On last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart talked about the Supreme Court's very busy week last week. First, he brought up the Court's rulings on health care and gay marriage. Cue Bill O'Reilly, Ted Cruz, and Paul Walker decrying the Court's decisions. "Might as well get rid of the Supreme Court, save some money," faux populist Bobby Jindal said, pandering at a campaign event.
But conservatives could take heart. "After a series of losses, conservatives get a victory at the Supreme Court," a Fox News host intones. Stewart is excited. What could it possibly be? "Can eagles drive now?" he jokes.
As it turns out, the grand conservative "victory" handed down by the Supreme Court is that states are still allowed to kill prisoners with questionable, untested lethal injection drugs. The Court also tossed out EPA pollution guidelines.
"So gay people have the right to marry, and poor people have the right to insurance. But on the brightside Americans can still kill prisoners painfully ... and everyone else slowly," Stewart says. "What the f*ck!?"
Asset forfeiture is a police procedure whereby local police departments can confiscate the property of Americans if they can make a case that this property is essential to criminal activity. You would think such power would be limited to seizing items such as firearms or other dangerous materials, but police departments often abuse this power to grab all sorts of things -- even from people who . Here’s five crazy cases:
1. Seizing The Life Savings Of A 24-Year-Old:In 2014, a college student named Charles Clarke was traveling through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport when he was accused of having his bag smell like marijuana. Police then went on to seize the $11,000 found within it, accusing him of having done a drug deal to get the money. 13 different departments are now trying to gain control of the money seized from Clarke, although he was never convicted of a crime (there were no drugs in his bag).
2. Confiscating $75,000 From A Budding Restauranteur:A 55-year old Chinese American from Georgia was traveling in Alabama when police seized $75,000 he had raised from his relatives to open a new Chinese restaurant. After ten months of legal battles, he was able to get the money back, but he was set back by his own legal fees.
3. Taking Everything From A Cancer Patient: Police in Michigan busted into Thomas Williams’s home, accusing him of dealing marijuana -- he wasn’t, but as a cancer patient, he was legally allowed to cultivate his own. Police took $11,000, his car, his shotgun, and other belongings and a year later he was still fighting to get them back.
4. Snatch And Grab From Poker Players: Two poker players driving in Iowa had $100,000 taken from them by Iowa police. The encounter with police led to one indictment for possessing drug paraphernalia. There was no hard and fast evidence that the money seized was at all related to any drug crime.
5. Decimating A Nail Salon Owner’s Life Savings:Vu Do, a man who owns two nail salons in New York City, had $44,000, his life savings, taken from him by the Drug Enforcement Agency while he was at JFK Airport. He had planned to take the money to California to help his family. He didn’t receive even a citation before having his money taken from him, which makes the government’s case that he may have been drug dealing all the more bizarre.
Abuses have become common enough to where two states have banned civil asset forfeiture altogether while the federal government has started to limit its own use of the procedure.
Following litigation from corporate interests including the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO), as well as pressure from the Texas legislature, the Denton City Council has repealed a first-of-its-kind voter approved ban on fracking that had been passed through a ballot measure during the November 2014 general election. Drilling operations have resumed, while residents have vowed to uphold the ban.
Just hours after the fracking ban was passed, TXOGA, the oldest and largest trade organization in Texas representing petroleum interests, whose approximately 4,000 members produce in excess of 92 percent of the state's crude oil and natural gas, and the GLO, the state agency responsible for managing lands and mineral rights owned by the state, filed two separate lawsuits against Denton, saying that the ban was arbitrary and unconstitutional.
In voluntarily giving up its local control, the Denton City Council cited HB 40, a GOP-drafted state bill that was signed into law on May 18 by Governor Greg Abbot, conceding that the local fracking ban was unenforceable under a new state law.
The council said repealing the ban was “in the overall interest of the Denton taxpayers to strategically repeal the ordinance,” in a statement. “Doing so not only potentially reduces ongoing court costs and attorneys fees related to ongoing litigation” but it also “significantly mitigates problems and perceptions associated with operational discrepancies between the ban ordinance and newly-adopted state law.”
Anti-fracking activists protesting in Denton, Texas, on May 31, 2015 (image: Don't Frack with Denton/Facebook)
Nullifying local efforts to ban fracking across the state, the law was backed by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives that uses corporate contributions to draft and sell prepackaged conservative bills to state legislatures across the nation. ALEC has backed restrictive voter ID laws and drafted Florida's "Stand Your Ground" statute.
"The whole ALEC team, led by Phil King [Republican Texas state representative who is serving as ALEC's national chair], is more considerate of the property rights of corporations than they are the property rights of homeowners and individuals," said former Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam, who now works for Public Citizen. "And this is what this battle is really about, because in Texas, the overriding law is deferential treatment to the subsurface mineral right owners over the surface homeowners."
Violet Palmer, a 92-year-old partially-sighted anti-fracking activist was arrested by police at a Denton protest (image: Frack Free Denton/Facebook)
"This law ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city," said Abbott. "HB 40 strikes a meaningful and correct balance between local control and preserving the state's authority to ensure that regulations are even-handed and do not hamper job creation."
“The same corporate interests that are behind this push to halt fracking bans and prevent any meaningful action to protect our planet are the same ones pushing to restrict access to the ballot," said Wenonah Hauter, president of Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, in a press release. "Their agenda is unpopular and they can only continue to push their regressive policies by preventing popular democracy from flourishing."
Adam Briggle of the anti-fracking group Denton Drilling Awareness said, "This is definitely not the end of the line. It is the beginning of a new chapter in our fight, and it’s one that’s going to be Texas-wide now."
On the same day that the Denton City Council voted to repeal the ban, there was a protest at a Denton fracking site at which several people were arrested, including Violet Palmer, a partially blind 92-year-old activist who has never even had a parking ticket. "Really, there is so little I can do, but I can do it by protesting," Palmer said.
The 2016 Republican presidential trail is already filled with candidates playing the ‘”I’m the toughest” game. There’s union-bashing Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. There’s war hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. There’s give-me-any-bomb-and-I’ll-toss-it Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
And now, as of Tuesday, there’s a new contender for the title of the biggest GOP-nomination-aspiring jerk of all—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who formally announced his campaign and is offering America some Jersey Shore in-your-face attitude combined with an incredible track record of thuggish cronyism.
It’s not just that Christie claims he didn’t know anything about the political revenge plot by his top aides that all but closed the George Washington Bridge in 2013 the first week of school; it’s his judgment about who he surrounds himself with in high office. It's his Wall Street giveaways, such as tripling pension fund fees paid to Wall Street friends after going after state worker retirements. It's his seemingly endless delight in bullying any voter who dares question his priorities in town meetings.
“I am not here to be bullied,” declared a former New Jersey teacher of the year at one forum, where she asked why he didn’t get more money from a big legal settlement with Exxon that could have been used to fortify teacher pensions. Christie replied, “You are not being bullied, because you are asking me questions. I get to ask you questions back.”
Reporters in New Jersey who have covered Christie for years have many lists of what they dislike about the latest man who would be president. In fairness, they also say it can be refreshing to have a plainspoken politician who says what he thinks, even if it comes wrapped in self-serving blather. What follows are a mix of eight of the jerkiest things about Christie.
1. One angry guy. An NJ.com reported midway through his first term (he was re-elected in 2013), Christie’s temper is very real and a driving force in his personality. “While many outside New Jersey believe the governor’s Jersey-style directness is refreshing, it’s often mean-spirited and vicious. Challenge him at your own risk. He’s a bully,” they wrote.
2. He takes revenge. This aspect of Christie’s character was well known before the so-called Bridgegate scandal where his aides used their muscle to intimidate a small-city mayor who didn’t jump when Christie snapped his fingers. That scandal has led to an ongoing FBI investigation where those who have been questioned have told reporters they’ve been interviewed about other political firings. As NJ.com wrote before then, “He’s vengeful: Christie went after sexually abused kids, heartlessly cutting the funding to a facility that nurtures these vulnerable children in a heated budget battle with Democrats. And he killed a college internship program after the founder sided with Democrats in a redistricting fight.”
3. He likes rough play. Christie absurdly sees himself as a “uniter,” to use a cliché from the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. But take a look at any recent YouTube video where Christie is being challenged by an audience member and what you’ll see is he believes that nobody who disagrees with him—or his analysis—is capable of thinking for themselves. There’s this exchange with a former New Jersey teacher of the year, who he called a liar. There’s this exchange from New Hampshire with a man who didn’t like Christie calling his lifetime of paying into Social Security “an entitlement.” And NJ.com has said, he holds this same attitude towards state Democratic leaders and New Jersey’s U.S. senators.
4. A street fighter—for Wall Street. NJ.com called Christie a “class warrior for the rich,” saying that by the second year of his first gubernatorial term he’d “vetoed higher taxes on millionaires, but raised the tax burden on poor families by cutting the earned income tax credit. (He has also been blind to the needs of the poor, targeted seniors with his cuts and slashed women’s health programs.)” If anything, that pattern has only deepened. As David Sirota reported for International Business Times, under his watch the annual fees paid to New Jersey’s pension managers leapt from $200 million in 2012 to $600 million in 2014.
5. He’s blind to own ethical lapses. Christie isn’t very concerned about the appearance of corruption when it comes to being treated in the style he believes he deserves. One recent example of that narcissism was a series of ritzy overseas junkets uncovered by the New York Times. Christie was flown on private planes and feted by executives with pending business before his state, such as Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who helped out as Christie opposed expansion plans by some competing casinos. Adelson’s jet was just one of several examples.
6. Political opportunist, not civil servant. There are many examples of Christie putting his political future ahead of the public interest. As NY.com wrote, “Christie always has his eye on the next (better) job. As freeholder, he wanted a seat in Trenton. As U.S. attorney, he wanted to be governor. Now he’s been tempted to run for president.” That was before he was re-elected governor in 2013 and started planning a presidential campaign. Earlier this year, when he went to Europe, Christie said it was to drum up business, not boost his presidential profile. But a state-based poll found almost no one believed that excuse; New Jersey residents know he wants to be president, even if he says otherwise.
7. Claims he doesn’t pander until he does. This is another side of his vanity and political egoism. Christie likes to think he’s a Republican who isn’t afraid to do unpopular things if it’s the right thing—such as welcoming President Obama’s help after Hurricane Sandy during the last presidential campaign. But then he embraces some of the looniest right-wing causes to make a play for evangelical votes. Remember him saying in February that parents should have the final word on vaccinating their children against measles, as health officials were trying to contain a 14-state outbreak? Early in his term, he killed a years-in-the-planning new Hudson River commuter tunnel to show fiscal conservatives he could toe their line. Christie, needless to say, never admits he’s pandering—but then again he’s made a career out of never having to say he’s sorry, NJ.com said.
8. His contempt for women. Christie’s self-centered, combative personality doesn’t do well under criticism from women. There’s nothing new here. As NJ.com wrote, he “treats women with contempt: Sheila Oliver? A liar. Loretta Weinberg? Someone should take a bat to her. Valerie Vainieri Huttle? A jerk. When a female caller on a TV show asked about his kids attending private school, he sneered and told her it was none of her business.” And these are not even the latest examples. Just consider his smarmy exchange with this career teacher from Kenilworth Town Hall, when she dared tell him he was taking sides with the wealthy against lifelong teachers and he said anyone entrusted to teach children the truth needed to get their facts straight.
The 2016 GOP Field
Nobody who runs for president lacks a big ego or grandiose visions for themselves and the country. But Christie’s addition to the still-growing 2016 Republican field is notable in that he stands out as a especially abrasive jerk among more self-satisfied narcissists. It will be a really weird spectacle to see him tough it out against Wisconsin’s Walker and others for the GOP nomination to be the candidate for bully-in-chief.
On the other hand, the Republicans might be doing the country a great favor with their crowded nominating contest. By the time it is over, each of the candidates will have made so much noise to get would-be voters’ attention that Americans will see them for who they truly are. In Christie’s case, that won’t take very long—of that, you can be sure.Related Stories
Caitlyn Jenner’s recent turn as a Vanity Fair cover girl not only made her into a trans icon, it turned the topic of gender identity into a mainstream talking point. And just a few months prior, Miley Cyrus declared that she considered herself neither a “girl or a boy.” Each of these revelations helped demonstrate how gender is often complex and sometimes unfixed; that the sexes assigned to us at birth by virtue of our genitalia may not always match our internal gender identities.
What’s more, those identities may not fall under the headers of “man” or “woman,” but can be even more malleable and fluid. There are an infinite number of gender identities — a spectrum that runs from masculine to feminine, boy to girl — that sit in the space between. There are plenty of ways to express this idea: Gender fluid. Non-gender conforming. Gender queer. The idea of gender fucking, or intentionally blurring the socially constructed (and artificial) boundaries of gender, has existed in outsider culture (particularly art, music and performance scenes) for eons.
That a growing number of famous faces are now publically shaking off gender designations that run contrary to their own internal gender identities offers a vital opportunity to expand the conversation about equality for all, regardless of either sexual identity (who you fall in love with) or gender identity (who you identify as inside). It seems particularly timely, on the heels of recent LGBT civil rights wins, and particularly necessary, considering studies finding trans people — particularly trans women of color — experience widespread discrimination, violence and vulnerability due to their gender identities.
Yes, it seems important to acknowledge that Jenner, who is white, famous and very, very rich (not to mention, oddly, a self-identified conservative), represents an almost negligible sliver of the trans community. And yes, it seems pretty important not to use her in a way I might term “Elvising,” or rather, heaping praise on her as some kind of great white hope, while ignoring and/or downplaying the contributions of the many who came before. But Jenner’s sudden visibility, along with other trans and non-gender conforming celebrities, has done a tremendous amount to move the conversation forward. There are, for the first time, a number of people in the public eye who unashamedly identify across the spectrum of gender. Their public acknowledgement of their identities will not only help raise awareness, it could very likely help save lives.
Here’s a look at a few other folks who are transform the discussion around gender identity.
1. Laverne Cox. Though not the first transgender person ever to gain national attention, in many ways Laverne Cox was America’s first transgender star. As Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, Cox became one of the show’s most popular characters during its premiere 2013 season. In 2014, she became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time in an issue dedicated to trans issues. Later the same year, during a ridiculous interview with Katie Couric, who couldn’t seem to stop asking Cox and trans TV star Carmen Carrera about surgery and genitalia (yes, genitalia), she eloquently broke down why it was none of Couric’s, or anyone else’s, business. Cox has basically, at every opportunity, used her fame to address issues of importance to the trans community, including a recent blog post in which she criticized cisnormative beauty standards, called for greater representation of trans diversity in media and acknowledged that “[m]ost trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn [Jenner] and I now have.” Did I mention that last week she became the first transgender woman to be given a wax figure at Madame Tussauds? Every landmark counts.
2. Miley Cyrus. Miley Cyrus talked candidly about her gender fluidity in an interview with Out magazine in May of this year. Speaking briefly about her childhood, the singer said that while she hadn’t necessarily identified as a boy, she’d long felt uncomfortable fitting into the space designated “girl.” Instead, she felt genderless, falling somewhere between the binary poles that have, for so long, defined who each of us are in strict accordance with our genitalia. “I kind of wanted to be nothing,” said Cyrus. “I don’t relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy, and I think that’s what I had to understand: Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”
Like her genderqueerness, Cyrus said her sexuality was also fluid. Her broken engagement to actor Liam Hemsworth led most people to assume she was straight — heteronormativity being our default national state — but the singer clarified that gender was of little consideration in choosing her partners. (In a subsequent interview with Paper mag, Cyrus recounted coming out to her mother at age 14.) "I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age,” said Cyrus. “I'm down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me. I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl."
3. Janet Mock. Although she’s long been a vocal trans activist and public speaker, most people probably first heard of Janet Mock after an interview with Piers Morgan in which Morgan said seemingly every problematic thing he could shoehorn into the conversation (including saying Mock was “born a boy” and that he wouldn't have been able to guess she had once “been...a male”). The episode became an accidental lesson in precisely how not to speak to a person of pretty much any gender identity. Mock has since gone on to become a frequent guest expert on issues around trans rights, a contributor to Marie Claire, and released her 2014 memoir Redefining Realness (which she was promoting on Morgan’s program). Morgan’s show, in the meantime, was canceled.
4. Ruby Rose. On Season III, Episode 6, of Orange Is the New Black, a new inmate named Stella tosses off a dismissive line about the trouble with “women.” Piper asks, “You don’t consider yourself a member of that category?” “I do,” Stella answers, “but only because my options are limited.” And with that, Stella becomes the first genderfluid character on the show. (While OITNB has always featured characters with a diverse range of sexualities, all share a common female gender identify.) In real life, the show has been a breakout role for Rose, who has become this year’s It Girl, DJ’ing fashion parties and appearing on multiple red carpets. Like her onscreen character, she is not bound by gender binaries. In an interview with Elle, Rose said, “Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you're at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I definitely don't identify as any gender. I'm not a guy; I don't really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I'm somewhere in the middle, which — in my perfect imagination — is like having the best of both sexes.” Rose and girlfriend Phoebe Dahl, the noted fashion designer and granddaughter of author Roald Dahl, announced their engagement last year.
5. Angel Haze. Rapper Angel Haze has been well known in indie and bloggy hip-hop circles for a few years now, but developed a higher profile in the last year or so. From the beginning of Haze’s career, the rapper has publicly identified as pansexual and a virgin. (That status may have changed somewhat; earlier this year, when talking about rumored girlfriend Ireland Baldwin, Haze referred to the two as “an interracial gay couple” and clarified the exact nature of their relationship by bluntly stating, “We fuck — and friends don’t fuck.”) Haze has also indicated on social media that she is “agender,” and in an interview with Buzzfeed, identified “they” and “them” as preferred pronouns. Said Haze, “When I hear people use the word ‘her’ around me I’m like, who are they talking about, you know? I just have felt this about myself for so long.”
6. St. Vincent. Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is mostly known for helping make pop weird these days in all the right ways. In a remarkably accomplished career over just a few years, she’s released five critically lauded releases, including an album with David Byrne. Generally outspoken and frank in interviews, Clark has been transparent about her gender and sexuality, refusing to tether herself to a single idea of who she is or loves. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, when questioned about whether she identified as “gay or straight,” the singer suggested that neither answer fit the bill. “I don't think about those words," Clark said. "I believe in gender fluidity and sexual fluidity. I don't really identify as anything." The answer echoed her sentiments from a year earlier when, talking to the UK Sunday Times, she stated, “I'm not one for gender or sexual absolutism in the main. I fully support and engage in the spectrum.”
7. Shamir. If you’re familiar with Shamir’s music, you probably know he’s been blog buzzy for a couple of years now and become an oft-checked name in dance music. (And even if you think you aren’t familiar, you likely are, considering his song “On the Regular” appeared in a vaguely ubiquitous Android commercial.) A few months ago, perhaps tired of answering the same question over and over, Shamir tweeted, “[T]o those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality, and no fucks to give.” He also invited fans to “call me whatever you want! I don’t care or get offended if you call me ‘her’ or ‘she’ because I proudly embrace my fem side.” He told the New York Times that all the chatter around his gender identity wasn’t manufactured on his end, but an organic outgrowth of who he’s always been. “People think my androgyny is a thing or a gimmick, but no, I’m naturally androgynous; I don’t try to be.” The singer explained things in a bit more detail in a recent interview with the Advocate, saying, “I think [people] kind of think this is like a spiel or a gimmick. But it’s not something I try for. I wear menswear all the time. I don’t do anything to make myself look more feminine. I naturally look and am more feminine...Ever since I was little I showed traits of both masculine and feminine energies.”
8. Laura Jane Grace. Back in 2012, Laura Jane Grace (then known as Tom Gabel), the lead singer of Against Me!, announced she was transgender after trying unsuccessfully for years to ignore who she was. For the most part, fans and fellow musicians rallied to support her. After spending a couple more years reading up on what it would mean to transition, Grace began the journey toward living publicly as a woman. She has become one of the most well-known public figures in the transgender community, and a particularly vocal fixture against transphobia in the world of punk. She’s also been active in trying to raise awareness in so many roles it seems like a feat of multitasking, including as a regular “Dear Abby-style columnist for Vice; performing with Miley Cyrus on behalf of her Happy Hippie Foundation, which aids LGBT youth; and calling out transphobia and lack of trans representation in media when needed. (Most recently, that meant taking Arcade Fire to task for its “We Exist” video, which cast a famous cisgender male actor in the role of a transgender woman.)
9. Grimes. The last few years have been pretty massive for Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, who went from indie pop bedroom favorite to what seemed like rapid track ubiquity. Although there hasn’t been a lot of discussion of Boucher’s gender identity — most of us have been working under the heteronormative assumption that the artist is a cisgendered woman— the singer and multi-instrumentalist actually identifies as gender fluid. In a series of tweets just a few months ago, Boucher indicated that the emphasis on her work as a female artist wasn’t just sexism, but actual misgendering. “I vibe in a gender neutral space so I'm kinda impartial to pronouns for myself,” Boucher wrote. “Don't have a preferred so much but I wish I didn't have to be categorized as female constantly. Everything I ever hear about Grimes is super gendered and it's always really made me uncomfortable."
10. Jennicet Gutiérrez. Although you may not recognize her name, Jennicet Gutiérrez has recently become one of the most talked about people on this list. Various media outlets have referred to her as a “heckler” of President Obama’s speech at this year’s LGBT Pride Month reception. But Gutiérrez, a transgender Latina activist, was speaking out about an issue the president and many Pride celebrants were ignoring. As she wrote the next day in a piece that appeared in the Washington Blaze, “Last night I spoke out to demand respect and acknowledgement of our gender expression and the release of the estimated 75 transgender immigrants in detention right now. There is no pride in how LGBTQ immigrants are treated in this country and there can be no celebration with an administration that has the ability to keep us detained and in danger or release us to freedom.” At the very least, Gutiérrez’s outburst was a necessary reminder that LGBT equality isn’t achieved until every community member’s rights, including those of trans women and particularly those of color, are recognized.Related Stories
I met my friend Allison at a Mexican restaurant. We hadn’t seen each other in years. It had been so long that, as I scanned the menu and failed to listen to the waiter recite the evening’s specials, I couldn’t stop my mind from tunneling back through time in an effort to pinpoint when we last hung out. This is a form of bragging for me. I pride myself on remembering more than anyone else.“I know,” I said. “Your 36th birthday party,” and I smacked the table like it was a buzzer.
“You’re right!” she said.
That party was such a blast. Three years later, I can still remember so much about it: How her cozy Park Slope apartment was strung up with Christmas lights. How I planned to stop by for a quick drink, maybe three, before heading to another party across town. How I charmed her chic 20-something colleagues from the online fashion magazine with my big ideas about female comedians and sex.
But of all the details I can summon, one I cannot is how I got home that night. Trying to remember the end of that evening now is like watching a movie with a reel of film missing. I’m talking to this girl on the back porch, I’m laughing with this girl on the back porch, and then … the screen goes blank. CUT TO: Me, in my Williamsburg loft at 6 a.m., the white curtains billowing in the breeze.
I’d had blackouts since the first time I got drunk. If you’ve never had a blackout, then you might not understand the singular horror of waking up to discover that time is missing. People often confuse blackout with passing out, but the experiences are quite different. A person who is passed out is unconscious. A person in a blackout is very much awake: Walking, talking, singing bad karaoke. You keep going, even as your long-term memory shuts down. Sometimes my blackouts were only a few minutes, a temporary outage, but a few lasted hours, and the first 10 seconds of a hungover Sunday morning were a checklist of panic: Did I remember how I got home? Was anyone lying beside me? Did I have any cuts or bruises? I woke to strange data sets. Orange juice on the counter, refrigerator door flapping open. My vibrator tossed on the living room couch. Once I woke up with a half-eaten corn dog in my hand and a smear of mustard across my face. But I was starving, so I ate it.
Allison leaned in at the table. “Oh my God, do you remember that night?” she asked, and I braced myself. Anyone with a drinking history learns to hate those words. The wrecking ball is about to arrive.
“Actually, I don’t,” I said.
“You fell down my staircase.”
I covered my face with my hands and peeked at Allison through the slats of my fingers. “Yeah, I used to do that.“
“My stairs were marble,” she said. “It was terrifying. Honestly, I’d never seen anything like it. You don’t remember this at all?”
No, but I was familiar with the habit. By my mid-30s, I had drunkenly tumbled down rickety outdoor wooden steps and glamorous winding staircases. I don’t know what’s crazier: That I drank as long as I did, or that I kept wearing heels. Once, I tripped down the narrow metal staircase of a Turkish restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and wound up in St. Vincent’s hospital with a concussion and the world’s most excruciating hangover. But what was most remarkable about these extravagant nosedives was how painless and without consequence they often were. I’d get up, dust myself off, and grab another drink. OK. What’s next?
“I can’t even remember how I got home that night,” I told Allison.
“Oh I remember,” she said. “We put you in a cab.”
Thank God for cabbies. Other people can give teary testimonials to the cops and the fire department, but as far as I’m concerned, cabbies are the superheroes of New York City. They have ferried me safely home when I couldn’t see straight — I mean, when I literally held one hand over an eye to keep from spinning. They have driven me up and down the same few blocks while I tried to figure out which of the blurry row houses was my blurry row house.
As Scott Eric Kaufman reported on this site, Ted Cruz went on the “Today” show yesterday and laid out his belief that the real victims of discrimination in this country are evangelical protestants, because the Supreme Court is unrepresentative of “flyover country” and the people who live there. The justices are a bunch of east coast Catholics and Jews, you see, and they just don’t have any respect for Real Americans. Cruz thinks all that untrammeled Catholic and Jewish power needs to be stopped. “There are no protestants, no evangelicals, on the Court,” he said. “They think our views are parochial and don’t deserve to be respected. What a crazy system to have the most important issues of our day decided by unelected lawyers.”Oddly, this comment echoes Justice Scalia’s unhinged rant in his Obergefell dissent which Cruz turns back on Scalia himself. Scalia wrote:
“[T]o allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
You’ll notice that when the justice said that the Court was out of touch because it was composed of a bunch of Ivy league-educated elites (like Ted Cruz, by the way) he didn’t say anything about evangelicals and protestants. He is, after all, a very famous Catholic who prides himself on his social conservatism. It’s unlikely that he meant to implicate his own religion in that “otherness.”
If Cruz is speaking for anyone but himself, this marks an interesting shift in the religious right and one that could be consequential. The alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians has been one of the most fruitful political collaborations in our history. And it was, for all of its pursuit of noxious public policy, a rather weird demonstration of American progress.
Everyone who follows politics undoubtedly recalls that there was once a tremendous amount of anti-Catholic bigotry in the United States even as there was a political faction of Catholics who were active politically. The push and pull of that faction was an influential part of our history. The anti-Catholic vote was equally influential, and it resulted in shifting coalitions over a long period of time. Some of this was really ethnic in nature, holdovers from our European religious wars and nationalist prejudice, and some of it was based upon serious theological differences. American evangelical protestantism was as defined by its rejection of Catholic doctrine as it was by its own.
In 1928, Al Smith was the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party and the protestants, particularly in the South, wanted none of it. They were convinced that the Pope would be taking over the American government. By 1960 the country had finally progressed enough to elect the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, in a squeaker. He had been forced to go through a lot of hoops to distance himself from the specter of the Pope running America, but he managed to do it.
By the 1980s, the conservative evangelical protestants were coming together to form the formidable political coalition that became known as the Religious Right. The story of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority is well known. But there was more to it than that. There was also the Catholic-evangelical partnership which was orchestrated by some very powerful members of the conservative movement and with a very specific strategy in mind. Franklin Foer wrote about this in The New Republic a few years back and it relates very directly to what Cruz is complaining of today:
In 1994, the eminent evangelical historian Mark Noll wrote a scorching polemic about his own religion called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”. The book lamented the “intellectual disaster of fundamentalism” and its toll on evangelical political and theological thought. All around him, Noll saw “a weakness for treating the verses of the Bible as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and then fit together to possess a finished picture of divine truth.”
While many evangelicals reacted angrily to Noll’s description, they tacitly acknowledged his argument with their actions. Evangelicals began aggressively reaching out to Catholics for intellectual aid. That movement reached its apotheosis with the nomina tion of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. With his addition to the ranks of Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts, all five members of the Court’s conservative majority would be Catholics. This unprecedented Catholic majority, assuming Alito’s confirmation, might seem a historical accident.
When George H.W. Bush appointed Thomas, it’s a good bet that his Catholicism wasn’t foremost on the president’s mind. But the emergence of the Court’s Catholic bloc reflects the reality of social conservatism: Evangelicals supply the political energy, Catholics the intellectual heft.
And this also happened that same year, ostensibly because Catholics and protestants were worried about unpleasantness between the sects in Latin America. But as you’ll see there was another agenda:
March 29, 1994 saw a development that some have touted as the most significant development in Protestant-Catholic relations since the dawn of the Reformation. A document titled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” was published with a list of more than thirty signatories—including well-known evangelicals Pat Robertson, J. I. Packer, Os Guinness, and Bill Bright. They were joined by leading Catholics such as John Cardinal O’Connor, Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla, and Catholic scholar Peter Kreeft.
A team of fifteen participants led by Richard John Neuhaus and Charles Colson drafted the twenty-five-page document. Neuhaus is a former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1990 and has since been ordained to the priesthood. Like Colson, he is an influential author and speaker.
Colson, of course, is also the former Nixon advisor and convicted criminal who became on of the leaders of the Christian right. He claimed they were moved by the words of the Lord to set aside their differences and perhaps that’s true. But that wasn’t all:
The lengthy statement of accord that resulted has been praised in both the secular and Christian press as a landmark ecumenical agreement. Especially notable is the fact that the Catholics who signed are not from the liberal wing of Catholicism. Signatories on both sides are conservatives, many of whom are active in the pro-life movement and other right-wing political causes. Historically, evangelicals and conservative Catholics have opposed ecumenical efforts.
An article in Christianity Today praised the accord for bringing conservatives into the ecumenical movement: “For too long, ecumenism has been left to Left-leaning Catholics and mainline Protestants. For that reason alone, evangelicals should applaud this effort and rejoice in the progress it represents.”
This was, therefore, a very specific political as well as an ecumenical religious communion. And it has been successful in both respects. The centuries of sectarian animosity, in America at least, were pretty much over. Whatever theological difference remained were dealt with in toleration and mutual understanding and they had a complete meeting of the minds on their socially conservative political agenda. As Foer wrote in his piece, they divvied up the responsibilities and the Catholic elites took on the intellectual battles while the evangelicals fought it out in the trenches.
But as with so many happy marriages, people change. And right now we seem to be seeing some serious fraying of that happy union. For a while now, there’s been tension among the Catholic faithful between younger members, who want to see the church place a greater emphasis on traditional Catholic teachings of social justice, and the hard core conservatives, who emphasize sexual morality and traditional family values. And Pope Francis’s recent statements on the former have been very upsetting to the latter. It’s one thing for some younger college kids to want to join the Peace Corp, it’s quite another for the Pope himself to turn into a hippie.
And now, with his controversial (and long overdue) encyclical on climate change, conservative Catholics are in full revolt. All the Republican presidential candidates have publicly distanced themselves from the Pope’s pronouncements, some in a derisive style that would have very recently been seen as disrespectful had it come from a liberal critic of the Church’s teachings. Rick Santorum, for example, told the Pope to stick to what he knows:
“I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
Jeb agreed saying, “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.” Then he fatuously declared that “religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”
There you have the schism. First we have we have the likes of Ted Cruz saying that the Catholic intelligentsia, as represented by John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito are not up to the job of properly defending social conservatism on the Court. True, all but Kennedy voted against marriage equality. But the others are supposed to persuade him. The deal was that the Catholics would provide the intellectual arguments that would prevail when they got a majority — a majority largely delivered through bloody battles fought by the evangelical right. Cruz, being one of the very few pointy headed intellectual evangelical elites, feels they have failed to deliver their side of the bargain.
And for over two decades Republicans have been telling us that there is no difference between the political and the religious realm. Many have even declared that America is a Christian nation, full stop. Now we have leading Catholic politicians, Bush and Santorum, distancing themselves from religion because the the global leader of their church is not observing that nice little agreement that held the religious right together. Their loyalties are to the party first, which isn’t surprising. They are politicians. But the question is how many other Catholics will follow suit.
But don’t get your hopes up for a big collapse of the Christian right. Their religious coalition may be a little bit shaky but the evangelical right is solid as a rock and more influential in the party than ever. The Catholics may find themselves on the outside of the Big Tent looking in at an old fashioned revival meeting and they may not be welcome anymore.Related Stories
On Monday, New York City took a dramatic step that highlights just how out of control rental housing costs have become in the Big Apple and in many cities nationwide. For the first time, New York froze rents for one-year leases on a million rent-stabilized apartments.
“Today’s decision means relief,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. “We know tenants have been forced to make painful choices that pitted ever-rising rent against necessities like groceries, child care and medical bills.”
Landlords balked and citicized City Hall, calling the move an “unconscionable, politically driven decision.” But Rent Board chair Rachel Godsil was having none of it. Her staff had found that landlord incomes had grown for nine years in a row, including by 3.4 percent last year, while costs only grew by 0.5 percent. In contrast, a majority of most stabilized renters faced continuing income stagnation.
New York City’s struggle with affordable rental housing is part of a nationwide trend that has seen rental housing costs skyrocket in recent years as the housing market has mostly recovered from the 2008 recession, which was in part fueled by real estate speculation and Wall Street aggressively repackaging and reselling risky high-interest mortgages.
According to a new study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, vast stretches of the county are facing a rental housing crisis marked by big rent spikes. “The number of cost-burdened renters [paying more than 30 percent of incomes]… set a new high in 2013 of 20.8 million, totaling just under half of all renter households,” Harvard researchers found. “Although the number of severely burdened renters edged down slightly, the number of moderately burdened renters climbed by a larger amount.”
Most low to moderate income households are feeling a very big pinch. The researchers said that 80 percent of households with annual incomes under $15,000, three-quarters of renters with incomes up between $15,000 and $29,999, and 45 percent of households earning up to $44,999, are all “severely burdened,” with non-whites and single mothers facing the greatest financial stress.
“Minorities and certain types of households are especially likely to have severe housing cost burdens,” the report said. “Indeed, 26 percent of black households, 23 percent of Hispanic households, and 20 percent of Asian and other minority households were severely burdened in 2013, compared with just 14 percent of white households. Nearly a third of single-parent families also had severe burdens, compared with a tenth of married couples with children. Finally, more than half of households headed by an unemployed individual in 2013 were severely housing cost burdened.”
Cities where these pressures are prevalent include Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu, Miami, Las Vegas and Orlando, they said. “Moreover, affordability pressures in the 10 most expensive markets reach further up the income scale. In fact, nearly half (48 percent) of households with incomes of $45,000–74,999 were housing cost burdened in these metros—more than twice the share (22 percent) nationally. As a result, the nearly 20 million households living in the 10 highest-cost metros must earn well above the national median income of $51,900 to live in housing they can afford.”
The causes for these spikes in rent come from a mix of private and public sector trends. On the private sector side, the housing market crash has led to a slowdown in building or improving rental housing stock in many regions, which has boosted rents when housing becomes available. Meanwhile, government affordable housing subsidies available for renters have effectively shrunk, because they have failed to keep up with increases.
“Unmet need has continued to grow despite real increases in federal appropriations for two of HUD’s largest programs—housing choice vouchers and project-based rental assistance—between FY2005 and FY2015,” it reported. “But instead of serving more households, most of the increased funding was offset by the higher costs of assistance due to rising market rents.”
One major consequence of a costlier rental market is that recent efforts to find housing for the homeless is backtracking in some regions, the researchers said.
“The lack of affordable housing in the United States continues to leave nearly 600,000 people homeless,” they wrote. “More than a third are people in families, including 130,000 children under the age of 18. By comparison, chronically homeless individuals (those who have been without a place to live for at least a year or have had repeated episodes of homelessness over the past few years) account for a much smaller share (15 percent) of the homeless population.”
The researchers said homelessness is on the rise, even though “recent increases in federal funding have aided progress in reducing both homelessness overall and among the most vulnerable groups.”
“The national reduction in homelessness is not apparent in all markets,” it said. “Rising rents and a dwindling supply of affordable rentals continue to put people at risk, especially in high-cost locations. Indeed, total homelessness jumped by 29 percent in New York and 40 percent in Massachusetts between 2007 and 2014. The increase in the District of Columbia was even larger, at 46 percent. Family homelessness is particularly acute in major cities, which were home to 45 percent of this population in 2014. New York City headed the list with 41,600 homeless people in families, or nearly 20 percent of the national total.”Related Stories
Federal Heights, CO — Officer Mark Magness is no stranger to police brutality. In 2009, after being on the Federal Heights police department for a year, Magness was convicted of misdemeanor assault after he broke an innocent man’s arm while investigating the popping of illegal fireworks.
Despite pleading guilty to assault, Magness was never fired.
Now, 6 years later, we are witnessing the horrid negligence of this department for allowing a monster like Magness to remain in a position of power.
ABC 7 Denver,obtained body cam footage of two Federal Heights officers. The footage shows nothing short of torture, carried out by one, Officer Mark Magness.
The 9 minute and 30-second long video begins as Magness yanks the handcuffed man from the car and smashes his face into the wall. The man immediately starts bleeding profusely from the mouth.
“Stand up!” yells Magness to the man he just threw down. In the background, the man can be heard apologizing as he’s thrown around like a ragdoll.
The man, who is now fairly agitated after being assaulted while in handcuffs is thrown into the cell. He then makes a mistake and raises his open hand toward Magness.
At this point, Magness jumps on the man and begins pummeled him. Magness, knowing that his body camera is recording this abuse, continues to yell out, “Stop Resisting!” throughout the abuse in an attempt to justify his torturous ways.
One of the officers points at Magness’ chest in an apparent attempt to warn this maniac that his actions are being recorded. “F**k that! F**k that!” yells Magness as to imply that he has no intentions of stopping this assault, regardless of being recorded.
The man, who is now in handcuffs again, is thrown into a restraint chair by Magness, again apologizing the entire time.
“I’m sorry, sir, I won’t do nothing else,” the man says.
“We’re gonna need medical,” the second officer says pointing to his chin.
“I don’t care, strap him to the chair,” Magness replies.
Then the man yells “ow!” as Magness gouges his temple. Magness replies, “no this is ‘ow,'” as he jams his finger underneath the man’s ear.
The entire time Magness continues to yell, “Stop Resisting!”
What the man was being arrested for and the totality of his injuries were not released by the department.
However, court records show that on June 17, Magness pleaded guilty to attempted third-degree assault for this attack which happened in December.
Magness’ status with the Federal Heights police department has yet to be released publicly.
Filmmaker Michael Moore perceives a shift toward racial justice taking place in America — and calls on citizens to take action in the name of peace and democracy.
In a Facebook post Monday, Moore addressed a nation grieving over black churches set on fire and racially motivated killings in Charleston. Decrying racist oppression, Moore writes he’s encouraged by a “change in the air” — a political movement borne of hope rather than despair — and its growing influence on national politics.
Moore continues his Facebook essay by pointing out that the country’s population is skewing younger and more racially diverse. The liberal documentarian offers an optimistic vision of a “New America,” one less afflicted by the problems of extreme income inequality, mass incarceration, and man-made climate change.
Moore rightly cautions that, while activist influence in the public policy arena feels almost palpable right now, there is work to be done in order to create lasting change. He calls on his followers to engage in positive action between now and the Fourth of July, when America celebrates its independence from British colonial rule.
“What else can we make happen before America's 239th birthday this coming Saturday?” Moore asks.Related Stories
Photo by Matt Brown
Jobs, Justice, Climate is the slogan of what we hope will be a massive march in Toronto on July 5 and Vancouver on July 4. To my knowledge it’s the first action in Canada that has linked jobs with the battle for climate change in a context of social justice. While turtles and teamsters have marched together in the past, it has usually been with a focus on social justice, against corporate globalization and trade deals. This is not only the first time climate change is a focus in a march co-sponsored by the labour movement, it’s the first time that the links are being made to the struggles of Indigenous peoples, immigrants, and people of colour and the first time our cross-sector movement is not just saying what we are against but what we are for. Check out the video promoting the march.
In May I attended a cross-country meeting called by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis to begin the work of building a broad movement to fight climate change by presenting a new vision where reversing climate change can be done in the context of increasing social justice and good jobs. A movement where Indigenous Peoples, the first defenders of the land, are in the lead. A movement that reaches out to immigrant communities whose countries are already drowning, baking, or collapsing in face of climate catastrophes. A movement where unions realize that climate change is as much a threat to their members as austerity and find ways to link both struggles. A movement where environmental activists understand that it is the peoples of the earth not the corporate overlords who will save the planet.
There were divisions at that meeting and they continue. Unions, for example, support certain pipelines that environmentalists oppose. 350.org, a key organizer of the march wants the bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to stay in the ground. The unions don’t agree yet. There remains deep scepticism among Indigenous activists about how solid is the solidarity expressed by settlers. There is concern from activists of colour that support for their issues is only present when their support is needed. There is still the gap of knowledge and sometimes solidarity between Quebec and the rest of Canada. All of these divisions were present in the May meeting and we talked about them.
I pointed out another powerful movement where the differences were just as great. In the anti-Viet Nam War movement some of us supported the victory of the Viet Cong. We used to chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Cong are gonna win;” while others were only in the demonstration because they didn’t want their sons to be drafted. In those days we didn’t have facilitators to help us through negotiating those differences in a positive way. We pretty well hated each other but we marched together because the stakes were high and we contributed to stopping that terrible war. This time the stakes are much higher.
As Naomi argues in her book, This Changes Everything, those of us who have been fighting for social justice all our lives now have an opportunity to create a new vision of a just and caring society. A society where caring for each other, the land and the creatures that share it with us is a powerful transformative idea that can appeal to a majority of people around the world.
This article originally appeared on rabble.ca.
We all throw away food. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food is trashed as it makes it way from farm to table, or more aptly, as it doesn’t. But how aware are we of our own waste? And what motivates us to rethink our shopping habits or reconsider that wilting lettuce in the back of the fridge?
Those are the questions a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University set out to answer in the first national consumer food waste survey conducted in the United States. The results were published this month in PLOS ONE. It turns out that a lot of us are giving ourselves more credit than we probably deserve. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the 1,010 survey respondents said they waste less food than the average American. What is more, 13 percent of respondents indicated that they don’t discard any food and 56 percent estimated that they discard only 10 percent of their food, though the estimated average food waste for consumers is around 25 percent.
Researchers also looked at consumer motivations for reducing food waste, including considerations like saving money, setting an example for children, guilt about waste, thinking about those who are hungry, and environmental concerns. Perhaps expectedly, saving money came first. Among parents, setting a good example for children. Concern about the environmental — including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and energy associated with food waste — was ranked last by respondents.
Schools play an important role in reducing food waste. (image: USDA)
“From an environmental perspective, one thing that was very striking was that we asked people what is their top motivation for reducing waste, and environmental issues came out dead last on that list,” says Roni Neff, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the authors of the article. Neff noted that this outcome could mean one of two things: people just aren’t that aware of the environmental footprint of their food, or environmental impacts aren’t a big motivator for those considering food waste.
JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate for the food and agriculture program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wasn’t quite as surprised. “[F]or most of us, we go to the grocery store, the food is there, we don’t really know where it comes from. We don’t see the labor, and the water, and the agricultural chemicals, and the energy that went into growing it, and transporting it, and getting it to our doors,” she says. “The fact that people don’t connect with the environmental aspects of food waste is reflective of the fact that most of us really don’t see where our food is coming from in the first place.”
Given the huge impact our food system — and our food waste — has on the environment, the disconnect is unsettling. In North America and Oceana, food waste accounts for 31 percent of all cropland use, 30 percent of fertilizer usage, and 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. What is more, in the United States, 25 percent of all freshwater use can be traced to trashed (or composted) food, a scary amount considering the West’s historic drought, and nearly 25 percent of all methane emissions can be attributed to food rotting in landfills.
From an economic perspective, the value of wasted food in the United States has been estimated at $165 billion per year.
When food is collected for sample testing, like the bananas shown here, the package often contains more than what is needed to do the tests. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) donates the extra food to area food banks. (image: USDA)
The most common reasons given for discarding food were concern about foodborne illness and a desire to eat only the freshest foods. “On the food safety side, people may be getting some misinformation or just needing more information about when food actually is safe and how to store it so it will last longer,” says Neff. “And on the food freshness side, I feel like we as a field may have been perhaps over-promoting this idea of freshness with the idea that people will only eat healthy food if they think it’s really fresh and beautiful.”
Luckily, the survey results weren’t all doom and gloom. On the positive side, it looks like Americans are starting to tune in to their food habits and food waste. Forty-two percent of respondents indicated they had come across information about food waste in the past year, and 16 percent said they had actually sought out this information. Just over half indicated that discarding food “bothered them a lot,” and nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated that they were either “very interested” or “fairly or somewhat interested” in taking action to reduce the amount of food discarded.
Neff takes all of this as a good sign. “The findings really suggest that people are sort of primed and ready for action,” she says. Noting that most people just don’t know how much food we are throwing away, she adds, “There is an opportunity to really increase the amount that we avoid wasting by just tuning in and becoming more aware.”
Of course, the question is how to do this. Many of the organizations working to reduce food waste approach the issue from an environmental perspective. The study found that may not be the best angle, and Neff suggests that advocates may be “more effective leading with other issues.”
Berkenkamp agrees. She also thinks that motivation to set a good example for children could offer a valuable and untapped approach. (This survey was among the first to ask respondents about children as motivators.) “I was quite surprised by the finding that the issue of setting a good example for children was a major motivator for the parents that were surveyed,” she says. “And I think that gives us some new ideas about the importance of working through children and working with their parents to leverage the fact that parents do care about the example they set for their children as it relates to food waste. That might be a leverage point that hasn’t really been utilized very fully to date.”
Although consumers account for a significant amount of wasted food, the authors were careful to note that “shame and blame can be counterproductive” and “consumer education and behavior change interventions must be complemented by approaches making use of entrepreneurial, policy, economic” and other tools, including changes to food labeling systems.
Berkenkamp agrees. “I think this survey, this data really substantiates the need both for education and awareness raising among the public, but also recognition that this is really a systems level challenge that we are facing,” she says. “We need policy change, we need the food industry to engage, we need to look at this broadly so that it’s easier for people to waste less food.”
To learn more about food waste, check out Food Shift, a project of Earth Island Institute.
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What does the war on drugs have to do with the war on abortion? More than you’d think: the anti-choice movement has been successfully using drug laws to give fetuses legal personhood rights for years. Today, 18 states consider drug use while pregnant to be child abuse - a standard that not only punishes pregnant women who need help, but that has profound implications for reproductive rights.
Consider the case of Kenlissia Jones, a 23-year-old woman in Georgia who ordered Cytotec off the internet to end her pregnancy. We don’t know why she didn’t seek out an abortion legally (though it could be because 96% of counties in Georgia lack an abortion provider). What we do know is that, at 5 months, Jones’pregnancy ended in the back of her neighbor’s car en route to the hospital, and that she was arrested soon after for malice murder, a crime that carries the chance of life in prison or the death penalty.
The murder charge against Jones was eventually dropped; Georgia law doesn’t allow for the prosecution of women who end their own pregnancies. For most, the story ends there: reproductive rights activists were understandably relievedand the media moved on to the next story. But the one charge against her that remains – possession of a dangerous drug – underpins a dangerous anti-choice strategy that has gone ignored for too long.
As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women told me: “if you don’t address the war on drugs, you can’t address the war on abortion.” Paltrow, whose work, in part, involves cases in which women have been arrested for using drugs while pregnant, says “my head is exploding around this.”
We’ve been saying this for 15 years: if you set a precedent that a woman who tests positive for drugs is guilty of child abuse, then certainly a woman who induces abortion by drugs is guilty as well.
This isn’t the first time that anti-choice activists have created legislation supposedly unrelated to abortion to further their cause. They did the same thing with domestic violence policy: the Unborn Victims of Violence Act was ostensibly about creating separate punishments for people who harm a fetus while perpetrating violence against a pregnant woman, but what it really did was enshrine into law that fetuses at any stage of development are distinct from the women who carry them.
But because the mainstream pro-choice movement is so busy dealing with clinic restrictions and explicit attacks on abortion, they’re mostly absent around the connection between drug laws and efforts to attack reproductive rights. (Paltrow has been writing about the link for years; in 1999 she wrote a paper warning of the conservative effort to use drug laws to criminalize abortion and about the role of racism in these policies.)
“If you punish pregnant people for their drug use, it doesn’t matter what kind of drug it is - a woman smoking pot to reduce morning sickness or an abortion-inducing drug,” Paltrow told me, adding: “we have to recognize the common cause.” And as abortion restrictions increase and more women seek out illegal and home terminations, pregnancy-ending drugs will become increasingly common – so the need to act on these laws will become even more urgent.
Already, some medical professionals are taking action. Some 15 states require health care professionals to report suspected drug use by pregnant women, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have come out in opposition to doctors reporting patients, noting: “seeking obstetric–gynecologic care should not expose a woman to criminal or civil penalties.” And after Jones was arrested, a local doctor filed a complaint against the hospital that treated her, citing privacy concerns and saying: “the law is designed so that people do not fail to seek medical attention for fear of being prosecuted.”
But we need more than doctors protecting their patients: we need policy change, public awareness and pro-choice organizations that prioritize ending drug laws that target pregnant women. The war on drugs is racist, it criminalizes people who need help and it is attacking women’s bodily autonomy – fighting it is a core feminist issue. So let’s start acting like it.
America’s grand strategy, its long-term blueprint for advancing national interests and countering major adversaries, is in total disarray. Top officials lurch from crisis to crisis, improvising strategies as they go, but rarely pursuing a consistent set of policies. Some blame this indecisiveness on a lack of resolve at the White House, but the real reason lies deeper. It lurks in a disagreement among foreign policy elites over whether Russia or China constitutes America’s principal great-power adversary.
Knowing one’s enemy is usually considered the essence of strategic planning. During the Cold War, enemy number one was, of course, unquestioned: it was the Soviet Union, and everything Washington did was aimed at diminishing Moscow’s reach and power. When the USSR imploded and disappeared, all that was left to challenge U.S. dominance were a few “rogue states.” In the wake of 9/11, however, President Bush declared a “global war on terror,” envisioning a decades-long campaign against Islamic extremists and their allies everywhere on the planet. From then on, with every country said to be either with us or against us, the chaos set in. Invasions, occupations, raids, drone wars ensued -- all of it, in the end, disastrous -- while China used its economic clout to gain new influence abroad and Russia began to menace its neighbors.
Among Obama administration policymakers and their Republican opponents, the disarray in strategic thinking is striking. There is general agreement on the need to crush the Islamic State (ISIS), deny Iran the bomb, and give Israel all the weapons it wants, but not much else. There is certainly no agreement on how to allocate America’s strategic resources, including its military ones, even in relation to ISIS and Iran. Most crucially, there is no agreement on the question of whether a resurgent Russia or an ever more self-assured China should head Washington’s enemies list. Lacking such a consensus, it has become increasingly difficult to forge long-term strategic plans. And yet, while it is easy to decry the current lack of consensus on this point, there is no reason to assume that the anointment of a common enemy -- a new Soviet Union -- will make this country and the world any safer than it is today.
Choosing the Enemy
For some Washington strategists, including many prominent Republicans, Russia under the helm of Vladimir Putin represents the single most potent threat to America’s global interests, and so deserves the focus of U.S. attention. “Who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?” Jeb Bush asserted on June 9th in Berlin during his first trip abroad as a potential presidential contender. In countering Putin, he noted, “our alliance [NATO], our solidarity, and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build.”
For many in the Obama administration, however, it is not Russia but China that poses the greatest threat to American interests. They feel that its containment should take priority over other considerations. If the U.S. fails to enact a new trade pact with its Pacific allies, Obama declared in April, “China, the 800-pound gorilla in Asia, will create its own set of rules,” further enriching Chinese companies and reducing U.S. access “in the fastest-growing, most dynamic economic part of the world.”
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military strategists of a seemingly all-powerful United States -- the unchallenged “hyperpower” of the immediate post-Cold War era -- imagined the country being capable of fighting full-scale conflicts on two (or even three fronts) at once. The shock of the twenty-first century in Washington has been the discovery that the U.S. is not all-powerful and that it can’t successfully take on two major adversaries simultaneously (if it ever could). It can, of course, take relatively modest steps to parry the initiatives of both Moscow and Beijing while also fighting ISIS and other localized threats, as the Obama administration is indeed attempting to do. However, it cannot also pursue a consistent, long-range strategy aimed at neutralizing a major adversary as in the Cold War. Hence a decision to focus on either Russia or China as enemy number one would have significant implications for U.S. policy and the general tenor of world affairs.
Choosing Russia as the primary enemy, for example, would inevitably result in a further buildup of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the delivery of major weapons systems to Ukraine. The Obama administration has consistently opposed such deliveries, claiming that they would only inflame the ongoing conflict and sabotage peace talks. For those who view Russia as the greatest threat, however, such reluctance only encourages Putin to escalate his Ukrainian intervention and poses a long-term threat to U.S. interests. In light of Putin’s ruthlessness, said Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a major advocate of a Russia-centric posture, the president’s unwillingness to better arm the Ukrainians “is one of the most shameful and dishonorable acts I have seen in my life.”
On the other hand, choosing China as America’s principal adversary means a relatively restrained stance on the Ukrainian front coupled with a more vigorous response to Chinese claims and base building in the South China Sea. This was the message delivered to Chinese leaders by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in late May at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu. Claiming that Chinese efforts to establish bases in the South China Sea were “out of step” with international norms, he warned of military action in response to any Chinese efforts to impede U.S. operations in the region. “There should be... no mistake about this -- the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”
If you happen to be a Republican (other than Rand Paul) running for president, it’s easy enough to pursue an all-of-the-above strategy, calling for full-throttle campaigns against China, Russia, Iran, Syria, ISIS, and any other adversary that comes to mind. This, however, is rhetoric, not strategy. Eventually, one or another approach is likely to emerge as the winner and the course of history will be set.
The “Pivot” to Asia
The Obama administration’s fixation on the “800-pound gorilla” that is China came into focus sometime in 2010-2011. Plans were then being made for what was assumed to be the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the winding down of the American military presence in Afghanistan. At the time, the administration’s top officials conducted a systematic review of America’s long-term strategic interests and came to a consensus that could be summed up in three points: Asia and the Pacific Ocean had become the key global theater of international competition; China had taken advantage of a U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan to bolster its presence there; and to remain the world’s number one power, the United States would have to prevent China from gaining more ground.
This posture, spelled out in a series of statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other top administration officials, was initially called the “pivot to Asia” and has since been relabeled a “rebalancing” to that region. Laying out the new strategy in 2011, Clinton noted, “The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas... it boasts almost half of the world’s population [and] includes many of the key engines of the global economy.” As the U.S. withdrew from its wars in the Middle East, “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in substantially increased investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region.”
This strategy, administration officials claimed then and still insist, was never specifically aimed at containing the rise of China, but that, of course, was a diplomatic fig leaf on what was meant to be a full-scale challenge to a rising power. It was obvious that any strengthened American presence in the Pacific would indeed pose a directchallenge to Beijing’s regional aspirations. “My guidance is clear,” Obama told the Australian parliament that same November. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace.”
Implementation of the pivot, Obama and Clinton explained, would include support for or cooperation with a set of countries that ring China, including increased military aid to Japan and the Philippines, diplomatic outreach to Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other nations in Beijing’s economic orbit, military overtures to India, and the conclusion of a major trade arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that would conveniently include most countriesin the region but exclude China.
Many in Washington have commented on how much more limited the administration’s actions in the Pacific have proven to be than the initial publicity suggested. Of course, Washington soon found itself re-embroiled in the Greater Middle East and shuttling many of its military resources back into that region, leaving less than expected available for a rebalancing to Asia. Still, the White House continues to pursue a strategic blueprint aimed at bolstering America’s encirclement of China. “No matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice declared in November 2013.
For Obama and his top officials, despite the challenge of ISIS and of disintegrating states like Yemen and Libya wracked with extremist violence, China remains the sole adversary capable of taking over as the world’s top power. (Its economy already officially has.) To them, this translates into a simple message: China must be restrained through all means available. This does not mean, they claim,ignoring Russia and other potential foes. The White House has, for example, signaled that it will begin storing heavy weaponry, including tanks, in Eastern Europe for future use by any U.S. troops rotated into the region to counter Russian pressure against countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. And, of course, the Obama administration is continuing to up the ante against ISIS, most recently dispatching yet more U.S. military advisers to Iraq. They insist, however, that none of these concerns will deflect the administration from the primary task of containing China.
Countering the Resurgent Russian Bear
Not everyone in Washington shares this China-centric outlook. While most policymakers agree that China poses a potential long-term challenge to U.S. interests, an oppositional crew of them sees that threat as neither acute nor immediate. After all, China remains America’s second-leading trading partner (after Canada) and its largest supplier of imported goods. Many U.S. companies do extensive business in China, and so favor a cooperative relationship. Though the leadership in Beijing is clearly trying to secure what it sees as its interests in Asian waters, its focus remains primarily economic and its leaders seek to maintain friendly relations with the U.S., while regularly engaging in high-level diplomatic exchanges. Its president, Xi Jinping, is expected to visit Washington in September.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia, on the other hand, looks far more threatening to many U.S. strategists. Its annexation of Crimea and its ongoing support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine are viewed as direct and visceral threats on the Eurasian mainland to what they see as a U.S.-dominated world order. President Putin, moreover, has made no secret of his contempt for the West and his determination to pursue Russian national interests wherever they might lead. For many who remember the Cold War era -- and that includes most senior U.S. policymakers -- this looks a lot like the menacing behavior of the former Soviet Union; for them, Russia appears to be posing an existential threat to the U.S. in a way that China does not.
Among those who are most representative of this dark, eerily familiar, and retrograde outlook is Senator McCain. Recently, offering an overview of the threats facing America and the West, he put Russia at the top of the list:
"In the heart of Europe, we see Russia emboldened by a significant modernization of its military, resurrecting old imperial ambitions, and intent on conquest once again. For the first time in seven decades on this continent, a sovereign nation has been invaded and its territory annexed by force. Worse still, from central Europe to the Caucuses, people sense Russia’s shadow looming larger, and in the darkness, liberal values, democratic sovereignty, and open economies are being undermined.”
For McCain and others who share his approach, there is no question about how the U.S. should respond: by bolstering NATO, providing major weapons systems to the Ukrainians, and countering Putin in every conceivable venue. In addition, like many Republicans, McCainfavors increased production via hydro-fracking of domestic shale gas for export as liquefied natural gas to reduce the European Union’s reliance on Russian gas supplies.
McCain’s views are shared by many of the Republican candidates for president. Jeb Bush, for instance, described Putin as “a ruthless pragmatist who will push until someone pushes back.” Senator Ted Cruz, when asked on Fox News what he would do to counter Putin, typically replied, “One, we need vigorous sanctions… Two, we should immediately reinstate the antiballistic missile batteries in Eastern Europe that President Obama canceled in 2009 in an effort to appease Russia. And three, we need to open up the export of liquid natural gas, which will help liberate Ukraine and Eastern Europe.” Similar comments from other candidates and potential candidates are commonplace.
As the 2016 election season looms, expect the anti-Russian rhetoric to heat up. Many of the Republican candidates are likely to attack Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, for her role in the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” of ties with Moscow, an attempted warming of relations that is now largely considered a failure. “She’s the one that literally brought the reset button to the Kremlin,” said former Texas Governor Rick Perry in April.
If any of the Republican candidates other than Paul prevails in 2016, anti-Russianism is likely to become the centerpiece of foreign policy with far-reaching consequences. “No leader abroad draws more Republican criticism than Putin does,” a conservative website noted in June. “The candidates’ message is clear: If any of them are elected president, U.S. relations with Russia will turn even more negative.”
The Long View
Whoever wins in 2016, what Yale historian Paul Kennedy has termed “imperial overstretch” will surely continue to be an overwhelming reality for Washington. Nonetheless, count on a greater focus of attention and resources on one of those two contenders for the top place on Washington’s enemies list. A Democratic victory spearheaded by Hillary Clinton is likely to result in a more effectively focused emphasis on China as the country’s greatest long-term threat, while a Republican victory would undoubtedly sanctify Russia as enemy number one.
For those of us residing outside Washington, this choice may appear to have few immediate consequences. The defense budget will rise in either case; troops will, as now, be shuttled desperately around the hot spots of the planet, and so on. Over the long run, however, don’t think for a second that the choice won’t matter.
A stepped-up drive to counter Russia will inevitably produce a grim, unpredictable Cold War-like atmosphere of suspicion, muscle-flexing, and periodic crises. More U.S. troops will be deployed to Europe; American nuclear weapons may return there; and saber rattling, nuclear or otherwise, will increase. (Note that Moscow recently announced a decision to add another 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its already impressive nuclear arsenal and recall Senator Cruz’s proposal for deploying U.S. anti-missile batteries in Eastern Europe.) For those of us who can remember the actual Cold War, this is hardly an appealing prospect.
A renewed focus on China would undoubtedly prove no less unnerving. It would involve the deployment of additional U.S. naval and air forces to the Pacific and an attendant risk of armed confrontation over China’s expanded military presence in the East and South China Seas. Cooperation on trade and the climate would be imperiled, along with the health of theglobal economy, while the flow of ideas and people between East and West would be further constricted. (In a sign of the times, China recently announced new curbs on the operations of foreign nongovernmental organizations.) Although that country possesses far fewer nuclear weapons than Russia, it is modernizing its arsenal and the risk of nuclear confrontation would undoubtedly increase as well.
In short, the options for American global policy, post-2016, might be characterized as either grim and chaotic or even grimmer, if more focused. Most of us will fare equally badly under either of those outcomes, though defense contractors and others in what President Dwight Eisenhower first dubbed the “military-industrial complex” will have a field day. Domestic needs like health, education, infrastructure, and the environment will suffer either way, while prospects for peace and climate stability will recede.
A country without a coherent plan for advancing its national interests is a sorry thing. Worse yet, however, as we may find out in the years to come, would be a country forever on the brink of crisis and conflict with a beleaguered, nuclear-armed rival.Related Stories
Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me.
There was no punch on the very first date with my ex-husband. That's not normally how abusive marriages start. In fact, my first date was probably pretty similar to yours: he was charming, he paid attention to me, and he flattered me.
Of course, the red flags were there in the beginning of my relationship. But I was young and naïve, probably much like you were in the beginning of your relationship.
Except my marriage took a different turn than yours.
An abusive marriage takes time to build. It's slow and methodical and incessant, much like a dripping kitchen faucet.
It begins like a little drip you don't even notice — an off-hand remark that is "just a joke." I'm told I'm too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive.
I occasionally notice the drip but it's no big deal. A public joke made at my expense is just my partner being the usual life of the party. When he asks if I'm wearing this dress out or whom I'm going with, it only means he loves me and cares about me.
When he tells me he doesn't like my new friend, I agree. Yes, I can see where she can be bossy. My husband is more important than a friend, so I pull away and don't continue the friendship.
The drip is getting annoying, but you don't sell your house over a leaky faucet.
When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn't really mean it.
He forgets he's stronger than me. When I confront him in yet another lie he's told, he tells me I'm crazy for not believing him. Maybe I'm crazy ... I'm beginning to feel a little crazy.
I begin to compensate for the drips in my marriage. I'll be better. I'll be a better wife. I'll make sure the house is clean and dinner is always prepared. And when he doesn’t even come home for dinner, I'll keep it wrapped and warmed in the oven for him.
On a night I'm feeling feisty, I feed his dinner to the dog before he comes home. I'm not feeling quite as smug well after midnight when he does show up. I quickly get out of bed and go to the kitchen as he yells at me to make him dinner.
Waking me from sleep becomes a regular occurrence. I no longer allow myself deep, restful sleep. I'm always listening and waiting.
In the morning, I'll shush the kids to keep them quiet so they don't wake up daddy. We all begin to walk on eggshells around him.
The drip is flowing pretty strong now. I'm afraid to put a bucket under it and see how much water I'm really losing. Denial is setting in.
If I hadn't said what I did, he wouldn't have gotten so mad. It's my fault; I need to just keep quiet. I should know better than to confront him when he's been drinking.
He's right — I really am an ungrateful bitch. He goes to work every day so I can stay home with the kids. Of course he needs time to himself on the way home from work each day.
On the rare occasion I do meet with my friends, I rush to be home before him. I never ask him to babysit so I can do something in the evening. I mustn't inconvenience him.
We attempt marriage counseling. Although neither of us is totally honest about why we are there, the counselors are open with us about their concerns.
We never spend more than one session with a counselor.
I'm working so hard to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family that I don't take the time to notice there's water spilling on to the floor.
I know what will make this better. I’ll get really active outside the home but of course, I'll still take care of everything in the home and never burden him. And I'll never dare ask for help.
I'm now the perfect fourth grade room mother. My church mentors tell me to read books and listen to lectures on praying for my husband and understanding his needs.
I work very hard to present the front of a perfectly happy family. My kids are involved in multiple activities that I, of course, solely organize and am responsible for.
I've begun to drop subtle hints to the other moms but when they confront me I adamantly deny it. No, everything is great, I insist. I point to all the happy family photos I post to Facebook as evidence.
I'm not sure which scares me more: the fear that others will find out my secret, or that my husband will find out I told the truth about our marriage. I realize I'm now afraid of him.
And then one day, I wake up and realize the house is flooding. My head bobs under the water. I'm scared.
I also see the fear in my children's eyes. Oh dear God, what have I done? How did we get here? Who have I become?
The night he throws his cell phone at me and narrowly misses my head, I want to pack the kids in the car and leave. The evening at the dinner table when he stands up and throws a fork at me in front of the kids, I want to leave.
Where would I possibly go? And if I do go somewhere, what will I do? How will I afford living on my own?
He's right — I have no skills to survive on my own. I need his money.
"What, you want to leave and go whore around?" he yells to me. "I always knew you were a slut."
He's a master at deflection. His actions are no longer the focus; I'm the one on trial now.
I'm no longer the woman I was on our first date. I've become timid and weak in front of him. I feel defeated. I chose this man and I gave birth to these children. It's my fault.
With every breath I take, it's my duty to keep these kids safe and keep my life together. It's the only life I've known for twenty years. At this point, I don't know how to do anything else.
The flood continues. My head bobs under a second time.
On a typical anger-filled evening, I say enough is enough and I decide to fight back. But even in his stumbling drunken stupor, he's stronger than I am.
I see the look in his eye as he hovers over me. He has biologically been given the ability to kill. That look in his eye terrifies me.
"Go ahead and leave," he sneers to me. "But the kids stay here."
My retreat that night is all it takes to turn the faucet on all the way and force me to tread water, if not for my life, then at the very least for my sanity.
Despite my best attempts, my secret has been exposed. I can't just up and leave like well-meaning friends tell me to. It's not that easy.
I have no money. In fact, he found my secret stash I'd been working on for almost a year. I thought I was so careful that no bank records would come to the house. He must have broken in to my email.
I should've known better. He always kept close tabs on me. He hated when I accused him of spying on me, so I just let him snoop.
He made me feel so guilty and ashamed when I handed over my secret savings to him. I wonder what he did with the money? I know it didn't get used for the kids needs. I assume he drank it or gambled it or used it to impress another woman.
I'm stuck. I stay.
Dear God, please don't let me go under a third time. My family is beyond rescue, but please save me and save my kids.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm no longer in the marriage, yet my scars run deep.
Abuse doesn't always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.
I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.
Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it's been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.
When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.
I worry that not only have my daughters witnessed a man mistreat a woman, but that my sons have had a poor example to follow of what it means to be a real man.
I stayed for the sake of my children. Now, I blame myself for the effects staying may possibly have on them.
Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack.
I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.