Saturday, October 29, 2011

I stand with the 99%. (by Skylanda)

I stand with the 99%.

I have a choice, you see. I don’t have to stand with the 99%. I have an advanced degree, make a low six-figure income in an extremely high-demand field, and if I wanted, could double or triple my income without much thought beyond having to move somewhere I wouldn’t too much like. I have a rock-solid job with even greater future opportunity, as well as health coverage and a stellar disability insurance policy that costs as much as some families spend on food in a month. That doesn’t make me a millionaire (indeed, because of immense school debt and a rapid pay-down plan, there’s about three-digits worth of cash in my combined accounts at the end of any given month), but I identify with the 1% elite because I have the rarest of commodities these days: security.

But I choose to stand with the 99%.

I stand with the 99% because the biggest threat to my security is – no surprise – the $300,000 in student loan debt it took me to get to where I am today. My very generous middle-class parents took me through my undergraduate years, but I paid in cash and the blood for the graduate education – at a notorious poorly funded state school – that brought me to where I am today. I have no doubt that the nay-sayers are correct in predicting that the next great crash will be the student loan debt bubble (standing in great part on the shoulders of the rapacious for-profit vo-tech schooling institutions, but increasingly standing on the slumped shoulders of public school grads like myself).

I stand with the 99% because I know that if you reach back more than a generation or two, my people are not the people of the 1%. In the four corners of European mutt heritage from which I was hybridized, two lineages came to America escaping the twin beasts of poverty and famine back home, one’s history has been lost to the sands of time, and one came from a line of wealth but smartly realized that their people were not welcome in pre-War Europe. My people are not Daughters of the American Revolution people; my people are by wide majority immigrants and paupers but for a blip that started around 1950 and has no guarantee of continuing beyond my generation. There is no blue in blood in my veins; my people were always the 99%. I have no illusions about what I deserve today, and no illusions about its permanency into the next generation.

Even if I can rise above the 99%, I know that I am not so wealthy that I can take my friends and family with me into the magical 1%: my sister, for example, and her wonderful blended family that now welcomes seven children under its umbrella, the eldest two of whom are facing down college tuition costs with five more bringing up the rear on a couple of blue-collar salaries. Or my brother – an Iraq vet, paramedic, and firefighter – whose older daughter is marked by the chronic stigmata of surviving a year in intensive care then rehab with a rare childhood leukemia, and who will never be insurable on the private market. I can carry myself into the 1%, but if my family falters back in the mire of unpayable college tuition and bank-breaking health care costs and chronic debt, what have I won? For this reason too, I stand with the 99%.

I stand with the 99% because when I envision the world I want to live in, I do not envision a rarefied gated community to which I have a coveted key, surrounded by the ghetto of the world I used to be a part of. When I envision the world I want to live in, I do not see a world of poverty and desperation to which I am somehow granted immunity; I see a world in which we share livable cities and breathable air. I stand with the 99% because nothing about the world that I want to live in jives with the world we will create if we allow America to become a third-world nation of haves and have-nots.

Humanity has progressed through the millennia toward milestones meant to make life incrementally easier: increased agricultural production bent on easing food insecurity; diplomacy so that war was not the first answer; arts and music to make life beautiful; medicine to heal. Humanity did not bother to invent fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine, and one-touch online ordering in order that we may work double the work hours of our parents at a fraction the pay and die younger for our troubles. Our ancestors did not do go through the trouble of millennia of invention and progress so that we could suffer like medieval peasants; our people did this so we could flower. Our people did this so that we could spend less time toiling in fields and slaving at stoves, more time playing with our kids and writing novels and shooting at beer cans and having backyard cook-outs and climbing mountains and tinkering in the garage with that invention that may be the next greatest thing or next week’s trash: more time being human and more time stretching the limits of what it means to be human.

Should we be proud of these moments of adversity overcome, these days when we struggled to make ends meet and survived and provided for our families, when we challenged the Greatest Generation on their home turf of hardship and hard work? Damn well we should be proud. I am proud that while the majority of my graduate school compatriots were on vacation breaks funded by parents or working partners, I worked 80-hour weeks at contract jobs on marine construction sites and came back so exhausted I spent the first half of the quarter catching up on sleep while pulling night shifts on academic rotations. People who are working three jobs at 60-70 hours per week through these crisis times should be able to look back with pride and tears and talk about 2011 the way our grandparents talk about the Depression. We should be proud of these things we survive.

But we should never strive to embrace them.

We should never, ever strive to make the 70-hour work week the norm, to make two jobs the minimal and three jobs the expectation. We should never allow the good old Protestant work ethic to be co-opted by neo-feudalism to the point where we begin to enforce the high-expectations/low-pay ethic on ourselves. Those who want to work 60- or 70-hour weeks should be doubly rewarded – not used to foment a new common denominator. Because if 60-70 hours a week becomes the norm, the new just-getting-by, there then becomes no way to get ahead. No way to work that mortgage down in advance and retire a little better than you might have otherwise. No way to cushion for the stochastic blow of a slow year in your industry or a bum shoulder you need surgery for. No way to set a little aside so you can take that brave step out onto the plank, quit your job, open that small business and become one of the “job creators.” No way to dream that your children might one day have it better than you. No way to save for the six months to might want to take off one day to follow your dream, or stay home with your first baby, or take care of your father in the last months of his life. No way to become anything more than a cog in the grinding wheel of someone else’s profits.

I stand with the 99% because I stand for the American way. This is not a way of laziness or sloth, this is a way that works hard but believes firmly in the limits of hard work. This is a way that believes in a good solid eight-hour day followed by a good solid eight hours of doing the other business of life: raising kids, reading a book, cooking a meal at home, watching trashy TV, keeping up on the events of your world, running in the rain, caring for your ill or your young, doing whatever it is that you do. And then, getting a good solid eight hours of sleep. Some call this “European socialism;” the rest of us call this “the American dream.”

I have a choice, and I choose to stand with the 99%. I stand with the 99%, and I am not alone.

Cross-posted from my newly relocated and relaunched blog, America, Love it or Heal It.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Today's Krugman

Is well worth reading:
But it’s worth stepping back to look at the larger picture, namely the abject failure of an economic doctrine — a doctrine that has inflicted huge damage both in Europe and in the United States.
The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price. So a crisis brought on by deregulation becomes a reason to move even further to the right; a time of mass unemployment, instead of spurring public efforts to create jobs, becomes an era of austerity, in which government spending and social programs are slashed.
This doctrine was sold both with claims that there was no alternative — that both bailouts and spending cuts were necessary to satisfy financial markets — and with claims that fiscal austerity would actually create jobs. The idea was that spending cuts would make consumers and businesses more confident. And this confidence would supposedly stimulate private spending, more than offsetting the depressing effects of government cutbacks
Krugman goes on to praise the government of Iceland (led by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir) which took a different path in terms who should suffer. In Iceland, those who gambled with the financial system were punished and the banks were not bailed out.

It is hard to know if one small country can manage to run a complete different policy successfully. But at least Iceland tried.

Here's the bit in the above quote which I find totally idiotic:
The idea was that spending cuts would make consumers and businesses more confident. And this confidence would supposedly stimulate private spending, more than offsetting the depressing effects of government cutbacks
Perhaps there are studies which support this idea. But I cannot see how it could be true. What kind of consumer confidence is created when consumers are told that their safety net is fraying, that the value of most of their wealth (in their dwelling) has been drastically cut, that they either are without a job or fear the loss of a job in the future? Who in their right minds would start spending more under those conditions?

No wonder that Krugman has coined the "confidence fairy" as the new religion of the powers that be. At best that "confidence fairy" is an evil one, waving its wand to make us very confident that we have been f***ed by the system.

I can't help thinking that the real reason for the austerity policies is a moral one. We Are To Suffer for our evil deeds, even if we did not commit any. But those who are responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves may not have to suffer at all if they are sufficiently wealthy.

Barbies and Kens. Or Back to the Sixties.

Television shows seem to love the sixties and seventies right now, with the retro-sexism and all the vintage trimmings. Those shows can be informative and interesting, but sometimes they are not quite so retro as we might think.

Take the new retro drama about Pan Am (a defunct airline):
Much excitement ahead of Pan Am, the latest retro drama to follow in the wake of Mad Men. It is to be screened on BBC2 next month fresh from its US airing, and the channel is promising to fly us "back to 1963 and the dawn of a glamorous new era of luxury air travel". Glamorous – and incredibly sexist.

It is not hard to find evidence of what life was like for female flight attendants at the time. One, Trudy Baker, even wrote a memoir at the close of the decade – charmingly entitled Coffee, Tea or Me? – in which she recalled being sexually molested by a passenger during an emergency landing. After complaining to her superviser she was told: "You know, Trudy, we can't have an unhappy, unsmiling stewardess serving our valued travellers, can we?"

This response might seem as archaic as the uniforms, but scrape the surface and the trolley-dolly caricature is still prevalent, thanks in no small part to the aggressively sexualised marketing and recruitment methods used by a broad range of airlines. In August, a would-be flight attendant who applied to Garuda Indonesia told a local newspaper that she and her fellow candidates had been subjected to a "health examination" by a male doctor that involved having their breasts "fondled". According to a Garuda official, the "hand examination on breast" was necessary to detect implants, which "can have health issues when air pressure falls during flights". It is not a practice common to other airlines.

In July this year, Thai airline Nok Air posted a recruitment advert for "beautiful girls with nice personalities" to fill its cabin crew positions; those over 25 were deemed too old. Last month, a report in the Times of India accused Air India of following a similar recruitment policy. And brand new airline Thai Smile (operated by Thai Airways) is currently recruiting a 100-strong cabin crew of women under 24, ready for its launch in 2012.

"The reason for this is simply competition," explains Bev Skegg, professor of sociology at Goldsmiths and author of Formations of Class and Gender. "Airlines want to appear more high-end than their competitors to add value to their service," she says. "To do this, they market their product as luxurious and desirable," with youth and beauty effectively transmitting that message. Witness the Air New Zealand TV advertising campaign of 2009 in which cabin crew were photographed wearing nothing but body paint; or the Southwest Airlines planes emblazoned with murals of bikini-clad supermodel Bar Rafaeli. Virgin Atlantic has famously run £6m advertising campaigns featuring its "red hotties" and there is an annual "Girls of Ryanair" pinup calendar.

The reason for the title of this post has to do with the publicity shot of the crew:

They all look like white Barbie and Ken dolls. The former probably was the hiring rule in the sixties' Pan Am, though I doubt men were required to look like the Ken dolls.

What's fascinating about all this is, of course, the identification of a glamorous and luxurious trip as one offering eye-candy for heterosexual men only. I have read that same competition argument applied to those olden times.

Times have changed, of course, because articles like the one I link to here are published, and unpleasant people like myself keep asking questions about the need for soft pron in air travel.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, USA

A city bus rented out to a private bus company requires that women sit in the back of the bus:
On the morning of October 12, Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front. For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.
They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.
“If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” he told Franchy, who rode the bus at the invitation of a New York World reporter. She then moved to the back where the other women were sitting. The driver did not intervene in the incident.
The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.
The arrangement that the B110 operates under can only be described as unorthodox. It operates as a franchise, in which a private company, Private Transportation Corporation, pays the city for the right to provide a public service. Passengers pay their $2.50 fare not by MetroCard, but in dollar bills and coins. The city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee defines a franchise on its website as “the right to occupy or to use the City’s inalienable property, such as streets or parks, for a public service, e.g., transportation.”
The agreement goes back to at least 1973, and last year the franchise paid the city $22,814 to operate the route, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. According to the news site Vos Iz Neias?, which serves the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City and elsewhere, the bus company has a board of consulting rabbis, which decreed that male passengers should ride in the front of the bus and female passengers in the back.
City, state and federal law all proscribe discrimination based on gender in public accommodations. “Discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in New York City is against the law,” said Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which investigates and prosecutes alleged violations of anti-discrimination law.

What I found interesting in that quote is the statement that when God makes a rule you do not question it. And this is the real problem with religiously motivated discrimination against women, in all religions which adhere to literal readings of their holy books. How ARE you going to debate a question when the other side believes God is on their side?

This is, of course, what women are facing in Egypt and in Libya right now.

It's not a big deal to have to sit in the back of the bus, you might mutter. Nothing serious in it. Rosa Parks would not have agreed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Feminism Is Over The Hill

So we are being told in a USAToday article about the 45th anniversary of some type of a feminist thingummybob (well The National Organization for Women). The reasons?
For a movement so vocal when it began, feminism is largely under the radar of most younger Americans today, except maybe from gender studies classes or history books.
And history has not always been kind. The word "feminist" often conjures up unflattering images of "women's libbers" protesting and burning their bras — myth, rather than reality, say those who were in the trenches.

The feminist has been portrayed as a woman who was "unhappy, angry, humorless and didn't shave any part of her body," says Terry O'Neill, national president of the National Organization for Women, which this weekend marks its founding 45 years ago with an event at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

The stereotype, she adds, "became very powerful." And it's hard to get past for many young women today.
Duh. Of course it's hard to get past that stereotype! But think about this a little bit: In what other human rights movement must the members be happy, not-angry and well-shaved to be taken seriously?

The real victory of the anti-feminist framing truly is this: The very idea of women's rights was converted into a sexist view of how women should be: Pretty, smiling and smooth-skinned. And this, my friends, is now "history!"

The rest of the article goes along the same lines. It interviews American college students, the group which probably faces least economy-based sexism (of any American group of women) in their everyday lives but which also faces tremendous pressure to be hawt.

Most college students don't have to struggle with child-care problems, most of them have not come across differential treatment at work and colleges no longer openly discriminate against female students. This group is, however, subject to fairly high risks of sexual violence. Still, in many ways college is a fairly egalitarian place. As Michael Kimmel notes in the article, things change afterwards.

So why didn't the article interview women already in the labor force or women who already have families?

So what would feminism be today, should such an odd thing still exist?
Wendy Brandon, an associate professor of education and women's studies at Rollins, says the women's movement has evolved to focus more on what's termed the "intersectionality" of gender, race, class and sexual orientation.
Senior Emily Higgins, 23, of Orlando, Fla., considers feminism "a framework which advocates equality for all marginalized persons across gender, race and class. It's not just an issue of gender."
"If someone asked me if I believed in feminism, I would say 'yes,' but I wouldn't necessarily call myself a 'feminist,'" she says.
If Emily Higgins (just as an example) is not a feminist, what is she? An anti-feminist? Neutral about the question of gender equality? What??? And is it really the case that feminism is the proper name for a movement that advocates on behalf, of, say poor gay men? Advocating on their behalf is important and wonderful but I find it difficult to see why that work would be called feminism.

I get exasperated by fuzzy terminology, I do. For instance, "feminism" can mean many different things but it is not necessarily the same as "the women's movement." Is this article about feminist activism or is it about principles and theory? And why on earth is it limited to not only a small sliver of American women (young women in colleges) but limited to the United States?

If you scroll down my front page today you find blog posts on Libya, on Norway, on Egypt and on the Egg-Americans initiative in Mississippi. Given the USAToday article, none of that counts as feminism, because complete equality has already been achieved in the US and other countries do not count. Or something like that.

Feminism is about the only liberation movement I know of which must be sold to its beneficiaries, over and over again. That, my friends, is truly weird and sometimes very disheartening. But if it helps at all in that selling, I'm quite hairless, very divine and must continually brush men off.

Of course I have those scales and a forked tongue...

The New Feudalism: Corporations as Your Liege Lords

Watch this video. It tells us that many large firms in Illinois now get to keep either half of the state income tax their employees pay (for current employees) or all of it (for new employees). This is an incentive for the firms to stay in the state. The usual incentive: that of reduced corporate state taxes cannot be used because these firms don't pay any!

So they get the state income tax payments of their employees instead.

This reminds me of the feudal system where the king assigned taxing rights to the barons and so on he wanted to bind himself. The new feudalism is not the same as the old feudalism, because corporations won't give you anything but jobs. It's a start, however.

And naturally I get why Illinois is doing it. A subsidy per each worker will give firms more incentives to hire people. But that this was the only way the state could enact such a subsidy tells us how very little the firms are contributing in state taxes to begin with.

Meanwhile, in Egypt

It is unclear whether women will be worse off or not under the new system:
Egypt is preparing for its first democratic elections this autumn, but the timetable for a transition to civilian rule remains murky, and the country is beset by unrest and insecurity. 
   Many women fear they won’t be represented or, worse, that existing rights may be taken away.
   The Constitutional Amendments Committee appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) did not include any women. 
   The interim Government formed to oversee the country during the current transitional period only has one female Minister, even though there were four in the old regime. 
   The SCAF has been criticised for cancelling the quota of female MPs, which could well mean that women will end up occupying very few seats.
   "The purpose of the revolution was to give Egyptians freedom, dignity and social justice. We don't want new dictators to control the country in the name of elections. If that happens we will object and demonstrate for women's rights and freedom," stressed Mervat. "The revolution wasn’t just for men; it was for all Egyptians."
   Meanwhile, many of the laws that Egyptian women have been fighting to implement for the past 30 years are now under threat. 
   These laws include Law 1 of 2000, otherwise known as the Khula’ Law, which acts as an alternative for women whose husbands refuse to grant them divorce. Through this law, the court grants a woman a divorce, as long as she returns the dowry paid by her husband prior to the marriage.
   Women also object to amendments made to several articles in Egypt’s Personal Affairs Law. 
   These amendments include changes made to the Custody Law 25 of 1929, amended by Law 4 of 2005, which gave divorced mothers the right to keep their children until the age of 15, instead of ten for a son and 12 for a daughter, as was previously the case.
   The amendments also covered two articles in the Childhood Law, one of them being Article 31, which raises the age of marriage to 18.
   After burning down the National Council for Women's Rights during the revolution, some men began demanding that the Government revise all laws related to marriage, divorce, and even child custody and visitation. 
   Protesters claimed that most women's rights were only designed to please the wife of ex-president Mubarak.
   These protesters misinterpret Islam if they think that women are inferior to men. According to their misinterpretation, they deny women the right to judge or rule. 
There is real concern that Egyptian women, who have fought so hard for rights and equality, are losing what they have gained and the opportunity of tomorrow.

The French Revolution is a useful reminder here. Women participated in it and ended up losing many of their rights with the Napoleonic Code.

It is not that revolutions would be inherently opposed to women's rights. But violent times are bad for women's rights, because other demands are made with much greater threats. And religious revolutions are bad news for women, because fanatically religious revolutionary fighters are conservative and tend to demand the subjugation of women.

Missives from the Nazgûl Reality. Or Guns in the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Remember the Nazgûl of Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker? He is now making it easier for disgruntled people to kill politicians and anyone else happening to stand next to them:
The public will be able to carry guns into most parts of the state Capitol, under a policy being developed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers are developing their own policies that would allow individual lawmakers to decide whether to allow guns into their offices.
Under rules planned for one chamber, guns would be allowed on the Assembly floor and in the Assembly viewing galleries, said sources who have been briefed on the plans. That would mean the public could bring guns into the viewing galleries but would still have to adhere to other existing rules, including one that bars the use of still cameras and video cameras.
Can you take potshots at people from the viewing galleries? Probably. Not that this would ever happen of course! People who get the concealed-carry permit will be carefully vetted, carefully, and they must know how to be good at shooting! So that will make all this very, very safe. Take your school class over to the Capitol to see how laws are enacted under the eye of Mordor.

Once in a while I come across a topic which makes me feel like an anthropologist on Mars. I don't understand Walker. I don't think he is human.

And I don't get this whole concealed-carry idiocy. Do people think that they are all going to be Clint Eastwoods, shooting at the bad guys in a big Wild West duel or something? The reality is very, very different, as anyone with any training on crises and how we act in them knows. To really be able to take a mass murdered down, say, you need years and years of police training of a very specialized kind, and you need to keep that practice up day after day. Anything less than that may well lead in more deaths of innocent bystanders.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Egg-Americans Are Coming! To A Womb Near You!

The Personhood Amendments are a new tool in the forced-birthers arsenal. This time the state of Mississippi looks to pass a constitutional amendment that makes a fertilized egg into a person:
A constitutional amendment facing voters in Mississippi on Nov. 8, and similar initiatives brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio, would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, effectively branding abortion and some forms of birth control as murder.
With this far-reaching anti-abortion strategy, the proponents of what they call personhood amendments hope to reshape the national debate.
“I view it as transformative,” said Brad Prewitt, a lawyer and executive director of the Yes on 26 campaign, which is named for the Mississippi proposition. “Personhood is bigger than just shutting abortion clinics; it’s an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God.”
Many doctors and women’s health advocates say the proposals would cause a dangerous intrusion of criminal law into medical care, jeopardizing women’s rights and even their lives.
The amendment in Mississippi would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and “morning-after pills,” which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories.
The amendment has been endorsed by candidates for governor from both major parties, and it appears likely to pass, said W. Martin Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. Legal challenges would surely follow, but even if the amendment is ultimately declared unconstitutional, it could disrupt vital care, critics say, and force years of costly court battles.

Such fun and games. And what about criminal laws? Every miscarriage is a potential murder and must be examined, if we take all this seriously. Pregnant women cannot enter any place where children are not allowed and so on. Women who have been raped must carry the pregnancy to term, no exceptions!

Do you notice something truly interesting about these types of initiatives? They are not only going to make abortion illegal in almost all cases. They are also going to make the IUD and "morning-after pills" illegal. These are all female choices concerning pregnancy and childbirth. It's those choices that these initiatives will remove. Every sperm is sacred and so on.

Because these egg-Americans are invisible for several months, all women also become their potential incubators and must be under careful supervision lest they manage to disguise the presence of that other person, give that person a bad environment or even kill it.

It's a nightmare world, it is. And the personhood of egg-Americans means that women's personhood will be drastically reduced.

That's why I hope that this is all just a bad dream.

Yet Another Tax Plan to Benefit The One Percent

Bring out the popcorn. This is such a fun one to watch. Rick Perry, yet another wingnut candidate for the presidency of the most powerful country on earth, has come up with his own flat tax plan. It's a beauty, on so many levels.

But all you really need to know about these flat tax plans is that they share one important characteristic: They will cut taxes of the very wealthy:
The plan is optional, meaning that low- and middle-income families that benefit from refundable credits will stay in the current system.  High-income taxpayers will jump at the chance to avoid paying tax on interest, dividends, capital gains, rents, royalties, and other capital income. That is a large share of their income, and it would be exempt under Perry's plan. And the 20% rate is much lower than the current top rate of 35%. And, moderately well off people get to keep the most popular deductions.
The only logical conclusion about a plan like that is that it would drown the government in that proverbial bathtub, because it would not collect enough taxes to finance much anything.

But much more importantly, it would benefit the very rich. Given the current money-based democracy the United States seems to have developed, that is to be expected. No politician has any great appetite to go against those who finance his or her campaigns. And given the increasing income and wealth inequalities of this country, that money comes from the one percent.

That is the real problem, and not only for Republican politicians.

Rape in Norway And Elsewhere. May Trigger.

You may have read the New York Times article about rape in Norway:
Norway vies with its Nordic neighbors for the title of most gender-egalitarian country in the world. Yet gender equality still seems to stop at the bedroom door, and even here, women who recounted their experiences declined to be identified, fearful still of retribution.
Sexual violence against women in Scandinavia shares characteristics seen in more unequal societies: It is all too common and rarely reported, and those who commit it are even more rarely convicted. Ancient prejudices about male prerogative and modern assumptions about female emancipation conspire to create a thick wall of silence, shame and legal ambiguity.
One in 10 Norwegian women over the age of 15 has been raped, according to the country’s largest shelter organization, the Secretariat of the Shelter Movement. But at least 80 percent of these cases are never brought to official attention and only 10 percent of those that are end in a conviction, the Justice Ministry says.
Nowhere is this taboo more stubborn than in the family home, long considered off-limits for law enforcement and the state.
“The statistics tell us that the safest place for women is outside, on the street — most rapes happen at home,” said Tove Smaadahl, general manager of the Shelter Movement. In a 2005 survey by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, 9 percent of female respondents in a relationship reported experiencing sexual assault.
“No, we don’t have equality between men and women,” Ms. Smaadahl said, “not until we have addressed the issue of relationship rape.”

The point of the article is about the relationship between gender equality and rape, and it is well worth reading. But it is not true that the safest place for women in general is outside, because most rapes happen at home.

This is because women (and men) spend less time outside than they spend at home, and the risk of rape must be related to that time spent. If a woman spends all her time out on the streets, as homeless women do, she will be raped.

That rape is usually not by strangers who jump out from the bushes is of course the real meaning of that statement, and the rest of the article argues that the Norwegian law and culture do not deal well with relationship rape.

Several issues in this article are worth pursuing. One is well expressed in this quote:
The first time her husband raped her, she said, he had become jealous when another man asked her to dance. “When we came home his eyes were totally black,” she said. “He was rough. He hurt me and I said, ‘No, no, no.’ Afterward he was sorry and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Over the years, she camouflaged bruises with makeup. She saw less and less of her friends to avoid uncomfortable questions — and jealousy fits that so often set her husband off.
When she finally took her husband to court, he admitted beating and threatening her but was acquitted of the rape charges. The judge issued a one-year restraining order, and her own mother urged: “Go back to your husband.”
“This is why so few women go to the police,” lamented Inger-Lise W. Larsen, who has run Oslo’s main women’s shelter since 2007. “It takes a lot to come forward, and often, you get little in return.”
I would argue that the last sentence, which I bolded, is the very reason why so few rape cases come to the attention of the police, and not only in Norway.

To give you an example from Finland, a woman went to a party at a friend's house, drank too much and fell asleep. A man whom she did not know then raped her.

She took the case to court. After three years' wait, the court gave the man a six-month conditional sentence. No prison, no fines, nothing.

The second point worth examining has to do with the main question of the article, that about possible connections between gender equality and rape:

Why is sexual violence still so prevalent in countries where gender equality has made such gigantic strides? Some experts, like Ms. Kelly, argue that as a society moves to redistribute power between genders, there might be a transitional period where violence rises as the last expression of male domination.
“As women gain in status, earn more money and take their rightful place in society, some men may resort to their physical strength,” Ms. Kelly said, noting that most couple rape is ultimately based on a feeling of emasculation.
In the long term, most observers concur that the best antidote to violence is greater gender equality across the board. “The more independent women are from men and the more equal in terms of pay, status, education and everything else, the more likely are we to clamp down on this type of crime,” said Ms. Aas-Hansen of the Justice Ministry. “When a crime has happened in it, the bedroom ceases to be private.
What makes looking at this difficult are the same societal and legal problems and the same statistical limitations I discussed above.

In certain sharia-based law systems, a rape must have four male witnesses. If a woman accuses a man of rape and fails to produce those male witnesses, she herself will then be charged with having had sex outside the marriage. The extreme punishment for that in some countries can be stoning.

Thus, it would surprising if we found high rates of reported rape in countries using the sharia, whatever the underlying rape rates might be. Indeed, the most likely numbers of reported rapes in such a system would be very close to zero. Those reported rates give us no information about the actual rates of rape.

In other words, we cannot make conclusions about the relationship between gender equality and rape from published international statistics that use reported rapes only. Women in more egalitarian societies are more likely to report rapes than women in less egalitarian societies, and the very definition of rape is going to be wider in the former than in the latter.

It could be the case, as the above quote states, that sexual violence rises as a response to women's increasing equality. But there are alternative explanations which should also be considered: wider reporting of rapes, an understanding that relationship rapes are rapes, too, and so on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Beloved Child Has Many Names

That's the positive take on all the slurwords that are used to describe feminists. You all know that I'm a feminazi, for instance (picture the Hitler moustache on my divine face). But did you know that in Finnish I am both a fem sow:

AND a caterpillar tread feminist:

Now, imagine combining those two pictures with the Hitler moustache and you might be getting to something frightening enough to describe me!

A Different Kind of Versailles. Or the Consequences of Income Losses in the Middle Class.

Just to contrast with the post below about the plights of the rich:
Fourteen months ago, Aurora resident Prentiss Bailey was going about happily living his life as usual.
He was employed at a printing company where he’d worked for 10 years—a job that paid $17 an hour and that with the consistent overtime and $4,000 and $5,000 annual Christmas bonuses he got, enabled him to take care of his family and enjoy what he considered a middle income life.
Today, he and his 10-year–old daughter live in a homeless shelter.


“I had a job; we had what we needed,” said Bailey, as he sat inside the Hesed House shelter in Aurora where he now resides.“I was able to pay my rent. We were middle class.”
That was before he was laid off 13 months ago.
“Now there’s a lack of opportunity, a lack of jobs,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be this hard finding another job.”
Bailey, who for the first time in his life is receiving public aid, has lived at the shelter for about five months. Initially, he and his daughter slept on mattresses in a gymnasium-like room with others. Now the two share a small room in the transitional housing section of the shelter furnished with bunk beds.
“It was hard at first, but I’m glad I took that step,” he said, noting he’s receiving guidance on getting back on his feet from a case worker at Hesed House. He plans to enroll in truck driver training program to improve his prospects of landing work.

Not all losses have the same significance. Too many writers have forgotten that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fall of Versailles

An ill-omened name for a house, Versailles. But it's the one Jacqueline and David Siegel chose for their 90,000-square-foot house. It would have been the largest private residence in the United States, except for that pesky credit crunch. Now the Siegels' half-finished house is for sale for 75 million dollars, 100 million dollars if the buyer wants it finished.

I know all this because of a Wall Street Journal article about the hard times of the super-rich. The article focuses on the greater volatility of the incomes of the super-rich in recent years, perhaps implying that the super-rich Have It Tough, Too, what with their incomes seesawing more than the measly incomes of the rest of us?

Not sure. The piece may have been published just for its click-value. Everyone and their dog will want to yell at someone like the Siegels.

Not all economic losses are of equal concern. A poor family losing everything has lost everything, and that is still a bigger proportional loss than gigantic losses from a mega-gigantic wealth. Complaining about the latter is uncouth, given what the housing markets crash has done to the the real and perceived wealth levels of most everyone else and given what unemployment has done to the incomes of many.

The article focuses on income volatility, though all the human-interest stories are about people losing large chunks of their wealth, not their incomes. Then there's this on wealth volatility:
During the 1990 and 2001 recessions, the richest 5% of Americans (measured by net worth) experienced the largest decline in their wealth, according to research from the Federal Reserve. As of 2009, the richest 20% of Americans showed the largest decline in mean wealth of any other group.
Largest decline in mean wealth in what units? Dollars? That would be no surprise at all, given that this group begins the recessions with more wealth. By definition. If the largest decline is defined in percentage terms the same argument I'm giving below for income volatility serves for wealth volatility, too.

That argument is this: Even if the wealthy now experience more income fluctuation over business cycles than the non-wealthy, the average incomes of the former are much, much higher. Those higher average incomes cushion the impact of any recession-related income drops. A loss of 9% from a $500,000 annual income won't make it necessary to choose between heating or food whereas a loss of 3% from a $20,000 annual income very well might*.

If I really make a stretch, I can read the author's argument as one about social mobility:
Though often described as a permanent plutocracy, this elite actually moves through a revolving door of riches, with some of today's nouveau riche becoming tomorrow's fallen kings. Only 27% of America's 400 top earners have made the list more than one year since 1994, one study shows.
And what are the income and wealth levels of those "fallen kings?" I have no idea, but I very much doubt that most of them are now among the working poor. A list of the 400 top earners tells us nothing about that. My guess is that most of those who fail to reappear in the list still remain rich.

*This example uses the extreme percentages from the article.

My Name Is "Unwanted."

This is a heart-breaking story:
When Shivaji Pisar's third child was born, yet another daughter, his parents insisted on naming her Nakusa, "Unwanted" in the local Marathi language.
"I didn't really care what we called her. Three girls is one too many," said Mr Pisar, 37, a shepherd.
Yesterday, however, Nakusa, 5, joined more than 200 other girls in a renaming ceremony in the small town of Satara, 260 kilometres south of Mumbai. During the ceremony, the girls and their parents and guardians took an oath to protect the girls, discourage discrimination and refrain from using names such as Unwanted.
These girls, most named Nakusa or Nakoshi, were handed name-change certificates, allowing them to legally change their names to whatever they wished. A few days before the ceremony, many of them chose to re-register themselves using the names of Bollywood actresses.
The second of six sisters, Nakusa Budhwale, 11, the daughter of a labourer, will now be known as Aishwarya after the Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, whose name means "wealth".
"She won a beauty contest. She makes good movies. I like her," she said. "Not everyone can be like her. I want to be."
Most, however, deferred to their parents.
Nakusa Pisar became "Puja," which means worship. Her father remained as ambivalent about the name change as he was about Puja's birth.
"What difference does it make? She does not understand what any of this means," said Mr Pisar.
But Nakusa Kirdat, 32, a primary schoolteacher, knows exactly what it means to grow up rejected by her family. She is the third child and daughter. Her grandmother and mother insisted on calling her Nakusa.

What is the reason behind such a horrendous custom? The answer:
It is a commonly held belief in rural areas such as Satara that to name a girl Unwanted is to jinx her and reject her, said Sudha Kankaria, a women's rights activist in Satara who launched the name-change champaign. By rejecting her you provoke the gods into giving you a son.
And sons are valued, daughters are not, for all the usual reasons: Sons take care of their parents in old age, daughters are married out and need dowries and a son is needed for the parents' final religious rites in Hinduism.

But all these explanations, however obvious they are, amount to nothing but a different way of saying that daughters are not as good as sons. Hence it is daughters who are married out, not sons and it is sons who do the last rites for their parents, not daughters. Because sons are preferred over daughters.

I should be amiss if I did not celebrate the renaming ceremony. This custom has survived for some time, after all, but now people are working to change it.

The Libyan Liberation: For Men Only?

I expected that to be the case:
When Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, pronounced the end of the uprising, the crowd reacted with shouts of “God is great.” This was not long after people sang the bouncy national anthem of pre-Qaddafi days, which was revived to help celebrate the downfall of the dictator, who was killed on Thursday after he tried to flee Surt.
Two strands — a new piety and all-purpose, freewheeling happiness — dominated the ceremony. Mr. Abdel-Jalil, stooping humbly to shake hands in the crowd and embracing the elderly relative of a fallen rebel, made clear that personality would have nothing to do with the new order.
“We are an Islamic country,” he said as the sun descended. “We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion.”
Among other things, he promised that Islamic banks would be established in the new Libya. He also talked of lifting restrictions on the number of women Libyan men can marry, The Associated Press reported.
The comments reflected not only the chairman’s personal religious conservatism and the country’s, but also the rising influence of Islamists among the former rebels. The Islamists, who include some influential militia commanders, have warned that they will not permit their secular counterparts in a new government to sideline them.
Some of the secular former rebels contend that the Islamists have successfully exploited the country’s power vacuum, infusing the conflict with religion and criticizing those not considered sufficiently pious, including women who do not wear the head scarf.
The crucial part of that quote is in the sentence where Libyans are simply told what the Constitution will be based on. They will not be consulted on it, and it looks like they cannot vote on it, either. Who it is, exactly, that will draft the Constitution is unclear. But it will be based on the sharia law, created by medieval male scholars.

Another way to interpret the sentence about Islamic banking and the right of man to take four wives if he so wishes might be that the rebels are offered relief from debt and more women. But that's just me being all bitter about the direction of this particular liberation.

It's quite possible that the Libyans, both men and women, would openly select the kind of Constitution they are probably going to get now, whether they wish it or not. After all, those rules might simply codify current reality:
What outsiders may not appreciate is that Libya is a very conservative Muslim country. Women are usually only seen on the streets shopping or in the company men. While women can drive (unlike in Saudi Arabia) virtually all women keep their arms and legs covered and wear the hijab (or headscarf) and some where [sic] the niqab or full face covering. Alcohol is officially outlawed in the entire country.
For a Western visitor it can at times make for some unusual sights. Restaurants and cafes are almost exclusively filled with men. Even at the victory celebrations this week there was a segregated area in Martyr’s Square just for women.
Yet women were heavily involved in the revolution and many say they expect to have more equality in the new Libya.
"Many say they expect to have more equality in the new Libya." I would not bet on that outcome, sadly.

Women celebrating in the segregated area set out for them at the Martyr's Square, by AP:

Added later: A blog by an individual suggests that the speech was somewhat more complicated on the question of women's rights. I quote, with the caveat that I have no way of verifying the correctness of any of it:
2 - Mustafa thanked a group of people in the following order (i will only mention the first two). First, to the young men for their obvious devotion and sacrifice that they willingly jumped into in the name of peace and freedom. but the second part is what i want to focus on (especially to some of the reporters out there who just like to talk smack). "I want to thank the WOMEN of libya. The mothers, the daughters, the wives, and all the women who without them and their role in raising these fine men that this revolution so desperately needed".

He continued on to say: "We will not forget you. By Allah's will you will not be forgotten. It is time for Libya to further open its doors to you and support you. By Allah's there will be embassies run by women. Hospitals be run by women. Women politicians, teachers, and the vast positions will be open to and be run by women". I want to point this out to some of the reporters who think or fear that Libyans do not recognize the role of women in our society. Even in conservative cities such as Benghazi, Darna, and even Al Baydah (Where Mustafa Abduljaleel is from), have allowed and sometimes encouraged women to hold positions of importance. But now that this brutal regime and its policy of dog-eat-kitten is gone, more oportunities will be open to our women and Inshallah Inshallah Inshallah (God willing), our women will finally have the ability to light a shining beacon of hope and honor that we know they are capable of bringing.

Of course that is not necessarily in conflict with a family law based on the sharia. But neither is it gender equality.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

More on Herman Cain's Weird Tax Plan

Jared Bernstein gives us a graph which shows how Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan would change tax liabilities. It's a stunner, and you MUST check it out. I tried to copy it here but because of that awesome reason which makes it a stunner it does not copy very well.

It's not a coincidence that flat tax plans of this type are always proposed by the right-wingers. Without all sorts of modifications and exceptions, flat taxes benefit the wealthiest most of all. In Cain's plan, for instance, a very low-income tax payer would have to pay nine percent federal income tax and would find food, housing, transportation and everything else more expensive because of that nine percent sales tax. Currently low-income individuals or families do not pay federal income taxes. That Cain's plan would also do away with deductions for mortgage interest and for dependents suggests that many middle-income tax payers would also pay more in total taxes than currently.

I mentioned that the flat tax schemes always come from the political right. But I have been surprised to find that even some people who are progressive or liberal like them because of their apparent simplicity. What those sweaty days of tax preparation have done to us!

Sadly, the simplicity of those plans can only stay if their unfairness stays. Once we start exempting low-income individuals from the flat income tax (which would be necessary) and all sorts of necessary commodities (food and clothing, say) from the flat sales tax, we bring back the complexities, the game playing and the need for oversight and bureaucracy.

In any case, as Bernstein notes in another post, there is no reason why a progressive income tax system could not be made simple.

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Twelve: More From The Nineteenth Century

Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 ,Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10 and Part 11

Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.

One summer, while sitting around a log fire at Lord Byron's villa with friends and reading German ghost stories, Byron suggested they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterwards, in a waking dream, Mary Godwin conceived the idea for Frankenstein: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley's encouragement, she expanded this tale into her first novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment "when I first stepped out from childhood into life".

Frankenstein is considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction, and science fiction author Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story, because unlike in previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. The story is partially based on Giovanni Aldini's electrical experiments on dead and (sometimes) living animals and was also a warning against the expansion of modern humans in the Industrial Revolution, alluded to in its subtitle, The Modern Prometheus.

It has had a considerable influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films. Frankenstein is actually the name of the scientist and not the monster in the novel. Shelley’s works are widely available in English.

Fredrika Bremer (17 August 1801 - 31 December 1865) was a Swedish writer and a feminist activist. She had a large influence on social development in Sweden, especially in feminist issues.

In 1828, she debuted as a writer, anonymously, with a series of novels published until 1831, and was soon followed by others. Her novels were romantic stories of the time and concentrated on women in the marriage market; either beautiful and superficial, or unattractive with no hope of joining it, and the person telling the story and observing them is often an independent woman.

Her novel Hertha (1856) remains her most influential work. It is a dark novel about the lack of freedom for women, and it raised a debate in the parliament called "The Hertha debate", which contributed to the new law of legal majority for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was somewhat of a starting point for the real feminist movement in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women, and in 1861, the University for Women Teachers (Högre lärarinneseminariet), was founded by the state after the suggested woman university in Hertha. In 1859, Sophie Adlersparre founded the paper Tidskrift för hemmet inspired by the novel.

Some of her works are available (some in English and some in Finnish) at this website: and her complete novels are available in English in the book “The Novels of Frederika Bremer. 11 Vols. [In 12 Pt.],” by Fredrika Bremer.

Amantine (also "Amandine") Lucile Aurore Dupin, later Baroness (French: baronne) Dudevant (Paris, 1 July 1804 – 8 June 1876), best known by her pseudonym George Sand, was a French novelist and memoirist.

Her most widely used quote is "There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved." Indeed, her romance with the the writer Jules Sandeau began her literary career; they published a few stories in collaboration, signing them "Jules Sand." Her first published novel, Rose et Blanche (1831), was written in collaboration with Sandeau.

For her first independent novel, Indiana (1832), she used the pen name that made her famous – George Sand. Drawing from her childhood experiences of the countryside, she wrote the rural novels La Mare au Diable (1846), François le Champi (1847–1848), La Petite Fadette (1849), and Les Beaux Messieurs Bois-Doré (1857). A Winter in Majorca described the period that she spent on that island in 1838-9. Her other novels include Indiana (1832), Lélia (1833), Mauprat (1837), Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1840), Consuelo (1842–1843), and Le Meunier d'Angibault (1845). Further theatre pieces and autobiographical pieces include Histoire de ma vie (1855), Elle et Lui (1859) (about her affair with Musset), Journal Intime (posthumously published in 1926), and Correspondence.

Sand often performed her theatrical works in her small private theatre at the Nohant estate.In addition, Sand authored literary criticism and political texts. She wrote many essays and published works establishing her socialist position. Because of her early life, she sided with the poor and working class, as well as supporting women’s rights, and she started her own newspaper which was published in a workers' co-operative. This allowed her to publish more political essays. She wrote "I cannot believe in any republic that starts a revolution by killing its own proletariat." Her works are widely available in English.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861) was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime.

She was educated at home and attended lessons with her brothers' tutor. She writes that at six she was reading novels, and at eight she was entranced by Pope's translations of Homer; at ten she was studying Greek and writing her own Homeric epic The Battle of Marathon. Her parents encouraged her work, and she has one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English writer.

By 1821 she had read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and she became a passionate supporter of Wollstonecraft's ideas, particularly since she could not go to school as her brothers did despite her own brilliance. Between 1841-4 Barrett Browning was prolific in poetry, translation and prose. Her poem "The Cry of the Children", published in 1842 in Blackwoods, condemned child labor and helped bring about child labor reforms by rousing support for Lord Shaftesbury's Ten Hours Bill (1844).

Her 1844 volume Poems made her one of the most popular writers in the country at the time and inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her work. She grew to love Robert and eventually married him; her father then disinherited her, as he did each of his children who married. Her brothers considered Robert a lower class gold-digger and refused to see him. However, Elizabeth had some money of her own, and the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy.

Her most famous work, Sonnets From the Portugese, largely chronicles the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular even in the poet's lifetime and it remains so today; it contains the famous poem begins “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

She also published Aurora Leigh, an epic poem about a female writer making her way in life, balancing work and love. The writings depicted in this novel are based on similar, personal experiences that Elizabeth suffered through herself. Her works are widely available in English.

Mary Anne (Mary Ann, Marian) Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880), better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist and translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.

She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and well known for their realism and psychological insight.

Evans set out a manifesto for herself in one of her essays, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” (1856), which criticized the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction by women. The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes met Evans in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was married to Agnes Jervis, but they had agreed to have an open marriage; notably, it was not the fact that he had an affair but the fact that he was not ashamed of his “mistress” and his wife had agreed to the arrangement that so shocked Victorian society. It was not until 1877, when Lewes and Evans were introduced to Princess Louise, that they were fully accepted by society.