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Should Businesses Have More Rights than Gays, Women and Blacks?

Business rights v human rights.

Business rights v human rights.

Should businesses have more rights than people? In particular, people who are gay, female or black?

Because the US has a history of privileging businesses over historically underprivileged people.

And it’s getting worse. As Harvard’s Kennedy School observes: Read the rest of this entry

Strip Searches Strip Our Liberty

Liberty Lost

Liberty Lost

As the law stands, anyone can be strip-searched when arrested, for any offense, at any time.

Oddly, it was the more libertarian justices of the Supreme Court who declared it so — the ones who usually claim to value liberty over all.

Albert Florence had been stopped for a driving violation. Once taken into custody he was told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He felt humiliated, “It made me feel like less of a man,” he said.

Naomi Wolf points out the absurdity. Justice Kennedy suggested that a 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. And strip searching him would have prevented the attack? Plans to blow up the twin towers may have been concealed in a body cavity?  Read the rest of this entry

Strip Searches Strip Our Liberty

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can be strip-searched when arrested, for any offense, at any time. The majority was composed of the more libertarian side of the court who claim to value liberty over all.


Albert Florence, who initiated the suit, had been stopped for a driving violation. Once taken into custody he was told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He felt humiliated, “It made me feel like less of a man.”

Naomi Wolf points out the absurdity of the reasoning. Justice Kennedy suggested that a 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. And strip searching him would have prevented the attack? Plans to blow up the twin towers may have been concealed in a body cavity? Or, weapons and contraband could be brought into the prison system, Kennedy continued. Yet those merely under arrest haven’t yet made it into the prison population.

Wolf goes on to warn,

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down a sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

While TSA pat-downs are routine in the US, they are illegal in Britain. Wolf believes that the genital groping policy “is designed to psychologically habituate US citizens to a condition in which they are demeaned and sexually intruded upon by the state – at any moment.”

Interesting, and scary. Especially since cargo holds are not always routinely checked for bombs. And nuclear and chemical plants are not adequately guarded. All because companies want to avoid costs and delays. And yet we must put up with pat-downs, x-ray cameras and strip searches at the airport?

Meanwhile, a facility is being set up in Utah by the NSA to monitor everything all the time. And recent laws have criminalized protest. Where are we headed, Wolf wonders.

I doubt there is a clear plan to psychologically subdue the U.S. population through sexual terrorism. But so long as we all sheepishly submit to it, the techniques could potentially become a tool for our submission.

And the fact that such tools are upheld by the libertarian side of the bench leaves me wondering how pro-freedom they really are. Is it liberty for all? Or just liberty for powerful police and powerful corporations? The rest of us had better submit.

See entire article @ Naomi Wolf, “How the US Uses Sexual Humiliation as a Political Tool to Control the Masses,” Common Dreams

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How Does Racism Hurt Racists? The Case of Emmett Till

How does racism hurt racists? In many ways, actually. Here’s one:

The case of Emmett Till.

In 1955 this 14-year-old African-American left Chicago to visit his cousin in Mississippi.

One day his cousin dared him to flirt with a white woman. Accepting, he whistled at a woman who was working at a grocery counter, and called her “baby.”

Later that night the woman’s husband and his half-brother hunted Emmett down, kidnapped him, and the torture began. They cut off one of his ears, gouged out an eye, and put a bullet through his head before throwing him into a river.

The men were arrested. At the trial witnesses placed them at the site where Emmett was tortured, and the two men admitted the kidnapping.

But they faced a jury of white men in a Mississippi courtroom. After deliberating for less than an hour, they acquitted the case. One juror told a reporter, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink a pop, it wouldn’t have took that long.”

We easily see how racism hurt the young minority in this case. But how did it also hurt the white people who were involved?

When one person can torture another, with no conscience or concern, and when others dismiss the behavior, we see that racism dehumanizes its target, but it also dehumanizes the racist.

February is Black History Month

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Rape Culture and Penn State

A man sexually assaults children. Witnesses are appalled. But no one tells anyone outside their tight circle. The assailant is eventually accused of attacking eight boys. Yet members of the community rally around the perpetrator and those who protected him.

I’m talking, of course, of community support for Penn State’s coaching staff, particularly Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno, who was fired for protecting Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who now stands accused of 40 counts of sexual abuse.

Shockingly, it’s not especially unusual for communities to rally around perpetrators over victims.

At least when the perps are powerful.

And it all reflects what’s typical of rape culture.

In 2008 a 16-year-old high school cheerleader said she was raped at a post-game party by Rakheem Bolton, a member of the basketball team. He and two friends forced her into a room to commit the assault. When others tried to get into the room the men fled. Bolton left clothing behind and threatened the homeowner when he refused to return them. Bolton eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge.

School officials responded by asking the cheerleader to avoid the school cafeteria and homecoming activities. And then they kicked her off the cheerleading squad for refusing to root for her rapist. She sued the district attorney, the school district and the principal, but an appeals court ruled against her.

In the summer of 2004 three varsity members of the Mepham High School football team were sexually abused at training camp. The young men were sodomized with pine cones, broom handles and golf balls which had all been coated with a mineral ice that causes severe pain.

Many of the witnesses felt terrible about what had happened. Yet they kept silent.

When the national press broke the story, the community defended the players and coaches. Parents of the abused boys were threatened with death if they pressed charges. Campus rallies were held for the team. When the school administration cancelled football season, Mepham students felt that they had been victimized.

A culture of entitlement, silence, and protection lies behind all of the above, says Michael Kimmel, one of the nation’s leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity.

Sports stars are prone to feeling entitled with schools, coaches, professors, and even the police covering for their mishaps and crimes. After all, if the team is damaged, so is the school. And people’s identities are closely tied to their teams, so just hush up about it.

Who cares if a few lives are damaged? It’s all about me! And how I look!

And so when the Penn State Board of Trustees announced Coach Paterno’s firing, fans became incensed:

  • You said Coach Paterno was fired “in the best interests of the university.” Can you define in the best interests of the university?
  • Why was Coach Paterno informed about his firing over the phone?
  • Was any consideration given as to how this would affect the football program?

Allen Barra over at Salon has an answer:

The football program? The football program?? Are you serious? A former assistant coach was just indicted for over 40 counts related to sexual assault on a child… crimes against humanity — against children — took place in the university’s athletic facilities…

So don’t worry about the football team. Worry about the fact that from now on, whenever the name of Penn State is mentioned, people all over the country — make that all over the world — will be sneering, snickering or spitting. Worry that a long period of penance and healing must begin, and that your actions are delaying this process.

Here we have selfish and shortsighted people who can only think about themselves, and not the pain of others, but who actually work against their own interests in the process — both in terms of how they look and the state of their souls.

So long as we continue our culture of entitlement, silence, and protection, we continue our culture of rape.

Cross-posted @ Ms. Magazine, Daily Kos and Political Mosaic

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Markets Must Be Free; Women Must Be Constrained

Right wingers adamantly proclaim that free markets are necessary for freedom. So why do so many of these liberty lovers insist that women be constrained?

The right has been relentlessly pushing laws that limit women’s autonomy. The most extreme measure is on the November ballot in Mississippi. There, voters may amend the state constitution to define a “person” as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

If this law passes, a woman would not be able to get an abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or if her life were in danger. Miscarriage could become a police investigation. And at least some (possibly all) forms of contraception would become illegal.

Similar measures are being planned for future elections in Florida, Montana, Ohio and at least five other states.

Slate’s XX Factor reports on the consequences of such a law being passed in Mexico:

The main result has been a doubling down in the criminalization of women who have abortions, or even miscarriages… The penalties for a woman who has an abortion range from six months to four years.

XX Factor goes on to report that one woman got a 23 year sentence for what she says was a miscarriage. Now consider that about one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. (In the U.S. today women are prosecuted for stillbirths, even when prosecutors lack direct evidence linking poor health choices to the stillbirth.)

Personhood activist, Ed Hanks, says society isn’t comfortable yet with punishing women and their doctors for abortions, “because abortion has been ‘normalized.’” He hopefully adds, “As the Personhood message penetrates, then society will understand why women need to be punished just as surely as they understand why there can be no exceptions for rape/incest.”

When women aren’t being limited by penitentiary walls – or by their own deaths – another prison arises when contraception is banned – a goal pushed by plenty of conservatives. Some abusive men even destroy contraception hoping to trap wives or girlfriends into dependency by their need to care for children.

Last summer I wrote of despots who controlled women’s reproductive rights. But it bears repeating:

The 20th century’s most loathsome regimes focused on controlling women’s reproduction. The Nazis closed family planning centers and outlawed abortion, eventually making it a capital offense, says Steven Conn, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State. Stalin banned abortion. Ceausescu outlawed contraception and made miscarriage subject to criminal investigation. Today China forces abortion and sterilization. Conn observes:

The day after the evil Ceausescu had been executed, the National Salvation Front issued two decrees; it lifted the ban on the private ownership of typewriters, and it repealed the laws that policed pregnant women.

America’s right-wing extremists look eerily similar to these despots, lending an ironic twist to their claim of being all about freedom through free markets.

Markets must be free. But women must be controlled?

Reposted on Daily Kos November 7, 2011
Also republished in Daily Kos by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, Pro Choice, and Community Spotlight.

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Ways of Seeing: Ravaged or Ravishing?

By Robert Rees

We are bombarded with thousands if not tens of thousands of images every day. Occasionally, two images come into such sharp contrast that they can’t be ignored. Such was the case when I opened the New York Times on Sunday, May 2. On page ten of that issue is a color photo of a 23 year old Congolese woman. The caption says her lips and right ear have been cut off by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Her shorn head, the blackness of her face, the swollen pink oval around her mouth where her lips had once been (like the exaggerated lips of “Sambo” or minstrel characters once popular in American culture), and the sideway glance of her eyes as someone (perhaps her mother) touches her remaining ear with what seems tenderness. It is an image so heartbreaking as to make one weep.

In Ways of Seeing John Berger says, “The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it. Such authority as it retains is distributed over the whole context in which it appears.” Thus . . .

Immediately across the page from this photo is a full page Lord & Taylor ad of a beautiful white woman with long flowing dark hair, green eyes, perfect lips and two ears from which dangle long bejeweled earrings. She is arrayed in such opulence—necklace, pendant, bracelets, a giant opaline or turquoise ring, that the contrast with the Congolese woman is shocking. The juxtaposition of the two images is heightened by the fact that the Congolese woman wears a simple hand-crafted red and black blouse whereas the model wears what looks like an expensive hand-knitted ivory-colored chemise over a pink lace skirt. She holds in each hand a knitted handbag (“only $89”), each covered with roses and each holding a small dog, so laden that she seems barely able to hold them up. This cornucopia of luxury, this picture of desire would never be found in the Congo, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The ad’s caption—“We all have our creature comforts. . . Some of us more than others”—is so ironic as to be almost beyond irony. The motto compounds the irony: “Shop more. Guilt less.”

Again, John Berger, “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste—indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. . . . To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men.”

The Congolese woman, like the Greek Princess Philomela whose husband Terus cut out her tongue so she could not reveal that he had raped her, has likewise likely been raped and brutally silenced. The severing of her left ear compounds the violation. She will be so disfigured that probably no man will ever touch her again and no compassionate god will turn her into a nightingale.

The woman in the Lord and Taylor ad will be ravaged by the eyes of a million men who will yet never touch her skin except in their imaginations. And yet in her wildest imagination this white goddess could never see herself in the place of the black tongueless Congolese woman, nor the Congolese woman ever imagine herself in such a space as the woman in the ad inhabits.

Both of these images are part of the world we live in, although we tend to keep them in separate compartments of our consciousness. The one is horribly real, the other an unreal arrangement by Madison Avenue designers. On another day when they are not juxtaposed, we might consider each separately, but when they are thrust before us in such stark relief, we can turn from neither–only ponder what they tell us about how some of us have more creature comforts than others and how we can remain “guilt less”—and that we are somehow complicit in both.

Robert A. Rees teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

This piece was first posted Sept. 17, 2010

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Turning Indian Girls Into Boys

Indian parents are paying to have their daughters turned into sons through sex-change operations that cost about 145,000 rupees ($3,200). Up to 300 girls have been surgically turned into boys in one city.

The procedure involves fashioning a penis from the little girls’ female organs. Afterwards they are injected with male hormones, which they will need to take throughout their lives. The procedure will leave these children impotent and infertile in adulthood. No sons or daughters for them.

The Madhya Pradesh government is investigating.

By nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in India the rate is 112 males per 100 females. The country now has seven million more boys than girls under age six.

As it is, dowry is so expensive – perhaps as much as a car or a house – that families feel they cannot afford daughters. Surgery is cheaper.

None of this bodes well for Indian society. Men will not be able to have wives or  children. Sex trafficking will continue to rise, and women will be sold into marriage, turning the female of our species increasingly into property.

Such is the curse on cultures that so value males over females.

Unfortunately, education has not increased the value of women and girls. Ranjana Kumari, of the Centre for Social Research, and a fervent activist against sex-selective abortion, told The Telegraph:

The figures are getting worse. In 2001 there were 886 girls born to every 1,000 boys in Delhi. Today there are only 866. The more educated and rich you are, the more there is killing of girls.

In the U.S. conservative columnists have begun blaming abortion for skewed sex ratios.

Really? Without abortion, parents may still try the sex-change thing. Or they may abandon or kill daughters after they are born, or they may fail to give daughters food or medical attention, as they have done for centuries. Or they may still try to abort, as they currently do, despite its illegality in India.

The core problem isn’t abortion or ultrasound or sex-changes or neglecting, abandoning, or killing daughters.

The core problem is that males are valued over females, world-wide, to all of our detriment. As a New York Times reader named George put it:

If men do not appreciate and value women as they should, they will find themselves rendered similarly impotent and lost, the inheritors of their misguided social practices.

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Female Activist Says Legalize Sex-Slavery

A female political activist and former parliamentary candidate prescribes sex-slavery as a means of protecting Kuwaiti men from committing adultery, according to the Kuwait Times and the Arabic news website, Al Arabiya.

In an online video the activist, Salwa Al-Mutairi, insists that Kuwaiti men could avoid moral corruption by purchasing non-Muslim women from an “enslaved maid” sex agency, if such a service were legally available. Otherwise, pious men may continue to be tempted by attractive household servants (who may go so far as to cast sensual spells).


Sex-slavery would protect the chastity of both men and women, she claims.

Since she sees non-Muslims as something less than human, Islamic men can’t commit adultery by having sex with them. Al-Mutairi reasons thusly: “The rules regulating sex-slaves differ from those for free women [i.e., Muslim women].” She explains, “The latter’s body must be covered entirely, except for her face and hands, whereas the sex-slave is kept naked from the bellybutton on up — she is different from the free woman; the free woman has to be married properly to her husband, but the sex-slave — he just buys her and that’s that.”

Meanwhile, pious women would be protected from sex-crazed men.

While not scripturally based, she insists the practice is not religiously forbidden. After all, several sheikhs and muftis in Mecca assured her that sex-slavery was perfectly legal under Sharia.

I see the problem here not as religion, but the mindset. Every Muslim I know would be completely appalled by a call for sex-slavery. Or by Al-Mutairi’s view that non-Muslims are something less that human.

Religion and religious advisors can say all sorts of crazy things. The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament (scriptures Jews and Christians share) recommend that disobedient children, Sabbath breakers, homosexuals and adulteresses all be killed. And God either approves or orders the destruction of several cities and communities. It’s just that today no one pays attention to these extreme passages.

Of course, it’s not just religion. Similarly strange notions can come out of culture, too. New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, tells a story in Half the Sky that is eerily similar to Al-Mutairi’s proposal. When Kristof asked Indian border guards why they didn’t stop young Pakistani girls from being brought into the country to be trafficked in the sex trade, the guards felt that since there will always be prostitution, it’s better to bring in girls from a lower class (and presumably lower morals) to save the Indian girls’ virtue as future wives of the same men who will frequent the prostitutes.

What of the ethics of Al-Mutairi’s proposal? Is morality grounded in religion? Doesn’t seem like it, given the religiously stained horror of nearly everything written above.

Additionally, must we accept that all cultural practices and perspectives are equally worthy? In most cases I agree with the tenants of cultural relativity: don’t judge a society’s practices if you live outside of it. But I’m not a moral relativist.

I ground my ethics in reason and human rights with this question in mind: Is anyone being harmed? If someone is being killed or crippled, physically, spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually, the behavior is wrong, regardless of culture.

Clearly, slavery wounds. So would the ongoing rape that this setup would entail.

When powerful groups profit by exploiting the powerless among them, I call that immoral. Certainly, sheikhs and muftis who declare sex-slavery acceptable under Sharia would personally benefit from satiated libidos, but at great cost to enslaved women. Regardless of what they claim their religion allows.

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Higher Suicide Rates in Conservative “Values Voters” States

Values voters. That’s what those who vote their principles on gay rights and abortion are called. So long as they vote anti-gay and anti-choice. 

Really? Are those the only values? And are they good ones? 

Why is voting to deny gays and lesbians equal rights a value, while voting to defend their rights is not? Why is voting against the right of women to control their bodies not a value? Abortion rates are about the same whether legal or not, so many girls and women die when safe and legal options are not available. 

Are they called values voters because they vote their morals against their pocketbooks? Plenty of well-to-do liberals do the same thing, voting for greater equality and opportunity for women, people of color, gays and the poor against their own financial interests.  

Why are progressive ethics seemingly invisible? 

I got to thinking about this while looking over research that finds teen suicide rates are higher where values voters live. 

According to a Columbia University study, suicide attempts by both gay and straight teens are more common in politically conservative areas, even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed.  

The difference in suicide rates might have something to do with differences in conservative and progressive principles. 

Conservatives focus on tradition and authority. 

Progressives recognize the worth and dignity of each human being, whether female or male; black, white, or brown; gay, straight, bi or trans. And progressives seek to avoid inflicting harm on others. 

No wonder teens are less likely to commit suicide in communities that hold these ideals. 

Interestingly, the Bible, which is a major source of conservative morals, contains a progressive message.   

True, Leviticus 18:22 does say, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,” which many interpret as banning homosexuality. But Leviticus 20:13 deems killing the proper punishment. Yet I don’t know anyone who insists on adhering to both points, leaving them inconsistent in relying on Biblical authority. 

At the same time, Jesus declared the greatest commandments loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). 

When it’s all about love and the golden rule, good progressive values, there will surely be much less suicide. 

Georgia Platts

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