Women’s Issues

The Culture At Fox News

Apparently, someone unearthed an accusation of sexual harassment against Sean Hannity, and the accuser is a right wing pundit Debbie Schlussel, who apparently stands by the story but says it doesn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment, but she may sue Hannity anyway because he insulted her in his denial and….

Well, I’m just going to put this here.  Apparently, there are more heads that need to roll at Fox News.  Maybe not Hannity’s, but certainly whoever is running that place.  Someone higher up.  Time for a better corporate culture.

UPDATE:  Okay fine — here’s the Daily Beast summary:

During a Friday interview with Tulsa, Oklahoma-based radio host Pat Campbell, former Fox News guest Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity of inviting her to his hotel room before and after a debate with a pro-Palestinian guest in Detroit. Schlussel said she rejected Hannity’s alleged advances and that she was never invited on his show again.

Schlussel and Hannity were scheduled to speak together at the Detroit show, Schlussel said. But before the show, Hannity allegedly invited her to an event at a nearby bookstore. The Daily Beast was not able to confirm whether the pair ever spoke at such a show.

“He had some event at a bookstore where he signed his book for people standing in line. He asked me to come meet him at this book signing,” Schlussel said on Campbell’s show. “So I met him there and it was very awkward. He had me up there with him while he signed books and I felt very weird. These people don’t know me and they didn’t come for me to sign their books. Then I left to get ready for the show, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come back with me to my hotel?’ and I said no, I have to get ready for the show.”

Shortly before the show, Hannity allegedly told Schlussel they would team up against another panelist. But Schlussel told Campbell that the move was a “head-fake” against her.

“Sean came up to me and said we’re gonna double-team (which was a weird phrase to use) this Palestinian guy that I was up against on the show,” Schlussel said. “And then every time I tried to open my mouth and say something, they yelled at me and said obey your host, you can’t say anything or else we’re gonna shut off your microphone.”

After the show, Schlussel claims Hannity made another advance on her. “My dad and my brother were there in the green room,” Schlussel said, claiming that Hannity “tried to get me to go back with him to the hotel after the show.”

Schlussel claimed she rejected the offer a second time, and was not invited on any future Hannity programs.

“After that, I wasn’t booked on his show again. And he called me and yelled at me,” Schlussel said. “I got a very weird feeling about the whole thing, and I kind of knew I wouldn’t be back on his show.”

After her comments to Talk 1170 Radio received widespread media attention, Schlussel told Law Newz that she would not characterize Hannity’s behavior as sexual harassment. “I would never accuse him of that. Sexual harassment has a special meaning under the law,” she said.

She did, however, confirm that Hannity had propositioned her. “I never thought I was sexually harassed by Sean Hannity, I thought he was weird and creepy,” she said.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Hannity denied Schlussel’s allegations and accused her of seeking attention.

“LET ME BE CLEAR THE COMMENTS ABOUT ME ON A RADIO SHOW THIS WEEK by this individual ARE 100 percent false and a complete fabrication,” Hannity wrote. “This individual is a serial harasser who has been lying about me for well over a decade. The individual has a history of making provably false statements against me in an effort to slander, smear and besmirch my reputation.”

“The individual has not just slandered me over the years but many people who this individual disagrees with,” Hannity wrote. “This individual desperately seeks attention by any means necessary, including making unfounded personal attacks and using indefensible and outrageous political rhetoric.”

He went on to threaten legal action against Schlussel.

“My patience with this individual is over. I have retained a team of some of the finest and toughest lawyers in the country who are now in the process of laying out the legal course of action we will be taking against this individual. In this fiercely divided and vindictive political climate I will no longer allow slander and lies about me to go unchallenged, as I see a coordinated effort afoot to now silence those with conservative views. I will fight every single lie about me by all legal means available to me as an American.”

Hannity and Schlussel have a history of clashing, after she wrote a 2010 blog post accusing him of running a scam charity for military families. Schlussel alleged that less than 4 percent of the revenue from Hannity’s “Freedom Concerts” went to U.S. troops and their families, and that most of the concerts’ earnings went to lavish expenses. Hannity and his colleagues denied the allegations.

In 2007, Schlussel wrote a blog post accusing Hannity of “deliberately ripping off” an anti-Muslim column she wrote in the New York Post.

“That’s Sean Hannity for you,” she wrote in the 2007 post. “This is not the first time he’s done this to me, just the latest.”

UPDATE #2:  And it isn’t just sexual harassment. Fox News has a race problem:

The letter also includes new allegations of racism in Fox News’ accounting department. According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Slater demanded that black female employees hold “arm wrestling matches’” with white female employees in her office, just down the hall from Ailes’s office on the second floor of Fox headquarters. “Forcing a black woman employee to ‘fight’ for the amusement and pleasure of her white superiors is horrifying. This highly offensive and humiliating act is reminiscent of Jim Crow era battle royals,” the letter says, referring to the practice of paying black men to fight blindfolded at carnivals for white spectators’ entertainment. The lawyers argue that Efinger bragged about wanting to “fight” a black employee.

The new claims, if true, reveal not just the failures of the legal and HR departments to deal with problematic managers but also just how deep the culture of discrimination and harassment may have run during Ailes’s reign.

In Her Epic Speech, The First Lady Spoke For Men Too

Yesterday in her historic speech, Michelle Obama spent a lot of her time talking directly to women about Donald Trump and his candidacy. But she also spoke about what it means to men.

And how is this affecting men and boys in this country? Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.

The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man…

Because let’s be very clear: Strong men — men who are truly role models — don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.

That is precisely why Michelle’s remarks yesterday were such an antidote to the ugliness we are seeing in the Trump campaign. She not only touched women’s hearts and said it was OK to feel the hurt. She demonstrated what it means to stand up to it all and say, “No…this is NOT normal.” And she reminded us all how authentically strong men behave.

Tantaros’ Complaint Against Fox News, O’Reilly, Ailes, and Others

What kind of a place is Fox News?  These allegations keep on coming.

Some excerpts:

[C]ommencing in February 2016, Bill O’Reilly (“O’Reilly”), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be “very private,” and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could “see [her] as a wild girl,” and that he believed that she had a “wild side.” Fox News did take one action: plainly because of O’Reilly’s rumored prior sexual harassment issues and in recognition of Tantaros’s complaints, Brandi informed Cane that Tantaros would no longer be appearing on O’Reilly’s Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.

Ew…. and….

Perhaps the most shocking encounter of all was a Spring 2015 meeting between Tantaros and Fox News Senior Executive, Defendant William Shine (“Shine”), during which Tantaros sought relief from Ailes’s sexual harassment… In response, Shine told Tantaros that Ailes was a “very powerful man” and that Tantaros “needed to let this one go.” Yet, after Ailes was revealed to be a sexual predator and forced to resign, Shine was promoted to Co-President of Fox News. Shine’s inexplicable elevation sends the message that it will be “business as usual” at Fox News when it comes to the treatment of women

Here’s the whole thing:

Carlson Sues Ailes For Sexual Harassment At Fox News

This is fundamentally a dispute about facts and a sexual harassment case which, whoever is right, needs to be understood and adjudicated on its own terms. But sexual harassment, sex in the workplace and the much broader issue of coercion and the concept of consent are hot button political, legal and cultural issues today. We can’t ignore the fact that Fox News is one of the institutions at the center of charged atmosphere.

It’s not too much to say that in the Fox News bubble, and certainly among many Fox News viewers, sexual harassment is barely even a real thing. It’s a charge that temperamental or uptight women bring against gregarious or just non-PC guys either because of their ‘uptightness’ or to leverage some professional advantage. That’s an unvarnished way to put it, but it is the mindset that informs huge amounts of Fox News coverage and chatter and the same for many, though obviously not all, Fox News devotees.

I’m not a fan of Carlson, but to her credit, she never swallowed the Fox News ethos on sexual harassment.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Oppressive Abortion Restrictions

This morning, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.

The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

The decision concerned two parts of a Texas law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“We conclude,” Justice Breyer wrote, “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

I’m not surprised by the outcome, nor am I surprised by swing justice Kennedy joining the “liberals” on the court.  Frankly, the Texas restrictions were NOT intended to support women’s health.  If you saw who proposed those restrictions (longtime Texas anti-abortion legislators) and listened to their rhetoric, “health of women” was a sham rationale.  Their real objective was to make abortion clinics so regulated that they could not afford to make the required changes, and eventually close down.  In fact, to date, twenty abortion clinics have closed down under those regulations.

So, yes, a victory, and it would have been a victory even if Scalia was alive and on the court.  But it does underscore the importance of the election and who gets to pick the next justices.

The Letter To Her Attacker

On January 18, 2015, at about 1 a.m., two male Stanford graduate students were riding their bikes through campus when they spotted a man on top of a woman near a dumpster. The woman did not appear to be moving. The students approached the man, who fled, leaving the woman, unconscious and partially naked, on the ground. One of the students chased him and held him down while the police was called. The man was identified as Brock Turner.

Outrage remains understandably high over the sentence of “the Stanford rapist”.  My recent tweets have pointed out some of the most offensive things about this case (besides, obviously, the rape itself).  The light six-month sentence given to the Stanford student.  His father’s plea for mercy, saying that his son shouldn’t be jailed for the rape in light of the fact that he only got “20 minutes of action” (yes, that’s a direct quote).  There’s nothing about the Stanford rape case that isn’t stomach-turning.

But there is a lighthouse on the island — the letter of the victim.  Long, but with preserving.  Great opening line, and it gets better.  I’ve placed it below the fold.

What Crap Came From Donald Trump Today?

Oh fucking hell.  This guy has a 70% unfavorable with women already.  Is he doing this on purpose?

Ah, but here comes Uday to the rescue:

Noted, although that’s non-sensical.  If performing abortions is illegal, then the performer of the abortions is the one who should face consequences.  But the women???

UPDATE: Aaaaaand he does the full retreat, adding that his position “has not changed”

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P.S. But note that everyone has moved on from the story about his campaign manager committing battery

When You Don’t Think

The backlash and fallout against North Carolina’s HB2 law continues, and what is getting a lot of attention are pictures and tweets from transgender people like Michael Hughes, a 45-year-old trans man in Rochester, Minn.

Take a look at this picture:

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That’s Michael Hughes and two of his female friends in a womens’ bathroom.  Under the new law passed by the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature and Republican Governor, Michael Hughes — who WANTS to use the male restroom — MUST use the female restroom, because he was born female biologically.

I wonder how that makes the wives and daughters of the North Carolina legislators feel.  But that’s what the new law forces him to do.

Again, the legislature was trying to supposedly protect women from transgender men going into women’s restrooms and sexually assaulting women — a solution to a problem WHICH IS NOT HAPPENING.  Don’t get me wrong — sexual assaults ARE a serious problem, but there is not a problem of men pretending to be women and using public facilities to launch their assault.  As I’ve written before, it hasn’t happened in other states which are accommodating to transgender issues. Not even a little bit.

Let me talk about what else happens when you don’t think things through.  The Mike Smerconish program is killing it this morning; the topic is the North Carolina law which everyone is upset about. Some Chapel Hill attorney called in and pointed out something about the new law which I hadn’t heard before. I checked it out and she’s right. Aside from the awful bathroom access thing, the new law makes it impossible to sue your employer in state court for wrongful discharge based on ANY discrimination.

In other words, prior to the new law, if your employer fired you because you were handicapped, or a certain race, or a certain religion, or a certain gender (and so on), you could sue in state court. Not anymore.

It’s true that you can still bring these wrongful discharge cases in federal court BUT there is a shorter statute of limitations, it takes longer, more hoops to jump through, is more expensive, etc. Sometimes a wrongful discharge case in state court is the only possibility a person has. Uh…. HAD.

The odd thing is this: this aspect of the new law might have been completely unintentional. The NC legislature might not have known they were actually doing this — something that happens when you throw together a new law quickly in the dark of night. Or maybe they really are dicks.

How Can Any Woman Vote For Trump After This?

I get the schtick.  Trump tries to get media attention and he usually gets it, provided he is outrageous enough.

But the things he does.  Oy.

This got started when one of those super-PACs, in this case not even one that supports Cruz but just one that opposes Trump, put out a picture of Melania Trump in a semi-naked form.  Trump vaguely threatened Cruz directly, saying he would “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife.  Cruz responded with indignation and a threat not to attack his wife.

Then Brussels. And now that that is done, this:

Yup. He’s comparing how their wives LOOK. Not their accomplishments, charitable goals, intelligence, kindness, goodness, values, etc. It’s about – and ONLY about — how these women LOOK.

It’s misogyny at its worst.

So again I ask, how can any self-respecting woman vote for Trump after this?

UPDATE… well fuck me.  Now I have to admit that Cruz has a classy response:

On the other hand, he did call Trump a “snivelling coward” over the incident, which also happens to be true.

Missing The Point

The award goes to Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News for writing this:

No disrespect to the jury in the Erin Andrews case, but I can’t breathe.

The Fox Sports reporter just got a $55 million award for the pain and suffering of being videotaped naked in a Nashville hotel room in 2008.

Fifty five million dollars because people got to see Erin Andrews naked on the Internet.

But Erin Andrews is still alive and, as the defendants in the case argued, is certainly thriving. She’s free to go on “Dancing with the Stars” or schmooze with NFL players. But a jury felt her pain — and treated the symptoms with cash. America, what a country.

He then goes on to note that Eric Garner, choked to death by an NYPD cop on a city street, received only $5.9 million (well, his family received it), and the family of Freddie Gray (killed by Baltimore police) received only $6.4 million.

Well, yyyyyeah, but they settled the case.  I’m not applauding or criticizing the families’ decisions to do that, but when you settle a case, you generally get a lot less.

Also, there’s no way Andrews gets $55 million.  Barrett, the guy who did that actual filming, most certainly doesn’t have the ability to pay even a fraction of the $28 million he’s on the hook for, and the hotel owners will likely appeal and try to settle for a lower amount. Add in attorney fees and other litigation expenses, and the $55 million number dwindles.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the amount she got was less than 6 million, which is peanuts to the hotel industry

And keep in mind, there is actual pain and suffering. Andrews broke down repeatedly during the trial discussing how the shame of the incident still follows her around seven years later. The video is still on the internet. People are still watching. She is still being blamed for what happened, and it’s likely that no matter what she achieves in her career, she always will be.

Her father also took the stand and talked about how much his daughter has changed since the video was released online.  “She’s terrified. She’s depressed. She cries. She’s full of anxiety. She’s a very, very changed person. She’s not the girl that we used to know at all,” he said.

It’s also crucial to remember that the jury was not tasked with comparing Andrews’ suffering to all of the great tragedies in the world. They were asked to look at the mental, emotional, and physical pain and suffering Andrews has endured, and gauge her subsequent loss of capacity for the enjoyment for life.

Why not $55 million?

International Women’s Day

Props to Google for today’s Google Doodle:

Unlike past women’s day doodles, this doesn’t look at achievements from the past, but at the achievements to come.

The theme for this year is gender parity.  You may not think this is a problem here in the United States, and comparatively, you would be right.  The United States is ranked 20th, which is okay for industrialized nations.  But many third world countries (and … let’s be honest… Mideast countries) have very poor gender parity.

This is why I have taken Fiji off my bucket list of places to travel.  Even though the women there have roughly the same education and literacy rate as men, and have the best parity of all countries when it comes to health care, they have almost zero political power or representation in the political process.  And it is getting worse.

Anyway, find out more here and here.

Backfire

This is unusual and uplifting:

A grand jury convened to investigate whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses on Monday cleared the clinic and instead indicted the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women’s health organization.

The Harris County grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of California, on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It also charged Daleiden, the leader of the videographers, with the same misdemeanor he had alleged – the purchase or sale of human organs, presumably because he had offered to buy in an attempt to provoke Planned Parenthood employees into saying they would sell.

 ***
“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” said Anderson, a Republican. “All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

This is a total win for Planned Parenthood.  Harris County, TX is the 12th state-level investigation to clear PP of all wrongdoing.  What is super remarkable is that this is almost unheard of — usually grand juries hand down the indictment that the prosecutor wants.  I’ve never heard them hand down an indictment against the accusers.

But it was not without losses: PP has faced defunding bills, interim charges, and Medicaid eviction.

It is unclear what federal document Daleiden alleged tampered with.

Daleiden’s opinion piece in USA TODAY yesterday made no mention of his impending arrest.

Daleiden and Merritt are also both named in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month by Planned Parenthood.

The lawsuit accuses the Center for Medical Progress of engaging in illegal conduct in violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and engaging in wire fraud, mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing, Planned Parenthood said in a press release.

“The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, said in a statement “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”

The Funny Thing About Abusive Relationships

The number of women in stand-up comedy who are coming out as being victims of abuse is alarming.  This is a must-read article.  An excerpt:

The experience is certainly not monolithic, but for many women who write and perform comedy, choosing this career path involves the cultivation of a chitinous exoskeleton, involuntary or not. It’s hard not to let it extend to your personal life. At work or onstage, you respond to trauma with a stupid joke. When my boyfriend texted that he was going to set my apartment on fire, I turned and asked my friend at the party, “What am I going to do? I’ll never find another place that close to the park.” And yes, I realize now in retrospect that, in addition to being wildly unhealthy, this wasn’t my best material.

When you’re in this kind of relationship, you’re as surprised as your best friend would be. You try to make something that doesn’t make sense for your personality make sense with your personality. I tried to spin it into another hilarious caper in the saga of My Terrible Taste in Men. I didn’t really let my friends have a chance to worry because I would just kind of do this show as a distraction: Hey, it’s another unhinged guy I’m trading mutual pity-oral with. Hand me my handbag, I’m going to walk down the street, swinging it to plucky music.

Women In Combat

100% equality:

In a historic transformation of the American military, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Thursday that the Pentagon will open all combat jobs to women.

“There will be no exceptions,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference.

The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women often found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years.

The military faced a deadline set by the Obama administration three years ago to integrate women into all combat jobs by 2016 or ask for specific exemptions. The Navy and Air Force have already opened almost all combat positions to women, and the Army has also increasingly integrated its forces.

The only exemptions were requested by the Marine Corps, which has a 93 percent male force dominated by infantry and a culture that still segregates recruits by gender for basic training. But Mr. Carter said he overruled the Marines because the military should operate under a common set of standards.

Planned Parenthood Shooting Is Domestic Terrorism

I’ve been vacationing and the holidays and yada yada, so there’s been light blogging lately.

Colorado Springs shooting suspect Robert Lewis Dear of North Carolina is seen in undated photos provided by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. A gunman burst into a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 and opened fire, launching several gunbattles and an hourslong standoff with police as patients and staff took cover. By the time the shooter surrendered, at least three people were killed, including a police officer and at least nine others were wounded, authorities said. (El Paso County Sheriff's Office via AP)

The big news that I missed was a terrorist attack here on the United States, although whether to call it a “terrorist attack” seems to be arguable.  I’m talking of course about the shooter at Planned Parenthood.  On Saturday, November 27, a shooting and five-hour standoff with police occurred at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A police officer and two civilians were killed; five police officers and four civilians were injured. Police convinced the suspected shooter, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, to surrender. He was taken into custody after a standoff that lasted five hours. Yesterday, Dear was charged with murder in the first-degree, and was ordered to be held without bond.

It wasn’t hard to surmise his motive or political leanings, especially when he told the police “no more baby parts” and was known to have passed out anti-Obama literature.  Obviously, when you are trying to affect political or social change through the use of violence, that is the definition of terrorism — yet Republican candidates seem to have a hard time calling it this.  When a reporter told Ted Cruz that the suspect in the Colorado Springs killings is alleged to have mentioned “baby parts” after his arrest, the Texas senator responded, “Well, it’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and transgendered leftist activist, if that’s what he is.”  Cruz was likely citing a report from The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing blog, that uncovered a Colorado state voter registration form which lists Dear’s gender as female.  (Occam’s Razor suggests it was likely a clerical error — and it was).

On Fox News Sunday, Carly Fiorina called alleged killer Robert Lewis Dear “deranged’ and lamented that the shooting took place on a “holiday weekend,” before zeroing in on the real tragedy: the unfair treatment of Carly Fiorina by pro-choice activists and the left. Host Chris Wallace asked Fiorina if she saw a link between overheated anti-choice rhetoric and violence by abortion opponents. Fiorina, who at the second GOP debate regaled viewers with a grisly and entirely false story about Planned Parenthood workers yanking the brain out of a “living, kicking” fetus, failed to see how her words might inspire someone to take drastic action, adding:

“This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with the message…. Anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is … this is typical left-wing tactics.”

The link was made, however, not by the leftwing, but by the gunman himself. Fiorina advanced the inflammatory lie that Planned Parenthood makes a profit from trafficking in fetal body parts. In fact, the fetal tissue is turned over for medical research, with the attendant fees used to cover expenses.

Ben Carson responded to the attack by wishing everyone would be a little more polite. He then politely blamed Planned Parenthood for the shooting.  Asked if extremist rhetoric emboldens domestic terrorists, Carson argued that “both sides” are to blame for vilifying each other. A fair point, perhaps, although nobody is shooting up Focus On The Family.  Personally, I think it is okay to villify terrorists.

Donald Trump briefly approximated humanness on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press Sunday, calling the shooting “a terrible thing.” Seconds later the GOP candidate returned to form, denouncing Planned Parenthood and essentially blaming the organization for making Trump supporters angry.

Mike Huckabee had the guts to call the shooting an act of domestic terrorism and mass murder. “There’s no legitimizing, there’s no rationalizing. It was mass murder. It was absolutely unfathomable,” he said. But then he went on to equate what happened with abortion, which is legal.  He accused Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to low-income women, of mass murder, engaging in exactly the kind of extreme rhetoric that might convince an unhinged person the group is deserving of violent attack. “And there’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood,” he said.

The point is that what happened in Colorado Springs is just an extreme example of a long line of terrorist actions against Planned Parenthood, which include threats, murders, and bombings.  Back in September, CBS reported that the FBI had noticed an uptick in attacks on reproductive health care facilities since the first video was released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). There were nine criminal or suspicious incidents (including cyber attacks, threats, and arsons) from July, when the videos first came out, through mid-September.

An FBI Intelligence Assessment at the time found these attacks were “consistent with the actions of lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement.” Moreover, the report said it was “likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.”

Less than two weeks after CBS reported that, another abortion clinic was firebombed in California. It was the fourth arson at a Planned Parenthood location in as many months.

Since 1977, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, and 186 arsons against abortion clinics and providers.  Even today, a hospital in Colorado Springs was put on lockdown because of a “suspicious person” making threats to shoot one of the victims from Friday’s deadly Planned Parenthood attack.

So the Richard Dear shootings are not an isolated incident, just an extreme one.  Stay tuned.

Tweet Recommendation

I am enjoying the Twitter account of @manwhohasitall.  It is basically a parady Twitter account which satirizes some of the inane crap spouted at working moms from womens’ magazines.  By changing the gender, you can see how patronizing some womens’ magazines are to their readers.

A Revisit To “Yes Means Yes”

The New York Times did a great story yesterday about the virtues and the difficulties of teaching, and enforcing, a “yes-means-yes” policy in schools, particularly colleges.

I have written about this before, but by way of quick background, there is a movement on college campuses and in high schools to move away from the “no means no” mantra and teach/enforce “yes means yes” — also known as “affirmative consent” — as a way to reduce the troubling incidences of sexual assault on campus.

In a nutshell, I was critical of “affirmative consent” in my prior post.  My objections fell loosely into one of two categories:

(1)  As a university policy or disciplinary “law”, affirmative consent is unworkable and unrealistic.  It turns everybody — men and women into would-be rapists.  And this can be shown by a simple thought experiment.  Think about the last time you had sex with your spouse/significant-other.  At each stage, as you took it to “the next level”, did your spouse/significant-other give affirmative consent, i.e., did they say the actual word “yes” to your question about taking it to the next level?  They didn’t?  Well then, under the policy imposed by some universities, you committed sexual assault on that person.  Are you surprised to learn that?

Obviously, that is the earmark of a flawed policy.  If this law wouldn’t work in the real world… why would it work on college campuses?

Since I last wrote about affirmative consent, the law has changed a little in California. Originally, affirmative consent meant an actual “yes”.  The actual word.  Apparently, even lawmakers realized this was unrealistic and made the law slightly better.  Now, affirmative consent includes “clear body language” as well.

But of course, that begs the question: What constitutes “clear body language” showing affirmative consent?  Yes, we can talk about the obvious triad of truths (“Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated”, “Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent”, and “When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, sexual activity must stop”), but once you get past those sub-rules, we get into gray areas of ambiguity.  Let’s say your would-be possible sexual partner dances on a table after a glass of wine, removes some articles of clothing, and playfully nibbles your ear.  Is that clear body language showing affirmative consent to intercourse? (I would argue “no”, but — and this is important — that’s just my opinion).  Would it be affirmative consent to… something?  Is he or she incapacitated to give affirmative consent from the one glass of wine?  What if you didn’t know he or she had imbibed wine?  It’s not hard to imagine real-world scenarios where ambiguity enters the picture — something you do not want to have in a university sexual assault policy where the consequences are (1) being a rape victim and/or (2) being expelled from university as a rapist.  In both cases, that follows you around for life.

This is why I say that these university disciplinary policies, even modified to include “body language”. are largely unworkable.

Turning to my second objection….

(2)  Affirmative consent gives credence to a bad faith argument made by rapists.  The movement from “no means no” to “yes means yes” seems to reinforce the notion that sexual assault happens because of a miscommunication.  In other words, it presupposes that either (a) women are too stupid/timid to communicate “no” effectively or (b) men are too stupid to understand that a woman has just communicated “no”; or (c) some combination of a and b.  There is no way of proving (or disproving) this, but I believe that the vast majority of women know how to say “no” non-verbally if not verbally.  I also believe that the vast majority of men know when women are not giving consent, even if they fail to say “no”.

In my view, the problem isn’t that we need to teach young people to communicate and listen better; it’s that we need to teach men not to ignore what they know to be true — i.e, that a passed-out woman, or a woman who pulls away when you kiss her, etc. is not giving consent.  It’s not that men fail to understand when a woman lacks consent; it’s just that bad men simply don’t care.  I believe that you can teach some men all you want about consent, and play all the “no means no” and “yes means yes” classroom exercises you want, and it won’t make a lick of difference.  Because the problem (to repeat myself) isn’t that some men miss the signals from women; it is that they ignore them.

I am mindful of what Amanda Marcotte has written:

The “no means no” movement was about shutting down rapists who tried to confuse the issue over whether it really counts if she came to your room/she’s your wife/she wore a short skirt/she accepted the drink you drugged. “Yes means yes” is about shutting down rapists who claim, falsely, to not know it’s wrong to rape someone even if she is too drunk to stand/she said “I want to go home”/she just laid there crying instead of asking me to stop. It’s about shutting down bad-faith excuses by shifting the discussion to how the aggressor knew he had a yes.

I think that’s pretty astute.  But just because a rapist makes a bad faith argument “I didn’t know it was wrong to have sex with a woman as she is crying” doesn’t mean we have to honor his argument.  And that’s what affirmative consent does.  It treats that bad faith lie as if it was made in good faith.

But men in those situations are not stupid — they just pretend to be.  If a woman is crying, he knows he has no consent. We don’t need to teach him what consent is.  In fact, as Marcotte cites, 61 percent of men (according to one study) say they get consent via body language, so let’s not pretend that they aren’t aware of the concept at all.

Could I be wrong?  Maybe.  As I’ve conjectured before, perhaps I give too much credit in the ability of women to say or convey “no” under normal non-pressure circumstances (obviously, if a woman is being pinned down or held at gunpoint, saying “no” seems superfluous — I’m not talking about those situations).  And perhaps I give too much credit to men and their ability to “read” when a woman gives a non-verbal “no”.  I don’t know.

That said, as a sex ed tool, there is certainly no harm in teaching “yes means yes” and “no means no” if it gets everybody — men and women — thinking about consent.  But it is not going to get the would-be rapists to care about consent.  The only way to do that is to (a) take sexual assault allegations more seriously and (b) make guilty parties actually pay for what they did, rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Anyway, let me turn to the New York Times article, and address the issues brought up there:

SAN FRANCISCO — The classroom of 10th graders had already learned about sexually transmitted diseases and various types of birth control. On this day, the teenagers gathered around tables to discuss another topic: how and why to make sure each step in a sexual encounter is met with consent.

Consent from the person you are kissing — or more — is not merely silence or a lack of protest, Shafia Zaloom, a health educator at the Urban School of San Francisco, told the students. They listened raptly, but several did not disguise how puzzled they felt.

“What does that mean — you have to say ‘yes’ every 10 minutes?” asked Aidan Ryan, 16, who sat near the front of the room.

“Pretty much,” Ms. Zaloom answered. “It’s not a timing thing, but whoever initiates things to another level has to ask.”

The “no means no” mantra of a generation ago is being eclipsed by “yes means yes” as more young people all over the country are told that they must have explicit permission from the object of their desire before they engage in any touching, kissing or other sexual activity. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on a bill this month, California became the first state to require that all high school health education classes give lessons on affirmative consent, which includes explaining that someone who is drunk or asleep cannot grant consent.

Again, I don’t think there is any harm, and probably some good, in requiring students in sex education classes to think about, and talk about, the concept of consent.  Affirmative consent, lack of consent — it’s all good fodder.

I also applaud the gender-neutral approach that Ms Zaloom employs;  Notice she did not say “the man must ask” but says instead, “whoever initiates things to another level has to ask.”  There are many reasons to phrase it this way — but certainly one reason has to stem from an acknowledgment that sexual aggression can happen in any configuration (a female friend who attended an all-female college told me that sexual assault was common within the student body there as well).

Last year, California led the way in requiring colleges to use affirmative consent as the standard in campus disciplinary decisions, defining how and when people agree to have sex. More than a dozen legislatures in other states, including Maryland, Michigan and Utah, are considering similar legislation for colleges. One goal is to improve the way colleges and universities deal with accusations of rape and sexual assault and another is to reduce the number of young people who feel pressured into unwanted sexual conduct.

Critics say the lawmakers and advocates of affirmative consent are trying to draw a sharp line in what is essentially a gray zone, particularly for children and young adults who are grappling with their first feelings of romantic attraction. In he-said, she-said sexual assault cases, critics of affirmative consent say the policy puts an unfair burden of proof on the accused.

Well, I am among the critics of those colleges who adopt affirmative consent as the standard in campus disciplinary decisions.  However, my issue isn’t so much about the burden-shifting.  I agree that it does shift the burden to the accused, and that will undoubtedly lead to bad results, as evidenced by some recent unfortunate well-publicized bogus rape stories.

But at the same time, anyone who has been paying attention to this issue knows that there is and has been very poor treatment of accusers.  And although I think, as in all crimes, the burden should rest with the accuser, universities in particular have been outright barbaric in “turning it around” and prosecuting those who claim to be victims.  Only within the past few years have steps been made — small ones — in that regard.

“There’s really no clear standard yet — what we have is a lot of ambiguity on how these standards really work in the court of law,” said John F. Banzhaf III, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “The standard is not logical — nobody really works that way. The problem with teaching this to high school students is that you are only going to sow more confusion. They are getting mixed messages depending where they go afterward.”

But Ms. Zaloom, who has taught high school students about sex for two decades, said she was grateful for the new standard, even as she acknowledged the students’ unease.

“What’s really important to know is that sex is not always super smooth,” she told her 10th graders. “It can be awkward, and that’s actually normal and shows things are O.K.”

The students did not seem convinced. They sat in groups to brainstorm ways to ask for affirmative consent. They crossed off a list of options: “Can I touch you there?” Too clinical. “Do you want to do this?” Too tentative. “Do you like that?” Not direct enough.

“They’re all really awkward and bizarre,” one girl said.

“Did you come up with any on your own?” Ms. Zaloom asked.

One boy offered up two words: “You good?”

That drew nearly unanimous nods of approval.

Personally, I feel this way: since your first sexual encounter is going to be awkward anyway, it might as well be really awkward by introducing the concept of affirmative consent to 10th graders.  Maybe we CAN succeed in bringing up a generation that is better at thinking about consent.

As an aside: I know that high school kids having conversations like this freaks out the conservative right.  To that I say, given the choice between your prudishness, on the one hand, and educating young students in order to avoid sexual assaults, on the other hand — I’m going to say…. uh… “fuck you” to you prudes.  Without your consent.

Anyway — to reiterate —  don’t think affirmative consent is a realistic concept to introduce to those who are already sexually active, which includes many if not most college-age people.

Under the new law, high school students in California must be educated about the concept of affirmative consent — but they are not actually being held to that standard. So a high school student on trial on rape charges would not have to prove that he or she obtained oral assent from the accuser. That was the case with a senior at the elite St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire this year who was accused of raping a freshman. The senior was acquitted of aggravated sexual assault but found guilty of statutory rape — sex with a minor.

As for college students, the law passed last year in California does not change the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted in criminal courts, only in the way they are handled by colleges, which are permitted to use affirmative consent as a standard.

Right.  And in fact, you couldn’t use affirmative consent as a standard in the real world.  It violates any number of constitutional amendments, including the First Amendment.  Liberals complain about how conservatives want to legislate what goes on in people’s bedroom — well, can you think of a law more intrusive than a law which requires people to say “yes” to each other at every stage of their sexual interactions, every time?

It’s totally unconstitutional and unworkable, which is why I don’t think that policy can work in universities.  Fortunately, the New York Times articles gives some real-life examples:

Last year, Corey Mock, a student at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was expelled after officials there found him guilty of sexual misconduct because he could not prove he had obtained verbal consent from a woman who accused him of sexual assault. But a Davidson County Chancery Court judge ruled in August that the university had “improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation.” The judge called the university’s ruling “arbitrary and capricious.”

Right.  I agree.  In fact, in many cases, proving your sexual partner said “yes” is even harder than proving that you, as a sexual assault victim, said “no”.

In another case, a former student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who was evicted from his dormitory room after a student accused him of rape, filed a lawsuit in federal court in August against the university and several administrators. The former student, identified in court records as John Doe, argued that he had been denied the rights promised in the student handbook and that the adjudicators of his case had ignored text messages that supported his view of the encounter.

Again, at best, when it comes to disciplinary policy, the shift from “no means no” to “yes means yes” doesn’t take you anywhere.  It still leaves us with a he-said-she-said dilemna.  Except we’re now arguing about “yes” instead of “no”.

Kevin de León, the California State Senate speaker pro tempore and lead sponsor of the high school legislation, said the new law was as much about changing the culture as it was about changing the law.

“Sexual violence has always thrived in the gray areas of the law,” Mr. de León said. “What we want to create is a standard of behavior, a paradigm shift as much as a legal shift. We’re no longer talking about the old paradigm of the victim being blamed for their own behavior.”

Without doubt, Mr. de Leon has the right sentiment.  We do want to move away from the victim-blaming behavior.  But affirmative consent, I maintain, doesn’t achieve that goal when it comes to punitive tribunals. As my thought experiment above shows, it simply turns everyone, men and women, into would-be rapists (as well as victims, and often within the same sexual encounter).

There’s also a subtle paternalistic sexist underpinning to Mr. de Leon’s comments.  Again, I think he means well, but he implies that woman are incapable of saying (or showing) “no”, and so we must move away from that “old paradigm” in order protect women, seeing as how they are apparently made of candy-glass. I don’t know how many feminists would agree with that perception.

But among teenagers, who are only beginning to experiment with their sexuality and have hazy ideas of their own boundaries, the talk tends to be about “hooking up” and what the new rules are. “Kids are still establishing patterns of behavior, and they have a lot of specific concrete questions,” said Ms. Zaloom, who has written a curriculum for affirmative consent programs that is being used throughout the country.

Students will ask, “Can I have sex when we are both drunk?” she said. “I get this one a lot: If I hook up with a girl and the next day she decides she didn’t want to do it, then what do I do?”

These are not easy questions to answer.  And Ms. Zaloom, to her credit, doesn’t answer them.

Ms. Zaloom will typically use such questions as a way to begin talking about the benefits of sexual partners’ knowing each other. But sometimes, there are no straightforward answers, she said. “We’re trying to show them very explicitly that sex has to include a dialogue,” she added, “that they have to talk about it each step of the way.”

And that’s smart.  But it also highlights the problem facing universities today as they try to use affirmative consent as a tool of enforcement.  If there are no simple answers, it may be a good starting point for a sex ed discussion, but how could it work as a sexual assault policy?

Take, for example, the first question.  What if both participants are drunk?  (I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, throughout time and memoriam, this accounts for a wide percentage of sexual encounters in college).  If both participants were drunk, who is responsible for seeking, and giving, affirmative consent?  Will they remember if it was given at all?  Are they both victims?  Did they both violate university policy?

You see the problems with affirmative consent.  Good teaching tool, but useless in the real world.

One 10th-grade girl asked about approaching someone about a casual encounter. “What if it’s just a one-time thing?”

“You have to be prepared to say ‘no’ and hear ‘no,’ ” Ms. Zaloom said.

Another girl chimed in, “If you don’t care about a person too much, you might not be inclined to listen.”

Yes, chiming-in girl.  That’s the problem.  It’s not a question of not saying, and not hearing.  It’s is a matter of “not listening”.  Or more accurately, not caring to listen.  Pigs be pigs.

Ms. Zaloom suggested making clear plans with friends ahead of time, like making pacts to leave parties together. And she urged them to have conversations with potential sexual partners “before you get swept up in the moment.”

“How do we even start a conversation like that?” one boy wondered.

“Practice,” Ms. Zaloom answered.

Well, I think  perhaps Ms. Zaloom punted that last question, but that’s not the point.  The point is that, as a sex ed, tool, anything — anything – that gets young men and women focusing on consent will (one hopes) affect their subsequent behavior.  Does it work?  I refer to another NY Times article, and what one male student said:

Since first hearing about the new policy, he said, he had been practicing consent almost religiously. He now asks for consent once or twice during sexual encounters with women he knows well, and four or five times during more casual or first-time hookups.

“I certainly didn’t expect the policy to change my behavior,” he said, “but it has.”

It’s getting to be a little more comfortable, he said. He crafts and poses questions like “You O.K. with this?” “Do you still want to go ahead?” and “Hey, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Well, good!  But….

One woman he was having sex with for the first time accused him of being devious in asking for consent. She thought he was using reverse psychology to get her in bed. That wasn’t it at all, he said.

Affirmative consent is a reverse psychology tactic to get women to have sex?  Well, I’m not sure about the “reverse psychology” part but I certainly like the idea of linking consent with having good sex.   That’s certainly the thrust of certain campaigns like “Consent is Sexy“.  I think we need more of that kind of educational campaign, and less rule-making where universities turn sexual interaction into basically an exchange of legal documents.  Make it a cultural change, and change the way people think about sex.  That’s the education prong.

And as for the university discipline policies?  How do you balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the accuser?  Yeah, it is thorny.  It is difficult.  But the first thing universities need to do, rather than legislate and script the sexual encounters of students (which, I maintain, is probably unconstitutional), is demonstrate their own seriousness about the issue.  Universities need to develop a zero tolerance policy.  Not just develop a zero tolerance policy, but implement it. No sweeping under the rug because the accused violater is the star halfback.  No belittlement of accusers and asking the victims(!) how they could have avoided the situation better.  No more looking at sexual violence as “hookups gone bad”.  No more red tape and delayed justice.  In short, if university administrators (who are now facing Title IX lawsuits) need to acknowledge their past errors, and not force students to engage in some ridiculous charade.

Planned Parenthood To Give Fetal Tissue For Free

In a letter sent to the National Institutes of Health, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said the recent accusations against her group are “categorically false” and that the goal of the organization’s critics has “nothing to do with our fetal tissue donation compliance process.”

Richards adds:

“Today, we’re taking their smokescreen away and pushing forward with our important work on behalf of millions of women, men, and young people.

“The participation by a handful of our affiliates in supporting women who choose to make fetal tissue donation has always been about nothing other than honoring the desire of those women and contributing to life-saving research and cures. In order to completely debunk the disingenuous argument that our opponents have been using — and to reveal the true political purpose of these attacks — our Federation has decided, going forward, that any Planned Parenthood health center that is involved in donating tissue after an abortion for medical research will follow the model already in place at one of our two affiliates currently facilitating donations for fetal tissue research. That affiliate accepts no reimbursement for its reasonable expenses — even though reimbursement is fully permitted under the 1993 law.”

She adds:

I want to be completely clear about two things: First, Planned Parenthood’s policies on fetal tissue donation already exceed the legal requirements. Now we’re going even further in order to take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda. And, second, our decision not to take any reimbursement for expenses should not be interpreted as a suggestion that anyone else should not take reimbursement or that the law in this area isn’t strong. Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue, and to expose our opponents’ false charges about this limited but important work.

I think that’s fine, although everybody knows that the complaint against PP isn’t really about getting reimbursed for fetal tissue donations.  It’s about, and has always been about, abortions.

I mean… before the women-hating conservatives were saying “PP is aborting fetuses so they can sell fetal tissue for profit!”.  Now the same conservatives will say, with the same amount of outrage, “PP is aborting fetuses so they can give away the fetal tissue for free!”

My point is that you can’t appease those people, particularly since they aren’t terribly interested in the facts or the truth.  I guess PP isn’t trying to.  I think they are trying to get the focus on the fetal tissue donations, because that is….you know…. a GOOD thing.  Helps cure disease.

Anyway, here’s the full letter:

Utah Governor Loses In Court With His Attempt To Defund Planned Parenthood

Take that:

Planned Parenthood’s Utah chapter won an initial round in court on Tuesday challenging an attempt by the governor to cut off its funding, with a federal judge ruling that the public’s interest favors keeping the women’s health organization open.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order barring Governor Gary Herbert from carrying out his directive for state agencies to revoke their contracts through which Planned Parenthood receives federal dollars.

Herbert ordered the cut-off citing the recent release of secretly recorded videos that Planned Parenthood’s critics say show officials from the group in Texas and other states discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue.

Anti-abortion activists and their Republican allies in Congress have seized on the videos to challenge Planned Parenthood’s continued eligibility for federal funds on Capitol Hill.

Planned Parenthood says the videos have been used to distort the issue of fetal tissue donations the group makes for scientific research, insisting there is nothing unlawful or unethical about the reimbursements it receives to cover the costs of those donations.

Supporters say efforts to defund the group would restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare and disproportionately hurt low-income patients.

The judge echoed that argument in his restraining order, issued after a hearing in Salt Lake City on Planned Parenthood’s request to block Herbert’s directive.

“The programs carried out by plaintiff target at-risk individuals and the reduction of communicable diseases,” he wrote. “These are strong public interests that outweigh the defendants’ stated interests in defunding” the group.

The judge also sided with Planned Parenthood in finding “a substantial likelihood” that it would prevail on the merits of its arguments that Herbert, a Republican, had violated its constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of association.

The plaintiffs were singled out based on their “association with an organization against whom accusations have been made of illegal conduct,” the judge said. “Those accusations are still under investigation and have not been proved.”

Again, I say, this is the right wing going about this badly.  If the goal is to have fewer abortions, demonizing (with lies) Planned Parenthood is the wrong way to go.  How about…. sex education?  Or, you know, birth control?  BOTH those things result in few unwanted pregnancies, and hence, fewer abortions.

But… like I said… nothing to worry about.

Sexual Misconduct At My Alma Mater

This seems to be right on par with most other universities, i.e., too much.  From Tufts University President Tony Monaco, via email:

Last spring, Tufts issued a survey to students on all three campuses to gather information about sexual misconduct and to assess their knowledge of campus policies and prevention programs. I am deeply troubled by what we have learned from the survey.

The Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct survey, which was anonymous and confidential, was sent to 11,000 students. It had a 28.7 percent response rate; approximately 30 percent of undergraduate students responded to the survey. The survey—the first university-wide survey on this topic—will provide an important baseline, and we will issue future surveys to determine if our work is having a positive impact.

Approximately 14 percent of students across the university reported having had at least one incident of “non-consensual sexual contact” since enrolling at Tufts; this includes experiencing incidents of non-consensual improper touching, including sexual intercourse. Of the 14 percent, 5 percent of students across the university reported non-consensual sexual intercourse.

***

The survey data was particularly distressing when analyzed by gender and gender identity, and by academic status:

  • Nearly a quarter (24.7%) of undergraduates have experienced either non-consensual intercourse or other non-consensual sexual contact.
  • Approximately 4.7% of students in our professional and graduate schools have also experienced one or both kinds of misconduct.
  • About 22% of students identifying as transgender, genderqueer or gender non-conforming, or as another identity other than male/female reported having experienced non-consensual sexual contact.
  • The majority of such misconduct incidents appear to have been perpetrated by someone who was known to the victim. Most incidents appear to have taken place in a residential location, and in most cases, the victim and/or the perpetrator was using alcohol.
  • Although most victims report telling someone about the incident, they harbor a variety of concerns about telling others, such as thinking the incident wasn’t serious enough to share or not wanting any disciplinary or legal action to be taken. Most victims, consistent with national numbers, do not officially report their incidents to the Office of Equal Opportunity. Those who do generally feel respected, listened to, and supported during the formal process and feel the staff are well-trained.

The survey does indicate that we have made some progress, and we need to continue our efforts to make every student aware of policies, procedures, and resources:

  • The majority of students said they are happy (92.3%), feel safe (95.9%), and feel valued in the classroom (93.6%) at Tufts.
  • Most respondents felt that most Tufts students respected one another’s personal space (91.5%). Most trusted that their friends would watch out for them at a social event (95.7%).
  • The majority of students had received information about university policies regarding incidents of sexual misconduct (81.1%) and complaint and disciplinary procedures (66.6%). Most students (70.3%) knew how to seek confidential counseling about sexual misconduct.

Tufts is not alone in confronting sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Sadly, these behaviors are occurring on college campuses across the country. However, that does not diminish my profound concern about what this survey tells us about the safety of our students.

Well, identifying the problem is just step one.  Let’s hope this isn’t merely a way to avoid doing step two and step three.  The full downloadable report is below the fold (PDF)

Why I Don’t Stand With Planned Parenthood

I don’t stand with Planned Parenthood because… okay, I DO stand with Planned Parenthood, but my point is I don’t NEED to because I don’t see a serious threat to Planned Parenthood’s existence or funding.

Some might consider this naive.  After all, there are these videos and congressional hearings and threats to shut down the government… all over the issues of abortions by Planned Parenthood.

And I get that.  But as I wrote early last month, this is all theater. I wrote that the Republicans would never dare shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood, because they lack the political will of the people.  And indeed, there is and will be no government shutdown (at least this year) over Planned Parenthood.

The videos themselves have riled the anti-choice base, but all they have managed to do is solidify the previously-held views about abortion on both sides.  And those views were pretty solid to begin with.  The pro-choice has noted repeatedly that the videos are edited and deceptive (a good summary is here at Media Matters), and the pro-life side has repeatedly not cared.  Ultimately, no matter what you believe about the “truthiness” that PP is “harvesting babies” as shown in these videos, every debate I’ve seen involving those videos ends up the same — it’s still about abortion and when life begins… and the videos themselves are almost irrelevant.

Well, not really.  The video are intended to make some people think that these are what ALL abortions look like, in order to get people to switch their views on abortion.  And perhaps some low-information people will switch.  But In fact, very few abortions look like the ones in the heavily-edited Planned Parenthood video (and in fact, some of what is in the video aren’t abortions at all, but rather, stillborn babies being born).

The videos are also important only as a pretext to grill Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards by the GOP lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which they did yesterday.  It is part of the latest congressional effort to strip funding from the women’s health organization.

The big problem is that despite all the argle bargle from the pro-life side, there’s no evidence Planned Parenthood has broken any law.  Interestingly, as Richards was getting grilled yesterday, the Missouri attorney general issued a report confirming there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. The state official reached that conclusion after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

In reaching its findings, Missouri joined five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota — that have also cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after launching investigations following the release of the inflammatory videos. An additional seven states considered investigating the group, but decided there wasn’t enough information suggesting Planned Parenthood has broken the law to justify a statewide probe.

map-of-pp-638x388

The hearings yesterday, to be sure, were ugly, as Ms Richard was brow-beaten, and constantly interrupted, by the mansplaining Committee.  For her part, Richards maintained an admirable calmness, although it was clear that was a challenge. She nailed the whole exercise, however.

“The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law—and once again our opponents failed,” Ms. Richards said.

House Republicans have promised there won’t be any end any time soon to the smear campaign. They’re launching a select committee to supposedly investigate the information in the videos. Just like Benghazi. Another committee spending oodles of taxpayer dollars investigating nothing, but designed to attack the frontrunner in the presidential race, who just happens to be a woman, and an organization devoted to providing healthcare to women.

The latest “gotcha” seems to be the “revelation” that PP does not perform mammograms.  Over and over again at the hearing yesterday, the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer mammograms was held out as some kind of proof that the organization doesn’t provide women’s health care. The GOP seems obsessed with mammograms, as if that and abortions are the only aspects of womens’ health.  Since PP does not perform mammograms, they MUST be doing abortions full-time.  Which of course is nonsense.

Let’s get a few things clear:

Planned Parenthood never hid the fact that it doesn’t do mammograms.  It’s right there on its website (“Where Can I Get A Mammogram?”)

In fact (MEN of the Congressional committee), there’s no reason for them to have mammogram machines on premises. Most gynecologists don’t do them on premises, but refer women out to another location for a mammogram, because mammogram facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology.  Also, Planned Parenthood is, as its name suggests, a family planning clinic and therefore has much to do with sexual health.  Most women don’t start getting mammograms until they are past child-bearing years.  Therefore, it would be a waste of resources for Planned Parenthood facilities to have those machines (and licensed radiology staff) on premises.  So while PP screens for cancer and other womens’ health issues, it doesn’t actually perform the actual mammograms.

It is interesting, from a tactical perspective, that a lot of the focus was on mammograms yesterday.  Oddly enough, that isn’t going to endear the GOP to women voters.  And that is ultimately why I don’t feel there is much threat to Planned Parenthood….

Because a nationwide USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds Americans back government support for the group by more than 2-1.  Two-thirds of those surveyed, 65%, say funding should continue for the group, which provides contraception, cancer screening and other health services to women; 29% say it should be cut off.  91% of Democrats support PP funding, but even 59% of Republicans.

Like I said, this is a battle with high emotions.  But the war has already been won.  PP is not going anywhere and they don’t need me to stand with them (although of course, I do)

It doesn’t help PP opponents that they lie so brazenly.  The blue ribbon goes to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who tried to ambush Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards with a bizarre “chart” that purported to show that Planned Parenthood had nearly ceased providing breast exams and cancer screenings, while the number of abortions radically increased.

Here’s the exchange:

Here’s a clear image of that “chart”, which Chaffetz says (lying) that it was pulled from a PP corporate website.  Notice that 1) it starts in 2006, and 2) the numbers are ridiculously out of whack because the chart lacks a Y axis. “Cancer screening and prevention services” actually have declined while abortions have increased; cancer screenings end up at more than 935,000, while the number of abortions ends at 327,000. But the chart is presented in a deceptive way to make it look like there are now three times as many abortions as cancer screenings, which is ludicrously false. The truth is exactly the opposite.

fakechart

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum replotted the data for this chart, but added a Y axis (which we all learned in grade school math, right?)

correctchart

And if you add in the other services Planned Parenthood provides, specifically STD screening and contraception, the chart looks even more real.

reallycorrect

But…. these are facts and numbers, something the GOP (and PP haters) have no use for.  Well, except to create lies.

Kim Davis Secretly Met With The Pope

Not much of a secret anymore:

Pope Francis met privately in Washington last week with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a Vatican spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.

Ms. Davis, the clerk in Rowan County, has been at the center of a nationwide controversy over whether government employees and private businesses have a legal right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. She spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal court order to issue the licenses.

On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon.

On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.

Ms. Davis described the meeting in an interview on Wednesday with ABC News.

“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Ms. Davis said. “And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’ ”

“I was crying. I had tears coming out of my eyes,” she said. “I’m just a nobody, so it was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”

Mr. Staver, her lawyer, said Vatican officials had been aware of Ms. Davis, and that the meeting had been arranged through them — not through bishops or the bishops’ conference in the United States. He would not identify the Vatican officials.

In his public addresses in the United States, the pope spoke in broad strokes about the importance of religious freedom. On the plane trip home, an American television reporter asked him about government officials who refused to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The pope said that he could not speak specifically about cases but that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”

“It is a right,” Francis said. “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

The pope did not mention Ms. Davis, but added: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise, we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘This right, that has merit; this one does not.’ ”

While in Washington, Francis also made an unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that is suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

Ms. Davis and her husband were in Washington anyway to receive an award from the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, in recognition of her stand against same-sex marriage.

During Ms. Davis’s visit to the Vatican Embassy, “the pope came to her and held out his hand,” Mr. Staver said.

Ms. Davis asked the pope to pray for her, which he said he would, and then the pope asked Ms. Davis to pray for him, Mr. Staver said. They spoke in English, he said, and the pope gave the Davises two rosaries. Ms. Davis gave the rosaries to her mother and father, who are Catholics.

Many on the left are disappointed because they hoped that the Pope would be on our side.  And he is, on many issues (climate change, for one).  But as has been said so many times, this Pope (like all Popes really) does not fall into the left-right schism that we have in this country.  So we just have to eat this one.

Sexual Violence On Campus — Worse Than We Thought

One of the largest-ever surveys on campus sexual violence was conducted recently by the Association of American Universities.  More than 150,000 students across 27 colleges were surveyed,  The results, released Monday, are terrible.

The survey asked students whether they had experienced events ranging from sexual touching to forcible penetration. If they answered affirmatively, they were asked follow-up questions about the circumstances and the event’s aftermath, including whether they reported the incident to law enforcement or a campus authority. Some scenarios that appeared in the survey fit the legal definitions for rape and sexual battery, while others involved incidents that universities typically consider to be sexual misconduct. Other questions measured attitudes toward campus sexual assault and how often students intervened when they observed potentially risky situations.

The participation rate of respondents was low, which might call into question the validity of some of these results.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • More than 1 in 5 undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault.The AAU’s findings suggest sexual-assault rates are slightly higher than the widely cited yet disputed statistic that 1 in 5 college women are victims of sexual assault. According to the survey, 23 percent of female respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact due to physical force, under the threat of physical force, or while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Among seniors nearing graduation, that number rises to 1 in 3.
  • In the last academic year alone, 11 percent of respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. That’s around 16,500 students across the 27 institutions.
  • First-year students are are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Sixteen percent of freshman women said they experienced sexual contact under physical force or incapacitation.
  • The vast majority of students don’t report sexual assault or misconduct. While most victims said they confided in a friend, family member or someone else, only 26 percent of students who experienced forcible penetration filed an official report. More than half of those victims said they didn’t consider the event serious enough to go to the authorities, while one-third of said they were “embarrassed, ashamed, or that it would be too emotionally difficult.” Others said they “did not think anything would be done about it.” Students were much more likely to report certain kinds of events than others, with reports filed by 28 percent of stalking victims but only 5 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual touching while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.​
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming students experience sexual assault and misconduct at higher rates than their peers. These students comprised 1.5 percent of survey respondents, but nearly 40 percent of seniors identifying with this group said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in college, compared to a third of senior women. They’re also less likely to believe the university will conduct a fair investigation or take their reports seriously.
  • Response rates were low. About 19 percent of students across the 27 universities chose to respond to the online survey, which was conducted during a three-week period in April. The survey notes that nonvictims may be less likely to participate, skewing incidence rates slightly upward. Still, final participation rates were well below the the rates of similar studies.

Here is the survey if you want to go deep-diving into methodology and results:

Clinton Addresses College Sexual Assaults

I’m not sure the President of the United States holds a lot of cards when it comes to the administration of universities, but Clinton is certainly going to try:

“As president, I’ll fight to make sure every campus offers every survivor the support she needs and will make sure those services are comprehensive, confidential and coordinated,” she said, adding that sexual assault survivors include men and the transgender community.

“Rape is a crime wherever it happens and schools have an obligation. I think it’s both a legal obligation and a moral obligation, to protect every student’s right to get an education free from discrimination, free from fear.”

That legal obligation falls under Title IX, which protects against sex discrimination in all federally-funded education programs, as well as the Clery Act, which mandates crime reporting and certain resources for survivors.

Noting a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that one in five women reported being sexually assaulted during college, Clinton outlined the need to shore up services for survivors as well as bolster “prevention efforts to change attitudes associated with violence.” She said that the issue “is a lot bigger than a single conversation at freshman orientation” while praising the work of those working to address the problem.  One of the improvements Clinton hopes to make involves “strengthening the disciplinary process for both the accuser and the accused”.  I don’t know that means exactly.

Cheap Clothes Of Exploitation

At 6:45 p.m. on November 24, 2012, the fire alarm went off on the fourth floor of a nondescript building in the suburbs of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Inside, nearly 1,200 garment workers were on deadline, scrambling to complete an order. When the bells started ringing, they asked if they could leave. Their managers told them to go back to their machines.

Five minutes later, the floor filled with black smoke; screams could be heard from below. The building had no sprinklers or fire escapes. Workers tried to flee down an internal staircase, but the exits were locked. Those on the lower floors were trapped by boxes of yarn and clothes that had already been completed. The fire eventually engulfed the building, killing at least 112 people and injuring hundreds more. Some broke their backs and legs jumping from the windows.

Most of the workers inside the Tazreen garment factory were making clothing for Western brands: Dickies, Wal-Mart, Disney, all their logos showed up on labels pulled from the rubble. But Tazreen wasn’t yet another example of corporations failing to police conditions in their factories. It was an example of how doing so has become impossible.

These big retailers didn’t even know that the clothes they were selling was being made in Bangladesh.  Wal-Mart, for example, never actually placed an order with Tazreen. In fact, over a year before the fire, Wal-Mart inspected the factory and discovered that it was unsafe. By the time of the fire, it had banned its suppliers from using it.

So here’s how its products ended up at Tazreen anyway: Wal-Mart hired a megasupplier called Success Apparel to fill an order for shorts. Success hired another company, Simco, to carry out the work. Simco—without telling Success, much less Wal-Mart—sub-contracted 7 percent of the order to Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group, which then assigned it to Tazreen. Two other sub- (or sub-sub-sub-) contractors also placed Wal-Mart orders at Tazreen, also without telling the company.

This is the nature of the fashion industry today.  It’s tempting to think that we can do something about this. Under scrutiny from environmental and human rights groups as well as consumers, some retailers have come under fire for being unaware of where their suppliers get materials, or of the conditions that laborers in their supply chain work under. But the truth is, many companies don’t know when their suppliers use subcontractors without their knowledge.  Some of these suppliers even put fake “Made In The USA” stamps on them, so that the ultimate seller and buyer at the end of the supply chain are BOTH fooled.

And on top of the Wal-marts and Nordstrum’s, you have new smaller retailers, who avoid brick-and-mortor stores and sell through direct marketing or the Internet.  These small companies simply do not know (or even care to ask) where their products are manufactured.  And even if they do ask, they lack the financial and political clout to know if they are being lied to.  They certainly don’t have the resources to conduct what is called “independent supply chain oversight.”  It takes a detective to figure out where these clothes and other products are actually made.

So if you are a mindful consumer of clothes, and even if you could determine where your clothes are made, what country of manufacture should you avoid?  Well, the biggest culprit countries are just those that you would expect: China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Myanmar.  China, for example, has moved toward “equal rights”, but the clothing employ migrant workers — workers unprotected by China’s “equal rights” laws.  (By the way, the same holds true for the high tech industry, as Apple, Foxxcomm, and Samsung know all too well with the repeated suicides of Chinese workers).

As a result, rural migrant workers find themselves trapped in appalling working conditions.  There are reports of women who soil themselves as they work in order to meet production demands.  They earn extremely low wages – the average monthly salary including overtime is CNY 1,690 (about $160).  Migrant workers endure long working days, work seven days a week, many without an employment contract and face constant discrimination, not to mention sexual abuse and rape from their “overseers”. The women are housed in small cramped dormitories, up to 6 women per room.   There is no maternity leave, and with no childcare facilities and working weeks of more than 70 hours many are forced to send their children to live with family in the countryside.

And they also work in a communities that are sick.  In one Chinese industrial province, for example, a dye factory has polluted the local water supply, affecting all the workers who are housed there, regardless of whether they work in that dye factory or not.  And of course the factories themselves, as the Tazreen incident shows, are below and kind of reasonable building code.

But I’ll leave the rest to John Oliver who, if anything, understates the problem:

And remember that when you buy cheap but well-made clothing, there’s a reason why it’s so inexpensive.  It’s not because the seller loves you and wants to make you happy. It’s not because it was made in the USA (because US factory workers are unionized and cost $$$$).

It’s because at the other end of the supply chain is an oppressed woman, or young girl.

Failing The Bechdel Test

Know your memes, people.  If you don’t know what the Bechdel Test is, this is how wikipedia describes its:

The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

The Bechdel test is used to demonstrate how one-dimensional women are depicted in fiction.

It is surprising how many movies, for example, fail the Bechdel Test.  The website bechdeltest.com is a user-edited database of some 4,500 films classified by whether or not they pass the test, with the added requirement that the women must be named characters. As of April 2015, it listed 58% of these films as passing all three of the test’s requirements, 10% as failing one, 22% as failing two, and 10% as failing all three.

Writer Charles Stross noted that about half of the films that do pass the test only do so because the women talk about marriage or babies.  This isn’t necessarily misogyny — even movies and TV aimed at women fail the Bechdel test more often than not (see, Sex and the City).

The phrase comes from the cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who, in a 1985 strip from her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, introduced the idea as a winking criticism of male-dominated movies:

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(Actually, it should be called the Bechdel-Wallace test, as The Atlantic informs us today).

Why do I mention this?  Because someone new has failed the Bechdel test — a different Bechdel test.  Because Ms. Bechdel is also known for writing the graphic autobiographical novel, Fun Home (now a Broadway musical).  And it was assigned to incoming freshman at Duke University.  But there’s a problem:

….Duke University…  politely request[ed] that the incoming freshman class read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, an award-winning graphic novel that has (as CNNputs it) “sexual themes and use of nudity.” That’s right, America: Use. Of. Nudity.

Fun Home is an autobiographical story about Bechdel’s childhood, with memories about growing up as a lesbian interlaced with memories about her occasionally abusive father and his (closeted) homosexuality. It’s has won numerous awards, the most prestigious of which is its inclusion in The A.V. Club’s list of the best comics of the ‘00s. Prestige aside, though, it does have sexual themes and use of nudity, so—according to The Duke Chronicle—a handful of the school’s incoming freshman have declared that they refuse to read it on the grounds that it is new and scary.

Or, as one such freshman put it on his Facebook: “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.” That same student said that Duke’s decision to put Fun Home on a recommended reading list was “insensitive to people with more conservative beliefs,” adding that it was “like Duke didn’t know we existed.” The Duke Chronicle quotes another student as acknowledging that it “discussed important topics,” but she “could not bring herself to view the images depicting nudity.” One guy explained that the sexual content is fine and that he “might have consented” to read it in print, but the fact that it has drawings of boobs or whatever “violates [his] conscience.” Another student even suggested that Fun Home shook her entire perception of Duke, saying that she asked herself what kind of school would do something as horrible as suggest that incoming students read an award-winning book about a woman’s struggles with sexual identity.

Apparently, some students want to go to a prestigious college and keep their mind closed to new ideas.  It’s the school’s responsibility to step up and teach them. Duke should challenge these beliefs head-on, rather than dismiss these refusals to read Fun Home as minor quibbles.

Those objecting Duke freshmen would be far better served, watching and listeningto the amazing Sydney Lucas sing ‘Ring of Keys’ from the Broadway show. They might just learn something.

About Men’s Rights Advocates

I think men have certain limited issues that need to be addressed in the political arena (paternity leave, paternity rights with respect to child custody, for example), but to suggest that men are getting the short end of the stick in society is just plain silly, and tone deaf to real problems.  When I hear about “men’s rights” advocacy groups, my reaction to that is about the same as when I hear “white’s rights” advocacy groups.

But I kept an open mind as I read this article about men’s rights advocates.  And you know what?  These guys are just as abhorrent as I originally thought.  Now I just see them in three dimensions as opposed to two.

RELATED: Congrats to  Lt. Kristen Griest and Capt. Shaye Haver, who graduate today from Ranger School in Ft. Benning, Georgia.  These are the first two women to make the grueling cut. The intense, 62-day training course includes running at least five miles several times a week, swimming for miles in a combat uniform, a 15-mile march carrying a 65-pound pack, and an astonishing number of pushups in two minutes. Women had been historically excluded from Ranger school because it was thought they lacked the strength and stamina to complete the program, but these women proved otherwise.

Their class was initially comprised of 380 men and 19 women.  94 male members made it through (24.7% of all the men who started).  And these two women (10.5% of all the women who started)

 

Straight Outta Beating Up Women

I’m looking forward to seeing the N.W.A. bio-pic “Straight Outta Compton”, but I’m not surprised that the former N.W.A. members deal with the misogyny issue by, well, not acknowledging it.  Ice Cube recently was asked about it and he said that he doesn’t understand why “upstanding ladies” would come to the defense of the “bitches” and “hos” referred to in the group’s rap music.  Sadly, I think that misses the point, since the music talks about murdering and raping “bitches” and “hos”.  I think even “upstanding ladies” would agree with me: that’s still not okay.  And let’s not forget that Dr. Dre virtually ended the career of Dee Barnes (“Pump the jam, pump it up”) after beating her to a bloody pulp.

I expect the movie to say important things, and it certainly is timely given the national focus on police violence and race.  But my understanding is that women barely appear in the movie except as mothers, wives, and you guessed it, hos — which is misogynistic in its own way (the film’s producers include Dr. Dre and Ice Cube).  Too bad.  It almost makes me wish that they would put an asterisk in the corner of the screen along with statistics about domestic violence, particularly violence perpetrated against black women.

GOP 2016 Race Shorts

(1)  IRAQ WITHDRAWAL

Let’s get one thing clear, because I don’t think this is the first time it is going to come up.

Regardless of whether you think it was good or bad, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq was Bush’s idea, not Obama’s.  I say this because Jeb was on the campaign trail yesterday spewing nonsense:

The former Florida governor asserted that the Islamic State’s takeover of large swaths of Iraq in 2014 was a direct consequence of the “fatal error” of Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the country in 2011 after the eight-year U.S. military occupation. He claimed the withdrawal squandered the “success, brilliant, heroic and costly,” of the 2007 U.S. troop surge. He said Clinton “stood by as the hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away.”

Bzzzzzt!  Wrong!  Thanks for playing!  It was Jeb’s brother who set the withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, in an agreement that he signed with the Iraqi government in 2008.  And that withdrawal had already begun by the time Obama took office in January 2009.

So be careful of this lie.

(2)  IOKIYAR — FETAL TISSUE EDITION

Planned Parenthood is on the chopping block for selling fetal tissue (that would otherwise become medical waste) to medical researchers so that we can cure disease.  All the GOP candidates are lining up to condemn Planned Parenthood, including Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is rising in the GOP field:

Carson, formerly director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University medical school, said the benefits of fetal research have been “overpromised” and “under-delivered.”

He called it “disturbing” that some people don’t even realize the “callousness with which we are treating human life.”

Carson has explained that, at 17 weeks, a fetus is “clearly a human being.”

The problem is…. apparently Dr. Carson was not so put off the idea when he was conducting fetal tissue research. (And by the way, did you ever think we would have a candidate running for president who actually conducted medical research on fetal tissue?  Let’s just pause and contemplate that).  Oh, and the age of the fetal tissue he conducted research on?  17 weeks and…. wait for it…. 9 weeks.

Today, Carson said he did not support a ban on fetal tissue research.  He was asked to explain the apparent contradiction.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Carson called the revelation “desperate,” and ignorant of the way medical research was carried out.

“You have to look at the intent,” Carson said before beginning a campaign swing through New Hampshire. “To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

Carson went on to give a rather dishwater-y “not my department” response to his earlier use of fetal tissue:

“Bear this in mind about pathologists,” said Carson. “Regardless of what their ideology is, when they receive tissue, they prepare the tissue. They label it. They mark how it got there. Regardless of whether it’s from a fetus or someone who’s 150 years old, they bank them in tissue blocks. Other people doing comparative research need to have a basis. When pathologists receive specimen, their job is to prepare the specimen. They have no job opining on where the tissue came from.”

Taken together, it sounds like Carson is fine with fetal tissue research as long as…(I’m guessing)… the fetus dies a natural death?  Of course, that inquiry was never made when he was doing research, and/or he didn’t seem to care.

And let’s be clear — he didn’t merely “prepare the specimen” back in 1992 — he authored the research paper, so he has (arguably) some accountability for the material used in his research, including where it came from.

I don’t think this odd and murky bit of hypocrisy is going to sink Carson’s campaign (which will sink someday), but I thought it was interesting.

(3)  A LOOK AT KASICH

This guy is a Republican?  Sure he would have been A LONG TIME AGO, but not in this political climate.

CMTrAzxWwAQbeIR

 

(4)  CAGE MATCH BETWEEN TRUMP AND RAND PAUL

Get some popcorn

The Effect of The Video Releases On Public Opinion of Planned Parenthood

It appears that the video releases which show Planned Parenthood employees talking about the legal things they do could not be spun in a way to make Planned Parenthood look bad.  In other words, Operation Defund Planned Parenthood is a fail. Yougov, a right-wing polling firm, has found that people’s opinions of PP have barely changed due to the videos.

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Not surprisingly, those with a negative view of PP are misinformed about the organization. Asked what services they associate with Planned Parenthood – and given up to three choices – the opponents of Planned Parenthood overwhelmingly think of it as an abortion provider.  For supporters, the image is quite different.  More cite the organization’s role in providing contraception, sex education and pregnancy testing than see it as an abortion provider.

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Also not surprising — there are large gender and political differences in how Americans see Planned Parenthood.  Women have positive views while men are divided.  Democrats are overwhelmingly favorable; Republicans are not.  Young adults have very different views from senior citizens.

The video seems not to have moved many people and the overall opinion of abortion is similar to what it was two years ago.  Americans are almost evenly divided on whether it should be generally legal or generally illegal, though most who say it should be legal want some restrictions, and most of those who want it illegal believe it should be available at least in a few cases. Women (22%) are nearly twice as likely as men (12%) to say abortion should always be legal.  And while seven in ten Republicans say abortion should be illegal, most Republicans also say it should at least be permitted in special circumstances.

PP-3

So it is like I said the other day — in the scheme of things, the landscape hasn’t changed when it comes to abortion rights.

Facepalm Quote Of The Day

“We have no problem with the girls sitting on the bench. We don’t care who sits on the bench with the teams, that goes for anybody … to sit on the bench.”

– National Travel Basketball Association president John Whitely, after telling the boys’ basketball team, the Charlottesville Cavaliers, that they could no longer participate in the tournament because ten-year-old Kymora Johnson — a girl — was on their team… after they had already won five games in the tournament.

Jesus.

The New Word For “RINO” (And What It Says About Republicans)

In the early 2000s, just as the wars in the Middle East were ramping up, a new word started appearing in the Internet lexicon: RINO.  It stands for “Republican In Name Only”.  It is an insult hurled from Republicans to any member of the GOP who’s more liberal than a Republican “should be”.  Any politician tagged as a RINO — and many were — virtually became extinct in the GOP over the following decade, as fewer and fewer moderate Republicans got re-elected.

There is a new similar phrase floating about.  It is “cuckservative”.  It’s a play on the words “conservative” and “cuckold”. “Cuckold” in this sense has a sexual connotation:

A cuckold, of course, is a legitimate word for the husband of an adulterous wife — but that doesn’t really do justice to what they’re suggesting here, either. The people who throw this term around are most likely referencing a type of pornography whereby a (usually, white) man is “humiliated” (or ironically thrilled) by being forced to watch his wife having sex with another (usually, black) man. I’m not going to link to this, but feel free to Google it.

Being a combination of those two words, a “cuckservative” is a conservative who sells out his racial heritage — i.e., a race traitor.  Underlying the use of the word — which comes up ion debates about immigration reform, criminal justice reform, etc.– id the notion that whites should only support policies that help whites. The goal is to stir up fear among whites — “Don’t be a cuckservative” — and to encourage more tribalism and polarization.

Over at Salon, Joan Walsh is alarmed by the prevalent use of this word, a word rooted in racism and misogyny:

“Cuckservative” started showing up in my Twitter mentions last week, after I suggested Donald Trump supporters might not be the brightest bulbs. As I clicked around, I came to a shocking conclusion: I’ve been uncharacteristically downplaying the amount of racism and misogyny powering the right today. The spread of the epithet “cuckservative” is a sign that the crudest psycho-sexual insecurity animates the far right….

This is not merely a new way to shout “RINO.” It’s a call to make the GOP an explicitly racist party, devoted to the defense of whites. It’s no accident it’s taken off in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign launch/performance art, where he attacked illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.”

White nationalist Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute explained Trump’s appeal to Dave Weigel: “a) he is a tougher, superior man than ‘conservatives’ (which isn’t saying much), and b) he seems to grasp the demographic displacement of European-Americans on a visceral level. We see some hope there.”

Rush Limbaugh helped spread the term to the mainstream when he praised Trump like this: “If Trump were your average, ordinary, cuckolded Republican, he would have apologized by now, and he would have begged for forgiveness, and he would have gone away.”

The folks behind the term are also wildly anti-Semitic. Huckabee became a popular target after he claimed President Obama’s Iran deal was “marching Israelis to the ovens.” The guys who bray “cuckservative” hate Obama, of course, but they may hate Israel more.

These are the people that 17 presidential candidates are catering to.  And not one of them as the decency to say enough is enough.

Planned Parenthood, the Abortion Debate, and 2016 Elections

There is very little to recommend being over the age of 50, but one of the nice things is that it gives perspective and wisdom — the kind of experience that can’t be taught, but can only come from having lived several decades.

There is one thing I have learned – abortion rights are not going away.

notdifficultThat wasn’t always a certainty.  Roe v Wade was seriously challenged in the 1980s and 1990s, not only in the political arena, but also in the courts.  But that nadir of the conservative anti-abortion movement came in 1992, with the case of Casey vs. Planned Parenthood.  The Supreme Court was, like today, leaning conservative.  You had Scalia, you had Thomas, you had Alito, you had Rehnquist for crying out loud.  And they were handed, on a silver platter, a case in which Roe v Wade could have been overturned, or at least seriously curtailed.  The result was 5-4, with the conservatives losing.  The Casey case actually strengthened abortion rights.

Having lost in the legal arena, the anti-choice forces spent the next two decades challenging abortion in the political arena.  They have had some success there.  There was the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arises from incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother.  That was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993.  At the state and local levels, a hodgepodge of laws have restricted access to abortion through laws requiring waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, and over-regulation of abortion clinics (like requiring wide hallways).  But abortion itself remains legal.

The recent attempt to defund Planned Parenthood is probably the strongest national push against abortion since the Hyde Amendment.  It is quite obviously punitive in nature — since the Hyde Amendment already restricts federal funds to go to Planned Parenthood for abortions, the current legislative push seeks to defund Planned Parenthood of federal funds for everything else they do (cancer screening, etc.).  And why?  Because they sell “baby parts”, which of course is a crass and not-altogether-honest way of saying that Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue to medical research facilities in the hopes of curing disease.  Conservatives want to kill Planned Parenthood (the largest abortion provider) even if it means killing women’s health.

Of course, this dovetails nicely into the “war on women” meme.  And Hillary Clinton is right to pound Republicans on this.  This issue was a gift to her — she was sagging in the polls and Bernie Sanders has been making a serious play for the nomination (coming within 8 points of Hillary in New Hampshire).  Now she can talk about women’s health, and the Republican efforts to kill it.

I am perplexed as to why Republicans want this debate.  They seems to care more about two-celled zygotes than million-celled actual women.  After they lost the 2012 Presidential elections, they performed an autopsy of their failures, which included statements like this:

When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.

If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues…

The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have. There is growing unrest within the community of Republican women frustrated by the Party’s negative image among women, and the women who participated in our listening sessions contributed many constructive ideas of ways to improve our brand with women throughout the country and grow the ranks of influential female voices in the Republican Party.

But rather than do that, they seem to be doubling down on losing the women vote — going so far as to threaten a government shutdown.  At first I thought the talk of government shutdown was an empty threat, but maybe I am wrong.  Stan Collender at Forbes puts the odds of a government shutdown at 60% (up from his previous prediction of 40% ). Here’s his wonderfully descriptive way of saying what happened.

But the biggest change from last week in the odds of a government shutdown is because of the emergence of the one big thing that has been missing so far from the appropriations debate: a highly emotional, politically toxic and take-no-prisoners issue.

Even the front-runner in that contest right now – Donald Trump – declared his support for a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood. Any candidate who had doubts about whether or not a government shutdown would be good for their campaign will now have to weigh in with that in mind.  Also, we’ve already seen one example of a candidate making a mess of that when, in commenting about Planned Parenthood funding, Jeb Bush said yesterday that he was “not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” His campaign pretty immediately tried to walk that one back. Overall it’s very likely that, in order to win the GOP primary, these candidates will all wind up taking positions that their own autopsy suggested were one of the causes of their defeat in 2012.

The craziness of the high rhetoric of this 2016 election campaign is causing Republicans to shoot themselves in the face.  It is interesting to watch.

Everybody Hates Everybody

From First Read:

From the new NBC/WSJ poll we released last night: Almost everyone is in lousy shape. Hillary Clinton’s fav/unfav numbers dropped from 44%-40% (+4) in June to 37%-48% (-11) now — which gives her a worse popularity rating than President Obama has ever had during his presidency. Jeb Bush’s fav/unfav rating, at 26%-40% (-14) is even worse — and it’s worse than Mitt Romney ever had at any point in the 2012 race. And Donald Trump, who leads the GOP horserace, is at 26%-56% (-30). Ratings for other Republicans: Chris Christie (-13), Ted Cruz (-12), Rand Paul (-10), Mike Huckabee (-8), Scott Walker (-1), and Marco Rubio (+1). Even President Obama, who has enjoyed a renaissance in his poll numbers as of late, has seen his overall job-approval rating tick down three points to 45%.  So the American public is down on almost every political figure and institution in our NBC/WSJ poll. 

America is full of malcontents.

The site did offer some exceptions: Bernie Sanders (+5), John Kasich (+5), the NRA (+11), and Planned Parenthood (+15).

We’ll call that a wash, I guess.

I’m not terribly concerned about the defunding of Planned Parenthood.  This is all grandstanding and political theater.  This happened in 2011, too, and it hurt the GOP.  They were called (and rightly so) anti-woman’s health throughout the 2012 elections.  And it had a serious negative impact.  This is why Boehner doesn’t want the issue on his plate.  So Republicans in the House will debate and make speeches and threaten, but they know — and everybody knows — that there are not enough votes in the Senate.  And even if, by some miracle, it passes the House and the Senate, does anyone in their right mind think Obama will sign such a thing?  Of course not.

The problem for Planned Parenthood, initially, were the videos.  Conservatives thought they could do to PP what they did to ACORN — secretly film them doing bad things, and get Congress to defund.  After all, if the videos genuinely exposed a criminal organ harvesting operation, eliminating its federal funding would be an on-point response. In reality, the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is completely unresponsive to the full content of the videos. In an admirably clear-eyed analysis of the Planned Parenthood controversy, Robert Tracinski of The Federalist (which has otherwise been a reliable outpost of rote anti-Planned Parenthood disinformation) admits, “The case wasn’t about what it seemed to be about based on the selected excerpts we had been offered.” The most plausible rationale for this is that conservatives, who have a permanent axe to grind with Planned Parenthood, are using deception to threaten its viability, and make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions as a consequence.  And that is what they are left with: conservatives with an axe to grind.

I mean, the anti-choice crowd sent this issue gift-wrapped to Senator Warren:

So it is all kabuki theater.  Republicans get to grandstand and provide red meat for their base.  Planned Parenthood gets to fundraise off of being attacked again (which is fine).  But this too shall pass.

And not to sound like an old fogie, but I can remember a time when political satire in movies would have featured a political ad like this…. for laughs!

This just makes me embarrassed for my country.

Trump’s Lawyer May Be Dumber Than Trump

Another day, another Trump scandal.

This one is a little different.  Rather than Trump sending the media into a fervor, it was the reverse.

Trump, as we all now, has been making hay out of the supposed “rapists” that the government of Mexico is sending into America.  There’s no evidence that undocumented Mexicans are any more responsible for rape than any other group, and there’s no evidence that the government of Mexico is intentionally sending rapists to the United States.

But it’s Trump.

Anyway, The Daily Beast published an article quoting from a book written ages ago about Trump.  The book, from 1993, is titled Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, and in it, Ivana Trump (his first wife) reportedly made a statement during a deposition pursuant to the Trump divorce — that she was raped once by Donald Trump.  The details, according to the deposition according to the 1993 book according to the Daily Beast, can be read at the link.

Ostensibly, not much of a headline grabber, especially when Ivana releases a statement essentially denying the incident:

Ivana

So there it is.  And that would have been it, had Donald Trump and his staff just let it go.

But noooooo.

Trump’s campaign adviser and legal counsel weighed in:

Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, “You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

Uh, what?

Of COURSE a man can rape his spouse.  Sure, there used to be a “marital rape exemption” in almost every state, but now, non-consensual sex is, of course, illegal in all 50 states whether or not the perpetrator is married to the victim.

In New York, the marital rape exception was down away with in 1984, long before Donald and Ivana Trump divorced.  (FYI: In 1993, we saw the last state repeal the old rule holding that a husband could not rape their wife.  That state was North Carolina)

So Trump gets dinged by his own staff’s spread of misinformation.  How ironic.

But Mr. Cohen was undeterred from laying into The Daily Beast:

“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen ranted, according to the news website. “So I’m warning you, tread very f—ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. You understand me?

Nice.

In further irony, Trump is distancing himself from Cohen.

“Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump and nobody but Mr. Trump speaks for him,” a campaign source told CNN.

Cohen probably comes from that segment of conservative thought that believes there should be no such thing as marital rape.  In fact, there is a long history of conservative opposition to the very concept of marital rape. Recognizing that rape occurs within marriage requires believing that husbands don’t have automatic sexual rights over their wives’ bodies.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly has been a Republican delegate to eight national conventions, including in 2012. She ran for Congress on the Republican ticket, twice. She also has repeatedly said she doesn’t believe that marital rape exists.

“I think that when you get married you have consented to sex,” she said in a 2008 interview. “That’s what marriage is all about, I don’t know if maybe these girls missed sex ed.”

What The Judge Got Wrong (And Right) On Bill Cosby

That was a real tweet from a fictional person complaining about yesterday’s big story: Greece China The Presidential Election Bill Cosby.

It’s all that the news outlets talked about:

(CNN) Bill Cosby has admitted to getting prescription Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with, newly released documents show.

The documents, dating back to 2005, stem from a civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand — one of the dozens of women who have publicly accused the comedian of sexual assault. The records were made public Monday after The Associated Press went to court to compel their release.

I cosbysweatthought it was old news, to be honest.  With four dozen women making these claims?  Who didn’t think he was a rapist?  I mean, even if you assume (as I do) that some of these women are just hopping on the bandwagon and making up things just to get some money… it doesn’t erase the fact that… well, there’s a friggin bandwagon of women who have the same allegations.  Of course there’s truth there.  The question hasn’t been whether Cosby is guilty of rape; the question is how many.

I’ve never been a Cosby fan, but I certainly had nothing against him.  And when the rumors first came out, I, like most people, remained neutral (and a little saddened) by the allegations.  But at some point, it reached a critical mass, and like everyone (or so I thought), I was very saddened and disgusted.  Although… as it turns out… apparently, Cosby still had his defenders.  I wasn’t aware of that.  Hopefully, they have all shut up now.

Anyway, the reason we know about Cosby — and I mean, really know — is because a sealed deposition was made public by a judge in response to a motion by the Associated Press.  And unsealing a sealed deposition, that is very unusual.  And troubling.

There are many reasons why sealed court records (and depositions) are good things that serve a public purpose.  For one thing, they allow court cases to settle.  That unclogs the courts by quite a bit.  So having things sealed from the public encourages litigants to settle their cases rather than fight it out at taxpayer expense.

Sealed court records and depositions also allow people to continue with their lives, giving them second chances.  A good example of this is the teenage drunk driver or drug user.  Many times, after serving their “time” (community service or whatever), records of their arrest and conviction are sealed so that it won’t dog them forever.  I think society is best served by this kind of compassion.

So the practice of sealing records is a good thing.  But it only works if people believe that when something is sealed, it STAYS sealed.  I mean, if sealing a record gets me to settle a lawsuit, why would I settle if I believed that some court could come along years later and UNseal it?  For that reason, it is (and should be) a high bar for a court to come along and unseal a record.

With this in mind, I read the opinion and other documents relating to the sealed record (these documents are attached to this post, under the fold)….

… and I think the judge erred in some respects.

Essentially, the media has been reporting that the judge allowed the deposition to be unsealed because Cosby was a hypocrite — his public persona as a moralist is contradicted by his testimony in which he essentially admits to giving Quaaludes to women in order to rape them.  No, I thought to myself, if only because I believe that people are neither all “white” nor all “black”.  They are not entirely villains or entirely heroes.  Very good people can do some very VERY bad things.  We are ALL contradictions.  Hopefully our “bad” is not as bad as Cosby’s.  But the judge didn’t do it because Cosby had been bad.  He did it because Cosby was being contradictory in his “persona”.

Now, I’ve heard the phrase “Hitler liked dogs and children” as a way to say, “Well if the bad outweighs the good, what difference does it make?”  And I hear that.  I don’t think that whatever good Bill Cosby did — his charity, his work in children’s education, etc. — outweighs his crimes.  I’m just saying that he’s not a hypocrite for being both GOOD and BAD; he’s human. I’m saying we shouldn’t change the legal burden for unsealing depositions simply because he’s moral in some ways and immoral (to say the least) in other ways.

I’m not the only one to think this.  Smerconish covered this as well, and here the results of his poll are at the right.Smerconish

Let me be clear lest anything think I am a Cosby defender:  The judge said that the interests of the Associated Press outweighed the privacy interests of Cosby — but NOT because Cosby was famous, and NOT because he was guilty of rape (in fact, the judge said that Cosby is innocent until proven otherwise)…. but because Cosby was being inconsistent with his morality.  That’s the core reason why Cosby was not entitled to have the deposition stay sealed.

And I am asking the reader to THINK about that reasoning behind the decision, separate and apart from the facts (and grotesque-ness) of Bill Cosby: Should a person’s privacy be invaded by the courts because that person is “morally inconsistent”?  Because that is the precedent of this decision.  And that principle, applied elsewhere (applied to YOU, dear reader) should be troubling.

Fortunately, the judge considered other factors.  And fortunately, on those factors, I think the court got it right.  For one thing, the court noted that the deposition, which was 10 years old, was under interim seal.  The court said (correctly in my view), that if Cosby was soooooo worried about his private statements in the deposition, he would have made a motion to make sure the deposition was permanently sealed a long time ago.  But Cosby and his lawyers didn’t.

So I’m okay with the outcome, although only partially okay with the rationale.

In the end, Cosby is toast and that’s the most important thing.  The truth will out, one way or another.  And once again, we are having the much needed conversation about rape.  Sadly, it doesn’t sink in.  I actually heard Gloria Allred on CNN yesterday woman-splaining to Wolf Blitzer in an annoyed voice (I’m paraphrasing): “And guess what, Wolf?  Even if a woman says yes, and then later on passes out for ANY reason, it is NOT consent and therefore it is rape!”.  And I shook my head.  Of course Allred was annoyed — here we are in the 21st century, and people STILL have to be told these things, and it blows my mind.

SCOTUS Round-up: Three More Five-To-Four Decisions Today

Today is the last day of the SCOTUS term, and so they issued the last of their opinions.  The two biggest cases — on Obamacare and sames-sex marriage — came out at the end of last week, so a lot fewer people were paying attention this morning.  Here’s what happened:

(1)  DEATH PENALTY – The 5-4 decision in Glossip v. Gross was a win for conservatives who support the death penalty and viewed the case’s technical dispute over one state’s lethal injection methods.  The Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma’s “drug cocktail” is not cruel and unusual punishment, despite the fact that it has resulted in some botched execution.  Scalia was especially snarky in his concurrence, starting with “Welcome to Groundhog Day” as he noted repeated attempts to abolish the death penalty for good.  He also said that those who seek abolition of the death penalty “reject the Enlightenment”.  (Odd!)

(2)  ENVIRONMENT – The Supreme Court in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency ruled 5-4 against EPA regulations to limit mercury emissions and other pollutants at power plants.  Substituting its judgment for the EPA’s the Supreme Court said the EPA’s decision to impose the regulations was not reasonable or necessary since it did not take into account the costs to utilities to make these changes.  Happy breathing, everybody!

CIrTeTxWEAEYP2U(3)  GERRYMANDERING – In a win for liberals (Kennedy siding with the liberal four), The Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission upheld Arizona congressional districts drawn by an independent commission and rejected a constitutional challenge from Republican lawmakers. The outcome preserves efforts in 13 states to limit partisan influence in redistricting. Most notably, California uses an independent commission to draw electoral boundaries for its largest-in-the-nation congressional delegation.

The Arizona case stemmed from voter approval of an independent commission in 2000. The legislature’s Republican leaders filed their lawsuit after the commission’s U.S. House map in 2012 produced four safe districts for Republicans, two for Democrats and made the other three seats competitive. Democrats won them all in 2012, but the Republicans recaptured one last year.

CIrN-hRWcAE46YlJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court that there is “no constitutional barrier to a state’s empowerment of its people by embracing that form of lawmaking.” In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of approving a “deliberate constitutional evasion.”  The justices have been unwilling to limit excessive partisanship in redistricting, known as gerrymandering. A gerrymander is a district that is intentionally drawn, and sometimes oddly shaped, to favor one political party.

Republicans employed an enormously successful strategy to take advantage of the 2010 census, first by winning state legislatures and then using that control to draw House districts to maximize their power. One measure of their success: In 2012, Republicans achieved a 33-seat majority in the House, even though GOP candidates as a group got 1.4 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.

Chief Justice got a little snippy by inserting “what chumps” into the opinion (see right).

UPDATE – LATE IN THE DAY 5-4 RULING is good for pro-choice advocates:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to put a hold on court rulings that have reduced the number of abortion clinics in Texas.

Four of the court’s conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — dissented.

A state law passed in 2013 required clinics providing abortion services to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and it required doctors providing the services to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Women’s groups asked the Supreme Court to put an emergency hold on the effect of the law while they prepare an appeal to challenge its constitutionality. They say the law, which takes effect Wednesday, would force all but nine abortion clinics in the state to close.

“Overall, there would be a net reduction in abortion facilities of more than 75% in a two-year period,” they argue in their court filings. And the clinics that remain open would find it hard to expand their services.

So for now, enforcement of the Texas law is on hold and will remain so until the court decides whether to hear the full appeal.

UPDATE – EVEN LATER IN THE DAY 5-4 RULING is good for pro-choice advocates in North Carolina:

RALEIGH — A federal appeals court must reconsider whether North Carolina can issue “Choose Life” license plates.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling last year that the state could not issue a license plate with an anti-abortion slogan unless it also issued a plate with the opposite point of view.

The order to rehear the case came after the justices ruled 5-4 last week that Texas could refuse to issue Confederate battle flag plates. In that ruling, the Supreme Court said plates are government property and don’t have to offer both sides of the debate.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued when lawmakers voted to offer the “Choose Life” plates in 2011. The appeals court said governments must offer both sides of the debate.

The ACLU said it was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling and again asked the North Carolina General Assembly to offer a plate with a message supporting abortion rights.

“This case has always been about more than specialty license plates; it asks whether the government should be allowed to provide a platform to one side of a controversial issue while silencing the other,” ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook said in a statement.

Do College Rape Prevention Programs Work?

Surprisingly, there is not much research on this issue.  But last week, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine which helps shed light on the issue.

The study first noted what programs don’t seem to work well, or for which there lacks study.  Targeted programs for men and for women that have been evaluated for sexual assault outcomes have yielded disappointing results, the study notes, except possibly for “the bystander approach”.  The “bystander approach” is a program designed to increase men’s and women’s willingness to intervene when they encounter rape-supportive attitudes or behaviors, thereby changing the campus climate (i.e., men are approached as allies and not as potential perpetrators).  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be enough research done on whether the bystander approach actually works.

Other programs directed exclusively to women yield, at best, short-term benefits.  Even with a “booster session”, there are no clear benefits after 2, 4, or 6 months (depending on when the booster session is from the initial session).

The reported study focused on this program: A four-unit, small-group sexual assault resistance program (4 units, each consisting of three hours).  It was tried on first-year students at three major universities.  The results of those who took the program were compared to those who were simply given a brochure.  The protocol of the full program as well as the brochure can all be found here as a PDF, but basically it has:

  • a unit on assessment of risk (“Assess” – developing problem-solving strategies to reduce perpetrator advantages);
  • a unit on acknowledgement of risk (“Acknowledge” – exploring ways to overcome emotional barriers to resisting the unwanted sexual behaviors of men who were known to them, and practicing resisting verbal coercion);
  • a unit on response to risk (“Act” – effective options for resistance, including 2 hours of self-defense training based on Wen-Do); and
  • a final unit aimed to integrate content from the previous units into participants’ sexual lives, providing a context to explore their sexual attitudes, values, and desires and to develop strategies for sexual communication.

Not surprisingly, “the risk of completed rape was significantly lower over a period of 1 year among first-year university women who participated in a sexual assault resistance program than among those who were provided access to brochures on sexual assault.”  But this program also fared better than other women-only programs.  What was different about this program from previously studied ones?  A few things — this one “had more hours of programming, a greater number of interactive and practice exercises, less focus on ‘assertive communication’ and more on escalation of resistance in response to a perpetrator’s perseverance, and the addition of positive sexuality content (i.e., the fourth unit).”

Women who took the training also had lower incidences of attempted rapeattempted coercion, and nonconsensual sexual contact.  Where sexual coercion was involved, the study found lower incidences, although this was not statistically significant.  (“Sexual coercion” is defined as the verbal encouragement for the woman to submit to sexual activity, and is more common to already-existing relationships rather than stranger-stranger relationships).

Like all studies of this kind, there are some limitations.  For one thing, the incidences of rape, coercion, etc. are self-reported, which allows for the introduction of bias.  Also, the authors note, the program “is designed for women; effective interventions focusing on men’s behavior are also needed”.  Also, universities may not be able to finance programs of this scale and scope.

In any event, the study points to one of the few programs which has actually and quantifiably been proven to lower the incidences of many categories of sexual assault on campus.  For more about this, see the New York Times article.

The Crazy North Carolina Legislature

(1)  Jerks:

Lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would make North Carolina one of several states with 72-hour waiting periods for abortions. Gov. Pat McCrory said he planned to sign it, despite the urging of opponents who wanted him to stand by his statement during his 2012 campaign that he would not sign any further restrictions on abortion if elected. In announcing his plans to sign the bill, Mr. McCrory, a Republican, argued that it would not restrict access. Supporters have said that increasing the waiting period from the current 24 hours will give pregnant women more time to collect information. The bill’s House sponsors also said they hoped the measure would lead to fewer abortions. Democratic lawmakers and other opponents have said that there is no medical reason for increasing the wait and that Republicans are seeking to add more hurdles to a procedure that courts have ruled to be constitutionally protected.

(2)  Bigots:

The state Senate voted Monday night to cancel Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that would allow some North Carolina court officials to refuse to perform gay marriage activities because of religious objections.

The 32-16 vote was above the three-fifths threshold necessary to override a veto. The bill still must clear the House again for the veto to be blocked and the law enacted. That vote was scheduled for Wednesday in the House, where the outcome is less certain because 10 lawmakers were absent last week when the bill first passed.

McCrory, a Republican who vetoed the bill within hours of final legislative passage, saying no public official voluntarily taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution should be exempt from upholding duties. The bill followed within a few months of federal judges striking down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

UPDATE: (3)  Yes, I left out Ag-Gag, which makes me want to ag-gag:

Both the state House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of House Bill 405, a law that proponents say protects private property rights but opponents say muzzles whistleblowers.

Dubbed an “ag-gag” measure by its critics, the bill gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces. Animal rights groups say the measure is aimed at curbing the kind of undercover investigations that have exposed abusive practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

 

 

 

Catching Up

The merry month of May is a busy one.  Fortunately, not a lot is happening news-wise upon which I feel the urge to pontificate at length.  However, I few tidbits are worth at least a passing mention:

  • Yay, Ireland for the feckin’ landslide to legalize same-sex marriage.  Significant, I think, in light of the strong Catholic sentiment there.  Seems that Rome is really out of lockstep with much of the flock.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road is everything people say it is, for better or worse.  It’s adrenaline, which means that even if you don’t like it, you’ll enjoy the incredible effort that must have gone into making it.  Steampunk Mario Brothers, as they say.
  • RIP John Nash:

    John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind,” has died along with his wife in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was 86.Nash and Alicia Nash, 82, of Princeton Township, were killed in a taxi crash Saturday, state police said. A colleague who had received an award with Nash in Norway earlier in the week said they had just flown home and the couple had taken a cab home from the airport.

  • The Josh Duggar apologia from the Christian right has been pretty sickening.  The speed with which they “forgive” and pray for Josh Duggar is alarming.  Almost no mention of praying for his victims.  I’ve read so many articles that say, “Josh Duggar was wrong, BUT…..”.  And yes….. technically, he was an underage teen, but I don’t find that to be an excuse — at 17, you’re old enough to know not to molest your sisters and their friends in their sleep.  More importantly, we are learing more about the Duggar’s “purity culture’, and what it does to silence its victims.  And of course, all the forgiveness overlooks the ugly cover-up where the Arkansas Republicans worked to get the police record of the investigation into Josh’s assaults expunged.
  • This will probably develop into a more full post at some point, but I can’t quite get on board with the objections from some womens’ groups about the “gratuitous rape” scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  First of all, anyone who has watched the series at all knows that the show doesn’t pull any punches on a number of fronts.  Incest, horrific and bloody murders, rapes…. they are all in there.  I don’t quite understand why, in Season 6, some people are suddenly finding one aspect of this dark dark show to be objectionable.  Secondly, speaking specifically of the rape of character Sansa Stark two weeks ago, it was not (compared to other GoT scenes) very graphic.  There was no nudity nor was it violent.  It was tame by Game of Thrones terms.  But it was a rape.  And notably, everyone agrees that the scene was exceedingly disturbing…. as depiction of rape should be.  To me, a gratuitous rape scene would be one which was clearly thrown in just to thrill and titillate the audience.  This was not that.  I recall many years ago when Edith Bunker was raped on an episode of the 1970s hit comedy All In The Family.  It was, to my knowledge, the first depiction of rape on television (although the actual rape was not shown).  There was the same sense (in some corners) of outrage — what is rape doing on the entertainment box?  Well, I understand that people don’t want their comedies, or violent medieval dramas, sullied with real-life horrors.  But rape happens, and it is ugly.  I don’t mind that ugliness in my fiction, as long as it is not glorified, and especially if it gets people talking about it.

New Study Shows One-In-Five Women Sexually Assaulted On Campus

A new study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that almost one-in-five women experience sexual assault ion college.  The study, titled “Incapacitated and Forcible Rape of College Women: Prevalence Across the First Year,” which focused on first-year female students at one New York college, attempted to measure how frequently rape or attempted rape occurred by having female students fill out surveys throughout their freshman year.  I have attached the study below.

Of the 483 women who completed the questionnaires, 18.6 percent reported instances of attempted rape. Incidences of rape were significantly higher when alcohol or drugs were involved.

This isn’t the first study to give the 20% figure (or thereabouts)…. it is just another data point in the long debate.  The well-known “one in five” studies were not intended to be national data; neither does this study.

And yes, as with all studies like this, there comes a caveat.  Jesse Singal of the Science of Us blog writes:

It turns out it’s really, really hard to measure the frequency of sexual assault in any given setting. All the usual problems familiar to survey researchers and pollsters — among them the ease with which different people can interpret the same question differently, and people’s natural inclination to hide things they feel ashamed of or traumatized by — are compounded when the subject is rape.

This explains why some studies find a “one-in-five” result, while others place it closer to 0.6% (Read here for more on the subject of dueling data rates).  The study below is one attempt to pluck out some bias.

First of all, to help reduce the potential for bias in the respondent pool, the study was “buried” in a survey about general health.

Secondly, the researchers broke out their results into multiple categories of rape and were careful to separate out victims who were “only” groped from those who were actually raped, or who escaped an attempted actual rape.  They also broke into categories of incapacitated rape, or IR, which involves instances in which “alcohol or other drugs [were] used,” while forcible rape, or FR, deals with rapes in which the victim was physically overpowered.  As expected, IR was more common than FR.

But with all that in mind, the fact remains that sexual violence on college campuses is a persistent problem. For decades, conservatives have resisted calls for campuses to better protect women by dismissing the issue as overblown. Certainly, the fallout over Rolling Stone‘s botched campus rape investigation only fuels detractors willing to dismiss this problem.  But studies like the one published by the Journal of Adolescent Health to provide solid data should help legitimize the problem so that potential assaults might be avoided.

Another finding: the study found that women who had a precollege history of sexual assault were more likely to experience revictimization in college, particularly IR (incapacitated rape, both attempted and complete).  The study suggest that programs for women may be needed to address repeated victimization (as well as, of course, general sexual assault awareness programs for both men and women).

Geller: Blaming Me For Texas Shooting Is Like Blaming A Woman For Her Own Rape

Bill O’Reilly says he would have done it “another way”.  But that’s not the worst of it.

Greta Van Susteren — also on Fox — editorialized against Geller:

Van Susteren said that while the group has the right to exercise free speech, they should not have knowingly endangered police officers by doing do.

“It is one thing for someone to stand up for the First Amendment and put his own you-know-what on the line. But here, those insisting they were defending the First Amendment were knowingly putting others’ lives on the line,” she said. “Everyone knew this event would unglue some who might become violent and the police had no choice but to do their jobs and be there to protect against violence.”

“Was it fair to the police, to knowingly put them at risk by this unnecessary provocation?” Van Susteren asked. “I say no.”

The Mayor of Garland, Texas says Pam Geller’s anti-Islam event “invited” the attack:

Mayor Douglas Athas told the Dallas Morning News that he wished anti-Islam activist and conspiracy theorist Pam Geller had taken her business elsewhere.

“Certainly in hindsight, we as a community would be better off if she hadn’t [held it in Garland],” Athas told the newspaper.

“Her actions put my police officers, my citizens and others at risk. Her program invited an incendiary reaction,” he said, according to the paper.

Geller had a harsh response to this:

Geller — who previously compared what she called her defense of free speech to civil rights icon Rosa Parks going to the front of the bus — equated Athas’ remarks with rape victim-blaming.

“How ridiculous,” Geller told BBC Radio. “I mean, that’s like saying that the pretty girl was responsible for her own rape. The mayor is going after the defenders of free speech and clearly giving a free pass to the savages who came with guns to kill innocent people because of a cartoon.”

“It’s ridiculous in its face,” she added. “Shame on the mayor.”

The rape analogy initially has merit until you, like, think about it.

For one thing, a pretty girl — let’s even put her in a short skirt going about her own business — is doing just that: she’s going about her own business.  That is not a provocation to be raped.  By comparison, Geller was putting on a “draw Muhammad” exhibit specifically directed at Muslim extremists.

Geller knew she was risking the appearance of violence, and we know that because she hired extra security for the event.  By comparison, pretty girls in short skirts going about their business don’t routinely hire security to accompany them (nor should they) because they know they are not doing anything that should be consider provocative, dangerous, or risky.

I agree with Geller that she is not “responsible” for the shooting.  I agree that the fault lies with the shooters.  That goes without saying.  When it comes to legal culpability, the only guilty party is the terrorists.

But that should not be the end of the inquiry.  Very little in life can be reduced to such black-or-white thinking.

If the Westboro Baptist Church people storm a funeral with their “God Hates Fags” signs, and one of them gets punched out by a funeral-goer, the funeral-goer has committed assault.  But yes, the Westboro Baptist Church person was being provocative.  He/she was seeking the result that occurred, or at least daring a response.

Same with, say, a pro-choice doctor who decides to perform an abortion on the steps of the Vatican.  Free speech?  Sure.  Being a dick?  You bet.

Geller’s organization that put on the event, Stop Islamization of America, is recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center has a hate group.,

And unlike some people on the right, I find it VERY easy to support free speech while simultaneously condemning the speech that is being said.  Geller bears some responsibility for her blatent, NON-INNOCENT provocation.

And not for nothing, but the event really wasn’t about free speech.  Geller, after all, wants to censure Al Jazeera in American.  Her guest speaker at the event, Geert Walders, wants to ban the Koran in his country.

But even if we concede that the exhibit in Texas was “free speech”, the more accurate phrase — the one used in First Amendment law — is “incitement”.  And just like yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, incitement is not protected as free speech.  It is a borderline call, but Geller’s exhibit is incitement, or very close to it.  It is incitement targeted to a specific group. And that is what distinguishes the Texas event from a pretty girl wearing a short skirt just going about her business in a short skirt.

Let me put it another way:  you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.

Celebrating Nellie Bly

Google is celebrating Nellie Bly today with a little cartoony thing.  Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s has written a song in her honor, which is featured in the lovely Google Doodle created by artist Katy Wu.

Why Nellie Bly?  Today is here 151st birthday.

On the chance that you don’t know who Nellie Bly was, she was a pioneering female journalist many decades before women could even vote.   She was pretty bae.

In 1885, Bly wrote a furious letter to a Pittsburgh newspaper denouncing a column entitled, “What Girls Are Good For” that described the working woman as a “monstrosity” and said that women were best suited for domestic chores.  Impressed by Bly’s letter, Pittsburgh Dispatch editor George Madden hired her as a full-time reporter under the pen name Nellie Bly.  She was a trailblazing journalist, an unwavering champion for women and the working poor, and a brilliant muckracker. One of her most famous assignments was for the the New York Worldwhere she posed as a mentally ill woman and exposed the horrors of a women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island, as depicted here by Laura Dern in Drunk History:

Bly also achieved worldwide fame with her 1889 trip around the world, which was inspired by Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She completed her journey in seventy-two days, becoming the first woman to beat a fictional world record for global circumnavigation.  Okay, maybe that isn’t her biggest accomplishment.

Texas Hits A New Level Of Misogyny

Texas actually passed a bill which would require women to carry fetuses to term even if the fetus is suffering from a painful irreversible condition.  Slate reports:

Republican State Representative Matt Schaefer has recently proposed an amendment to the Health and Safety Code for medical facilities that would “prohibit the performance of an abortion at the facility on the basis that the fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality.” And as he explained last month on Facebook, “Fetal abnormalities should not justify taking the life of unborn babies.” In other words, regardless of the viability of a fetus, Schaefer would like to make sure that a woman be forced to carry it as long as possible.

This means that if there is a fetus that has some kind of condition which means it will not survive out of the womb, the woman must carry it to term anyway.  And then the born baby must suffer a very short, very painful life until it finally dies mere minutes after being born.  Why?  Why would Republicans want to put mothers and their offspring through this?

Because as [Schaefer] sees it, those fetuses “are going to suffer, they’re going to feel pain” and well, “That’s part of the human condition, when sin entered the world, and it grieves us all.”

Ah, suffer the children and all that biblical rot.

Houston Rep. Jessica Farrar, meanwhile, boggled that “I won’t even go into the level of misogyny I have experienced this session.” Appallingly, the bill passed before State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer quickly filed a legislative point of order that put it back under review.

Thankfully.

Amy Schumer and Women’s Issues

Comedian Amy Schumer’s brand of humor isn’t for everyone.  She’s a bit of a potty mouth (if that matters to you), and sometimes her sexual humor misses.  But other times, she is really on the mark about the objectification of women and rape culture.  Two examples of that are below… from the first show of her third season (“Inside Amy Schumer”):

Controversial “Feminist”?

Hard to believe this actually is happening in 2015:

One middle school class photo is getting a lot of attention — because of what it doesn’t include.

Eighth grader Sophie Thomas wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Feminist” in silver for a recent picture day at Clermont Northeastern Middle School in Batavia, Ohio. Yet when the teen — sitting in the front row of assembled students — saw a copy of the photo last week, she was floored to find that “feminist” had been digitally removed.

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“I was insanely upset,” the teen told FOX19 of the airbrushed edit. “I was just showing everybody that this is me, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to be my friend.”

According to Thomas, Clermont Northeastern’s Principal Kendra Young insisted that a class photo is no place for a statement that she deemed controversial. The student said that the administrator declared, ‘It was mine and the photographer’s decision to photoshop your shirt because some people might find it offensive.’”

Who???

Who would find this shirt “offensive”?

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To be sure, people like Rush Limbaugh sneer when they say that word, but neither the word “feminist” nor the concept of “feminism” is controversial or offensive.  Let’s open the dictionary, shall we?

Feminist

The article continues:

A recent poll, in fact, found that despite 85 percent of respondents agreeing that they believe in “equality for women,” just 18 percent identify themselves as feminist.

Why is the term such a hot button topic? “People used to think that it meant something queer, like associating with being a lesbian,” says Baumgardener [Jennifer Baumgardener, executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press at The City University of New York]. “Now it’s possibly associated for some with abortion. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so polarizing, but it’s not surprising to me that something labeled ‘feminist,’ is threatening. What it represents, on the deepest level, is the fact that women have all this power to make or not make life. For girls and women it can be hard to make friends with that power.”

Thomas, for one, has no such difficulty being a feminist and identifying herself as one. “People around here misconstrue the word,” she told Today. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re a feminist so you hate men.’ I just want to spread equality, and a lot of people here don’t agree with me.”

Having an 8th grader wear that word on her shirt “is like opening up a Pandora’s Box,” admits Baumgardener. “But if the school wanted to avoid controversy, though, they made the wrong move by editing her speech on her shirt.”

So it’s a “teachable moment”, I guess, but one that the adults — certainly the principal — should have already learned.

Campaigning “As A Woman”

The horrible thing about Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times (“Granny Get Your Gun”) is not what she says, but the existence of the op-ed in the first place.  For those of you not wanting to click through, Dowd writes about Hillary Clinton’s problem, which she describes this way: “She can’t figure out how to campaign as a woman.”

First, writes Dowd, Hillary came off too masculine, with too much “swagger” by voting in favor of the Iraq war, which (according to Dowd) caused her to fall behind a “feminized man” (presumably Obama) and lose the 2008 election.

Now, complains Dowd, Hillary has “overcorrected” and is running as a dotty old grandmother, driving a van and going to Chipotle.

Setting aside these and other numerous stupid observations, the article fails in its opening paragraph and premise, prompting me to ask….  Why should Hillary be campaigning “as a woman”?  What does that even mean?  And who in their right mind would ever think to ask that a man campaign “as a man”?

Tucker Carlson and Misogyny

Yeah, I’m not going to wade into this controversy, but I will give Tucker Carlson this free advice:

If you are being accused of misogyny, don’t respond by referring to a woman as a “chick”.

BONUS:  And Rand Paul is in hot water for “shushing” women reporters (which he’s done twice now).  Bad start, Rand.

CIA to Carrie Matheson: “Good Riddance”

So, this happened:

That’s an official tweet from the official Central Intelligence Agency to a fictional character — Carrie Mathison of the Showtime series, Homeland.  Next season, Carrie will no longer be working for the CIA.  The CIA tweet references a Sunday New York Times op-ed by Maureen Dowd which declared that Carrie’s “real-life counterparts” were thrilled that Claire Danes’ character would be no longer an agent:

The C.I.A. sisterhood is fed up with the flock of fictional C.I.A. women in movies and on TV who guzzle alcohol as they bed hop and drone drop, acting crazed and emotional, sleeping with terrorists and seducing assets.

Dowd quotes a number of women in the CIA, including Gina Bennett, who has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center for 25 years. Characters like Carrie “can leave a very distinct understanding of women at the agency — how we function, how we relate to men, how we engage in national security — that is pretty off.”

The agents’ personal anecdotes are fascinating: they describe briefing Condolezza Rice while in labor (“I’d tell her about the global jihad and then I would turn away and breathe”) and balancing post-9/11 anti-terror operations with parenting a teenager.

Certainly the women mentioned in the Dowd article are entitled to their opinion.  But I think they are missing the larger point.  Sure, Carrie Mathison doesn’t accurately portray a female CIA agent and sure, this portrayal is demeaning or unflattering– but she is not meant to mirror the typical female CIA agent.  Carrie Mathison is bipolar, compulsively sexual, occasionally predatory. She had a brief, horrifying fantasy about drowning her own baby in a bathtub. She should get to be all of these complicated, unlikeable, screwed-up things.  It makes for interesting drama.

The issue is that in a sea of cop shows, FBI shows, CIA shows, etc., there simply aren’t enough female characters, period.  If there were, then Carrie Mathison would be just one eccentric female character in a wide range of strong cop-like female characters.  And then, her eccentricities would not stand out so harshly.  The problem for Carrie, and female characters on television more broadly, isn’t misrepresentation. It’s under-representation.  Carrie Mathison is held accountable in this disproportionate way because she’s standing in for everyone.

Men don’t have this problem. This is why you don’t hear male high school science teachers fuming about how Walter White is a meth-cooking sociopath. This is why male homicide detectives didn’t get themselves into a tizzy over the drunk, dishonest practices of Rust and Marty on True Detective. This is why men who worked in advertising in the 1960s aren’t up in arms about Don Draper’s adulterous, alcoholic ways.  There are enough men in lead roles to counterbalance these “bad eggs”.

To be sure, there are some female characters who are competent and possess real power onscreen. Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope and Empire’s Cookie Lyon come to mind.  And even Carrie Mathison, in spite of her emotional malady.  But most women, even the so-called successful ones, spend an awful lot of time being sexualized, or at least reinforcing the stereotype that their success comes from sex.  The female reporters on House of Cards for example.  (And even Carrie Mathison uses sex in furtherance of her mission).

So, yes.  This is yet another post and yet another plea for better-written and more female characters.  This is the second golden age of television, they say, and this is still a problem.

False Rape Stories

Having a specific story in mind, and then going out to find the “facts” to support it.  Tell the dramatic narrative of ONE example to explain a larger phenomenon.  That’s what right wing media does (i.e., if they can find ONE example of voter fraud, then voter fraud must be a huge problem).  And apparently, that’s what Sabrina Rubin Erdely did as well.

For those unfamiliar, Ms. Erdely wrote a 9,000-word article entitled “A Rape on Campus” for Rolling Stone.  The November 2014 article described a gang rape at a University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012.  The story relied on solely on one source: the supposed victim, a student known as Jackie.

A four-month police investigation found no evidence that the incident occurred.  Subsequent investigations by other reporters and Ms Erdely herself identified errors in the reporting of the piece.

The Columbia School of Journalism report, commissioned by Rolling Stone, was released yesterday, and described Erdely’s article as “a story of journalistic failure”.  The Columbia School of Journalism report said the magazine failed to use “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify the details after Ms Erdely failed to contact the alleged attackers.  “The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking”, and there were “systematic failures” at the magazine, the report said.

Rolling Stone officially retracted the story today.

Sadly, the whole upshot of this is that it undermines work to stop sexual violence.  The Columbia School report even notes that “the magazine’s failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations”.

There is, however, a bit of a saving grace.  Not only did Jackie not hand a specific man over to the authorities, but the report suggests that “Drew,” the ringleader of the gang rape Jackie describes, may be a fictional character. (Jackie described him as both a member of Phi Kappa Psi and a lifeguard at the Aquatic and Fitness Center. No such person fitting this description exists.) Instead of trying to bring her supposed rapist to justice, Jackie did everything in her power to stonewall any attempt to find him.

Jackie’s behavior is consistent with what experts in the field have reported regarding false rape reports, which is that they are rarely accusations of actual people.  “[V]ictims who fabricate a sexual assault report may not want anyone to actually be arrested for the fictional crime,” explain researchers for a report for the National Center for Prosecution of Violence Against Women. “Therefore, they may say that they were sexually assaulted by a stranger or an acquaintance who is only vaguely described and not identified by name.” This makes perfect sense. As I can attest to, story-fabricators generally do it for sympathy and attention, not because they want anyone to get into trouble. Not to mention that falsely accusing a specific man makes it that much more likely you’re going to be found out.

So when a woman makes a specific allegation against a specific attacker — which Jackie didn’t do — this is not likely to be a “false rape” report.  Still, anti-feminists are surely going to use this story to cast doubts on rape accusations that have nothing to do with the Jackie situation. Andrea Tantaros of Fox News has already tried, using the Rolling Stone story to argue that the attention paid to the campus rape issue is “a war happening on boys on these college campuses” and that the accused have “no opportunity to confront witnesses and to present a defense.”  But how could “Drew,” who appears to be a fictional character, have defended himself? And why would he need to, as “Jackie” never reported this rape in the first place?

Jackie’s apparent lying will certainly be used against future accusers, who accuse specific men of specific crimes. But that is comparing apples to oranges. The Rolling Stone mess is a story about a woman who probably made things up to get attention and sympathy. That doesn’t prove the widespread allegation that women routinely redefine consensual sex as rape to get revenge.

P.S.  On a different note, it is pretty amazing that Rolling Stone has chosen not to fire Erdely.

It’s Perving and Slut-Shaming Season

Like clockwork, around this time of year, Sean Hannity has the unpleasant job — no, he really hates doing this — of telling his viewers about the terrible terrible debauchery going down in Florida, as students flock to places like South Padre Island or Daytona Beach to drink, do drugs, have wild and glorious hook-up sex — all the things we think they’re doing in their dorms, but now are doing on the beach.  And thankfully, they are doing it on the beach so that Hannity and Fox News can send their cameras and correspondents down there to film all the youthful shenanigans like drug-doing and boob-showing and swear-saying and drink-drinking, and then, from the safety of their studio, tut-tut at the perky sinful bodies of today’s youth and clutch their pearls at the frilly frolicking.

This year Hannity sent a Fox blonde — does it really matter which one? — once again down to Panama City Beach for a “Hannity Exclusive”, which involves her going up to a black guy and saying to him, “When I was at spring break there was underage drinking and alcohol, but I hear it’s gotten a lot worse. I hear there’s, like, drugs and guns.”  Her interviewee walks away saying, “Yeah, I don’t know nothing about that,” and then the Fox Blonde says, “Come here, what’s this? He’s smoking marijuana.”

Back in the studio, Hannity and Fox Blonde are very very concerned about the marijuana and the sex-having and the bad things that these young adults are doing while two-thirds of the screen is devoted to hot bods and twerking. You know, so that Fox News viewers know what they’re talking about.

But don’t take my word for it.  See for yourself.  Perv.

I don’t know. Maybe there is a story there. With all that alcohol and testosterone, it wouldn’t surprise me if some women — somewhere — are being taken advantage of. But I see no evidence of that in their story, and Fox News is not reporting that. Fox News is not INTERESTED in reporting that. It just wants to get all high-brow about youth’s morals. Ugh

Attacking The Rape Kit Backlog

A couple years ago, two Texas Republicans —  Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate and by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House — introduced a common sense bill called The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, also known as the SAFER Act of 2012.  It would have reallocated $117 million to help make a dent in the nationwide backlog of untested “rape kits,” which contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults that can help identify perpetrators.

Why?  Because — incredibly — 400,000 untested kits sitting in labs around the country — the DNA swabs, hair, photographs, and detailed information gathered from victims of sexual assault and used as evidence for the prosecution to convict rapists — have never been tested. Testing kits can be expensive, and in many jurisdictions, a lack of funds has resulted in kits being consigned to dusty shelves, stored in abandoned police warehouses, or stowed away in forensic labs—sometimes for years. As a result, survivors may never see their rapists prosecuted, and repeat offenders continue to commit crimes.

Both parties were behind the bill (yes, it can happen), except for tea party politicians who tried to derail it.  Fortunately, they failed.

The bill passed and was signed into law (except the funding is down to $41 million).  And beginning last week….

…the Department of Justice began accepting applications from states, counties, and municipalities that want to use the federal dollars to tackle their rape kit backlogs. Officials in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland, and Houston tell Mother Jones that they’re planning on applying for some of the funds. “The grant shows an investment on all levels, national to local,” says Doug McGowen, a coordinator in the sexual assault response unit in Memphis, Tennessee.

These types of grants have worked in the past:

In 2011, Houston received a grant from the National Institute of Justice, a research branch of the Department of Justice that has distributed millions of dollars to cities over the past 12 years to eliminate backlogs. As of February, Houston had cleared its entire backlog of rape kits.

There are other success stories. Kym Worthy, the chief prosecutor of Wayne County, Michigan, discovered 11,341 untested rape kits in 2009 in a foreclosed police evidence warehouse. Since then, she’s secured millions of dollars from the federal government, the state of Michigan, and independent advocacy groups to test 2,000 kits as of last January. Testing in Detroit revealed 760 DNA matches in the criminal database. The Prosecutor’s Office identified 188 potential serial rapists and obtained 14 convictions across 23 states and the District of Columbia.

I don’t know how the statute of limitations effects accusations of rape — I’m sure it varies from state to state — but as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.  It’s a travesty that hundreds of thousands of women have taken the first step — using a rape kit — only to have those tests sit on the shelves collecting dust and never being analyzed.  Hope this starts to change.

For more information, go here.

UPDATE:  In North Carolina, the amount of the backlog — or even if there is one — is unknown.  There was a backlog at one point, and the state attempted to address it back in 2006.

RELATED:  Speaking of rape, congressional Republicans are adding language to an anti-sex trafficking bill, the result meaning that children trafficked for sex work will have a harder time getting an abortion should the become rape victims:

Republicans in Congress claim the anti-abortion language that is threatening to sink an otherwise uncontroversial sex trafficking bill is the same innocuous provision that Democrats have routinely approved in spending bills. Even the White House this week declined to say that President Barack Obama would veto the bill with the abortion restrictions in it, suggesting it’s a poison pill the administration might be willing to swallow.

The anti-abortion provision would renew a restriction that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger, and would extend the same restrictions to the compensation funds paid to victims of human trafficking. This means that child sex trafficking survivors who have become pregnant from rape would be forced to jump through numerous extra legal and administrative hoops in order to prove they were raped so they can use their victims’ compensation funds to help pay for their abortion. Often, these victims are young, have endured multiple rapes per day, and are not prepared to confront a deeply confusing and inconsistent legal system.

Ugh

I’m Jes A Girl Who Cain’t Say ‘No’…. Rape Culture and “Yes Means Yes”

Last September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law mandating that California universities take certain steps regarding their sexual assault policies.  Many of the changes are common-sensical, i.e., a student who is intoxicated or asleep cannot be said to have “consented” to sex.  (This might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people wonder about that).

But the law, which went into effect a couple weeks ago, is not without controversy.  Most notably, it contains a clause which states that there must be “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”  It is more commonly known as the “yes means yes” standard, in which consent for sex has to be explicit. “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent,” the law says.

Libertarians, naturally, went ballistic over the law.  More government intrusion, they cried.  Now the government is regulating how students are supposed to have consensual sex, they screamed.

Many liberals agree that the law is intrusive.  But they are divided over whether the intrusion is good or bad.  As Ezra Klein at Vox puts it, “If the Yes Means Yes law is taken even remotely seriously, it will settle like a cold winter on college campuses, throwing everyday sexual practice into doubt and creating a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. This is the case against it, and this is also the case for it.”

In other words, yes, it is a terrible law because it is intrusive, and yes, it is a good law because intrusiveness is the point.

It’s quite true that the law won’t stop rapists who will simply say (as they do now) that they had “affirmative consent”.  Instead of “he said, she said” fights over whether she said “no”, there will be “he said, she said” fights over whether she said “yes”, as critics point out.

And even a third criticism of the law is that it encourages harassment.  As some have quipped, if affirmative consent is the touchstone, then “50 Nos and a Yes…. Means ‘Yes'”  In other words, a “no” no longer ends the discussion.  But with the new standard, a women can be pursued and harassed until she submits with a resigned “yes” (if ever).

These are all valid criticisms.

But the intent of the law is to get college-age men to stop and think about whether they have consent.  They need to know that they can no longer rely on silence or ambiguity.  And while that may be a small step forward, I think there’s a good argument that any step is welcome.

That said, here’s my problem with the “yes means yes” standard: it assumes that men have a problem understanding “no means no”.  And I don’t believe that.  Neither do many others.  As Amanda Marcotte writes:

Men who have sex with non-consenting women know full well that they are having sex with a woman who doesn’t want it. No one rapes by accident. They just pretend, after the fact, that they didn’t know she was non-consenting in order to confuse the issue. See this classic piece by Thomas MacAulay Millar at Yes Means Yes, regarding research that shows that men have zero problem understanding the difference between someone saying “hell yes” and someone saying “I’d rather not”, even if those ideas are conveyed through “soft” language or even body language. The man who sticks his dick in a woman who is asking if she can go home now or trying to put her clothes back on or pulling her body away knows full well that she is not consenting. He is not confused. He just doesn’t care.

I think that’s probably right.  Most men are not stupid.  The myth of the “accidental rapist” — the guy who misread the lack of consent — is just that: a myth.  We get the clues when a woman isn’t interested.  We get them even if the woman doesn’t say the magic word “no”.  It’s just that bad guys don’t care about “no”.  And those same guys aren’t going to care about the lack of “yes”.

So if the issue is removing ambiguity for consent, “no means no” works.  As long as “no” is said, that is, which brings me to an illustrative story:

Several years ago I spent a week in Costa Rica with a girl I was dating at the time.  One morning, she went down to the beach by herself.  Less than an hour later, she came back breathless with a harrowing story to tell.  As best I can recall, this is what she said happened: She was collecting shells on the beach when this “local” came along and started helping her.  There was some hugging involved, which she dismissed as cultural friendliness.  At some point, they left the beach to go up to the treeline, where they sat and talked (although apparently not much, since he didn’t speak English and her Spanish was limited).  He began to massage her arms; he began to massage her cleavage. Then he said something about going to get some weed, and he would come back and they would smoke it together and carry on.  So he got up to leave, and that’s when she made her escape (if I recall, he tried to cut off her escape, but she eventually found a path away from him).

Now, as an important aside, I should point out that this girl was a lecturer on the subject of self-defense for women.  She actually went to college campuses and held seminars about sexual assaults and how to defend yourself.  So you can imagine that I had a hard time understanding the details of her story.  How, for example, did things get to the point where he was massaging her arms?  Why didn’t it stop there?  Was he overpowering her?  (No, he wasn’t)  Did she say “no” verbally, or by pulling away?  (No, she didn’t).  What did she do as he was rubbing her chest — smiling?  (She hemmed and hawed)

I may have missed a fact or two, but the key point — which was made more clear when she retold the story — is this: she didn’t say “no”.  Not by words.  Not by subtle gesture.  Nothing.  And that (naturally) confused me, because my assumption was…. if she didn’t even TRY to say “no” in any way shape of form, and she wasn’t being overpowered, and she wasn’t drunk or incapacitated, and she does this stuff for a living, then it really looks like she must have wanted it.  And I (unhelpfully) accused her of that.**

She insisted that wasn’t the case.  She was thinking “no”, but fully admitted that she didn’t say  “no”.  She didn’t do anything to indicate disinterest.  Naturally, I asked her why.  She answered me with a string of excuses… “I didn’t because I didn’t want to be rude”; “I didn’t because the situation hadn’t gotten critical yet”, and even “I didn’t because I thought it was a cultural thing”.  On and on.  All kinds of reasons for her NOT to speak up.  All kinds of reasons to let him continue with his behavior.  What gives?

But it wasn’t to be my only exposure to the not-saying-no issue.  Another friend of mine teaches physical education to junior high girls and reports the same thing.  These girls go to parties and boys start to pay attention to them (which these girls, understandably, like).  But then the boys, being boys, get frisky, and maybe the girls get more attention than they are comfortable with.  But they don’t have the skills to say “no”.  Or even, “I like it better when we just kiss” or whatever.

So now, my phys ed friend does a unit in her physical education class on assertiveness — something different from self-defense (which, while important, only comes into play when you are in trouble). She teaches how to avoid trouble in the first place, i.e., how to communicate effectively to a guy that he needs to “downshift”… without severing whatever good time you might be having with him and without making a scene.

Others who work with girls in high schools report the same thing:

Our IMPACT Personal Safety instructors, who teach at private high schools around Southern California, see a majority of girls who, at the beginning of our boundary-setting lessons, don’t want to hurt the feelings of the boys who ask them out or initiate sex.

Some women never learn this.  We live in a society where men can be assertive, but if a woman asserts “no” — even in a polite subtle way — she’s cold and/or a bitch.  Some women don’t like to put on the brakes or “hurt someone’s feelings.”

I believe that was the trap that my ex fell into when we were in Costa Rica.  Smart as she was about physical self-defense in the face of a full-on assault, she was an amateur about being assertive in the face of an everyday unwanted advance.  She was trained (and taught) in a world of fight-or-flight; but was clueless in situations dealing with the more mundane situation of a guy coming on to her — a situation which could have been easily defused without fight or flight.  So what happened instead?  Rather than listen to her feelings which (according to her) were saying “NO”, she made excuses — bad excuses — for HIS behavior (oh, it’s his culture; oh, he’s being friendly; oh, don’t make a scene) — as if those things were more important than her discomfort about a stranger’s unwanted physical advances.  And THEN she found herself in bad situation (which, fortunately, she handled with aplomb).

So obviously, politeness is NOT more important than unwanted advances.  But many women grow up learning differently.  It is implicitly taught.

“Don’t make a scene.”

“Don’t overreact.”

“Don’t be that girl.”

We see this all the time.  Take a young woman who wants to go out to a bar with her girlfriends.  She wants to be friendly and gregarious.  She’s fine with meeting men, and striking up a friendly conversation with them.  But it often happens that….

there sometimes comes a point in a conversation with a man where it becomes necessary to draw the line and indicate that you are in no way, by any means, at all interested in pursuing anything further. There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction).

That’s Alicia Lynn Eberhart at Luna Luna in an article entitled “Stop Saying I Have A Boyfriend” (a great read, including the comments).  The article goes on about the various “inventive” ways that women go about saying “no” without saying “no”:

If you do a Google search for “how to avoid being hit on at a bar,” you’ll get several articles with “helpful” tips on skirting conversation with men you are not interested in. The majority of these list pretending to have (or actually having) a boyfriend/fiance/husband as the number one method for avoiding creeps (second to “pretending to be a lesbian” or “pretending to be crazy,” a la Jenna Marbles). In response to my complaints about men creeping on me at dance clubs in college, an ex-boyfriend of mine used to get cranky that I refused to whip out this cure-all excuse (one of many reasons he is an ex).

And she concludes with:

So what can we do? I think the solution is simple–we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested–if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist–”No, I said I’m not interested.”

I think any discussion of empowering women has to take this approach. California’s Yes Means Yes standard is fine if only because it makes men “tune in” and puts them on notice.  And it is probably fine for women who, sadly, are unable to say “no”. And it’s fine on college campuses, but you can’t make that a real world thing.

More importantly, as Thomas MacAulay Millar writes, men DO know when women say “no”, even when women use subtle clues.  If that’s true — and I believe it is — then all women have to do is learn how to say “no” without making excuses or making apologies.  And ideally, I think that’s what we want — empowered women who know they CAN say no instead of passively acquiescing to men treating them in ways they find objectionable.  Men should be held accountable, which means that women have to hold men accountable as it is happening.

The bad men are counting on the fact that women won’t make a scene.  They are counting on the fact that women won’t be impolite.  That’s how achieve their conquests in the first place.”

UPDATE: It’s been suggested that when it comes to the Costa Rica woman, or the female students of my gym-teacher friend, that I am blaming the victim.  I’ll cop to the plea of being an unclear writer at times, and if this is one of those times,then I apologize.  I won’t edit what I’ve written, but I will add this update.

This post is about the rape culture.  I discuss empowering women, and what we teach our girls.  In doing so, and by focusing on women’s behavior, I certainly am not saying or even implying that women in general – or any woman in particular — bear responsibility for the culture we have, or the situations in which women find themselves.  Anyone who knows me knows where I stand on these issues.  Still, let me not mince words and reiterate: the men/boys discussed here are responsible for their behavior.  They are the ones accountable.  The victims described here are just that: victims — women and girls placed in a position that they should never have to be placed in, and it goes all the way from boorish behavior at a bar to outright physical assault.  We talk about women saying “yes” or “no” or doing THIS or doing THAT, but that does not and should place responsibility (and its cousin, blame) on any woman for what she does (or doesn’t do) in those situations.  The men are responsible and (as I stress) they KNOW what is going on.  They are not clueless.  Period.  Full stop.  If you are reading this differently, then chock it up to my poor writing abilities, and nothing else.

** I wasn’t going to mention this, but since my ex has made it a personal issue, thereby ignoring the whole point of the post, I’ll inform whoever reads this that there were many other factors at play during this time. Any pre-judgment of my actions is just as unkind and ill-informed as any pre-judgment of her actions. I will also add this: when it comes to integrity, infidelity, and infidelity-blaming, a person who does not occupy the moral high ground would be wise not to throw stones.

Dartmouth Bans Hard Alcohol, Starts Sexual Violence Program

I can’t say if the sexual violence problem is worse now than when I went to college, or not.  I suspect, sadly, that it was just as bad in the 1980s.  We just didn’t know about it and/or didn’t do anything about it.

Still, it’s sad that it has come to this, but I give props to Dartmouth for taking this bold step.  Perhaps, with luck, other colleges will follow:

HANOVER, N.H. — Dartmouth College students are prohibited from drinking hard alcohol on campus and required to learn about sexual violence prevention each year under reforms announced Thursday by the school’s president. President Philip Hanlon, who has led the Ivy League school since mid-2013, created a “Moving Dartmouth Forward” steering committee last April to study problems he said were “hijacking” its promise: high-risk drinking, sexual assault and a lack of inclusion.

The plan he outlined Thursday includes banning hard alcohol for students on campus; implementing a mandatory, four-year sexual violence prevention program; ending pledge or probationary periods for all student groups; and creating new residential communities. “Our aspirations will never be realized if we fail to address a vital component: the environment in which our students live and learn,” he said in a speech to students, faculty and staff. “We must recognize a moment in time when change is necessary in order to reach our potential, and now is such a moment.”

Sexual assault on college campuses has been in the spotlight as students and the federal government demand stricter policies and stronger enforcement. Dartmouth recently overhauled its policies to include harsher sanctions and a trained external expert to investigate allegations. It will expand on that work with the new mandatory program, an online “consent manual” to reduce ambiguity about acceptable behavior and a smartphone app to allow students to easily seek help if they feel threatened, Hanlon said.

About “The Newsroom” Penultimate Episode

I am enjoying the last season of “The Newsroom”.  Like the first two seasons, the show is not without its critics.

And I agree with some of the criticism.  For one thing, Sorkin has beat a dead horse with his views on New Media vs Old Media.  Tellingly, New Media critics hate the show because Sorkin reveres things like fact-checking and trustworthy journalism and hates things like “citizen journalism” and crowd-sourcing.  He made that point most believably in the first show of the current season, pointing out how Twitter and Reddit users identified the Boston Marathon bombers before the police did.  And the Reddit users were wrong.  And I agree with Sorkin on this, but…. he makes the same point in every show.

The latest Sorkin episode contained a controversial scene *SPOILER ALERT*.  In the episode, Don Keefer, a television news producer, was ordered to find a college student who had started a website designed to allow women to anonymously name the men who raped them. He was told to persuade her to go on live television to confront one of the men she had accused. He found the woman, who argued passionately that the legal system had failed her and so many other rape victims. Don told her that he found her credible and found the accused “sketchy,” but could still not square the idea of naming men accused of rape with his sense of fairness, which he tied to the American judicial system.

To simply accuse the man on television meant no jury and no presentation of evidence, Don Keefer argued. And when Mary, the student, countered that her assailant was innocent until proven guilty only in the legal sense, Don said he felt “morally obligated” not to name a person who has not formally been charged with a crime.  And although he clearly empathized with this young lady, and others in her situation, Don was worried about accusers who would seek revenge for something and make false claims.

This scene was widely cited in a fusillade of criticism online. Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic for The New Yorker, wrote of the producer character: “He argues that the idealistic thing to do is not to believe her story.” On the Jezebel website, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote, “The most believable aspect of this scenario is that a pompous male journalist would choose to victim-blame a woman who was raped and attempt to justify it with the weak defense that it’s about journalistic ethics.”  And Libby Hill, writing for the AV Club, said: “Aaron Sorkin doesn’t understand who the victim is. He doesn’t understand how empathy works. And he, as a rich, powerful, white man in the United States, doesn’t understand that he is among the most privileged people in the world.”

I can’t agree with the criticism, most notably because it is either (a) wrong or (b) it doesn’t address Don’s concerns.

First of all, Sorkin made it very clear in the writing, and in the casting of the actress, and in everything, that Mary, the student, was not making a false allegation.  Don clearly believed her story; he said so.  That was not the issue.  The issue was… in the absence of any official action by the school authorities or the police, what should a rape victim in the fictional Mary’s case do?

To use the Internet for justice is, as Don suggests, a dicey proposition.  People make false accusations, and — even though there was no where Aaron Sorkin could have predicted this — there is a current non-fictional controversy about an account of rape at UVA as published by The Rolling Stone, an account which has since been retracted since the alleged victim’s story is… well, full of holes.

I think Keefer’s/Sorkin’s point was that there is no such thing as Internet justice, just Internet revenge.  And parading the alleged rape victim on television sitting in the same room with the alleged rapist isn’t going to result in justice either — it will be entertainment or worse than that, sports.

I certainly understand that anger of the critics of that scene.  The problem — which is reaching epidemic levels — is that campus rape simply does not get taken seriously and schools are doing a horrible job.  I think the frustration should be directed at the educational institutions, rather than whether or not justice can be achieved in some secondary and admittedly less satisfactory way.

UPDATE:  Sorkin addresses the controversy:

I really can’t speak to whether the public outcry is valid or not because I haven’t read it yet but let me say this: As callous as it may sound, the Princeton student was an alleged rape victim. There were two competing stories and the accused were purposely held offscreen. The accuser was purposely made very credible and sympathetic. I’m sure that when you watch To Kill a Mockingbird, you have no problem sympathizing with the accused and being reviled by the alleged rape victim and that’s because that’s the direction the storyteller was taking you. For better or worse (and I think it’s for better) our justice system isn’t about punishing the guilty, it’s about protecting the innocent. Even in a fictional world, where all you were told was that someone was accusing someone else of rape, and that the accused is “sketchy”, you’re bothered (I think) because I denied the accuser justice while giving a pass to the accused. The story was written to make you think about that.

Hobby Lobby Wins

In a not-very-suprising 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby in the recent case involving religious freedom and corporations.  As a result of the holding,  business owners with religious objections to birth control may defy federal rules requiring most employers to include contraceptive care in their health plans.  This is in direct contravention of what the Supreme Court held in its 1982 United States v. Lee decision, “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” 

The opinion is here.

Fortunately (and thankfully), the Supreme Court was willing to put limits on this:  this holding appears limited to closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby, which is operated by a single wealthy family.  Keep this in mind when you read commentary about this case — the Court did not give religious freedom to, say, Apple and Amazon.  Just a very narrow set of corporatoins (which would, I think, include Walmart).

Still, the opinion is wrongly decided, and the best explanation why is here.