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Archive for the ‘dystopia’ Category

This blog has been silent too long. I’ve had some health issues affecting my hands; maybe I’ll write about them eventually, but for now let’s just say I’ve recovered enough to tentatively revive this blog, though probably on a low scale.

It’s Caturday; and since the Kittywampus hiatus coincided with an issue that put the word “pussy” in the mouths of the journo-commentariat (they’re still trying to spit out the furballs), it seems only fitting for this blog to support those three brave Russian feminists who are now serving a jail term for questioning the rottenness of their state.

Sure, we’ve got our own rottenness here in the U.S., too. When was the last time the pundits or politicians spared a thought for Bradley Manning? Why do I find far more Canadian sources than U.S. ones on this week’s deportation of war resister Kimberly Rivera from Canada and her arrest at the Canadian border? How can the Obama Administration possibly justify its defense of the NDAA?

But see, it’s not a question of ignoring abuses of the rule of law at home while highlighting abuses abroad. We can deplore the state-sanctioned violence against Manning even as we condemn Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot for being loud and insulting in a cathedral (their real crime was criticizing the state).

At the New York Times, Vadim Nikitin wrote last month that Western supporters are simply jumping on a bandwagon, merely [u]sing dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime.” This is too facile. The Russian regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It deserves to have points scored against it. While I respect his point that using dissidents as pawns is a game that goes back to the good ole Cold War days – and thus ought to come under scrutiny – the fact is, Putin is gutting what remains of Russia’s fragile democracy.

Nikitin also joins a number of North American feminists in decrying some of Pussy Riot’s most overtly offensive stunts – in particular, those involving public sex. I will gladly concede that I do not see the political or artistic merit or utility of such stunts, while I definitely do see how they would just reinforce the objectification of women to most casual observes.

But none of these caveats present a roadblock to supporting Pussy Riot, and Nikitin insistence that they’re dealbreakers strikes me as disingenuous:

You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics. … Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system. We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

Actually, even though I’m not a hard-core anti-capitalist, the Pussy Riot program all sounds pretty good to me. But Nikitin creates a false dilemma. You most certainly can support Pussy Riot in their moment of persecution without agreeing with all of their stances or tactics. We do this all the time, as when we defend the right to freedom of expression for people whose speech we find abhorrent.

The three band members made eloquent closing statements at their trial, showing that they understood, deeply, that this wasn’t a case about punk music constituting blasphemy. The stakes were nothing less than authoritarianism, human rights, freedom of artistica and political expression, and the state manipulation of media. Pussy Riot knows this. We too should recognize it – and dwell upon the ways in which the U.S. government, too, is systematically eroding liberties and making martyrs of dissidents. The rule of law hangs in the balance, not just the freedom of three young women, and not just in Russia either.

And so, by the great power invested in my by this blog, I hereby declare today Anti-Authoritarian Caturday.

Authoritarian kitteh courtesy of Cheezburger.

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For the first time since our congresscritters launched their attack on Planned Parenthood last winter, I have the feeling that public outrage has risen to a boiling point. The attacks continue, of course, but their extreme brazenness is finally provoking a robust counter-reaction. Maybe I’m just spending too much time on Facebook (and certainly my Facebook friends are far from a representative sample), but the Komen Foundation’s de-funding of Planned Parenthood – and subsequent backpedaling – seems to signal a change in the people’s tolerance of the war on women’s bodily autonomy. At the very least, it showed that millions of pissed-off women could use social media to defend health services for the most vulnerable among us.

Then Obama actually stood up to the bishops and told the insurance companies to cover contraception, period. As Katha Pollitt noted, he finally noticed that American women are more numerous than the bishops. Darrell Issa’s farcical all-boyz hearing on religious freedom contraceptive coverage earned a backlash as furious as the Komen decision’s. As usual, Jon Stewart perfectly skewered the hypocrisy:

Now, after a couple of days of public shaming by silent protestors at the state capitol, Virginia’s governor has been forced to “reconsider” supporting a bill that mandates transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion – and (in breaking news) its sponsor says she’ll kill the bill altogether! She claims an attack of conscience. (Yes, a woman sponsored this rapey bill. No, she didn’t have any ethical pangs until it became a national disgrace.) As Jon Stewart put it, the poor governor evidently didn’t realize the procedure is “like a TSA patdown for your vagina.”

Hey, we’d better not give the TSA any new ideas.

I’m also tickled pink at state legislators’ over-the-top proposals to regulate men’s bodies, for a change. Virginia Senator Janet Howell countered the transvaginal-ultrasound madness with a bill that would’ve required rectal exams before a man could be prescribed an ED drug. In Oklahoma, Senator Constance Johnson proposed (then withdrew) an amendment stating “any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”

Now, Georgia Representative Yasmin Neal has put forward a bill to sharply restrict vasectomies: “It is patently unfair that men avoid the rewards of unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly. … It is the purpose of the General Assembly to assert an invasive state interest in the reproductive habits of men in this state and substitute the will of the government over the will of adult men.”

It’s high time someone stood up for spermato-Americans!

Of course, no one’s seriously out to punish men. These legislators just put anti-choice laws through the Regender translator, instantly exposing their absurdity and cruelty. It’s telling that these mock proposals hold the power to shock, while anti-choice legislation remains business as usual. Georgia, for instance, is weighing one-to-ten-year jail terms for abortion after 20 weeks – which last I heard was still constitutionally protected under Roe v. Wade.

I’m hopeful, though, that these extremist proposals are galvanizing a majority that will force extremist legislators to back down. But not just yet. Let them keep horrifying every voter who’s ever used contraception. Maybe we can throw out all the Tea Partiers and Blue Dogs, come November.

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SOPA Is Dead. Long Live SOPA!

I’m as happy as anyone that SOPA and PIPA seem to have crawled back into the Hollywood hidey-hole from whence they came. They threatened the free exchange of ideas on the Internet as we know it.

But make no mistake: The withdrawal of these nasty bills has very little to do with grassroots protest. Kittywampus went black for the day. My Facebook friends – including the handful of Republicans – vocally opposed SOPA/PIPA, except for a few who didn’t know what the fuss was about. All of this ballyhoo made absolutely no difference. As Jody points out in her incisive post, the contest was only ever between new tech money (such as Google) and old media. Yes, Wikipedia’s blackout made an impact, too, even as a not-for-profit entity. But the real players here were the new tech giants, able to represent themselves as the engine of American capitalist innovation. This was not a triumph of citizen activism.

What’s more, the U.S. government already has the tools it needs to punish pirates. In fact, it already blissfully disregards due process. Initial reporting on the shutdown of Megaupload – a site with sketchy leadership that appears to have openly tolerated blatant copyright violation – gave me the impression that the government had proven its case. Not so! As Glenn Greenwald notes, all it’s got at this point is allegations, not a guilty verdict:

[I]t nonetheless sends a very clear message when citizens celebrate a rare victory in denying the Government a power it seeks — the power to shut down websites without a trial — only for the Government to turn around the very next day and shut down one of the world’s largest and best-known sites. Whether intended or not, the message is unmistakable: Congratulations, citizens, on your cute little “democracy” victory in denying us the power to shut down websites without a trial: we’re now going to shut down one of your most popular websites without a trial.

Yup. With the triumph of the “unitary executive” under Bush and its consolidation and elaboration under Obama, there’s no need to wait for legislation. The rule of law is so twentieth-century!

In case you, too, were wondering why SOPA/PIPA were so evil, here’s a great explainer:

And if you need a good laugh about it, Jon Stewart comes through:

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My Christmas Note to Our Pres

Last week I got a holiday card from President Obama and family. I also keep hearing about how Michelle wants to invite me to dinner – or at least, I’ve got a chance of winning a seat at the table.

Since I’m still Facebook friends with Barack, I took the liberty of answering when he asked on FB what I’d like to talk about over a presidential meal:

WTF rule of law. WTF signing the new detention bill and not vetoing as announced. WTF civil liberties! WTF executing American citizens summarily, without trial, and forcing Bradley Manning to spend long hours naked. WTF habeus corpus and posse comitatus. And not least for us gals, WTF Plan B?!

I promise these topics will flow with pizzazz and charm over fine cuisine and the right wine.

That’s my little holiday rant, verbatim, sent directly to our Commander-in-Chief. Ah, the wonders of social networking!

What are the odds this’ll land me on a watch list of some sort?

(From I Can Has Cheezburger?)

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I’m coming out of dormancy to sound an alarm at the behest of Daisy Deadhead and ballgame. These two friends of mine have sniped at each other at times but agree 100% on this: The Internet as we know and love it is in serious danger.

Congress is considering an atrocious act, PROTECT IP (S. 968)/SOPA (HR. 3261), that would enable censorship of any website that provides copyrighted material. Those sites could be summarily shut down at a judge’s order; they could only be restored through litigation, which is bloody expensive. Not only the big guys like Google, Facebook, and YouTube would be affected. Itty bitty startups could be stifled, and even humble catty blogs such as mine could be shuttered.

I once celebrated the end of a basement flood by playing “Bridge over Troubled Water” on my piano and posting it to Kittywampus 1.0 (the old Blogger version). Perhaps fortunately, the link to that stellar performance is dead (has Box.net stopped serving bloggers?). Were it still live, I’d be committing a copyright violation – not that I imagine Simon and Garfunkel give a rip. Every mommy blogger who posts her child singing Lady Gaga could be shut down. And what of all the copyrighted content that we routinely embed, from SNL to Jon Stewart?

Here’s the bottom line (from the video below):

The ugly details, including potential five-year jail sentences:

What to do? Spread the word through your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account. Bay at the moon. And contact your congresscritter. They've not gotten much pushback, so they need to hear from worried citizens. I just called all three of mine.

I hope to get back to more regular blogging once I get my workload under control. Let's not allow the Internet to be broken in the meantime!

Update 11/16/11, 2:45 p.m.: Daisy has lots more detail on SOPA/PROTECT IP.

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Almost daily, I get email from friend-of-the-blog Lisa Simeone on novel ways that the national security state is eroding our liberties. But today, Lisa herself was the poster girl for the corrosion of liberty – and I read about it first on Alternet, then at War Is a Crime, not in one of Lisa’s emails. It’s typically, really, that Lisa is all about the principles while setting aside her private worries. Now, though, they’ve become a national cause celebre.

Lisa has been fired from her job as the host of the documentary program Soundprint, which is carried by NPR affliates. The reason? Her involvement in the October 2011 movement, a peaceful protest against militarism and corporate greed, which has joined forces with Occupy DC. Lisa was targeted by The Daily Caller, which accused her of conflict of ethics and possible ethics violations, suggesting she was bound by the NPR ethics code. But first, Lisa was only a freelancer, not an employee, and was evidently never warned that she could lose her job due to political activity. Moreover, Soundprint’s statement seems to have a pretty tenuous relation to reality:

Soundprint is a journalistic program and Lisa’s leadership role as a member of the steering committee and a spokesperson for the October 2011 protest activities, associated with the Occupy DC movement, conflicts with her role as the host of a documentary series. Soundprint adheres to the highest standards of journalism which include maintaining appropriate distance from marches, demonstrations and other political activity. These are standards held by many other journalism organizations, including National Public Radio.

Fine, but look at Soundprint’s current program: the tale of a deaf septuagenarian who wants to learn to fly, and a tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary. It’s obvious that Lisa couldn’t be objective about Hilary! Never mind that he died three years ago; were he still with us, he’d definitely be in the 1%! Lisa introduces the story, and I’m listening really hard for her left-wing invective. Listening … oooh, straining a bit … Wait! She just called him a “humanitarian”! Surely that has a political subtext?

Lisa’s other radio job, hosting the nationally-syndicated World of Opera program, is hanging in the balance as well, though so far it looks like its sponsoring station is resisting pressure from NPR.

Lisa points out in her interview with War Is a Crime that NPR is applying a wildly inconsistent standard, allowing some of their regular employees who actually report on current events to pontificate on Fox:

“I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen — the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly — on my own time in my own life.  I’m not an NPR employee.  I’m a freelancer.  NPR doesn’t pay me.  I’m also not a news reporter.  I don’t cover politics.  I’ve never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I’ve done for NPR World of Opera.  What is NPR afraid I’ll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?

“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses.  Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”

Yep, knowing Lisa, I think Madame Butterfly is about to be Occupied. (But there likely won’t be any tents involved. Like me, Lisa enjoys, needs, appreciates, and once again NEEDS a decent bed at night. I sometimes think a good mattress is one of the top three secret clues to vitality in one’s 40s and beyond.)

But seriously: It remains a mystery how Soundprint arrived at the conclusion that Lisa’s activism collided with the NPR ethics code. NPR denies having even contacted Soundprint. And vice versa. How to explain? Might I smell a whiff of Breitbart and his ilk? The earliest smear job I found on Lisa s a piece by Neda Samnani at Roll Call, dramatically dated “October 18, midnight,” insinuating that of course Lisa committed an ethical breach, because if she’s on radio, then she must be, well, a reporter.

Horseshit.

Ethics codes have a place in journalism, but Lisa was not exactly committing journalism. Lisa was doing cultural programming. Nor are ethics codes the be-all and end-all of media ethics. If they’re relevant to Lisa’s current work, they must equally apply to Ira Glass and Garrison Keillor at Lake Woebegone. The last time we heard about Keillor’s religious prejudices, there were consequences! ripple effects! an article in Salon … and not a blip in his contract.

So much still is shrouded in obfuscation. I am hoping Lisa will find time to fire off one of her emails, just like she does whenever she sees someone else’s rights being abrogated. I’m sure she’s pretty overwhelmed. There could also be a lawsuit brewing.

Given that we may need to wait on the facts, it’s half-past midnight (see, we can do her detractors one better – nay, 30 minutes better!). It time to rally to her cause. I just wrote the following to NPR:

I know Lisa. She’s whip-smart and highly principled. Her work is consistently thoughtful, fair, professional, and easy on the ears. I was thus dismayed to hear that Soundprint fired her for her engagement in October 2011.  Despite her history of activism, she hasn’t let her personal politics bleed into her professional work.

I’m so pleased that WDAV has not yet bowed to pressure to fire Lisa, who has done nothing wrong. Please support WDAV in their loyalty to Lisa. And while you’re at it, might you ask Soundprint to reconsider their hasty decision to fire her? There’s a difference between a reporter who covers hard news and a radio host of cultural programming. Lisa’s work falls in the latter category. I respect the reasons why NPR has an ethics code (even though I also know that real media ethics are more complex than a mere set of rules). However, as a freelancer who didn’t report on hard news, Lisa should not be muzzled in her private life as a citizen in the name of “objectivity.” Doing so just makes her former employer/client appear petty and, frankly, scared of right-wing bloggers and pundits.

Bring back Lisa Simeone! [Okay, I admit to trying to play the diplomat. "Horseshit" tends not to fly as an actual argument, except from my dissertation advisor who made it work beautifully.]

You can contact NPR here. To their credit, WDAV seems to get it (way more than NPR does!), as you can read here. Thankfully, comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of Lisa. But don’t hesitate to add yours, too, if you’ve appreciated her comments here or her work elsewhere.

And also: Hugs to you, Lisa. Count me among your friends and fans who love you and will stand with you – chin up and boobs out, as a friend of mine loves to say. Brava, for your passion, commitment, principles, and love of liberty. This panic from our overlords? I read it as a sign that we’ve got them rattled.

I hope you’ll weigh in once the worst of the madness subsides. Until then, sending hugs and virtual chocolate while posting madly on Facebook about this travesty.

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I didn’t think they really would kill Troy Davis. Surely, the worldwide campaign to spare his life would impress someone in Georgia. Surely, the Supreme Court would stop the process, once they’d delayed it. Surely, the work of the Innocence Project had raised enough awareness of the presence of innocent people on Death Row.

When I heard that they’d murdered him, after all, at 11:08 p.m. on Tuesday, I wept. I’m sure some of you readers did too. It is not true, as one of Davis’s nephews told Amy Goodman, that “we are all Troy Davis.” People like Goodman and me – white people blessed with education and elevated above poverty – are almost certain never to land on Death Row. Nor do I want to appropriate the grief of the people who knew Davis and loved him. And yet, tears of grief and rage seemed the only possible response to a rotten, festering system that committed homicide against a man whose only crime appears to have been being black in the wrong place on the wrong night.

All that is to say that I have no desire to over-intellectualize the murder of Davis. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading parts of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a class I’m teaching. The first section of the book, aptly titled “Torture,” describes in excruciating detail pre-modern ways of punishing criminals. A man is drawn and quartered. Foucault forces us to look. Then he spends the rest of the book analyzing how the king’s power to maim bodies and take life has been supplanted in the modern era by the bureaucratic state’s ability to micro-regulate us through surveillance and, ultimately, self-surveillance, shaping docile bodies. We are disciplined, and we discipline ourselves. We are subjected to normalization, and we learn to conform to the norms. Modern techniques of power are all the more effective because they are subtle – and they are no longer confined to prohibiting behaviors. Where power had been merely repressive, it now has the ability to elicit behaviors, attitudes, identities, and reality itself:

We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. (189)

Foucault is surely right about the productive and proliferative aspects of modern power. But doesn’t he present a false dichotomy here? While European countries have abandoned capital punishment, the techniques of power in the United States remain deeply invested in repression. Of course, all of the productive aspects of power are in full swing here, too – often commingled with more repressive techniques, as in TSA routines that elicit docility. At the same time, torture is undergoing a renaissance. The spirit of Abu Ghraib courses through our polity.

As Troy Davis waited for nearly four hours while the Supreme Court took one last glance at his case, he was strapped to a gurney with the lethal needle already in his arm. That’s a form of torture that would have pleased the most bloodthirsty pre-modern tyrant. It would have warmed the heart of a postbellum Southern lynch mob. Without being naive about the more subtle forms of modern power, isn’t it time we renounced state-sponsored murder?

A dark flag bearing the words, "A man was lynched yesterday."

(Posted by a bunch of my Facebook friends, attributed to Randall Horton)

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Earlier this week, coming off a wonderful visit with family in Northern California, I was about to board a flight home from Sacramento, my two kids in tow. We walked through the metal detector without a beep. Better yet, no Rapiscan in sight! Our luggage rolled right through the x-ray machine without a glitch. But then, just when I thought we were home free, I was summoned for a pat-down.

Aside from my principled objections to invasive and needless patdowns, I feel an extra layer of anxiety when I’m pulled aside while traveling with my kids, especially as a (temporarily) solo parent. What if the officers decide to separate you from the kids? This had happened to us once in Berlin, when my husband was hauled off to the bomb-detection room; fortunately, the whole family was traveling that day, so the kids were never left alone.

The TSO who conducted the search informed me that the kids had to stay with our luggage and I couldn’t touch our bags or, for that matter, my kids until she was finished with me. I have to say that she was warm and reassuring as well as professional. I have no beef with the Sacramento TSA personnel, who acquitted themselves well. My gripe is the TSA’s silly policy, obsessed as it is with security theater.

I asked the TSO why I’d been singled out. She said, “Because you’re wearing a loose skirt.”

Behold the skirt of terror!

The astute reader will have already noticed that this skirt contains four of the five colors from Homeland Security’s sadly defunct terror-threat color chart: blue, green, yellow, and orange. Logically, the red must be somewhere, too … perhaps under my skirt?

No, the TSO didn’t inspect my underwear, and the patdown stopped just short of the “enhanced” standard. She did not move her hand up my thigh until she met “resistance.”  My ladyparts were left undisturbed. She also didn’t search above my waist.

But the patdown was still an exercise in foolery. Being separated from my kids would have been stressful if my younger son were still of the age where he routinely ran away in public. The delay, too, would’ve been irksome if we’d been short on time.

I spoke to the supervisor on the way out and asked him why long skirts weren’t listed on the TSA website as objects of interest. I said that if travelers were forewarned, we might choose to wear clothes that didn’t trigger a patdown. He, too, was warm and professional, but his response just floored me:

“Because we don’t want to let the bad guys know all about our methods. They might find someone who looks just like you and use that person to try and sneak through a bomb.”

Leaving aside the extreme shortage of blonde female terrorists since the demise of the Red Army Faction, what purpose does this faux secrecy serve? Blogger Bob at the TSA likes to emphasize that different methods are used at different airports to keep the terrorists off balance. That’s always been a transparent excuse for TSA excesses.

My own personal theory is that searching passengers with long, loose skirts is a way to target women who appear to be Muslims. Inclusion of a few blonde gals creates a smokescreen of plausible deniability in case anyone charges the TSA with racial or religious profiling. I’m positive the policy is motivated by xenophobia, but you can’t prove it.

All you can do is wear jeggings (eek!) the next time you fly.

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Monday afternoon, while driving along U.S. Highway 50 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, my family and I came upon two blazes consuming a steep hillside. The second fire was so hot, and so close to the road, we could feel the ovens of Satan through the car doors, from the far side of a divided highway.

The next day, I happened to bump into a couple of forest service firefighters at a community event, and they confirmed that these were not planned burns. They don’t know how the conflagrations started, but they got the flames under control before the fire could endanger the town of Placerville.

Evidently, a firebug is afoot.

The same ethos – a spirit of wanton, senseless, indiscriminate destruction – animates our Tea Party leaders. That rhetoric about financial “terrorism” and “hostage-taking”? It’s spot-on, and I hope Joe Biden won’t have to apologize abjectly for it. After all, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had no trouble calling his seizure of local democracy “financial martial law.”

These guys know what they’re doing. The Tea Partiers and their enablers, both Repub and Dem, are simply following Grover Norquist’s blueprint for “shrinking government” until it’s small enough to “drown it in a bathtub.” They’re now backed by a burgeoning number of voter-suppression bills and anti-union legislation at the state level, intended to neuter the remaining sectors of the electorate still capable of kicking up a stink about Citizens United and the wholesale selling-out of democracy to the best-paid lobbyists and think tanks.

For now a global financial meltdown has been averted, but for how long? And at what cost? Even as Congress voted to back the economy away from the edge of a cliff, it was pushing democracy straight into the canyon. Into the flames.

The Tea Partiers just learned what many parents eventually learn through painful trial-and-error. If you give in to a child when she tantrums, screams, and threatens to throw all of her toys at you, you’ve got a problem. The child learns: Heh. The more bratty I act, the more my parents will cave! Note, in this scenario, the Tea Partiers are not the adults.

Most of us don’t become sociopaths. Most parents learn to set reasonable boundaries with reasonable consistency, most of the time. Most kids learn to play nicely with others.

A few kids don’t learn. They grow up to be firebugs. Or Tea Partiers. Or maybe both?

Barack Obama and the Democratic caucuses did exactly what a smart parent would avoid. They caved into bullying. They failed to set boundaries (the time for which would’ve been last fall, when the Bush tax cuts were on the table). They followed the recipe for creating a juvenile delinquent with “materials easily available at home.”

With this shit-sandwich – nay, “Satan sandwich” – of a debt ceiling agreement, we’ve averted a global meltdown in the finance markets. We’ve kept consumer interest rates at a reasonable level – for now, at least. We’ve also shot the recovery in the gut (hey, that terrorism metaphor is handy!) and ensured that job growth will be anemic or negative over the next few years. (The debt-ceiling’s terrible effects on the recovery – and on jobs, in particular – would belong in a separate post wherein I sing the praises of Keynesianism. Just go read Robert Reich, ‘kay? It’ll hurt less. And then watch this:)

But the economic impact of the deal, ugly though it be, is far from the worst of its repercussions. On a fundamental level, we have abandoned representative democracy. We’re left with a terrible spoof of Orwell in which all congresscritters may vote, but some congresscritters’ votes count more than others.

We’re also at the mercy of sociopathic brats. The next time the Repubs want to enforce their will, they need only promise economic Armageddon (or threaten Medicare’s very existence, or strangle the ongoing operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, which they’re doing right now as I write this). Yes, the Tea Partiers may – may – be voted out in the next electoral cycle, but since they don’t want to build or grow anything, they merely need to destroy. They can break an awful lot before they’re through. (Planned Parenthood, anyone? Which – perhaps not coincidentally – was firebombed this week at a Texas clinic that doesn’t even perform abortions?)

The Tea Partiers have learned that hostage-taking pays. Financial terrorism pays. They’ve made themselves over into unstoppable veto actors. The only question is: who – apart from the FAA – will be their next hostage?

Or as Robert Kuttner puts it (with metaphors only slightly less jumbled than my own):

Let us face the momentous truth: The United States has been rendered ungovernable except on the extortionate terms of the far-right.

(His whole piece is terrific.)

Ironically, the necessary advice du jour comes from Ronald Reagan – an ex-prez much disposed to driving up the debt: “Never negotiate with terrorists.” Despite his adulation of Reagan, Obama did just that. Now we’ve got government-by-terrorist-fiat.

Burn, baby, burn.

The financial terrorists have won.

 

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I leave my adopted state, Ohio, for my annual summer sojourn in Germany, and this is what happens! Nothing but lunacy!

Ohio’s Governor Kasich just signed a bill allowing bars to allow people to carry concealed firearms into bars. As Slate puts it: “Because nothing goes better than guns and crowded places …”

Ha! I know an even better combo: guns + crowds + booze + students + beer pong + flashpoints of overt racism. That’ll be the new scene on Court Street, the main drag where my students congregate to imbibe, socialize, and – all too often – get into fights.

Last fall, 0ne of my former students was racially targeted and physically assaulted on Court Street. His tormenters managed to frame him on assault and menacing charges. This Athens News article ably describes the beginning of his saga and hints at the weakness of the case against my student. All charges were ultimately dropped as evidence mounted that he’d been the victim, not the perp. Ultimately he was exonerated. While I avoided writing about his case because I didn’t want to disqualify myself as a character witness, I posted a thinly fictionalized account of how the local jail radically isolates inmates, especially newbies, from the outside world. My student was in that hellhole for a week before he even saw a lawyer (the hardcore folks of course have their attorney’s number memorized), facing racism from fellow inmates, fearing for his freedom.

I now try to re-imagine the whole ugly story with a gun in play. The likely outcome? My student bleeds out on Court Street. An alternative scenario: My student seizes the gun from his tormenter and finds he’s up against high-grade felony charges, even after allowing for self-defense.

Another student, recently returned from Iraq in 2006, was gravely injured (on his head, I believe) by a bouncer at a Court Street establishment. He had to be airlifted to Columbus for treatment. I don’t know yet how his story ends. While writing this post, I did my best to locate him in the Facebookgoogleplex, and I think I might have found him. I’m now so hopeful that he might be living a good life. (I’ll be sure to update if I learn more.)

But again, what if that bouncer had had a gun? What if my thoroughly traumatized student had been carrying, his wits sharp but his nerves frayed from facing down death in Iraq? Two men could have died that night.

What about the goofy, good-natured football player who showed up with his arm in a cast? “Training injury?” I asked brightly. “Um, no, a bar fight.” Gotta admire these students’ honestly. His athletic career continued – in no small part because he hadn’t been riddled with gunshot wounds.

What about a female student (way back in 2003) who took a certain pride in holding her own in “girl fights”? Will her successors all morph into clones of Bree Vanderkar (or Sarah Palin)? Hey, chicks can shoot as straight as any dude! Their flesh can absorb just about as much lead as a man’s can, too.

I realize why this bill passed. The NRA has legislators at the point of, well, a gun. My Democratic and generally progressive rep in the State House said she had to respect her consituents’ overwhelming support for the guns ‘n’ bars bill. Even an abstention (for me, the least-bad path) might have allowed the Repubs to vote her out in the next cycle. And it’s true that bar owners can post “no guns” signs on their doors, which are just as valid there as in any other public space.

But as for myself, I’ll be avoiding the Court Street bar scene, especially past 7 or so in the evening, until it becomes clear whether full body-armor has become the new trend, replacing the standard-issue shorty-short skirts and towering heels.

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It’s true I didn’t friend Anthony Wiener on Facebook, but I did follow him on Twitter. His voting record on feminist and LGBT issues is impeccable. That adolescent picture of him on Twitter? To die for! Weiner is funny and self-deprecating, in a profession where the ability to laugh at oneself is rare.

So I followed Weiner (even though I follow very few folks on Twitter). And one day, in the midst of congressional horse-trading (uterus-trading??) on Planned Parenthood, I boldly tweeted him this:

I didn’t call him my boyfriend, straight up. Just a simple declaration of love! Nor did I keep tweeting him. Nor did I look him up on Facebook (much less call him my boyfriend there). But I could have! Just look at the guys I’ve called my boyfriend on or off line. Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert. Hugh Laurie. Our school’s superintendent (as documented for Internet-posterity on this here blog). And, in fact, Anthony Weiner joined this boy-harem of mine after the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Good thing the tomatoes on my Twitter icon only give a glimpse of my face. Had I displayed my true hottness, who knows? I might have become sext-partner seven.

When the scandal broke, I thought it was complete bunk. I mean, Breitbart! BREITBART!! The man is a sleazy, lying, slimewad on a stick. The most pernicious consequence of this scandal won’t be that we lose a strong progressive voice in Congress and cable TV (though that seems inevitable, and lamentable, in the short run). It’ll be the rise in Breitbart’s fortunes.

Breitbart has made a career thus far of slinging political spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Unfortunately, his spaghetti has not been made of good ole North Dakotan durum wheat. It consists entirely of fecal matter. With each lob of it, he has discredited himself further. Even the mainstream media was starting to see through his tricks, and that’s saying a lot.

Until now. Much like the National Enquirer, which booked a permanent gain in credibility when it busted John Edwards hiding an affair and a child, Breitbart just scored. From here on out, no matter what vile lie Breitbart propagates, the media won’t dismiss him as a liar and propagandist. Breitbart comes out of this a huge (and undeserving) winner.

As for Weiner, considering that his missteps were private and (as far as we know) legal, I’m glad he’s refusing to resign. Those conservatives lawmakers who call him “creepy” forget about their own David Vitter, still a senator after being busted with a DC prostitution ring, engaging in clearly illegal activity and allegedly donning a diaper to boot. They ignore the fact that sexuality is changing. For young people – as well as those immersed in the new social media – sexting is not a kink but merely a new way to express one’s sexual impulses.

I suspect that Weiner truly believed that his activity was really just “frivolous.” That somehow, because it took place in cyberspace, it wasn’t real. Fidelity to one’s marital partner is one of the few values on which most Americans agree, and yet many of us fail to live up to our ideal. People seem to reconcile lapses in one of two main ways: 1) “This isn’t real because it’s online/at a conference/with someone I could never love” – or 2) “Yes, this is wrong, but my life will be hollow without some pleasure to relieve the drudgery and self-abnegation of my daily life.” I’m guessing that Weiner falls into the first group. I also suspect that these two rationalizations are gendered, with men tilting toward #1 and women toward #2, with lots of exceptions, of course. (Readers, if you have other interpretations – or other theories about how people rationalize infidelity – I’d love to hear them.)

In the end, it’s up to Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, to decide what Weiner’s online dalliances mean. She’s the one person who has been seriously wronged here. She didn’t give him carte blanche to flirt with women online and send them pictures of Weiner’s weiner at full staff. While it’s true that some people have open relationships, that’s a moot point here (and Amanda Marcotte only creates a distraction by bringing it up). Weiner and Abedin obviously did pledge monogamy; otherwise, why the public apology to her? I applaud Abedin’s refusal to perform the aggrieved wife for the ravenous gossip machine, and I hope she’ll find future happiness, whether through a fresh start or through Weiner making amends.

But it’s silly to say that the public at large was victimized by Weiner’s conduct. I can’t get too worked up about Weiner lying to the media and the country about entirely private behavior. I can’t even care much about whether he sexted during “work hours” because congresscritters – like professors – are rarely truly off the clock. If the public is screwed, it’s due to the power of special interests and corporations in Washington, not Weiner’s private fantasies.

The other genuine victim here is the final recipient of Weiner’s sexy tweets, college student Gennette Cordova, who appears not to have invited any sort of sexual attention. She has my compassion, too. She didn’t ask for the media circus. If indeed Weiner sent her his famous crotch photo out of the blue, then it’s harassment and a demonstration of sexual entitlement that clashes with Weiner’s perfect congressional record on women’s issues.

To my mind, though, there’s reasonable doubt that Weiner really sent that photo to Cordova. As Joseph Cannon argues, the only way to make the scandal go away was to confess to the real dalliances. (Via here.) Having admitted those indiscretions, it would be difficult for Weiner to argue credibly that he hadn’t sent Cordova his underwear shot. Cannon has explained the evidence for a third party having uploaded the picture to Twitter. Moreover, Breitbart evidently has possession of a photo of a naked, erect Weiner, which means – as Cannon again notes – Breitbart can essentially blackmail Weiner. Cannon can’t (yet) prove his case, but I think it’s plausible.

In addition, sending a sexy photo without prior contact completely breaks the pattern. With his consensual partners, Weiner first made conversation and flirted. Only after establishing a flirtation did he proceed to send them pictures. The fact that those flirtations escalated quickly and even recklessly shows that Weiner had developed a comfort level with sexually-charged online relationships. As one of his partners, Megan Broussard, said, “This is something that’s regular, he’s done all the time, he’s comfortable.” But sending women photos without prior flirtation was not his regular modus operandi. Add to that the fact that a gaggle of conservatives were gunning for him on Twitter, and Weiner’s confession regarding Cordova looks ever more contrived.

Weiner’s other sext-buddies, including Broussard, appear to have been completely consensual. But the now-public evidence for this raises other troubling questions. His entire Facebook exchange with a Las Vegas woman, Lisa Weiss, has been reprinted at a gossipy site called Radar. How did these screen shots become public in the first place? Were they captured when Weiner’s account was hacked (as he claimed a few weeks ago)? Was Weiss coerced or paid or even blackmailed? How secure are everyone’s Facebook transactions?

The other question is why women have now “come forward” to describe details of their consensual relationships with Weiner. What induced them to do so? They will be subjected to slut-shaming in the media.Private details of their fantasy lives have been made public. Why is Broussard giving interviews to ABC news? Is it really, as she claims, to shield her toddler daughter? As a parent, I don’t buy it. At three, her daughter is too young to understand any of this, and she won’t be protected Broussard releasing oodles of photos and electronic messages – quite the opposite. So is Broussard just responding to our reality-TV culture and grabbing her 15 minutes of fame? Could she, too, have been a target of blackmail?

Above all, how did Breitbart get his paws on compromising private photos in the first place?

The end of the FB conversation between Weiner and Lisa Weiss indicates machinations to put these women under pressure. This section of their chat is not reproduced as screen shots at Radar, but is included at the very end of the pdf transcript:

So yeah, Weiner behaved stupidly. He committed a breach of private ethics. He hurt his wife. He left himself open to the machinations of his enemies. He was so reckless, even I could have become one of his Facebook girlfriends.

But behind the scandal is a problem of bigger proportions: right-wing propagandists who have already shown no compunction about lying and now prove willing to stoop to blackmail and coercion. Weiss writes: “someone contacted me about u …” Who is that someone? Breitbart? Drudge? One of the wingnut Twitter conspiracists who were out to destroy Weiner? (See also a similar article at the NYT if you want a “respectable” take on these Twitspiracists. They look no better there.)

This right-wing smear machine – and not Weiner’s dick pics – is what constitutes a real threat to democracy.

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Did you know that this blog is a minion in the Koch brothers’ astroturfing? I was shocked to hear it, myself! According to Mark Ames and Yasha Levine at Alternet, all of us progressives who got outraged about the TSA naked bodyscanners and grope-downs were mere pawns in a right-wing game – dupes to an anti-union conspiracy.

Ames and Levine’s argument is basically as follows:

1) John “don’t touch my junk” Tyner was a phony who plotted his confrontation with TSA agents. They cite an apology he wrote on his blog for taking down a post in which he contemplated how he would react if subjected to an intrusive patdown – but they take it completely out of context.

What Tyner actually wrote:

To those of you who feel duped, I apologize. There is no reason to feel that way, though. I stand by my assertion that the encounter was not planned or staged.

Ames and Levine quote only the first line of this, making it sound as if Tyner admitted he’d staged the confrontation. This is especially nasty given that they’d already scurrilously attacked him last fall in The Nation as a plant of the Koch brothers, and Glenn Greenwald had debunked it as dishonest innuendo.

The Nation’s editors had to apologize for this smear. While Ames and Levine’s latest doesn’t go quite as far as the first, they’re still imputing guilt-by-association to Tyner. Alternet’s editors should never have published this unethical crap, and they too ought to apologize. Tyner has defended himself in a new post, and Alternet ought to link to it.

2) Republicans such as Dick Armey and Jim DeMint are virulently anti-union.

Yep, can’t deny that. But they have no sway over the TSA and didn’t have any demonstrable influence over the roll-out of the intrusive new searches. So, your point is …?

3) Charles Krauthammer and his ilk seized on the new TSA procedures and whipped the public up into a frenzy. This “hysteria” was manufactured so that the TSA leadership could squelch a union drive for TSA employees. Therefore we can conclude that all the progressives who objected to the virtual strip-searches and grope-downs were mere patsies, duped by the right.

This is horseshit. Most of us progressive bloggers and journalists were onto the new TSA tricks before Krauthammer and Glenn Beck started fulminateing. Yes, Krauthammer and his ilk seized upon our outrage to press a right-wing agenda. That doesn’t make our anger manufactured, nor does it make us dupes.

The “logic” behind this article is stunningly stupid. The authors act as though they’d never heard of the distinction between correlation and causation. Just because a lot of people who are normally political adversaries got mad about the same thing at the same time doesn’t mean we were manipulated by the righties. You know what explains the timing of it? Not the TSA unionization effort, but the fact that the TSA rolled out its scanners and new grope-down procedures last October. The right-wingers tried to use it opportunistically, but as Ames and Levine admit, they didn’t fully succeed in halting the TSA union drive. (Granted, the powers the union gained are pathetically paltry, but the Dems in charge of the agency share in the blame.) Oh, and nowhere in the article do the authors trace a direct link from the Koch brothers to the anti-TSA activism of last fall. (They claimed to have done this in their Nation article, but even there the evidence was sketchy.)

I don’t know what axe Ames and Levine have to grind, but they are such apologists for the TSA that you’ve got to wonder if they might be on its payroll. Recently, the TSA-critical We Won’t Fly blog busted one or more TSA agents engaged in sockpuppetry, trolling their comment section and slinging invective at the site’s owners. Ames and Levine’s ethics – as shown by their defamation of John Tyner – are no more impressive.

Ames and Levine scoff at the idea that there were real issues here – issues of privacy, bodily autonomy, and civil liberties in general. Instead, they reduce the outrage over TSA violations to con job that took “valid criticisms” and transformed them into “hysteria”:

The strategy: 1) concoct and magnify fake government oppression at the hands of the TSA;  2) Demonize and blame the crisis on your political target, TSA screeners, so that the public turns against them; 3) Push and PR the message, focusing on valid but largely trivial aspects of the problem; and 4) Now you can appear, not as cruel union-buster, but as a hero defending the public.

This is not “fake government oppression.” This is the real thing, targeting vulnerable people. And while our ire might be most easily roused by concerns about how children, sexual abuse survivors, and people with disabilities are harmed, even the distress of a young, middle-class white male like John Tyner counts.

And it continues. Just this week, a former Miss USA, Susie Castillo, posted her account of being groped on YouTube:

Within recent weeks, the mother of an eight-year-old boy complained about his treatment …

… as did the parents of a six-year-old girl.

So what hoax, exactly, are Ames and Levine pointing to when they ask in their article’s title, “Did You Fall for It?” There’s nothing faux about the abuse that these people describe. Where’s their empathy for the elderly and disabled who are singled out for intrusive searches? Where do Ames and Levine stand on the use of genital patdowns on preschoolers? Is that, too, trivial and “fake”?

That the Republicans foam at the mouth against unions isn’t news. Right-wing interference with unions predates Scotty Walker by decades. For the record, I support a strong union for the TSA, as I do for all workers. This isn’t just rhetoric; I was working on a union drive until Ohio’s SB 5 shut down the chance for university faculty to exercise the human right of collective bargaining. If the TSA enjoyed real collective bargaining rights, it might attract better-qualified applicants and become a more professional force. Perhaps it could even engage in real behind-the-scenes security work and intelligence gathering, rather than just security theater.

The problem here is not that progressive yelled too loudly about TSA abuses. It’s that we didn’t yell loudly enough. It’s that we were too few in number. If progressives – and moderates, too – had rallied against the loss of our civil liberties, our voices could have swamped those of the right wing. Shame on those progressives who silently watched our liberties erode. Ames and Levine have done them one worse, becoming active apologists for the dismantling of our privacy and basic human dignity.

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In my previous post, I promised I’d deal with feminist ethical objections to delving into the veracity of Palin’s claimed pregnancy with Trig. Is it illegitimate to ask questions about a candidate’s reproductive history? Are we invading Palin’s privacy, down to her very uterus?

The arguments for backing off from the tale of Palin, Trig, and her alleged Wild Ride fall into two main categories. (Let me know if you can think of others.)

1) Palin and especially her children deserve at least a modicum of privacy.

2) It’s always anti-feminist to second-guess women’s choices in childbearing and mothering.

On 1) privacy: As I mentioned in my last post, it’s standard operating procedure for presidential and veep candidates to disclose their medical records. While I would object strenuously to laws and policies that demanded the same of grocery clerks and accountants and locksmiths and (yes) college professors, the presidency isn’t just any job. There’s a reasonable case to be made for the citizenry knowing whether a candidate has a condition that might render her or him incapable of serving or exercising good judgment. We should have known, for instance, that Ronald Reagan was experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

We expect this disclosure of all candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. Why should Palin get a pass? Why should her records remain private? Is it justifiable simply because she has a uterus? That would be sexist in its own twisted way, wouldn’t it – throwing us back to the days when ladyparts were still “unmentionables”?

Now it’s rather late to demand medical records be released, since Palin is no longer a candidate. But I think it’s still fair to say that Palin would have set the record straight on Trig’s birth, one way or another, had she only behaved like other candidates back in October 2008. Instead, she substituted secrecy for transparency (which didn’t surprise many Alaskans). She was nominated without any real vetting by McCain’s people, and they built an opaque wall between her and the press. She guarded her secrets while piling up lies. It’s not surprising that quite apart from Trig’s birth, the contents of her medical records would become subject to speculation.

Concern for the privacy of the Palins’ minor children (which included Bristol in 2008) is a legitimate and noble cause, one that I’ve consistently espoused. Let’s be clear: None of the brouhaha around Trig’s birth is actually about Trig. It’s about Sarah Palin.

The Palin children’s privacy has been breached, all right, but this has been almost entirely Sarah Palin’s own doing, apart from Bristol’s own self-promotion as a (*cough*) abstinence advocate. Who chose to use Trig as a political prop? Who decided to out Bristol’s pregnancy to the world instead of directly laying to rest the rumors about Trig’s birth? (Let us be clear: Bristol’s pregnancy in fall 2008 did not prove Sarah gave birth to Trig; it only made Bristol an unlikely mother to Trig unless he had actually been born earlier in the winter of 2008.) Who carried on a public feud with Levi Johnston’s family (which ultimately involved Palin’s grandson Tripp)? Who signed her family up for a reality TV show?

Mind you, I disapprove of the Gosselins and Duggars, too, for televising their children’s childhood. It’s just that none of them are running for president.

On point 2) – reproductive choice and trusting women – Melissa McEwan writes:

Birtherism, in which both conservatives and liberals are engaging, is a terrible and intrinsically misogynist game to play, entirely dependent on a belief that policing women’s bodies and reproduction is an acceptable recreation.

Actually, what’s going on here is not policing Sarah Palin’s body. What’s truly at stake is not what or who came out of her uterus. It’s what came out of her mouth. It’s her self-contradicting statements and outright lies.

McEwan tosses out a straw man when she says mockingly that the only acceptable evidence for “Trig birthers” would be video of Trig emerging from Palin’s vagina. Of course that’s silly. On the other hand, medical records showing that Palin truly was pregnant, underwent amnio, and gave birth when she claimed – well, that would be pretty darn conclusive. The unreasonable few would continue to hatch conspiracy theories. The rest of us – people like me and Litbrit – would say great; case closed; let’s carrying on dissecting why Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Santorum, and Co. are a danger to the United States. Andrew Sullivan would back off it too and devote himself more fully to his irrational quest for fiscal austerity. (Hmm, that’s one good argument for keeping the mystery of the Wild Ride alive.)

As I’ve written before, if Palin’s account of the wild ride is true, it displays epically poor judgment. By her own account, she board not one but two long flights after her water broke, without even stopping for a check-up before she left Dallas.

The party-line feminist response is: trust women. And I agree, we have to do that. Generally, women are trustworthy. That presumption underlies any pro-choice position on reproductive rights.

But what happens when a woman (or a man!) is reckless? What happens if a mother (or father!) makes egregious choices? Are we obligated to suspend judgment?

The consensus at both Shakesville and Feministe is that you turn in your official Feminist card as soon as you question the wisdom of anyone’s parenting or reproductive choices, no matter how irresponsible they may be.

Really?

To take a more extreme case, do I have to agree that it’s hunky-dory for a woman addicted to heroin and meth to have one baby after another, only to have them taken by Child Protective Services? As a matter of fact, I think it’s a pretty terrible situation. What makes me pro-choice is that I don’t want that hypothetical – but all-too-real – woman to be thrown into jail (as South Carolina has done, repeatedly, with pregnant women of color who are addicts). I don’t want her to be forced or coerced into Depo-Provera shots or Norplant. I do want the people who provide her prenatal and birth care (assuming she gets any) to compassionately counsel her about treatment programs. I want drug treatment programs to be abundant and free, so that no barriers prevent pregnant women from using them – unlike the many programs that have historically refused to admit expectant mothers! I want her caregivers to kindly and non-coercively explain her birth control options, including the potential benefits of long-term contraceptive methods (both the IUD and hormonal methods). I want her to have free access to birth control. If her children must be placed for adoption, open adoption should be the default unless there are very compelling grounds to separate the children from their birth mother.

That is a pro-choice position. I do see a need to exercise judgment. I do assert that childbearing while in the grips of an addition is a Bad Idea. Abandoning judgment, in such cases, would be abandoning responsibility. What makes this position pro-choice isn’t a refusal to judge; it’s rejecting punitive and coercive measures.

Now, Sarah Palin obviously is not comparable to a poor drug addict (unless you want to call power an addiction). Palin lives in a realm of privilege that insulates her kids, to some degree. CPS is not about to seize them even if she and Todd serve them Lucky Charms with crystal meth sprinkles for breakfast.

But the basic question still stands: Must feminists withhold judgment when a woman – or man! – makes reproductive or parenting decisions that are grossly unwise? Does it make us anti-choice to say that even though a woman has the legal right to implant eight embryos into her womb, it’s nonetheless an über-crappy decision? Does it make us anti-choice to say that medical evidence unequivocally shows that smoking is worse than crack for a developing fetus, and so every effort must be made to help expectant parents (not just mothers!) stop smoking?

And is it really anti-choice to say that Palin’s decision to fly home after her water broke not only potentially endangered her and Trig, but also exposed the whole plane to the risks of an emergency landing? I’m not saying “There oughtta be a law,” just that it was a piss-poor decision.

Again, this is not policing Palin’s uterus. This is questioning what went on in her brain. And if she runs again for POTUS, her brain is the organ that ought to concern us.

The good mother/bad mother dichotomy is still used as a cudgel. It’s one that feminists should always regard with deep suspicion.

But sometimes, bad mothering – and importantly, bad parenting – is egregious. When it occurs in politicians who position themselves as paragons of family values, it’s reasonable to ask about their general judgment and scrutinize them for hypocrisy. So while I regard it as out-of-bounds to criticize Todd and Sarah Palin for the fact that Bristol became pregnant, I do think it’s fair to criticize how they handled it in the national spotlight. When the Palins announced Bristol’s pregnancy instead of debunking the Trig rumors head-on, both parents threw their eldest daughter under the bus. (It was Sarah and her political who made that decision, but the First Dude was part of that inner circle and I’ll bet he could have vetoed it.) Similarly, it’s understandable that Sarah Palin would have kept her pregnancy quiet until late in the game. Most women who work for pay realize that they may be seen as less competent and committed once their pregnancy becomes public, and that goes doubly for female politician. What’s not reasonable is boarding a plane without any idea how imminent labor might be after leaking amniotic fluid.

If wanting politicians to exhibit sound judgment not just in public life but as private individuals – and yes, as parents – makes me an anti-feminist, so be it. Just let me know where I should turn in my F-card.

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I’ve been seeing this frightening ad all over the intertubes the past few days.

Since it appeared around April Fools’ Day, I thought it might be a spoof.

But evidence to the contrary is mounting. Donald Trump is evidently taking the role of Birther CEO. Now, a new WSJ/NBC poll finds him tied with Mike Huckabee in second place with 17% each, lagging only front-runner Mitt Romney with 22%. He leads Newt Gingrich (11%), Sarah Palin (10%), and Rick “frothy mix” Santorum (3%) .

I loved the “clown car” metaphor for the 2008 Republican field. This time around, that car will be packed fuller than ever – with Trump playing the clown who terrifies small children.

Is this serious? Could Trump really be … a contender? And if he does – still against the odds – win the Republican nomination, won’t the electorate tell him: “You’re fired!”

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As of this writing, our so-called leaders are still engaged in budget brinksmanship. Alternet called it correctly: This is the Republicans applying shock doctrine. They are doing their damnedest to break democracy. They’re such patriots that they’re willing to delay paychecks reaching our already-underpaid rank-and-file troops.

The Tea Partiers, in particular, are willing to hold our government hostage to their unhinged plan to defund Planned Parenthood.

For the Tea Party, this seems to be a win-win. If they get to defund Planned Parenthood, they’ll have achieved an unimaginable victory in their war against women’s bodies, which otherwise the Senate would block. If they get to shut down the government, then it’s party time. Woo hoo! We’re gonna party like it’s 1995!

A lot can happen in 16 years of politics. Since Newt Gingrich threw his slimy wrench into the works, we’ve had presidential blowjobs, welfare reform, the rise (and now fall?) of the DOMA, hanging chads, Enron and Bernie Madoff, 9/11 and the security state, at least three U.S. wars (that we know of), torture and secret prisons, an economic meltdown, election of our first black president, the rise Mama Grizzlies, pistols at Tea Parties, the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, and gallons of Boehnerian tears. Oh, and a substantial portion of the present electorate was still in the Blues Clues or Britney Spears demographic in 1995, and they have no memory of Newt’s machinations.

Even Newt’s own memory seems to have blurred. In the late ’90s, the conventional wisdom held that the shutdown hurt the Republicans, making them look like the extremists they were (and are), and paving the way for Bill Clinton’s re-election. Back then, the Newtster concurred with with this view. By now, though, he’s hyping the shutdown threat as a positive, viable tactic for his comrades.

The Tea Partiers are practically drooling over the prospect of a shutdown. What more dramatic way to demonstrate their small-government cred to the voters back home? What better way for Rep. Mike Pence to show that women’s bodies are expendable that he really, really hates abortion? Sure, some of us will see it as childish and irresponsible to practice blackmail and hold women’s health hostage. We are the same people who already found the “me-first, me-second, and me-third” attitude of the Tea Party childish and irresponsible. (Not to mention cruel.) We are the same people who know that the Planned Parenthood funding in question cannot legally be used to subsidize abortions.

For Tea Party supporters, though, a shutdown is red meat.

As I write this, the talking heads on MSNBC are discussing whether John Boehner can deliver on a potential compromise deal that may have been hammered out behind closed doors this evening. My take on it: I don’t think he can. As right-wing as Boehner is himself, his Tea Party colleagues are neck deep in anti-government, anti-woman ideology. They see this as a matter of principle. They perceive, again, a win-win.

So I fully expect a shutdown. My hope is that the party will end as it did in 1995: with a lose-lose for the Republicans, who will look petty and extreme. (Which is, of course, exactly what they are.) In any event, the Democrats have already made such deep concessions that no one will be dancing. The compromise already reported includes the $33 billion in domestic spending cuts that Republicans have demanded.

What do y’all think? Will the shutdown happen tomorrow? Will it be deferred ’til later? Or will Captain Boehner deliver?

And is there any hope that Obama would veto a package that included the demolition of Planned Parenthood and/or the full $33 billion in cuts? Remember: The 1995/96 shutdowns only occurred after President Bill Clinton vetoed the heaping pile of a budget that the Republican Congress sent him. Obama frequently tries to frame himself as Reagan’s successor, but it’s Clinton who learned from Reagan not to negotiate with hostage-takers.

Update, 4/8/11, 12:15 p.m.: Maddow had a great segment on the potential shutdown tonight, arguing that unlike the mid-1990s, there’s no high-profile Republican to take the heat, as Newt did in 1995/96. I am now feeling like the game may be lose/lose, after all.

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Oh, Ohio. The batshittery just never ends. As you may have heard, we’ve got pending legislation (House Bill 125, aka the Heartbeat Bill) that would make abortion illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. That would be at six or seven weeks, when a woman might well not know she’s pregnant. (Keep in mind that spotting is fairly common during the first month of pregnancy when one’s period would usually be due, so even a woman tuned into her body could be fooled.)

This is the same bill for which Republican lawmakers called a fetus to testify. Actually, it was two fetuses, whose heartbeat was played for our esteemed legislators via ultrasound. (Quite sensibly, one of the fetuses refused to cooperate with the proceedings.)

Yesterday, the bill emerged from committee, but House Speaker William Batchelder won’t yet commit to a date for a vote. Batchelder is a Republican and a hardcore pro-lifer. Why would he waffle?

Turns out that this bill is splitting the anti-abortion camp. Ohio Right to Life – the biggest anti-abortion lobby in the state – is actually begging state legislators to back off of the Heartbeat Bill. They fear the bill couldn’t pass constitutional muster. Of course, this isn’t a principled objection. Ohio Right to Life remains committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. They just realize Anthony Kennedy is unlikely to vote to uphold a measure this extreme. (It doesn’t even include a rape/incest exception.)

I say, bring it on. Anything that divides the Republicans and anti-abortion lobbies is good by me. This direct challenge to Roe – which is what the Heartbeat Bill’s supporters actually crave – will go down in flames. If it passes the Senate and goes to the courts, the Supreme Court will surely refudiates it. This will strengthen Roe’s basic finding that the state cannot prohibit abortions prior to fetal viability. A successful court challenge might even take down Ohio’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period and “counseling” – or so fears Ohio Right to Life! My, this bill is sounding better all the time.

Here’s what really worries me. While we’re all distracted by chatter about vaginal sonograms in the Statehouse and the circus of fetuses “testifying,” another bill (H.B. 78/S.B. 72) has passed both chambers and is headed for the desk of Governor Kasich, who’s certain to sign it. That bill’s viability (so to speak) looks much stronger. It would ban abortion after 20 weeks (instead of Ohio’s current 22-week limit). In addition, H.B. 7 – which would place the burden of proof on abortion providers to show a fetus was not viable – is still lurking in the wings, along with other anti-choice legislation.

At least none of my representatives has threatened to criminalize miscarriages. Not yet.

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I continue to be transfixed by the situation in Japan, where technology has shown its best and worst face in the past few days. “Best,” I say, because the terrible human losses would have been greater yet, had builders not prepared for violent earthquakes. There were certainly gaps in planning for the tsunami, in particular, but overall Japan’s construction technology saved untold lives – tens of thousands.

The nuclear plants partly had bad luck, but then again, the chain of power failures that’s now leading to overheated radioactive fuel rods was fairly predictable. I don’t know enough about the technology to give an explainer. Rachel Maddow continues to have good coverage. But essentially, you don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to know that highly radioactive spent fuel presents a problem for decades at a minimum, even under controlled circumstances. How many civilizations have survived for tens of thousands of years - long enough to keep ploutonium contained? And yes, some of the fuel rods (about 6%) at the Daiichi plant contain some plutonium.

Then again, with some technologies you really don’t need to be an expert in order to say: this is stupid. A case in point is the use of hormones to stunt girls’ growth lest they grow too tall to catch a husband. I knew that this was a fairly common practice in the 1950s. A recent study reports that the estrogen used to stop growth also mucked with these girls’ fertility, and as adults they have had trouble conceiving. Not all that surprising. What did shock me? The fact that this practice continues today.

This use for estrogen gained popularity about 50 years ago after researchers found it might limit the growth of girls who were much taller than their peers in adolescence. According to one estimate, up to 5,000 girls in the U.S. were treated with estrogen, and many more in Europe.

At that time, “women were basically supposed to get married and have children, and that would be harder if you were a very tall woman, everybody believed,” Christine Cosgrove, co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry’s Quest to Manipulate Height, told Reuters Health.

“There were so many parents, mostly mothers probably, who just feared that their daughters’ lives would be ruined if they ended up being six feet tall, because they’d never have a husband and a family,” she said.

Some tall girls are still treated with estrogen today — more in Europe than in the United States — and estrogen is currently given to these girls in about the same dose that is in a birth control pill, Cosgrove said. In the past, it might have been given at 100 times that dose before doctors realized the potential dangers, she said.

[Cosgrove is co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height, speaking here to Reuters.]

Two very different scenarios – one a matter of life-and-death, the other “merely” a matter of life foregone through infertility. Yet both reflect the foolhardiness of humans when it comes to technology. I’m no Luddite (my laptop is a cyborg extension of my brain), but could we just cut it out with the human experimentation? Because that’s what nuclear plants are, at bottom, too – an uncontrolled experiment with far too many uncontrollable variables. Also, perhaps friend-of-the-blog Hydraargyrum will chime in on this: humanity will never win against CORROSION, which is basically what I understand to be happening at lightning speed in those uncooled fuel rods.

Can’t we humans please learn for once, and put an end to the techno-hubris?

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We thought we had it bad in Ohio, where S.B. 5 is about to gut collective bargaining for public employees. But events in Michigan are making Ohio and Wisconsin look like paragons of moderation. Here’s the short version, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

Republican Michigan governor Rick Snyder, along with the state’s Republican house and senate, have passed a controversial bill that allows the governor to dissolve the elected governments of Michigan’s towns and cities, replacing them with unaccountable “emergency financial managers” who can eliminate services, merge or eliminate school boards, and lay off or renegotiate unionized public employees without recourse. Republican senator Jack Brandenburg — who supported the measure — calls it “financial martial law.”

While local governments are subject to electoral recall by residents, the “managers” the governor appoints will answer only to the state legislature. There are no limits to the salary “managers” may draw (an amendment that would have limited their compensation to $159,000, which is the governor’s own salary, was defeated).

“Managers” will be able to govern as they see fit. Practically speaking, this opens the door to the kind of “governance” we’ve seen in occupied Iraq, where high-paid appointees who don’t answer to the governed get to award no-bid contracts to their pals, with little or no oversight or control.

I guess that means Blackwater may be moving into Detroit? Halliburton could take over Ann Arbor? If this law weren’t about subverting democracy, the state could provide consultants, not mini-dictators, to those municipalities that really are hurting. While I do recognize Michigan is suffering economically, authoritarianism is not the answer – unless Governor Snyder hopes to transform Michigan into a satellite state of China.

This really would deserve a lengthy post about the “shock doctrine” and how far we’ve moved toward fascism in the United States. That’s a bigger job than I can handle on a Saturday evening. Let’s just say that at this week’s hearings on the EPIC “body-scanner” lawsuit against TSA abuses of privacy, government attorney Beth Brinkmann asserted that it was within the authority of the TSA to order body cavity searches without any public input (h/tLisa Simeone). Let’s just mention that efforts are being made to disenfranchise students in New Hampshire – so far, unsuccessfully.

But back to Michigan. I’m sort of embarrassed to post a Rachel Maddow clip twice in one day – honestly, you could just go straight to MSNBC and skip the Kitteh! – but she nails it once again. The Michigan law (which passed subsequent to this broadcast) is beyond draconian. It is, as Rachel says, dystopian. It undermines the most rudimentary requirements for democracy: the popular election of officials through a free and fair process. It shits upon the rule of law. (Rachel didn’t say that; she is classier than I.)

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Melting Down

Yesterday Rachel Maddow gave a fine explanation of the dangers posed by the out-of-control nuclear power plants damaged by Japan’s earthquake. She had to pause for a moment and remind her viewers that she was talking about a literal meltdown, not a metaphorical one. It’s one of the dangers of metaphor: that we become inured to the real thing. “Tsunami” gets used casually in the same way for that matter, as does earthquake.

In about six weeks, we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. Let us hope the world won’t be dealing with the fallout (also literal!) of an equally catastrophic event in Japan. In any event, my thoughts are with the people of Japan, who are suffering terribly already.

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Charlie Sheen is a serial abuser of women, as Anna Holmes argued persuasively in the New York Times earlier this week. As Holmes wrote, his current two live-in partners are “disposable,” not least because they are presumed golddiggers who tarnished their virtue in sex work. I don’t care if they’re only with Sheen for the money, fame, and drugs. We should be worried for these women’s lives. Sheen’s “goddesses” (his word) are living 24/7 with a control freak with a long record of domestic violence charges and no discernable ties to reality.

Despite his evident break-up with the reality-based world, Sheen appears to have his two partners in thrall. That gives even more cause for concern. A People Magazine story portrayed the women’s relationships with him as downright Stepford-ish.

“I’ve always felt that a man should be able to be with as many women as he likes,” says Rachel Oberlin, 24, one of Sheen’s two live-in girlfriends. “I’ve never had the opportunity to share that with any man before because, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a man who was even deserving of that.”

Consenting adults can order their households however they like. But what’s good for the gander ought to be good for the goose – yet here, it only the gander has the privilege of multiple partners. My understanding of ethical polyamory is that it’s based on equality, not hierarchy and paternalism. That’s the exact opposite of how Sheen describes his relationships to People Magazine quotes:

“They don’t judge me,” Sheen repeated. “They don’t lead with opinion. They don’t lead with their own needs all the time. They’re honest enough to tell me, ‘Hey, look, you – you know, park your nonsense. You gotta help me solve this.’ And we solve it.”

When it comes to household decisions, he said, “Everybody’s vote has equal importance. But when we’re approaching crisis, I remind them, ‘Look, I’m 22 years further down the road … my plan is gonna be the best one in the room. So, just trust me on that and everybody will win. Everybody will win and everybody’s needs will be taken care of.”

This is creepy, coming from a guy with a history of physically hurting women. What happens if a goddess dares to express an opinion? The old brick in the face, a la ancient Mesopotamia?

Patriarchy isn’t dead. It has just moved to Hollywood and allegedly developed an epic coke habit. (“For the win!” as Sheen might say.)

Also, the idea of Charlie Sheen as a problem solver and crisis mananger (???!!!) would be hilarious, if he were living in a universe occupied solely by the body and ego of Charlie Sheen. As it is, someone stands to get hurt.

Nonetheless, it’s Caturday, so let’s not just soberly criticize Sheen’s behavior. Let’s mock him, too! (Yes, I know he needs help. He’s making too much money off of not seeking it that mockery is perfectly fair.)

There’s lots more Sheen-y cattiness at the blog Medium Large – check it out. (Thanks to Lisa Simeone for the tip!)

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