Saturday, January 17, 2015

Good News on The Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi


The activist sentenced to 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia underwent his first flogging despite the country’s Supreme Court being ordered to review the case, his wife has told the Telegraph.
Raif Badawi, 31, was due to undergo the second of 20 rounds of 50 lashes on Friday morning, a week after receiving the first in a public ceremony which was condemned worldwide.
Doctors ordered a postponement, saying the wounds from the first round had not yet had time to heal, giving rise to hopes that Saudi Arabia might be bowing to international pressure over the case.
But Ensaf Haidar, Mr Badawi’s wife who is now in self-imposed exile in Canada with the couple’s three children, said there was no sign yet of leniency.

Keep up the international pressure!

It's not clear if the lashes will be given anyway.  But the reason for the current suspension is international opposition.  I get that this clashes with the Saudi opposition to the international opposition.  But blogging is not a crime.  Lashing and imprisoning a blogger should be.

Digby writes about that odd illogical treatment of Saudi Arabia by Western leaders.  Well, it's not odd because it's caused by oil greed.  But it certainly is illogical.  The Islamic State, for example, clearly has its roots in the Wahhabi sect of Islam, and that is the sect Saudi Arabia exports.  Then it plans to but fences around its own country.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Busy Beavers of Uterus Legislation

That would be the Republicans in the US Congress.  The new Congress hasn't been open for business very long, but the House and the Senate already have at least six proposals about the proper ownership and use of uteri.

I glanced through those six proposed acts and found, to my great delight, that at least two of them were sponsored by Senator David Vitter (R) of Louisiana.  Yes, the man famous for the prostitution scandal.  I have to work hard to get my head around the idea that Senator Vitter can view the area around uteri as both his general playground and the area in which values about "unborn babies" should be determined by Republican principles.

The two proposed acts on which I have something useful to say are HR 36 and S 50.  The former states this:

Short Friday Posts 1/16/2015: On Female Circumcision, The End of Vagina Monologues (?) And Paid Sick Leave as Giveaways

1.  This is a very moving first-person essay on female circumcision or genital mutilation, depending on which term you prefer.

2.  Mount Holyoke College no longer performs Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues which had been an annual tradition.  The reason?  Focusing on vaginas is not inclusive:

...the argument is premised on the idea that a) not all women have vaginas, and b) some men do have vaginas, because some trans individuals identify and live as a different gender than they were born without getting genital reconstructive surgery. Ergo, a trans women is a woman, full stop, but she may have a penis. A trans man is a man, full stop, but he may have a vagina. Fine. I get that. I'm cool with that. And, regardless, it doesn't matter if I'm cool with it, because how other people define their genders/bodies/sexualities is none of my concern. If you are a woman without a vagina, neat; there is totally room for all of our experiences in this great big, crazy world.

Yet I am a woman with a vagina, and this becomes an area of my concern when people start saying that I shouldn't reference or acknowlege that—that it's in fact bad and intolerant so 20th century to even speak about it. The fact that some trans women don't have vaginas doesn't negate the fact that the vast majority of women do. And now, in the name of feminism, "female-validating talk about vaginas is now forbidden," as one anonymous writer on a Mount Holyoke messageboard put it. "That's so misogynistic under the guise of ‘progress.'"

That's a topic which will certainly get you into pretzel arguments!  I'm not at all certain that any trans man could get cis men convinced that talking about penises is not acceptable when it comes to defining men.

I agree with the author of that Reason piece in that talking about vaginas is in one sense pretty inclusive (as the vast, vast majority of women do happen to have them and as most of the oppression and control of women is based on those women having vaginas), while not talking about vaginas is pretty much patriarchy as it used to be (should you wish to use that word), whatever the good intentions are.

This is one example where views of oppressions appear to clash, and the reason is the lack of nuances.  It's not necessary for the word "vagina" to be erased for trans women to be covered by the term "women" or for feminism to stretch large enough to cover the needs of both cis women and trans women.  

The global debate on women's reproductive issues is pretty undeveloped, by the way.  We are nowhere near the time when talk about vaginas would somehow no longer be needed in the non-pornographic sense.  The pornographers will go on talking about vaginas in any case.

3.  On Fox News, Stuart Varney defines paid sick leave and parental leave as giveaways.*  Both he and the interviewer focus on who is to pay for such leave.  Varney says it's taxpayers for the parental leave proposal for federal workers and employers for the general proposal of one week of paid sick leave for all workers.

The framing is that the audience of the program consists of those who pay for this, not those who both pay for this and receive the benefits.  But surely the audience of Fox News also consists of those tax payers who cover the corporate takeaways?  Who pay more taxes because of the many and various deductions corporations are entitled to?

In any case the actual burden of paying some labor-related cost is divided between the employers and employees in differing proportions depending on the characteristics of the relevant labor market.

As the linked story explains, other developed countries in fact do have those horrible giveaways.  The US is competing unfairly, one might say, by refusing to have the same types of benefits which are regarded as normal elsewhere.

I like to think of benefits of this sort as just a part of the total compensation package.  Many jobs have retirement benefits, right?  They are ultimately just like wages.  The difference with paid sick leave, say, is that it somewhat reduces the risks the employees face because of causes such as illness.  And as the Media Matters article points out, it's often the poorest of workers who have the least of this type of insurance.

The Fox people worry about people taking the sick leave even when they are not sick, as a form of extra vacation time.  There's a fairly easy way to limit that tendency, and that is to require a note from a health care professional for the money to be paid.  That's what other countries do, I think.
*Added later:  An interview worth reading in this context.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The New Pew Survey of Women And Leadership

You can read it here.  Surveys of this type don't really say very much unless they are put in perspective by repeated surveys over time.  That's because they are snap shots of one point in time and because the answers also depend on what else is happening at that time.

To take an example, the survey asked the respondents whether they personally hope to see a woman as the president of the United States over their lifetimes.  This is how the answers looked:

The problem with that question is pretty obvious.  The name "Hillary Clinton" hovers in the background and the fact that the Republicans don't have any female candidate with the same chances of succeeding will inform the answers.

But I turned all sad noticing that the only group of respondents in that picture where the majority would like to see a female president in their lifetimes consists of Democratic women.   Most people are pretty comfortable with the idea that women in power are about as rare as black swans.  Which suggests that the way the MRAs tell women are running the whole world isn't exactly what is really happening.  And feminism has a long workday (generations, my sweetings) ahead of it.

Still, many of the other answers in the survey are encouraging.  In interpreting surveys of this type it's important to remember various types of response biases (especially telling people what they wish to hear), but it's also important to keep in mind that many of the answers will reflect social stereotypes, norms and mores.  Those change very very slowly.

And as expected, men who vote Republican are most likely to think that all the necessary gender work has already been done:

Republican men (54%) say the country has made the changes needed to give men and women equality in the workplace. By contrast about two-thirds (66%) of Republican women say more changes are needed. Even larger majorities of Democratic and independent women and Democratic men agree that gender parity is still a work in progress.
 That's especially interesting given that the survey asks questions about the best time for women to have children if they wish to become leaders and what with the absence of maternity leave of any reasonable amount or the expectation that mothers should be the ones responsible for children.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sam Brownback Might Have To Raise Taxes!!!

Run for your lives, because the sky has turned pink.  Brownback never saw a tax he didn't want to cut.  As the Governor of Kansas he got to put his daft ideas into practice.  The outcome?

On Monday, the state's legislature will take on the daunting task of trying to find hundreds of millions of dollars to balance the state's budget, which is facing a shortfall of $280 million for this fiscal year.
A big reason for the predicament, experts say: Some of the largest tax cuts in the state's history, signed into law in 2012 by Governor Sam Brownback.
One of the biggest cuts: The profits of small businesses and partnerships were made tax-exempt.
Tax policy experts like Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation suspect this change is a key reason for the state's unexpectedly large revenue shortfall. One concern is that other companies not eligible for the 0% tax rate may be trying to reorganize themselves so they, too, get the tax break.
The tax-cut package was supposed to boost the Kansas economy and small businesses. Problem is, that hasn't happened. At least not yet, although the effects of tax cuts can take years to materialize.

Mmm.  And pink unicorns might also be found one day.

So Kansas is now the Great Experiment in what happens when taxes are cut to the bone, and Brownback (the Free-Market-Obligatory-Religion prophet) might actually have to raise taxes back a bit.

Though even now he is considering cutting more spending:

One of Brownback's proposals for cutting this year's shortfall is to reduce the state's contributions to the public employee pension fund for the next six months, a controversial move especially considering that the state pension plan is already underfunded. 

What's behind all this weirdness?  Brownback's 2012 tax cuts:

The 2012 cuts were among the largest ever enacted by a state, reducing the top tax bracket by 25 percent and eliminating all taxes on business profits that are reported on individual income returns. (No other state has ever eliminated all taxes on these pass-through businesses.) The cuts were arrogantly promoted by Mr. Brownback with the same disproven theory that Republicans have employed for decades: There will be no loss of revenue because of all the economic growth!

The lesson in all this?  You need to study economics before deciding on some weird theory, based on free-market gods flying around.  It scares me that so many politicians have a religious attitude to something that consists of theories, evidence and arguments.

On the other hand, though I feel sad about the citizens of Kansas, these problems couldn't have happened to a more appropriate man.

Be Invisible. Be silent.

That's one of the rules of most fundamentalist religions when it comes to women:  The ideal woman will not be seen or heard.  Instead, she will obey the commands of whoever is declared her owner/guardian.

You can verify the truth of that assertion by a little bit of thinking.

I was reminded of this rule when I read about an ultra-orthodox Israeli newspaper amending the pictures of world leaders in the Paris protest march (that took place after the murders of people at a comic newspaper, a Kosher store and one policewoman out in the streets).  This is the original picture:

And this is what it becomes when the women become invisible (note that they are not even allowed to leave gaps):

Finally, here's a Twitter response to that photo-shopping.  I apologize for not yet finding the creator of that picture which simply removes all men from the (staged) picture:

Alas and alack, there is no matriarchal religion which would have enough power to photo-shop men out of pictures (not implying that this would happen in a matriarchal religion).  But the last picture is also enlightening.  Note how few people remain if only female world leaders counted.

When Women Rule Everything

Cardinal Raymond Burke (whom Pope Francis has demoted) has given an interview.  It tells us the reasons why men shun the Catholic Church.  It's because women rule it:

Some snippets:

Cardinal Raymond Burke said in an interview with website “The New Emangelism: Drawing Men to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church” that the church needs to return to its male-centered roots and stop catering to “women’s issues” in order to regain its once robust standing in the world.

“I think there has been a great confusion with regard to the specific vocation of men in marriage and of men in general in the Church during the past 50 years or so,” Burke told The New Emangelism (TNE) in an interview published Monday. “It’s due to a number of factors, but the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized.”
“Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church,” Cardinal Burke complained, “leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.”
“The goodness and importance of men became very obscured,” he said, and that needs to change.
Women and their needs have not only decimated the church, he said, but the institution of marriage as well.
“I recall in the mid-1970’s, young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time,” he recalled. “These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women. These divisions between women and men have gotten worse since then.”
Worst of all, he said, the church took a “fluffy,” womanly attitude toward sexuality.
“Making things worse, there was a very fluffy, superficial kind of catechetical approach to the question of human sexuality and the nature of the marital relationship,” he said, which has led to sexual anarchy, the abundant availability of pornography, homosexuality and child sex abuse.

Delicious!  Irresistibly funny, because it is so upside-down!  Cardinal Burke is so far in some other reality (perhaps in the world of hyenas?) that I cannot stop laughing.

But I'm not writing this post just to ridicule a cardinal of a very patriarchal church for believing that his church has been taken over by the radical feminists cabal when in actual fact women are not allowed to be priests, women are not allowed to have any real power in the church and contraception and abortion are banned with the aim of keeping all women at home while also maximizing the number of new little Catholics.

Well, yes, I am.  Honestly, this guy lives in a cloud-cuckoo-land.  No amount of female subjugation would make him satisfied, I suspect.  And did you notice that the female concept of sexuality is "fluffy" (pink ribbons around the genitals?) but nevertheless has resulted (according to Burke) in the crime of child sex abuse???

The gall.  So the men inside the church who were pederasts would not have been pederasts if some non-fluffy male concept of sexuality had reigned?  What would that be?  Having intercourse while boxing?  Or something more sinister.

This must be the most astonishing explanation for child sex abuse I've ever heard.  To fluffy a view of sexuality??!!

The second point (other than ridiculing Burke) of this post is how much it reminds me of some more extreme MRA creeds which assert that what men's rights really mean is the right for men to rule as overlords of women and the right to get respected for that.  Many of those creeds also begin with the assumption that the current society is run by a small number of radical feminists* (with frightening fangs and impossible powers, all aimed at killing off men), and that the proper rights of men (to be overlords) have been utterly stripped away.  Therefore, the status quo is seen as oppression of men.  Well, perhaps not in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, but in almost all other countries.  That's why we have had an unbroken chain of radical feminist female presidents and commanders of the military and popes and stateswomen and so on.

*That radical feminism has always been a fairly small part of feminism and has had very little impact on religious and other institutions is irrelevant in both the case of Burke and the case of some MRA types.  That's because they paint any movements aiming for gender equality as a radical feminist takeover movement.  Indeed, I suspect that they know this and that the terminology is carefully selected.