Euro Crisis — end of the social contract?

The focus of much of my research is European politics, although as an American political scientist and activist, I follow my local, state and national politics very closely.  It is often difficult to see the linkages between the U.S. and Europe beyond NATO and foreign policy, but there are very good reasons for Americans to be concerned about the ongoing fiscal crisis in Europe.

I post news regularly on my Europe blog (, but for this post I want to focus less on the news and more on my personal observations of the impact of Europe.  In the U.S. we tend to focus on China, given its size and relative economic strength as it grows into a market economy.  However, our most important trading partner continues to be Europe.  It’s where we sell most of our goods, and where we still get many of our more important imports.  If Europe crashes, it will take the U.S. and much of the rest of the world with it. The European Union has been a critical development for peace and growth in post-war Europe and regardless of what happens to the Euro zone, will continue to be a major player in world trade.  However,it is important that we as Americans understand the implications of what is happening in Europe now.  For example, youth unemployment is at least 50% in countries like Spain and Greece.

The spring of 2012 has been a season of protests and riots in Greece, Spain and Italy in the wake of fiscal austerity measures which are only another step in a process that began in the early 1990s.  The end of the Cold War was the beginning of the end of Europe’s social contract, a promise that each generation would live better, have better benefits, health, and a shorter working career than the previous generation.  European countries had entered into this contract at the end of World War II, when the war-torn countries faced the massive task of rebuilding.  The U.S. saw the benefit in helping these countries rebuild, thus creating markets for our own goods.  The Cold War with the Soviet Union also gave the U.S. incentive to go beyond the Marshall plan and provide for Europe’s defense via NATO and the maintenance of bases in Europe, which could also act as forward operations bases for action in other parts of the world, like the Middle East. All of these measures by the U.S. allowed Europe to focus on rebuilding, and focus its economy on manufacturing, education, etc…and not on defense.

When the fiscal crisis hit the U.S. in 2007-2008, initially Europe appeared to escape much of the upheaval.  The crisis switched into high gear in the Fall of 2009 when the newly elected Greek government admitted that much of the data related to the country’s debt had been manufactured.  The country was, in fact, nearly bankrupt.  It soon became clear that Greece was not alone – Ireland and Portugal were the next shoes to drop.  When Spain and Italy began to show signs of strain, it was clear that the crisis would be neither short-lived nor easy to resolve.

In the long run, Europe as a continent has shown its ability to adjust and rebound from major upheavals, whether it be war, disease or cultural shifts (e.g., 1968).  However, this time it’s a much more long term shift that is leading to major cultural impacts.  Discontent is likely to rise, as people realize that the cuts and changes in benefits are not merely temporary measures, but part of a major shift that is the end of the era of the strong welfare state. It is not clear to me yet what the implications of these developments might be for welfare spending in the U.S., but it certainly signals a shift.  If the U.S. is negatively impacted by events in Europe, then the push for more cuts to our own social safety net, and critical areas like education, will continue, negatively impacting all youth, but in particular our growing Latino populations and other marginalized minority groups.

A mother’s day tribute

The Givens Family — All 9 of us!

First, a happy mother’s day to all.  I am the baby in my mother’s lap in this picture of my family — she was an extraordinary women, who I am really only coming to appreciate as I get older.  She lived through some of the most difficult times in our country’s history, born during the depression, and managed to raise 7 children starting in the post-war era, up through the turbulent 60s and 70s.  I feel blessed to be the strong and successful woman that I am today, thanks to being raised by one of the strongest women I will ever know.

I also want to give credit on this day to my sisters — from oldest to youngest, Brenda, Rhonda, Sharon and Marsha.  They all had a major hand in my upbringing as well, and have a huge impact on my life today.  They are all phenomenal women, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. As we all reflect on our upbringings, I will quote Michelle Norris “There are the Mothers that gave you life, then there are the “mothers” you find along the way that give you life lessons. Cherish both”


Work/Life Balance

North Rim of the Grand Canyon, July 2011

I am asked all the time how I do all the things that I do.  I am a full time academic, active in the community, a runner, and manage to spend quality time with my boys (e.g., tonight is pizza and a movie night – and we always eat dinner together as a family). I am high energy, but I also know how to take some down time (this afternoon’s nap), and I try to be very efficient with my work time.  On both the work and the home front, when I am engaged and passionate about something, nothing can stop me from doing what I want to do.  This is something my husband learned early on.  He is incredibly supportive, and has no problem taking care of the boys when I need to travel, or do work in the evenings (he has always been in charge of bedtime, since he doesn’t get home until dinner is on the table).  We have a fairly even trade off on household duties, although I tend to do more shuttling of the boys because I have a more flexible work schedule. My husband and I are very much in sync, we enjoy taking long family vacations, which are sometimes related to my work, such as our 6-week trip to Europe 2 years ago, while I was conducting research, or pleasure, such as our 3 week trip through the southwest national parks last summer. This summer the boys will be joining me in DC where I will be for two months on a fellowship at the Wilson Center.

In the last few years, what has thrown a wrench in things are family issues, like the passing of my parents and my brother-in-law from kidney cancer.  I am very close to my family, so these events weighed heavily on me, and I have had to think about ways to take care of myself during these difficult times.  It is also important that I show my boys that I’m not always on top of things, and that I need to slow down. I have entered the phase of my life where I’m dealing with my children on the one hand, and ailing relatives on the other.  This is going to be a challenging time going forward, and I will need to develop new strategies to maintain my balance.  Running will always be part of that, but I’m learning that it’s not enough.  Going forward, I will be relying on friends, family and when needed, professionals to help me through this thing called life.  But the one constant will always be my boys 🙂

Why a new blog?

I have been blogging for my courses for over a year now, and I also write a column for Inside Higher Ed — so why another blog?  I try to keep my Europe and Immigration blogs as unbiased as possible.  They are a way for my followers (mainly my students) to keep up with news and have been a very useful tool for my classes.  This blog is more personal, and is where I will discuss more of my opinions on a variety of issues, including women’s rights, getting and staying healthy, race relations, progressive politics, etc…

So welcome, hope you enjoy and check in regularly.

Why I care about gay marriage

It could be my nephew who married his partner in the Netherlands, or my best friend who married her partner in California, my sister who is married to her partner, despite living in Arizona, or many of my other friends who are in committed relationships and want the same right to visit their spouse in the hospital, handle their estate, or anything else that I take for granted in my marriage.  And people I love are being discriminated against.

I am proud of my president for saying he supports gay marriage, and it is indeed an important and historic step.  I can’t help but compare the issue to interracial marriage.  It wasn’t that long ago that my own marriage would have been illegal in many states.  I love the saying “Love sees no color” and love doesn’t care about gender, or any other physical characteristics that divide people. Why can’t we focus on the love?

The Politics of Birth Control and Women’s Health

The Komen Foundation, long a supporter of research on breast cancer, found itself in the middle of controversy when it announced that it would no longer fund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics.  Many have written about this cautionary tale, yet many politicians seem to have ignored the lessons that Komen learned from this PR debacle. Political strategists often use wedge issues to motivate voters.  Issues like gay marriage, anti-abortion measures and now birth control are seen as ways to motivate voters who have strong feelings about these issues. However, this is clearly not a wedge issue.  Opinion polls indicate that 99% of women have used birth control, and a large majority of voters, even those who are Catholic, support the Obama administration’s position on the issue, yet the attacks continue.

Perhaps what is most perplexing is that many politicians don’t seem to understand that for many women this is a critical health issue.  My own story is an example.  In my mid-20s I was diagnosed with endometriosis.  This was a major concern for me, since my sister had the same disease and had to have a hysterectomy on her late 20s.  Fortunately she had already had 3 children at that point.  I was neither married nor ready to have children so my doctor prescribed birth control pills to regulate my hormones, and hopefully protect my fertility.  My insurance company refused my claim, and I had to jump through many hoops to simply get them to cover my prescription with a co-pay.  Every time I changed jobs and insurance, I had to go through the same ritual.  Particularly when I was in my 20s I could not afford to pay the full price for my prescription, and I may not have my two beautiful boys if I hadn’t followed my doctor’s orders. For these reasons, I am fully supportive of women being able to get a prescription for birth control at little or no cost.

Birth control pills are often used to treat endometriosis, heavy-bleeding during menstrual periods, PCOS, fibrocystic breasts, and even acne.  Limiting access is very unlikely to impact sexual behavior. Using the regulation of birth control as a wedge issue can only be a losing battle.  Women (and Men!) have been and will continue to be pulled from the sidelines of the political debate until the message is heard loud and clear.  This is not a wedge issue – it is an assault on my health and my ability to control and protect my fertility.