Tag Archives: sexism

Ross Perot: Plus ça change…

Early last week, FiveThirtyEight came out with a new episode in its series of documentary-style looks at polling and politicking in elections past. If you’re in need of break between refreshing your poll aggregators, it’s a delightful mix of change of pace from this year’s elections and a curious examination of where this year’s unique character comes from. It seeks to answer one very simple question – what effects did Ross Perot have on US elections?

The bulk of it pulls us back into the 1990s, into a seemingly naïve political climate buoyed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center. While securely focused on the 1992 election, it ultimately looks to the similarities between Ross Perot and Trump. It ends ominously on that note, however, as Galen Druke predicts that “Just as Donald Trump did better than Perot, maybe the next charismatic populist will do better than Donald Trump.”

Well, then.

That comparison and warning sent me down a rabbit hole of internet research into not just Ross Perot but the political party he spawned: the Reform Party. If nothing else, it’s deeply entertaining as a distraction from tightening polls. The crown jewel of my fervent self diversion is this early 2000 piece by then Trump ghostwriter Dave Shiflett (this guy) for the American Spectator. In it, he advocates for Trump’s candidacy for the presidential nomination within, you guessed it, the Reform Party.

I can forgive FiveThirtyEight for leaving half the story untold (they have limited time in any case), but this article truly is eye-opening. Trump did not wait for 2016. In 2000, his conspiratorial and aggressive understanding of international relations, his view of himself as un-racist for expecting people of color to be among those fawning over him, and his cartoonish misogyny were all already there, even then.

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(No, seriously.)

Here’s just a few choice bits:

“[Trump’s] uncle, an MIT professor, foresaw the day of miniaturized weapons. ‘One day,’ Mr. Trump quoted him, ‘somebody will be able to detonate a suitcase-sized bomb in Manhattan that will flatten the entire city.’ Thus was born what is perhaps the most mesmerizing chapter in [The America We Deserve]—one in which, among other things, Mr. Trump warns that under his presidency, North Korea could experience some live-ammo discipline.”

“As the embodiment of earthly success, [Trump] is highly admired by lower-middle class Americans, many of them Hispanic and African American, who continue to admire the guys who have done well in the world.”

“[Al] Gore’s embarrassing reliance on high-paid political adviser Naomi Wolf also illustrates another difference with Mr. Trump, who is universally recognized as America’s premier Alpha Male. Mr. Trump knows that one never pays a woman for her conversation, but only for her silence.”

Of course, Trump not only failed to win the general election in 2000, but he fell short of the Reform Party’s nomination, to Patrick Buchanan. Both before and after that third party presidential bid, Buchanan has made a career out of White nationalism and other bigotries somehow stated more blatantly than even Trump cares to. Seemingly in an effort to appease Trump’s purportedly more moderate wing of the Reform Party, Buchanan selected Ezola Foster, a Black woman, as his running mate.

Politics journalist David Neiwert has argued that this contributed to George W. Bush’s contested victory in the election that year by dismantling the main third party contender for Republican-leaning independents motivated by racist and sexist ideas. Neiwert found this choice complaint from a close affiliate of David Duke’s (another familiar character!): “after Buchanan chose a black woman as his veep he [Duke] now thinks that ‘Pat is a moron’ and ‘there is no way we can support him at this point.'” Keen not to miss the bigger picture, Neiwert pointed out that the Democratic ticket had the first Jewish candidate for the vice presidency on it that year and the other main third party candidate was Lebanese-American Ralph Nader. The voting bloc that would congeal into the modern alt-right seemingly had no real choice in 2000 for a presidential ticket of only White , non-Mideastern, non-Jewish men, outside of Bush-Cheney.

The picture Neiwert paints of the ensuing relationship between Republicans and this emerging extreme wing of US conservative politics is strengthened by the ensuing confusion over the 2000 election. As he put it-

“No one from the Bush camp ever denounced the participation of [Stormfront-affiliated White supremacist Don] Black and his crew or even distanced themselves from this bunch, or for that matter any of the thuggery that arose during the post-election drama. Indeed, Bush himself later feted a crew of “Freeper” thugs who had shut down one of the recounts in Florida, while others terrorized his opponent, Al Gore, and his family by staging loud protests outside the Vice President’s residence during the Florida struggle.

“These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bush’s campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

“The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bush’s candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator.”

You probably can tell the history yourself from there. The 9-11 Attacks only further wear down democratic and procedural defenses against these politics, and before we know it, we’re at the place we are now – with Black churches appearing to have been torched by Trump supporters, more anti-Muslim attacks than ever, and a candidate openly running on a policy platform of ethnic cleansing.

What’s curious within all of this is that Buchanan misread Trump’s and his supporters’ jeers in 2000. The story goes, as The Hill described it, that the Perot, Trump, perhaps in LaRouche-esque sections of the Reform Party weren’t even trending towards fascism by 2000. Those voters supposedly left when their “moderate” candidate – that’s Trump – lost. Buchanan, so the story goes, lost another set that stayed by trying to win those already out the door back. But that’s usually boiled down to a very careful reading of Trump’s insults towards Buchanan at the time – those like “Look, he’s a Hitler lover.” Trump certainly presented them as a critique of Buchanan’s bigotry, but maybe it was intended more as a critique of its European and 20th century qualities, as opposed to an open embrace of rhetorical twists more distinctive to 21st American far-right ultranationalism.

That’s not a mischaracterization of Neiwert’s work, by the way. His description of how quickly Perot’s crypto-populism became lousy with White nationalists comes from a series asking whether the Republican Party after 9-11 was at risk of becoming fascist. His answer, while still under the Bush administration, was a concerned perhaps. Returning to his look at the disintegration of the Reform Party and the 2000 absorption of much of its voting base into the Republican Party, he casually describes the process with what now read as dire warnings.

To be fair, not all of those are his alone. He quotes Robert Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism.” Paxton’s essay reads like Nostradamus for something from 1998, a decade before Sarah Palin let alone Donald Trump. As Paxton described it, one key stage in fascists acquiring power is their capture of a major political party or similar institution. In terms of that,

“Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power”

Anyone else need a drink?

Between Paxton, others, and his own work, Neiwert creates an image of a typically rural-based political bloc preparing for warfare with an existentially opposed other, often one terrifyingly within the country, if only in small numbers. All of that is familiar to anyone remotely familiar with Republican rhetoric – in both pro-Trump and never Trump circles.

What’s more arresting is his description of why so often it’s rooted in rural hinterlands – because historical fascism often began as an arrangement between gangs and malfeasant landowners. When desperate to break agricultural strikes and either unable or resistant to state involvement, the latter turned to the former.

There is nothing quite analogous within modern US politics, but the closest cousin could arguably be the moderately wealthy, rural-dwelling, elder White voters without college degrees that many have seen as Trump’s core constituency. In the 1990s, their votes likely split between idealistic votes for Perot, pragmatic votes for Republicans, and White nationalist votes for Buchanan. Today they are a consolidated voting bloc – and they are Trump Republicans.

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Boulversement

The news this week has seen a couple of stunning reversals, where tides turned or sometimes even more shockingly refused to.

google protest

A collaboration of almost every major name in left-leaning political action protested in front of Google’s headquarters yesterday morning. Credo, UltraViolet, Bend the Arc, ColorOfChange, and Daily Kos all sent representatives with a clear message – that Google, or more specifically Google-owned YouTube, shouldn’t provide streaming services for the Republican National Convention this year, at least as long as Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.

In this day and age, conventions are less of a formal process and generally more of a three-day long political advertisement describing the Party’s and particularly the Party’s presidential nominee’s vision for the country. In that light, even with Trump facing more scrutiny than typical at the convention, it still would be more of a platform for him than vehicle for voters to become informed about his policies. In light of that, this protest followed in the footsteps of similar calls for him to not be a guest on various news programs and for several companies to divest from his businesses and television shows.

google protest 2.jpg

Unfortunately, not long after the protest Google announced that YouTube would indeed be the streaming service available for this year’s Republican convention.

Big Money oozes down ticket

While sponsors and service-providers might not have been so skittish over the prospect of a presumably Trump-nominating convention, many high profile donors have been as noted in an article on Wednesday on Reclaim the American Dream. Terrified of Trump’s potential to alienate voters from the party as a whole, a huge rush of donations has already gone in conservative circles to state-level races, and sometimes even more locally.

Author Hedrick Smith points out that the funds involved are already reaching extremely high numbers more typically associated with national campaigns:

Conservative donors have contributed nearly 70 percent of the $707 million in SuperPAC money raised to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the hot senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SuperPacs, Candidates and parties on both sides have raised war chest that already total from $23 million to $32 million in each state.

Many of these states will in all likelihood still see extensive advertising from presidential campaigns, but the level of wall-to-wall saturation associated with those types of candidates is already promising to become more common with senatorial races, and maybe even more local ones as well.

Distorting democracy

In this jaded age, it’s easy to look at that rush to support Tea Party freshmen senators with unprecedented donations and simply see it as a reflection of the problems in our post-Citizens United electoral system. Unfortunately, these sorts of structural flaws have long been with us and for many years now have been redirecting electoral outcomes away from their expected course, as detailed in a Demos report on Chicagoan politics released yesterday.

Some of the findings in the report catalog what’s long been said about local races with a lot of money put into them: that much of it comes from outside of the communities holding the elections, and that it biases candidates towards business and upper class interests. Interestingly, it also showed that among the large donations that are still made in-community, at least within Chicago they overwhelmingly come not only from White residents, but from White residents living in wildly disproportionately White parts of the city.

Against a telling gender gap as well, what this report showed is how systemically disruptive these large donations tend to be. It not only is an opportunity for outsiders to sway local decisions to their favor, but just another vehicle for uniquely powerful local voices to assert their narrow vision of how their city is and what their city could be. That’s how the city that rioted against Trump’s appearance can also have a leadership that pursues racially-charged policies that sound quite akin to his.

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Building Better Districts

Things are beginning to heat up not just in the Presidential primaries, but in more local elections around the US as well. While the writing has long been on the wall for some of the most effectively gerrymandered districts of Virginia Republicans, it wasn’t clear who would necessarily be the biggest loser in a similar campaign for better district boundaries in Florida.

It looked like Democrat Corrine Brown might actually be the most threatened sitting representative by the redesign of her district. As a “dump” district designed to absorb Democratic-leaning Black voters making most nearby districts more easily won by Republicans, her individual interest in keeping her familiar district aligned with those of the state’s Republican Party. Worse yet for the Democrats, the idea was floated that Brown’s district might be expanded into a neighboring district held by fellow Democrat Gwen Graham. In short, an effort to redraw Florida’s districts so there wouldn’t be such a marked difference between districts seemed like it might just exacerbate that problem.

The new congressional map has been released and Brown actually appears to have avoided that worst possible outcome. Her prior district contributes nearly forty percent of the population in her new one, but so does the former tenth district. Her personal political charm will be put to the test with a largely new electorate she has to appeal to. Whether it’s Brown herself or one of her primary challengers who becomes the Democratic nominee, the new district won’t have lost much of its Democratic-leaning character. By one estimate it will be at least a D+10 to the former district’s D+16.

There’s some similar shuffling of populations that will happen to other Democrat-held districts further south within the state, but the ultimate results are more or less the same. While this might disrupt individual Democratic office-holder’s local support, it’s unlikely to cost the Democratic Party as a whole any of these seats. In an odd way, the increased jockeying within the Party might create an environment in which better candidates rise to the forefront of the Democratic Party in Florida.

That is not an apt description of how the redistricting is going to affect Republican representative Daniel Webster. His tenth district doesn’t appear to move very far on the map, unlike Brown’s radically reinvented district. Some of the more rural western parts of it are shaved off, however, and the district incorporates parts of Orlando which were previously carved out of it. The subtle changes are in high enough density areas to make a huge difference: not even forty percent of its original population is still in it.

2016-01-29_13452016-01-29_1342.png
(Left – the former 10th District, Right – the new 10th District. From here.)

This isn’t the kind of situation that Brown finds herself in either, where her losing the district would almost certainly be to another Democrat. Webster’s district is, by most counts, going to be almost as Democratic-leaning as Brown’s new one, and at the cost of most likely zero current Democratic-leaning districts.

While an extremely moderate Republican might be able to shed their skin in classic Floridan political fashion, Webster is fairly fringe. Recently, he was the Freedom Caucus’ alternative to Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) for Speaker of the House. One of the Webster’s premier political accomplishments dates back to his years within the Florida state government, where in 2008 he pioneered a set of anti-abortion restrictions that would ultimately become the widespread requirement of a transvaginal ultrasound. Walking that back to appeal to a roughly D+10 district seems rather unlikely.

This might be the future of representative reorganization in the US: Democratic complacency getting a bit of a shake-up and Republicans falling by the wayside of an electorate that they don’t reflect.

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Reproductive freedom is economic stability

Trigger warning: abortion, sexual assault / rape, sexism, cissexism

Against the backdrop of the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood, that and other abortion-providing organizations have seen not only intimidating violence but institutional attempts to shutter their doors of the past few years.

Concentrated in Republican-controlled states, one of the strictest provisions on abortion providers is set to advance to the Supreme Court for review with a decision expected in late Spring of next year. That ruling will affect the legality and further room available to legislatures in at least a score of states which if current trends continue would likely restrict abortion further if given the option.

Former Texan state Senator Wendy Davis appeared on national news recently to discuss the potential ramifications of that ruling. As part of a changing voice within the debates surrounding abortions and other reproductive healthcare, she explained that to her and others like her abortion access is not only a means of physical, bodily autonomy, but also a lifeline to basic control over personal financial planning. In her own words, “when women’s reproductive autonomy is controlled, their economic opportunity is controlled.”

Wendy Davis during her Texas Senate filibuster

Former state Senator Davis, while filibustering a new set of restrictions on abortion in 2013, from here.

With her limited time, Davis couldn’t expand on her point about the economics of reproductive healthcare to those seeking abortion or similar services. Others have made it clear how the people most in need of an option other than pregnancy, let alone parenthood, typically have the fewest resources to devote to simply accessing an abortion. With a dwindling number of providers in many of these states, someone finding themselves in that sort of situation would have to spend more money to travel further and most likely take off time from work to avoid the huge economic costs of pregnancy or parenthood.

This is typically where the moralizing starts. The unnecessarily incurred costs to access an abortion under these increasingly difficult restrictions are, supposedly, just the price paid for failing to abstain from sex or to use birth control. The people most likely to seek out abortions for economic reasons, however, are also the people with most inconsistent and mistaken sex education and the fewest resources to commit to a birth control regimen.

Running through that understanding of how they became pregnant, there’s a presumption that the pregnant person necessarily consented to have sex. In addition to sexual assault, there’s also the (not at all hoped for) failure of birth control plans, which is more likely the less consistent and less accurate the sex education on receives. There’s a number of factors at play here, but it’s clear that people with fewer resources to draw on are more likely to end up stuck in this type of situation.

Likewise, overwhelmingly the opponents of access to abortion want to similarly restrict sex education and access to contraceptives, offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood far more often than abortion services. The intent doesn’t appear to be preventing abortion, so much as making it a shameful and shame-able activity. The political goal isn’t to end abortion, but to hide it within a nightmarish corner of the world that the broader society doesn’t have to consider.

The moralizing isn’t just another conversation intruding into others’ personal reasons for preferring to have an abortion, for those with that perspective, it is the conversation. The desire to be a parent, filled with a kind of urgency that accepts the financial and other costs of that, is either treated as universal or is evangelized – without hearing that other people, directly living the effects of that decision, have different priorities.

Even as abortion in popular conversation is increasingly a part of an economic plank – argued for in combination with improved education, greater access to other healthcare, and better personal financial standing in general – there’s ways in which it is left out of a broader economic argument. It’s still often thought of as a separate issue, even if one increasingly harmonious with a broader view of how to structure the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, excluded it from their recently released twelve-point Women’s Economic Agenda. Aspects of their policy plank address the underlying economic issues by calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, asking for policies to encourage labor organization, and specifically for an end to wage theft and wage discrimination. All of those are key financial factors that weigh heavily in the decisions of many to have an abortion.

Some policy prescriptions even more directly confront the economic situation that many pregnant people find themselves in. The agenda also called for greater access to childcare, as well as paid family and sick leave. Those are often specific economic realities that motivate people unsure if they can become parents to decide that they aren’t in a place where they can have children. In short, the policies here are designed to give people the resources to become parents, if they so choose.

What’s more, some of those policies useful to parents are also useful to those who for other reasons aren’t interested in having children at this time. The call for longer term scheduling, to ease planning, is vital for parents to be able to best interact with their children. It also is one of the key ways for someone who needs an abortion to plan ahead and not face the prospect of forgoing a potentially significant amount of pay to avoid the even larger costs of pregnancy and parenthood.

In short, this emerging set of policies, which has deep ties to a progressive vision of how to improve the current economy,  is rather compatible with the increasingly economic argument for retaining or even improving access to abortion. Still, abortion remains another issue for now, and has yet to be specifically invoked in the broader policy plank.

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Puzzles of the Orient: a random note on the Republican Debate

Last night’s debate didn’t strike me as something worth liveblogging on twitter or even commenting about as I posted in the middle of it. That anything much is going to be said that’s new or original is hopefully something no one came into the debate expecting. In passing, still, one strange entanglement of talking points caught my attention and seems to speak to something rather horrifying about the politics of not only the Republican Party, but the United States and even the broader world.

In the midst of the debate, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the supportive relationship between the US and Israel in contrast to the combative and hostile relationship the US has with almost every other country in the region made sense, saying:

“For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East. It is the state of Israel. And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the Ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us. […] all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.”

While his criticism of Arab or Islamic communities highlighted the sexism he perceived, the point seems deeply interconnected to other ideas about how societies should work. Not only should women be able to drive cars, they should be able to vote. It’s hard to imagine that kind of plea for “modern” women’s rights without accompanying ideas about “modern” political rights and other expectations (in Rubio’s mind that goes hand in hand with free enterprise, notably).

Mere minutes later, Ohio Governor John Kasich in his own words gave the audience “a little trip around the world”. He transitioned from describing a military strategy towards Russia to one in the Middle East, which in turn led him to saying this about the political culture of the region: “Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.”

The limitations on free speech in Saudi Arabia are, of course, far more extreme than the limiting of funding for radical clerics. The regular and increasing use of the death penalty by the government there is primarily used on clerics critical of the Kingdom, especially those critical because of sectarian disagreements. Overwhelmingly, it’s the Shia minority clerics targeted with that and other state controls designed to limit their communities’ voices and shutdown opposition. They are also famously one of the governments in the region which most systemic restricts women’s rights – to drive, to go out in public, and to control their bodies and appearance. Those, in Kasich’s words, are “our friends” because of how they restrict their people and simultaneously, in Rubio’s view, someone we are locked in an existential struggle with… because of how they restrict their people.

Virtually no one – from Politico to the Seattle Globalist – pretends that the current government in Egypt is democratic. Politico’s coverage touches on a particularly interesting point, that sitting president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a product of the military exchange programs run by and within the United States. In short, he was more than a little groomed for his current strongman role, with his wife beside him, notably in a hijab not in the more veiling niqab. When it comes to other women, however, his defense of the use of “virignity tests” to assess rape and harassment claims by women participating in the street democracy movements in Egypt speaks for itself. Much like Saudi Arabia, the same despotism that is woven into the fabric of how we decide that part of the world is categorically deserving of criticism, and yet oddly also, its saving grace.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain the irony in a debate where most of the Middle East is criticized as undemocratic where another person calls for the Hashimite dynasty in Jordan to rule for a thousand years. It’s worth noting that’s not just simply a millennium of rule, it’s another millennium.

It’s worth noting that even if Kasich and Rubio understood each other as disagreeing, they both continue to address the realities of political life in the Middle East with a common assumption. If you look at the autocratic and patriarchal aspects of life in that part of the world and judge it as exotic and foreign and Other to a US-backed alternative, at least one of the mistakes you’re making is overlooking the ways in which the US has encouraged these undemocratic and restrictive politics. If you look at the dictatorships and call them our friends, you’re insisting that popular rule in the region would inherently be incompatible with US interests and those are more important. Rubio looks at the region shaped by US and other foreign meddling and wonders how it got that way, while Kasich simply shrugs and notes we have to keep them in line. In either case, there’s a denial of the violence inherent in US policy, stretching back decades.

Whether you view this as a cultural war or a strategic conflict, the Republican debate last night offered only variations on viewing the average person in the Middle East as lesser, with no alternative to that.

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Broader skepticism

With the surprisingly emergence of a bipartisan budget agreement in the House of Representatives and the on-going flashy presidential race, it seems that the familiar retread of anti-abortion activists fight against Planned Parenthood has fallen off of most people’s radar. Somewhat shockingly, this has happened while violent rhetoric coalesced into attacks at various Planned Parenthood locations – most recently, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Washington. According to many, those incidents have largely been treated as low-priority local stories by national print and television journalists. The little coverage that has happened on that scale has also missed the forest for the trees, discussing one or only a few of the incidents as totally encapsulated, independent events. The primary exception has been Rachel Maddow, who has a history of focusing on patterns of violence, particularly against vulnerable groups.

The implicit set of priorities revealed by this coverage – that violence oriented towards particularly low-income women and transgender people and denial of their medical needs are more local, less of a cause of nationwide concern – doesn’t seem unique to major media. The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood at the (largely Republican-controlled) state level led to several states quickly passing new budgets and legal standards that pulled funding for Planned Parenthood. Texas, however, has not quite yet joined them, although sitting Governor Greg Abbott has announced his intent to defund the organization. Amid that, a representative for the Texas Office of Inspector General appeared at the Dallas Planned Parenthood with subpoenas for five years of medical records for ten different facilities scattered across Texas. The requests have all the hallmarks of the purposefully burdensome regulatory regime long hoisted on Planned Parenthood facilities in many parts of the United States.

texas protest abortionA woman holding a sign saying “Rural Texas women deserve choices” in Austin, Texas, 2013, from here.

The timing is obscured by the lack of coverage, but it still seems jarringly illogical. In the middle of a wave of anti-abortion violence, thankfully non-lethal so far, Texas officials have made it clear that their scrutiny will remain tightly fixed on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, rather than the various groups threatening them. That not only speaks volumes about what many people “count” as violence or as threatening, but also warns that public awareness of the issue and political policy are being profoundly informed by a skewed understanding of the situation. Hopefully, any regular reader of this blog is by no means a stranger to the unrealness of political ideas in the United States, but this demonstrates how an entire social and political system has built up around that Potemkin village of imagined dangers and dismissed threats.

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STEM: too few positions, too few applicants?

It’s become a cliché that news articles can brush off, but STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as a set of tightly interrelated fields) has received a long list of praises from almost every level of government and other type of authority in the US. In spite of the largely positive coverage, many critics have noted that how people talk about and seek to affect the STEM fields is often divorced from the reality that there are more than enough people capable of working in those fields (globally or nationally) and that the perceived scarcity of STEM-trained workers is maybe deliberately created to encourage certain policy ends.

Part of what seems desirable to many STEM companies is a basic outcome of supply and demand – creating a vast supply of STEM workers is of great use to those hiring in that field, in that they get their pick among them. What STEM companies need isn’t more workers trained in new technologies or otherwise more directly useful to them as workers. Rather, what they want is an even more cutthroat competition for those types of jobs, leading to applicants accepting lower wages, fewer benefits, and longer hours. Encouraging new visa policies only further intensifies the power inequalities in STEM workplaces, giving companies even more options, and increasing the number of workers whose residency status and employment are directly related.

Some new information has come to light that calls into question those dynamics. A recent report on STEM in early education by the California division of The Education Trust found that many students of color and lower income students in the diverse state have limited and lower quality opportunities to learn basic STEM concepts. While in the economy at large STEM workers are steadily becoming a less rare and hence valuable commodity, STEM teaching in California public schools faced a hiring shortfall of 199 teachers for the 2013-2014 school year. That may sound small, but that gap between needed and available STEM teachers “likely affected about 28,000 California students” and seems to be one of the key components in the racial and class-related gaps in education.

2015-10-19_1552From the report’s accompanying infographic, available here.

At first it may seem strange that STEM-trained workers simultaneously outstrip available jobs and are chronically unavailable for key positions. In some ways, however, this may regrettably reflect the cultural values encouraged in STEM fields. As most of the praise for STEM makes clear, it is seen as inherently marketable or otherwise tied to a life of security if not prosperity. Stereotypes of STEM workers – as at best socially awkward and at worst actively antisocial – are a sometimes loving and sometimes critical reflection of that assessment. They’re supposedly good with figures and money, not with people.

Recent actions within the tech industry make that seem at times intimately connected to a libertarian disdain for the public sector and a patronizing approach towards those who don’t own a company. From my parents working in STEM themselves, I have run into more than a few people who seemed intent on demonstrating that stereotype, including one who kept a (Jesus Camp style) life-size cutout of President Bush in his office well into the Obama years. There’s a blurry line between being better with code than people and actually caring more about your business than your communities. STEM seems to either attract or encourage a sizable number of people who regularly mix those personalities and politics together.

If we think of STEM as something of a subculture, the impression of many seems to be that it’s a space where a certain type of student and eventual worker is expected and others aren’t. There are racial and gendered dimensions of that, but it also leads to an anticipation that STEM workers will work primarily in non-service sectors, and largely in the private sector as well. Schools, especially underfunded public schools full of younger kids, are thought of as basically the last place a STEM worker would want to be. Potentially as a result of that, our society has created a generation of STEM workers who at an even higher rate than other potential teachers, avoid those types of jobs.

I spoke recently about this issue with a friend, herself a part-time teacher in an after-school educational environment that focuses on engineering and computer science skills. She had a number of thoughts on the issue, expressing a dissatisfaction with both the cultural norms within STEM as well as the broader education system. As someone who works at the intersection between the two, she surprised me by frankly calling them in some sense “incompatible”. She made clear that she loves her students, but thought of the work that goes into helping them as literally a “sacrifice” in spite of the culture surrounding what she was teaching her students being, in her words, “self aggrandizing”.

While she mentioned the on-going problem of low pay in education, she also seemed to note that the nature of the different types of work available to STEM-trained workers contributes to this. What seemed clear to her was the the economically devaluing of teaching younger students went hand-in-hand with the labor’s characterization as self abnegating and even feminine. Recognizing that, she said that the paucity of that type of teachers in the STEM fields probably “won’t change until there’s more women [in STEM].” Efforts to diversify STEM are widely understood as improving the lots of the many groups largely shut out of those growing industries, but it seems like it would also improve the lot of STEM itself, by ultimately challenging some common expectations about what STEM can be used for.

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The featured image is from the US Naval Academy’s atomic fingerprinting workshop, more information here.

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Planned Parenthood: the medical provider we need, not the one we want?

Trigger Warning: eugenics, abortion, racism, sexism, cissexism

The US Senate is scheduled to vote on Planned Parenthood’s funding today. In light of the recent videos released by David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists, what that vote has focused on are some of the outcomes for services that only account for three percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget. In cases of abortion where adequate fetal stem cells (which medical researchers can use to treat and understand certain illnesses and disabilities) can be taken from aborted fetuses, Planned Parenthood asks if patients are comfortable donating those tissues that would otherwise be disposed of as either medical waste, mourned and buried, or otherwise not used for medical purposes.

In the grand scheme of modern medicine, this isn’t a radical break from much of anything. Organ donor stamps have become an unremarkable sight to see on driver’s licenses, and one of the places those tissues and organs end up is ultimately in the hands of researchers – whose own websites make it quite clear they will reimburse the people doing the difficult work of removing and safely transporting various organs and tissues. The payment involved in Planned Parenthood’s “sale” of fetal tissues is more or less the same, a coverage for the work involved, to maintain a system that makes sure the donated tissues are, well, actually usable to the researchers who receive them.

The moral outrage and demand for reform seems tied to the actual specifics of what tissue is being taken and which organization is doing it. From that oddly unique criticism of Planned Parenthood, a whole host of shifting, chimeric complaints has emerged in the past few weeks. Chief among those are the implications that Planned Parenthood is essentially a eugenic enterprise, seeking to curb if not undermine the reproductive freedoms of people of color and particularly Black people. Sarah Palin has been among the most vocal advocates of that line of criticism, which she has in her classic style muddied into the also on-going debate over confederate imagery. Last Sunday, she put up an image on Facebook contrasting the Confederate Battle Flag and Planned Parenthood’s logo, which asked “Which symbol killed 90,000 Black babies last year?”

Among the problems with that question is the fact that you could argue Planned Parenthood is drastically underserving Black communities and other communities of color in the United States. How many deaths in those communities has Planned Parenthood prevented, and how many more could it be preventing? The majority of its budget and services go to providing help in ways other than providing abortions, and while a large chunk of that is contraceptive in nature a large amount involves perinatal care. As a key source of medical care for low income people, there’s a valid question to be asked if Planned Parenthood and medical centers capable of offering an abortion if needed are inadequately available in majority Black neighborhoods. Only six percent of them nationally are in those types of areas.

There is a worrisome discussion to be had about those types of medical providers admittedly, given that more abortion-heavy clinics (which provide 400 or more abortions in a given year) are slightly less unusual to see in majority Black and Latin@ neighborhoods. Black academics in particular have been promoting an open analysis of that for decades now, with one of the most topical being Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. She lays out quite explicitly the needs of cisgender Black women in the US when it comes to reproductive freedom in the introduction, saying

“The story I tell about reproductive rights differs dramatically from the standard one. In contrast to the account of American women’s increasing control over their reproductive decisions, centered on the right to an abortion, this book describes a long experience of dehumanizing attempts to control Black women’s reproductive lives. The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America. Considering this history – from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers – paints a powerful picture of the link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

From there, she immediately transitions into discussing how underserved Black cisgender women were by the denial of access to abortion in public hospitals following Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The Black community, to say nothing of the various communities of color in the United States, is not a monolith, but when describing the intersections of race and reproductive freedom, their tendency has been to emphasize the need for freedom from coercion, for bodily autonomy, and for economic security. Those goals then underpin what policies should be pursued. In light of that, Planned Parenthood and similar organizations – capable of providing abortion but focused on more generally giving low cost high quality medical care – are perhaps exactly what those communities need, as an alternative to the current alternatives of inconsistent, low quality, overly abortion-focused types of care or worse no care at all.

planned parenthood health care happens hereProtesters in Oregon on July 28, 2015, from here.

That’s possibly the key misunderstanding that continues to crop up in these discussions. Planned Parenthood is a medical provider. Like other medical providers in similar contexts, they pay people to transport donated tissues and organs. Like other medical providers in our privatized medical care system, they generally do not provide enough care or the right kind of care in low income neighborhoods and to communities of color. Almost all of these criticisms of Planned Parenthood ultimately lead back to a criticism of medical care in general, and the need for it to be administered more carefully and compassionately. From a reformist mindset, Planned Parenthood is hardly perfect, but seems committed to improving itself and improving the world.

But that’s quite clearly not where the current complaints are coming from. The desperate search for a problem to have with Planned Parenthood shows that there are issues with all medical services that can induce discomfort and concern for many if not most people. The use of that, however, is just against Planned Parenthood, or perhaps abortion providers in general. What’s developing here is yet another way of codedly confronting the issues that abortion stirs up in a way that won’t openly process where those come from and what drives them, and what’s more will obscure the concerns and problems around other issues dragged into it as justification fodder. We’re having a national anti-conversation on abortion, in which everyone walks away from it more unclear over what’s at stake.

But that’s the anti-conversation the US Senate would like to have, going by the eighteen Senators now threatening a government shutdown unless and until Planned Parenthood is defunded in full. The Center for Reproductive Rights has begun circulating a petition to convince them that not only is this unproductive, but also wildly unpopular, which might be the only way of convincing them to stop.

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Say what you want to say

As I mentioned the last time I posted in – good lord – July, I’ve been reexamining a lot of aspects to how I put together articles here. At that time it was mostly about just how I drew on outside resources, specifically that I wanted to broaden my horizons in terms of what news sources I read, and as a result who shaped the meta-analysis that I tend to give here. Since then, I haven’t posted much because I’ve been a busy bee for other reasons, what with an internship at 429. That’s been a learning opportunity in a number of ways, but a key part of it has been changing how I look at the news cycle, and with that reexamining my writing tendencies and strategies.

On here (and even to some extent other places I write, even 429), there’s a driving sense to say something relevant. I can make decisions about what to talk about, but my choices should be comparatively narrowed to what other people are already talking about. Actually working in the media, not just doing what I do here, has taught me how nonsensical that is. Just take the example of the on-going detention crisis. You read that right, on-going. It might seem like the discussion on that is over, that presumably some sort of solution has been reached since the blanketing coverage from this summer has disappeared. The reality is, however, that the coverage of this issue has never reflected the reality on the ground.

The reality that many major news resources were late to the party in discussing minors being excessively and inhumanely detained was hinted at on shows run by some of the bigger names, such as MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” which acknowledged that other programs had long recognized that a refugee population had been created by instability in Central America. José Díaz-Balart, a dual MSNBC and Telemundo newscaster, was brought on to augment Hayes’ coverage, something of a nod to the face that many Latin@ news circuits had been discussing the militarized border and increasing reliance on detention systems for months if not years previously.

Since then, the Obama administration and a patchwork of legislators and administrators have cobbled together a family detention system, which attempts to create larger facilities, to at the very least not separate families within the process. Feminist media covered the ways in which these new systems have failed to recognize the often sexual violence many women and children were fleeing and even perpetuated those experience in new forms. Latin@ media likewise stayed atuned to the story. And even I covered some LGBT dimensions to it over at 429. One thing you’ll note about those articles other than mine is that they aren’t, like Chris Hayes’ segment, terribly reflective of prior coverage. Mine makes note of some of the last major news pieces that discussed the problem, while the other two almost exclusively focus on the policy on the ground, with media coverage having long since moved on to other topics.

news cycle
(“The News Cycle” – it doesn’t quite work like that.)

That’s not a fluke. What that’s a reflection of is how much major media’s focus is driven by other reporting, and how desperately necessary smaller and more “ideological” or “perspective-taking” reporters are to covering what’s happening in the world. As a news-watcher, you need to look for more creative and less responsive media as much as possible, and if you are a news-creator, you need to be very careful in what sources you draw from because some of them are already out of touch.

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The year that queer politics imploded

TW: heterosexism, sexism, racism, nativism, deportation, sodomy laws, colonialism

As far as I know, no one else has said this yet, but we need to entirely rethink the way we talk and think about struggling against the social, political, and even economic power that straight people have (or more concisely, heterosexism). The past year has been a startling series of signs of that. Yes, there’s been the longstanding bigotries and attitudes that are unfortunately familiar. The lack of same-gender marriages being recognized in parts of the US making queer/LGBT families uniquely vulnerable to forced separations as a result of either immigration policy and civil suits. Likewise, a person’s sexuality is apparently still proof of their inferiority, and hence the invalidity of their writings and views. More globally, there’s been a dramatic rolling back of queer political rights in first Russia, and now India. There’s some political conversations where heterosexism is talked about as being “over” in some sense, when the reality is that anti-heterosexism politics are still all too necessary.

Just not the kind that we have right now.

Over the past year, the supposedly queer response to the reality that queer couples lack legal protections was often to trivialize what marital recognition means while as previously mentioned the direct link between penalizing cohabitation or actually separating such families with deportation continued to exist. A certain willingness to question whether that or other policies are the best ways of protecting ourselves is of course, important. But that line of thinking about and hopefully for queer people has become a common tool of straight and cisgender commentators – and not just those that seem to be intending to be genuinely mindful, but also those that are more dubious, or those that are outright trying to define what our politics can and should be. This sort of thinking that were originally designed by and for queer people to use to keep our politics healthy have, in short, been hijacked. They’ve been turned into mechanisms that straight and cisgender people now regularly use to police our politics.

The problem is much larger than the increasingly controlling role that straight and cisgender people have sought to have in queer politics over 2013. In short, there’s also the problems that accompany the Dan Savages of the queer communities. Or rather, a very specific queer community that’s near exclusively White and male (among other demographic specifics). The legal reality that marriage for queer White men very seldom means being liberated from the threat of civil suits by controlling former husbands or sperm donors seems to be the reason why that perspective on marriage is rarely offered. The rare references to how marriage eases immigration and can mean the difference between being allowed to stay with your family or deportation and separation are rare because of how unusual it is for that to affect that specific subset of queer people. The “frivolous” focus on marriage is a product of it being talked about as purely a sign of social inclusion and acceptability, which is frankly what it is for the group of queer people who are most visible within the US.

Looking back at 2013, queer politics were on a national (if not international) scale dominated by the concerns of that specific group. There were far more conversations this year about Dan Savage’s misguided (and honestly bizarre) boycott of a vodka company with a Russian name than Masha Alexanderovna Gessen’s experiences at the hands of Russian police. The limited look at what heterosexism is to queer White men (and generally speaking ones that live in the US or Western Europe and so on) is part of what’s given it the appearance of being a hazy mix of nonsensical consumer choices and other issues that seem fundamentally reducible to a specter of heterosexism that could be applied to them (while it is actually being applied to other queer people).

(Taking a momentarily broader look at the recent history of queer politics – it was largely White cis men like Dan Savage that made queer politics something straight and cisgender “allies” could feel comfortable engaging it, while at the same time it seems, they created the impression of it as superficial and “frivolous” which said “allies” can now use to control discussions about more “pertinent” politics. 2013 is merely a hopeful breaking point in this feedback loop that has a longer history.)

Ideally, queer politics don’t have to be that way. We can have conversations about marriage that notice that it’s not merely been a straights-only matter of whose relationships have been recognized, but such a club that was imposed as a part of European colonialism. In some cases, changing those laws can be a part of dismantling the still lingering sexual and gendered aspects of colonial domination. With the recent news of India’s effective reinstitution of sodomy laws, it seems important to note how reporting packaged for Western audiences failed to recall that the law was originally undemocratically instituted by British colonial rulers, while more globally-minded media has put that history front and center.

377 ipc 2
(Meanwhile, protesters in India simply referenced the penal code in question (377) and the decolonization Quit India movement to make their point, from here.)

But that very same dynamic of decolonization played out much earlier in 2013 in New Zealand, where again allies talking about the insubstantial or irrelevant nature of the marriage reforms also reared its head. While a White, cis, straight, male member of their parliament explained his support for the new law in terms of how little he saw it as impacting “the fabric of society”, Louisa Wall, the Maori and lesbian MP who had introduced the law, was honored with flowers from her colleagues and serenaded with a Maori love song by the parliament’s gallery. There’s many ways of understanding what happened in those moments, but it’s hard to deny something important happened there, with an indigenous and queer woman being celebrated in her ancestral language at the heart of the government that colonized her people and previously insisted that it would not recognize any relationship that she had wanted to be in. In short, it was a reclamation of space, and perhaps even power.

It seems like that sort of issue, as New Mexico and Hawaii – both states with large indigenous populations which like the Maori have differently conceptualized relationships and sexuality from their White colonizers – joined the portions of the US that recognize same-gender marriages. That, like many of the other more complicated aspects of marriage and other issues at the forefront of queer political thought at this moment, wasn’t acknowledged much over the course of this year.

A part of breaking the consensus between more enfranchised queer populations and the broader world of straight and cisgender politics that those sorts of reforms are largely window-dressing lies in recognizing those lived experiences and how important those supposedly small changes can be in terms of their personal meaning but also in many cases the political protections they afford people and their families. Many of the little political details that surround queer people in the US began rapidly changing over the course of 2013, but a significant amount of that has been invisible to people who are certain that queer issues are in and of themselves frivolous. We need politics that can, and can respond to those realities.

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Pop culture is moving fast

TW: transmisogyny, sexism, racism

Today I just want to quickly draw your attention to two really radical developments in the past couple of hours. If you live in the US (and probably a good chunk of the rest of the world) you might have heard about Beyoncé’s unexpected album release last night. Her work is full of interesting songs working through some rather complicated politics (reflecting her various and fluctuating socio-economic statuses), but what seems to have caught a lot of people’s eyes is the song ***Flawless, which seems like a simultaneous rebuke of the marginalization of women of color from feminist spaces and events and the social and economic limiting of women to variously circumscribed “feminine spheres”. Here’s the thirty second promotion for the music video that’s been released:

The full video has, of course, been leaked, with numerous people finding it important how it highlights women of color dancing and otherwise inhabiting a modern punk-esque musical scene. In short, this is a huge declaration of women’s right to full participation in society with an underlining of that for specifically women of color.

2013-12-13_1212
(Stills from the video, from here.)

A little less publicly recognized, today was also the first release of THEM, a literary magazine for trans* writers and poets, and likewise trans* readers. You can read the excellent complication here (warning discussion of ableism and suicide as well), but I have to particularly recommend Joy Ladin’s poem on trans-exclusive feminism (on page 68), which ends on a particularly poignant note:

may binaries blossom in your follicles and fingertips
until you can’t conceive good without evil, life without death
self without others you disdain

There’s a lot of things happening with varying degrees of visibility within pop culture at the moment, and I think we should all acknowledge that today.

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What’s overlooked and what’s overvalued?

TW: cissexism, transmisogyny, sexism, racism, stop and frisk

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual event held by numerous trans* advocacy groups to honor and bring out of general obscurity the violence that trans* people across the world experience. The closest organization to being the “official” runner of the event – the Transgender Day of Remembrance website – has a non-exhaustive list of anti-trans* murders that they’ve been notified of in the past year alone. If you can at some point today, give it a look, because the reality that transgender people – especially transgender women of color – are subject to a unique form of violence is something that it communicates well.

This year’s TDOR is particularly raw for many because of the new circumstances surrounding the death of Islan Nettles, who died in medical care after being attacked in August. The legal situation of bringing her probable killer to justice hit a snag just a few days ago, with the primary suspect, Paris Wilson, being released by Manhattan police after they failed to construct an effective case against him within the time period they could hold him for. As local reporting explained

“Paris Wilson, 20, left Manhattan Criminal Court a free man — at least temporarily — as prosecutors said they were not ready to move ahead with a homicide case. Wilson had been charged with misdemeanor assault but the charges were expected to be elevated because victim Islan Nettles died at the hospital after his arrest. But after the collar, another man turned himself in to police and confessed to the crime , saying he was too drunk to remember the events. That person has not been arrested and Wilson’s case was older than 90 days as of Tuesday, meaning the speedy trial clock had expired.”

What’s unstated here (and even actively rebuked by an Assistant District Attorney’s claims that the case was actively being pursued) is how criminal and even police resources are being used with regards to this case (and others like it). Or rather, how they aren’t. In the more than a month prior to the attack and the immediately following month and a half, the police in Manhattan alone conducted 2588 stops at which people were stopped, which translated into 481 arrests, out of which the justice department actually generated only 80 court summons, which pertain to anything from a fee to actual criminal charges. New York is not suffering from a minimal police force or a lack of police attention in those contexts, where crimes are not know to have occurred.

Those figures are from the New York Civil Liberties Union’s data on the NYPD from July, August, and September of this year, focusing only on the police precincts in Manhattan (where Nettles was killed), which can be found on the sixth and nineteenth pages of this report. What’s clear is that the bungling of investigating a not terribly credible-sounding confession by a non-suspect is occurring in a context of extensive police and justice department efforts. The inability to sort out the details of this one case, which is known to be a crime, reflects the prioritization of monitoring men of color within New York City over actually addressing existing crimes.

Islan Nettles
(Islan Nettles before being attacked, from here.)

The often repeated assertion that dramatic police activities like stop-and-frisk prevent if not directly deal with crime fails to notice how resources are being drawn away from actual police and criminal justice duties to deal with frankly unnecessary and undemocratic mass policing. This International Transgender Day of Remembrance it seems necessary to notice both how little attention is paid to helping trans* people stay safe and how overly focused too many cis-dominated institutions are on imagined threats other than those actually faced by such vulnerable groups.

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Selling libertarianism

TW: racism, heterosexism, cissexism, sexism, classism, police brutality, appropriation

This past Veteran’s Day, the American Civil Liberties Union did something strange. They paid Macklemore to appear in an advertisement for ACLU membership – a $35 dollar card that, according to their newest representative, is a literal ticket to certain political freedoms.

There’s a number of ways of understanding this video, but let’s start with what’s happening on the surface – a musician is promoting an organization that will protect people from disenfranchisement and state policies that don’t effect him, as if they do. Following the awkwardly staged I-was-just-finishing-a-track introduction, Macklemore explains that “being beaten with a club, pepper-sprayed, and tased for expressing my political views would really slow [him] down”. He then name checks marriage being reformed to be more inclusive of queer people and regulations on cisgender women’s sexuality.

The ad is fundamentally an extension of Macklemore’s primary means of self-presenting himself – as someone who either directly experiences the difficulties a perceived audience faces or who at least deeply understands those issues. It then builds up from that an ACLU membership as a solution to those problems. The slip of paper the ACLU mails you in return for your support “lets [his] gay friends marry the hell out of each other” and apparently tells cis women “it’s your vagina”. Except, of course, if you live in one of the parts of the US where state governments have seen fit to limit those and other rights.

The liberties listed as needing to be shored up in this ad are presented as negative – freedoms from intrusive government policies – and yet, no level of government is mentioned at all. The distance that Macklemore has between him and these various issues does seem to matter here, because at least in how he’s presenting the issue, the mere act of support for these liberties is what matters. It seems that what he believes (and what he wants this ad to convince others of) is that the act of supporting the ACLU resolves inequalities and oppressive attitudes inevitably. This ad is very much a political assertion on his part that, in a word, simply identifying as an ally or advocate means something, contrary to all evidence otherwise.

Macklemore and Le1f
(On the left, Macklemore, a straight and White rapper. On the right, Le1f, a queer Black rapper who has alleged that Macklemore plagiarized his work, from here.)

Admittedly, the ACLU does sometimes spend money and time on issues pertaining to queer liberation and reproductive freedoms, but those are part of a larger pie. It also works with events like Stop Watching Us, tinged as they are with islamophobic implications, and defends free speech rights to an honestly implausible degree at times. That long history of supporting and financing racist speech is perhaps alluded to by Macklemore’s concern that he might face repercussions for his “political activism”. His other primary means of presenting himself to the public is of course as part of the gaining trend of White musicians who speak in code about people of color being materialistic. Even when showing himself as an ally, however, he often implies that heterosexist rhetoric is a fundamentally Black phenomenon.

The initial concerns he displays in the video about being subjected to brutality, presumably by the police or “community safety volunteers” seems tone deaf in light of the events of the past year. A few months ago George Zimmerman was acquitted for the death of Trayvon Martin and just within this week the grisly murder of a young Black woman faced speculation about whether her murderer would even be charged with a crime. For Black people in particular (and people of color generally), you don’t have to be saying or doing something “political” to face extreme violence, you can just be walking home from the store or knocking on a door asking for help after an accident. Before it ends, the video includes Macklemore asserting his right to call the president, the US’s first one of color, a dick if he wanted to (which he quickly says he doesn’t).

In a nutshell, it seems vital to ask what freedoms the ACLU and Macklemore thought they were promoting here. It seems that what they think of as promoting certain queer and feminist causes is tied up in self-aggrandizing attitudes in almost total isolation from the lived experience of dealing with heterosexism and sexism (to say nothing of the cissexist way that trans* people are excluded from the conversation). What they seem to think of as promoting freedom of speech and freedom from surveillance inevitably tracks back to tacit acceptance of racism and the quintessential embodiment of it among “liberals” – a sort of self-important ignorance of what their complaints sound like to communities that are targeted at the drop of a hat.

Their concerns are also decidedly libertarian – in that they’re exclusively about freedom from (usually) state intervention in daily life. There aren’t constitutional guarantees to the freedom to work without facing discrimination, for marginalized communities to be given additional assistance, or for economic redistribution to be political policy at all, and the ACLU and Macklemore’s framing here highlights that almost reflexively anti-state libertarian attitude that won’t serve many benighted groups very well.

This is not political activism which draws on the wants and needs of groups dealing with oppressive attitudes and actions by the larger society. This is an advertisement through and through which is working to sell you membership in an organization which potentially is designed to advance your rights in a way that won’t actually benefit you.

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Can’t look away

TW: racism, sexism, rape apologetics, classism

Nick Gillespie’s recent article in the Washington Post which attempts to “debunk” popular myths about Libertarians is absolutely fascinating, in much the way a dramatic car accident or Roland Emmerich disaster flick can hold your attention longer than you want it to.


(All Gillespie needs is a fedora to complete his ensemble, from here.)

He starts with a muddled point that Libertarians aren’t “the hippies of the right” (whatever that even means) because there’s a lot of them according to a poll put out by an avowedly Libertarian media outlet (Reason, which Gillespie edits). The conservative framing here should be obvious: hippies are recently formed and marginal agitators who ruin everything, which Libertarians can’t be compared to because they’re historied (at least for a few more decades by Gillespie’s odd count) and central to the political culture in the US.

Both Gillespie’s logic for classifying assorted movements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “libertarian” and the rational behind his magazine’s polling are the same – that Libertarianism is semantically devoid outside of a distaste for government policy (quirkily defined). He argues that libertarianism wasn’t a strange reaction to communism (which others have argued), but instead rooted in movements within the United States against formal imperialist structures over the proceeding century.

That libertarians arguably only oppose government-run imperialism today when it’s convenient to them is one quibble, but it’s also worth noting that disinterest in imperialism is being reduced by Gillespie to disapproval of it when conducted by the government. It’s apparently unthinkable that those liberal movements might be the antecedents to calls for governmental intervention to prevent commercial groups or other organizations from profiting from and reinforcing the conditions left by overt government-run colonialism.

This is revealed in the simplistic questionnaire that Reason used, which merely asks-

“1. ‘The less government the better’; OR, ‘there are more things that government should be doing’.

2. ‘We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems’; OR, ‘People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement’.

3. Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?”

Occasionally (as the article states) over the years this survey was put out, a question actually pertaining to an issue (only marijuana decriminalization though!) rather than a vague philosophical moral would be asked. A nuanced perspective that governments’ actions are legitimate or unacceptable depending on what those actions are, is apparently by and large anathema to getting the results that 24 percent of US citizens agree with them (compared to 27 with “liberals” and another 27 with “conservatives”).

His other points are poorly strung together, and really amount to two admissions: that libertarianism doesn’t offer much to people of color and women, as well as that libertarians are a contentious political bloc that is already contending with others within the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential nomination. For the former, he only points to opposition to the drug war, support for “school choice”, and the idolization of Ayn Rand (and a few other decades-dead women, none of whom were a part of libertarianism in the past 31 years).

Prominent libertarians quite clearly only want to soften the drug war, namely by reducing the penalization for drugs which like marijuana are commonly used among more affluent Whites. School choice is openly a means of shifting the cost of maintaining de facto segregation from White families on to the government (while also making parochial education more competitive). And do we really need to run down why Ayn Rand isn’t a feminist idol? (Hint: she wanted her audience to excuse rape.)

In the end, Gillespie is left arguing that it’s a myth that “Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party” and yet that the party leadership is “worried about the party’s growing libertarian streak” so much so that Chris Christie (presidential nominee apparent, unless libertarian Rand Paul has his way) called libertarians “dangerous”.

Is it hard to be so very wrong about everything, Mr Gillespie?

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Helen Thomas and “the palestinian question”

TW: Holocaust/Shoa, Israeli occupation, Zionism, sexism

I have to be as brief as possible today, so I’ll recommend reading what I’ve already written on how the historically pivotal and intriguing journalist Helen Thomas is being remembered. In a nutshell, the way she created the news seems really inseparable from her gender, in spite of the flurry of obituaries that either don’t discuss her gender at all or do so in comparatively shallow way.

When I say “don’t discuss” it at all, I honestly do mean that. The Guardian’s Dan Kennedy seemed to do so in fascinating oblique way. Among the actually utterly bizarre sections of his piece I could pull out, here’s the two most striking. First, when establishing her as not merely critical of Israel but (as his piece intended to) as antisemitic, Kennedy quotes this confusing mess:

“Her comments – that Jews [specifically modern Jewish settlers] should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to Poland and Germany – brought Thomas’s 67-year career to an abrupt end. On Monday, she announced her retirement from the Hearst news service amid condemnation from the White House and her fellow reporters. ‘It’s hard to hear the words ‘the Jews of Germany and Poland’ and not think of anything but the millions and millions of Jews who were incarcerated, enslaved, tortured, starved and exterminated in the Holocaust,’ wrote Rachel Sklar at Mediaite, concluding: ‘Which means that, sad as I am, Helen Thomas can no longer be a hero to me.'”

Sklar better explains her point later in that article (most “couldn’t go back to where their families came from in Germany or Poland even if they wanted to, because entire villages were wiped out”), but there really isn’t much of a there there. Of course survivors of the Holocaust have every reason to want to leave Germany and Poland, but it seems a rather difficult length to go to where Thomas was saying they couldn’t leave those countries. Her statement was made within the context of the Israel-backed right of any Jewish settler to any Palestinian land they might want, free of charge, because it’s “theirs”. The need for many Holocaust survivors to leave the cites of that massacre doesn’t give them the right to any property they so choose, and the militant efforts to establish their ability to do so anyway is what has prompted many current residents of the region to tell the settlers to go elsewhere (including to Germany or Poland).

Kennedy shows how he’s willfully ignoring that entire context of forced land redistribution when he closes his article saying, “It would be unkind to suggest that Thomas, who was born in Kentucky, should ‘go home’ to Lebanon, from which her parents immigrated. But it would be in keeping with her own loathsome views.” For one, virtually none of the Holocaust survivors whom he and Sklar pointed to were born in Palestine as Thomas was in Kentucky. What’s more, unless the Thomas’ have an extensive yet well hidden criminal record, they didn’t take their home in Kentucky from a family which had been living there, but purchased one. His entire point collapses under this conflation of the survivors of the Holocaust and any Jewish person who is afforded citizenship rights and certain social privileges by Israel, as well as an astounding romanticization of the settlement process.

The second egregious flaw in Kennedy’s argument is much less illuminating and more utterly baffling. Having cycled through recent Thomas quotes up to the Israeli attack on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010, he wrote, “to assert, as Thomas did, that Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara with the express intent of shedding Muslim blood is to deny Israel’s very legitimacy as a state.” That is then explained as the “subtext” to her and other critics’ response to that action by the Israel Defense Forces. I honestly have no idea how he goes from one action of the state being illegal under international law to Israel itself being vaguely ‘illegitimate’ but it’s quite breathtaking. If that’s how international human rights standards work, then we should all prepare to live in anarchy while nearly every state on the planet is presumably dismantled for ‘illegitimacy’.

The only angle through which I can squeeze some modicum of sense through those statements is that Kennedy (and Michael Hirschorn) honestly believe that the attack on the flotilla was exaggerated or a set-up or some other bizarre conspiratorial situation or account, which was created for the use by the villainous Thomas and her ilk against the good (if perhaps flawed) state of Israel. There’s sadly no charitable way of putting how ludicrous that is, given that it was Israel that put out blatantly false evidence of the “threat” posed by the flotilla.


(This is one of the infamous pictures supposedly taken after raiding the flotilla of their “weapons”, the metadata of which suggested that the photos were taken years prior to the flotilla raid, from here.)

Ultimately, that’s what these issues (of the rights of Palestinians and other gentile groups within Israeli-controlled territory to basic dignity) boil down to. Thomas, although dead, seems to have coaxed Kennedy and those like him into making these same broken arguments, based on falsehoods or strange comparisons, with a fervor that betrays them. Even beyond the grave, she’s getting answers out of people that they don’t want to give.

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