Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

You Say Forgiveness; I Say Sexism

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Timothy Geithner has been confirmed by the Senate to become the next Treasury secretary, late tax payments and all. If you haven't followed this, President Obama's pick for Treasury secretary was discovered to have paid less than his full share of tribute to Uncle Sam dating back to a period when he was an employee of the International Monetary Fund. Because it's an international organization, the IMF doesn't withhold the taxes employees pay into the Social Security and Medicare funds and instead leaves that up to the individual employee. Trouble is, Mr. Geithner chose not to settle up the entire amount he owed — until he became aware he was under consideration for this key Cabinet post. And then there was some question about the immigration status of a former housekeeper.

Can I just tell you? Once again (I am not hating), figuring out self-employment taxes and finding and managing and taking care of the paperwork for household employees are indeed a pain, which is why I pay other people to help me with that stuff, which is not cheap.

Now, Geithner and his defenders say the mistakes were just that: mistakes and not an attempt to evade the laws — laws that are after all very "complicated."

Geithner's critics suspect he is getting the kid-glove treatment. His nomination was approved by the Senate Finance Committee and went to the full Senate because of "Obamamania."

But I have another explanation: I think it's because he's a man; a busy and important man. And because he is a man, the other busy and important men on the Senate Finance Committee quite agree that great men such as themselves have far more important things to think about than some stupid taxes. Even if the job in question is in part enforcing tax law. OK, so there are four women on the 23-member committee, but I think the point stands.

Why do I say this? Well, it strikes me that the law is no more or less "complicated" than it was when Zoe Baird was disqualified from serving as attorney general for President Clinton because she had hired an undocumented couple and then failed to pay Social Security for them. And Linda Chavez got no love when, as a nominee for labor secretary under President George W. Bush, she was accused of harboring an illegal immigrant and also failing to pay taxes on her behalf. Never mind that that woman was a victim of severe domestic violence whom Chavez had taken in. Well, one nominee was a Democrat and the other was a Republican and the circumstances certainly differ; but not once do I remember anybody cutting either of these women any slack because the law is so "complicated."

And just for grins, shall we, let's just try to imagine how well that would go over in the Senate or the mainstream media if a female candidate for a high Cabinet post "did" try to explain that she didn't take care of her business because it was too "complicated."

Now I take the point that Geithner may also be getting a pass because the country is in an economic crisis — and even the Republicans say Obama needs to get his team in place to deal with it. But nobody seems to notice or care when regular women can't get to their regular jobs because they can't find decent and affordable child care. And if they are lucky enough to find someone their kids like and they trust, they have to pull their hair out keeping up with all the red tape. And as we have discussed: Woe betide any woman — high profile or not — when problems arise owing to household employees.

I offer as evidence the reaction on these very NPR message boards to a recent story about a nanny who had defrauded several families by accepting some very decent money to take care of their kids (some of them with special needs) only to actually choose to dump them off at a seedy apartment for hours at a time where they were watched by another woman who was getting paid only a few dollars a day. The nanny's excuse? The families deserved it because they weren't paying her enough. And what did many of the listeners say? They agreed. Had to be the parents' fault. Not sure how, but it had to be.

Sure, the law is complicated. So maybe when Tim Geithner starts his next important job, maybe he'll think about how he can give a break to the millions of busy and not-so-visible working moms out there who have to follow those complicated rules too.



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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

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