In Search of Context

Seeking why we are the way we are, and why all that we experience is the way it is.

What’s “New Year” Anyway?

After 5 days of focused skiing in New Hampshire, through a variety of terrains and weather conditions (from bright blue skies and pristine groomed slopes, to rising snow swirls and biting winds amidst daunting moguls) my family trooped back home sore but contented.  With two days to the New Year, the plan was to make New Year’s Eve a quiet family time with games and music, but when the kids woke up heavy-eyed and coughing on New Year Eve it was clear that an early bedtime was called for.  Have you ever tried to stuff a 9 year-old and 12 year-old into bed when the alternative is to watch the New Year Ball descend at Times Square (even if on TV)? “Not on New Year’s Eve!” declared my son.

That gave me pause. What is “New Year” or January 1st or 2013 anyway? An artificial demarcation in time defined by us Humans in our eternal search for supremacy over nature.  We’re quite meaningless in the grand scheme of this Universe in which atoms collide to create particles, and galaxies zip past each other nonchalantly.  So feeling inadequate we decide that there must be something we can do to impose a human framework on a phenomenon that has no use of us.  We alight upon the measure of “time”.  We break down the immeasurable immensity of universal time into seconds, hours, days and years.  And then because we like to party, we designate the concept of a “New Year” when somehow one night and one day is supposed to change the world, and our circumstances.  In this age of Social Globalization via the Internet, the thrill of New Year’s Eve is already worn thin when you realize that Australians and New Zealanders are nursing hangovers when we in theUnited States sit down to dinner!  But when we wake up January 1st with a sore head, and the same inhibitions and habits, the year date might have changed but little else seems to have.

New Year is Every Time You Make A Change.

I turned to my son and shook my head. “So what will be different tomorrow?” I asked. “If you still complain when you must practice your violin, and doodle in Math Class, what would have changed?” It’s quite hard to get my son to pause and consider.  He did. “New Year is every time you make a change,” I said.

Change need not be dramatic, but let it be something that you have taken for granted, or a rut that you have comfortably or involuntarily fallen into.  Then consider this: if changing habits is so hard, this means that every moment you must stay alert to your mission of working hard to reverse that habit.  Staying in the moment, and working on that change will make every moment a New Year!

Make Yourself a Promise: You Will Not Wait Until New Year Eve 2013 to Review Your Resolutions.

So when you sit down to make your list of New Year resolutions, commit to yourself that you will continually audit how you perform against them; that you will not wait for a drunken annual review on December 31st 2013.  Make this the one priority of your “New Year”, to make every moment a new beginning, and a new effort.  The last second is dead and gone; the one you are about to commence is that new chance or “New Year” we all crave for, and the moment you are in is a call for productive action.  Suddenly you will find that you are celebrating a New Year every day, every hour and every second.  What more can we ask for? Celebrating life and all our new chances every second of the way.

Straight Talk: Women in “Blue” States Should Vote Romney!

It’s the Economy Stupid.

I can forgive much in people, but I balk at politicians who hold the sacredness of an unborn foetus over the economic rights of a living woman. So when a dear male friend, who I hold in extremely high regard, first asked me why women in traditionally “Blue” states like California, New York, Connecticut, Oregon et al vote Democratic in Presidential Elections, I goggled.

Greg (name changed) is the best kind of educated, cosmopolitan guy you would want to know and work with.  He’s a great friend, colleague and boss, and a wonderful mentor to several professional women. So you can understand my goggling at him. “Because..!” I sputtered. “There is no question that the Democratic party is more in tune with our right to choose than the Republicans. I mean on the key issues of Abortion and Access to Contraception, there’s no question who is on a woman’s side.” Greg cocked a quizzical eyebrow at me. “Consider for a moment,” he countered. “If you live in a state like New York. Do you ever fear losing your reproductive rights? Of course not. Now, you’re in the top 10% of income earners in the country. Why would you voluntarily embrace a likely 5-10% point increase in the marginal tax rate, a reversal of the discounted tax rate on dividends, together with 5% point increase in the capital gains tax rate, by re-electing President Obama?”.

“But…it’s about more than money!” I said, bristling. “What about all those poor women in Alabama, or Kansas, or where ever a woman’s right to choose is being restricted? We must stand together. Wait a second, and what about the President’s power to choose Judges to the Supreme Court?” “Stop being so pompous”, returned Greg. “You really think women in Alabama don’t understand the issues at stake? They will vote the way their self-interest or beliefs drive them to. All you can do is vote on your self-interest and belief. And in this circumstance, you’ve already won the battle. Your beliefs are encapsulated in public policy, and supported by the majority of the state’s populace. So why not vote for your pocketbook instead?”.

I was shocked into silence. And as Greg would readily agree, that’s a hard thing for anyone to do to me. I needed to educate myself. Surely, the issue of reproductive rights was important enough to trump economics, and drive my vote to a socially liberal candidate? When in doubt, study the subject as objectively as you can. You never know what you’ll learn.

  • In terms of constitutional law, reproductive rights of women have been teetering on the brink for a long time. What the Democratic ticket doesn’t want you to know, however, is that there are already sufficient conservative justices on the Supreme Court to overthrow Roe v Wade if they so desired today . So the 2012 Presidential Election, and who is elected President is patently irrelevant to whether or not reproductive rights are upheld or overthrown at the Supreme Court.
  • In terms of practical politics, whether or not Roe v Wade is overturned, a President Romney has shown that he will defer to individual states to define public policy. As such, it doesn’t make sense for him to insert federal mandates one way or the other over the popularly constituted policies of states. He might make noise, but we are a powerful enough voting bloc, that no President, Republican or otherwise, would introduce a vote to outlaw reproductive rights or Abortion.
  • In terms of economics, President Obama’s tax and spend policies will devastate individual wealth creation, a leading indicator of national wealth creation. In an economy where both the individual and government are over-leveraged, the focus should be on incentivizing savings and re-building the networth (wealth that we as Americans own unencumbered) of the nation.

My conclusion? Women in “Blue” States ought to vote for Romney. Firstly because we can afford to. Secondly because we can’t afford not to. Thirdly, because I am sick of being manipulated by the Democratic fear mongering machine. I know what part of my reproductive rights are in danger and what’s not, thank you very much. And thankfully, as a resident of a “Blue” state, I am not dependent on the Federal Government or the Supreme Court to assert them!

Roe v. Wade is in Danger, Face it

Take a moment to read the U.S. Constitution. Right away in the preamble, you will see the phrase, “We the people” and conclude, complacently I might add, that surely the founding fathers were visionaries to keep the tone of the supreme law of the land so egalitarian as to include those across race, gender, and orientation. Not so. “The People” that the Constitution refers to originally meant, and continues to mean, white freeholder men of a certain income, and property standing. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Why do you think we needed the 13th, 15th , 19th , and 24th Amendments, clearly defining that all men are free, and that the primary right of citizenship – to vote cannot be denied on race, gender, or financial status?  Why would you need an amendment if there wasn’t an issue to begin with? And let us note another point. The 19th Amendment does little else that simply address the question of discrimination in voting on the basis of gender.  It is not a clear statement repudiating the original intent of the founding fathers, or affirming that the constitution in its entirety applies to women.

We thought Roe v Wade was a victory; it was simply a reprieve. It had the effect certainly of forcing policy on an unwilling legislature, but it was also one of the first judgments to express the chilling premise that a nation has a valid interest that can limit a woman’s reproductive rights. It’s greatest value, therefore, has been in giving local states a template to craft a policy asserting specific rights for women. And we as a group need to focus on that mission.  We need to work with our sisters, ones we agree with and those with whom we do not, to craft resolutions that male-dominated legislatures will be compelled to adopt. In this nation, the states are the trail blazers. Every revolutionary change has risen from the grassroots up until it found final expression in a federal code, policy, or constitutional amendment.

At the Federal level, the current patently conservative leaning Supreme Court, already had a chance to overthrow the specific guidelines of Roe v Wade in its 2007 decision to Gonzales v. Carhart. But it refused to do so. Instead it re-confirmed the state’s assertion that it has an interest in the extent of a woman’s reproductive rights.  The court upheld very specifically the theory behind the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act – leaving the door open to challenges in application.

Where do we end up?

  • A President cannot do a dashed thing to uphold or change our reproductive rights. We must fight the battle, state by state. And we have. In the “Blue” states, whose women seem to vote out of fear rather than from a sense of power.
  • The Supreme Court is as conservative as it could possibly be, but it’s track record on Roe v. Wade is to tread carefully. This court is obsessed with not being labelled “Activist”. We should be happy about that.

So to heck with it! I’m voting with my pocket book, and you should too.

There’s no Free Lunch in this World. Would you like 75% Income Tax Rates?

I am in the top 5% income earning bracket of the nation. I currently contribute about 35% of my income to federal taxes, another 5-6% to payroll, social security and other taxes, and about 6-8% towards state taxes. That’s a total of about 46-50% of my gross income. And let me assure you, dear reader, that salary earners like me get no unusual deductions, or blind trusts, or off shore accounts.  You need to be a lot richer, like Warren Buffett perhaps, to be able to do all that. Nope. My tax is deducted at source by my employer. I get my family exemption, a mortgage deduction severely curtailed, and little else. What I earn, I pay about half to the Federal and State government.

Do I believe in a Democratic Economic Agenda that sees me as the bad guy who doesn’t pay my fair share of the national purse? You bet I don’t.

It is absolutely galling when the Democratic ticket talks about “top earners” paying a “bit more” and their “fair share” of taxes. Are you telling me that if 10% of tax payers contribute 86% of the total federal tax bill, that isn’t fair? Are you saying that if the top 1% (which by the way has an average adjusted gross income of $344,000 and not $3 million as President Obama repeatedly asserts) is paying 37% of the total federal tax bill, that isn’t fair? And for all those women who are from the “Blue” States, along the Pacific and Atlantic seaboard and know their local economies: do you honestly feel that $344,000 is ultra rich in the high cost coastal regions where you live?

The Democratic come back to that is, “but you only pay 35% of your income in federal income taxes!” So what’s the point? Just because I happen to be at a certain income level, somehow that is morally reprehensible? And so if circumstances haven’t impoverished me, well then, the Government must step in to do the needful? “But it’s hardly impoverishing you”, says Mr. Democrat. “It’s simply leveling the playing field”. When did it become the role of government to ensure that people cannot reap the benefits of success? There is a clear national interest in having wealthier Americans bear a progressive share of federal tax dollars. But who said, that progressive taxation extends to income re-distribution?

What does President Obama consider fair? 5-10% points or the equivalent of another $20,000-30,000 out of my pocket? Well then, why stop there? Why not introduce 75% income tax rates like in France? After all, if you click on this table, you will find that if Obamacare is fully implemented, we will soon be in a very similar fiscal situation to that of the République Française. Or why not just take it all! Take all our earnings and pay us a stipend for existing. Wait a second. That’s called Communism.

Why should I support an economic policy that does nothing for my family? That diminishes my net-worth, and transfers wealth to a Federal system, that as I’ve just shown above, does nothing for my rights as a woman? If I am a woman in a state that supports my reproductive rights, I am better off paying a bit more to support that local state polity, than ever parting with my hard-earned money for some Federal system that consistently lets me down.

Women who value reproductive rights, and live in “Blue” States are in a much better position than we ever were in the past. Our Bill of Female Rights is codified into public policy and popular consensus. We might not agree with the ideological stance of the Republican Party, but the answer is not to return a Democrat to the White House. By doing so we are voting against our economic interests. We are also not doing anything of value towards our basic agenda which is to build a national consensus around women’s reproductive rights. That is a much bigger battle that we as women have to fight, state by state. And the first step? We need to talk amongst ourselves and figure out a consensus that works. Neither side will get it all. But if we are not united, we will be divided by the status quo.

The other day I was stuck on the highway, on my way to work: listening to the radio, and mulling over this article. Suddenly my eyes focused on a sticker affixed to the car in front of me. Women for Romney, 2012. I think it’s time we challenged ourselves and our status quo. Why do we vote the way we do? Is it from a sense of fear or from a position of power? And most importantly Ladies: It IS all about the Economy.

At the time this article was first published in an online women’s magazine, there had been some very fruitful Q&A with readers. I thought it would be useful to include the questions and my responses to them. I do so by describing the question (to preserve the anonymity of the commentators), and my answer. I think you will enjoy the to and fro.

Question: How can you say that Supreme Court appointments, and those of lower courts will not impact the rights of women in states who follow restrictive policies as regards reproductive rights? I also feel that there is a mis-representation in how you portray the facts of Roe v Wade.

With all due respect I have to correct your assertion that there are misrepresented facts in my discussion of the supreme court cases mentioned:

In Gonzales v Carhart, Kennedy, writing for the majority opinion, discussed the relevance of the moral imperative set up in the preceding 1992 case of Casey v Planned Parenthood (which you mention as well).  In that he said,”Whatever one’s views concerning the Casey joint opinion, it is evident a premise central to its conclusion—that the government has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life—would be repudiated were the Court now to affirm the judgments of the Courts of Appeals”.  In this statement he is referring to the fact that if the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is going to have a clause allowing the procedure to protect a woman’s life/health, then beyond that exemption, Casey v Planned Parenthood has basically set up a moral imperative argument that cannot be overturned lightly.

That moral imperative is unfortunately first posited in the Roe v Wade majority opinion written at that time by Justice Blackmun.  In that opinion, J Blackmun said, “In assessing the State’s interest, recognition may be given to the less rigid claim that as long as at least potential life is involved, the State may assert interests beyond the protection of the pregnant woman alone.”

I don’t agree with these judgments. However, it seems to me a reality that must be dealt with. And the reality arisese BECAUSE the constitution is so vague about a Woman’s bill of personal rights.  People might counter that with “why does woman need a personal bill of rights?”  My response? Because she is in a peculiar position of being held accountable to society for her personal being and liberty.  It is much the same way with men, who used to be answerable to society for a duty to bear arms. And so the draft had to be formally abolished to absolve them of that duty. It is based on these readings of the various cases, that i have concluded that a President’s power to appoint justices is overblown. Furthermore, the Senate must approve those appointments. A fact that VP Biden conveniently forgot to mention. And it is worth noting that even the Alito nomination had 11 democratic senators cross party lines and vote for his confirmation. As much should be noted that those 11 democratic senators were from states who have a history of restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. Well then! the women in those states have to stand up and vote for the right representatives. And we all as women have to work together at the grassroot level to make this happen state-by-state.

Question:  I am in the healthcare business and support President Obama’s health care initiatives. We spend twice as much of our GNP on health care as France or Germany.  However, most of the money we spend goes to unnecessary tests and expensive treatments which do not improve our quality of life.

Although we can, I will say this: there are 2 issues here: (a) the cost of healthcare, (b) the need to cover as many patients as possible. In a market economy if you provide no return to health care providers and device manufacturers then you won’t get the kind of innovation that (unfortunately or otherwise) Americans are now used to. So everyone talks about cutting the cost of healthcare, but you can’t do that without bankrupting hospitals and shutting down R&D dollars. Then one of 2 things happens: (1) either there is no innovation and that’s that. Or (2) the government has to take on the job of R&D – which is the situation in Contl Europe. THe result of that? Countries basically at 3-5x DEbt to GDP. It might not seem like much to consumers, but it will matter when the US can’t borrow anymore at 1% in the global debt markets. On the issue of (b) namely cover as many patients as possible, as a healthcare provider i respect your desire to cover everyone. But the marginal cost to get to that last 10% of the population is the difference between a strong US economy and a future Greece in the making. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the table i posted on The data i used comes from the General Accountability office. Coming to a conclusion that is labelled, “Conservative” doesnt’ make one a conservative. The facts speak to us. and we have to respond to them.

Comment: If you’re after equality and empowerment for women, then you should back candidates that have or will champion the same. Pres. Obama doesn’t have a great record here, but it’s certainly better than what Gov. Romney can truthfully say about his time in Massachusetts.  Assuming that your state-granted rights are protected and safe despite the current composition of the Supreme Court is naive; with court appointments lasting for life, you should be thinking 16-20 years ahead. Some of those appointments that shape the future of the Court will happen in the next few years–which candidate will appoint Justices that are in line with your values and what you want to have happen?

The reason I feel safe about my state-derived rights is because in the state I live in and its surrounding neighbors, support for women’s reproductive rights is endemic in the populace. There are compromises no question, but a lot of the rights are legislature supported, independent of the judiciary. And both these arms have shown repeated support for those rights over the last several generations. So i’m as positive as I could possibly be, for myself and future generations of women in these states. However, that doesn’t negate the need for a two-pronged approach by women in these states: (a) stay vigilant to any encroachment upon our rights, (b) work with women across the spectrum to stay realistic of what framework of civil rights can ALL women embrace. It is unrealistic, i feel now, that we can impose one prescription for what we define as WOMENS RIGHTS. It isn’t what I’d like to say, but i think this is the reality of a democracy that we have to work with.

Comment:  Taxes are too low relative to national GDP expenditures, and in general, the wealthier you are the lower percentage of total income is spent on taxes.  This goes beyond simple federal income tax-rate, and includes various state taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, etc.  In short, if you include ALL taxes, even though more total income is received from the wealthy, the poorest spend a greater percentage of their money on these taxes.  Despite the great increases in economic growth from the 80s to ’08, virtually ALL of that growth went directly into the income of the richest 5%.  Moreover, that wealth of those at the top is increasingly NOT spent on creating jobs or driving economic growth of the US.

– Progressive taxation as an economic policy, is limited only to income taxes. It aims to scale the % the income you pay as INCOME tax as your income goes up. Within that context, taxes on income derived from risking capital – whether it is investing in equity, or in an income producing asset tend to be lower to reflect the inherent risk taken in that investment. Sales tax is by nature regressive. It hurts the lowest income earners. Under our constitution, income tax is a federal policy and a source of federal govt income. Sales tax is primarily a state policy and source of income to state governments. So it is completely unfair to add these taxes up and then say that as a % higher income earners are somehow better positioned than lower income earners. We can’t help it if sales taxes hurt the lower income earners. It doesn’t also mean that a higher income earner is somehow spending that excess case conspiciously. Many of us actually do save it, adding to the unencumbered wealth of this nation. On the income tax front, folk in my group – the top 5% – contribute almost 60% of total federal tax dollars. Do you honestly think that’s too low?

– On your point that tax dollars are way too low a % of government expenditure: We need to separate near-term spending measures from longer term commitments. Given the current weak economic recovery, it is not surprising that tax dollars are restricted relative to the spending that continues to provide a safety net where it is likely richly deserved. That’s something through which we will simply have to tread water. But when we come to long term commitments, including entitlement programs, we cannot tax ourselves out of this hole. We can never make the numbers match. The solution in my view is to cut back on the spending. Isn’t that the first thing you would do if you didn’t make enough to support your lifestyle? It was a great insight in 18th century economic philosophy when people realized that consumption was the best indicator of a nation’s wealth. But there is something called outspending the constable. You can spend only so long as your credit allows you to finance it. Have a quick read of my blog post from Sept 26 titled, “the Iphone 5 Test, and what it tells you about the American Dream”.

– On your point of job creation from the top wealth creators: How does an economy measure its stock of wealth, and the growth of its cash income? In my view it is by the level of economic activity, and the credit worthiness of the sovereign government. Economic growth in this country has been generated not so much by conspicious consumption by the wealthiest (although we have some of the richest folks in the world), but instead it has been led by the poorest, and the middle class, spending off fictitious home equity, and burgeoning credit card balances. Now that bubble has burst and the US has lost its coveted AAA credit standing. Who will stand up and take accountability for this? How can it always be someone like Wall Street – who is nothing but middle men, or large corporations who by nature are global and are as beholden to global markets as they are to the US government.


Welcome to my Blog. I hope to go past this sound-bite world we live in and try to find context objectively.  This means I won’t always like the conclusions I come to, but I will bring them to you because I think you deserve it! Come on, join the conversation, and let’s get past the cross-talking and have a real, substantive discussion. 

Best Regards, Chitra Sundaram


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