Equal Time with Martha Burk

Well we did it.  Made it through another year. Women have had some good news, and some bad news. What with wars, floods, police shootings, terrorist attacks and all the rest, we’ve probably missed a few things. So let’s review some items that didn’t make the front pages in 2015.

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Starting last month with Starbucks’ plain red holiday cup, and culminating in actions like the banning of a teddy bear tree to benefit needy kids at an Albuquerque school when a Rabbi complained, the annual hysteria over the so-called “War on Christmas” is in full swing. Christians say the well-known evergreen is a Christian symbol and others say it leaves out different faiths. Both sides are wrong.

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Consumers are snapping up mountains of plastic soon-to-be-junk from toy stores, and the latest gee-whiz gadgets and cheesy clothing from big boxes. Is it stuff we need?  Will we love it in January?  And what's the message we're sending to our kids? Call a halt -- and start a new tradition.

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December is for celebrating, but it's also about remembering one of the darkest days in decades, December 14, 2012  – when 20 first graders and 6 educators at Sandy Hook elementary school were gunned down by an ex-student wielding a shotgun.

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Thanksgiving’s over and Black Friday’s behind us.  But the shopping frenzy will continue right up ‘till midnight on the 24th. Love or hate it, shopping is now a national pastime.  But for many, especially the 16% of American workers making the minimum wage, holidays are a time of worry.

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Thanksgiving will be just like any other day for millions of U.S. citizens who rely on food stamps. No turkey, just trimmings to the already meager food stamp program. House Republicans want a $40 billion dollar cut.  Senate Democrats want $4 billion. Whatever they choose, it’ll be on top of the loss these families suffered when a 2009 temporary increase ran out November 1st.

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The gender pay gap reared its ugly head again this month, with a massive study released by the website PayScale.  Almost one and half million workers logged on over a 2 year period and spilled the beans about how much they’re paid.  The highest earning group? Men with kids. They way out earn the lowest group – you guessed it – single women with kids.

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When it comes to how we treat our veterans, we do pretty well in some areas, but fall down in others. Homelessness is one of the worst. It’s way too high for both male and female vets – and this is one area where women are catching up to men.

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Halloween is behind us, but I’ve still got some scary news.  We’ve started the one-year countdown to election day.  We’ve already been bombarded for months with red-hot anti-tax, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor rhetoric from a fool’s dozen Republican candidates.  Can we really take another year?

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Afghanistan President Asraf Ghani is scheduled to visit the U.S. this month.  He said in February that peace talks with the Taliban would start soon, and reports say the talks could also start in March.  Let's hope so. For the past year it's been hard to see progress through the bombs and bullets.  Afghanistan is a place where peace just won't stick, and women are all but shut out of negotiations.

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Michael Bloomberg spent $12 million last year trying to get members of the Senate to vote for background checks, but his return on investment was lousy.  So this year Mr. Bloomberg has as a new strategy.  Instead of trying to change lawmaker’s minds, he’s going to try and change their faces.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but nearly 50 women in the U.S. are murdered with a gun, most often by a husband or boyfriend every month of the year. Congress could protect women and save lives with a few fixes that wouldn't infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners -- if they had the political will.

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Lately we've been awash in a debate over whether a Muslim should serve as President, triggered by Republican candidate Ben Carson, who said Islam is inconsistent with the constitution. As a woman in the U.S., I don't fear the possibility of a Muslim in the White House nearly as much as I fear the radical Christians now seeking the GOP nomination.

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Get ready for Pope, Pope, and more Pope 24-7 this week, as the pontiff makes his rounds in the nation’s capital.  No doubt Pope Francis is kinder and gentler than his predecessors, especially on issues that affect women, like abortion and ending a marriage. But on one issue of great importance -- priest sex abuse -- the pontiff is not as good as he looks.

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It was down to the wire before a decision was made to include Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the race, in this week’s Republican presidential debate. Will a woman in the prime-time lineup help the Republican cause?  It could, but it depends much more on how she appeals to the majority of voters – other women.

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Contrary to assertions by Republican candidates that most immigrants are rapists and criminals, the majority of people migrating to our shores from other countries are now female.  Real immigration reform must take into account some of the unique needs of women working to become U.S. citizens.

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Labor Day was created in the 19th century by the unions, to celebrate the economic achievements of American workers. But if we look at the 21st century “economic achievements” by U.S. corporations in taking advantage of their low wage employees, we might as well rename it Labor Exploitation Day.

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Women have made steady gains in many areas since they got the right to vote in August of 1920, but there is still work to do.  When elected officials refuse to back pro-woman policies, today's females should borrow a page from the suffragists and use their votes to hold elected officials accountable.

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With the right to bear arms no matter the consequences firmly established in U.S. law and psyche of its citizens, the NRA has to push new laws to stay viable and keep Congress and state legislatures firmly in its political pocket. One of the newer so-called gun rights the group has cooked up is campus carry.  Will students heading back to college this month be packing heat along with the books and booze?  In nine states the answer is yes, with more on the way.

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Hooray for Netflix.  The company jumped in front of 99% of corporate America last week when it announced an unlimited first year leave policy for new parents after the birth or adoption of a child.  You heard right – unlimited.  And it applies to fathers as well as mothers.

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The first Republican debate is this week, so it’s time to take a peek at how the candidates feel about the majority of voters – women.

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July 30 marks a very important anniversary in our modern political history.  In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, creating two programs that would  improve the lives of Americans, especially women. Fast forward to 2015, and both are very much under siege. Nowhere is the struggle starker than in competing budgets now on Capitol Hill.  

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The U.S. Senate has done it again – blocked a vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act.  It’s a bill by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that would move the decision about whether to prosecute sexual assault in the military from the chain-of-command and turn it over to independent military prosecutors. Right now, senior officers -- not law enforcement -- get to decide guilt or innocence. Most of the victims are afraid of being punished by superiors if they come forward. And for good reason.

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Are you a person who can’t go a whole day, or even a whole hour without checking Facebook?  Or do you belong in the opposite camp with other folks who declare it a colossal waste of time?  Either way, you should be paying attention to some recent developments at this behemoth of online business, especially if you’re female.

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The so-called religious freedom laws Republican candidates seek are fig leafs for discrimination against gay couples.  But if such laws become reality, they would go far beyond the ability of a Christian business to refuse to cater a gay wedding. Other religions would by definition be accorded equal rights to discriminate based on their own beliefs.

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On July 4 we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, which declared that "all men are created equal," and unfortunately it meant just that.  Women still do not have equal rights in the U.S. Constitution, and they're needed now more than ever.

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There’s an old saying “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”  That applies in spades to Republicans who have voted over 50 times unsuccessfully to overturn Obamacare.  But now the GOP wish may be granted by the Supreme Court, set to rule by the end of the month in a case that experts acknowledge could gut the Affordable Care Act.  Who will be hit hardest if Obamacare goes away?  Women, of course.

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Unlike the rest of the developed world, paternity leave is an alien concept in the U.S.  Only 12% of American workers get any kind of paid leave for care of  newborns and adopted children.  In the few companies that grant the benefit, new dads get far less than moms. It's time we recognize dads need time off too.

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The President is asking for "fast track" authority to give the White House sole negotiating authority on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a giant  trade agreement between the US and twelve  Pacific Rim nations. Trouble is, the provisions are secret, and he won't tell Congress or the people what's in it.  But thanks to Wikileaks, we already know it's a disaster for U.S. workers -- especially women.

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June 6 marks the anniversary of D-Day, the day in 1944 when Allied forces in World War II invaded France from offshore.  Thousands never made it out of the water, making the landing on Normandy one of the deadliest days of the war. In an all-out push, 150,000 men – and one woman -- hit the beaches.

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We all know about taxes – income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, entertainment taxes – it seems like the list is endless. But there’s one tax that’s a new one on me, even though I’ve been paying it for most of my life.  If you’re a female, chances are you’ve been paying it too.

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Republican Speaker John Boehner said the recent abortion ban passed by the House was very popular and wouldn't change how women feel about the party. He's right. It won't how women feel, because women already hate the GOP.

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Too often when Albuquerque is in the news, it's bad – a police department under scrutiny by the Justice Department, or an unsolvable homeless problem.  But recently the city made news for something good – especially good  for women. Initiated by Mayor Richard Berry, the Albuquerque City Council unanimously passed a strong gender pay equity initiative that is the first in the nation.

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The U.S. is far behind other developed countries when it comes to support for motherhood.  Most mothers are in the paid workforce, and we need new policies that match reality.

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The U.S. has put a dozen aircraft carriers and guided missile cruisers off the coast of Yemen, to support Saudi Arabia's military strikes against Yemeni rebels.  At the same time the Saudis declared war on the rebels, they also stepped up another longtime war – the one on women. The king has used the conflict as an excuse to put all reforms of their punitive anti-woman system on hold.

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This is the time of year when "good guy" awards are given out like candy to corporations supposedly good for women and minorities.  Working Mother magazine just listed "Best Companies for Multicultural Women."  But behind the scenes these companies aren't so great for women.

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The U.S. tax system is supposed to be fair.  But is it?  If you're an ordinary worker, you're taxed at a much higher rate than investors and corporations.  Corporations claim they have the same rights as people -- so let's tax them the same as people.

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The golf world will be obsessed this week with the Masters Tournament.  The Green Dinos at Augusta National Golf Club will wine, dine, and brag about how their club is so exclusive the membership roster is secret.  Well, mostly secret.

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It takes until April of every year for women to catch up to what men made by the previous December 31, and that's for full-time year-round workers.  President Obama could do a lot, even without Congress.

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AARP has done a feature on best places to retire for years, and Time magazine does a similar analysis on “best places to live.”  But nobody has done an analysis specifically aimed at women – until now.  

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The Grand Old Party is trying desperately to appeal to women – the majority of voters – and denies that it has engaged in a so-called war on women in the last few years.  If that’s true their upcoming budget should show it. The Obama budget wants to triple the tax credit for child care.  We’ll see what the GOP proposes.  After all, they’re supposed to be for family values.

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Afghanistan President Asraf Ghani is scheduled to visit the U.S. this month.  He said in February that peace talks with the Taliban would start soon, and reports say the talks could also start in March.  Let's hope so. For the past year it's been hard to see progress through the bombs and bullets.  Afghanistan is a place where peace just won't stick, and women are all but shut out of negotiations.

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March 8 is International Women’s Day, so it’s time to check in on where the good old U S of A stands in relation to the rest of the world when it comes to gender equality.  Spoiler alert – we’re not number one.

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There’s been a lot of controversy over the movie Selma and the Academy Awards. Selma is rightfully centered on Dr. King, and has been rightfully criticized  for the way it portrays President Lyndon Johnson.  But there’s another slight that also distorts history, and that’s the role King’s wife Coretta played in the civil rights movement.

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The red carpet rolls out next Sunday – and hopefuls, hacks, and superstars alike will be chasing the most coveted prize in show business. But are women getting equal treatment in filmdom?   It took the Academy 45 years to nominate the first woman director, in 1976.  Since then, a whopping three more have been nominated.  

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In the all the years we've celebrated President's Day, we've never honored a female president, because we've never had one.  It's not that women haven't tried, starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1870.  Eleven more women have run since then.  Could it be time for a female in the White House? 2016 might be our lucky number.

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Lately we’ve been awash in a debate over the term “radical Islamist.”  Should we use it or not?  In addition to savage beheadings and mass shootings, they want to send women back to the stone age.  But as a woman in the U.S., I don’t fear them nearly as much as I fear the “radical Christians.”  

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Priorities for women in 2015

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In January we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest icons of the 20th century, known by all as the strongest advocate for equal rights for African Americans using non-violence.  King was a great man indeed, but we should also be celebrating the January birthday of another civil rights hero who pioneered non-violence, and preceded King by half a century.

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The U.S. Senate convened on January 6th, with 13 new members. he new crop includes twelve Republicans, and a single Democrat.  Some people think 13 is a lucky number, but when it comes to votes in the new senate, it could be very unlucky for women.

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The mediocre movie "The Interview" catapulted to international fame when Sony pictures caved to the North Korean government and scuttled -- but later reinstated -- the picture’s opening.  That caused "Interview" to rake in $20 million bucks in its first couple of weeks.  The bonanza was triggered by a major hack of Sony’s computers that revealed the movie’s comical plot about assassinating the North Korean president. But something else was revealed in the hack that is no laughing matter. Sony is guilty of sex discrimination in pay –  the gender pay gap is alive and well, even at the highest levels.  Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence.

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