in the recent Newsweek cover story on masculinity, a Columbia professor – Jane Waldfogel – is quoted saying that giving every working parent a full year of paid parental leave would cost about 25 billion dollars a year.

Oooh, that sounds like a lot, right?

It’s nothing.  If true, people should be knocking down their politicians’ doors to get this done.

Here are some numbers.  In nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has spent 1.1 trillion dollars.

That equals about 44 years of paid parental leave.

Citizens Against Government Waste says that congress earmarked 16.9 billion dollars worth of projects in 2010.  That takes care of a lot of the parental leave.  I know that pork projects serve as a kind of local stimulus, but, believe me, paying parents is a better way.

The conservative Hogue News listed a whole lot of wasteful federal projects, including references:

  1. The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.
  2. Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare (excluding TARP) versus $71 billion on homeland security.
  3. Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  4. Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them–costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually–fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve.
  5. The Congressional Budget Office published a “Budget Options” series identifying more than $100 billion in potential spending cuts.

I’m sure the Hogue people wouldn’t the savings to go the safety net, but tough luck.  I’m seeing the future of an American Daddyland in that list.

We wouldn’t even notice 25 billion a year, a drop in the bucket.  Start taxing corporations right and we can even let the hypocritical Tea Party folks have a tax cut or two …

is the u.s. starting to look a little like daddyland?

Newsweek’s cover story this week is on changing conceptions of masculinity.  They argue forcefully for a “New Macho.”  This is super cool, and important, and not just because I’m quoted via my recent Slate essay.

From the story:

Since the 1950s, the image of the American woman has gone through numerous makeovers. But masculine expectations remain the same—even as there are fewer opportunities to fulfill them. As a result, says Joan C. Williams, author of Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, “men have a choice: either feel inadequate or get a lot more creative.” What’s required, then, is not a reconnection with the past but a liberation from it; not a revival of the old role but an expansion of it. The End of Men isn’t nigh, nor is macho dead. But its definition should be broadened to include both Mr. T and Mr. Mom. It’s time, in other words, for a New Macho: a reimagining of what men should be expected to do in the two realms, home and work, that have always determined their worth.

The Swedish model has been getting some buzz lately – a big New York Times story, my essay did much better than I ever expected, I’m getting media requests from Australia, Canada and so on.

But this is the first time that a big publication has actually translated the message to America.  It’s not a gee-whiz moment about those progressive Swedes up there in their fairy tale north.  This is about the need for American men to change in order to thrive in a changing world.

That means making child care cool and macho and all that.

And maybe Americans are more on board than I thought:

Recent polls show that majorities of Republicans (62 percent), Democrats (92 percent), and independents (71 percent) now support the idea of paid paternity leave.

And maybe the solutions are not all that hard, even in the conservative, free-market U.S.:

The most likely model for paid leave is an employee-funded insurance program like Social Security—which, according to Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for American Progress, could support 12 weeks of paid leave for a measly $10 a month per worker. That translates to a payroll tax hike of no more than three 10ths of a percent. Even the most generous program—a full year of leave for every working parent in the country—would cost the country only $25 billion, according to Columbia professor Jane Waldfogel, who studies work-family issues. Washington already spends four times that amount each year on fraud, waste, and abuse.

how arizona and immigration look from sweden

The Arizona Illegal Immigration Law: Beyond Boycotts, Brewer and the Border Patrol

One of my Faster Times posts from last week:

The internet gets so loud sometimes – especially on a topic like the controversial immigration bill in Arizona scheduled to take effect in late July.  I tried ear plugs.  But I could still read.  I tried closing my eyes, but my typing was a mess.  Then I tried another type of filter – nonpartisan reporting.

I include the Associated Press in this.  You may not, but I do.  And the AP – using good sources – has been doing some really good work out of Mexico City – less good out of Arizona – with direct impact on the immigration debate.   So let’s take a tour of the facts, which are, of course, filtered by my own world view and preconceived notions.

How dangerous is the U.S. – Mexico border?  It must be really dangerous, right?

Uh, no.  From an AP story off an FBI report run by FoxNews:

It’s one of the safest parts of America, and it’s getting safer …

The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.

The study … shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives.

OK, not that dangerous to be in Arizona.  What about the economy?  Those darn illegals must be killing the economy!

Uh, no.  Another story from Fox, this one an original on FoxBusiness.com:

Putting the law and morality of illegal entry aside, several studies have shown the illegal immigrant population is more of an economic contributor to state and local economies than politicians like to tell an angry electorate. The numbers can be broken down into the fiscal cost (or gain) of illegal immigrants to states, along with the economic contribution of the population.

The most thorough study on the fiscal and economic impact of immigration was done by the non-partisan Texas Comptrollers’ Office in 2006, which showed Texas earned more in taxes and economic output from illegal immigrants than governments spent to provide services.

What is going on here?  A Fox reporter wrote that?  They are supposed to be putting out data by border line hate groups, like in this Fox story, which shows apocalyptic economic damage from illegal immigrants.

What is more, the FoxBusiness reporter then went and found all these business groups in Arizona that want workers from Mexico.  This makes sense to me.  When I covered farm country in New York, the farmers loved their Mexican workers, even if many were illegal.  And only part of that was the fact that the farmers could pay them less.

To be fair, in dismissing right wing crap, I will now dismiss this story on six UN human rights experts calling the Arizona law a violation of international standards.

Left wing hippies!

OK, so Arizona has lots of company in this fight against illegal immigration, right?

Uh, no.  Even as other states move to emulate it, border states could not run away faster.  From the AP again, via, who else, FoxNews:

New Mexico’s governor says it is a step backward. Texas isn’t touching it. And California? Never again.

Arizona’s sweeping new law empowering police to question and arrest anyone they suspect is in the U.S. illegally is finding little support in the other states along the Mexican border.

Among the reasons given: California, New Mexico and Texas have long-established, politically powerful Hispanic communities; they have deeper cultural ties to Mexico that influence their attitudes toward immigrants; and they have little appetite for a polarizing battle over immigration like one that played out in California in the 1990s.

I think the lack of a Hispanic community is important here.  Look at the Tea Party.  You can never deny the impact of latent white racism.  Actually, now that I think about it, this is the story. More from the AP:

Arizona didn’t draw large numbers of Hispanics until more recently, and the bonds of affection to Mexico may have been weakened by the huge influx of retirees and others from the North and the Midwest in recent decades.

“In some ways, these are people who don’t want to deal with this,” said Lisa Magana, associate professor of transborder studies at Arizona State University.

Now, to be fair, Arizona has become the capital of illegal immigration and that is not fun.  Perhaps this is because the state did not want to deal with immigration while other border states came to terms with their geopolitical reality?

The AP catalogs all the supposed pressures that pushed the state to this point in a story here – the violence, the kidnappings, the huge numbers of arrests – except that the deeper stories seem to contradict all that.  In fact, I could look at that as simple white fright.

I would argue that, if anything, Arizonans should be enraged over the War on Drugs, which has dragged much of Latin America down for decades and turned northern Mexico into a war zone, hindering the region from sustained economic growth, the type that would mean poor Mexicans would not have to leave home for life in, say, Iowa.  From the AP, once again:

In 1970, proponents said beefed-up law enforcement could effectively seal the southern U.S. border and stop drugs from coming in. Since then, the U.S. used patrols, checkpoints, sniffer dogs, cameras, motion detectors, heat sensors, drone aircraft — and even put up more than 1,000 miles of steel beam, concrete walls and heavy mesh stretching from California to Texas.

None of that has stopped the drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says about 330 tons of cocaine, 20 tons of heroin and 110 tons of methamphetamine are sold in the United States every year — almost all of it brought in across the borders

getting the best out of the welfare state and the american state (whatever that is)

Being an international family is not always easy.  You always live far from one set of family and friends, and one partner is always an immigrant, an outsider trying to fit in.

But talk about options.  Two cultures, two systems, two languages to choose from.

And you cannot do much better – if you are at least middle class, which we are, than Sweden and America – the welfare state and the richest country in the world.

It is almost embarrassing, how you can plan your life.  I was talking to an American a couple weeks ago, and he told me about a family he knew.  He almost whispered it.

The family moved to Sweden when they had kids.  Got all the parental leave, the cheap high quality child care, the money for your kids (yep, the swedish state gives each kid a couple hundred bucks a month).

Then they moved to America.  Lower taxes, more money, big house, fast track careers.

Oh, and the sun.  How could I forget the strong American sun, the escape from winters that grind your soul into a fine powder.

Then they sent their kids to college in Sweden.  F0r free.

The story ends there, but if they stay true to form, this couple will retire to Sweden for the health care and other benefits and winter in Spain or Florida …

The guy telling me the story sort of shrugged with embarrassment.  I might have smiled ruefully.

Do we dare game the system so?

For I am on paternity leave but I certainly have not paid Swedish taxes my whole life.  And if we ever move back to America, I will stop paying those Swedish taxes.

And when they hit 18, I am sure I will not stop my kids from studying in Sweden.

Just the thought makes me feel guilty.  But E tells me to get over it.  She has been in the system the whole time, she says.   Our kids are Swedish.  They might live in Sweden.

And, really, we would never move just to milk a system – either here or there.  We are about other things.

But what a perk …

a new york real estate nightmare avoided but still afraid in Sweden

When fear overtakes me, whether in the darkest night or suddenly in a ray of sunshine, when fear enters our safe corner of the Swedish welfare state, it brings images of a white house in Port Jervis, New York.

Our house.  The house where our daughter spent her first year.  The house with the giant red couch and the new porch with the view of the swaying tall trees.  The house with the original woodwork and the attic that could be an art studio and the old barber shop in the cellar.

The house with the bats and the bugs.   The house with one amazing set of neighbors and nothing else for miles.  The house far from all our family and friends.

In my nightmares, we do not sell and do not move to Daddyland.  We get stuck.  And I stop, because I cannot go any further.

Well, now our wonderful Victorian in the cute little river town is back on the market – and has been for more than eight months!

This is your chance to get out of the big city, enjoy the forest, the rivers, the cool breezes (just do not have your first child in town with a doctor you do not like and with no network and only one car and with lead paint on the ceiling of your porch).

I guess it didn’t work out for our buyers … who were good, hardworking people moving up from the Bronx.

I would feel worse for them – talk about bad timing, buying a house in the country two hours from your job just when the housing market blows up and gas prices skyrocket – if they had not ripped out our garden, dug up the Japanese maple we planted when NK was born and put up drywall in every room and then painted everything white.

Hmmph.

At least no one has called me, telling me that we still own it, that we have to go back.

Still, however, I won’t be able to sleep tonight … too scared.   (this is our picture, not a current one)

now blogging off the news at The Faster Times

I have started blogging off the news for The Faster Times, to go along with my sporadic Huffington Post entries.

I am working to find my own personal mix of links and news and commentary.

I am toying with adding haiku into the mix (seriously) but am still too new at the website to venture that.

But check it out …

http://thefastertimes.com/bignews/

health care reform = creativity, innovation

Our work is changing. More working from home. More flexible schedules. Hopefully more innovation, sustainability and creativity, since the US sure is not going to be manufacturing much in the future.

The American economy has embraced this change, but really more from the employer point of view, throwing the balance out of whack. You get fired real quick, with no leverage, millions of people locked to their jobs, to their health insurance.

A lot of people still make the leap, either forced to as parents (mostly mothers) or scraping by in a bad job market … or just gutsy and driven and willing to take risks. Bravo to them. But think how many more people could take a leap, escape the cubicle, change the world, if we get health care reform in the US.

I moved to Sweden the first time in 2004, leaving a good job that I had burned out on for various reasons. I had pondered freelancing before, but with two reconstructed knees and a decade of sinus troubles behind me, just could not go without health insurance. Then I fell in love with a Swede, and, honestly, I would have moved health care or not, but the universal health care in Sweden eliminated a risk, a worry. It encouraged me – ever so little, but still – to follow my heart.

Now Sweden is not a hotbed of risk-taking entrepreneurs, even with the best safety net in the world. But there are other cultural reasons for that. I think Americans who come to Sweden are in the perfect place – they recognize the opportunity of the safety net, and they are, well, American enough to go out on their own. (note to employer – I am not quitting my job)

Just think if everyone in America had the security to take more risks, even if they have, say, a daughter with serious milk and egg allergies. Could be pretty cool. But, more practically, it will be better for everyone if the US can compete in a globalized economy.