Blair Disease

In the Financial Times of all places, Simon Kuper writes about the most serious malady afflicting ex-leaders, Blair Disease:

If you are super-rich, you probably have an ex-leader working for you, like an overpaid tennis coach. Blair, for instance, has shilled for JPMorgan Chase, Qatar and Kazakhstan’s cuddly regime. Then there’s the modern ex-leader’s staple: giving paid speeches to rich people. Blair’s Queen Anne mansion outside London differs from the “museum of corruption” recently vacated by Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yanukovich chiefly in degree, taste and the period when the money was made. Both men got rich through running countries. It’s just that Blair’s version was legal.

The Blair premiership was when it became clear that in the new capitalism none of the parties with a shot at power were actually there to listen to the people, all shot through with people who see politics either as a handy advertisment for their real career fellating the rich afterwards, or as a way to keep their own wealth safe. It was the War on Iraq and the way it was pushed through against the wishes of most of the UK, that made it clear to anybody not paying attention. Blair’s reward came after he left Number 10; he’s a millionaire now, in no danger of ever being prosecuted for warcrimes.

TERF wars

Emma Allen of Radical Women attempts to explain the transphobia exhibited in some parts of radical feminism:

At the heart of the attacks on transgender people is the traditional radical feminist notion of biological determinism, which interprets humans and human life from a strictly biological point of view — holding that biology is destiny. Their view that women’s inferiority is based on their biology and that men are the enemy, is a reverse image of patriarchal hatred of women. The basis of radical feminism is to see men as the problem, painting women as the natural victims of men. If women are oppressed specifically because of the reproductive organs they are born with, rather than a deeper social-economic source of gender inequality, then transwomen can’t be part of the club. Accepting the sisterhood of non-biological females challenges the very basis of radical feminism.

The Radical Feminism talked about here is that current in feminism that sees the patriarchy, the systemic oppression of women by men as the root of all oppression, privileging it above race, class or sexuality based oppression. In the socalled Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism version of this, this belief has hardened into a belief that gender is exclusively biological in nature, that men and women are in opposition and hence therefore any trans woman is nothing but at best a spy, an intruder. At the same time because, as Allen explains, this current of Radical Feminism also believes that the feminist revolution can only be completed if gender is abolished entirely as a concept, trans women are a direct threat to their ideology, as obviously they show gender goes deeper than the gender expression radical feminism recognises.

Emma Allen’s own form of feminism, socialist feminism on the other hand recognises that:

In contrast to radical feminists, socialist feminists view the private property system as the historical and economic foundation for patriarchy and the subordination of women and sexual and gender outlaws.

[...]

The role capitalist society has assigned to women is directly challenged by the existence of transgender, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, intersex and queer people – which is a good thing!

Unfortunately however Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism is more prominent a voice in radical feminism at the moment. Born out of second wave feminism, many of its adherents and allies like Julie Birchill, Germaine Greer or Sheila Jeffreys have a voice through the mainstream media less accessible to trans feminists and their allies. And as Tina Vasquez lays out in Bitch Magazine, TERF feminists use their influence to attack and hurt trans women:

For example, transgender people were able to readily obtain government-funded healthcare prior to 1980. That year, Janice Raymond wrote a report for the Reagan administration called “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery” which informed the official federal position on medical care for transgender people. The paper’s conclusion reads, “The elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery, but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping.” In her book Transgender History, Susan Stryker says that the government curtailed transgender access to government social services under Reagan, “In part in response to anti-transgender feminist arguments that dovetailed with conservative politics.”

This is why Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism matters.

No platforming

It’s easy to decide as a political organisation to not give fascists or out and out racists a platform for their views, but what if the person being considered is less obviously bigoted? Charlie Hale makes the following simple point about who should get to decide somebody is “problematic enough”:

In many cases, a person’s problematic politics will be dismissed as “not problematic enough” to warrant no-platforming: this, however, is a blatant display of privilege. If you are in the position where you are able to wave away oppressive behaviour with no personal ill-effects, you are almost certainly not in the position where you could reasonably speak for that oppressed group.

Paul Ryan says what progressives are thinking

A number of liberals reacted harshly to Ryan. I’m not sure why. What Ryan said here is not very far from what Bill Cosby, Michael Nutter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama said before him. The idea that poor people living in the inner city, and particularly black men, are “not holding up their end of the deal” as Cosby put it, is not terribly original or even, these days, right-wing. From the president on down there is an accepted belief in America—black and white—that African-American people, and African-American men, in particular, are lacking in the virtues in family, hard work, and citizenship:

If Cousin Pookie would vote, if Uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching SportsCenter and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics.

Cousin Pookie and Uncle Jethro voted at higher rates than any other ethnic group in the country. They voted for Barack Obama. Our politics have not changed. Neither has Barack Obama’s rhetoric. Facts can only get in the way of a good story. It was sort of stunning to see the president give a speech on the fate of young black boys and not mention the word racism once. It was sort of stunning to see the president salute the father of Trayvon Martin and the father of Jordan Davis and then claim, “Nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life.”

As Ta Nehisi Coates explains, Paul Ryan’s remarks on inner-city black males actually fit neatly in a long tradition of progressive scolding of black people, both from within and without the black community in the US.

Jonathan Chait disagreed, arguing that there are substantial differences between rightwing and progressive rhetoric about black responsibility, defending president Obama in particular:

But Coates is committing a fallacy by assuming that Obama’s exhortations to the black community amount to a belief that personal responsibility accounts for a major share of the blame. A person worries about the things that he can control. If I’m watching a basketball game in which the officials are systematically favoring one team over another (let’s call them Team A and Team Duke) as an analyst, the officiating bias may be my central concern. But if I’m coaching Team A, I’d tell my players to ignore the biased officiating. Indeed, I’d be concerned the bias would either discourage them or make them lash out, and would urge them to overcome it. That’s not the same as denying bias. It’s a sensible practice of encouraging people to concentrate on the things they can control.

This drew a waspy response from Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker, who called this “the kind of treacly liberalism best reserved for movies about dedicated white teachers who inspire their angry inner-city students”, arguing:

It’s not a coincidence that the history of black self-help has been so closely associated with many of the fiercest critics of the American social order. Discussions of race in America are mired in comparisons between blacks and other immigrant groups, but the dividing line is apparent: while the immigrant effort at self-improvement has often been rooted in a faith in American possibility, the ethic of black uplift was frequently entwined with its very opposite, an indictment of that possibility—or a loss of faith in its promise.

Ta Nehisi also responded, concluding:

Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past and the historical vestiges of which still afflict black people today. They believe we need policies—though not race-specific policies—that address the affliction. I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life, whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust.

There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are.

How banks rip off their poorest customers

Another great example of how you’re nickled and dimed to death by the banks:

That’s right, an account with fewer features than a normal checking account (without the checks, for example) – and with a core “feature” that is free on every other account – will cost customers $60 a year. That’s not a lot, of course, but consider that the product is designed for low-income customers, who are typically on the knife’s edge with their finances. According to statistics from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the average individual in bankruptcy in 2012 was just $26 a month short on their expenses. So even small amounts count, especially when you’re paying for what should be free services. In essence, customers will give Bank of America $5 a month for the right to not be charged more.

Water is for washing

A great article in The Atlantic about the politics surrounding California’s water management and the fight to safeguard it. Here’s the money quote:

But for now, California’s water story is all about tradeoffs, and the writer behind the On the Public Record blog would like the public to be more aware of them. “I wish we made explicit societal choices. Say, ‘Yes, I would rather we supplied pistachios to the world than had a San Joaquin River’ or ‘No, I don’t actually want my lawn as much as I want to know there are salmon in our rivers.’ We can manage our water system to do a very large range of things, but we can’t do them all well,” she emailed me. “I wish we were guided by actual explicit choices, rather than by every water district manager trying to keep our status quo going just a little longer. If we knew we (all 39 million of us, overall) didn’t want to use water to grow alfalfa for dairy cows, we could design a good transition for the people involved in that industry now. But we don’t make those choices, so we can’t design programs to make the transition to a more extreme climate more gentle for people. We just try to keep spreading the water thinner.”

It happened to me!

Well, no, it didn’t, but a couple of weeks ago one Jen Caron got a little bit flustered when a black woman joined her yoga class:

I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.

It all seemed a bit over the top and somewhat patronising, though if you’re feeling charitable, you could say it was one woman’s inept attempt to articulate some of the racial privileges she hadn’t had to think about until well, she was confronted with an black woman in her class. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t make it any better, making this woman a prop in her enlightenment.

Anyway, the piece got a lot of pushback and sarky comments online and what struck me was reading the same story from the other side, revealing that this may have been an unique experience for Caron, not so much for actual plus size women:

I mean, it would be racist weird to say “OMG! You’re so big and black!” so instead she says “OMG! I’m so white and small”

As a plus size woman of color, people are constantly “telling on themselves” in regards to how they see me. It could be as simple as calling me “girl” instead of my name or being shocked when I sing along to Incubus songs, it could be something as nuanced as mentioning their own appearance in contrast to mine, or as awkward as quoting Tyler Perry to me and assuming I’ll get the reference (I won’t).

The ‘Miss Triggs question’

Mary Beard on the public voice of women:

But the more I have looked at the threats and insults that women have received, the more I have found that they fit into the old patterns I’ve been talking about. For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it, it’s the fact you’re saying it. And that matches the detail of the threats themselves. They include a fairly predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder and so forth (I may sound very relaxed about it now; that doesn’t mean it’s not scary when it comes late at night). But a significant subsection is directed at silencing the woman – ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain. Or it promises to remove the capacity of the woman to speak. ‘I’m going to cut off your head and rape it’ was one tweet I got. ‘Headlessfemalepig’ was the Twitter name chosen by someone threatening an American journalist. ‘You should have your tongue ripped out’ was tweeted to another journalist. In its crude, aggressive way, this is about keeping, or getting, women out of man’s talk. It’s hard not to see some faint connection between these mad Twitter outbursts – most of them are just that – and the men in the House of Commons heckling women MPs so loudly that you simply can’t hear what they’re saying (in the Afghan parliament, apparently, they disconnect the mics when they don’t want to hear the women speak). Ironically the well-meaning solution often recommended when women are on the receiving end of this stuff turns out to bring about the very result the abusers want: namely, their silence. ‘Don’t call the abusers out. Don’t give them any attention; that’s what they want. Just keep mum,’ you’re told, which amounts to leaving the bullies in unchallenged occupation of the playground.