Notes and Comment Blog

153 million

Apr 8th, 2016 9:43 am | By

I heard someone say on NPR the other day that the two Clintons have collected $150 million in speaking fees since he left office. My jaw dropped. I knew they’d both been pocketing huge fees, of course, but I didn’t know it added up to 150 MILLION.

CNN did the accounting a couple of months ago.

Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign last spring, a CNN analysis shows.

In total, the two gave 729 speeches from February 2001 until May, receiving an average payday of $210,795 for each address. The two also reported at least $7.7 million for at least 39 speeches to big banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner, collecting at least $1.8 million for at least eight speeches to big banks.

I knew the bank part. I didn’t know the 150 MILLION part. Or maybe I did, but just didn’t register the scope of the exploitation.

The analysis was made at a time when Hillary Clinton has been under scrutiny for her ties to Wall Street, which has been a major focus of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail.

“What being part of the establishment is, is in the last quarter, having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one’s life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests,” Sanders said at Thursday’s Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC.

The former secretary of state testily responded to Sanders’ charges.

“Time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth which really comes down to, you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought. And I just absolutely reject that, senator, and I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough,” Clinton said.

She then challenged him: “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly, but you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation I ever received.”

You know, she really should stop making that argument. She should stop personalizing the issue and be honest about the real issue, the not-personal issue – that money in politics is corrupting, and that’s why bribery is a bad thing and should not be allowed, no matter how nice and upstanding any particular politician may be. It doesn’t matter that she’s convinced she never changed a view or a vote because of any donation (if she really is convinced of that, as opposed to just performing conviction). She doesn’t get to exempt herself from general laws because she knows how wonderful she is. She doesn’t get to make it about her character. For that matter she doesn’t get to act as if she has no clue that people can be wrong about their own motives, and lie to themselves about how good they are, and the like. She should be acting as if she is subject to the same errors and biases and self-interested motivations as other human beings are, as opposed to assuming and telling us she is saintly and incorruptible to an extent beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Also, she doesn’t get to be that fatuous about influence and agency. How could it be the case that donations and inflated speaking fees had no influence on her views and votes whatsoever? That would be supernatural. Why should her views and votes be supernatural when no one else’s are? How exactly did she manage to make herself wholly immune to the influence of huge sums of money?

By saying that kind of shit she just does more to entrench the whole disgusting corrupt process. It pisses me off.

A mentality that puts male desires above women’s human rights

Apr 7th, 2016 5:29 pm | By

Meghan Murphy tells us:

On April 6, 2016, the French National Assembly recognized prostitution as a form of violence against women, voting to criminalize the purchase of sex in France. Under the new law, prostituted people will be decriminalized and men who are caught buying sex will be subject to fines.

In a press release, Ressources Prostitution points out that adopting this law ensures France is in compliance with international and national human rights commitments, including the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) and France’s national rape law, which defines rape as “any act of penetration imposed on someone by violence, surprise, threat, or coercion.”

With today’s 64 to 12 vote, French parliamentarians recognize that buying sexual access to another person’s body is inherently an act of coercion and recognizes that prostitution harms women and society as a whole.

In sharp contrast to the fatuous libertarian view that treats it as just a matter of the “freedom” of individual women to sell access to their bodies.

[B]eyond fines and funding, the bill aims to change the discourse surrounding the sex trade, educating the public and law enforcement alike about the way in which the system of prostitution operates on a foundation of inequality, targeting the most vulnerable and propping up a mentality that puts male desires above women’s human rights, well-being, and dignity.

Vive la France.

You can report rape, but it’s already a form of rape

Apr 7th, 2016 5:10 pm | By

Former prostitutes who don’t view sex work as just another job.

AT RHIANNON’S* lowest point, she agreed to sex for money with a man who found her drunk, high on prescription drugs and crying on the street outside the strip club where she worked.

Back at his home, she cut her wrists in his bathroom and stuck toilet paper on them.

“The man felt it was worth paying a hundred dollars to have sex with a woman who had a tearstained face and bleeding wrists,” she said.

“I insisted on clutching the cash while he used me.”

She asked him to call her an ambulance and he shrugged, so she left and called one herself. She planned to jump off a bridge if it didn’t arrive in ten minutes.

Her story is just one of the graphic first-person testimonies in Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a shocking book that will be launched at an anti-sex trade conference at RMIT University in Melbourne this weekend.

Former prostitutes and other women across Australia are coming together to talk about the “oldest profession in the world” in a different way. They don’t use the words escort, call girl or sex worker, because they say these legitimise men paying women for sex as a service or a career. Instead, they call it abuse.

Well have they talked to enough privileged lefty women who swear up and down that prostitution is fun and empowering and well paid? Are they sure they’re not SWERFs?

Last weekend, prominent high-class call girl Samantha X gave a talk in Sydney to around 50 female fans. She spoke about her choice to leave journalism for highly lucrative sex work at 37, having quick sex and long chats with three men a day in hotels, and the safety of working for a reputable agency like hers, which screens its clients.

Many agree with her. But a growing group of survivors and abolitionists say they are disturbed at pro-sex trade lobbyists painting the industry as a profession, chosen by autonomous women because it makes them feel empowered.

Lobbyists? I thought they were the ultimate in 4th wave sex-positive purified feminists. No?

“I was groomed very young by society, a neoliberal culture,” former prostitute Simone Watson, from Western Australia, told “I came from a pretty lovely family. I called myself a feminist.

“I was about 23 and I needed money. I’d had sex with people I didn’t like very much before, why not get paid for it?

“Like the women around me, I took different kinds of medication. Then they can do whatever they want with you. You need to disassociate and leave your body. I used diazopenes. You couldn’t drink on the premises but I made up for it at home.”

Simone, 48, is now national director for the Nordic Model Australia Commission. The model, which has been successful in Sweden and was introduced in France this week, sees prostitutes decriminalised and those who pay for sex criminalised.

“What can police do i[f] sexual harassment is part of your working conditions? You can report rape, but it’s already a form of rape,” said Simone. “You get lonely johns, aggressive johns, creepy old men, mundane middle-aged men and uni students who are incredibly rude.

“It’s all on the paradigm of male violence against women. It isn’t a job like any other. Men who buy women for sex have no respect for women.”

Simone has been left with PTSD, anxiety and agoraphobia, so her advocacy work and travel has been challenging, but she’s desperate to create change.

Since the Nordic Model was introduced in Sweden, she says, there’s been a cultural shift. “Young people grow up thinking the idea of buying sex is abhorrent.”

Not that prostitutes are abhorrent, you see, but that buying sex is abhorrent. It’s the dehumanization.

Stories like that of Samantha X — of attractive, high-class escorts, who love their work and live a glamorous lifestyle — are often recounted by the media. Many women in the book say they once claimed the same.

The survivors gathering this weekend say the experiences they recognise are about violence, exploitation, drug abuse and self-harm. Yet they say the blame fell on them, rather than the men who paid to have sex with them. One had regular sex with a priest, who would “forgive her” afterwards.

They say most clients didn’t care if they were tired or in pain. Their detachment is clear on review sites such as PunterNet, where men make comments like “I can’t do this with real women,” or, “It’s like going to the toilet,” or “She wasn’t as young as I thought she’d be, but I f***ed her anyway.”

Go ahead, tell us how empowering that is.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Grinding the faces of the poor

Apr 7th, 2016 1:27 pm | By

Fresh Air yesterday:

The North Carolina state legislature sparked a national controversy recently when it acted to overturn a law passed by the City Council in Charlotte, N.C. that banned discrimination against LGBTQ people. Our guest, Lisa Graves, says this move by the North Carolina Legislature is part of an increasingly common pattern in which towns and cities pass laws ranging from bans on fracking to increasing the minimum wage only to have their state legislature pass a law that overrules the local ordinance.

No minimum wage for you, city slickers! Your state knows best.

Lisa Graves is executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. The center has been tracking this new trend of preemption laws on their online news journal, PR Watch. The center describes itself as a watchdog organization that conducts in-depth investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy.

I’ll be wanting to read up on that.

GRAVES: This is a new trend. And it’s a growing trend, where we see state legislatures intervening in local actions on a variety of issues, including local measures to increase minimum wage, to provide for paid sick leave for workers, to address fracking – which involves the hydraulic pressure drilling for natural gas in people’s backyards almost literally.

Paid sick leave? States veto city laws mandating paid sick leave? How hateful is that? Very, but the answer is yes, they do. The poor must always be ground into the dirt even harder.

DAVIES: Let’s go into some of the areas that local ordinances have taken up and then faced action from state legislatures. Sick leave is one. Give us an example of a city that’s attempted to provide paid sick leave for workers.

GRAVES: A couple years back in Milwaukee, there was a lot of activity around sick leave measures. There was actually a referendum in which 70 percent or more of the people voted to ensure that employers within the city of Milwaukee were providing workers with paid sick. And after that measure passed, the state Legislature that came in with Governor Walker – Scott Walker here in Wisconsin – passed a preemption measure to thwart that bill, basically to make it impossible to enforce and prevent the local community in Milwaukee or other cities around the state from adopting similar measures.

And so in Wisconsin, you had a direct case of preemption, a direct case of state intervention in a highly popular local measure in Milwaukee.

And then it gets worse.

And then after that measure was thwarted by the state Legislature, the proponents of that measure took it to a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a group that describes itself as the largest voluntary body of state legislators in the country.

And in a closed-door meeting of one of its task forces, where corporations and politicians meet behind closed doors, that preemption measure was held up as a model for the nation. And the National Restaurant Association handed out a map of other cities that were considering or had adopted paid sick leave measures. And the legislators were told that in essence, they should be moving to preempt those measures wherever they are and try to thwart them wherever they could.

DAVIES: Maybe you should just take a moment to explain a little bit more about what the American Legislative Exchange Council is, ALEC. What do they do?

GRAVES: ALEC is an organization that we call a pay-to-play operation. We actually launched ALEC Exposed in 2011 after a whistleblower gave me all the bills that had been secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists with state legislators at ALEC task force meetings. When the whistleblower gave me these bills, there were nearly a thousand of them.

I’ve blogged about that at some point, probably via ALEC Exposed. ALEC is horrifying.

They covered nearly every domestic area of American law. And one of the pieces of paper that was in that set was a document that was a promotional document to recruit corporations to fund ALEC – to fund its trips for lawmakers, to fund its activities. And that recruitment document, called ALEC 101, said that the public sector and private sector get an equal voice and vote. That was the phrase it used, equal voice and vote.

DAVIES: It’s a little confusing when you talk about corporations voting on amendments and voting on legislation. You’re talking about a private organization, this council, whose members include state lawmakers from around the country and corporations, and that they work together and develop model legislation, which are then sent back to states and introduced. Those are the votes you’re talking about, these internal votes over what kind of legislature – what kind of model-recommended legislation ALEC will come up with?

GRAVES: Yes. Yes. And so you do have organizations across the country that promote model bills or suggest legislation. You have lobbyists across the country that promote bills. What you have in ALEC is a situation in which corporations and corporate lobbyists are actually sitting in a room at a fancy resort. They are behind closed doors. The press and public are not allowed in those rooms.

And the corporate lobbyists are actually taking an up or down vote, along with the state legislators, on these bills at ALEC task forces. And then they become models for the nation. And we see them moving, in many instances quite rapidly, once they become an ALEC model.

They craft legislation – these corporate lobbyists. And the legislation does get passed.

GRAVES: In Arizona, in the city of Tempe, which is where one of the major universities in Arizona is, there was a study committee in which the city council and others were working with the local businesses to look into how to have a paid sick leave measure in that city.

And the state legislature, which is, you know, dominated by Republicans and ALEC members, the members of American Legislative Exchange Council, have basically come forward and said if a city passes such a measure, the state will basically hold back funds for firefighters, for police. And so it will basically not do the revenue sharing that is traditional in Arizona between the state and the cities for providing funding for emergency services if a city dares to adopt a paid sick measure. And that basically stopped that measure in its tracks.

DAVIES: Wow. So they didn’t try and preempt the actual measures themselves. They simply said there will be consequences if they are enacted.

GRAVES: It’s a new form of preemption basically – that’s right. If a city does adopt such a measure, it would be denied revenue. And certainly a city could go ahead and adopt such a measure and then try to litigate it, but in the meantime, it’s a very difficult environment if the state actually goes through with that threat and does not give funding for police and firefighters. It’s an extraordinary hammer to impose on, in essence, the idea of offering paid sick, of having a city require paid sick leave within its jurisdiction.

This is paid sick leave we’re talking about. Not giving every worker a solid gold Porsche, but paid sick leave.

DAVIES: You know, here in Philadelphia there were – there was a measure to enact paid sick leave for private employers in the city. It was vetoed twice, I believe, by Mayor Nutter – eventually signed on a third attempt. And this is, you know, a democratic mayor of a city, and he talks a lot about poverty. He’s done a lot to fund education. And his argument was – in vetoing the sick leave bill – was yes, it is humane, it’s fair, it’s rational, it’s a good public health initiative.

But the fact is we’re a city desperate for jobs and we’re – already have disadvantages as compared to surrounding communities. We have high crime, a high tax burden, poor schools. And if you impose a financial burden on businesses that the surrounding communities don’t have, it’s going to be a disincentive for job growth. I’m just wondering – I’m sure that argument is made on a lot of these things – is there any data that tells us whether they’re right?

GRAVES: I think that that – those claims have not been proven statistically. In Philadelphia, you had a situation in which that mayor, you know, ultimately changed his mind – perhaps in view of his legacy. And after vetoing that paid sick measure at the local Chamber of Commerce there, he was ultimately convinced to allow this measure to go into effect and allow people to have paid sick leave. I think you have a situation where these measures are extremely popular and – in fact, in many employers, they’re the norm, to have paid sick leave.

But you have a subset of workers who are, in some ways, some of our most disadvantaged workers who do not have this basic benefit that helps them to get well when they’re sick or even to take care of a sick child – that these things happen to people. And that’s why we were so surprised when we were provided with materials about a poll that was taken earlier at the end of last year and that unveiled earlier this year about how popular paid sick leave is not just by ordinary people – and for ordinary people – but even by CEOs, by chief executive officers and other leaders of businesses. That poll of nearly a thousand – of actually a thousand business leaders across the country showed overwhelming supermajority support for paid sick leave to be the law in this country.

It was in the range of 70 to 80 percent in favor for paid sick, for increased minimum wage, for having this predictive scheduling and for having expanded paternity and family leave. And so what you have is a situation in which these are popular policies, the people want them, and now we have evidence that even – many businesses want them and support them. But you have a pretty narrow – a set of people who are actively arguing against them and using, I think, some deeply flawed studies to try to oppose these really popular and good policies.

In some ways that actually doesn’t surprise me, because there are pragmatic reasons for businesses to want to provide decent benefits, plus the whole thing about being able to sleep at night, but if it’s not mandatory there’s always the competitive reason not to offer it. If it is mandatory then all the businesses have to provide it so they can’t get an edge by not offering it (without risking fines or similar).

DAVIES: I want to explore this. Your organization came up with this survey of business executives by the Luntz Global polling firm. That’s Frank Luntz’s firm. And it was done for the Council of State Chambers, right? This is essentially a Council of State Chambers of Congress, is that right?

GRAVES: Yes, every state has a state chamber. And it’s the council of the executives of those chambers, which means basically the lead lobbyists, the executive director, of each of those state chambers of commerce.

DAVIES: And there’s – on your website, I believe, there’s access to a webinar in which the pollsters are discussing the results of these – this survey of business executives in which, as I understand it, they find that, in fact, that increasing the minimum wage is favored by a lopsided margin, providing paid sick leave also favored by a lopsided margin, of business executives. And yet, the pollsters are explaining the members of the state – the lobbyists for the state chambers how to still defeat those measures, is that right?

GRAVES: That’s correct. So paid sick was supported 73 percent to 16 percent – this is by CEOs from across the country, in each region of the country. Minimum wage increasing – it was supported 80 percent to 8. And what happens in this presentation that’s on our site at PR Watch is during this webinar, when these poll findings are unveiled, these state lobbyists for the business community, state chamber lobbyists, are being told how to overcome this empathy.

So, for example, in the fight over increase the minimum wage, even though these state chambers are supposed to represent those businesses – this was a survey of their own members, and their target members – these state chamber executives were told here’s how to fight back. Here’s how to combat these popular measures to increase the minimum wage. And they were told, for example, in that area to pivot to the earned income tax credit to try to talk about something else rather than the minimum wage. And it was interesting to see.

This was sort of surprising, in fact, because all of us have heard this claim that businesses oppose these measures. Some of these chambers will be able to bring forth a couple of businesses to be examples to speak out against these measures. But it turns out that those businesses are the outliers, that most businesses, when they’re asked, most executives when they’re asked support these.

DAVIES: Well, it doesn’t exactly make sense. I mean, it seems to me you have an organization here whose leaders are instructing their lobbyists to oppose measures that their own members favor, right? I mean, why would they do that? Did you ask them?

GRAVES: We did not ask them. The Washington Post, which broke this story, did ask about that question. And basically the state chamber said that they’re not active – really active in these fights. Well, I can tell you we watch it in cities and states across the country. And those state chambers are super active in these fights. Forty-nine of the 50 chambers have actively opposed to increase the minimum wage. They’ve been active in opposing paid sick leave. And that question of why is really interesting. It turns out that the state chambers have a close alliance with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, you know, an enormous lobbying powerhouse in Congress. And after a change in leadership a couple decades ago, it really changed its approach to focus on the biggest businesses in the country – indeed in the world – such that the majority of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s millions and millions in revenue comes from just 64 donors. And so I think you have a situation in which there’s a lot of distortion as a result of these global corporations and what they want our wages to be or where they think the wages should be in this country versus what most people in most businesses want.

In fact, you know, one of the things that was really surprising to me when I first began looking at the American Legislative Exchange Council, which, you know, is involved in these fights, was that not only did they oppose increasing the minimum wage, they opposed even having a minimum wage. And we’ve certainly seen some of that rhetoric on a campaign trail in this primary season as well.

So that we can have even higher levels of income and wealth inequality, in a country whose levels are much higher than other developed countries. We love us some inequality here in the land of the free.

He didn’t worry about whether you were with him or not

Apr 7th, 2016 10:45 am | By

The NY Times on the murder of Nazimuddin Samad:

Mr. Uddin, 26, was a convinced atheist who frequently expressed his views on Facebook, often posting as many as five times a day. His family had asked him to stop, fearful that the posts would make him a target, and for about four months, ending in January, he had complied, said Gulam Rabbi Chowdhury, a childhood friend.

“To tell the truth, he was always a little detached from his family; he had trouble with them because of his views on religion,” Mr. Chowdhury said. “He was very outspoken. He didn’t worry about whether you were with him or not.”

Mr. Uddin’s killing deepens the sense of dread among those campaigning for secular causes, said Mr. Chowdhury, an official in a regional chapter of the Communist Party of Bangladesh.

Of course it does. What else would it do, reassure them?

Many writers and journalists have become hesitant to publish work that could attract the attention of Islamists, and a growing list of activists have applied for asylum in Western countries.

Robert D. Watkins, the United Nations resident coordinator in Bangladesh, called on the government to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.

But, they won’t.

As a student, Mr. Uddin was part of the Shahbag movement, which seeks to punish Islamist leaders convicted of war crimes during the bloody 1971 war for independence from Pakistan.

His Facebook writings focused on the ideological rift that has opened among young Bangladeshis, between those who see the country as fundamentally secular and those gravitating toward orthodox Islam.

He frequently urged the government to take a tougher line with Islamist groups. In one post, he used a proverb to criticize the government’s approach to rising militancy, likening it to raising a baby snake by feeding it milk and bananas.

Asked for his religious views, Mr. Uddin wrote, “I have no religion.”

In August, he responded publicly to what appeared to be threats, fuming: “No one is forcing you to read or look at what I write. So why this violence, this murdering?” Then he abruptly ceased his prolific postings, explaining his decision with a grim verse: “I won’t write anymore. I won’t stay here anymore. Your hell can stay your own. Everyone can burn or die in this hell.”

Then he returned, then they killed him. Allahu Akbar.

Threat season has begun

Apr 7th, 2016 9:52 am | By

The LA Times reports on threats made by supporters of Cliven Bundy and the Bundy gang.

In email, phone messages and Facebook posts, supporters have threatened retaliation for the mass arrests and the death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, an Arizona rancher and spokesman for the Oregon refuge occupiers who was gunned down by state troopers during a roadside confrontation.

The messages target law enforcement officers and government officials, including Oregon’s governor, according to a sampling of threats released last week by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators gathered more than 80 threats as part of the office’s investigation into the Finicum shooting in neighboring Harney County.

“We’re going to shoot to kill,” said an anonymous caller to Gov. Kate Brown’s office on Jan. 27, the day after Finicum was killed on a rural highway north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which occupiers held for 41 days. Another caller to Brown’s office warned, “You killed an unarmed rancher, so now one of you must die, unfortunately. Goodbye.”

Except of course the rancher wasn’t unarmed at all, and he was reaching for his gun when he was shot – but don’t let facts get in the way of a good threat.

Other local, state and federal agencies have collected similar messages, including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has a long-running dispute with Cliven Bundy over his Nevada cattle-grazing rights. This month, he and others — now in jail in Portland facing charges related to the Oregon refuge takeover — were also charged in Nevada for the 2014 armed standoff sparked by a dispute over Bundy’s failure to pay $1 million in federal grazing fees and penalties. Altogether, 26 people have been charged in Portland and 19 in Las Vegas, some of them in both cases.

Besides the 69-year-old patriarch, four of Bundy’s sons are also in federal custody — Ryan, Melvin, David and Ammon, one of the refuge occupation leaders. A threat sent to the BLM said that if Cliven Bundy and others were not released and indictments instead issued for federal agents and Gov. Brown, then “I am going to begin returning fire!!!!!!”

This is what’s called a sense of entitlement.

Facebook messages collected by investigators included threats to kill Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and a $1,000 reward offer for the “capture” of those who shot Finicum. The Oregonian reported that Facebook pages are also being used in an effort to identify the officers who shot Finicum. An online radio broadcaster purported to identify one trooper, and his name and home address then showed up on Facebook sites of Bundy supporters. Law enforcement sources said the named trooper had no role in Finicum’s death.

Oregon State Police and other agencies are investigating the threats, which could result in criminal charges. Some email authors won’t be hard to find — they included their names and addresses in their messages.

That’s the entitlement – they think they’re both justified and law-abiding.

The cis-privilege of cats

Apr 7th, 2016 8:56 am | By

Look at all the good she does. (The Washington Post files this story under Inspired Life.)

My new cats were freaking out. In carriers in the back seat of the car, they yowled their displeasure. I reassured them: “Don’t worry boys, we’ll be home soon.”

Whoops! I had called them boys, when in fact they were girls. An understandable mistake, as I’ve had cats for about 50 years, and all of them have been male. “I’m going to have to work on using the right pronouns,” I thought. And then another thought: “Why? They’re cats.”

Yo – “boys” is not a pronoun, and neither is “girls.”

That’s when I decided to raise my cats to be gender neutral.

The cats’ lives wouldn’t change, I reasoned, and it would help me learn to use plural pronouns for my friends, neighbors and colleagues who individually go by they, their and them. Even though using they, them and their as singular pronouns grates on many people because it’s grammatically incorrect, it seems to be the most popular solution to the question of how to identify people without requiring them to conform to the gender binary of female and male.

She apparently knows a huge number of people who go by they, their and them. Even the neighbors are non-binary.

Anyway she put the plan in action.

I’d make a mistake (called “misgendering”), saying something like “Where’s your brother?” (Yes, I talk to my cats.)  Usually, I’d remember to fix it (“Where’s your sibling?” or “Where’s your pal?”).  Just as I’d hoped, I began finding it easier to remember to use gender-neutral language for the humans in my life.

The cats, however, kept trying to escape.

And I began to get an infinitesimal taste of what transgender and gender-nonconforming people face. I’m not talking about the outright bigotry and hatred –something I can’t know without being in their shoes — but the complete cluelessness. Friends would come over, I’d introduce the cats and their pronouns, and some would ask, “But what ARE they?” Some would randomly use “he” and “she.” Some would stumble, unable to form a sentence when talking about one of the cats.

This despite the fact that so many of her friends, neighbors and colleagues are non-binary.

At any rate I trust she shamed them thoroughly for being so clueless, and especially for randomly using “he” and “she.” (I wonder if it was really random. I wonder if the friends managed the not-difficult trick of glancing at the cats’ back ends and thus discerning their sex and calling them “she” not at random after all.)

Things got a little more real when Essence got sick. They were really sick.

There’s that drawback again. She confused me. (Lauren Taylor, the author, not Essence.) I thought she’d said Essence got sick then that both cats were really sick, which was odd. Then I realized she meant Essence was really sick, but “they were” introduced that silly ambiguity. Also, how odd to say it in a new sentence – so she said it that way on purpose, to make her ridiculous point.

So then it became a huge worrying problem, what pronouns to use with all the people at the vets’. (Aren’t there lots of non-binary people there too? She knows so many of them, there must be plenty at the vet office, surely.)

Before the illness was over, we saw five vets, two sets of front desk people, and countless vet techs. I chose to fall back on my cis-gender privilege (look it up) and used the singular pronoun for Essence.

Um. I don’t think calling her cat “she” is part of her cis-gender privilege. You could say it’s part of her cat’s cis-gender privilege, if you wanted to, but then everybody would laugh, not just most people.

I understood that wouldn’t have been so easy if I were the patient — or if Essence were human.

So isn’t that species-privilege? Or species-privilege combined with feline cis-privilege?

While all of this was unfolding, friends would ask me: How is your cat? “They’re better” or “The same. The vets don’t know what’s wrong with them,” I’d say. “Wait a minute—are they both sick?” people would reply, confused.

Yeah, duh. That’s because you have two cats and your project was ridiculous.

People are coming to understand that not all of us fit into the “girl” box or the “boy” box.

No. No. No. No. You’re forgetting feminism. Feminism has been saying this for decades. It’s not a hot new discovery and it’s not exclusive to people who call themselves “non-binary.”

I look forward to being told this piece was actually satire.


Apr 6th, 2016 4:41 pm | By

A fun event (too bad we missed it) –

Debate topic

“Do Muslim Women Need Feminism”?

Photo of a man: Muhammad Kashmiri

Photo of a man: Assadullah Al-Andalusi


Thanks chaps.

They sang the usual Allahu Akbar song

Apr 6th, 2016 3:48 pm | By

The Dhaka Tribune on the murder of Nazimuddin Samad:

A masters student of Jagannath University was killed by suspected Islamist militants in Old Dhaka’s Sutrapur area last night.

Nazimuddin Samad, 28, was a student of the law department’s evening batch.

He was attacked at Ekrampur intersection around 8:30pm by three assailants while walking to his home in Gendaria with another youth after completing classes at the university near Bahadur Shah Park.

The other guy is missing.

His friends said that Nazim used to campaign for secularism on Facebook and was critical of radical Islamists. A day before the murder, he expressed concerns over the country’s law and order in a Facebook post.

Police said that the killers who came on a motorcycle first intercepted them and then attacked Nazim with machetes. At one point, he fell on the street and then the attackers shot him to confirm death before leaving the place. His brain spilled over the road in the attack.

Businessmen of the area closed the shops immediately after hearing the gunshots.

During the murder, the killers were chanting “Allahu Akbar,” police said quoting locals.


Given how great Allah is, wouldn’t you think Allah could deal with blasphemers if she wanted to? Why do humans think they have to do it? Why don’t they trust great Allah to take care of it?

At any rate – that’s another valuable human being thrown away because religious fanatics can’t stand anyone rejecting their religion.

His logic terrifies

Apr 6th, 2016 3:33 pm | By

So we need some more blasphemy. MORE BLASPHEMY I say. Jesus and Mo oblige.


Najimuddin Samad

Apr 6th, 2016 3:25 pm | By

CFI reports there is a new horror:

The Center for Inquiry is saddened and outraged to learn that a university student in Bangladesh has been killed in an attack by suspected Islamic extremists. Najimuddin Samad, a 28-year-old law student at Jagannath University, was hacked to death and shot by several assailants as he was returning home from classes last night. CFI, which has been working to rescue secularists in Bangladesh who have been targeted for killing, demanded that the Bangladeshi government take affirmative steps to protect its people and their right to criticize Islam.

It has been reported that the killers chanted “Allahu Akbar” as they hacked Samad with machetes. CFI can confirm that Samad was an atheist, as well as an activist who advocated for secularism and criticized radical Islam…

“It is both heartbreaking and maddening to think that this bright and passionate young student, with his whole life ahead of him, was so brutally and callously murdered, almost certainly by Islamic extremists, all because he spoke out for secularism and reason. All of us at the Center for Inquiry extend our deepest condolences to his friends and family,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of public policy and main representative to the United Nations.

Samad had been organizing campaigns for secularism on Facebook, and a day before the murder, Samad posted about his concerns over the “deterioration of law and order” in the country, calling it a “public disgrace.”

“The government of Bangladesh must do much more to protect its own people from marauding Islamist killers,” said De Dora. “These murders keep happening because they are allowed to happen, leaving writers and activists like Samad, Avijit, and the other victims as the only ones willing to stand up to those fomenting this violence. The Bangladesh government must publicly and forcefully defend the universal human rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression, fully investigate and prosecute these crimes, and show that attacks on individuals based on their beliefs or expressions will not be tolerated.”

The eyes

Apr 6th, 2016 11:40 am | By

It’s great that all the silly old stereotypes have faded away.

Just kidding.

Test: Do you view the world through the eyes of a woman or a man?

Spirit truffles contain spirit dust

Apr 6th, 2016 11:28 am | By

Good grief – doesn’t Gwyneth Paltrow have any friends capable of convincing her that she doesn’t know enough to be giving out medical advice? That there really are compelling reasons for not telling the world what to put in or on or up its poor vulnerable body unless one has the relevant knowledge? Which she doesn’t?

Dean Burnett at the Guardian tells us about her dangerous hobby.

For someone of even the slightest scientific inclination, Goop is a veritable cornucopia of What-The-Fuck? There’s “spirit truffles”, which contain “spirit dust” which apparently “feeds harmony and extrasensory perception through pineal gland de-calcification and activation”. In fairness to Goop, those are definitely all real words. They’ve got us there.

There’s the “morning smoothie” which lists as an ingredient Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus which genuinely turns insects into zombies by infecting their brains. Gwyneth Paltrow is literally telling her fans to consume brain-controlling fungus!

Because zombie-brain erases wrinkles?

At least things have an actual physical presence. The less said about the products that work by being infused with positive vibes and good intentions, the better. Same goes for vaginal steaming.

Vaginal steaming was the item I thought of before reading on. It stays in the mind, rather.

And never let it be said that Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t personally willing to suffer for her beliefs, as she’s recently revealed her latest interest is apitherapy, specifically the practice of deliberately getting bees to sting her, to supposedly get rid of inflammation and scarring.

There’s a lot to question about this claim. Firstly, using bee stings to get rid of inflammation is like using petrol bombs to get rid of a house fire. Bee stings, like most insect venom, cause inflammation! If you’ve ever been stung by anything, you know this, as the sting site swells up like a small-but-angry red balloon.

Well…like cures like, or something. Or maybe if it hurts it must be doing you good. Or bees give us honey so the stings must be beneficial, like honey. Or no pain no gain. It’s one of those, or something else.

But it would be churlish to hold Gwyneth Paltrow solely responsible for this, as the issue is much bigger than her. The beauty industry regularly and openly misuses science when it comes to hawking their products to an unsuspecting population. Beauty products like to include just enough science-sounding words and phrases to seem credible (pentapeptides, anyone?) without actually having to do anything as hard as conforming to the rigorous rules of actual science.

In a society where women are constantly harassed to look their best but paradoxically criticised for attempting to do so, it’s hardly surprising that any claim from a powerful industry to be able to enhance or fix appearance with minimum effort is going to be seized upon by anyone unfortunate enough to be vulnerable to the laws of nature (i.e. everyone, except possibly Gwyneth Paltrow).

Paltrow’s latest claim is just another symptom of this, albeit an especially bizarre and surreal one. This again is hardly surprising, given how many high-profile figures end up developing their own egocentric model of how reality works, and such is the way the human mind works when it comes to successful, confident figures that they’ll always have their believers and supporters.

Those egocentric models of how the world works are going to ruin everything, I swear.

They prefer to hound fellow activists

Apr 5th, 2016 6:02 pm | By

Peter Tatchell has some sharp words for the purity-enforcing virtue-signaling pseudo-leftists who spend all their time and energy attacking other leftists for making an unauthorized departure from the Dogma Express. Mind you, Tatchell has done some of that himself, even recently, even very recently – distancing himself from Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer, for instance. Nevertheless his counterblast is refreshing.

The future of progressive politics is under threat, again. But this time from the left. Historically, socialists and greens have made gains by building broad alliances around a common goal, such as the campaigns against the poll tax and the bombing of Syria. We united together diverse people who often disagreed on other issues. Through this unity and solidarity, we won. The government of the day was forced to back down.

Nowadays, we are witnessing a revival of far ‘left’ sectarian politics and it is infecting the Green Party too. Zealous activists, seemingly motivated by a desire to be more ‘left’ and pure than rivals, are putting huge energy into fighting and dragging down other campaigners. Corporate thieves and war criminals often get off scot-free by comparison.

The issues many of these sectarians highlight are not the mega crimes of mass murder in Syria and Yemen, fuel poverty, unaffordable housing, global hunger, climate destruction or transphobic and racist violence. They prefer to hound fellow activists.

Good people are being forced out of the progressive movement by hair-splitting, holier-than-thou ‘left-wing’ puritans. Their dirty tactics of smears and false accusations are borrowed from the far right, and have a whiff of McCarthyism.

That is correct. If you don’t agree that the word “women” should be dropped from all discussions of reproductive rights, you’re a terrible shunworthy person.

The often dishonest, poisonous, aggressive tone of the current wave of sectarian attacks is a total betrayal of the ethics of comradeship that are supposed to be green and left values. People’s good intentions and long radical commitments are dismissed, even ridiculed; often over minor disagreements and sometimes based on distortion and fabrication.

The far right rarely receives the hatchet jobs that sections of the ‘left’ do on their own people who fail to follow the ‘correct’ party line.

These tactics are not only cruel to the individuals who are targeted, they also weaken progressive politics and drive good people away, which strengthens the political right and the power elite. As a left-wing green committed to securing radical social change, this destructive behaviour concerns and disturbs me.

It’s not new behavior – but in the past there wasn’t the internet to amplify it and disseminate it into every inch of the world.

Many progressive people and organisations have been victims of this low politics, including the Iranian communist and feminist, Maryam Namazie and activists in student Atheist Secular and Humanist Societies, who have be falsely accused of racism, anti-Muslim prejudice, neo-colonialism and worse.

Yep. I’m friends with many of them as a result.

Then he gets to particulars: a pervasively inaccurate attack on him.

A classic example of this dirty ‘left’ politics is the article by Chris Jarvis (Bright Green, 21 February 2016).

Read Tatchell’s piece for the details. Toward the end he gets to the Fran Cowling shunning.

Jarvis resumes with further false narratives: “Tatchell’s controversy…(has continued) this time in relation to NUS LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place) Fran Cowling’s decision not to share a platform with Tatchell at an event at Canterbury Christ Church University….Cowling is free to decide who she wishes to share a platform with and who not to. It is nobody’s God given right to expect people to wish to debate them.”

Who said otherwise? I never did. On Newsnight, RT, the Telegraph and elsewhere I did not say I was no-platformed and I defended Cowling’s right to not share a platform with me.

My objection was to Cowling’s false allegation that I am “racist” and “transphobic” and her equally false claim that she was acting on behalf of the NUS membership who, she dishonestly claimed, believe that I am racist and transphobic. The NUS membership never made any such ruling and I was not on the NUS no-platform list. For nearly three weeks, I privately contacted Cowling seeking dialogue and asking for evidence of her allegations. She ignored my request and refused to speak to me. That’s why I went public.

Jarvis then rebukes me for signing an Observer letter that defended free speech, including the free speech of people I strongly disagree agree with on trans issues and who I have repeatedly criticised, such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer (I’ve also been critical of Julie Burchill on these issues).

There, he does it again. He “criticizes” them in exactly the unfair way he objects to, recycling other people’s claims about them even though some or many of those claims are not true. These claims get passed around and around and around and around until it becomes impossible to remember which ones are true and which are bullshit – but that’s a reason to be very cautious about what claims you pass around. I’ve seen Tatchell do some careless echoing.

Then Jarvis claims: “Tatchell tacitly endorses the idea that people should not be able to collectively decide the people that they chose to invite to speak at events that they are organising in their own spaces.” More nonsense. I defend the right of people to invite or not invite who they choose. What I actually said is something very different: that if one group invites a speaker, another group should not have a right to veto that invitation – unless the speaker is guilty of threats, harassment or encouraging  violence – or demands discrimination such as forced gender segregation.

Well that’s such a subtle distinction it’s elitist to expect anyone to make it.

Jarvis carries on with more distortions: “Tatchell has continuously called for the stopping of ‘Islamists’ from speaking on campuses up and down the country for hate preaching.” Not true. I have not called for the banning of mere “hate” preachers. I have opposed platforms being given to Islamists who go beyond hate to endorse the killing of other human beings; specifically the killing of Muslims who turn away from their faith, people who blaspheme, women who have sex outside of marriage, LGBT people and Ahmadi’s and other minority followers of Islam. This is more than just hate. It is encouragement to murder. Endorsing violence is my red line.

The real issue is much more than Jarvis’s article. What he wrote is indicative of a bigger, wider problem that is infecting and damaging left and green politics: the decline in civility and honesty, and the rise in sectarian attacks on other activists. We can never build a successful a mass movement to challenge the Tories, UKIP and the far right if people in our movement are attacking each other and obsessed with minute political purity. The sectarians say: better fewer but purer. I say: unite the many to defeat the few.

Well said…but that should apply to Bindel and Greer, too.

Guest post: The Abortion Act was considered “religiously sensitive”

Apr 5th, 2016 4:49 pm | By

Originally a comment by Bernard Hurley on Too bad for her she lived in Belfast.

While the influence of the Catholic Church needs to be taken into account the situation in Northern Ireland is far more complex than than you suggest. NI is a sort of dual-theocracy. Members of the NI parliament who wish to be part of government must declare themselves to be either Nationalist or Unionist – in practice code for Catholic or Protestant – and the NI cabinet balanced to make it contain equal numbers of each. The NI parliament is about 52% Unionist (Protestant), 40% Nationalist (Catholic) with the other 8% undeclared. But it gets a bit confusing because, for instance, the Progressive Unionist Party is non-sectarian and its members do not declare themselves to be Unionist.

While the Nationalists in the NI parliament would no doubt oppose repealing Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Unionists have a built in majority and could easily push through such legistlation if they wished. But they do not wish because most Unionist politicians are fundamentalists of some stripe and are also anti-abortion.

As I understand it the situation is as follows: Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 has not been repealed anywhere in the UK, however the Abortion Act 1967 takes precedence over it which has the same effect. But the Abortion Act was considered “religiously sensitive” and so, while it is part of English, Welsh and Scottish law, Northern Ireland was deliberately exempted from its provisions.

It gets even more bizarre than that, however. Section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act has been declared to contrary to the Human Rights Act by the UK Supreme Court. An outsider might be forgiven for thinking this would render it null and void, but it doesn’t. What this ruling does do is to make the issue the responsibility of the Westminter parliament, since according to the Good Friday agreement, this ruling gives the that parliament the right to strike down the legislation. This has not been done, presumably in deference to religious sensitivities, although politicians would probably plead lack of parliamentary time.

After 30 years of sectarian violence in Ulster in the last century, it is understandable that politicians might want to tiptoe around religious issues. But there is a price to be paid for this and it is people like this unfortunate young lady who end up paying the price.

If women aren’t people to you

Apr 5th, 2016 3:10 pm | By

Dr Jen Gunter on Ted Cruz on Fox News:

When asked about abortion, given Trump’s recent flip flops (I think he’s had six or is that seven positions this week?), Ted Cruz said “the people” should decide. And that Roe is so terrible because it took abortion “out of the control of the people”

Not the women people, the other people.

And women should carry their rapists baby to term.

His plan, which he somehow feels is very moderate and filled with empathy, appears to be get rid of Roe and then let the voters decide state by state. Women and doctors? Silly, they don’t know anything.

If the majority decides women shouldn’t be able to decide whether and when to have children, then there you go: that’s democracy. Democracy means the majority can take your rights away or refuse to grant them in the first place.

Not allowing women to decide on their own health care is punishment.

Making abortion unavailable in 15 states also punishes women. We know what happens, women take abortion into their own hands in the absence of legal, safe procedures. It’s already happening and women are being prosecuted for it. Cruz can let the states punish women through the legal system and take no responsibility. Women with money will have to pay a lot of money to travel. Also punishment.

And making a woman carry her rapists’ baby to term or making a woman wait for days with a dilated cervix and fetal feet hanging into the vagina risking infection for a fetus that has no hope of survival because it has cardiac activity? Punishment. Very, very cruel punishment.

But then again, if women aren’t people to you then none of this would come off as cruel or unusual.

If God wanted women to be able to end their pregnancies, God would have installed an on/off switch.

Going up

Apr 5th, 2016 2:52 pm | By

A NASA photo of a space shuttle leaving earth’s atmosphere:

Men complain based on religious beliefs, and women are forced to move

Apr 5th, 2016 11:55 am | By

Nick Little – director of legal affairs and VP at CFI – casts a cold eye on this business of airlines making women change their seats when men afflicted with religious misogyny refuse to sit next to women. He starts with Renee Rabinowitz, and then proceeds to the general.

This isn’t an isolated event. This scene is being played out repeatedly at multiple airports, and on multiple airlines. Men complain based on religious beliefs, and women are forced to move. When men are denied this “accommodation” they have protested, stood in the aisles, and refused to allow the plane to take off. So the airlines have kowtowed to their demands, and the men have gotten their way. The offending and offensive woman has been taken elsewhere in the plane, where, presumably, she should be grateful that she can sit without having curtains drawn around her.

Beyond even the ridiculous notion that sitting next to a woman on a flight, be she 18 or 81, should somehow tempt you into sin, there’s what is to me a stunning problem in this story. HE had the problem with his seat assignment, yet the airline’s policy was to ask HER to move to a different seat. If it’s his problem, if he is seeking the special treatment, why shouldn’t he be the one to move? Yet the default solution is that where a man is unhappy with the actions (or existence) of a woman, it should be up to the woman to change. The problem is no longer his irrational fear of sitting next to her, it is her very existence in a seat next to him.

Making the woman move just accepts that idea, and also makes her deal with the inconvenience of it. Doing that just endorses the idea that women are a contaminant and a nuisance, and get to share public facilities only on sufferance. Oh all right, you can fly on airplanes if you insist, but you can’t force anyone to sit next to you. If anyone doesn’t want to sit next to you, you have to move. Bitch.

The airline has multiple choices in this situation. It could, at the very least, require the adjustment to be made by the complaining male passenger. It could (and should) require any seat requests to be made in advance of boarding, when the ticket is purchased. That way a woman is not publicly accused of being unclean, and unfit to share a row of seats with a pious man.

Good line? Round of applause?

But El Al, and other airlines do none of these. They bow to the pressure, and they require women to bear the burden, and to make the change

The airlines concerned aren’t the only villains of this story. The United States government regulates air travel and airports in this country. It strikes me as inconceivable that an airline would be permitted to operate in the United States if it treated people of color in this fashion – if a white passenger was allowed to complain that he didn’t feel like sitting next to a black person, and that the airline should move the black person to a different part of the plane. For that reason, on behalf of CFI, I wrote today to Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration, asking what the policy of the government is on this issue, and how women’s rights to respect and equal treatment can be protected in U.S. airports. You can find the text of the letter here. I’ll let you know what response I get.

It’s a terrific letter. I’m looking forward to the response (unless it’s a “thank you for concern now fuck off” response).

Oxymoron in chief

Apr 5th, 2016 11:07 am | By

So this is one of the funnier headlines I’ve seen in some time:

The President of Transparency International Chile Resigns After Being Named in the Panama Papers


The head of global corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Chile branch resigned on Monday, after his name appeared in a data leak from a Panamanian law firm detailing thousands of offshore companies — now being dubbed the Panama Papers.

“Gonzalo Delaveau resigned as President of Transparency Chile, which has been accepted by the board of directors,” the agency said on Twitter.

Although Delaveau has not directly been accused of unlawful practices, Reuters reports that he was linked to at least five offshore firms by the leak.

See, “unlawful” is not the only issue here. Transparency is not solely a legal issue, and the problems with offshore corporations are not solely legal issues. The law doesn’t cover all of morality, to put it mildly.


Apr 5th, 2016 9:54 am | By

Georgina Kenyon at the BBC magazine on Robert Proctor and agnotology.

She starts with the well-known tobacco industry memo that said “Doubt is our product.”

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

I do think there should be a special kind of hell for people who do that – a figurative hell, to be sure, but one with very nasty figurative tortures, like being forced to watch deceitful advertisements for several hundred years without a break.

“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.

“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.”

The 1969 memo and the tactics used by the tobacco industry became the perfect example of agnotology, Proctor says. “Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

And they want you not to know so that you will spend money on their product and make them richer, while you make yourself both poorer and more ignorant. Special kind of hell, I tell you.

Agnotology is as important today as it was back when Proctor studied the tobacco industry’s obfuscation of facts about cancer and smoking. For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different.

And there’s Holocaust denial. Deborah Lipstadt and Richard Evans have done brilliant work on this branch of agnotology. For Irving’s libel suit against Lipstadt and Penguin, Evans researched Irving’s work and was able to document a massive amount of systematic falsification of evidence. That there is agnotology.

“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”

Or from Twitter.