Friday, October 31, 2008

Reproduction of Culture

I read an interesting post in the Feminist Law Professors blog today, "New Study Documents Sharp Rise in Pregnancy Discrimination Complaints, Driven by Discrimination Against Women of Color".

They quote a study done by the National Partnership for Women and Families that presents information about a sharp rise in discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. (Full report PDF here) The key paragraph from the news release is this:
The new study finds that race and ethnicity appear to be playing a significant role in the rise of pregnancy discrimination complaints. During the discrete period from FY1996 to FY2005, claims filed by women of color jumped 76 percent, while claims overall increased by 25 percent. During that time, complaints filed by Black women increased by 45 percent, by Hispanic women by 135 percent, by Asian/Pacific Islander women by 90 percent, and by American Indian/Alaska Native women by 109 percent. More than half the claims filed with the EEOC during that period (53 percent) were filed in service, retail trade and the financial services, insurance and real estate industries — where some seven in ten women work.
The one thing missing from the study report are the economic demographics of the women who filed discrimination complaints. I suspect that there was no consistent way to gather that data. The PDF only presents summary information with a little data.

Industries that have low educational barriers are heavily represented in the claims filed - retail, manufacturing, transportation. Secretarial and general office employment is not clearly identified. It could be under "Services", "Finance, Insurance & Real Estate," and "Other/ Not Provided". The lack of job category data makes me wonder if the women filing the complaints are ordinary employees, supervisory/managerial, or executive level staff. The examples in the report cite two management-track situations and a hiring policy (Numbers are footnote references):
Examples include a case involving a female regional manager of a hotel chain who was demoted repeatedly after announcing her pregnancy. A senior vice president for the chain asserted that women were not suitable for managerial positions because they missed too much work.35 In another case, a maternity clothing specialty store agreed to pay a settlement after being sued for its policy of not hiring pregnant job applicants.36 In still another case, a rising star who had quickly moved into a manager-in-training position was told to consider her options and had her training rescinded when she announced her pregnancy.37
The mere presence of female reproduction is reason to discriminate. The report cites percentage increases in claims filed by minority women, but does not provide actual numbers, so it is unclear what the numeric breakdown is or if minority women are more likely to be subject to pregnancy discrimination than white women. Given general patterns in racial discrimination, I suspect the answer is yes to the latter. Are managerial level women more likely to file complaints than regular staff?

What can be gleaned from this? The gestating body is not respected. Pregnant women are a suspect class, not trusted to perform their tasks responsibly. The requirement that an infant be tended once born is viewed not as a respected obligation of the birth parent, but as something to be penalized, reducing the value and respectability of the affected party.

My point of curiosity, which the report cannot answer, is how much of the discrimination is culturally based. Are the white women who are discriminated against from an upper middle class background with professional credentials, or are women with origins lower on the socio-economic ladder and perhaps with credentials rather than degrees more likely to be singled out? To what degree are cultural stereotypes of "welfare queen" and "trailer trash" the background biases of the managers who decide a gravid body no longer deserves equal treatment?

In short, do pregnant women of the right class get better treatment, less discriminatory treatment, than pregnant women who are looked at through lenses of cultural disdain?

One of the uglier lines of argument to come from the Left against Gov. Palin and her daughter Bristol was that these women should not reproduce in the first place. They are just trash, they will reproduce an inferior culture, there is something pathological about their fecundity. Why wouldn't either of them get an abortion when the outcome was not going to be good - a Down Syndrome child for one, teen parenthood for the other with mutterings about shotgun weddings and possible incest. It is of a piece with conservative arguments about minority women's reproductive decisions, that those people shouldn't breed.

On top of general misogyny, lower socio-economic status women constantly battle bigotry that would deny them their own children. When it gets applied to women who are not so low on the ladder, such as the Palins, then the culture argument is easier to see because it slips from being a purely economic claim and begins to base its authority on judgment about the kind of mother this or that woman would be, and what pathologies she would inculcate in her offspring. That these arguments have been offered most stridently from the right and against minorities should not camouflage the more general class bias that is used by all political sides. I am concerned about this given the rampant misogyny on the Left coupled with the explicit rejection of working class and poor interests by the current power brokers of the Democratic Party.

The irony, of course, is that discrimination against women in the workplace for being (or potentially being, or just having ceased to be) pregnant is one way in which economic advancement of working class women is curtailed and the "pathological" culture they are presumed to inhabit is prevented from changing itself through stable, sustainable employment.


The things you can do with a pumpkin

h/t to Nath.

Check out the pumpkin page at Villafane Studios run by artist Ray Villafane for more pictures of pumpkins carved like this, plus a tutorial on how to carve your own pumpkins. They run the gamut from goofy to ghoulish.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


Kevin Drum recently posted from his new digs at Mother Jones, complaining about Bob Somerby:
But here's what I don't get: why does Bob think that liberals are giving away a "giant political advantage" by not harping on this constantly? Frankly, I'd be delighted to harp away if I actually thought this was one of the top 100 issues that might help the future of liberalism, but it's not, is it? Media criticism in general helps our side, but what exactly would it gain us to relate everything back to Al Gore's decade-old mistreatment with the Ahab-like intensity that Bob does? Wouldn't it just cause everyone to tune us out as cranks and fogeys? Anyone care to weigh in on this, on either side?
C'mon, Bob, stop being a crank and an old fogey! You're really harshing the mellow here. Can't you just move on, like the rest of us Iraq War supporters have, and understand that we don't care if Al Gore was robbed? I mean, he's a boring crank, too, and it really puts a damper on the cocktail weenie circuit if you bring up his name.

Bob Somerby may take the treatment of Gore a little too personally, given that he is a close friend, but the foundation of his argument is far more sound than the shaky underpinnings of the Blogger Boyz. Indeed, haven't we just watched a repeat of the same phenomenon, with the press going apeshit about the horrible, lying, murderous Hillary monster who wants our Precious destroyed? Kevin asked for a response, and Bob provided one:

And no, there really aren’t “100 issues” that would better serve “the future of liberalism.” It’s absolutely, completely absurd that Kevin would say such a thing.

Repeating: Most voters have never heard a word about the situation Kevin described. For that reason, they’re strongly inclined to believe the GOP’s relentless complaints about bias. They hear endless claims about bias toward Palin; they never hear a single word about what was done to the Clintons and Gore. Surely, Kevin knows why that is. Once again, let’s make sure that we all understand:

In the early 1990s, conservative power was sweeping through Washington. In large part, this took the form of endless, nasty attacks against both Clintons. They were both liars; they were both sex fiends; why, they hung decorative condoms on the White House Christmas tree. Beyond that, of course, they were murderers. By 1999, large blocks of cable “news” time were being devoted to this insanity. And go ahead, Kevin—when you “come down,” you can check it out! When Hardball and Hannity pimped those vile murders, not a single career liberal player offered one word of protest.

By 1999, there was simply nothing you couldn’t say—as long as you said it about the Clintons. And then, about Candidate Gore.

The mainstream press corps accepted all this; indeed, they were the principal malefactors. So, of course, did your “liberal leaders”—weak, unprincipled, hackworthy men who run with the Sally Quinn crowd.

And they refused all enlightenment. In 1996, Gene Lyons published Fools for Scandal (How the Media Invented Whitewater), the most important political book of the decade. But go ahead—try to find a single reference to Lyons’ book in your “liberal journals.” And go ahead—see what those same fiery journals did when Gene and Joe Conason published The Hunting of the President in early 2000. Of course, you probably know what they did—they all agreed to keep their traps shut. By that time, these broken-souled losers had completely rolled over for those joint RNC/MSM narratives. They had adopted their masters’ commands. To this day, they have never looked back—or wanted you to do so. Candidate Gore had every advantage, Josh told you in 2002.

Beyond that, see what they did when the MSM turned its sights on Candidate Gore. In March 1999, it seamlessly happened—the venom aimed at President Clinton was instantly, seamlessly transferred to Gore. And what did your liberal leaders do? Some ran and hid—and some played along! Indeed, the Bradley campaign was built around dishonest panders to the insider press corps about their hatred of Clinton and Gore. And the “left” of your party played this sick game. By December 1999, the Bradley campaign was even pretending that Gore had been responsible for the gruesome Willie Horton debacle. Disgracefully, Bradley himself began to say this the next month—even though he’d said the opposite, in some detail, in his own 1996 book. But so what? One pundit challenged this balls-out lying. Sadly, it was Morton Kondracke. Every good “liberal” shut up.

That’s right! The weak-willed men at your “liberal journals” went along with this deeply unprincipled trashing. You can still find their names on those mastheads. And oh yes! You can find the U.S. Army deeply entrenched in Iraq.

Sorry, kids! The American public will never think we’re “cranks and fogeys” because “we harp on this so much!” Let’s be frank: The public will never hear this at all, because our leaders will never tell them about the disgraceful things they did in thrall to MSM power and influence. They won’t mention Ceci or “Kit;” indeed, when Ceci and Kit got briefly criticized in the summer of 2000, Jane Mayer heroically jumped in the stew, saying it was all due to sexism! (Happy with how that bullsh*t worked out?) For these reasons, “media bias” remains a powerful tool—a powerful tool for the GOP. They’re playing this card very hard this week—because it’s one of their strongest.

Last week, Naomi Judd began telling voters that no one has ever been trashed like Palin. Quite naturally, voters tend to believe such claims, because they’ve never heard anything different. In our view, Mother Jones should call Mother Judd and tell her the things he wrote in that post. We’ll offer this one small guess to Kevin: You’ll likely find Judd a damn sight more honest than the players who work in your yard.

“Liberal bias” is a powerful card, a card they’ve spent fifty years perfecting. They play this card because it works; it keeps working because our side has refused to debunk it. As we’ve long said, we refuse to tell the public the truth about the press corps’ recent conduct. One side keeps saying things which are bogus. And one side won’t say what is true.

Conservative power blew into town—and the millionaire “press corps” bowed down before it. To this day, the career liberal world won’t tell the public the facts about what happened next. Mother Judd has never heard a word about the matters Kevin described. And, with Mother Jones fretting so hard, it’s quite clear that she never will. ...

One side plays this game to win. On the other side, Kevin is palling around with careerists.

We've seen it happen all over again this year, except that it was conducted inside of the so called liberal political arena.

If I have a criticism of the Incomparable One, it is that his analysis does not extend much beyond his presentation of the fact of the Left's cooperation with the Right's maniacal jihad against the Clintons and Al Gore. Then again, that's not his objective. He has set for himself the sisyphean task of simply telling the truth. It is people like Bob that Hannah Arendt means when she says "Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs." He is a trustworthy witness testifying about the facts on the ground, no matter the desire of the courtiers to dismiss the destruction of political accountability.

But the question remains - why has the intelligentsia of the Left turned so implacably against people whose stated policies and observable acts are not substantively different than those who won that group's support? The embrace of The Precious shows that it is not merely the media being anti-Democrat - they loved him from the get-go and are eager to see him coronated in exactly the way they lusted for Bush in 2000. I think the answer has come out this year that the bias is class and acculturation. Upper class, cool, urbane, and not too interested in the details. That's for the underlings to handle.

It's the politics of people whose need for government resources and services are at a remove but substantial, like defending a financial system, rather than immediate and actually fairly modest, like some help paying the heating bills when the fuel companies price gouge. It is a politics that is disdainful of people in need. It doesn't like people who aren't from the right class and culture, and is suspicious of people who think too much about how to fix things that threaten people in need. It admires those who use power to take what they want.

As I said before, it is a politics of catering to the winners rather than defending the losers. What offends the Drums and Marshalls and other "pro-war before we were anti-war" suck-ups on the Left most about Somerby is that he keeps defending a "loser." Al may have won back some of these guys with the environmentalism and Nobel prize, but fundamentally they all still despise Gore as a loser, and they thought of him this way before the debacle of 2000.

They want their own Reagan, someone who will make them stop feeling like losers, even if it means losing touch with the principles they claim to hold.


Update - Also read Vast Left's latest on Corrente, When windmills attack, is it quixotic to notice?

Reminder to Commenters

  • Comments on this blog are moderated. If you do not see your comment right away, it is in moderation. Please do not post the same comment more than once.
  • I have a life. Sometimes I can read comments in moderation very soon after they have been posted. Sometimes, they will sit for most of the day. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • If you don't see your comment after several hours, it means A) I haven't moderated it yet or B) I moderated it and rejected it.
  • If you have put a hyperlink into your comment, I will hold that comment until I am at at a computer where I can visit any site and take my time reading what is at the link. Expect that you will remain in moderation for several hours if you add a hyperlink.
  • If you have said something that appears to be humorous, satirical, ironic, etc., and which could easily be misunderstood, I'm probably going to hold the comment until I can add a follow up or else not publish it. I may get the joke but I hate cleaning up after people who didn't.
  • If you are rude, TYPE IN ALL CAPS, look like you're getting into a pointless pissing match with another commenter, spam, or generally annoy me, you will be rejected.
  • Anyone who reads my comments can see that I'll approve and release stuff that I strongly disagree with as long as it is civil and thoughtful. Conversely, lack of civility or thoughtfulness, even when the commenter agrees with me, will earn a rejection.
  • I sometimes get way behind in moderating comments and I just reject the entire batch to clear things out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Girls Have Cooties

The NYT has a front page article, Women Buying Health Policies Pay a Penalty, on the significantly higher premiums private health insurance carriers charge woman. It appears that trying to remain healthy is a reason to charge higher premiums because the users "consume" more of the "product".

Striking new evidence has emerged of a widespread gap in the cost of health insurance, as women pay much more than men of the same age for individual insurance policies providing identical coverage, according to new data from insurance companies and online brokers.

Some insurance executives expressed surprise at the size and prevalence of the disparities, which can make a woman’s insurance cost hundreds of dollars a year more than a man’s. Women’s advocacy groups have raised concerns about the differences, and members of Congress have begun to question the justification for them. ...

In general, insurers say, they charge women more than men of the same age because claims experience shows that women use more health care services. They are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription medications and to have certain chronic illnesses.

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group that has examined hundreds of individual policies, said: “The wide variation in premiums could not possibly be justified by actuarial principles. We should not tolerate women having to pay more for health insurance, just as we do not tolerate the practice of using race as a factor in setting rates.”

The women most likely to be purchasing individual health care are those least likely to be employed and/or married to someone who has employer based health care. The women most likely to have lower household incomes and greater health risks due to the demands of work (possibly needing to do two jobs, leaving little time for self-care) and the structure of food pricing, where the least nutritious is the cheapest. This group of women is also likely to have dependents who are also significant "consumers" of health care.

One of my first thoughts was childbirth and attendant medical complications were factored into the premiums. After seeing what a friend of mine went through to have an "uncomplicated" ceasarian, I can see there would be some significant expenses involved. But that's not necessarily the case:

Insurers say they have a sound reason for charging different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years.

But women still pay more than men for insurance that does not cover maternity care. In the individual market, maternity coverage may be offered as an optional benefit, or rider, for a hefty additional premium.

Crystal D. Kilpatrick, a healthy 33-year-old real estate agent in Austin, Tex., said: “I’ve delayed having a baby because my insurance policy does not cover maternity care. If I have a baby, I’ll have to pay at least $8,000 out of pocket.”

So, it's not because the dames are popping out sproglets. That would be an additional expense. The "but you might get pregnant" argument is the same as what was used for years to deny access to education and good paying jobs. Your biology isn't male, thus, we're going to charge you. How big are these disparities?

Humana, for example, says its Portrait plan offers “ideal coverage for people who want benefits like those provided by big employers.” For a Portrait plan with a $2,500 deductible, a 30-year-old woman pays 31 percent more than a man of the same age in Denver or Chicago and 32 percent more in Tallahassee, Fla.

In Columbus, Ohio, a 30-year-old woman pays 49 percent more than a man of the same age for Anthem’s Blue Access Economy plan. The woman’s monthly premium is $92.87, while a man pays $62.30. At age 40, the gap is somewhat smaller, with Anthem charging women 38 percent more than men for that policy. ...

Thomas T. Noland Jr., a senior vice president of Humana, said: “Premiums for our individual health insurance plans reflect claims experience — the use of medical services — which varies by gender and age. Females use more medical services than males, and this difference is most pronounced in young adults.”

In addition, Mr. Noland said, “Bearing children increases other health risks later in life, such as urinary incontinence, which may require treatment with medication or surgery.” ...

In Iowa, a 30-year-old woman pays $49 a month more than a man of the same age for one of Wellmark’s Select Enhanced plans. Her premium, at $151, is 48 percent higher than the man’s.

So, women and men engage in sex, but women get pregnant and might have complications. That men, statistically more likely to have more partners, are at a higher level of risk for STDs and (since they are less likely to seek treatment) are more likely to suffer the long term effects of a disease like herpes and to spread that disease to other partners doesn't come up. Can we also talk about the propensity for male "young adults" to engage in risky behavior and end up requiring extremely expensive treatment for injuries? A friend of mine is recently out of ICU because of bashing in his own skull in a fall while trying to skateboard while drunk, for example. Are these accidents being factored in to male insurance premiums? Is it really the case that a woman is 48% more expensive to insure, or is it that the insurers know that men don't use medical services enough to make any money off them?

At the same time as women are being charged more because of they might get pregnant and they might make more use of the doctor, the fundamentalists are trying to remove access to effective birth control (in part by trying to force states to drop requirements that birth control be covered by insurance) and discourage use of health care that is aimed at reproductive health, such as pap smears, vaccines and and non-hormonal birth control, especially if provided by clinics that also provide abortion services. Where are the men of the Left in this battle?

Then there is the argument of health care over time. Women use health care earlier in their lives when it will pay out greater benefits in long term health. Men do not. The article did not offer a comparison of health care consumption after 40. Are men actually costing more long-term? The actuarial people warn against sharing the risk:

Cecil D. Bykerk, president of the Society of Actuaries, a professional organization, said that if male and female premiums were equalized, women would pay less but “rates for men would go up.”

Mr. Bykerk, a former executive vice president of Mutual of Omaha, said, “If maternity care is included as a benefit, it drives up rates for everybody, making the whole policy less affordable.”

Um, wouldn't it make the whole policy more affordable to the people most likely to need the health care? Instead of women, and the most vulnerable groups of women, having to bear a premium for the ordinary health needs of life, why don't we spread it around and make it a little more expensive here but a lot less expensive there? In short, why don't we use insurance the way it is supposed to be used, to reduce cost by recognizing the social benefits as well as the individual risks? Some people have their heads on straight:
Mila Kofman, the insurance superintendent in Maine, said: “There’s a strong public policy reason to prohibit gender-based rates. Only women can bear children. There’s an expense to that. But having babies benefits communities and society as a whole. Women should not have to bear the entire expense.”
The cost of poor maternal health as a whole is greater than just the considerable burden on the mother and her children. Of course, one answer I hear even on the Left is that women who can't take care of themselves (i.e., cannot afford health insurance plus the maternity rider) have no business bearing children anyhow. And they shouldn't expect to have contraception to save them, either. They can just keep their knees together and stop being such welfare queens and trailer park trash. Besides, the world is overpopulated and we don't need more people who are just going to reproduce their pathological culture as well as extraneous children.

Hmm, what's familiar about that picture? If you view women primarily as breeders, and then you divide them into the well mannered breeders who limit their reproduction and deserve to be treated like men and the undeserving breeders who have babies to stay on welfare or who are just sluts who fuck until they "have" to get married, well, you don't really have to look at the social benefit that accrues to men whose medical needs are no less than women's, but which follow a different pattern.

There is something profoundly wrong treating human reproduction as a disease peculiar to women.


Damn Interesting

In my internet quest for the weird, wacky and wonderful, I came across this site which truly lives up to its name:

Damn Interesting

Medium length blog posts on a host of topics, from nuclear disasters to crab parasites to Uri Geller. Use the "Random Article" selection under the "Sections" menu to see the widest variety.

Almost as much fun as Wikipedia.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hillary on Healthcare

Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Report Finding Health Care Premiums in New York Rising Much Faster than Earnings

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton made the following statement after the release of a new report by the consumer health organization Families USA comparing increases in health care premiums and earnings in New York.
“The findings of this new report underscore the urgent need to reform our health care system. Over the eight years of the Bush Administration, New Yorkers have seen their health insurance premiums rise more than seven times as fast as their earnings. Across our country premiums are outstripping earnings, but New York has been particularly hard hit, with premiums rising more than 80 percent while earnings only increased by 11 percent. Workers in New York, especially employees of small businesses, are facing higher deductibles and receiving fewer benefits. In short, New Yorkers are paying more for less. Health care costs are consuming a larger and larger portion of family budgets at a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling to put food on the table and put gas in their tanks and the credit crisis threatens our entire economy. And even as health care costs have soared, so have the ranks of the uninsured. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers under age 65, about 15.4 percent, are now without health insurance. These are not just statistics. These are real people facing real and mounting challenges. It is now clearer than ever that we urgently need major reforms to reduce health care costs and ensure quality, affordable care for every single American. We cannot afford to continue down the path of the last eight years. I will continue fighting for this goal until we have the health care system that Americans deserve.”

On my agenda: universal health care, privacy rights, reversing declining incomes for middle income and lower wage earners, and battling misogyny.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Private Matters

Some of my readers (and not just the published commenters) seem confused by discussion of public, private and the excusable when analyzing misogyny.

Right on cue, the AP reports today about a pair of white supremacists who intended to murder African American students and also try to kill Obama. The media frenzy is about the stated threat to Obama, while Damon on Corrente goes to the real problem, which is that the plot to murder people on account of race was the primary motivation: "To me, the main part of the story is the murderous rampage planned against a bunch of innocents folks based on nothing other than their color".

I'm going to focus on the planned school attacks not to minimize what the perpetrators wanted to do, but to emphasize a point I have been making about the privatized nature of misogyny compared to racism. As an aside to the total nut cases who have been innundating my comments and email: A) discussing the lack of attention given to misogyny in no way minimizes racist violence and B) providing a critical view of racism alongside of a critical view of misogyny is not excusing race-baiting against HRC during the primaries, or to minimize the misogynystic attacks on her or Gov. Palin. Smarter trolls, please.

What I want to point to first is the very serious and responsible actions of the ATF to the plot. That these racists did not appear capable of actually carrying out the full horrors of their plot against their initial targets (they evidently confessed to having fired at least one gun at an unoccupied AA church in the recent past) is not much of a concern - to have caused injury well short of death to a single person is reason for revulsion and condemnation. We look at it and can agree without equivocation that this plan was racist and inexcusable. Unlike the two school attacks, on the Amish school and on the Colorado high school, I have referenced before there is no doubt that these men were singling out a class of people without regard to anything specific to those people except a demographic marker - race. We are not confused by any personal histories of the would-be murderers or particularly interested in their motivations. We can see bigotry based on a class in a way we can't or won't see it when groups of women are murdered, or even threatened with violence short of murder.

There is another quality to the foiled plot that needs attention. Racial violence is conducted publically and (though not clearly present in this example) institutionally with state-controlled means of violence and coercion. Strangers seek out racial groups for assault and murder. Institutionally, we see patterns of actions that disproportionately punish non-white groups - "driving while black", the staggering incarceration rate of young black men, the different penalties handed out to different drug users, and so forth. This is violence inflicted in the street and with an audience.

As discussed in the previous posts, violence against women is disproportionately a crime performed within a private space - a home, a car in a secluded place, a locked dorm room, a professional office. The assailants are not usually strangers to us, but family members and friends. The privacy makes it difficult to measure the scope and scale, easy to reduce it to expressions of antipathy between particular individuals or of the psychopathy of the assailant, and extremely difficult to prosecute because of the intimacy and dependence between the assailant and the victim. The institutions of civil society, divided into feminine and masculine space, home and work, emotion and economics, provide constant, unmonitored, unremarkable access to the subjugated class.

This has also been the condition of racial violence in this country, of course, where slaveholders claimed to be acting as paternal authorities over the people attached (willingly or not) to their household. It was the physical and sexual subjugation of people who could not escape and who were, as time and generations went by, the kin of the abusers. America's apartheid, Jim Crow, was defended on the grounds that it was a private matter that outsiders should not interfere with, the paternalistic, patriarchal model of violent control extended to the community. It lingers on in arguments about "state's rights" or the power to systematically treat classes of people as the proper subjects of private violence and coercion.

Another aspect of the public/private which is counter intuitive is that misogyny does not need to hide itself in public, which is why I call it excusable. It is permissable to describe women as their body parts, to have magazines dedicated to demeaning sexualized portrayals of women, to harass, to graphically describe the sexual violence you want to inflict on a particular female as punishment for some real or imagined failing of hers, etc. We can talk violently and derogatorily about women in public venues in every corner of this country, in every socio-economic group, in every place of discourse from high brow to the gutter in a way that is not acceptable to speak about racial and ethnic groups. Ironically enough, to the degree that Obama was unfairly treated by The Village, the language used sought to feminize him, to make him appear weak, unmasculine, vain, girly, "Obambi" in Maureen Dowd's all-too self-revealing terminology. The worst thing she could think to call him was a girl.

To the degree that the society accepts as normal the use of private violence and coercion against a class of people, you will see public expressions of that violence tolerated, even promulgated, without irony or shame. Olbermann can trash women as such, something that the Incomparable Bob Somerby has noticed about Olbermann in the past.

Two of my favorite bloggers also bring up the public/private split in recent posts, one on race and another on gender disparity in pay. French Doc of The Global Sociology Blog posted a cartoon "Of The Invisibility of Social Privilege and Institutional Racism" that could just as easily be used to describe male privilege. She notes:

This should be mandatory material for any introduction to sociology course to explain the simple yet often hard to understand for our students fact that we do not all experience the social structure and interact with its social institutions in a similar fashion. ...

Moreover, social disadvantages and privileges are invisible, especially for the dominant categories (and sometimes even to the disadvantaged who might buy into the dominant ideology). That society is overall experienced as more structurally and interpersonally violent for the disadvantaged is a greatly under-discussed social fact that contributes to the reproduction of these forms of violence.

The violence against women is reinforced by structures of habitation and the acceptance of a level of violent language and imagery that would be unsustainable for any other class of people. Ann of Historiann has a post Who’s your daddy? that looks at the pay disparity in law firms, and that women are consistently paid less, even when they are married and have children and, at least objectively, have as great a need to provide economic support to their household. Married women with children earn the least, which is another informal structure of society that makes them vulnerable to coersion and violence in the home - low pay and pressure to not work increases vulnerability and also increases the relative advantage of all males, not just those who woud use violence. To my mind, the increasing reluctance of the men on the Left to spend political capital fighting for contraceptive rights has a great deal to do with wanting to reduce the competition. If I'm smart enough to get this connection, so are they.

Back in my grad school days in NYC, the spousal unit and I lived in a walkup in Little Italy. In the apartment above us was a couple who argued and scuffled. The woman was good friends with another woman on our floor. One night, we were brought bolt awake by the sound of the upstairs woman screaming and of things crashing. We scrambled to pull on our clothes, and the SU tried to find a stick or club. The woman downstairs was calling the cops and screaming up the stairwell for the guy to stop beating the other woman. The upstairs apartment door crashed open (big, heavy metal doors) and the woman being attacked ran downstairs to her friend's apartment, slamming the door shut before the boyfriend could get her. He spent the next 15 minutes pounding on the door screaming at them both. The cops showed up and did the arrest just outside our door. After the Miranda Rights, it kinda went like this:

COP: (Conversational, almost cheerful tone) So, why'd ya go beatin' your girl?

BF: (slurred voice) I din't!

COP: But she said ya did. Look, that's blood there. Need a closer look? (sounds of scuffle)

BF: I din't do nuthin'!

COP: Ya broke her nose, asshole.

BF: I din't hurt her!

COP: Ya didn't hurt her, huh? Well, tell ya what. How's about I take this here flashlight an' I smash in your nose? Whadda ya tink? Tink it would hurt?

Ah, rhetorical questions from New York's Finest. They dragged the guy off about then so we didn't get to find out of the boyfriend took the cop up on the offer. Two things have stayed with me about the exchange. First is the cop, who obviously didn't like this abuser, discussing the woman as a belonging and in a diminutive - your girl. The second is the insistence by the guy that he had not done anything, he had not inflicted harm. I think he meant it, that he didn't think what he had done to her constituted harm. Actually, there was a third thing I remember. It is Franca, the maintenance woman, on her knees on the stone steps the next day, scrubbing away the blood. It was spattered on the walls, the stairs and the floor.

Domestic violence, the systematic infliction of violence and threats of violence on household members, may be privatized, but it is not private, which is to say that it is not simply an altercation between two individuals but is a relationship of power that the society chooses to maintain as normal, natural, and outside anyone's ability to address because it's a "family matter". Just like chattel slavery used to be. Violent acts are performed by a significant minority of men for the simple reason that they know they will probably get away with it, but those acts in turn take place in a milieu where contemptuous degradation of women is as common as the nearest Hooters restaurant or the pharmacist who won't fill birth control prescriptions. Why wouldn't they think they can get away with it when the majority of men give no indication that they have any interest in changing the terms of the interactions?

I'm back to my original question to the men - who are you? Don't bother to tell me about what a great guy you are or how offended you are that I would compare you to those bastards who beat and rape. Anyone can appear sincere online. Since I don't know any of you in person, I have no way to know whether your words and your deeds coincide. Only you know if you are making excuses for not standing up and excercising the 1st Amendmant rights you hold so sacred for those who want to spew murderous misogynystic crap, and doing so on behalf of those who have to live on the receiving end of that violence. A system that promulgates misogyny also keeps intact the structures that engender classicm, racism and homophobia.

You can excuse yourself, or you can do the right thing.


PS - I look up from my blogging and see this posted by Echidne, Modern Day Sex Slavery. Someone is buying the use of these children, in enough volume that it is worth risking arrest to run these operations. I read this post and all I want to know is who is visiting these brothels and handing over dough to fuck barely pubescent girls?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Falstaff on Events

Falstaff has two excellent posts up today:

  • Op-edification - A thoughtful and open-eyed view of what changed the political race. It wasn't positions. It wasn't even personality. It was the implosion of Wall Street. There was no change in the campaigns from early September to now. McCain and Obama say the same stupid, irrelevant, substance-free things that have been babbling since June.
  • The Luck Child Theory of History - This is a painful post to read. What could someone with plans, goals, and vision do when presented with this political challenge? We'll never know. We have The Precious. The One Ring never really did anything of its own accord, either, save perhaps slip from a few fingers at inopportune times, but it certainly inspired people across two ages to alter the course of events. Falstaff hits it on the head when he says:
    "So I’m now hoping Obama serves as the stone soup for the collective, wisdom-of-crowds birthing of a new era. I don’t think he has the capacity to imagine it or deliver it himself. I don’t believe he has greatness in him, just waiting to be catalyzed by this crisis. In fact, I think he’s got certain aspects of narcissistic personality disorder, and that that cripples him as a decision-maker and even, long-term, as an inspirer."
    That's a pretty weak reed to support social transformation, but it's what the power brokers and self-appointed guardians of public appearance have decided they want.

Talking to the spousal unit on the way to the garden center today, we discussed the coming bowl of left-over oatmeal that will be the Obama administration. Policy will not be driven from the administration because they are all about emulating Reagan's publicity machine, being cool and popular, not about delivering the goods. They'll genuflectat the altar of High Broderism and try to be on the good side the the Very Serious People.

The engine for change will not be the White House, but the Senate and to a lesser degree the House, and will depend on what gets sent up Pennsylvania Avenue for The Precious to sign.

I know where I'm placing my bets.


Vote NO on Prop. 8

If you are a California voter who cares about civil rights, no matter how you feel about the politicians, be sure to vote NO on proposition 8, an attempt by homophobes to deny equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

It didn't take them long to gear up the hate. It was only in June, as I wrote in At Last, that marriage began, yet the proposition was already written and being put on the ballot.

It is time to put an end to second-class citizenship for millions in California.

No on 8


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Synonyms and Subprime

As I read the newspapers and the blogs about the mortgage meltdown, a certain pattern is emerging. Toxic mortgage = subprime mortgage = low income borrower = minority borrower.

That's a lot of assumptions packed into a very small box.

At every equal sign, logic gets twisted a little (or a lot) to try to end up with the outcome preferred by the writer, or else the writer is trying to combat the outcome of the argument (poor minorities have brought down the financial markets through subprime loans) without deconstructing the false logic of the chain. The connections in that chain need to disrupted, so that the items being chained are not treated as synonyms, but as distinct and independent elements in the financial crisis.

The two biggest leaps of logic are in the first two equivalencies. Without those reductions, the argument as a whole cannot work.

First, not all toxic mortgages are subprime, nor are subprime mortgages invariably toxic. Option Adjustable (OA) and Alternative A-paper (Alt-A) are also part of the mix and will be as great or greater a problem than the subprime mortgages are currently. Their reset/default window is in the future. Here is a slightly old chart from Credit Suisse that illustrates the distribution of existing mortgages due for a reset. (Image from Jim the Realtor)

These are loans with adjustable interest rates that will reset. Subprime resets, by this chart, are almost complete, the tailend of resets falling in 2009. Once reset, the borrowers will continue payments, refinance, sell or default as a result.

The wave that is picking up is the combination of OA and Alt-A which will go on until 2012. (Note that the severe fall off in 2012 is a lack of data, not an end to adjustable rate loans. The Alt-A and OA loans made after the chart was generated are not included.) OA and Alt-A loans are just as much a part of toxic loans as the subprimes, perhaps more as they have tended to be for larger amounts with riskier terms, relying almost exclusively on FICO scores and claims of income. The OAs explicitly increase indebtedness. These are loans made later in the bubble as a replacement for subprime.

I also point out the Agency loans (grey), which are those guaranteed by the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which also get reset. A much smaller proportion of the pie and with terms that are, on balance, less onerous than the previous three types, thus having a greater probability of remaining affordable and not going into default. Again, this chart is out of date and does not fully reflect the push in late 2006 and 2007 for the GSEs to reduce their standards and buy up non-conforming loans.

But what distinguishes the subprimes from the OA and the Alt-A? Not a whole bunch, as Tanta of Calculated Risk has written. Her long but incredibly lucid and informative post What is "Subprime"? should be required reading for everyone. Here are a few key paragraphs. Let's start with just what gets (or should get) evaluated when determing whether to make a loan (my emphasis throughout):

That said, what it’s about is just working through the complexity of the variations on three things that have been the core of mortgage underwriting since roughly the dawn of time: the three Cs, or Credit, Capacity, and Collateral. Does the borrower’s history establish creditworthiness, or the willingness to repay debt? Does the borrower’s current income and expense situation (and likely future prospects) establish the capacity or ability to repay the debt? Does the house itself, the collateral for the loan, have sufficient value and marketability to protect the lender in the event that the debt is not repaid?

There is no New Paradigm, there was no New Paradigm, there is not going to be a New Paradigm. The Cs are the Cs. What we “innovated” was our willingness to believe that we had established the Cs with indirect or superficial measures (that are, not coincidentally, cheap and fast compared to direct measures). We looked at FICOs—scores produced by computers—instead of full credit reports and other documents to supplement them. We looked at the borrower’s statement of income or assets, not the documents; when we got docs, we looked at the last paystub or the current balance of an account, not the documentation of a long enough period to establish stability of income or source of account balances. We looked at AVMs instead of full field appraisals. We read the Cliff’s Notes.

These practices have not worked out so well, of course, but my point is that they were simply “innovative” ways of answering the three C questions, not new questions. They’re not a repeal of the laws of physics or the laws of the Cs. They’re just wrong ways to answer the right questions.

Someone with low income but a small purchase can get a prime loan if the borrower meets the the three C conditions. Someone with a solidly middle class income may not be able to satisfy the same conditions if the loan amount does not conform to the standards. Tanta then goes into a detailed examination of the traditional role of subprime lending in the mortgage industry, which I strongly recommend everyone read. Her explanation of the "take-out" function of these loans is an education in and of itself, and vital to understanding the tectonic shift in lendign practices. She sums it up, saying:

You therefore have this giant conceptual gulf between industry analysts and the media, the latter being, on the whole, those who never really spotted the problem with the idea that homeownership is always and everywhere a good thing for everybody because it’s always an “investment.” If you believe that, you don’t tend to see anything odd about lending practices that offer purchase-money (not refi money) to people who appear to have no particular qualifications for homeownership. In essence, the old “hard money” or “collateral dependent” loan went mainstream, except that it went from the margins of the housing stock—manufactured homes, dilapidated row houses, the old farmstead—to the front and center—new homes, flashy condos, high-quality existing homes whose previous owners were heading for the McMansion. Given assumptions about the collateral—like, its value always goes up and its value always goes up—you could more or less forget about problems with the other two Cs. When the RE markets were hot enough, in fact, there weren’t “problems” with the other two Cs. Sure, borrowers with loads of consumer debts and insufficient incomes failed to make mortgage payments just like they always did, but it was always possible to sell out from under foreclosure or get another cash-out. A humming RE market keeps those cash-out appraisals plausible.

The subprime, OA and Alt-A loans became the way for the mortgage industry to avoid making hard choices about loans that were unsupportable no matter the income of the borrower. Here is a fascinating interactive map created by the New York Federal Reserve on mortgages around the country. You can switch between loan types in the upper right hand corner. Look at the different measurements in California and toggle between Subprime and Alt-A loans. Alt-A is in somewhat better shape, but not what you could call strong.

Barry L. Ritholtz of The Big Picture add another vital piece of information to this situation in his post How Lending Standard Changes Led to the Housing Boom/Bust, namely that the term being underwritten was really just the initial period of the loan:

In this ultra-low rate environment, where prices were appreciating, and most mortgages were being securitized, all that mattered to the mortgage originator was that a BORROWER NOT DEFAULT FOR 90 DAYS (some contracts were 6 Months). The contracts between the firms that originated mortgages and the Wall Street firms that securitized them had explicit warranties. The mortgage seller guaranteed to the mortgage bundle buyer (underwriter) that payments were current, the mortgage holders were valid, and that the loan would not default for 90 or 180 days.

So long as the mortgage did not default in that period of time, it could not be "put back" to the originator. A salesman or mortgage business would only lose their fee if the borrower defaulted within that 3 or 6 month contractually specified period. Indeed, a default gave the buyer the right to return the mortgage and charge back the lender the full purchase price.

What do rational, profit-maximizers do? They put people in houses that would not default in 90 days -- and the easiest way to do that were the 2/28 ARM mortgages. Cheap teaser rates for 24 months, then the big reset. Once the reset occurred 24 months later, it was long off the books of the mortgage originators -- by then, it was Wall Street's problem.

This was a monumental change in lending standards. It created millions of new potential home buyers. Why? Instead of making sure that borrowers could pay back a loan, and not default over the course of a 30 YEAR FIXED MORTGAGE, originators only had to find people who could afford the teaser rate for a few months.

I would add a final piece to the puzzle, which is that house prices in bubble areas rose far, far faster than incomes in response to the lax lending standards. All income levels, not just "low income" were confronted with house prices (and loan amounts) completely out of wack with their incomes - and an ever so helpful collection of mortgage brokers eager to help them get creative financing to "afford" those inflated costs, if only for 2 years. The unsupportable loans were not just subprime and not just to low income borrowers.

Tanta was one of the first and most critical voices against the conservative narrative about those lazy, opportunistic stupid minorities messing up our loan system, which is the main reason why I had my antennae up for it just before it became the topic de jour on the left-leaning econoblogs. She made no bones about the subtext of the arguments:

The association of subprime lending with the brown people is just the most overtly disgusting bit of bigotry to arise from the great mess. The belief that subprime borrowers are “poor people” has taken root so deeply that you need a jackhammer to rip it out. The capacity C of traditional underwriting was, of course, always relative to the proposed transaction. A lower-income person buying a lower-priced property was, you see, not a case of subprime lending; assuming a reasonable credit history, it was a prime loan. People with quite good incomes and stellar credit histories who tried to buy way too much house got turned down by the prime lenders. That was back in the days when you could live within your means, and you were expected to do so.

The trouble with the low-income prime loan was that it was a small prime loan. And that there were, in many market areas, more lower-income people than lower-priced properties. Both industry greed—wanting to make the biggest loans possible to make the biggest profits possible—and industry overcapacity, combined with ever less-affordable housing in the employment-rich population centers, brought us to a situation in which we might not have started with poor people, but they were certainly poor by the time we got done putting them into too much loan to buy too much house. There are subprime borrowers you find. There are those you create.

Poor people couldn't borrow enough to make money in conventional loans for the WaMus and Countrywides of the financial industry. Thus, exotic mortgage vehicles for everyone! This is a fast way to creating subprime (uncreditworthy) borrowers in every income bracket. Tanta then goes right for the jugular of the conservative argument:

The argument goes that it was the relatively low defaults of those 90s-era affordable mortgage programs that spawned the current mess by giving everybody the impression that you could do no-down loans all over the place and not worry about it. This assumes that the lending industry is so stupid that it cannot understand the mechanisms that kept those defaults low: first, selectivity in the programs; second, the availability of home equity lenders (the old subprimers) to take out the problems; third, cheaper real house prices. Perhaps it is the case that the industry is too stupid, on the whole, to figure this out. But how that becomes the “fault of” the original affordable housing initiatives just isn’t clear to me.

What is clear to me is how convenient this argument is for certain folks whose only other option is to admit to having been stupid and greedy. Exhibit A, our favorite Tan Man [Countrywide's Angelo Mozillo], whose transformation from “I got into this business to help poor brown people” in the 90s to “those brown people made me do it” is nothing short of nauseating. Exhibit B is everybody who decided that the best way to avoid being given fraudulent income and asset documentation and appraisals was to not ask for documentation or appraisals. Exhibit C is everybody who made “investment” loans for properties that did not and could not cash-flow, and hence had to flip to survive. Exhibit D is the “bridge loan,” or the product designed to blow up in 24 months and force either sale or refinance. There are many more Exhibits in this sorry book. The point is that the whole flimsy edifice had to fall down. That it started with the weakest parts—subprime—is no surprise. That this means that it’s all about subprime is mystification.

When home prices are unsupportable by normal incomes and when the mortgage industry is pushing exotic loan vehicles to line its own pockets as quickly as possible, we are, in Tanta's phrase, all subprime now. It is not the exclusive condition of people with dark skins and low income. It is many, many fair complexioned people with upper five-figure household incomes. It's most borrowers in San Diego County from the last 6 years. You can talk about the influence of the GREs on the rate or volume of other than prime loans, but you cannot make the case that all of these loans, or even the majority of them, went to low income minorities without demonstrable income. They went to people like my coworkers, white males with high-five figure incomes who wanted to buy luxury homes in "white" (East Asians and pale Hispanics OK) suburbs to get away from the older suburbs filled with lower income, darker skinned, immigrant populations, and who now are talking at work about "walking away" or "jingle mail" because their $500K, $600K, $700K, or even more expensive houses in North County and Eastlake are worth 25%-45% less and they can't afford the coming reset on their Alt-A ARMs. That's what the mortgage meltdown looks like in San Diego. Tanta has some words for them, too, in her post We Are NOT All Subprime Now, Thank You:

What a foreclosure and a "killing" of your credit rating does to you is make you "subprime." "Prime" is not a birthright; it is not an immutable characteristic like having blue eyes. The confident assertion that credit will be easily and quickly available to these borrowers formerly known as prime rests on a hidden assumption that they are unlike any other "subprime" borrower, and therefore will get preferential treatment in a year or two.

Mystification aside, this is a prediction that the subprime mortgage lending industry--and the investors therein--will have recovered sufficiently in just a year that this new large crop of subprime borrowers with a year-old FC on their records will be deluged with mortgage offers. Perhaps that will happen, but what makes anyone think it will happen just because these were once "prime" borrowers? Most subprime borrowers were once prime. With the exception of borrowers who have never had any credit, which is a fairly small group, subprime borrowers once had prime credit, and did not manage it well, and therefore now have cruddy credit records and FICOs. How, exactly, will these "walkaways" be any different from any other subprime borrower?

The whole thing is so nonsensical that I am forced to the conclusion that for this (and many other writers), "subprime" is code for "poor people" and "prime" is code for "middle and upper class people," hence the need for distinguishing terms for loan failure: "foreclosure" for the poor, "walkaway" for the non-poor. Foreclosure is something that happens to you against your will; "walkaway" is something you do to the bank as an exercise of control over your finances. If we can maintain these illusory distinctions, we can maintain "our" distance from "them."

If we can just pretend that we aren't subprime, that we're special and that we would have been OK except for the undeserving poor and illegal aliens who bought up all those mansions, driving up the home prices on us deserving middle and upper-middle class folks, then we don't have to address the restructuring of risk and the rewarding of greed that the Movement Conservatives fought for in the financial markets, and that The Village so desperately wants rescued.

I fight against this attempt to reinterpret the housing bubble and its collapse because the people with the least power in structuring this outcome are being made scapegoats for the robbery. It will interfere with real reforms to the GSEs to make them ethically and transparently fulfill their charters to expand mortgage credit to underserved populations. It will damage attempts to create a HOLC/HOME agency to address the need to revalue homes with minimum of moral hazard and prevent bailout of the prepetrators. It directly hurts women who make up the biggest slice of the working poor and who need access to affordable housing.

We are all subprime now, not just the people the power elite has thrown under the bus.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Unacceptable, but Excusable

First my thanks to the commenters in the previous post, So, who are you?, who tried to seriously respond to the challenge I presented. The really stupid comments went into the trash. I tried to keep the balance representative of what came in. About half were personal stories that I won't be posting. Remember, if you want a direct reply from me, use the contact form linked in the top right hand box.

Why is it so difficult to fight back against misogyny and the violence inflicted on women? Reflecting on the different treatment of racism and misogyny as political issues over the last year, I come up with the formulation that both of these modes of domination are formally unacceptable to most people in society, but that misogyny remains excusable. Racism and misogyny are acknowledged as wrong. There are laws, policies and measures to combat each. The formal opposition to each is having an effect. Barriers to employment, education and equitable treatment have been reduced. You cannot espouse racism and misogyny the way you could into the 70s. It is simply a fact that we don't have a white supremacy party (Howard Dean's paranoid fantasies not withstanding) even if we do have a party that encourages racist behavior.

The chief difference, as every newspaper's breathless articles about it demostrates, is that racism is no longer excusable in mainstream discourse. It is a mark against those who use it. This must not be mistaken for its absence or social extinction, only its delegitimation as an unapologetic argument in "polite" society. It is built into the structure of economics, society, education and politics. Even so, it has to hide what it is, abstracted, coded and whistled.

Misogyny can appear in an unadulterated form in public and private. It remains excusable. He was drunk. She was dressed like a skank. You can't blame a guy for reacting like that. Some sluttishness was probably involved. He didn't actually mean kill her, it's just a sports metaphor. You can understand why someone would want to beat her up. He didn't mean to go that far, but when a guy's riled up, he can't help himself. She should have known that would happen.

An excuse in this context is the attempt to shift the locus of agency, and thus of culpability, to the recipient of the violence, so that the actions of the aggressor become reactions to provocation. "You asked for it." The "asking" exists only in the mind of the perpetrator - and those who identify with him, not with the object of his desires.

The point of this kind of domination and exploitation is to perpetuate itself. As I have written about racism, you don't have to be a perpetrator to benefit from its effects. You can piously scold the benighted Bubbas and Bunkers for their expressions of hatred while enjoying the benefits of a system that has and continues to marginalize minorities. To the degree that racism remains, it is because it benefits a significant class of people to keep things that way.

Rape and other instances of violence against women is endemic because this violence benefits men as a class. If it only benefitted rapists then other men would not be so willing to go along. A trammeled, subservient class that provides emotional, physical and economic benefit in excess of what it receives is a nice thing to have around. It provides rewards that are visceral and personal. Societies such as the Taleban and the FLDS are structured around maintaining an exaggerated version of this subordination. It is more efficient and less work to have a less formal structure. Then, all you need to do is keep certain key activities, such as contraception, in a perpetual state of danger to exert a significant amount of disciplinary force. Leverage - it's not just for Wall Street.

We can look at something like the abandonment of the people in New Orleans to die by inches and immediately recognize this as an instance of racism, even when complicated by other matters like straightforward bureaucratic incompetance. White people would not have been left to their fates in that way. Those who do not have an ideological investment in disempowering citizens and a regulatory state can identify and describe the institutional racial biases that put that particular group at such risk. But where is that kind of analysis when confronted with a pattern of men rounding up women and girls and executing them in public places? If the murderers at the Amish school or Platte Canyon High School had rounded up all Blacks or all East Asians and beaten and murdered them, would we be discussing the psychosis of the murderer, or would we be discussing the pernicious influence of racism?

Misogyny is excused away in great part because it is privatized, a "domestic" form of violence that is a manifestation of the bad relationship between particular individuals, not a pattern of behavior endemic to the society. If it is a private matter, there's nothing to be done except hope the people involved "reform". The violence is decentralized, making it difficult to oppose. The violence flourishes most where tradition is strongest - the family home, the military, religious organizations and academia.

This is why the question has to be turned on individual men to drive home that you are absolutely complicit in a social system that excuses rape, beatings and murder of women because they are women. Until men confront and punish the men who engage in this, it won't stop. Which means giving up your privilege, which is more than anything the ability to remain oblivious of the damage done because you have the luxury of not having to face it.

As I said in an email to someone earlier today, perhaps the unrecognized violence here is that done to the men who would never consider doing such a thing, yet are always judged on the basis of the worst they might do. Of all the men I know or come into contact with, there are exactly two who have my absolute trust that they will not do me harm if offered the opportunity to do so. I'm married to one and the daughter of the other. Every other man I am around is on my scale of "probably not an immediate danger" to "get away from him now". I do not ever ride in a car alone with a guy if I can help it. I'd rather walk or take the bus or wait for a female friend or call the spousal unit to come pick me up. I don't meet in rooms with doors closed. I don't invite male friends over unless the spousal unit is at home. I watch what my male coworkers do, listen to what they say, judge how they talk about women, constantly evaluate whether they are erratic, bullying, dominant, or exhibit other behaviors that indicate potential danger. I don't have a choice about remaining ignorant of the behavior of the men around me because it very much is the difference between life and death. Every. Single. Day.

I'm reading the comments on the earlier and finding a lot of excuses for why men don't know what their fellows are up to, or why it's not really what it looks like, or how are you supposed to know if somebody did something, or some other explanation. Mandos (the tender of souls in Tolkien mythology) asks if it is responsible to remain oblivious. It is certainly easier to remain oblivious. It will be less work for you. It leaves the women out there having to defend themselves from all sides, but at least you won't be uncomfortable around the guys while joking about the hawtness of the new girl in marketing. I think that even asking the question indicates a knowledge that the price for your oblivion is the abuse of the women around you.

When I discuss misogyny in my academic voice, men feel reassured because it is an amorphous "they" who are discussed, maybe a statistical sample, it's a problem over there, not here. It's a voice I cultivated in academia so I would be taken seriously, manipulating abstractions that did not challenge the actual situation, which was having a professor with a three decade track record of propositioning, molesting and forcing himself on his female students as my graduate advisor, specifically assigned to him to show to the university that he was "rehabilitated" after his most recent incident, one that cost the university plenty to keep it out of the papers. When my voice shifts, dropping abstractions and addressing the fact that violence against women is done by men indistiguishable from you and I am tired of hearing excuses for why you don't know anything about the crimes around you, you feel personally threatened.

Welcome to the club.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

So, who are you?

Alegre and Red Queen have recent posts up about the basic fact that rape is a problem with men. It is something you men evidently enjoy doing and don't really want to see stop happening, though perhaps you'd prefer it not happen to your current female, unless you're the one doing it.

While one man can inflict violence on a number of women, it's not the case that there is a small secret club of guys responsible for the bulk of sexual and other attacks on women. The extreme cases make the papers, like the Austrian who imprisoned his own daughter for most of her life so he could rape her as he pleased or the Pennsylvania man who murdered the Amish schoolgirls he had taken hostage apparently to rape them, but the mundane, ho-hum, rape-em and go stories rarely get brought to the attention of local law officials let alone the media.

If every 6th woman you meet is statistically likely to have been sexually assaulted, then doesn't that also indicate that, say, every 7th or 8th man you meet is statistically likely to have committed a sexual assault?

I know many women who have been attacked. They tell me stories of what happened, when, who did this.

Do you men really not not know who among you is a rapist? Note that if you have forced yourself on someone who did not want sexual contact with you, you are a rapist. Just once is enough to earn you that lable. Did your wife or lover or friend ever tell you about the person who attacked her? Have you ever heard another man say he had assaulted a woman? Did you ever offer sympathy to a raped woman and then go on and rape yourself, either her or someone else?

Most women know the person who assaults them. Nearly 3/4 of sexual assaults are by done by someone known to the victim. That means you men are getting thrills by attacking women you know and who have some kind of trust in you. My opinion is if you hear a man saying something misogynistic, you are probably listening to a rapist, a person dehumanizing women so they are simply prey.

The fault lies with you men, even those of you who don't (or have not yet) rape, which is failing to go after the men who do. It's a male behavior, structured around male concepts of what is excusable, and is entirely up to men to eliminate.

Red Queen:
The only people who can stop rape are men because men are the rapists.

Dude thinks that everyone needs to work to change it, that women need to work just as much as men do to stop rape.

Except, we aren't the rapists. And we have been working on preventing rape since forever. And I for one am tired of tailoring my behavior out of fear that some rapist will see me coming like a bright shiny beacon of potential cum dumpster status.
Let's put the blame for this violence where it belongs... squarely at the feet of the men who attack and kill women. When are folks going to stop blaming women for the actions of others? When will our leaders wake the hell up and understand that it's the responsibility of men to stop attacking and killing. That it's the responsibility of other men to stand up to those thugs, speak out against this violence, and say ENOUGH! when it comes to those who attack their sisters, mothers, daughters and wives?
We can't get away from you. You're half the species and you have colonized every inch of human space, claiming it as your property that we women occupy at your pleasure.

So, I'd like to hear from the guys about the men they know who are rapists. Or what you have done personally to get some rapist arrested. Or how you stand up against male peer pressure to make a point that rape isn't acceptable to you.

Silence is complicity.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No Riverbend in a Year

Riverbend, the author of the blog Baghdad Burning, has not posted for one year. When she last posted, she had only two more months on her visa in Syria:

By the time we had reentered the Syrian border and were headed back to the cab ready to take us into Kameshli, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were refugees. I read about refugees on the Internet daily… in the newspapers… hear about them on TV. I hear about the estimated 1.5 million plus Iraqi refugees in Syria and shake my head, never really considering myself or my family as one of them. After all, refugees are people who sleep in tents and have no potable water or plumbing, right? Refugees carry their belongings in bags instead of suitcases and they don’t have cell phones or Internet access, right? Grasping my passport in my hand like my life depended on it, with two extra months in Syria stamped inside, it hit me how wrong I was. We were all refugees. I was suddenly a number. No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own... especially their own.

We live in an apartment building where two other Iraqis are renting. The people in the floor above us are a Christian family from northern Iraq who got chased out of their village by Peshmerga and the family on our floor is a Kurdish family who lost their home in Baghdad to militias and were waiting for immigration to Sweden or Switzerland or some such European refugee haven.

The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, “We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too... Welcome to the building.”

I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.

For me, everything that Movement Conservatism has done wrong can be read in Riverbend's blog. Her careful chronicle of how the normalcy of everyday life melted away is the story of the corrosive effect Bush and his backers have had on the world directly for eight years and in varying levels of intensity since Reagan.

Anyone who praises Reagan and the movement he led is praising what has happened to Riverbend, her family, her friends, her country. There is no wall between the domestic and foreign policy of these people. The collapse of Wall Street and the burning of Baghdad are of a piece, joined by a Darwinian world view that there are hunters and prey, the strong and the weak, the winners who are deserving and the losers who deserve nothing. The prisons of California, an industry the Republicans proudly comapre to Pat Brown's university system, are the siblings of Abu Ghraib. The drowning of New Orleans is the mirror of Baghdad in flames. Devastation to the innocent by-standers who could not flee in time, a gold mine for the contractors who arrived like vultures to strip the carcasses to the bone.

"... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend..."


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The Incomparable Bob Somerby is one of the very few voices in Left Blogistan who rejects all truthiness and is willing to turn his criticism on his fellow bloggers for their unseemly desire to move out of remote blogospheric hamlets and into The Village. His take down today of Josh Marshall (no more jokes about who kidnapped him) is a thing of beauty, "Will someone stop Josh Marshall before he defends Bush again?"

Somerby reviews Josh's bizarre insistence that John McCain's campaign is worse than anything seen in American politics in 35 years, including Marshall's casual defense of both Bushes' excrable campaigns. I think Somerby misses a small point, that Marshall is not thinking of Nixon as the worst campaign, but of George Wallace. Why? Because it fits with the meta-narrative of dividing the electoral world into racists and non-racists, instead of into conservatives and liberals, or Republicans and Democrats, or some other issue-based form of political categorization.

Key Somerby quotes (but read the whole thing, it is powerful):

Here’s the rest of Josh’s original post—a post which helps define the broken soul of emerging “progressive” culture: [long cite of how the Bushes weren't involved in the Willie Horton or the Swift Boat Veterans smears.] That concluded Josh’s original post. It’s why this guy has to go.

First, it’s astounding to see the way Josh keeps defending the campaign of George Bush the elder. We know, we know—within the framework of the Village, this sort of thing makes you a Serious Person. But is there no end to the insults we must endure from these transparent strivers? ... Josh may be too young to remember these things; he may be too dumb to have read about them. But with his repeated defenses of Bush the elder, he is misinforming a whole generation of younger readers. We know! We know! Within the Village, this sort of thing makes you a Serious Person. But it’s time for this bullsh*t to stop. ...

Is the current campaign “the most dishonest” of the past 35 years? For a liberal or a Democrat, it’s insane to address that question without discussing the twenty-month War Against Gore—and yes, Josh understands that fact (link below). But Josh is making himself a career—and he’s willing to disinform you to do it. Within the Village, you become a Very Serious Person by disappearing what the Villagers did for twenty straight months during Campaign 2000. Josh understand that history well—and he knows enough not to discuss it. ...

Josh has played for you for many years on this score. In the process, he is emerging as the Sully of the pseudo-left. It’s long past time for this weird, creepy man to pack his satchel and go. At any rate, will someone please stop poor Josh Marshall before he boo-hoos, blubbers and cries defending Bush the elder again? Josh! George Bush 41 ran a scuzzball campaign! It was the start of modern GOP campaign culture. Our advice: Go away and grow some stones. Come back when you’re ready to say it. ...

[Cite of Josh repeating lies form Drudge] Good God! To this day, Josh continues to air that highlighted claim, which originally came from Drudge—a claim whose absurdity became clear within about ten minutes. (As an adept of The Cult of the Offhand Comment, Josh is also eager to throw in the "hard-working, white" quote.)

Hasn’t the public suffered enough from the actual Andrew Sullivan? Defending Bush, avoiding Campaign 2000, Josh makes himself a Serious Person. But you can’t build a progressive politics by respecting the need of people like this to shape-shift the recent past.

I don't think Somerby is wrong on any of these counts, I would simply push him further. He keeps hinting at it when he talks about the broken soul of emerging "progressive" culture, insults from transparent strivers, the frantic desire to become a Very Serious Person, the pseudo-left (a phrase Somerby has been using for several days), shape-shifting the recent past, and so forth. His focus is on the blogosphere and the straightforward lies of people like Marshall, Yglesias, Markos, Kevin Drum, Hamsher, Huffington, Atrios, Steve Benen, and Digby, the people who started exactly in the same place as Somerby (well, not Arianna) and who all of them, every last lying scumbag one, found out that the way to get invited onto TV, interviewed in big name news papers, sucked up to by political campaigns, was to join in the defamation of the Clinton/Gore administration.

It is more important to this group of the wanna-be punditocracy to be seen beating up that administration than to be critical of any Republican one. As we have seen over the last year, it is also more important to the Unity Democrats to defame these people than to actually unify the party into an electoral super-majority. It is this fact that Somerby criticizes by proxy in his contempt for Marshall and for the forces arrayed against Gore. He presents the media lies to expose the political lies.

To me, as I have been writing for months, the key lies with the psychosis of the Stevensonian crowd, who hate all things white and southern and who have seized the presence of racism (real and imagined) as the source of evil in the body politic. No lie is too much, no threat of violence too far, no manipulation of the process too crude in the Battle Against the Bubbas.

This is why we have the weird opposition to McCain and Palin, almost identical to the trashing of Hillary, focusing on racism and social status to the exclusion of substance. It can work if you have already decided that the poor and working class as such are not worthy of political representation. Exactly in the way that the Republicans have tried to make urban black populations stand in for everyone below upper middle class, trying to sully programs for lower classes by forcing programs benefitting those classes into grotesque blackface, now the Democrats are coming at this group from the other side, whitewashing their own class bigotry with the specter of the KKK.

Before Somerby guts, skewers and shish-kebabs Marshall, he nails Richard Cohen on Cohen's incoherent bloviating:

But why should anyone pay attention to anything Richard Cohen says? Having left the Republican Party for dead, this is the way he describes the modern Democratic Party:

COHEN (10/21/08): Ah, I know, the blues are not all virtuous. They are supine before self-serving unions, particularly in education, and they are knee-jerk opponents of offshore drilling, mostly, it seems, because they don't like Big Oil. They cannot face the challenge of the Third World within us—the ghetto with its appalling social and cultural ills—lest realism be called racism. Sometimes, too, they seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.

Still, a Democrat can remain a Democrat—or at least vote as one—without compromising basic intellectual or cultural values.

Talk about the lesser of two evils! According to Cohen, Democrats refuse to stand up to the teacher unions and indulge in irrational hatred of big corporations. They don’t have the guts to stand up to “the ghetto”—our own “Third World within.” And of course, they sometimes “seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.” This is an astounding portrait. And yet, despite these astonishing flaws, a person can be a Dem today “without compromising basic intellectual or cultural values!”

Look at who Cohen goes after - environmentalists, unions, black (ghetto) poor, and critics of American hegemonic power. Hmm, sounds like he doesn't like liberals. Sounds like he equates being against those things with being a real Democrat, calling people who want unionization (defense of working class) and policies to alleviate poverty (refusing to pathologize urban blacks or rural whites), protection of the environment and development of renewable energy (defense of life itself), and object to smacking around small countries (diplomacy, not bombs and assassinations) lacking in intellectual power and cultural values. Praising Reagan? Excusing the Bushes? That's all good.

Bob has it right. What this last political year shows us is how the Unity Democrats have Sullied liberalism.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture Club

What happened was Democrats had gotten complacent, had gotten fat and happy. they thought there was a government program to solve every problem. Ronald Reagan came in and said we need to break out of the old ways of doing things and create a leaner, more effective government,” [Obama] said. “That was the right message then. I think that right now we went too far in the wrong direction. We can’t go back to the old liberalism of the past, but [when] you are on your own economic philosophy [of] Bush and McCain doesn’t work either. Let’s try a new way where we apply common sense, have government do what it does well [h/t, Lambert]
The Democratic nominee is holding up Reagan as someone who had the right idea about government. As I wrote in Where the Shadows Lie, "The ultimate shadow of Reagan is that you don’t win by defending losers, only by securing the interests of the winners. That is the dark heart beating in the chest of the Unity Democrats. They are done with the losers." I wrote that on September 16, before the Hanky Panky was passed with the full participation of the Democratic leadership, and it becomes more true with every day. Here are a few references before I get into the meat of this post:

It would be best to understand this post if you read the Somerby post. It's fairly short for him. Here is the heart of the argument (my emphasis throughout):

Why is this bad for progressive interests? First, because you simply can’t build a progressive politics from the desire of people like King to overstate, mislead and inflame. ... King’s rhetoric encourages, almost demands, leaps of logic—encourages readers to think that one man’s cry makes everyone around him “rabid” (and perhaps “ugly”)...

Why is this bad for progressive politics? First, because you simply can’t build a progressive politics from the desire of people like King to make average people dumber. It’s dumb to think that one man’s cry turns thousand of others into “a lynch mob”—into “a rabid audience” whose “ugliness is stunning.” But beyond that, writing like this keeps a “culture war” going. The pseudo-right invented this culture war, because it can win no other way.

Why is work like this bad for progressive politics? Because many people will see the unfairness of King’s loud cries—and their hearts will harden accordingly. They will harden in their sense that there is no harbor for them on “the left”—in their sense that there is no reason to listen to liberal or mainstream complaints about the conduct of McCain and Palin. Some of those people would have seen what is wrong in the conduct of McCain and Palin—if King had bothered to dirty his hands explaining the misconduct to them. But they will recoil at the sheer absurdity of this column’s rhetoric—even as pseudo-liberal hearts are warmed. This leaves us caught in that “culture war”—the war the other side wants.

As a general matter, nothing is dumber than fighting on turf the other side has chosen. And that’s what pseudo-liberals do when they keep this “culture war” going—along with its familiar handmaiden, the journalism of perfect dumbness.

I both agree and disagree with Somerby on his evaluation of the culture war. His analysis of Colbert King (and later Frank Rich) is spot-on, exposing their inflammatory rhetoric about the degree and nature of alleged racist incidents at McCain and Palin campaign events. Where I disagree, and it is more that I want to expand his insights than that I disagree with them, is that his claim that the culture war is only wanted by "the other side". I believe that we have seen enugh from the Unity Democrats this year to understand that we have two very different culture wars going on, one loud, public and mostly symbolic, the other quiet, behind closed doors and extraordinarily effective.

You can think of it as a four paned grid. In the top left, the elite of Whole Foods Nation. In the top right, the elites of the Movement Conservatives. Lower left are the rank and file of the Democratic Party and the left-leaning population, while the lower right contains their counterparts aligned with the Republicans. There is the campaign war of the left column of the grid fighting the right column. There is also the class war of the top row of elites waging a kind of war on the losers in the bottom row. We might have to toss in another row on intelligentsia and media in between the party power brokers and the plebes, but they will identify upwards more than down.

The first of these culture wars is the one the Left likes best to fight, popular culture, and is the one Somerby warms against. In contests since Reagan, the media has been squarely on the side of the Right even as elite opinion makers are themselves far more socially liberal than they argue. We've been used to watching the media bash the effete latte libruls trying unsuccessfully connect to the common man while the Republicans know how to have a beer with the heartland. Just below the surface of this lurked the argument about the Democrats pushing the agenda of the black urban underclass at the expense of "real" Murkins.

What marks this year is the media cheering Whole Foods Nation to victory over the Bunkers and Bubbas. Why? A change in where the Democrats got their support:

One of the most telling facts about the Obama's constituency ... is that it is a coalition of people who need or demand the least amount of social benefit from our government. They are the under politicized younger voters and upper middle class whites. The two groups, coincidently, are the ones most influenced by trends in consumer popular culture and have the greatest of ease using the latest technologies.

Life in the Post Political Age

This analysis was borne out by the exit polling from the primaries. The Stevensonian elite predicated its run this year on deliberate abandonment of the poor and working class, who they see as cultural traitors, and playing to the winners of great economic transformation since the 60s. As this is both the media's class and the fantasy it holds of itself, they loved the story - we are the ones we've been waiting for. Unlike the Clintons (“He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place.”), Obama is seen as a proper member of The Village, unconnected to the (white) trash that both parties have sullied themselves appealing to.

The Republicans have seen their previous winning narrative about representing the salt of the earth turned upside down, and are now being portrayed as nothing but backwards racists. I have a certain grim satisfaction in seeing this, having watched the Movement Conservatives race-bait their way into power, except that the media outrage is just as faux about the Republicans as it was about the Democrats and its lies about Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc.

The second theatre of culture war is taking place out of sight of the cameras and is the class war against the losers. The power elite in both parties are part of this cultural club. This is what makes sense of Obama's Reagan worship and the refusal to engage with traditional Democratic constituencies who do not like his actual policies. Given that there is no where else to go in the popular culture wars, the political calculation is that these groups will not defect to the Republican side in an election, and so there is no political capital to be gained by making economic or policy promises to them. The Village with its multi-million dollar celebrity talking heads is part of this elite. They agree about a need for a sound fiscal policy (even when that policy is bailing out the failures of Wall Street) and for austerity for the lower classes. As the anonymous political consultant points out:

It is precisely because of the iron grip of this consensus, that even if we have a new Democratic President and an enhanced Democratic majorities in the Congress, there will be no legislation signed into law to make it easier to organize workers, provide universal health care or deal with our ever widening class and income divide in the United States. ...

Elite consensus on the issues of race, sex and role of faith in public life are to the left of public opinion, the only area in which this is the case. Elite opinion is overwhelmingly secular, pro-choice, supportive of gay rights and hostile to overt displays of racism. ...

When social conservatives complain about the "Liberal Media" they are not wrong, but only in regard to their issues. The contempt of the American elite for the religious right is quite real. What social conservatives misunderstand is that the hostility against them is not because the threat their ideas represent but only a display of the traditional contempt that the merciless strong have for people they consider to be the feeble minded weak.

Moving to the Center of Elite Consensus

The contempt and moral superiority of the power elite is not just aimed at the social conservatives. It also is aimed at anyone who is too serious, too earnest, too uncool to be a member of their club, which allows them to attacks figures as diverse at Al Gore and Bristol Palin. The connection between people so disparate is how uncomfortable they make elite opinion makers feel. People like Gore insist that something be done about health care, inequity and environmental destruction. People like Bristol Palin remind the opinion makers that their liberal ideals are only meant for themselves, where they can enact their own social policies because they can afford to, and are not for the likes of her.

In both of these wars, what we find is the privitization of the risks of ordinary life, from health care to housing, from economic advancement to old age retirement. Policies and institutions that would defend working class power (and, increasingly, any wage-based employment, even in the so-called professions) are being deconstructed in the name of efficiency, fiscal responsibility and freedom of choice. The two theaters of operation create two sets of discourse; one focuses on the popular culture and is a battle of competing moralisms, the second one looks at economic class culture and is the consensus view of elite opinion undisturbed by the dumb-show for the groundlings. What kind of politics does that get us? I return to the anonymous political consultant (my emphasis):

The recent enthusiastic embrace of Senator Obama of the call for "responsibility" from inner city black fathers is a prime example of this issue. What he is really saying is, "I will never blame the owners of the country for the social problems caused by their economic policies." Senator Obama knows better than anyone that you can eliminate most of the problems of inner city fathers in a generation with a decent educational system and living wage jobs.

But all systems of power need a convincing and unlikable enemy, which can bury the contradictions of the system. In our case incoherent, undereducated black urban males fit the bill perfectly. They are being attacked not because they are a threat to the power structure, but precisely because they are not.

What voters are expected to believe is that after a 30-year class war against the bottom 90% of income earners, the source of their troubles are black rappers and inner city fathers and not criminality on Wall Street or a corrupt political system. The road to the White House over the past 30 years has been paved by pretending to believe the absurdity that the individuals who pull the levers of power over people's lives are named Willie Horton, Sister Souljah and Ludicrous, and not Robert Rubin, Phil Gramm and Hank Paulson.

Moving to the Center of Elite Consensus

The attacks on the GSEs and low income/minority borrowers as the scapegoat for the financial meltdown is another example of this move, though coming from the Right and farther reaching than Obama's self-serving attempts to distance himself from "undeserving" black populations.

What club do you belong to in this two-front war?