Category Archives: Government

I’m Afraid of Americans

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We’re about to see a Presidential Cabinet where every single member will be a racist, sexist, climate-change denying, adulterous, felonious, lying old white man. Every decision they make will be based on a deadly combination of fear, ignorance, and arrogance. We will be one rash decision away from a nuclear holocaust.

All of the platitudes about “giving him a chance” and “working together” ignore the hostile reception that met our last President and the past eight years of obstructionism. All of the advice about organizing for the next election ignores the people who will have their marriages invalidated, who will lose their healthcare, who will be harassed and attacked, who will be separated from their families and deported, who will be forced to bear the children of their rapists, and who will die in the interim. Your white privilege is showing.

I live in the bluest state and it feels like another country entirely. I cannot relate to the issues of the great red middle of America, nor can the people there appreciate mine. While their political choices may make sense for them, I can only see the despair and death they bring to others. I cannot help but despise them for it.

Everything I was raised to believe about human decency, about truth-telling and ethical behavior, has been rendered idealistic rubble. I cannot see a way to re-enter my classroom with the optimism that carried me through my first fifty years of life. I cannot look my students in the eyes and tell them anymore that I believe in America.

Sorry, guys.

What are we worried about?

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I haven’t paid much attention to the primary season. It’s all a forgone conclusion, as far as I’m concerned. That’s because I’m aware of some basic facts:

  1. The media prioritize profits over truth. Let’s face it: That’s called capitalism. It’s the logical outcome of our entire system. Public figures can say absolutely anything without being challenged by journalists. We may have their previous, contradictory remarks on tape, but it’s as if they never occurred. Reporters are loath to call out politicians on their lies for fear of losing access to them. If you don’t land the interview, then you don’t get the viewers and the network starts losing money.
  2. Rallies don’t mean much. Who attends them? Students, young people, and hard core supporters with the time and energy to devote to them. Most working people (the majority of voters) are too tired, too busy, and too disinterested to attend, especially if they have children at home.
  3. Open primaries are undemocratic and unrepresentative. Letting people who don’t belong to a party select the person who will lead that party is akin to inviting the French to vote in American elections. They will vote their own interests, which have nothing to do with ours. If you want to vote in America, you have to move here and become a citizen. Similarly, if you’d like to vote in a closed primary, you need to establish residency in that state; it makes sense that you should have to join the party, too. I can think of no other organization that allows outsiders to vote for its leadership.
  4. Most voters don’t vote in primaries. According to Pew Research, as of March, only 17.3% of registered voters had been turning out to vote in Republican primaries. Even fewer of them – 11.7% – had so far voted in Democratic primaries. Meanwhile, Gallup says over 40% of registered voters are Independents who can’t vote at all in closed primary states. Since they don’t care much for either party, this strikes me as fair. Still, they’ll take a side in the end. But while media outlets discuss Democrats and Republicans exclusively, the fact is that both parties together represent just over half (about 55%) of registered voters.
  5. Demographics are destiny. In 2012, 7 million more white women than men showed up at the polls on election day; they represented about 43% of the total vote. White men made up about 38%. That means that you can’t win a Presidential election by appealing exclusively to white men. You need to pull votes from women and people of color. It’s really that simple.

So yes, I’m confident about who’ll be our next President. In the meantime, enjoy the bread and circus.

Which Bathroom Should I Use in North Carolina? Depends.

A friend of mine recently moved her young family to Asheville, North Carolina. After a decade of struggling alone with two kids in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, she gave up whatever cultural advantages living there might afford them for a 2200 sq. ft. house in the woods. I don’t blame her. She and her children will undoubtedly have a better quality of life there, provided their SF values don’t collide head-on with their new NC reality.

Their move wasn’t just a leap from urban to rural, but from Democratic into Republican territory. My friend, a secular Jew originally from NYC, took comfort in Asheville’s reputation as a progressive oasis in an otherwise conservative state. Besides, the Supreme Court had already made gay marriage the law of the land, so how bad could North Carolina be? It’s the 21st century, after all.

My poor friend; she has my sympathy. I wish I could visit to offer her some emotional support, but I wouldn’t have anywhere to urinate. North Carolina has just passed a law requiring transgender people to use the public restrooms that correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth, regardless of how they identify. It’s clear that lawmakers weren’t thinking about how transgender people look, because I’d scare the crap out of everyone if I walked into a women’s restroom. And there are (need I tell you?) scores of incredibly gorgeous transwomen whom I’m sure many people don’t want too close to their husbands in the men’s room.

The practical effect of bathroom laws like this one is to divide the trans community into those of us who can and can’t “pass” as members of the gender with which we identify. If nobody can tell I’m trans, then I’m good to go, literally. No one is going to look twice at me. But if I can’t or don’t particularly want to be invisibly transgender, then I’d better start wearing adult diapers when I’m out and about in North Carolina.

What is all the bathroom panic among so-called “straight” people about? What’s wrong with their dirty little minds? I can’t help but wonder if the terrible childhood experience that made them straight in the first place is the same one that made them so afraid of restroom rape? Maybe we should think about getting rid of diaper changing stations in public bathrooms? Is that it? What on earth is the shared trauma of youth that makes these people neurotic to the point of enacting completely unjustified, blatantly discriminatory legislation?

Paranoid heterosexuals claim to be concerned that if transgender folks have legal access to the correct toilet, then straight men will disguise themselves as transwomen in order to get into the ladies room and rape women. This is championship-level convoluted reasoning: Let’s deny transgender women rights in order to keep straight men from raping straight women. Huh?

As for rape in the women’s restroom, outside of lesbian erotica, I’ve never heard of it happening. Committing a crime so publicly invites interruption and capture. Moreover, if it’s a realistic possibility then I have no idea what stops any rapist from dressing up as a woman and hitting the ladies room right now, regardless of the status of transgender rights. I don’t get the connection. The fact is that transwomen who are forced to use the men’s room as a result of misguided laws like this one will be the people who are most at risk of rape — again, by so-called “straight” men.

In refusing to protect the rights of transgender individuals, the North Carolina legislature appears to have taken a stand against something it’s genuinely afraid it can’t control: Themselves.

It’s not okay to bully us anymore. Thank you, SCOTUS!

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Perhaps the greatest impact of the gay marriage ruling today will be the normalization of “alternate” sexuality/gender in America. What that means, I hope, is an end to bullying because parents will no longer be raising children to believe that it’s okay to abuse people who do not conform to the gender role binary. So if you were an “effeminate” boy who was tortured in grade school or a “masculine” girl who never fit in, then at least you have the comfort of knowing that your grandchildren will live in a country where they simply feel normal.

Occupy Istanbul

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Turkey’s Civil Revolt: Istanbul Rising

Halfway across the world, young people are rising up to tell their government that they expect it to work for them, not against them.  That’s a fundamental principle of democracy somehow embedded in the consciousness of a generation raised under the shadow of authoritarian rule but lit by the light of a million computer screens.  Educated, informed, and techno-savvy, these young Turks are possessed of Western values and American-style expectations.  Watch the video linked above and see it for yourself.  One young woman was absolutely aghast at the oppression of her government. The job of the Prime Minister, she says, his “obvious duty,” is to protect her; she grew up in a free society.  The problem is that the Turkish state defines freedom a bit differently than she does.

In the USA, the Occupy Wall Street movement built tent cities across the country. Young people gathered to demonstrate against the federal government’s propping up of the private sector at the expense of the citizenry (a gross but roughly accurate oversimplification).  In some places, local police forces used pepper spray on the crowds, but the tactic was met with scorn by politicians and the media alike.  Since, according to the Constitution, the people have a right to peaceful assembly, there was no official federal response.  The protests lasted in some cases for months, leaving individual cities to deal with the resulting sanitation and traffic issues, but they were largely nonviolent and of little lasting effect.

In Turkey, young people are today filling the streets to protest the actions of their government in privatizing public assets (another gross oversimplification, but a decent gloss nonetheless).  The Prime Minister has responded with threats and demands and a prodigious amount of street-clearing teargas.  The people, horrified by the brutality of their own elected officials, are driven by greater anger to hold larger demonstrations.  Both the protests and the violence are escalating.  While the Turks themselves believe that they have a right to assembly and freedom of expression, their government disagrees.

The difference, dear readers, is in the document.  As I tell my students, one should use the active, rather than the passive voice.

The most recent iteration of the Turkish Constitution dates to 1982. Yes. That’s right.  The place has been changing quite a lot over the centuries and they believe in regular updates.  Of course they tend to follow military juntas, but in general, updates are not a bad idea.  They’re due for another one.  But for the moment at least, here’s Article 34, circa 1982 — the one that is supposed to guarantee freedom of association:

(1) Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission. [There should be a giant BUT right here.]
(2) The right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall only be restricted by law on the grounds of national security, and public order, or prevention of crime commitment, public health and public morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
(3) The formalities, conditions, and procedures governing the exercise of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall be prescribed by law.

Read it carefully.  Note that it guarantees nothing.  Note that it uses the passive voice: “Demonstrations shall be restricted.” That says it all, really, although the active voice would have been so much more clear: “The Government shall restrict demonstrations.”

Now read the First Amendment to the US Constitution, circa 1789:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now that’s the active voice:  “Congress shall make no law.”  (Passive voice: “No law shall be made.”)  Thus we end up with a list of very specific stuff that the government cannot do.

The Turkish people need a better editor.