Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Parental Leave issue is another good example of the need for objective web rendition



Last week there was discussion of mandatory paid family leave, which I wrote about in some detail here.

Paid maternity leave is the kind of issue that illustrates why I think a well-recognized Internet repository of both political opinions and supporting facts would be a good thing to develop. I’ve discussed how this should work on numerous previous postings, such as one Monday on my information technology blog, here. There is more discussion of related issues on this blog Sept. 22.

What tends to happen with an issue like this is that a group of people who would benefit from a public policy change have lobbyists represent them, and the various lobbying and political advocacy or political action groups mass email (or snail mail) their constituents and ask them to write their representatives (usually Congressmen) with one-issue form letters. Of course, it’s easy for any one affected to demonstrate the benefits that a public policy change would bring for them. The other side of the fence, of course, is that someone else (not in the constituent group) must “pay” or “sacrifice” for this benefit, at least most of the time. A lot of times, these “others” will be diffuse and it is not easy to see what the cost of the policy change to them could be.

A “political opinion” database, if it is well known, professional, and easy to navigate to get back to original facts, will, by its very existence, make it harder for politicians to get away with bending to special interests. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (as in the 1939 Frank Capra film from Columbia) without the risk of being framed.

Wikipedia and similar compendiums, by being encyclopedias, must stick to “facts”. Nevertheless, a purely factual presentation of an issue (with no opinionated editorializing) can lead to an interesting perspective, particularly with an issue like maternity leave. I tried keying in “maternity leave” into Wikipedia, and got redirected to an article called “parental leave” (that would logically include paternity leave, too) and a very interesting chart giving the policies in detail for many countries. It does make us wonder how these countries make the sacrifice work. The footnotes even mention the declining birthrate problem. (It gives MomsRising as the leading pressure group.) Good job.

I’ve accumulate a huge panoply of “dots” about all of these various of issues and organized the books, websites and blogs in order to “connect” them. What I see is a disturbing totality, and I wonder how many policy makers grasp all of it. But there needs to exist a more generic way to put it out.

Picture: A Washington DC Metro ad, from another advocacy org. Other picture is a historical marker in TN for the Scopes trial on teaching evolution in public schools.

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