Tag Archives: politics

Because Women are Defined Forever by the Politicians they Fuck

24 Jul

I am an avid reader of The New Yorker.  For the first few months I received the weekly magazine, I awaited its arrival with baited breath.  I was riding the train to and from class in Manhattan on a near daily basis and had plenty of time to rip through the half dozen or so articles, the Talk of the Town, the book and movie reviews, the satire.  When I first started reading it, I read it from cover to cover, making sure not to miss a thing.  I was almost compulsive about it.  As time went on and I stopped going to and from the city as often, I began to fall behind.  I now have issue upon issue filed away that I have yet to touch and still I save them, sure that one day I will return for all the valuable information I didn’t have time for in the past.  I refuse to intentionally discard any of them, so consider myself slightly lucky for the loss of a few issues over time.  (Of course, the obsessive side of me is agitated by the holes in my carefully organized collection.)  I am actually half convinced that one day I will be found dead in my apartment, crushed under the weight of piles and piles of back issues of my favorite magazine.  

Recently, I have been in a slight New Yorker rut, toting around unopened issue after unopened issue.  Today I decided all that would change.  I grabbed the July 22nd issue that has been wrinkling in my shoulder bag (a shoulder bag that, by the way, is imprinted with an old New Yorker cover, how predictable) and decided to quickly read through the Talk of the Town so I could more quickly get to the article I was really interested to read, an article by Rachel Louise Snyder called “A Raised Hand:  When domestic violence turns ugly.”  Well, I got waylaid by a Lizzie Widdicombe piece called “On the Couch:  Comeback” that touches upon the return to the political scene for two disgraced New York politicians:  Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner as comptroller and mayoral candidates respectively.  I have actually been thinking about how to address this exact topic for some time and Ms. Widdicombe, whom I normally enjoy quite a bit, gave me just the fodder I needed.

Just today I was ranting about the return of Spitzer and Weiner, lamenting the fact that if a female politician were to “sext” someone a photo of her tits or use the services of an escort, her career would be over.  There would be no comeback attempt because there would be no chance of anyone taking her seriously.  She would be a whore.  She would be a bad example for our children.  People would be digging into her past, looking for any sexual deviance.  If she had made an allegation against someone for sexual misconduct, it would be dredged up, analyzed and mocked, more so even than at the time it was filed.  She would go from being a respected politician, to being maligned by the newspapers in the same way as was Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the “call girl” who’s mere existence brought down Spitzer,  a woman who was, after all, simply doing her job.  Dupre, as it turns out, is more than just her job.   According to the assistant editor of Rolling Stone Andy Greene (as quoted by Widdicombe), Dupre was a singer with a voice “not much worse than Britney Spears.” But, he continued “it’s a really tough road for her to have a music career because she’s a prostitute.”  Apparently, her time as a sex worker makes it near impossible for anyone to imagine her as anything other than that.  Dupre is a prostitute, Spitzer is someone who gave in to temptation; Dupre lacks morals, Spitzer is merely weak.  For many Americans, being a paid participant in the sex trade devalues a person, and yet high powered men who pay for the services of women like Dupre can get their lives back in order with a few well-timed apologies and maybe a publicized visit to a therapist. Spitzer, after all, was given two shots at being a talk show host.  And now he is back in politics.  None of this is to say, of course, that people utterly forget what happened, that the offenders aren’t mocked ruthlessly (I mean, Weiner, really? The jokes write themselves!), or that a return to the political scene is easy.  The point is that a return is possible, which it is not for women.  Until recently, Dupre wrote a sex column for the New York Post because once you’ve been a sex worker that’s pretty much all people want to hear out of your mouth.  Anyway, back to Widdicombe’s article.

In her short piece, Widdicombe talks about the entrance of these two men back into the political scene.  She takes the approach of analyzing their “infidelities” using the perspective of marriage councellors, making the argument that these two men need to salvage their voter-politician relationship much in the way they had to salvage their marriages.  (Granted, this is going to be much harder for Weiner given the recent release of more information about his sext-ploits.)  In conversation about Spitzer’s return, one therapist she spoke to, a Doctor Jim Walkup, said that voters “remember the look of that woman” (italics mine), referring to Dupre.  And, a Doctor Christina Curtis added, “his wife” — Silda Wall Spitzer — “having to go up to the podium, and the humiliation.”  She is remembered for, and defined by, her humiliation.  The New York Post, oh-respectable publication, called her “the first door mat” and I think I read somewhere that she blamed his visits to Dupre on herself.  Patriarchy at its finest.

I actually don’t really know where to go from here.  I guess part of it is that I would expect for The New Yorker to have a more nuanced discussion, even in a short piece, of the roll that gender plays in all of this.  The writers have been known to say much more with much less words.  These men have taken advantage of their power and privilege and although they were forced to resign their seats at the time, they are still relevant.  But what about Dupre?  She is just “that woman.”  And despite her high powered career, our national memory of Wall Spitzer is best captured in these words by Katy Waldman of Slate:

“Silda Wall Spitzer impressed herself into our collective memory when she stood, chalk-gray, beside her husband as he resigned from the New York governorship in 2008. It was a wrenching image of devotion or delusion, depending on your take…”

I guess what I am looking for is a simple admission that when these high-powered men take their dicks out, there is collateral damage and that the damage generally has a female face.  Monica Lewinsky, after all, is remembered for little more than that stained blue dress but the reality is that she wasn’t simply an exploit, she was and is a person.  Furthermore, despite the fact that Bill Clinton earned himself the unfortunate nickname “Slick Willy,” his opinion still matters.  His support of Barack Obama makes a difference.  He is still respected.  And yet the only thing that matters about Lewinsky, even all these years later, was that she gave the President head in the oval office.  These women are all human beings.  They deserve our respect and they deserve to be acknowledged for something more than simply their involvement in some dude’s temporary political undoing.  We have to acknowledge the power dynamic that exists between a well-established, well-respected, powerful man and the oftentimes much younger women that get wrapped up in, and brought down by, their after hours activities.  We have to acknowledge that men of power, and specifically straight, white men of power, get a pass from us when they fuck up, even when they fuck up over and over again.  Sure, give Spitzer and Weiner another chance, but lets not use it as an excuse to unearth topless photos of Dupre.  The women that get caught up in all this are simply living their lives, and they deserve to go on living it outside the shadow of some powerful guy.  They also deserve a second chance.

A Reflection Post-Delhi

3 Jan

A little over a week ago when I was at work and before any customers came in, I was listening to the news while I set up the bar.  CNN was covering the protests that had swept through India after the brutal gang rape of a female student in Delhi, a city that is known for having high instances of sexual attacks.  The station had set up an interview with someone they considered important and knowledgeable — a man in his mid-to-late 40s — in order to get some local input on the attack itself as well as the protests that had erupted in its aftermath.  He said the normal things.  You know, how horrible the attack was, how he hoped the young woman would pull through, how surprised he was by the size of the protests when so many similar attacks (although I would imagine the majority of them far less brutal) had elicited nothing to that degree.  And then he said something (which I will paraphrase), by way of explanation of the rape itself, that has been clanging in my head for the past 8 days:

The reason these attacks have been happening is because of the percentage of males to females in the overall population.  These men don’t have women to settle down with.  There aren’t enough of them.  So they are frustrated and this is what happens.

And then there was clattering and screeching noises inside my head and I had to sit down.

Okay, so, it is true.  There are more men than women in Delhi.  According to the Delhi Census of 2011, the city itself has an overall population of 16,753,235.  Of that 16.7 million people, 8,976,410 are men and 7,776,825 are women.  So that you don’t have to do the math, that means that, in 2011 at least, there were 1,199,585 more men than women living in Delhi.  Sure, that’s a lot of people.  And sure, I imagine it is very frustrating for men who want to get married and have sex…or have sex and get married…or just have sex.  Being frustrated, as legitimate as it may be, is no excuse to get together with your friends, pretend to drive a shuttle bus, and pick up a girl off the street who is simply trying to get home and literally rape her to death.  No amount of frustration can ever justify that.  Ever.

You know what that is?  That sounds to me like you are trying to take the weight of responsibility off of these mens’ shoulders and blame it on sheer numbers.  They simply couldn’t help themselves.  Their desires to stick their penis in something was simply too great.  They were powerless to resist.  You know what I think?  I think that what happened to that woman, what those men did to her, was generations in the making and not just in India but everywhere.  All over the world.  (This analysis does not take the onus of responsibility off the individuals who perpetrated this attack, but simply is an attempt to put it into a greater context of inequality and violence.)  We are all guilty.  Sure, female infanticide is a part of it.  But the fact that there are less females than males is not what makes female infanticide a crucial part of this story.  The mindset that allows the killing, the neglect, the abandonment of female children is what makes this important.  The mindset that many people have that females are worth less than males is what allows people to justify killing their own babies and is part of the society in which these men are raised.  It is what allows them to see women as less human than they are.  As simply a hole in which to stick their penises.

But it goes beyond India.  And it goes beyond infanticide.  That is just one small part of it.  We, unfortunately, live in a world where, as I have said before, the female body is a battle ground.  Where the word of a female does not count for as much as the word of a male.  I read today in the newspaper that the Indian government, in response to this attack, has fast tracked the investigation and the trial of these men in order to show that this is not acceptable behavior.  But what about all the other rapes that were never investigated in India?  What about all the unopened rape kits that sit on shelves in cities and town across the United States, their statutes of limitations running out?  It’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of resources, to go through all those kits and we simply can’t keep up with the rate of sexual assaults.  But shouldn’t that be the biggest sign that something is wrong?  That we are dealing not with a few isolated incidents but instead with an epidemic?  Women are raped every single day.  Every single one.  Every day a man, or a group of men, decide to force open the legs of a women and violate her.  Insert himself inside of her.  And every day a man, or a group of men, all over the world gets away with it and the woman is left to pick up the pieces.  Often it is she is who vilified.  At what point are people in the mainstream, not people in a corner of the internet, but people with power and sway going to admit that we have a worldwide problem with the way we think about women.

We need to stop making excuses.  We need to stop trying to blame specific policies or cultural norms or religious laws.  We need to realize that we have a serious worldwide, cross-cultural, cross-societal, cross-religious deficit in the way we view women.  We can change laws.  We can have protests.  We can even hang a few people.*  But until we look inwards and understand that this view of women is engrained in us, all of us, nothing is actually going to change.  We will have another horrific gang rape in Delhi, or a small town in Texas.  We will have another woman assaulted by a powerful man, be it the French leader of an international organization or the president of the United States, and then dragged through the media, her reputation completely destroyed while, for the most part, the man continues in his pursuit of power and sex relatively unscathed.

Honestly, I just don’t think it should be that hard.  Part of being a human being, in my estimation, is to keep your eyes and ears open and constantly take things in, learn and adjust your behavior.  Maybe you were raised somewhere where everyone told you the Holocaust never happened and that Jews were born with horns.  But then you read Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and you realize what you were told simply isn’t true and you set off to learn and understand and adjust yourself to your new understanding of history and the world.   Women and men are physically different, sure, but in terms of our worth in the world we are equal.  It’s simple, just start there.  Without women, there would be no men and without men, no women.  We need each other for the species to survive.  So it’s not just that we need to respond to specific instances of infanticide, of rape, of abuse, of victim blaming. We need to acknowledge, and respond to, the environment that allows these things to continue happening.  We all, barring perhaps the sociopathic, think that murder is wrong, evil.  So why not rape?  Why not date rape?  Why not violence against women overall?  Let’s start there.  Raping a woman should mean the end of a political career.  It should be a sign that something is severely wrong with the perpetrator.  Rape is far too commonplace because people get away with it.  Because, for so many, the woman played a crucial role in her own assault simply by existing.  Because, in some places and to some people, a woman is tarnished by her rape, is considered dirty, undesirable.  The woman feels embarrassed, ashamed.  But it is us, all of us, that should feel ashamed that this keeps happening, again and again, and we don’t really, seriously, try changing the scope of the conversation.  So let’s try.

*For the record I am never in favor of capital punishment.  Let them rot in jail, I say.  And Indian prison, or so I have read, is not a fun place to live out your days.

Romney’s Logic, or lack thereof

15 Nov

I’m having a very hard time today.  Sometimes I feel like there is this thing called logic, and then all of a sudden something happens and I think that maybe my logic isn’t the right logic afterall because someone who is someone in the grand scheme of things, and not just in a little corner of the internet, says something that is so contrary to my logic that it’s like, wait, what?  Confused?  Let me explain.

I just read this article in the Times that has been going around in different forms about a conference call that Mitt Romney had with his donors and fund-raisers.  In this conference call he accused Obama of winning the election by giving “gifts” to different minority groups.  Okay, so when I see the word “gifts” I think Christmas, Channuka, birthdays!  Last year for my birthday I got this amazing new lamp shade* from Anthropologie (don’t mock me) and a great cherry red stock pot from Le Creuset.  So, did Obama run around giving people fancy new home accent pieces?  Perhaps some useful, and colorful!, kitchen items?  Maybe a sweet new pair of kicks?  No.  Here’s what Obama “gifted” the “minorities”** of this country:

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Mr. Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.”

And then there’s this.  Romney was very concerned that the president used his healthcare plan as a tool in mobilizing black and Hispanic voters:

“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals,*** the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

So now I am going to think back to when Bush did that stimulus plan.  Remember that?  When all of a sudden we all got a check for some money that we were then supposed to spend out in the world to stimulate the economy?****  A lot of people thought that was  good idea.  A lot of people might have called that a gift.  Same goes, I think, for the money a family is “gifted” through access to healthcare.  All of a sudden here is this money not being spent on incredibly costly healthcare that can be repurposed.  It can go towards buying a car, saving to send a child to college, starting a business, or any other number of things.  Or! That family that now has been “gifted” healthcare has healthcare for the first time and is able to seek preemptive medical care rather than relying on emergency room visits or costly procedures to take care of something that could have been avoided.  Now people who previously had to suffer unnecessarily with treatable ailments can get the needed, and widely available, treatment.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

All sarcasm aside.  Here’s the thing about all of this.  I find Romney’s comments to be amazingly condescending and rude not only to the man that bested him in the election, but to all of us who voted for that man.  By using the word “gifts” Romney was intentionally playing into an understanding of the word within the political realm as equivalent to a bribe.  There were no bribes involved.  Romney lost the election because while he was yammering on about non-specifics concerning job creation, foreign policy and military strategy, Obama was listening to people and trying to figure out what would actually make this country a more reasonable place to live.  Lack of equal access to birth control and concerns about unwanted pregnancies?  Here, free contraception (not to mention a continuation of Roe v Wade).  Concerns about pre-existing conditions and sky-rocketing healthcare costs?  Here, the Affordable Care Act.  Children of undocumented immigrants not getting a fair shake at the American Dream?  Here, the Dream Act (co-written by Republican Orin Hatch, by the way).  What Obama did was present himself as a man capable of leading this country.  What he did was he listened to the people, and he came up with, or supported, feasible solutions.  That’s not called giving people gifts, Romney, it’s called governing.

So here’s maybe an idea, rather than trying to make up ludicrous, and inaccurate, excuses for why you lost the election, why don’t you look actually at why you lost.  You lost because you were non-specific about things that mattered.  You lost because you listened to the party establishment and aligned yourself with the uber-conservatives rather than the majority of the country.  You lost because you failed to realize that things have changed and you have to convince more than just the white men of your ability to lead.  You lost because you erroneously believed that the person who raised the most money would win the biggest prize.  You lost because you dismissed so many of us.  It sucks, Romney, because like John McCain pre-2008 I always thought you were one of the good guys.  One of the listening guys.  I don’t know, maybe my logic is all wrong.  To me, the logical thing to do would be to bow out gracefully and go back to the drawing board.  Rather than calling sound policy ideas gifts, why don’t you and your party think about how to answer the people’s needs using sound conservative principles.  The Republican party, as far as I know, isn’t about hanging people out to dry.  It’s about a much needed alternative to the Democratic approach to governing.  Although I am a lifelong liberal, I honestly believe that the only way to make this country work better is having a healthy debate.  It’s like an athlete.  An athlete uses the talent, drive and abilities of her biggest opponent in order to become better.  For the Democratic, or Republican, party to live up to expectations and possibilities, for this country to live up to expectations and possibilities, there needs to be drive.  The Democratic party can only be its best incarnation when it is striving to be a better alternative to the best incarnation of the Republican party.  The opposite is just as true.  Unless we have two (more would be better) healthy and functioning parties, we can not have the best governing strategy possible.  For this country to get on a better road, we need some good debate and some healthy competition, not a bunch of blamers and a party-wide abandonment of the needs of the majority of the country.  It’s called logic, Romney.  You should try using it.

*My lamp shade looks sort of like this only significantly more awesome.

**Sometimes use of the word minorities annoys me because it’s not accurate.  Rather than an explanation of numerical fact, it’s more like a forced state of being.  I, as a female, am not actually a member of a group that makes up a minority of the population but am still considered a minority.  Why don’t we call a spade a spade.  We “minorities” are not necessarily the “minority.”  We are the oppressed.  The overlooked.  The intentionally ignored.  The annoyance.

***I despise, I mean despise, the term “illegals.”

****This girl totally took that check and put it straight in her savings account.  Totally against the rules.

Friedman’s Not-So-Novel Idea

29 Oct

Yesterday in the middle of my work day I received a text from one of my really good friends. It read as follows:

The Friedman column is fucking pissing me off. Why would I expect him not to fucking pretend that what he is writing is nothing feminism has been saying for YEARS!

I could feel the anger pulsing through my cell phone. Obviously, I had to read it immediately if not sooner.  I checked up and down the bar to see the status of all my customers drinks and got to reading.  The premise of the article is basically that Friedman is “pro-life” but not in the way we all talk about being pro-life, as in the opposite of pro-choice.  He is pro “respect for the sanctity of life.”  Friedman has seen the light.  This paragraph basically says it all:

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

Friedman makes a good point.  Read the article.  But the thing is, just like what my friend said to me in her enraged text, he is making the point feminism, the point women have been making for years.  Being in support of a woman’s right to choose is not only an end, but it is a means to other ends.  Allowing women to choose is part of a bigger conversation about quality of life, about freedoms, about capabilities, about possibilities, about empowerment. In the mainstream acceptance of the terms “pro-life” (or “anti-choice” as many of my ilk refer to it) and “pro-choice” I think of the former as an exclusionary opinion and the latter as inclusionary.  Pro-choice people are not requiring women to terminate a pregnancy.  Some of us might not even be comfortable with the idea  of abortion for ourselves.  I think all of us would love it if there didn’t have to be any abortions at all.  There is room in the pro-choice movement for everyone to do exactly with their bodies as they think is appropriate for themselves and their lives, be that terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy through to term.  Pro-life takes that choice away, that legal and safe choice, and makes the decision for someone.  Either carry the fetus to term or endure a possibly life-threatening, illegal, unregulated procedure.  There is not room in that school of thought for everyone.  There is not room for me.

I guess this is a topic that I have been having a hard time with.  While I want to include men in the conversation about women’s rights and bodies, while I want more male allies, I don’t want men dictating the parameters of a conversation that women have been having for decades.  Let us spearhead this one, guys.  Listen to us.  Talk to us.  Take us seriously.  This is an important issue all the time and not only when you decide to give it a minute of your time.  This has been mattering to us for-fucking-ever, and not just every four years.  We’ve been talking about it.  We’ve been educating one another.  Where have you been, Friedman?

But I’ve gotten off topic.  Friedman’s point is an important one for sure.  But as a woman, it is incredibly, incredibly frustrating and angering to see that a point that feminists have been making for years and years does not get mainstream space until it is said by a right-leaning white man acting like he came up with it all on his own.  I’ve seen my friends sharing the link to the article on Facebook and, though I’m glad the point is making its rounds in the interwebs, I am frustrated that as women we have become so accustomed to our opinions being ignored and then, years later, being co-opted and taken seriously only through the medium of a male voice that we don’t even notice it any more.  It’s part of life.  It’s like, “wow!  Friedman!  What a great and original idea!” without the follow through of “wait, didn’t I talk to my mom about this very same idea when I first started learning about abortion clinic bombings and assassinations of abortion providers?  Hasn’t this term ‘pro-life’ always seemed somewhat misleading?”   It’s like that old saying, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Only I’m gonna change it.  “If an opinion is voiced by a woman and no one talks about it, did that opinion ever actually get shared?”

And to my friend who sent me the text in the first place, I am thankful for you.  You help keep me sane.

Money > People

23 Oct

If you haven’t yet noticed through reading this blog, or if you don’t already know about this through knowing me personally, I work in parallels.  I read things, I get upset about things, but sometimes the only way for me to make sense of it all is to compare the thing I am upset about — but that I lack the language to work through — to something else seemingly unconnected to it and draw a line between the two.  I guess I like to create an equal playing field within my mind and hold dissimilar things to similar standards.  That’s how I got from domestic violence within a human rights framework to trade agreements.  Onward.

This past week I had the pleasure of leaving Brooklyn and traveling, via Bolt Bus, to Washington, DC to visit a very good friend of mine who just recently started law school.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  She was on fall break and needed a small brain vacation from the stresses of the first year of law school which, as I understand it, is a torturous experience.  I needed a vacation from the stresses associated with the ridiculous amount of guilt I feel about avoiding my thesis.  It’s basically become a full-time job.  Anyway, one of the things we did while I was down there was attend a super interesting talk about the idea of domestic violence within the international human rights framework.  Yea, I didn’t really understand how that worked either.  So here is my very basic explanation of the things we learned about, lacking probably crucial details, because my memory just ain’t what it used to be.

So basically what I learned was that being a woman is a lot of times terrible.  And, not surprisingly, this is no different within the legal framework.  The professor and guest lecturer went over a number of cases over the past few decades within the United States that basically eroded the ability of victims of domestic violence (generally women and children) to bring charges against the state for negligence.  When someone takes out a restraining order, the idea is not that the state is in that person’s house, intervening at the first sign of trouble.  Instead, the police (or so I thought) have an obligation to enforce a restraining order if the holder of it calls them, reporting that the order has been broken in some way.  I learned that although one would think that a mandatory restraining order means that the police, an agent of the state by the way (until they are inevitably privatized which scares the shit out of me), are required to protect the holder of the order of protection from the person she took it out against.  That, oddly enough, is not exactly the case.  Mandatory, in this case, doesn’t actually mean mandatory.  The state is under no legal obligation to protect a victim from her victimizer even if she has gone through the appropriate mechanisms to seek guaranteed safety.  There were a few different legal avenues a woman could previously take to bring charges against the state for negligence.  All of those avenues have been systematically eroded, now leaving a victim without means to sue the state if, say, her children are murdered at the hands of her violent ex-husband from whom she is supposedly protected.  Scary, right?  So what is the next step?

This is where international human rights enters.  Human rights, or at least the way that I think about them, are based upon this moral and ethical understanding that all people are equal.  I know that is super simplistic.  What has happened in the US in terms of DV is that the state apparatus is protecting itself from the whims of its citizens.  Part of human rights is that they protect individuals from the whims of the state.  So, the next step could be that women, who have exhausted all domestic options in terms of holding someone accountable for the actions, or lack thereof, of the state or an actor of the state, bring their tale of violated rights to an international human rights body.    That body, in the case we heard about it was the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which then looks at the facts, looks at the legislative trail and comes to a decision as to whether or not an individual’s human rights have been violated and then sends that finding to the offending state, allowing the state in question to respond.  In the case of the US who, obviously if you know anything about our record on this sort of thing,* has not ratified whatever it needs to ratify to be held accountable by this organization and so whatever the IACHR might find in the case of the US basically holds no water.  It is an embarrassment to the US, sure, but there is nothing that the IACHR can do.  It has no power.

Part of the reason for this is that the United States, in all its exceptionalism and all its talk about holding other countries accountable for human rights violations, does not want to be held accountable for its own.  It does not want to give any other body jurisdiction over the affairs within its borders.  It’s like human rights isolationism.  So aside from a strongly worded letter, a victim has absolutely no recourse.  No wait while I blow your mind even more.

I just recently (as in about 20 minutes ago when I decided to write this blog) read this article in Salon by Matt Stoller.  It’s worth a read and contains a whole lot more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) than what I am about to say.  Basically, the TPP, along with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, gives foreign companies the rights to impact US law.  The WTO, for example, can put sanctions on the US if its domestic environmental, financial and social interest laws are too restrictive of foreign products.  Have you noticed that all tuna cans no longer have huge labels pronouncing that product dolphin-free?  That’s because it was negatively impacting companies exporting tuna to the US.  When we are dealing at an international level without standardization in regards to manufacturing and product safety, this is not something we can really afford.  And yet we do it.  Somehow it is reasonable to amend our laws to permit the sale of candy-flavored cigarettes but not to guarantee state-sanctioned protection of a domestic violence victim.  Abiding by international trade laws is more important than human rights norms.  Placating trade partners is more important than protecting our citizens.  Money is more important than people.

* The US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or the landmine ban, among other things.  I leave you to imagine why that might be.

Let’s Take Hitler Off the Table

12 Oct

I don’t think I can quite do justice to the point I am trying to make, but I will still try.

Act I

In the fall of 2010 I traveled to Montreal for an elongated birthday celebration for one of my graduate school classmates.  It was an idyllic weekend.  We met at Penn Station and rode an Amtrak train from New York to Montreal, taking a break from our studies to gossip, listen to music, and do some leisure reading.  Everything on that ride seemed quaint, from the verbal tour given the passengers by the conductor — and out the left side of the train a bald eagle! — to the request for the safe return of a copy of “The History of Connecticut” which inexplicably went missing to the visa checks by Canadian customs officials.  The weekend continued along in that vein.  There was the perfect bed and breakfast, the beautiful farmer’s market, the Owen Wilson sighting.  There was only one downside to the entire weekend:  the table we came across in the old city that featured a picture of Obama sporting a Hitler-esque mustache and a swastika on his arm.  This was not the first time I had come across such an image.  Walking to school a few months earlier I had seen the same doctored photograph holding court on a fold-out table in Union Square.  Those running the table handed out pamphlets.  I was enraged, insulted, and running late for class.  I scowled at them and hurried on my way, red-faced and breathing fire, trying to push the image out of my head while at the same time grappling with all the reasons it impacted me so severely.

Act II

Today fall appeared in New York City.  It was one of those days with a (mostly) blue sky and a strong sun but with winds that rip down the avenues and a certain damp coldness that pushes through layers.  I was sad I forgot my gloves.  After running a few errands I decided to finish my Friday evening over a glass of wine and last week’s issue of The New Yorker (I am behind once again).  In the section entitled The Political Scene was an article by Chrystia Freeland called “Super-Rich Irony:  Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama?”  I had read a few other articles of a similar theme in The New Yorker, and elsewhere, in recent months.  One that comes to mind made mention of the super-rich who felt slighted because they never received a proper ‘thank you’ from Obama for previous fund-raising contributions.  (To them I say this:  boo-fucking-hoo.)  Freeland’s article was a little more specific, it revolved around an open letter to President Obama from billionaire Leon Cooperman, the founder of a hedge fund called Omega Advisors.    This letter went viral in the business community and accuses Obama of using language that has led to a class warfare in which the super-rich are the oppressed minority.  In it Cooperman says,

To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment. It is also a naked, political pander to some of the basest human emotions – a strategy, as history teaches, that never ends well for anyone but totalitarians and anarchists.

And then this,

You might do well at this point to eschew the polarizing vernacular of political militancy and become the transcendent leader you were elected to be.

In follow-up interviews, as well as in a speech that addressed this letter and its impacts, Cooperman, Freeland reports, “has gone so far as to draw a parallel between Obama’s election and the rise of the Third Reich.”  Ugh.  Honestly, I have had enough.  There are a lot of infuriating things in this article about how the super-rich feel about their treatment, and how they think they are being singled out and blamed, and, honestly, I do not feel bad for them.  Maybe that makes me an asshole and maybe someday I will amend that feeling but today is not that day.  This post is not about that.  This post is about the parallel that I see drawn over and over again between Obama and Hitler.  It has got to stop.  Take Hitler off the table.  Comparisons to Hitler should not be allowed.  I am not saying we should alter the First Amendment to allow free speech up until the point that someone draws an erroneous comparison between someone who isn’t Hitler and Hitler.   What I am saying is that there should be some sort of moral stopping point in which we take a moment, look around and we think, “hey, you know what?  Actually, this not-Hitler is actually nothing like actual Hitler because, for one, he or she is not responsible for the deaths of some 11 million innocent people.  Also, this not-Hitler did not spawn the coining of the term ‘genocide,’ like actual Hitler.  This not-Hitler, no matter how much I dislike his or her actions or policies is not the epitome of evil because that position is already occupied…by actual Hitler.”

But jokes aside.  Seriously.  I have always thought about it like this:  as a person of Jewish descent, I find this comparison especially problematic and hateful and wrong.  But now, sitting down here at my computer and working some of these thoughts out, I think that as a person I find this comparison especially problematic and hateful and wrong.  Not only is it erroneous, but every time we draw a comparison between the policies and speeches of, say, President Barack Obama and the speeches and actions of Hitler, we are minimizing the historical significance of Hitler’s existence and actions.  We are minimizing the suffering and death caused so many people.  We are minimizing the essence of evil.  Comparisons to Hitler should be reserved for those heinous few that orchestrate the systematic killing of people based off their background, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or any other single characteristic used by horrible, yet somehow magnetic, people to dehumanize.  Last time I checked, Obama has not done any of those things. Sure, he is charismatic.  But for that charisma to lead anywhere close to where Hitler’s charisma led would take a number of characteristics – narcissism? sociopathy? – that I don’t think any of us have reason to believe Obama possesses.

Now listen, I know the comparison to Hitler is not so much about his concentration camp era, but does it actually matter?  When I think Hitler, I think endless train rides, I think gas showers, I think forced labor, I think shaved heads, I think starvation, I think horrific medical experiments, I think families ripped apart, I think a world that was never the same, I think groups of people dehumanized to such an extreme degree that even to this day it stings.  I could continue but I won’t.  I don’t think any sane person’s thought association with Obama bring up any of those horrific thoughts.  So, come on, people.  Let’s stop being assholes.  Let’s take Hitler off the table.

Some (belated) Thoughts on the Debate and Politics

9 Oct

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction this country is going since the (embarrassing) debate last Wednesday night.  As I sat on my sofa, watching these two men vying for a job as President of the United States of America my stomach dropped.  To be entirely honest, the feeling in the pit of my stomach actually kept me from sitting through the entire debate and the residual discomfort will, very likely, keep me from watching any of the other three.  Maybe this feeling will pass and I will give it another go but I doubt it.  Anyway, here are some thoughts.

I am someone who believes in government, who believes that it is important for there to be some sort of check to business expansion, that there should be services provided for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to provide those services for themselves.  Yes, politics can be dirty.  Yes, politicians can be corrupt.  But I am entirely unwilling to write this entire system we have built off and characterize everyone that makes up our government, and the government of other countries, as clowns.  Perhaps I am idealistic but I do not see a better outcome if we scratch the whole thing.  I think the system needs changing, the rules of the game need changing, and the behavior of our politicians  need changing.  All this was very clear by the disaster that was the first debate of this election season.  But I do think the system can still work and, a lot of times, actually does.  I think the system relies a lot on those of us who spend the time reading and learning and take the time to speak out against things, or in support of things, and go out and vote.  Just vote.  As a good friend of mine said the other day, write someone into the ballot if you have to.  Make a statement.  Let people know what we have, the options we have, does not work for you.  That is how change starts.

But I am off track.  Back to some thoughts.

Thought #1.  How can two candidates spend the amount of time they spent talking about healthcare and never, not once, mention that women pay more than men do for healthcare across the board?  Our rates are higher.  We, ladies, are pre-existing conditions.  ObamaCare actually addresses this issue.  Obama never mentioned it.  Romney certainly was not going to given his new found distaste for women thanks to Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, et al.  So, Obama, let me say this to you:  think about us, like, really.  You did a great thing with ObamaCare.  You included us in there.  Flaunt it!  Women are watching, we are listening, and we care about more than just jobs and education and tax rates.  (Don’t get me wrong, we care about those things, too.)  We are smart, we educate ourselves, we know what makes us better off.  We vote.  God damnit, we matter!  We matter a lot.  We fight an uphill battle every day against things we might not even be able to articulate.  We are so immersed in a world in which we are undervalued, in which we are considered less than, that it makes a difference when a policy is written that actually takes us into consideration.  You did a good thing, Mr. President.  Own it.  Show that you care about women and that Romney and Ryan still think that our internal organs and lady brains somehow make us enigmas.

Thought #2.  Clean coal.  I’m sorry.  Really?  Clean coal?  There is nothing clean about coal, really.  And if you gut the EPA, as the plan is, then there is absolutely no incentive whatsoever for industry to try and make coal cleaner.  Here’s the thing about business.  Business wants to be efficient, and business wants to make money.  Profits.  Period.  Business doesn’t wake up one day and say “oh, hey, I feel like doing a good deed, let me go ahead and spend millions and millions of dollars to lower my carbon footprint.”  No.  If there are no regulations, business has no reason to clean up.  And who can blame business for that?  But guess what?  A few decades down the line when the earth is even more polluted than it is today, when polar bears don’t even have small bits of ice to depressingly float around on in all of those gloom and doom NatGeo specials, and most of the energy sources we rely on in the good old US of A are depleted, a lot of other countries will have come up with other ideas.  And they will have businesses that work on them.  And those businesses will be making money.  And we will have no EPA and water that catches on fire when you bring a match close to it.  Clean coal my ass.  That ship has sailed.  Actually, no, that ship tried sailing and instead sunk.

Thought #3.  Shut up about PBS.

Thought #4.  I think manners are really important.  One of the things that always gets me into hot water at the bar in which I work is that I really believe people should have manners and should respect those around them.  I consider this a high expectation when copious amounts of alcohol and late nights are involved.  I am going to go out on a limb and assume that there was no alcohol involved in the poor performance delivered by both the President and Mitt Romney.  It would be inappropriate and, besides, Romney is a Mormon.  Anyway, the smug looks they both delivered have got to go.  And the interrupting.  I’m pretty sure I learned to let people have their turn to speak in kindergarten.  Or!  Maybe we should institute a talking stick at debates.  Could you imagine?  It would go like this:

Obama:  So, if you look at Romney’s plan, he wants to cut 5 trillion dollars from blah blah blah blah

Romney:  That!  That is not true!  That is not in my plan!

Jim Lehrer:  Now, Mitt, do you have the talking stick?

Romney:  (looking down at his very empty hands) No…but..he started this round and…

Lehrer:  No talking stick, no talking.

Now that’s a debate I could get behind.

More thoughts undoubtedly to come.  But for now, dinner.

Cosmetics and Ice Cream and Morals, Oh, My!

24 Sep

In doing research for my thesis — which I have been working on forever it seems like oh my god when is it going to end! — I came across this quote:

Americans spend more on cosmetics than it would cost to provide basic education to the two billion people in the world who lack schools, and Europeans spend more on ice cream than it would cost to provide water and sanitation to those in need… – Richard Peet with Elaine Hardwick, Theories of Development

Now I like ice cream as much as the next person (my stomach, sadly, is not a fan), and cosmetics less than your average woman but perhaps more than your average man, but, wait, what?  Really?!?  That’s crazy.  Okay, so usually I don’t like to put up quotations that are intended largely for shock value.  I always have this nagging feeling that there is something misleading in the comparison.  That somehow numbers on one end were inflated, and on the other deflated, in order to make a point.  I get nervous that a little Micheal Moore-ification (of the post-Roger and Me version) has occurred.  Also, it’s not like someone is gonna be like “oh, hey, rather than buy this $25 mascara I am going to donate it to the creation of primary schools in Liberia” or “Cherry Garcia ice cream?  Hell no!  More toilets in India!”  But then I shook my head and thought, whatever, stop being such an over-analytical, judgey cynic.   Just go with it.  So here is what I have been thinking about.

We are going through a campaign period here in the good old US of A and we all know what that means:  lots of money is being spent!  Especially now that Citizens United happened and now corporations* and unions can make all sorts of ENORMOUS donations.  Also, SuperPACs!  Scary!  And so here we are, listening to two presidential nominees talking about this big debt we are in and how it’s Obama’s fault!  No, Bush’s fault!  No, social spending!  No, the defense budget! No, because Romney didn’t pay enough taxes!  No, the old people!  No, immoral women wanting to abort their babies!  No, the immigrants!  No, that dead panda cub!  (I’m really sad about that, actually.)  And then I read about the amount of money Obama and Romney, and their supporters and detractors, are spending on their campaigns and I’m like woah.  I know that however much they spend would only be a drop in the bucket, but still.  One of these guys is going to lose and what will he have to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars he spent to try and get elected?  ThisThis?  A scrapbook?  Sadly, no.  One of them will be happy and the other will have a giant sadface surgically implanted where his old face used to reside.

But then I’ve also been thinking about this other thing which is the way that we all live our lives, myself included.  We live in a world where there is this overwhelming pressure to do well financially, to make money, to be “successful.”  As much as I personally try and fight against assessing my life in those terms, I still religiously squirrel money away in lieu of going to that BBQ, that birthday party, that camping trip.  There is something alluring about that sort of quantitative success.  I can track my progress.  But the question is, am I actually better off** than I was 7 years ago when I started saving?  I mean, sure.  I’m happier, I’m more educated, I have more concrete goals and interests, I’m a faster runner.  None of these things, however, are connected at all with the fact that I have more money in my savings account.  I mean, it’s great that I have the option to buy $25 mascara (or a new pair of running shoes) without doing too much “creative accounting,” in the words of a good friend of mine, but probably I would be better off with less defined lashes and a more defined sense of moral responsibility.

Or, I could just drive down the BQE and look at this billboard because, funny:

*Corporations do not have blood and therefore are not people and therefore should not be afforded first ammendment rights.  QED.
** I am reading too much Amartya Sen.  Help.

Dear Senator Kyl, Please Stop.

13 Sep

So this is something I (surprise!) find annoying.  Annoying being an understatement, as it usually is, but I am trying this new thing that I call toning down my language.  I think that maybe if I explain things and think about things in a less anger-inducing way then maybe I will go through life being less, well, angry about things I have no control over.  Like the words that spew out of the mouth of Senator Jon Kyl.  (By the way, if ever life is getting you down, and the idiocy of our politicians seems too much to handle, please visit this sketch by the wonderful, the hilarious, Stephen Colbert and everything will regain a sense of normalcy, if only for a short time.) Most recently, the esteemed Senator from Arizona (poor, poor Arizona) decided to respond to a statement released by the American Embassy in Cairo which, in itself, was a response to understandably negative reactions throughout the Muslim world to an American-made movie that denigrates the Prophet Mohammed.  (Word to the wise:  comparing a very important religious figure to a pedophile is generally neither advisable nor received well.)  The original statement, released hours before an attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans in Benghazi, read as follows:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” (My emboldifying.)

Senator Jon Kyl, along with a lot of other politicians who seem to enjoy ignoring timelines — as in this thing happened, and then this other thing happened afterwards meaning that the first thing that happened could not be construed as an apology for the next thing unless people in the American Embassy in Egypt are actually time travelers in which case, can you guys be my friends? — have issued all kinds of misguided statements.  Mitt Romney said some stupid things.  Jon Kyl, however, probably issued my favorite statement of all (read:  If I ran into him somewhere I would totally push him down a set of stairs and not feel bad about it at all).  Just to be clear, this is a statement made by Jon Kyl criticizing the US Embassy in Egypt for their statement condemning the release of a hateful movie.  Here is the statement:

It’s like the judge telling the woman who got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed.’ OK? That’s the same thing. ‘Well America, you should be the ones to apologize, you should have known this would happen, you should have done — what I don’t know — but it’s your fault that it happened.’ You know, for a member of our State Department to put out a statement like that, it had to be cleared by somebody. They don’t just do that in the spur of the moment.

Um, no, Jon Kyl.  Releasing a statement condemning a hate-filled movie is in no way like blaming a woman for her own rape.  You know what’s like blaming a woman for her own rape?  Actually doing that.  Actually blaming a woman for where she was, what she was doing, what she was wearing, how much she was drinking, who she was talking to.  And you know what else Jon Kyle?  That happens a lot.  I think that generally when we make comparisons they should either be (a) accurate or (b) so inaccurate so as to make them funny.  This is neither of those things.  And, seeing as how women are blamed for their own assaults all the time by men and women alike, and that this is very well documented, maybe before you make a ridiculous and inaccurate criticism of a statement that was not vetted through the White House, you should get your statement vetted by your handlers.  Maybe then I wouldn’t think you suck so hard.  I mean, I probably would anyway, but whatever.

Also, while I am on the topic, I would like to propose the following thing.  How about, from now until the end of time, none of us ever compare anything to rape unless it actually was rape in which case you wouldn’t have to compare it at all?  Like, when you say “ugh, I ordered this thing from this place and it was totally overpriced and I feel like I got raped.”  No, you don’t.  You don’t feel like you got raped at all.  Because you know what?  You didn’t get raped.  And probably, if you are comparing price gouging to rape then you have never actually been raped because you wouldn’t trivialize that experience.  So, yea, let’s see if we can make that happen.

Thanks for reading.

On Todd Akin, this time with a little more anger

21 Aug

Okay.  So, as I wrote yesterday, I was done talking about the Todd Akin thing.  At that moment.  Well, that moment has passed and my anger has been renewed.  Partially that anger was renewed by reading Eve Ensler’s amazing post from yesterday on Huffington Post.  If you haven’t yet read it, get on it now.  It is so worth it.  It is worth it for so many reasons.  Here is one:

You used the expression “legitimate” rape as if to imply there were such a thing as “illegitimate” rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape.

And then there’s this:

Were you implying that women and their bodies are somehow responsible for rejecting legitimate rape sperm, once again putting the onus on us?

And this:

Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.

And so much more in between.  She says all the things that I could never articulate.  That it would take me a few days to really come to.  My initial reaction to his “gaffe” was an exasperated exhale, a violent roll of the eyes, and the need to slowly and methodically rub vertically between my hairline and the bridge of my nose, a habit I have developed in recent years at times of intense frustration.  I swear one of these days I am going to rub right through to my skull.  My initial reaction was full of disgust, but I honestly don’t think I fully realized the deep-rootedness of the issue associated with Todd Akin’s comments.  He was idiotic, sure, we all think that’s the case. Even Shawn Hannity thinks he should withdraw himself from the Missouri Senate race.  But the thing is, it’s not because many of these people disagree with what Akin said.  They disagree with the way that Akin said it.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a court of appeals ruled today that the state can withhold funding from Planned Parenthood clinics before the original case, in which Planned Parenthood sued the state of Texas for a law that violates their freedom of speech, goes to court in October.  (For a more eloquent and less confusing explanation of the pending litigation, read this Times article.)  These clinics provide health care for low income women for things from regular gynecological exams to cancer screenings, from maternal health care to contraception.  And yes, abortion services.  It is important to note, however, that no state or federal funds go to finance abortions.  They go towards helping poor women with no or insufficient health insurance obtain access to quality, and essential, services.  As Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, said, this case

has never been about Planned Parenthood — it’s about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control and well-woman exams.

The reason I bring this up is that issues like the one in Texas have been cropping up with alarming regularity.  Todd Akin is not alone.  He has many, many people who agree with him.  Many people who think that women don’t know how to make decisions about their own bodies.  Many people who think that women cavalierly make the decision to have an abortion.  Many people who think that women will scream rape to obtain an abortion in places where rape, incest and the health of the mother are the only exceptions to an all out ban on abortion.  Don’t believe me?  Just watch this video of Eric Turner of Indiana.  As I said, Todd Akin is not alone and his ignorant statement was not an isolated opinion.  Let us use this moment of anger, and hurt, and disbelief to blow the roof off the party who, just today, the same day they were calling for Todd Akin to step aside, approved a party plank that would strive to outlaw abortion without any mention of exceptions for rape or incest.  This is our time, ladies and allies.  We are too smart for this and there is too much at stake.  We need to hold the Republican party accountable not only for the statements of Todd Akin, but for those of many others.  And, more important still, we need to hold them accountable for the anti-woman legislation they unceasingly push on us.  As Eve Ensler rightfully said,

I am asking you and the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define.