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Today, on International Human Rights Day, take action to ensure that every woman in the US has access to the reproductive healthcare and family planning services she is entitled to.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established in 1948, states in Article 25 that every person has the right to medical care for both themselves and their families. A vital component of women’s healthcare is access to contraceptives and full reproductive healthcare, including abortion — but this fundamental human right is being denied even in the United States.
We are continuously fighting outrageous attacks on our access to abortion and birth control at the federal, state and now municipal levels. Soon, the Supreme Court will even rule on whether or not your boss can decide if you use birth control.
Tell the Supreme Court: Let women, not bosses, decide on birth control.
On International Human Rights Day, let’s come together and show lawmakers that we won’t settle for a violation of this basic right. Share the petition and tweet with us #MyBodyMyBC to spread the word.
Often, when I review Homeland, I find myself struggling to separate personal disappointment from critical insight. Though I’m certainly unhappy with the current direction of a show I used to love, I recognize that fans can be the least rational critics: For us, it’s not just a matter of not enjoying something. People who don't enjoy something simply walk away from it. Critics who don't enjoy something may still have to watch it, but we're paid to evaluate things with some level of rational, disinterested judgment, and it's relatively rare to find a critic who feels personally betrayed over having to file a negative review. For ex-fans, it’s personal: A matter of having an ideal, some strongly felt opinion on what the show could be or should be, that isn’t being met. The show has not just failed to entertain us. It has abandoned us, and we are angry.
So I often find myself wondering if I’m being too negative about Homeland. But when that happens, I think about Fara. And I’m pretty sure that I’m right to be let down.
It’s strange to dwell on Fara—the young Iranian-American CIA translations expert introduced at the beginning of this season—because for the most part, Homeland doesn’t. As a female character of color, Fara has been continuously cast aside for the concerns of the white, mostly male protagonists. After being introduced in a scene that still feels nasty to think about—Saul Berenson shouting at her and accusing her of unprofessionalism for wearing her hijab to work—most of her key role in uncovering the embezzlement that allowed the CIA to flip Javadi was reduced to carrying out Saul’s orders. And now, in this episode, when Carrie is assigned the task of convincing Fara’s Iranian uncle to risk his own personal safety and provide a safe-house for Brody to hide out in, she simply shows him a photo of Fara rather than, say, directly enlisting Fara’s help. Her uncle asks: “She still wears the hijab?” Apparently, even Fara's family members care more about her headwear than her personality.
As the season’s many plot threads are tying up to focus on one core plot (expressed in simple, straightforward suspense narratives: Get Brody into Iran without his being killed, get Brody to assassinate Akbadi without his being killed and, presumably, get Brody away from Akbadi’s corpse without his being killed) Fara’s only role in that core plot apparently doesn’t require her presence. It only requires her ethnic identity. She was introduced to us as a new character, with skills, a life story and presumably a unique perspective. But now, it turns out that Iranian-American Fara’s main function in the plot was “having relatives in Iran.”
That’s a mighty simplistic, offensive way to deploy your show’s big new character. And it’s worth considering, especially since this episode is largely devoted to making us contemplate—yet again—the endlessly fascinating and complex psyche of Nicholas Brody. Granted, we've been contemplating it for three seasons now, and granted, all of its complexities seem to come down to “feels conflicted about which country to kill people for; eventually picks America,” but here we are, drawing from the “conflicted Brody” well for another hour, because if something's worth doing, it's worth running into the ground.
Brody, having made it into Iran under Javadi’s protection, is now meant to carry out the assassination of Javadi’s boss, Akbari. But when the planned assassination goes south—Akbari absents himself from the scene at the last minute—Brody is left face-to-face with his terrorist mentor Abu Nazir’s widow, Nasreen. They have a touching and human conversation about losing their families, and Nasreen weeps before apparently fleeing to wherever women of color on Homeland go once they’re done assisting America’s Most Beloved Ginger. Meanwhile, Brody departs to start making anti-American propaganda videos for the Iranians, leaving us—and the U.S. government, who starts marshaling assassins for him just in case—to supposedly wonder whether he’s flipped yet again.
The problem is, Homeland is asking us to doubt Brody’s loyalties when it’s also quite transparently invested all its energies into making Brody a hero. Carrie, once again, phones in a few scenes while serving in her new role as Brody appendage—she refuses to be extracted from Iran before Brody, disobeys orders to inform him of the impending United States-sponsored attempt against his life and says things like, “we [the CIA] do what we always do: what he’s doing,” with not a hint of irony— but for the most part, it’s the Damien Lewis Hour. And no matter how hard Lewis is working, or how much he’s leveraging his ability to gaze opaquely at his surroundings, we’re still being asked to doubt a character’s loyalty for the 247th time in a row, based on an emotional history with a character (Nasreen) who has never before played a meaningful part in the show.
Needless to say, this history feels painfully fake (because it is). And the emotional stakes, inasmuch as there are any, therefore come across as blatantly tacked-on. But this is the plot the show is rolling with, because it’s decided Brody is fascinating and complex—decided this, in fact, so firmly that it’s willing to drain existing complexity from major characters, like Carrie, and just not bother to write any complexity for the new ones, like Fara—and so, by God, every last one of us will be fascinated by Brody, or else.
And eventually, Brody—lo and behold—manages to pull off his shocking and totally unexpected assassination of Akbari. After fleeing his American assassins, he asks for a rendezvous with Akbari, promising that he has crucial information about Javadi. He then walks into Akbari’s office—alone, because hey, when a sweaty guy with doubtful loyalties and a history of lethal behavior wants to see you, why bother with basic security precautions? Just leave those half-dozen armed guards standing outside your office, it’s only polite—and tells Akbari everything about the CIA’s plan, shortly before conking him on the head and suffocating him to death. One imagines the “explicit and lengthy reveal of the plot against your life” bit was just added for Brody's personal enjoyment, because otherwise, it's another chance to rack up fake suspense. [ Suffocation completed, Brody realizes that he’s trapped in a locked office in the IRGC headquarters, surrounded by armed guards, and phones Carrie to get him out. Thus endeth the Homeland episode.
Part of me—the rational, disinterested critic part—wants to applaud Homeland’s turn toward narrative coherence. The early parts of this season were a mess of misery porn, cheap tricks and killer boyfriends, whereas the past two episodes have been comprised of simple, workable, well-put-together suspense narratives. But another part of me, a part that I don’t think is terribly misguided, resents spending one more hour parsing out the supposedly complicated motivations of Nicholas Brody. There’s a whole world in Homeland, filled with potentially interesting characters, and I think we’ve learned as much about Brody as we’ll ever need to know. Suspense doesn't work when you know how things are going to play out; I wish, dearly, that Homeland was still a show that put effort into surprising its viewers. Say, by pulling off an episode based on the inner life of Fara.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released their annual report on violence against women in Afghanistan yesterday, revealing mixed results of the country’s Elimination of Violence against Women Law.
“A Way to Go: An Update on Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan [PDF],” found that there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women from 2012 to 2013 , but only 17 percent of those were prosecuted under EVAW – a small 2 percent increase from last year.
The law, which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. It has still not been passed by Parliament, after women’s rights activist and head of the women’s committee of the Lower House, Fawzia Kofi, introduced it for a vote in 2013. Kofi was concerned that, without approval for EVAW by Parliament, the decree might be reversed by a newly elected President in 2014.
While it has “provided protection to Afghan women facing violence,” said Georgette Gagnon, the UNAMA Director of Human Rights and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has not helped as many as it could due to “a lack of investigation” and “continued under reporting.” The report’s authors wrote that an increase in the number of female police officers and leaders, establishing a system to track incidents of violence, and increasing funding and training for EVAW commissions would make the law stronger. “We have found that police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report,” Gagnon said.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 5/20/13, 9/11/13, 10/10/13; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 12/8/13; Al Jazeera 12/8/13
"Indian-origin Kshama Sawant is first elected socialist in U.S.,” read a headline from The Times of India, the world’s most widely circulated English-language daily. This was testament to the attention Sawant’s campaign for Seattle City Council has generated—and to how much of America’s socialist heritage has been forgotten.
Sawant isn’t even the thousandth elected socialist in the United States, much less the first. At its peak a century ago, the Socialist Party of America polled at 6 percent nationally, had two representatives in Congress and boasted hundreds of state and local legislators.
But for more than a generation, socialism has been virtually invisible on the American scene. Its return in several high-profile local city council races—Sawant’s in Seattle, Ty Moore’s in Minneapolis and Seamus Whelan’s in Boston—has been surprising. Especially given the genesis of this push: not just widespread dissatisfaction with the economy and growing social inequity, but the efforts of a small Trotskyist party called Socialist Alternative.
Socialist Alternative first emerged as “Labor Militant” in 1986. Its activists were inspired by the example of the U.K. socialist group “Militant tendency,” which sought to enter the British Labour Party in order to radicalize its rank-and-file. A decade later it would use its position on the Liverpool City Council and elsewhere to lead an aggressive campaign against the Thatcher administration’s cuts to social programs.
The American militants adapted their tactics to the conditions in their own country. Without a mass social-democratic party to enter into, Socialist Alternative used its early influence in the now-defunct U.S. Labor Party of the late 1990s to advocate for electoral opposition to Democratic Party politicians. In the coming years the organization would be active in social movements, but it wasn’t much of a presence even by the slim standards of the American Left. It had neither the clout of the Democratic Socialists of America nor the number of activists of the largest American bastion of Trotskyism, the International Socialist Organization.
That all changed with the latest election cycle, when Socialist Alternative decided to run openly socialist candidates in just the right races.
The results, particularly for Sawant and Moore, were impressive. Sawant defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin by more than 1,000 votes. Moore lost, but by a narrow margin of 229 votes out of more than 4,000 cast, despite running against Democratic candidate Alondra Cano, who attracted last-minute support from prominent Minnesota Democrats like Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Congressional Caucus, and Sen. Al Franken, as well as corporate interests such as the National Association of Realtors.
Sawant’s victory and Moore’s close race have been labeled by some progressives as Cinderella tales of sorts: scrappy first-time politicians backed by a marginal socialist party battling against the Democratic Party. There’s something appealing about the narrative. Yet the reality on the ground was different.
Sawant and Moore had the backing of the local housing and immigrant rights movements, as well as labor. Sawant drew official endorsements from four different union locals, including her own, the American Federation of Teachers Local 1789. Moore attracted the support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Minnesota State Council.
Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26, one of the council’s three member locals, says the union saw an opportunity to shift debate in the city to the left by supporting Moore.
“Progressive governance needs left flanks,” Morillo says. The union’s “goal is always to move the ball forward as far as we can on progressive issues. That’s what we did in this race.”
Both candidates out-fundraised their opponents and had access to labor and community activists willing to put in long hours to support their campaigns, creating a vastly superior ground game to the Democrats. Sawant also had the curious support of prominent liberal media outlets—most notably Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger, which endorsed her campaign early on and covered it closely.
The Stranger news editor Dominic Holden says that while the paper, and most Seattleites, don’t share Sawant’s politics, they saw in Sawant someone who would take on the “toady, aging city council that is increasingly out of touch with the people who live here.”
“The fact that she is a socialist is irrelevant to most people and is irrelevant to us,” Holden says. “What’s exciting is that she’s presenting actual policy ideas about how to solve some of the problems in our city.” Those “actual policy ideas” were basic social-democratic demands. Moore, anchored in the city’s large and militant housing-rights campaign and running in an immigrant community, called for a moratorium on foreclosures and deportations. The centerpiece of Sawant’s campaign was a push for a $15 per hour minimum wage, echoing the ongoing national push by fast-food workers. She also raised the idea of rent control in a city where housing costs are skyrocketing. Both the minimum wage and affordable housing became central not only to Sawant’s race, but to Seattle’s other 2013 campaigns as well.
“People said, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not a socialist, but I support these demands, and I like that this person seems like a serious fighter for these demands,’ ” Sawant says. “A lot of people told us after the campaign that they voted for us because they were excited about social justice, and, ‘Oh, by the way, who was that guy you were running against? I have no idea who he is.’ ”
Though Sawant has secured a seat in City Hall, she sees electoral victories as offering limited gains. “This can’t be our endgame,” she says. “We can’t accept that pushing the Democrats to the left is as far as we can go. We are looking for a much, much bigger change in society. But it’s a process, and you have to bring people with you on the things you agree with, while being honest about your disagreements.”
Conditions on the ground may be better than they’ve been in the past, but this was still the victory of a committed, media-savvy minority. Yet the lesson from both campaigns is clear: Socialists can win, as long as they patiently build organizational capabilities, raise adequate funds and win over key segments of the Democratic coalition. With these conditions in place, Sawant’s Democratic opponent was outgunned and Moore’s barely pulled off an upset.
Much of the Left “has assimilated a culture of low expectations and isolation,” Moore says. “But this is something the Left should be capable of doing in many cities. ... These are times when very bold initiatives can take off.”
Do these campaigns represent an electoral model ready for export elsewhere? Minneapolis and Seattle are cities with long progressive histories and electorates open to insurgent candidates. But Sawant says that rather than trying to attribute their success to unique factors in the two cities, leftists should figure out how to be successful in other contexts around the country.
“There are always specificities. You can pick any issue in global history and say it was unique to its context,” Sawant says. “There are openings everywhere. … It would be irresponsible of us on the Left if we didn’t take advantage of them.”
Socialists should not expect to always succeed when they engage in mass politics. This is a period of slow regroupment—of setback, as well as advance. But the Socialist Alternative campaigns show that those willing to take risks might find themselves in a position most on the Left aren’t used to: winning.
Today, many American progressives, embittered by Obama’s shortcomings and wistful over the unfulfilled promise of Occupy, have come to see “social movements” as the principle vehicles for constructive political change. All too often, these movementists focus on street mobilizations at the expense of electoral politics.
By contrast, the Tea Partiers have no qualms about participating in the electoral process. They know that elections are public contests for power. They nominate and elect candidates who will do their bidding and pass so- called right-to-work laws, voter-suppression initiatives, abortion restrictions and permissive environmental laws that will damn the whole planet.
Of course, progressives can’t simply conjure up a Tea Party of their own. Skeptics of electoral politics argue, correctly, that the American electoral system has never been a level playing field. Yet that is no reason for progressives to shrink from fights on hostile terrain.
Electoral politics can force activists to step outside of their comfortable ideological cocoons and think creatively about crafting persuasive arguments. Attending campaign meetings, going door-to-door, calling strangers on the phone and, yes, supporting candidates who are not perfect all entail abandoning the security of the herd. Real- world politics involves confronting or convincing those elements of society with whom we disagree. If progressives cannot do this, we are not a movement at all—we are a dinner party.
A young organizer, who was previously employed in the nonprofit sector working in social movements, told me, off the record:
Too many people on the Left think that nonpartisan social movements can pressure elected officials to “do the right thing.” But how could a social movement build a demonstration larger than the 2011 Madison, Wis., protests against Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill? And yet even a month-long demonstration and occupation of the state capitol couldn’t stop the bill. We need to build a political structure that guarantees our politicians will be directly responsible to grassroots political activists. Leftists who don’t think we need to organize elector- ally, who think that we can “change the world without taking power,” are taking the laissez-faire, anti-statist impulses of neoliberalism more seriously than neoliberals.
This lack of focus by social movement partisans is fueled by a progressive foundation establishment that, following nonprofit tax codes, foments social change by distributing dollars to social movement organizations— worker centers being a prime example—on the condition that they refrain from engaging in electoral politics.
Ultimately, progressives must free themselves from their nonprofit shackles and combine organizing, agitprop, mass mobilizations and an electoral strategy, as appropriate. The September In These Times editorial noted that in Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union is, as union president Karen Lewis put it, organizing to “change the political landscape in Chicago.” The union intends to do so by recruiting candidates to mount primary challenges against Democratic politicians who have failed to further the interests of the city’s diverse communities.
The choice is not between social movements or electoral organizing. We need both.
Research completed by the Guttmacher Institute and released this week exposes the considerable financial toll taken on Ugandan women and their families when they pursue unsafe abortions. “Documenting the Individual and Household-Level Cost of Unsafe Abortion in Uganda” [PDF], by Aparna Sundaram of the Guttmacher Institute et al, uses data collected between 2011 and 2012 from more than 1,300 women to gain insight into how the costs of both unsafe abortion and post-abortion care impact women’s finances and the well-being of their families.
Uganda’s abortion rate is one of the highest in the world. In 2003, 54 of every 1,000 women in Uganda had had an induced abortion between the ages of 15 and 49. Confusing and restrictive laws lead many women to pursue dangerous and unsafe abortions, and in 2003 85,000 women in Uganda were treated for complications from their abortions in local hospitals. On average, Ugandan women in the study paid 59,600 shillings for their abortions (equivalent to $23), but post-abortion care increased that average cost to 128,000 shillings on average (or $49). These costs are significant for women in Uganda, where per capita income in 2011 was $510 and 38% of the population lived on $1.25 per day in 2009. 73% of the women in the study reported that they had lost wages due to treatment, 60% reported that their children had less to eat and/or were unable to attend school after their treatment, and 34% reported that they experienced a decline in economic stability after their care was complete.
“These findings make clear that more must be done to reduce unintended pregnancy by ensuring Ugandan women have access to family planning services,” said Moses Mulumba, executive director of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development. “Accurate information on contraception and high-quality services must be made available as a matter of constitutionally guaranteed rights to allow women to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Young and poor women in particular need access to these services.”
The Guttmacher report recommends increased family planning services and contraceptive access in Uganda. 34% of married women and 35% of sexual active unmarried women in Uganda experience an unmet need for contraception. A recent Ms. magazine report on PEPFAR funding in the region found that abstinence-only policies in the country lead to frequent condom stockouts. The Uganda Ministry of Health has stated that condom availability over the past five years doesn’t meet the needs or demands of the population. A lack of available family planning resources is directly responsible for both the high rate of unsafe abortions in Uganda as well as rising HIV/AIDS infections.
Media Resources: Guttmacher Press Release 12/5/2013; Ms. Magazine Fall 2013 Issue; Guttmacher Institute
In a speech Wednesday, President Barack Obama discussed the US economy and the Affordable Care Act, and he called for changes to reduce the growing income inequality in the US.
“I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American,” he said.
President Obama highlighted several facts about income inequality – for example, the fact that the bottom 20 percent of income levels has less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top income levels – before calling for several changes. He discussed closing corporate tax loopholes, discarding incentives to send jobs overseas, and increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from the current $7.25.
An increase in the federal minimum wage would be especially beneficial for women and families, who make up 64 percent of all workers earning minimum wage or less. Senator Tom Harken (D-Iowa) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 in March, but it is currently sitting in a congressional committee awaiting approval.
President Obama also discussed leaving behind stereotypes of low-income people and workers in order to have more productive dialogue. “We have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts,” he said.
Media Resources: Associated Press 12/4/13; Feministing 12/5/13; Ms. magazine blog 12/5/13; Mother Jones 2/14/13; Feminist Newswire 3/5/13; Govtrack.us
Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation that would require women to purchase a separate insurance policy for abortion coverage. The proposed law would prohibit insurance plans offered in the state from covering abortion without the rider, but the proposal also does not require insurers to offer or provide the rider.
The measure would force women who don’t purchase these separate policies to pay for abortion services out-of-pocket — even women who have become pregnant because of rape or incest. Although Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R ) vetoed the same insurance ban last year, pro-choice opponents, led by Michigan Right to Life, circumvented the veto and collected enough petition signatures to send the measure back to the legislature [see PDF].
“Forcing women to decide whether they want to buy ‘rape insurance’ and even compelling parents to make the unfathomable decision about whether to buy it for their daughters is truly despicable,” State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said on Monday. “Requiring Michigan women to plan ahead for an unplanned pregnancy is not only illogical, it’s one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen in the Michigan Legislature.”
Legislators now have 40 days to act on the ban. If lawmakers take no action, the issue will be put to a statewide vote on the 2014 ballot. If they approve the proposal, it will immediately become law, even without the governor’s signature.
Media Resources: Detroit Free Press 12/2/2013; MLive 12/28/2012; Michigan.gov Ballot Proposals 12/4/2013; 11/2/2013; ThinkProgress 12/4/2013
At last, the Hunger Games movie franchise is back. And even better, this time around, the movie’s actually good. The second installment, Catching Fire, is a faithful translation of Suzanne Collins’ grim satire of class struggle and celebrity culture: It’s frequently harrowing, extremely well-acted, and features some of the most realistic discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder you will ever see in a children’s movie. And yet, somehow, all anybody wants to talk about is how Peeta Mellark acts like a wuss.
It’s true that Peeta—one of heroine Katniss Everdeen’s two love interests, and the one who grabs the most screen time in Catching Fire—is not a terrifically macho guy. He’s a soft-hearted, doe-eyed baker, who is prone to explaining, while in high-pressure combat situations, how proud he is of his skills at complicated decorative icing. And, as is to be expected when you go into battle with a guy who is basically a sexy version of the Cake Boss, he tends to get injured and require rescue a lot. In his SNL hosting gig, Josh Hutcherson described his role as follows: “I play Peeta, the brave young hero who immediately gets hurt and has to be carried around for the rest of the movie.” Naturally, pop-culture blog Vulture followed up with “A Thorough List of All the Times Peeta Messes Up in Catching Fire.” And, in a great post at NPR, Linda Holmes praised the Hunger Games franchise for subverting gender roles by making Peeta a perfect “Movie Girlfriend”: “He's better than she is, but softer. … He's just as tough and as brave as he can possibly be with the skill set he has, and she's responsible for mopping up when that's not enough.”
And then there’s this highly intense comment on the Vulture piece, which, strangely enough, might also be a useful place to start when discussing Peeta:
ALL YOU MOTHER CRAPPERS COULD LIVE A MILLION LIFETIMES AND NEVER FREAKING DESERVE PEETA HE IS A FINE PIECE OF WORK WHO IS CARING AND LOVING TOO AND THE WHOLE TIME IS TRYING TO PROTECT KATNISS AND BE A BRAVE GENTLEMAN WHICH HE SUCCEEDED IN DOING SO SHOVE THAT UP YOUR POOP HOLE AND THINK AGAIN BEFORE YOU INSULT MY SOMEDAY HUSBAND
Poop-hole-shoving mother-crappers aside, this does cut to the heart of things. The Hunger Games has been a massive success because it’s balanced its acidic political critique with a healthy dose of wish-fulfillment fantasy. And Peeta is one of the main wishes being represented. In fact, he’s not even a terribly uncommon wish: There have been multiple versions of him in teen-girl cinema for decades. The public bafflement around Peeta Mellark is just one more case of the public finding out what teen girls actually want, and how very far it strays from our received ideas about what they ought to be wanting.
Decoding wish-fulfillment fantasies aimed at girls is often more difficult than decoding those aimed at boys, because of the different rules for men and women when it comes to wanting things for themselves. The Harry Potter series, for example, although it was written by a woman, is a classic boy-power fantasy. The story begins with someone approaching Harry and simply telling him that he is the most special boy in the entire world. Following this announcement, he’s whisked off to a magical place, where he is given fabulous wealth, instant celebrity, ideal parental figures, popularity amongst his peers, and superpowers. When he finds out, only a few chapters later, that he’s also a naturally great athlete, and will therefore be given the most important position on the Quidditch team despite having no idea what Quidditch is, it’s ludicrous, but not surprising. Large portions of the first installment of the Harry Potter series are devoted to good things simply falling into the lap of one Harry Potter, because he is wonderful and special and important, and because his fictional reality is constructed to reward him for it. Being a boy, Harry never has to refuse any of this. That’s not required by the male rules. Granted, as a hero, he is required to be somewhat modest, and as he grows up, his attitude toward the rewards granted to him becomes more complicated (“celebrity,” in particular, became something he started to dislike once J.K. Rowling experienced the real-life version). But in the first installment, at least, it all just happens, and he rolls with it.
When you look to the wish-fulfillment narratives for female protagonists, however—Twilight’s Bella Swann, for example, or The Hunger Games’ Katniss—things get more complicated. These heroines are typically required to not want, or to feel unworthy of, all the fabulous rewards they’re constantly getting. Bella Swann is instantly popular at school, two incredibly gorgeous boys are in love with her, and she eventually becomes wealthy, superpowered and immortal to boot. And yet her first-person narration constantly states that she is a lowly, plain-looking klutz who just doesn’t understand why anybody loves her. In order to get all these rewards—in order to deserve them—the female wish-fulfillment figure needs to believe that she is inherently undeserving.
Similarly, every bit of wish-fulfillment Katniss Everdeen experiences is accompanied by affirmations of how little she wants it. She’s too cool to care about pretty dresses—but all of her dresses are so incredibly pretty that everyone gasps and applauds when they see her, and she continually receives compliments on how gorgeous she looks. Celebrity is stupid and corrupt—but Katniss is the biggest celebrity in Panem, so universally beloved that people start a revolution in her honor. Katniss has nothing but contempt for those snotty, wealthy Career Tributes, who kill people to gain social status—but they all die, and she therefore gains wealth and social status.
And then, there's the romantic fantasy. Katniss doesn’t care about having a boyfriend. And yet, somehow, she has two of them. Specifically, in Catching Fire, she has Peeta Mellark, a character defined by his endless, selfless, unconditional adoration of Katniss Everdeen.
Every single thing Peeta does in Catching Fire is aimed at getting people to like Katniss, at taking care of Katniss’ feelings, or at saving Katniss’ life. For her part, she continually rejects Peeta, and is openly ambivalent about their relationship; this alters his dedication not one whit. Katniss is, quite literally, Peeta’s only priority. At one point, he explains why he would like to die for her: “If you die, and I live, then I have nothing. Nobody else that I care about.”
If somebody uses that line in real life, you whip out the Mace. But, in teen-girl-wish-fulfillment terms, it’s nothing new. Look at ‘90s teen-girl-driven blockbuster Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio spent the greater part of three hours yelling at Kate Winslet about how wonderful she was and how much she deserved from life, and then intentionally froze himself to death so that she could survive the shipwreck. Plenty has been written about the abusive overtones of the Twilight series, but both Edward and Jacob were continually affirming that they had no goals or needs other than serving Bella; Edward repeatedly told Bella that if she died, he would commit suicide. It’s supremely creepy, but again, it simply means that his life has no purpose outside of making her life better.
It’s hard for us, as a culture, to process this, precisely because it flies in the face of how we socialize girls to express desire. Wish-fulfillment fantasies are selfish: They’re about getting everything you want, because you want it. They’re about Harry Potter becoming rich and popular and famous and a star athlete and a superhero, in the space of a few months. They’re about being the girl with the most cake—and women aren’t supposed to want cake, aren’t supposed to desire anything just for themselves because it feels good, which is why the female-centric versions of these narratives always come bound up in carefully calculated avowals of self-denial and self-loathing. Underneath it, though, you can see something greedy, fierce, unconcerned with social propriety: Stories about beautiful, selfless, worshipful boys whose only desire is to fulfill female desires. Oh, and by the way: Thanks to this nifty “love triangle” device we’ve got rigged up, the girls get more than one beautiful boy apiece.
Are these fantasies unrealistic? Certainly. Are they a poor preparation for real-life relationships? Without a doubt. But heterosexual men have had the privilege of fantasizing about these sorts of self-serving, one-sided relationships forever. For every Katniss Everdeen, there’s a James Bond; for every Peeta, a forlorn elf-maiden who's willing to forsake both family and immortality just for a shot at Aragorn. We think of unruly, selfish desire as an essential component of manliness. But heterosexual teenage girls—those delicate, fragile things, with their dreamy dreams and their pink canopy beds and their unicorn journals—turn out to want the exact same thing. They want it enough to pay for it, to flock to it, to make legendary financial successes out of Titanic and Twilight and The Hunger Games. The fantasy of being adored and catered to, with no obligation to reciprocate, isn’t male or female: It’s human. Shockingly, it turns out that sex is fun, everyone wants to be loved and real relationships take work.
Eventually most people—even the people currently leaving all-caps comments about marrying fictional characters—are going to experience real relationships. And those, by their nature, are more interesting than fantasies (and get their fair share of movie treatment, too.) Everyone involved has a life, and desires, and goals; if nothing else, it makes for good conversation. But as long as the world is a hard place, and people don’t always get everything they want, there will be girls who want to slip away from reality for a few hours to see what it would be like to have their own Peeta.
Right around now, many Americans are picking at the last few chunks of leftover turkey. This annual ritual is a reminder that stripped of its pilgrim mythology, Thanksgiving is an extended paroxysm of meat consumption. Oh, sure, we go out of our way to pretend it isn't really about that to the point where the president of the United States makes a public spectacle out of pardoning a bird. Yet, this particular holiday is our culture's grandest celebration of flesh eating–and therefore, it has become a microcosmic example of our willingness to risk self-destruction.
I can already hear your inner monologue–the one saying that such apocalyptic language is irresponsible hyperbole. But take a moment away from those leftovers to consider just two scientific realities.
The first is catastrophic climate change. According to a report last year by two former World Bank experts, more than half of all carbon emissions come from the livestock industry that supports the meat economy. Those emissions are related to everything from transportation to land use to excretion to petroleum-based fertilizers that generate animal feed. The more meat our society consumes, the more these carbon emissions continue, the more we intensify climate change, and the more we imperil human survival on the planet.
Let's say, though, that you are one of those head-in-the-sand types who insists that climate change isn't happening or isn't anything to be concerned about. This, of course, is a convenient theology that self-servingly rationalizes a narcissistic aversion to any kind of sacrifice or lifestyle change. But, for argument's sake, maybe you reject all the environmental science and you genuinely either do not believe the climate is changing or you believe that the changes are inconsequential. Even then, I'm guessing you want life-saving medicine to continue being effective, right?
If you're answer is a resounding "yes," then you should have a problem with how much meat our society consumes. That's because Food and Drug Administration data proves that to produce enough meat to feed America's current demand, the livestock industry is now consuming a whopping four-fifths of all antibiotics used in a given year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this overuse of antibiotics has played a huge role in creating lethal drug-resistant superbugs. That threatens to turn back the clock to the era before modern medicine.
"A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it," says Dr. Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization. "Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill. Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy and care of preterm infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake."
Just in case you are comforting yourself by believing this is all just a hypothetical, note that CDC reports confirm these superbugs already afflict 2 million Americans a year and annually kill at least 23,000. The crisis, in other words, is here–and is getting worse in large part because of our meat economy.
So, now revisit your inner monologue. Is it still telling you my vegetarianism is stupid and that my apocalyptic language about meat consumption is overstated? Is it still pretending a reduction in meat consumption is not necessary? And if it is, what more can change your thinking?
Does every steak need to be wrapped in a picture of destruction from a climate-intensified storm? Do we need labels on every turkey that show the names of the people who died from superbug infections? If not, what is it going to take to finally make long-term human survival a bigger priority than gluttonous meat consumption?
Dawn Moore was on “strike” Thursday. It was more a protest than a conventional attempt to stop all work at her job site, but it still packed a punch. She took a day off from her work at a McDonald’s in Chicago to join more than 150 protestors who marched from one fast-food or retail store to another in both the downtown “Loop” and several outlying neighborhoods. Chanting “we are the 99%” and carrying a giant Grinch puppet, they were there to demand that employers in those low-wage businesses pay employees $15 an hour and respect their right to organize a union freely.
“I think we all deserve a fair living wage,” says Moore, 41, a 7.5-year veteran McDonald’s worker. A divorced mother of two, she struggles to pay off $9,000 in student loans she incurred during less than a year at a “scam” college and has to move back and forth between apartments of a friend and a sister.
“Eight dollars and sixty-five cents is unacceptable,” she said, standing in the morning cold near a McDonald’s in an office tower. “Not only are we the backbones of these companies, we bring the corporations the money, but out of all the people at the corporation and franchises, we get paid the least. They’d rather give more money to the people who have a lot than to the little people who run their stores.”
Similar protests marked the rough one-year anniversary of a campaign that kicked off last fall in New York, then Chicago, before spreading across the country. In some 100 cities throughout the country, marchers from unions, community groups and other sympathetic organizations turned out to demonstrate on behalf of the workers—and in most locations, fast-food workers joined in, usually a minority of leaders from most workplaces, many workers did risk illegal retaliation by their bosses.
One of the cities that saw fast food demonstrations for the first time was Baltimore. Local labor activists staged modest protests at two separate McDonald’s franchises, though there were no instances of McDonalds’ employees actually walking off the job.
John Fariani, a student at Johns Hopkins University and a local spokesperson for the Low Pay Is Not OK campaign—the name under which the one-day strike was organized—said the demonstrators at a McDonald’s near the city's famed Fort McHenry national park had been organized through on-line promotions and local networks of labor activists. Of the dozen protestors at that site, most came from a local pro-labor group called Workers Assembly, while a smattering of other picketers represented the hospital workers union 1199SEIU or other organizations.
"Too many people view these [fast food] jobs as just for kids. That's just not true anymore. ... I'm glad to see the picketing for a better wage. Now it looks like it is taking off," says 1199SEIU member Marjorie Taylor.
The campaign—called Fight for 15 in Chicago and Fast Food Forward in New York, with other names in other citieshas succeeded in provoking a national debate over the growing dominance of low-wage, precarious work in the American economy, much as the Occupy movement led to a greater public focus on the gulf between the increasingly, spectacularly wealthy 1% of households and the stagnating or declining fortunes of the rest of the workforce.
While it has generated support for proposals to increase the minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 to $9 by 2015 (from President Obama) or to $10.10 an hour (from Democrats such as Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller), the $15 goal has set the bar higher. Along with OUR Walmart’s target of $25,000 a year, it is beginning to transform the debate from an arbitrary “minimum” that barely surpasses the poverty level to a “living wage.” Also, Trish Kahle, a leader of workers at a Whole Foods store, notes that, after Occupy’s successful effort to highlight the social problems of growing inequality, the Fight for 15 moved the battle over inequality into the workplace. Workers at her store struck before Thanksgiving, winning a guarantee that Thanksgiving will be a paid holiday next year and that the store will pay time-and-a-half for the day before Thanksgiving.
Coming out of the Great Recession, the number of low-wage jobs is growing 2.7 times faster than that of middle- or high-paid jobs, according to a 2012 report from the National Employment Law Project. As inequality grows, there is a greater social and economic need for improving the quality of jobs in retail and other low-paid sectors to provide family-supporting wages. In a speech on Tuesday, President Obama called growing inequality “the challenge of our time,” arguing that it not only damages society—increasing illness, social immobility, distrust and threats to democracy—but is “bad for our economy.”
Indeed, many economists have argued that inequality tends to slow economic growth by, among other things, increasing social conflict and depressing effective demand. Jared Bernstein, former economic advisor to Vice-President Biden, disagrees with some of those arguments in a new paper, but nevertheless concluded that “the channel through which inequality hurts growth is asset bubbles and financial –market instability.”
Low-wage jobs are a drag on the economy—as well as an injustice to workers--because they don’t even sustain the lives and labor of workers who perform them. The fast-food industry, like other low-wage job creators, relies on public subsidies. A University of California at Berkeley Labor Center report found that more than half of frontline fast food workers used public assistance programs, double the rate for the whole workforce, at a cost of nearly $7 billion a year—effectively a big subsidy to the industry that does not pay a living wage. McDonald’s does offer its hungry workers helpful advice, however, such as the suggestion that they take small bites of food and chew slowly to more effectively reduce hunger pangs.
The fast-food industry argues that if wages rise to $15 an hour, prices will go up and sales down. They say that companies will adapt by using more automation and self-service, both of which would reduce employment. Even some economists whose research shows that modest increases in the minimum wage do not cost jobs think that such a large increase most likely would.
But a job that can’t provide food, shelter and other basic needs is a pseudo-job. And historically, workers’ demands for higher wages have pushed managers to make technological changes that increase productivity, enabling the company to pay more if the workers have the power to bargain for higher pay—or more free time. Fewer jobs may be the immediate result, but workers’ higher pay in turn creates demand for employment. Society’s goal should be good work for all, and shared wealth in many forms stemming from growing productivity, not just full under-employment with McJobs.
Reporting contributed from Baltimore by Bruce Vail.
Fast food workers across the US are striking and holding rallies today to call for higher wages.
This will be the largest action yet in the recent history of the fast food labor movement, with actions in 200 cities. Protesters are calling for $15 an hour wages, almost double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Raising wages for fast food workers is particularly important for women. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are women, and 43 percent are black or Latino. Fifty-two percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance because their wages are too low to survive on. But as Michelle Chen reports in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms., the National Restaurant Association has opposed increases in wages, and the industry “lobbies fiercely against local, state and national minimum-wage legislation, claiming the pay boost would cause job losses and hurt businesses. Meanwhile, the CEO of McDonald’s raked in about $13.8 million in fiscal 2012, an estimated 737 times what the average fast-food worker earned.”
“There’s a lot of McDonald’s workers with different issues, but in the end it’s the same story: We’re not getting paid enough,” McDonald’s worker and striker Nancy Salgado told Chen. “We’re worried about how are we gonna feed our kids tomorrow, how are we gonna pay the rent.”
While President Barack Obama has said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, legislation is unlikely to pass the House. Several states and counties have had more success raising their local minimum wages, including California and Connecticut.
GET INVOLVED: The Ms. Blog invites you to be a citizen journalist! Tweet your pictures and first-hand reports from today’s protests with @msmagazine, using the hashtag #StandWithRosie.
Media Resources: Associated Press 12/5/13; Feminist Newswire 8/27/13, 10/17/13; Ms. magazine blog 12/4/13; BBC 12/5/13
In October, China Labor Watch (CLW) published a report that exposed a laundry list of labor rights violations in six Chinese factories producing Mattel toys. These undercover investigations revealed that workers perform up to 110 hours of monthly overtime, live in hot, crowded dormitories and do not receive effective safety training or adequate protective equipment. Moreover, the report estimated the factories steal $11 million from workers each year through a combination of "unpaid overtime, work hour trickery and voluntary social insurance." For more than a decade, the CLW pointed out, Mattel itself has also performed audits of supplier factories—and uncovered similar awful labor conditions.
And Mattel is not the only U.S. company to utilize Chinese factories that severely infringe upon workers' rights. Suppliers for Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have also been accused of subjecting their (sometimes underage) employees to illegally long working hours, discrimination and unpaid wages.
So how should we, as Americans, react to worker abuse in the supply chains of so many leading U.S. corporations? Should we feel guilty for contributing to the suffering of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of strangers?
No, we should not, say some prominent writers and academics.
In a well-known TED talk, for example, former Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie Chang says that it is “inaccurate and disrespectful” to feel guilty about the exploitation of Chinese workers for our insatiable demand for things. She argues that workers have made a conscious choice to leave their rural homes to work in factories.
Meanwhile, Cornell University’s Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Labor Eli Friedman criticizes American consumer guilt as misguided: “Chinese workers are depicted [by First World consumers] as the pitiable victims of globalization … Passive and exploited toilers, they suffer stoically for our iPhones and bathtowels. And only we can save them, by absorbing their torrent of exports, or campaigning benevolently for their humane treatment at the hands of 'our' multinationals.”
Taken together, these views suggest that we should not feel responsible for our role in Chinese worker oppression. And while it’s true that we, as individual Americans, have not personally contributed to the daily exploitation of factory workers, we must not substitute apathy for guilt. Instead, we should feel anger.
Imagine that you bought a watch at a small shop only to discover later that the storeowner stole the watch from someone who had fallen in the street. Though you benefited from the cheap watch, you did not assault or rob the victim in the first place. You should not feel personally responsible for this violation. But you should probably feel angry at the fact of the injustice—you could even report the storeowner.
Chinese workers, like someone who has fallen in the street, are in a vulnerable position. In a one-party state, they currently lack the political power to bring about the full enforcement of Chinese labor law. Workers are developing an understanding of their rights and the willingness to defend them, but strikes and protests are isolated or suppressed by the Chinese government.
And despite what Chang argues, most workers do not celebrate the choice to work at factories that disrespect their dignity and treat them as second-class citizens. Globalization has offered most Chinese migrants a tough choice: scrape by on the family's farm or do only slightly better in in a far-off factory.
With workers lacking political strength or economic options, U.S. companies and the factories they employ sacrifice employees' rights for profit. This is despite many U.S. corporations’ widely publicized commitments to ethical and legal conduct worldwide through codes of conduct and "supplier responsibility" promises. By consistently using factories that violate workers' legal rights, American companies are, at the very least, failing to fulfill their promises to consumers and society.
In short, U.S. corporations exploit China's political and economic inequality to earn greater profits, turn around to tell American consumers that they hold labor standards in high regard, and then turn back around to continue disrespecting Chinese workers’ legal rights. This behavior warps the playing field, mocks the rule of law and perpetuates injustice. And apathy will do nothing to stop it.
Americans who feel that this is an injustice can use anger as an impetus to take steps to help. Boycotting is not one of them. Indeed, successfully boycotting of products made in China will likely get workers laid off—and it will not change the country's systemic and widespread labor rights abuses.
Instead, consumers can contact U.S. companies and tell them how important it is that they live up to their promises and abide by laws around the world. Additionally, Americans should tell their representatives that the U.S. government must hold its companies to higher standards and legal regulations abroad, as detailed in the UN Human Rights Commission's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. People can also follow and support the campaigns of organizations like CLW, whose mission is to strengthen the respect of Chinese labor rights.
Americans often call on other nations and peoples abroad to respect human rights. But it is best to lead by example; we can begin with U.S. companies.
From woo-woo nutters to big-pharma dupes and shills, from snake oil hustlers to deluded do-gooders, there is no shortage of practitioners who profit from the diseases of the desperate and the gullible. In the business that is American healthcare, even caring professionals—alternative and traditional—weigh patient welfare and evidence-based medicine against the desire to turn a profit.
October’s column examined the poorly regulated industry of compounding pharmacies, including Dallas-based NuVision and ApothéCure—producers of alternative and traditional medicines, some that the FDA deemed potentially “life-threatening,” and some that, indeed, were implicated in patient deaths.
It was a clear example of bad medicine. But problems broader and more subtle than tainted drugs plague U.S. healthcare. Money and magical thinking pollute traditional and alternative medicine alike.
Another venture by the man behind the Dallas companies, Gary Osborn, illustrates the kind of medicine that draws eager believers and the vain. The Texas Institute of Functional Medicines (TIFM) he founded specializes in “alternative” therapies for such slippery conditions as aging, male menopause and being overweight. Its website features three staffers. TIFM medical director Guy A. Francis, an osteopath specializing in plastic surgery, once wrote that he can help men “slow down and often reverse the aging process,” which he called a “disease.” Beverly Brown-Osborn, an improbably smooth-browed middle-aged woman, who possesses the “unique ability to make every patient feel comfortable.” Then there’s Gary Osborn, the silver-maned founder-pharmacist who was fined and placed under 90 days house arrest in connection with the above-mentioned patient deaths.
Francis’ predecessor as TIFM medical director was fellow osteopathic plastic surgeon Kevin D. Light, whose YouTube video promoted “facial fat transfers” that “last forever.” Ac- cording to Texas Medical Board (TMB) records, in 2002, before Light came to TIFM, the board placed him on probation because of “allegations of intemperate use of alcohol and/or controlled substances.” Another former TIFM director, Kenneth W. O’Neal, who had collaborated with Osborn to develop chelation therapies, also ran afoul of the Texas Medical Board. According to TMB documents, in 2005, after O’Neal had apparently left TIFM, four patients he treated with chelation and/or “vitamin” therapies at a different practice died. The board declared his practice a “threat to the public welfare” and revoked his license in 2008.
Nor is traditional medicine immune from problematic practices. MRIs, for example, can be a valuable diagnostic tool, but many of America’s 28 million-per-year MRI scans are medically unnecessary. They subject patients to worry and expense, and can lead to unneeded treatments.
When MRI machines, which can cost millions of dollars, were owned by hospitals, doctors made no money when they ordered a scan. Increasingly, however, docs invest in their own practice-based machines, and have to take a lot of MRIs to break even—or turn a profit. Unsurprisingly, at practices that made money from scans, MRI use rose a whopping 80 percent between 2004 and 2010, compared to a 12 percent rise when docs had no financial incentive to order scans, according to a study by Duke University’s Matthew P. Lungren and colleagues.
Also, a recent study of knee MRIs showed that when docs owned the machines or got a referral kickback, significantly more patient scans showed no abnormalities (i.e., were proved unnecessary). Shoulder MRIs followed a similar pattern with “25.6 percent more negative scans in the financially incentivized group,” a study in the American Journal of Roentgenology concluded. The profit incentive is huge: up to $8,000 for U.S. scans, compared to $280 in France.
Irrational and avaricious medical approaches drive up healthcare costs, and cost health and lives. But there’s a movement to change that: A growing trend of “evidence-based medicine” aims to assess what actually works. It supersedes categories such as traditional and alternative. Good doctors and even insurance companies should welcome it, and Obamacare should prioritize it. But there will always be some who treat the disease of their own greed with the soothing balm of money.
Female soldiers testified on Monday that they were recruited for a prostitution ring organized by a sergeant at Fort Hood in Texas.
The officer who organized the ring preyed upon and recruited young female soldiers through a sexual assault and harassment program, which he coordinated. The current trial involves a different man, who allegedly used the prostitution ring, and arose from an investigation into the coordinator, who remains unnamed.
This case adds to the growing outcry over the rate and mishandling of sexual abuse cases in the U.S. military. Reports of sexual assault in the military increased by a whopping 36 percent in 2012, but the vast majority of victims – 89 percent, according to the Pentagon itself – do not report sex crimes at all.
One-half of female victims indicate not reporting sexual assault because they do not believe anything will be done by their commanders. The Military Justice Improvement Act, which is languishing in the Senate, aims to improve the situation by taking prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and giving it to independent military prosecutors
TAKE ACTION: Email your Senators to tell them that we must change the current system of handling sexual assault cases. It is simply not working.
Media Resources: Talking Points Memo 12/3/13; Jezebel 12/3/13; Feminist Newswire 11/7/13, 11/22/13
Two civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Friday against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, a woman who was denied a full range of care options when she rushed to Mercy Health Partners after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan allege that because the hospital abided by the Bishops’ religious directives, doctors endangered Tamesha’s life by failing to inform her there was virtually no chance her pregnancy would survive or that terminating her pregnancy would be her safest medical decision.
“They never offered me any options,” said Means. “They didn’t tell me what was happening to my body. Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, what’s going to happen to me?”
Catholic-sponsored hospitals like Mercy Health Partners are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives written by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives prevent health care providers from informing their patient that terminating their pregnancy is a legitimate care option, even when the mother’s life is at risk or there is no chance the fetus will survive.
The lawsuit argues that because Means was not provided a comprehensive list of care options, she suffered unnecessary harm at the hands of the USCCB.
“A pregnant woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care has the right to expect that the hospital’s first priority will be to provide her appropriate care,” said Louise Melling,
An interim agreement on Iran's nuclear policies that will provide a six-month period for substantive negotiations was announced on November 24.
Michael Gordon, a reporter for the New York Times, wrote, "It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that an international agreement had been reached to halt much of Iran's nuclear program and roll some elements of it back."
The United States moved at once to impose severe penalties on a Swiss firm that had violated U.S.-imposed sanctions. "The timing of the announcement seemed to be partly intended to send a signal that the Obama administration still considers Iran subject to economic isolation," Rick Gladstone explained in The Times.
The "landmark accord" indeed includes significant Iranian concessions–though nothing comparable from the United States, which merely agreed to temporarily limit its punishment of Iran.
It's easy to imagine possible U.S. concessions. To mention just one: The United States is the only country directly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (and more severely, the United Nations Charter) by maintaining its threat of force against Iran. The United States could also insist that its Israeli client refrain from this severe violation of international law–which is just one of many.
In mainstream discourse, it is considered natural that Iran alone should make concessions. After all, the United States is the White Knight, leading the international community in its efforts to contain Iran–which is held to be the gravest threat to world peace–and to compel it to refrain from its aggression, terror and other crimes.
There is a different perspective, little heard, though it might be worth at least a mention. It begins by rejecting the American assertion that the accord breaks 10 years of unwillingness on Iran's part to address this alleged nuclear threat.
Ten years ago Iran offered to resolve its differences with the United States over nuclear programs, along with all other issues. The Bush administration rejected the offer angrily and reprimanded the Swiss diplomat who conveyed it.
The European Union and Iran then sought an arrangement under which Iran would suspend uranium enrichment while the EU would provide assurances that the U.S. would not attack. As Selig Harrison reported in the Financial Times, "the EU, held back by the U.S. ... refused to discuss security issues," and the effort died.
In 2010, Iran accepted a proposal by Turkey and Brazil to ship its enriched uranium to Turkey for storage. In return, the West would provide isotopes for Iran's medical research reactors. President Obama furiously denounced Brazil and Turkey for breaking ranks, and quickly imposed harsher sanctions. Irritated, Brazil released a letter from Obama in which he had proposed this arrangement, presumably assuming that Iran would reject it. The incident quickly disappeared from view.
Also in 2010, the NPT members called for an international conference to carry forward a long-standing Arab initiative to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region, to be held in Helsinki in December 2012. Israel refused to attend. Iran agreed to do so, unconditionally.
The U.S. then announced that the conference was canceled, reiterating Israel's objections. The Arab states, the European Parliament and Russia called for a rapid reconvening of the conference, while the U.N. General Assembly voted 174-6 to call on Israel to join the NPT and open its facilities to inspection. Voting "no" were the United States, Israel, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau—a result that suggests another possible U.S. concession today.
Such isolation of the United States in the international arena is quite normal, on a wide range of issues.
In contrast, the non-aligned movement (most of the world), at its meeting last year in Tehran, once again vigorously supported Iran's right, as a signer of the NPT, to enrich uranium. The U.S. rejects that argument, claiming that the right is conditional on a clean bill of health from inspectors, but there is no such wording in the treaty.
A large majority of Arabs support Iran's right to pursue its nuclear program. Arabs are hostile to Iran, but overwhelmingly regard the United States and Israel as the primary threats they face, as Shibley Telhami reported again in his recent comprehensive review of Arab opinion.
"Western officials appear flummoxed" by Iran's refusal to abandon the right to enrich uranium, Frank Rose observes in the New York Times, offering a psychological explanation. Others come to mind if we step slightly out of the box.
The United States can be held to lead the international community only if that community is defined as the U.S. and whoever happens to go along with it, often through intimidation, as is sometimes tacitly conceded.
Critics of the new accord, as David E. Sanger and Jodi Rudoren report in The New York Times, warn that "wily middlemen, Chinese eager for energy sources and Europeans looking for a way back to the old days, when Iran was a major source of trade, will see their chance to leap the barriers." In short, they currently accept American orders only because of fear. And in fact China, India and many others have sought their own ways to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The alternative perspective challenges the rest of the standard U.S. version. It does not overlook the fact that for 60 years, without a break, the United States has been torturing Iranians. That punishment began in 1953 with the CIA-run coup that overthrew Iran's parliamentary government and installed the Shah, a tyrant who regularly compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world as an American ally.
When the Shah was himself overthrown in 1979, the U.S. turned at once to supporting Saddam Hussein's murderous invasion of Iran, finally joining directly by reflagging Iraq ally Kuwait's ships so that they could break an Iranian blockade. In 1988 a U.S. naval vessel also shot down an Iranian airliner in commercial airspace, killing 290 people, then received presidential honors upon returning home.
After Iran was forced to capitulate, the United States renewed its support for its friend Saddam, even inviting Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production. The Clinton administration then imposed sanctions on Iran, which have become much harsher in recent years.
There are in fact two rogue states operating in the region, resorting to aggression and terror and violating international law at will: the United States and its Israeli client. Iran has indeed carried out an act of aggression: conquering three Arab islands under the U.S.-backed Shah. But any terror credibly attributed to Iran pales in comparison with that of the rogue states.
It is understandable that those rogue states should strenuously object to a deterrent in the region, and should lead a campaign to free themselves from any such constraints.
Just how far will the lesser rogue state go to eliminate the feared deterrent on the pretext of an "existential threat"? Some fear that it will go very far. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations warns in Foreign Policy that Israel might resort to nuclear war. Foreign policy analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski urges Washington to make it clear to Israel that the U.S. Air Force will stop them if they try to bomb.
Which of these conflicting perspectives is closer to reality? To answer the question is more than just a useful exercise. Significant global consequences turn on the answer.
On Dec. 4, it will have been 44 years since a select unit of 14 Chicago police officers, under the direction of Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, executed a predawn raid on a West Side apartment that left Illinois Black Panther Party (BPP) leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark dead, several other young Panthers wounded and seven raid survivors arrested on bogus attempted murder charges. Though Hanrahan and his men claimed there had been a shootout that morning, physical evidence eventually proved that in reality, the Panthers had only fired a single shot in response to approximately 90 from the police.
In the wake of the raid, Illinois BPP Minister of Defense Bobby Rush stood on the steps of the bullet-riddled BPP apartment and declared that J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were responsible for the raid. At the time, Rush had no hard proof to back up his claims. Over the course of the next eight years, however, activists and lawyers, myself included, would eventually discover the truth: The FBI had, in fact, played a central role in the assassinations, and Hanrahan’s initial lies were only the top layer of what proved to be a massive cover-up.
The first evidence to support Rush’s allegation surfaced in March 1971, when a group of anonymous activists who called themselves the "Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI" broke into a small FBI office in Media, Pa. to expropriate more than 1,000 documents. In doing so, the Commission exposed the FBI’s "COINTELPRO" program, a secret counterintelligence program created to, as the L.A. Times put it in 2006, "investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the United States." According to the Commission’s purloined documents, Hoover had directed all of the Bureau’s offices to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize" African-American organizations and leaders, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Nation of Islam, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.
Two years later, it was publicly revealed in an unrelated case that Chicago Black Panther Party Chief of Security William O'Neal was a paid informant for the FBI. At the time, I was a young lawyer working with my colleagues at the People’s Law Office on a civil rights lawsuit we had filed on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the December 4th raid. We quickly subpoenaed the Chicago FBI’s Black Panther Party files. In response, the FBI produced a small number of documents that included a detailed floor plan of the BPP apartment specifically identifying the bed where Hampton slept, which O’Neal had supplied to Hanrahan before the raid by way of his FBI control agent.
For the following two years, we focused on unearthing further details about the FBI's involvement in the conspiracy and sought the Chicago office's COINTELPRO file in order to establish a direct link between the FBI's program and the raid. When the government would not produce the file—and District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry refused to compel them to do so—we turned to the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations for help.
A staff member of the Committee, which was created in the wake of the Watergate scandal to investigate rampant abuses by all United States intelligence agencies, including the FBI, informed us in late 1975 that there were several documents in the Chicago office definitively establishing the link we sought. Armed with this information, we were able to persuade Judge Perry, who had previously declared those documents irrelevant after privately reviewing them, into ordering the FBI to produce the file. And just as the Select Committee had promised, the documents revealed the FBI's efforts to foment violence against Fred Hampton and the Chicago Panthers. One document, dated Dec. 3, 1969, specifically classified the anticipated raid on the West Side apartment as part of the COINTELPRO program.
In January of 1976, our team embarked on what would turn out to be one of the longest civil trials in federal court history. Two months in, O'Neal's FBI control agent, Roy Mitchell, blundered on the witness stand and inadvertently indicated that the FBI had not actually produced all of the Chicago Black Panther files Judge Perry, likely not knowing what was about to happen, ordered that they do so. The next day, a shaken Justice Department supervisor wheeled into court shopping carts, on which were stacked almost 200 volumes of FBI files on the BPP.
The government spent the next two weeks producing several volumes of documents each day. The files contained directives to destroy the Panther's Breakfast for Children Program and disrupt the distribution of the BPP newspaper, extensive wiretap overhears and evidence that the charismatic Hampton had been specifically targeted for intensive surveillance and disruption.
The last volume produced by the government was O'Neal's control file. In it was yet another smoking gun: a memo from the Chicago office to FBI Headquarters requesting a $300 bonus to reward O'Neal for his information, which the memo asserted was of "tremendous value." A return memo from Headquarters approved this request.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Judge Perry exonerated the FBI defendants and their lawyers of any wrongdoing in suppressing the documents and later dismissed the FBI defendants from the case. But in April 1979, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial judge, finding that the FBI and its government lawyers had obstructed justice by suppressing the BPP files. The Court of Appeals also concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the FBI defendants, in planning and executing the raid, had participated in a "conspiracy designed to subvert and eliminate the Black Panther Party and its members," thereby suppressing a "vital radical-Black political organization." The Court further found there to be convincing evidence that these defendants also participated in a separate post-raid conspiracy to “conceal the true character of [their] pre-raid and raid activities," to "harass the survivors of the raid" and to "frustrate any [legal] redress the survivors might seek."
The next year, this landmark decision withstood a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. It stands today as judicial recognition of outrageous federal and local criminality and cover-up.
However, it is important not to relegate the Hampton assassination and subsequent conspiracy to the annals of history. We would do well, after all, to remember Director Hoover’s line from a 1964 COINTELPRO memorandum in which he claimed credit for "disrupting" and "neutralizing" the Communist Party:
Over the years, our approach to investigative problems in the intelligence field has given rise to a number of new programs, some of which have been most revolutionary, and it can be presumed that with a continued aggressive approach to these problems, new and productive ideas will be forthcoming.
In light of the current revelations concerning the systemic illegal activities of the National Security Agency and the FBI in the name of fighting terrorism, such "new and productive ideas" seem closer at hand than ever.
Tim Carpenter is the national director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). Founded in 2004 in the aftermath of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) presidential run, the group works what it calls an “inside-outside” strategy—aimed at translating the activism of outside social movements into progressive legislation in Congress. PDA works closely with progressive advocacy groups and about a dozen activist members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, aiming to push the 72-member voting block to take more aggressive stances on issues as diverse as the welfare state, healthcare, trade and foreign policy. This year, PDA has lobbied Congress and helped organize rallies against reductions in Social Security and pushed for a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions.
A native of Southern California, Carpenter is a longtime activist with history in the grassroots campaigns against anti-nuclear power, the Catholic Worker movement and Democratic Socialists of America. When he is not on the road organizing, he lives with his family in western Massachusetts.
Do progressives in Congress have anything to learn from the Tea Party?
Progressives can learn a lot from the Tea Party in regards to the inside-outside strategy of holding elected officials accountable. The Congressional Progressive Caucus took a number of missteps and miscues leading up to the Affordable Care Act. We should never have abandoned the fight on single payer. We should have never opted for a public option. We divided our forces much too early. What we can learn from the Tea Baggers is to hold elected officials accountable and not give up—certainly not before we’re deep into a fight.
You have been working with the Progressive Caucus since the founding of PDA in 2004. How effective is the caucus?
The Progressive Caucus has been a landing point for progressive activists who are working inside the Democratic Party. If you’re working an inside-outside strategy, you have to have a base to come home to, and the Progressive Caucus has offered us that. In reality, of those 72 members, only about 10 are what we would call leaders within the Progressive Caucus. Our work as Progressive Democrats of America is to strengthen those who are leading. To have a place where we as progressives can come together and work is important. Over the course of the last year or two under the leadership of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), we’ve seen the more progressive wing of the caucus hold the line, particularly in regard to making sure that no missiles were tossed into Damascus.
Some critics of the Progressive Caucus suggest that it would be more effective to have a smaller, more aggressive caucus. What do you think?
I agree. I would rather be in a meeting with 10 people who want to make a difference, get out and lead than be in a room with 60 people who call themselves progressives. I would rather surround myself with those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and go out and risk defeat. An aggressive, focused, principled caucus that held the line on single payer would have served our movement much better through this fight over the Affordable Care Act.
Steve Cobble, a co-founder of PDA, makes this analogy of the horseshoe, saying there are issues in Congress where you can link the left of the Progressive Caucus with some Tea Party, libertarian-minded Republicans. Is that an effective strategy?
We have political opportunities in this Congress, whether it’s the horseshoe analogy or in bed with strange bedfellows—whatever you want to term it. There are libertarians and Tea Baggers out there who agree with us that it’s unconscionable to spend the resources we do on the military budget. And we find agreement on not going into Syria. So if you can find the votes and if you can put together a majority to prevent our president from taking us into an unnecessary, illegal war, you’re going to take those votes wherever you can get them.
What kind of small victories are achievable in this political landscape?
I’m a glass-half-full person, so it’s not that difficult for me to find those little victories, beginning with the food stamp program. We began that fight when the Democratic Party leadership was absolutely silent. We had a phone call with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) when PDA activists were delivering letters every month to their members of Congress in defense of food stamps. McGovern told us the Democratic Party leadership was silent on this question and that it was important that we simply have a vote of conscience to save the food stamp program. By the time it went on to the floor, we thought we had 133 votes but ended up with 188 votes [out of a possible 218 needed to win]. That was a victory. A vote of conscience in which 188 folks stood up to save food stamps. At the same time as we were garnering those votes, we were doing street actions in front of the offices of the Democratic leadership, Chief Deputy Minority Whip Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Minority Whip Rep. Ste- ny Hoyer (Md.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). By the time the Farm Bill came back around again then for a vote, all of those members in the leadership were on the floor voting to kill that bill.
An example of a major victory would be Syria. Again, our Democratic leadership was silent. Our president was willing to risk another war. And again activists around the country, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), pushed Congress not to use military force but to begin a course of diplomacy.
What do you say to the critics on the Left who would claim that the PDA mission is ultimately hopeless, that the Democratic Party is not going to be reformed, and that if you really want to build progressive political power, it necessarily has to take place outside of that framework?
We live in a two-party system. Until we change the political realities of our two-party system, whether it be until we can get real public financing or until we can get real proportional representation, the playing field will be skewed. Before we have a third party, we need a strong second party. We’re the insurgency inside the Democratic Party fighting to return it to its progressive roots. We are hopeful that, through the work we do, we can begin to engage on the inside with those who are now on the outside and encourage them to do what they can to level the playing field.
A lot of PDA folks were part of Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 campaign for president. How important do you think it is in 2016 to have a progressive presidential candidate?
That’s a big debate. We need to be realistic. We are not going to elect a progressive president in 2016, just as we weren’t going to elect a progressive president in 2004, though Kucinich certainly didn’t want to hear it at the time. But if we’re going to transform the Democratic Party it’s important that we put in place a vision of what the Democratic Party can look like under a progressive presidency. So for that reason alone we need to have a horse in the race in 2016 who will challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. We need to re- mind folks that Hillary was wrong on the war in Iraq and she was wrong on trade. There are a lot of issues that as progressive Democrats we would want to challenge her on.
The Democratic Party, at its roots, is a progressive party. So my hope is that we would have a candidate who will be the standard-bearer for the progressive Democrats. I see the tide turning. It’s imperative that the progressive movement run a strong, articulate progressive candidate and campaign in 2016.
Given that you are waging an uphill battle against cancer, have you been preparing for what’s going to happen with PDA?
You’re definitely putting the elephant in the room in talking about the fact that I’ve got a terminal illness. It’s a question we’re wrestling with. The short answer is we honestly don’t know. We’re not a card-carrying organization; we’re a community of people. We’re going to meet in February as a community and we’ll talk about it. The work’s going to continue and I hope to be as productive, or even more productive, as we move on to the 2014 election season.
US President Barack Obama announced the launch of The HIV Cure Initiative yesterday, a $100 million investment in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research into a cure to HIV/AIDS.
“The United States should be at the forefront of the discoveries into how to put HIV in long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies,” President Obama said at a White House event commemorating World AIDS Day. “Or, better yet, eliminate it completely.”
The funds for the initiative will be drawn from existing resources and will be redirected from expiring AIDS research grants. The funds will focus on further developing research into a treatment that has appeared to cure several people of HIV, but has been too “toxic or premature to apply beyond the research setting.”
Other high-priority AIDS research will continue to be supported alongside research for a cure, including treatment during pregnancy, and the effect of the interaction of factors like sex, race, and stigma on treatment. The US will also give five billion dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next two years.
The US has been a world leader in funding prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, accounting for 64 percent of total international assistance to low- and middle- income countries. The President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) currently provides life-saving treatment for 6.7 million people. However, PEPFAR and other prevention programs have been held back by the influence of abstinence-based programs, frequent condom shortages in countries with high rates of those living with HIV/AIDS, and the lack of integration of family planning and HIV/AIDS services.
TAKE ACTION: Tell US leaders that HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs must be integrated with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services including family planning services for women and girls.
Media Resources: Politico 12/2/13; Feminist Newswire 10/25/13, 11/6/13, 12/2/13; National Institutes of Health 12/2/13; The White House Office of the Press Secretary 12/2/13