Thursday, February 27, 2014

The violence of carceral feminism and arresting rape victims

A couple of days ago, Amanda Marcotte wrote a piece at Slate praising prosecutors in Cowlitz County, Washington for arrested a rape victim who failed to cooperate in the case against the perpetrator, who was also her ex-boyfriend. The kindest thing I can say about this piece is that it's puzzling, unless it was specifically meant as clickbait (which is why I'm using DoNotLink on this one, as many others have done.) Prosecutors issued a material witness warrant against the woman, and she had to spend a night in jail before the trial - which, as local news reported, "had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will."

Marcotte argues that when we have to make a zero-sum decision between the well-being of a rape victim versus the interest of prosecutors who just want to keep a rapist off the streets, sometimes we must choose the latter at the expense of the former. In general, the idea of jailing rape survivors - revictimizing the victim - is deeply unsettling, and there have been a lot of good responses that do better than I can with this that I encourage you to read. I would also like to note how fucked up it is that she also argues that because this woman was homeless, jailing her for a night was a good thing - because having a hot and a cot beats having no place to stay even if it's behind bars and you're compelled to be there, right? Never mind that there's been a troubling resurrection of criminalizing homelessness lately.

But I find Marcotte's piece to also be incredibly troubling in its blithe cheerleading of essentially using state violence as a remedy to interpersonal violence. Holding someone against her will - especially if she is not "endangering society" directly (and I do not believe she was, as I do not believe it is her responsibility to ensure her ex-boyfriend doesn't harm anyone else) - is a form of violence exerted by the state. As I've said before, I do not believe it should be the role of the state to enact violence against its citizens. It made me think back to Lauren Chief Elk's great piece on why celebrating V-Day is so problematic for women of color:
Women of color continue to discuss the ways in which state violence is significant and is used to break up our communities to further harm us. That structure is violence; it is historically predicated on rounding up and locking away Indigenous and Black people. The existing system is not a place we are able to turn to for help. When mainstream white feminism is continually calling for more laws, punishments, for strengthened ties with law enforcement, and expanded police jurisdiction, they are enabling the violence against us. There is no “we,” because this approach is at the expense of us. Women of color become collateral damage in the continued quest to uphold and protect white womanhood.
Now I suppose I should say that I have no idea if the woman prosecutors arrested to force her cooperation is a woman of color. But she is definitely a woman from a marginalized part of society if she is homeless - a part of society that often has troubled interactions with the police. And I'm uneasy with the fact that honestly, were I in her situation, I think people would be outraged if I were arrested and compelled to comply with prosecutors - because I am an educated white woman in a white collar job.

Mikki Kendall had a lot of thoughtful discussion on this point over at her Twitter feed (@Karnythia) and retweed a lot of reactions that address what a problem it is to advocate for using state violence as a response to domestic violence. As Melissa McEwan points out, given the epic failure on a law enforcement level to respond to survivors who do want to cooperate with police, this arrest is even more outrageous:
Third: It's contemptible that, across the nation, police departments systematically refuse to cooperate with victims, but now a victim is held by police for refusing to cooperate with them. So lots of people ostensibly tasked with protecting the community from predators and abusers routinely fail survivors with virtual impunity, but one survivor declines to assist them, and a warrant is issued for her to force her to engage. That's rich.
And this is ultimately counterproductive, to put it lightly:
Finally: The primary defense for holding this woman and compelling her to testify is that if she doesn't participate and her abuser walks, he'll harm more women. But if we're really concerned about preventing future assaults, then we have to foremostly make it safe for multiple survivors to report—and publicly revictimizing one survivor in this way stands to discourage multiple victims from reporting. That is bigger than even this one rapist.
Given the general indifference to rape survivors within the criminal justice system, there's really no excuse for perpetrating more violence upon this woman. It only serves to make the system even more harmful - for all survivors.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You pregnant body as host in the reproductive rights debate

In the ongoing quest of Virginia legislators to demonstrate their state is not for lovers, another state senator went and said something creepy. Senator Steve Martin took to his Facebook page to show what he REALLY thinks of pregnant people and why abortion should not be legal:
You can count on me to never get in the way of you "preventing an unintentional pregnancy." I'm not actually sure what that means, because if it's "unintentional" you must have been trying to prevent it. And, I don't expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive. However, once a child does exist in your womb, I'm not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child's host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn't want it.
Of  course, his Facebook page was changed immediately after the uproar - but as proof positive that things you post online truly can live on forever, a screenshot is here.

There have been a lot of incredulous prochoice feminist responses to this, and rightly so. You see, it confirm our suspicions that have been repeatedly dismissed - that antichoicers, particularly those with legislative power, see women (and people who can get pregnant) as less than human, as a walking baby vessel, a uterus on legs. Once you reduce people down to their reproductive parts, it becomes much easier to legislate reproductive rights out of existence and make Roe an empty right. Of course, because this is bad PR, antichoicers are now wrapping it up with the bow of "women's safety" - that they really just care about protecting women from themselves! Okay, sure. Which is why politicians are now trying to make it harder to get birth control covered by your health insurance.

But maybe his blunt honesty is a good thing! First, it obviously confirms our suspicions and makes it much easier for prochoicers to get organized and show the movement to restrict reproductive rights for what it is. But what is a host, really? Any dictionary will tell you that it's "a living animal or plant in which a parasite lives." Calling someone a host invokes a long line of creepy science fiction about alien beings that take over your body and compete for resources. And what have prochoicers and feminists said all along about why we need abortion care? Because pregnancy is a taxing physical transformation that literally shifts your organs. It takes a toll, and no person who does not want to be pregnant should be forced to do so for this alone. So at the same time he's tacitly dehumanizing pregnant people, he's also implicitly conceding a prochoice point.

Related to this, I wonder how the Republicans' "how to talk to women" boot camp is going?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Heritage Foundation and unintended consequences

The New York Times has finally caught on to the rightward politicization of the once-"scholarly" Heritage Foundation, the policy shop incubator for Republican policy. You see, once upon a time, Heritage had "academics" working for it in the sense that they hired people with Ph.Ds, but then Jim DeMint left the Senate to take the helm and it was almost like said "academics" that Republicans spend a lot of time denigrating were no longer respected anymore! So not only did a flood of long-timers start to look for the exits, but then Heritage had an embarrassing flap where the guy they hired to author their immigration work turned out to have formerly dabbled in some Bell Curve-style racism. Then they hired someone who is not an economist to be their chief economist. All the while, Heritage Action - their policy arm - is growing in power and eclipsing the original organization while pressuring Republicans to employ dangerous tactics ultimately doomed to fail, like shutting down the government or playing chicken with the debt ceiling.

All of this is frankly old news if you, like me, are a progressive and a huge policy nerd who is having a moment of schadenfreude because Heritage is now getting kicked out of meetings with Republicans. But this is maybe the most interesting line of the article:

Further, its critics say, Heritage Action has undermined the goals of the Republican majority in the House, prompting some congressional Republicans to turn their backs on the group, refusing to meet with its members and shutting them out of hearings. 
However, the group maintains enough influence over the Republican vote count to force House Speaker John A. Boehner to rely on Democrats to pass major bills such as spending legislation and agriculture policy. That means making legislation more liberal.
Basically, for Heritage's plan of refusing to negotiate to work, you have to rely on there being no remaining responsible Republican left in Washington. And much as I'm not a fan of John Boehner's, he's not quite that irresponsible. And the fact is, our country has major issues that need to be addressed, and we need lawmakers who can actually govern. John Boehner is willing to sit on his hands for a lot of major issues - like immigration - but you actually can't piss off rich farmers from agricultural states who vote Republican, which is why you need to get a farm bill through. And while the $8 billion cut to food stamps in the negotiations was a travesty, it was actually not as bad as what Republicans wanted! The fact that John Boehner has relied on Democratic votes to get so many bills passed has led to pundits declaring the Hastert Rule (in which the speaker of the House only brings legislation to a vote if he has the majority of his caucus on board) effectively over. If the entire goal of Heritage is to make legislation more Republican, their tactics are actually backfiring. 

Bill Keller's parting words on mass incarceration

In case you have not heard, Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York Times and current op-ed columnist, is departing the Grey Lady to launch a new startup news venture titled The Marshall Project. Named after civil rights icon and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, the new site will focus on the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. Keller decided to devote the space of his last column today to the subject (which is also a helpful advertisement for his new undertaking!) Keller examines Obama's record on criminal justice, and if I may say so, if he had taken more time with this subject when he had one of the biggest bully pulpits in American media, I may have spent more time reading his column:

By the crudest metric, the population of our prisons, the Obama administration has been unimpressive. The famously shocking numbers of Americans behind bars (the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s people, incarcerates nearly a quarter of all prisoners on earth) have declined three years in a row. However the overall downsizing is largely thanks to California and a handful of other states. In overstuffed federal prisons, the population continues to grow, fed in no small part by Obama’s crackdown on immigration violators. 
The administration has some achievements to tout. Obama signed the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, and has put some muscle behind the Smarter Sentencing Act, two measures aimed at making drug-sentencing laws less absurd. Holder has issued guidance to prosecutors to avoid routinely seeking maximum sentences for low-level offenders — though it’s not clear yet whether prosecutors are going along. The administration created an Interagency Reentry Council that uses federal guidance to whittle away at the barriers to employment, housing and education so that released prisoners have some hope of becoming productive citizens. 
At the same time, long after the War on Drugs has been recognized as a failure, there has been little serious effort to cut the number of federal drug prosecutions, or to shift money from incarceration to drug treatment. Alexander cites as a significant disappointment the continued federal reluctance to decriminalize marijuana, despite Obama’s acknowledgment to David Remnick of The New Yorker that pot is less harmful than alcohol and that the laws are mostly enforced against poor minorities. Another missed opportunity: he could have pushed more aggressively to fill district and circuit court vacancies with judges who would buck the status quo.
All true! Too bad Keller had such a missed opportunity in not getting out ahead of this issue sooner - then he may have been a real thought leader in this area.

Now that Keller has penned his final column for the Times, I wonder who they will hire to fill his column space. Will it be someone the powers that be hand a column as a consolation prize, or will they actually take this opportunity to hire a fresh voice who is both a good writer and actually has opinions on interesting topics? Perhaps they could hire a female columnist who is not also a humorist. Or even their first woman of color!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On how not to win over women voters, Rand Paul edition

Women. Am I right? Sometimes they are a complete and utter mystery, especially when they're allowed to vote. At least, this seems to be the white male-dominated Republican Party's view on women. They want to get more women to run, maybe - but not in any battleground states, because running white dudes is the tried-and-true strategy to winning tough races for them! Oh, and they really turn off women voters, since the gender gap is widening. But they've decided this is not at all a result of their creepy obsession with what's going on in everyone's vaginas or their relentless pursuit of reprehensible policies that are bad for women. It's just a problem of messaging! So they have a new lady-run consulting firm Burning Glass to instruct them on how to speak to women without offending them. And they're also receiving training on how to run against female candidates - the secret art of running against a lady opponent without coming off like a raging sexist. (I imagine this goes something like - Day One: No body snarking; Day Two: No diminutive comments about her in a skirt; Day Three: Maybe avoid saying a woman's place is in the home.)

It's probably too early to tell if this is working, but a new CNN poll out yesterday shows they have a long way to go:

According to the CNN/ORC International poll, which was released Friday, 55% of Americans surveyed say the GOP doesn't understand women. That number rises to 59% among all women and 64% among women over 50. 
"That last number is intriguing, since older women are more likely to vote Republican than younger women. Yet younger women don't have as much of a problem with the GOP on this measure," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. 
"That suggests that the problem women have with the Republican Party may be related less to the policy positions the GOP takes and more related to the attitudes behind those policies and the tone the party takes when addressing them," he added.

I can't verify this by the numbers they released, which broke it down by gender and then separately by age mixing together men and women, but I will take their word on it.

I am not completely sure I buy this thesis, but let's take it and run with it. If it really is an issue of tone, then some prominent Republicans sure are taking an interesting tack when it comes to Hillary Clinton. It all began when Rand Paul - whose female relatives are doing just swell! - decided the best way to undercut potentially the first female presidential nominee and the Democratic party in one fell swoop is to dredge up Bill Clinton's sex scandal from the nineties as he works the media circuit:

One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses should not prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior….. Then they (Democrats) have the gall to stand up and say, ‘Republicans are having a war on women.’

And in case you think this is a non-sequitur, he's said it in multiple interviews. So clearly it's some weak-sauce messaging strategy.

Now personally, I find Peter Beinart's argument that his bizarre gambit seems likely to be a way to shore up the conservative base, rather than actually giving real political headspace to the war on women. But the national party may try this out in their throw-anything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks attempt to undermine Hillary, according to RNC Chair Reince Priebus:

“I think everything’s on the table,” Priebus said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Monday. “I think we’re going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and some things may be old, and some things might be new. But I think everything is at stake when you’re talking about the leader of the free world.”

You know, for the party that says what women care about most is economic opportunity and putting gas in the car, relitigating a 16-year-old political sex scandal certainly seems like questionable "messaging." Personally, I think his affair with Monica Lewinsky is perhaps the least troubling entry in his list of alleged sexual indiscretions. But I also don't think the party that failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act the first time around gives a damn about protecting women from sexual predators.

Republicans lately are using a lot of interesting moves to deflect from the "war on women." Anything to distract women voters from the fact they are not only all up in your lady business, but they don't support laws like equal pay for women! I am not sure this is the best way to win over lady voters. I am also not sure that attacking a female presidential contender by linking her to her husband's sex scandals is the best way to face off a political opponent who is a woman.

But what do I know. I am, after all, not a Republican messaging genius. Mostly because I have faith that women voters aren't so easily fooled that they would be persuaded by a simple change of words and tone without any change of garbage policies.


Related posts:

Why the GOP has a lady problem, in a 12-step diagnosis
Republican lady problems: Victimhood vs. the exemplary female
On platitudes vs. policy when it comes to women and politics

Monday, February 10, 2014

The financial ties of minimum wage opponents

Have you ever heard of the Employment Policies Institute? No? Perhaps you haven't, because as The New York Times reports this morning, it does not have any employees. This is remarkable, as they manage to crank out "peer reviewed" studies showing that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment and poverty. Perhaps this is because it is a front company to offer the veneer of intellectualism to a PR campaign?

Just four blocks from the White House is the headquarters of the Employment Policies Institute, a widely quoted economic research center whose academic reports have repeatedly warned that increasing the minimum wage could be harmful, increasing poverty and unemployment. 
But something fundamental goes unsaid in the institute’s reports: The nonprofit group is run by a public relations firm that also represents the restaurant industry, as part of a tightly coordinated effort to defeat the minimum wage increase that the White House and Democrats in Congress have pushed for. 
“The vast majority of economic research shows there are serious consequences,” Michael Saltsman, the institute’s research director, said in an interview, before he declined to list the restaurant chains that were among its contributors.
But of course, we can't call out Employment Policies Institute without a little false equivalence with the left:

The campaign illustrates how groups — conservative and liberal — are again working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons. 
They do it with the gloss of research, and play a critical and often underappreciated role in multilevel lobbying campaigns, backed by corporate lobbyists and labor unions, with a potential payoff that can be in the millions of dollars for the interests they represent.
“It is the way of Washington now — and that is unfortunate,” said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who has helped run several presidential campaigns. “Because if it’s not dishonest, it’s at least disingenuous.” 
In this case, the policy dispute is over whether increasing the minimum wage by nearly 40 percent to $10.10 an hour by next year would reduce poverty or further it.
Even if the legislation never passes — and it is unlikely to, given the political divide in Congress — millions of dollars will be spent this year on lobbying firms, nonprofit research organizations and advertising campaigns, as industry groups like the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation try to bury it. Liberal groups, in turn, will be spending lots of money as they try to make the debate a political issue for the midterm elections. 
The left has its own prominent groups, like the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute, whose donors include nearly 20 labor unions, and whose reports, with their own aura of objectivity, consistently conclude that raising the minimum wage makes good economic sense. But none has played such a prominent and multifaceted role in recent months as the conservative Employment Policies Institute.
Well, at least CAP and EPI actually employ people to conduct their research, and don't share front door signs with PR companies funded by lobbying groups that have spent decades to keep the minimum wage as low as possible without inciting street riots. EPI has managed to get 75 leading economists, including seven Nobel laureates, to write to Congress that the minimum wage should be raised.  (And at least Bloomberg discloses that unions are partly funding the effort.) CAP and EPI also employ people with Ph.Ds to conduct their research, whereas the new research director at Employment Policies Institutes (henceforth known as 'the other EPI') is 30 years old with a BA in economics. I have more education than this, and I doubt anybody on the left would allow me to be "research director" of anything. This is sort of like how the Heritage Foundation hired wrong-about-everything Wall Street Journal hack columnist Stephen Moore to be its chief economist - and he also does not possess an advanced degree in economics. I'm not sure what the right's aversion to advanced education is all about, unless they think it turns people liberal.

But I'm not actually going to argue that it's good for think tanks to be transparent in their funding sources, as this clearly has a big influence over their institutional policy positions. This is why I cheered, for example, when Elizabeth Warren went after the funders themselves of centrist "Democratic" organization Third Way. Third Way has done an excellent job convincing everyone in the policy elite that there's a Social Security crisis, and the only way to solve it is to slash benefits - and not, say, raise the payroll tax cap on wealthy people. And, surprise! They are bankrolled by Wall Street, whose members' bank accounts would be directly affected by a lift on the payroll tax cap! Funny how that works.

Perhaps its an object lesson to always look beneath the scholarly veneer of groups with official-sounding names like Employment Policies Institute. Because it really might just be one 30-year-old churning out flawed studies without a door sign. But what's troubling is that lawmakers are easily swayed by this veneer - especially if it confirms their worldview that raising the minimum wage would be the worst thing ever.

Related to this, The New York Times also has a handy calculator to see if you can live off the minimum wage. Bottom line: It's really fucking hard. So to everyone who opposes raising the minimum wage from a bank-breaking $7.25 an hour:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Senate Republicans block unemployment benefits extension

So the Senate Republicans filibustered an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, who have been living in economic limbo since the new year: 
The Senate failed to move forward on a three-month extension of assistance for the long-term unemployed on Thursday, leaving it unlikely that Congress would approve the measure soon while undercutting a key aspect of President Obama’s economic recovery plan. 
Fifty-nine senators, including four Republicans, voted to advance the legislation, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster effort. 
Republicans and Democrats, many from the nation’s most economically depressed states, had been trying to reach a solution that would allow people who have exhausted their unemployment insurance to continue receiving benefits as long as the government offset the $6 billion cost. 
Ultimately, how to pay for the program proved too big a hurdle for senators to overcome.
“We’ve given them everything they wanted. Paid for,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, flashing his irritation at Republicans who blocked the bill. 
He said Democrats would keep pushing to extend the benefits, which expired at the end of last year, cutting off more than 1.3 million Americans. That number has since grown to more than 1.7 million.
Four Republican senators broke from their party to vote with the Democrats - Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

It seems to me that it's no problem to find money to pay for some things - like military spending, or subsidies to big oil companies like Exxon, or corporate tax breaks - that Republicans like. Yet finding the money to help 1.7 million people who are struggling in a bad job market is somehow an insurmountable task. And I question how Republicans intend to talk about providing opportunities for all Americans and bolstering the middle class when they essentially just voted to send a sizable number of people sliding into deeper financial insecurity.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sandra Fluke's run for office is another reproductive rights win

News is out this morning that Sandra Fluke - the law student demonized by Rush Limbaugh for having all the sex turned progressive political star - will be running for California Senate rather than Congress as originally reported. One way or the other, this is good news in that more young, pro-choice women should run for office, and the statehouse is still a good place to gain political experience and then work through the pipeline to higher office. (See: Wendy Davis.) Earlier this week, ThinkProgress compared Fluke to Davis to point out a possible emerging trend - that the reproductive rights fight may be inspiring women to run for office. Not only would this be a nice counter to the tableaus of all-male panels arbitrating topics like birth control and abortion, but it could have broader implications as well:

In an interview with ThinkProgress last month, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, pointed to Davis as a prime example of a new wave of public officials who are being rewarded for taking a strong position in favor of abortion rights and women’s health care. 
“When you actually take a strong, courageous stand on abortion access as part of a full suite of reproductive freedom, voters reward you. We’re going to see more of that, and we’re going to incentivize more of that,” Hogue noted. 
Democratic lawmakers have recently begun to do exactly that, coupling women’s health issues within a larger context of all of the policies that will help women attain freedom and equality. New proposals in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Minnesota all bundle several policies — like pay equity, maternity leave, and workplace discrimination protections — into one package intended to advance women’s position in society. In his recent State of the Union, President Obama took a similar approach, calling for an end to “Mad Men”-era policies that undermine women’s success. 
Republicans are gearing up to emphasize their opposition to reproductive rights — in fact, at the most recent Republican National Convention, GOP delegates passed a resolution declaring that candidates should not stay silent on their anti-choice views. But progressive candidates may be prepared to meet them head on.

I noted back in November that the Democrats' introduction of the Women's Health Protection Act mattered for much the same reason. For too long, anti-choice lawmakers have passed terrible policies, and were politically rewarded for it. Pro-choice politicians did their best to prevent bad bills from passage, but didn't display nearly the same energy in championing women's rights and enshrining the right to choose as a key pillar. Having actual legislation to rally around, or pro-choice icons run for higher office, starts to change the momentum.

Additionally, Erin Matson over at RH Reality Check points out Fluke's run is good for feminism - and in turn, for sending a message that young women should run for office:

Right-wingers want to say things about young women and shame them out of the conversation. Fluke has taken that narrative and disrupted it, to the point of public advocacy and now taking the risks that come with what will surely be a contested political primary in a congressional district that overlaps with a highly competitive Los Angeles Democratic machine. 
Fluke is 32 years old, and her potential candidacy sends a message that young women will not shut up and be cowed. Within the pro-choice movement, it sends a message that young women will not just serve supporting roles in the political process, but will help make the rules in the primary institutions of power themselves. Her actions are not limiting, and do not suggest that only one white, privileged young woman with a law degree should be eligible to serve as a voice for feminism in the most powerful corridors. A Fluke candidacy may urge other young women to respond to an endless barrage of attacks on our economic, human, and reproductive rights with the most direct possible attempt at seizing power: running for public office. 
When men fill more than four out of five seats in Congress, it’s time for more left-leaning women, including young women, to follow Fluke’s lead and hop to it. Congress is not run by women, and it certainly will not be run by women who plan to wait patiently for their turns.
Amen to that.

On a political level, I could not be more psyched. But on a personal level, I'm really amused that misogynists who seem to be afraid of this:




are instead winding up with this:




WHOOPS!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Senate slashes $8 billion from food stamps

The Senate just passed a compromise farm bill yesterday, which President Obama is expected to sign. The bad news: It slashes $8 billion from food stamps over the next decade. What does this mean? 

 No one was happier than Danny Murphy, a Mississippi soybean farmer with 1,500 acres, when the Senate on Tuesday passed a farm bill that expanded crop insurance and other benefits for agribusiness. “It’s a relief,” Mr. Murphy said.

 Few were as unhappy as Sheena Wright, the president of the United Way in New York, who expects to see a surge of hungry people seeking help because the bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps over a decade. “You are going to have to make a decision on what you are going to do, buy food or pay rent,” Ms. Wright said.

The long-stalled farm bill, which represents nearly $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years and passed on a rare bipartisan vote, 68 to 32, produced clear winners and losers. Over all, farmers fared far better than the poor.

The nearly 1,000-page bill, which President Obama is to sign at Michigan State University on Friday, among other things expanded crop insurance for farmers by $7 billion over a decade and created new subsidies for rice and peanut growers that would kick in when prices drop. But anti-hunger advocates said the bill would harm 850,000 American households, about 1.7 million people spread across 15 states, which would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits because of the cuts in the food stamp program.
How convenient that crop insurance was expanded by nearly the amount we are cutting food stamps!

Needless to say, I'm incredibly disappointed in this bill. And I think it's clear that we now have no major political party that believes Americans are entitled to food in the richest nation on earth.

Monday, February 3, 2014

On platitudes vs. policy when it comes to women and politics

News came out today that Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In Foundation - which, as far as I can tell, espouses that women can overcome structural sexism in the workplace by speaking up more at meetings - will be honoring Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as a "Trailblazing Woman You May Not Know (But Should)." I agree the congresswoman is trailblazing in the sense she has had a long career as a Cuban-American woman in a party that's largely interested in the continued election of white men. But as Marc Tracy asked in The New Republic, why on earth is Lean In elevating her at all?

Let's ignore the fact she does a Palinesque co-opting of the feminist label to misapply it to her politics. She does not support reproductive rights and voted to withdraw Title X funding for family planning and cancer screenings. She supported the Working Families Flexibility Act, which arguably would have cut workers' paychecks by giving them the "option" of comp time instead of overtime. She doesn't support the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act! She literally voted against a bill that would let women sue for pay discrimination based on gender.

I'd like to take a moment to suggest that this is completely emblematic of the whole Lean In philosophy - one that emphasizes the individual over the systemic. Let's celebrate one women, regardless of whether she's taken any action to help all other women! So long as she's been successful in a male-dominated field, let us not be concerned about whether she pulled the ladder up after her.

But this is the second time in a matter of weeks that something like this has occurred. I'm referring, of course, to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivering the Republican response to the State of the Union, which Paul Krugman called this morning, "remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen."

Rep. Rodgers claims to support equal pay for equal work, and yet voted against both the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. So she "supports" equal pay in that she doesn't think women should be paid less - she just doesn't think they're entitled to legal recourse with teeth if it happens they are paid less. It's all the rah-rah feel-good girl-power affirmations with no actual substance behind it. It's sort of like how she supports "families with children" in a broad sense, yet voted to cut WIC funding - so that her constituents sent empty milk bottles to her office in protest.

When it comes to getting ahead, women don't need empty platitudes. It's condescending to at least half the population to have Rep. Rodgers talk about women and their families and giving them opportunity - when she does not support a single bill that might make that happen. It's patronizing to celebrate Rep. Ros-Lehtinen as a trailblazer when she's certainly not blazing any trails so that other women might be able to fight for better workplaces. If this is what leaning in is about, I think I'll take a step back, thank you.

You know what might actually help women? Maybe if they had more legal protections from pay discrimination. Maybe if we raised the minimum wage. Maybe if we created actual economic opportunity. Maybe if we gave women full control over her reproductive decisions so she could best determine her own fate. Or maybe just, as a bare minimum, to stop insulting women with the notion that they need some happy maxims in the self-help strain of positive thinking, rather than actual tools at her disposal to get ahead.

Maybe we could substitute the platitudes with policy. Because this is bullshit.