Friday Night Fun and Culture: Jennifer Leitham

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I’m Forty Years Post-op Today

The version of Sex Reassignment Surgery they performed in 1972 was pretty primitive by today’s standards.

I was one of the people they perfected their techniques on.  All of us who were among the first to get our surgery from one of the University Hospitals were the bodies they learned on and sort of experimented on.

I remember going into the OR and then waking up in pain.

That tiny basement room, hidden away from the rest of the hospital was hot and miserable.

I was stuck on my back with my legs tied together.  They had sewn a large stent into my vagina. I was catheterized.

I had tubes in both arms and I remember a lot of pain.

Chope was sort of hard to get to and I didn’t have a lot of visitors.

There was a male respiratory therapist who grew up in Middlebury, Vermont just across Lake Champlain  from where I grew up.  We talked about growing up in the north country and skiing.

There was a nurse who was convinced that transsexuals were bizarre perverts and that I was trying to seduce him.  Even though I was in pain with tube going into me and coming out of me.  My hair was filthy and felt physically filthy with sweat.

After a week they put me back under to change the dressings and pull the original stent.  I made the mistake of having implants done at the same time.

I was still in incredible pain as I was developing a vaginal-urethral fistula.

They were limiting my pain killers and telling me that the pain was psychosomatic.

I developed bed sores from where my legs had been tied together.

When they discharged me from the hospital, ten days after SRS, I was still in a great deal of pain.

Several days later my friend Kim, drove me down to Chope for a check up where the doctors discovered I had a fistula and was peeing through my vagina.

They shoved a large needle in to my bladder above my pelvic bones, and inserted a suprapubic catheter.  They gave me a large supply of pain killers at this point.

I was in pain and the results of my surgery looked horrible,  I was black and blue with horrible swelling and stitches running every which way. Worse yet they were starting to itch.

Jerry had screened the mail from my mother.

He asked me if he could destroy a couple of the letters without my reading them.  He told me not to read them.

In one my mother told me that if I ever came home my father would kill me.

Between weed and pain killers Jerry and my friends kept me stoned.

Between the stent and everything else I developed a vaginal infection.

This meant another trip back to the clinic, this time at Stanford where they removed the catheter.

Dr Laub told me I had a yeast infection and it was the first time they had ever encountered that particular vaginal infection in a post-op transsexual.  He asked if I minded if he showed it to some of his interns as they were learning about transsexuals.

I translated some to be two or three and wasn’t ready for the twenty or so eager to see young doctors who crowded in to see my infected cunt.

I got better eventually.

I was expected to wear the stent full time for the first six months.

At first it was painful then annoying.

The surgery was ugly and primitive but was vastly improved when I got the follow up labioplasty a little over a year later.

I’ve learned to live with the fistula.

I answered all the questionnaires they gave me over the years.

I never sued and I ignored a whole lot of abuse that went along with being used as sort of an experimental subject.

Twelve years later on a follow up, after the movie Bladerunner, had come out I used the term “Replicants” to describe us and how they treated those of us who were among the first to get surgery done in the University hospitals.

This was after the Meyers/McHugh Report.  Judy Van Maasdam chided me for using a slur to describe myself.  I said, “Replicant is the term people use when they are being polite.  The bastards at Hopkins probably call us “Skin Jobs.””

The thing is very few of us complained.  Not because everything went perfectly.

Many of us tried to present a squeaky clean image not because the doctors required it but because we didn’t want to fuck things up for those who followed us.

I never sued, hell I probably signed away the rights to sue or even demand they cover the costs of correcting the fistula.

I laughed it off when they had all young doctors look at my twat.

I had friends in line behind me waiting to get their surgery and loyalty to them kept me from complaining.

Forty years later this is the stuff of my memoir.

Forty years later this was the price, those of us who got our surgery back then paid.

The doctors learned on our bodies and perfected the techniques they use today.

Am I envious of modern surgeries?

Honestly I am a little.

I wish I didn’t have the fistula and I wish I had a clit that looked like a clit.

But my cunt is my cunt, it is my body and the ball of tissue that lies hidden only to turn into a little knot when I get aroused, works the way it is supposed to, particularly with the Hitachi Magic Wand.

The only thing I wish I could convey to those who come along today and say that so few of the pioneers stuck around to give back to the community, is this, “We paid more than most of you will ever imagine.”

We put our bodies on the line with no guarantees and most of us did so with  grace and care because we didn’t want to fuck it up and have them stop doing SRS.

Everything was so experimental in those early years in American University Centers.

The photo below is as close as any one is going to see of a before picture of me.  It was taken about a month before I had SRS.  I’m wearing the purple skirt and one of my very special BFFs, Leslie is the tall blonde beside me.

Third Swing: My Comments to the APA for a Less Harmful Gender Dysphoria Category in the DSM-5

From GID Reform:

by Kelley Winters
June 19, 2012

My objective for GID reform in DSM-5 is harm reduction– depathologizing gender identities, gender expressions or bodies that do not conform to birth-assigned gender stereotypes, while at the same time providing some kind of diagnostic coding for access to medical transition treatment for those who need it. I and others have suggested that diagnostic criteria based on distress and impairment, rather than difference from cultural gender stereotypes, offer a path for forward progress toward these goals. This post is an update to my earlier comments to the APA in June, 2011.

The  Gender Dysphoria (GD) criteria proposed by the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group for the DSM-5 represent some forward progress on issues of social stigma and barriers to medical transition care, for those who need it. However, they do not go nearly far enough in clarifying that nonconformity to birth-assigned roles and victimization from societal prejudice do not constitute mental pathology. The improvements in the APA proposal so far include a more accurate title, removal of Sexual Orientation Subtyping, rejection of “autogynephilia” subtyping (suggested in the supporting text of the GID category in the DSM-IV-TR), recognition of suprabinary gender identities and expressions, recognition of youth distressed by anticipated pubertal characteristics, and reduced false-positive diagnosis of gender nonconforming children. However, the proposed GD criteria still fall short in serving the needs of transsexual individuals, who need access to medical transition care, or other gender-diverse people who may be ensnared by false-positive diagnosis.

The proposed Gender Dysphoria criteria continue to contradict social and medical transition by mis-characterizing transition itself as symptomatic of mental disorder and obfuscating the distress of gender dysphoria as the problem to be treated. The phrase “a strong desire,” repeated throughout the diagnostic criteria, is particularly problematic, suggesting that desire for relief from the distress of gender dysphoria is, in itself, irrational and mentally defective. This biased wording discourages transition care to relieve distress of gender dysphoria and instead advances gender-conversion psychotherapies intended to suppress the experienced gender identity and enforce birth-assigned roles. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has stated that, “Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.” (SOC, Ver. 7, 2011)

Transitioned individuals who are highly functional and happy with their lives are forever diagnosable as mentally disordered under flawed criteria that reference characteracterics and assigned roles of natal sex rather than current status. For example, a post-transition adult who is happy in her or his affirmed role, wants to be treated like others of her/his affirmed gender, has typical feelings of those in her/his affirmed gender, and is distressed or unemployed because of external societal prejudice will forever meet criteria A (subcriteria 4, 5 and 6) and B and remain subject to false-positive diagnosis, regardless of how successfully her or his distress of gender dysphoria has been relieved. Once again, the proposed criteria effectively refute the proven efficacy of medical transition care. Political extremists and intolerant insurers, employers, and medical providers will continue to exploit these diagnostic flaws to deny access to transition care for those who need it. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has affirmed the medical necessity of transition care for the treatment of gender dysphoria. (SOC, Ver. 7, 2011)

The criteria for children are slightly improved over the DSM-IV-TR, in that they can no longer be diagnosed on the basis of gender role nonconformity alone. However, the proposed criteria are unreasonably reliant on gender stereotype nonconformity. Five of eight proposed subcriteria for children are strictly based on gender role nonconformity, with no relevance to the definition of mental disorder. Behaviors and emotions considered ordinary or even exemplary for other (cisgender) children are mis-characterized as pathological for gender variant youth. This sends a harmful message that equates gender variance with sickness. As a consequence, children will continue to be punished, shamed and harmed for nonconformity to assigned birth roles.

A New Distress-based Diagnostic Paradigm.

An international group of mental health and medical clinicians, researchers and scholars, Professionals Concerned With Gender Diagnoses in the DSM, has proposed alternative diagnostic nomenclature based on distress rather than nonconformity (Lev, et al., 2010; Winters and Ehrbar 2010; Ehrbar, Winters and Gorton 2009). These include anatomic dysphoria (painful distress with current physical sex characteristics) as well as social role dysphoria (distress with ascribed or enforced social gender roles that are incongruent with one’s inner experienced gender identity) For children and adolescents, these alternative criteria include distress with anticipated physical sex characteristics that would result if the youth were forced to endure pubertal development associated with natal sex. For those who require a post-transition diagnostic coding for continued access to hormonal therapy, the criteria include sex hormone status. Psychologist Anne Vitale (2010) has previously described this distress as deprivation of characteristics that are congruent with inner experienced gender identity, in addition to distress caused directly by characteristics that are incongruent.

Building on this prior work, I propose that gender role component of gender dysphoria, including distress with a current incongruent social gender role and distress with deprivation of congruent social gender expression, can be more concisely described as impairment of social function in a role congruent with a person’s experienced gender identity. I believe it is also important to include other important life functions, such as sexual function in a congruent
gender role. This language would provide a clearer understanding of the necessity of social and medical transition for those who need them.

These alternative criteria acknowledge that experienced gender identity may include elements of masculinity, femininity, both or neither and are not limited to binary gender stereotypes. They also define clinically significant distress and impairment to include barriers to functioning in one’s experienced congruent gender role and exclude victimization by social prejudice and discrimination.

Suggested Diagnostic Criteria for Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-5

I would like to suggest the following diagnostic criteria for the Gender Dysphoria for adults/adolescents and children–

A. Distress or impairment in life functioning caused by incongruence between persistent experienced gender identity and current physical sex characteristics in adults or adolescents who have reached the earlier of age 13 or Tanner Stage II of pubertal development, or with assigned gender role in children, manifested by at least one of the following indicators for a duration of at least 3 months. Incongruence, for this purpose, does not mean gender expression that is nonconforming to social stereotypes of assigned gender role or natal sex. Experienced gender identities may include alternative gender identities beyond binary stereotypes.

A1. Distress or discomfort with one’s current primary or secondary sex characteristics,
including sex hormone status for adolescents and adults, that are incongruent with
experienced gender identity, or with anticipated pubertal development associated with
natal sex.
A2. Distress or discomfort caused by deprivation of primary or secondary sex
characteristics, including sex hormone status, that are congruent with experienced
gender identity.
A3. Impairment in life functioning, including social and sexual functioning, in a role
congruent with experienced gender identity.

B. Distress, discomfort or impairment is clinically significant. Distress, discomfort or
impairment due to external prejudice or discrimination is not a basis for diagnosis.


World Professional Association for Transgender Health (2011), Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People,

Lev, A.I., Winters, K., Alie, L., Ansara, Y., Deutsch, M., Dickey, L., Ehrbar, R., Ehrensaft, D., Green, J., Meier, S., Richmond, K., Samons, S., Susset, F., (2010). “Response to Proposed DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. Professionals Concerned With Gender Diagnoses in the DSM.” Retrieved December 4, 2010 from:

Winters, K. and Ehrbar, R. (2010) “Beyond Conundrum: Strategies for Diagnostic Harm Reduction,” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 14:2, 130-139, April

Ehrbar, R., Winters, K., Gorton, N. (2009) “Revision Suggestions for Gender Related Diagnoses in the DSM and ICD,” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) 2009 XXI Biennial Symposium, Oslo, Norway,

Vitale, A. (2010) The Gendered Self: Further Commentary on the Transsexual Phenomenon, Lulu, http://

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(Dallas Denny with Jamison Green) Letter to Taylor & Francis RE Sheila Jeffreys (2012)

From Dallas Denny:

7 June, 2012
Office of the CEO
Taylor & Francis
711 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear madams and sirs:

We are writing out of concern about the impending publication of Sheila Jeffreys’ and Lorene Gottshalk’s book Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism by Routledge Press.

It is highly usual for either of us to react to a book before it is published, but in this case we fear the publication itself will be a political act with grave consequences for transsexuals and transsexualism—and so we are writing.

Ms. Denny is the author of two books by Garland Press (now a division of Routledge, which is itself a division of Taylor & Francis), Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research (1994) and Current Concepts in Transgender Identity (1998). She held a license to practice psychology for many years, until she retired it.  Dr. Green is the author of Becoming a Visible Man (Vanderbilt University Press, 2004), and several chapters in Routledge academic anthologies.

Dr. Jeffrey’s writings about transsexualism have to date been highly political, based in opinion paraded as fact, and she has repeatedly said and written false and slanderous things about transsexualism in general and individual transsexual people in particular. She champions “solutions” which would make the well-established process of sex reassignment illegal. Her writing has, in the opinion of many people, clearly and repeatedly crossed the line into hate speech. She is, quite simply, on a vendetta.

Just last week she was barred from Conway Hall, the venue for the RadFem 2012 conference, on the grounds of fostering hatred and active discrimination.

In 1979 Beacon Press published feminist Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male.  Based upon her 1977 dissertation at Boston College, the work was a polemic thinly disguised as a work of science. In it, Raymond asserted that male-to-female transsexuals symbolically rape all women by the mere fact of their existence. She (as does Jeffries) deliberately misused pronouns, using them as weapons. Like Jeffries, she argued for an end to sex reassignment—and she embarked on a tour of government agencies and insurance companies to accomplish just that end.  Thankfully, her project was never fully successful, but it did create immense suffering and damage, effectively restricting thousands of people from access to even basic healthcare.

Last month Ms. Denny had the opportunity of reading Raymond’s original dissertation. To her surprise the Method section gave no demographic information about her supposed subjects (the very existence of these subjects has been debated). There were no protocols for her interviews. And yet Empire had a profound effect on transsexualism, playing a huge role in lack of coverage by insurance companies and the formulation of transgender-unfriendly policies by the federal government. Even now, after more than 30 years, the original federal directives remain in effect and have never been reviewed.

We find it distressing that Dr. Jeffries has expressed her admiration of Raymond’s work—and even more distressing that her co-author was only recently her graduate student. We see disturbing potential for Dr. Jeffries’ work to be little more than an update of Raymond’s screed, and we fear it will have disastrous consequences for transsexual and other transgendered people—as individuals.

We are morally certain Dr. Jeffries will use Gender Hurts as a political weapon to attack transsexualism and transsexuals, and I urge Routledge and its parent companies Taylor & Francis, Inc., and Informa to ensure the following, at minimum:

1. That the work is rigorously based on empirical data (with no calls for action that are not evidence-based).

2. That the editor(s) establish and maintain correspondence with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the organization for medical and mental health professionals, to ensure #1, above—and moreover establish relationships with at least six medical and mental health professionals in the field so they can provide written feedback on the manuscript.

3. That the use of pronouns be controlled. I suggest the authors be required to write in accordance with the Associated Press Stylebook and relative to the lived experience of any transsexuals or other transgendered individuals discussed. They should not be allowed to see-saw between masculine and feminine pronouns, which a clever writer can do while adhering to the Stylebook’s standard.

4. That the authors not be permitted to libel any individuals they discuss—and indeed, that they should NOT be allowed to discuss individuals who are not by public figures by virtue of their writing or politics.

5. That the editor(s) require the work to have scientific validity and disallow any non-evidence based politicizing.

6. That the manuscript be rigorously policed to remove hate speech, slurs, and defamation.

We doubt those six points will be enough. We would like to further suggest that Routledge withdraw the work and seek a more rational, informed, and balanced author on the same subject. Please know we are not alone in our grave concerns about this book and about Dr. Jeffries in general.

A response to this letter would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your consideration.


 Ms. Dallas Denny, M.A., L.P.E. (Ret.)
P.O. Box 256
Pine Lake, GA 30072-0256

Mr. Jamison Green, Ph.D.
2420 Clover St.
Union City, CA 94587

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Turning Androgyny Into Art

From The New York Times:

By Michael Schulman
Published: June 20, 2012

“I WAS having lunch with Rufus Wainwright,” said Justin Vivian Bond, arriving home a few minutes behind schedule. “I’m going to be officiating at his wedding. I was just confirmed. I’m now officially a reverend!”

“Reverend” may be one of the few titles that Bond, the shape-shifting chanteuse of the downtown cabaret scene, is comfortable with. In an online announcement last year, Bond adopted the prefix “Mx.” as a gender-neutral alternative to “Mr.” or “Ms.” And instead of “he” or “she,” the apropos pronoun would be “v.”

“I always thought of myself as a transgendered person,” said Bond, who is 49, lounging on a sofa in black capri pants and silver sandals. “I just lived my life and I didn’t really have the exact language for what I was.”

That act of semantic self-determination seems to have increased Bond’s creative output, too. The last year has seen a flurry of original recordings, lounge acts, exhibitions, music tours and a short memoir, “Tango,” about growing up in Maryland as a proto-glam “trans child” obsessed with Greta Garbo. Like Bond, the memoir is droll, pensive and filled with zingers teetering between funny and ferocious.

This spring, Bond starred in “Jukebox Jackie,” a play at La MaMa that paid tribute to the Warhol “superstar” Jackie Curtis; traveled to Vienna to sing at an AIDS charity ball; and is performing near Times Square to promote “Silver Wells,” the singer’s second album in two years.

While there are certainly other performers known for turning androgyny into high art, Bond has emerged as a kind of mother hen (make that gender-neutral parent fowl) to the city’s trans community, albeit with some reluctance.

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What Stonewall Got Right, and Occupy Got Wrong

From The New Yorker:

June 21, 2012

This Sunday, as every fourth Sunday in June, the streets of New York will fill with prideful marchers celebrating Pride Month. There will be similar marches, too, in cities around the country. Sunday marks the forty-third year since the uprising in a Greenwich Village bar called Stonewall that supposedly started the modern gay revolution. The myth is that a few hundred angry people acted out in lower Manhattan, and the world changed. Maybe that’s where Occupy Wall Street got the idea that this is how it’s done.

It’s the wrong lesson. Stonewall was the product of a handful of brilliant community organizers applying basic principles of social organizing. Without them, Stonewall would have been nothing more than one of several gay-bar pushbacks in the late sixties, or another one of the non-gay street demonstrations that characterized New York in that tumultuous time. It was the dedicated strategizing of the men and women of the nascent gay movement that turned something unremarkable into the Bastille. Their achievement is a field guide to how to make a social movement, and also offers insight into why Occupy is failing.

Stonewall did not come from nowhere. The first night, when the bar erupted, a bunch of experienced activists from the unfashionable old nineteen-fifties gay organization, the Mattachine Society, and from the hot new antiwar movement, were in the crowd. Jim Fouratt, a young and charismatic member of Students for a Democratic Society, who had already been trying to radicalize the Mattachine Society, stopped in his tracks when he saw the crowd gathering outside the bar. Another veteran S.D.S.’er, John O’Brien, from the board of the counterculture free school Alternate U., was there. Bob Kohler, from the old Congress of Racial Equality, walked by and stayed. Gay bookstore owner Craig Rodwell shouted “gay power,” and although no one took up the chant, a big crowd gathered and fought the police again the next night. (I describe the scene in a new book, “Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution.”)

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OccuPride At San Francisco Pride: Radical Group To Protest Commercialization Of Event

From Huffington Post:

Posted: 06/19/2012

San Francisco Pride, the Bay Area’s 42nd annual LGBT celebration and parade, is just around the corner, and Occupy has wasted no time in joining the party.

Running under the tagline “Community, Not Commodity,” radical group OccuPride has planned a presence at the event, slamming the commercialization of the Pride festivities and parade.

Pointing to corporate sponsorship, pinkwashing (spinning financial motivations as LGBT friendly-goals), drug and alcohol use, and general commercialization, OccuPride aims to “remind the community of its roots.”

“No amount of RuPaul’s Drag Race or recreational drug use and casual sex are going to […] help any of our queer and trans youth stuck out in Jesusland,” said OccuPride organizer Scott Rossi in an interview with SFist. “Our bubbles need to pop and we need to remember our radical roots.”

On OccuPride’s website, the group explained its mission:

The Pride celebration has become increasingly commercialized, co-opted by corporate interests that use our struggle for liberation as a market for commodities and a way to boost profit. These interests – the top of the 1% – parade status quo candidates and parties for our consumption, wearing a progressive mask of LGBT equality while marginalizing and criminalizing the poor and disempowered. In doing so they seek to divide our community, catering only to those of us with money to spend. But the queer and trans communities are more than the affluent; we are also the disempowered, the homeless, the sick, the victims of discrimination and violence.

Writer Xavior Breff expressed his support of OccuPride on Daily Kos.

“For those of us who remember early Gay Pride marches and indeed feeling proud, today’s extravaganzas look and sound like the Vegas chamber of commerce crashed your family union,” he wrote.

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America’s Long Slope Down

From Common Dreams:

by David Cay Johnston
Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by Reuters

A broad swath of official economic data shows that America and its people are in much worse shape than when we paid higher taxes, higher interest rates and made more of the manufactured goods we use.

The numbers since the turn of the millennium point to even worse times ahead if we stay the course. Let’s look at the official numbers in today’s dollars and then what can be done to change course.

First, incomes and jobs since 2000 measured per American:

Internal Revenue Service data show that average adjusted gross income fell $2,699 through 2010 or 9 percent, compared to 2000. That’s the equivalent of making it through Thanksgiving weekend and then having no income for the rest of the year.

Had average incomes just stayed at the level in 2000, Americans through 2009 would have earned $3.5 trillion more income, the equivalent of $26,000 per taxpayer over a decade. Preliminary 2010 data show a partial rebound, reducing the shortfall by a fifth to $2.8 trillion or $21,000 per taxpayer.

Wages per capita in 2010 were 4.3 percent less than in 2000, effectively reducing to 50 weeks the pay for 52 weeks of work. The median wage in 2010 fell back to the level of 1999, with half of workers grossing less than $507 a week, half more, Social Security tax data show. The bottom third, 50 million workers, averaged just $116 a week in 2010.

Social Security and Census data show that the number of people with any work increased just 1.5 percent from 2000 to 2010 while population grew 6.4 times faster. That’s why millions of people cannot find work no matter how hard they try.

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We’re Not Greece

From Truth Dig:

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Jun 20, 2012

If the United States were still governed under the Articles of Confederation, might California be in the position of Greece, Spain or Italy?

After all, California has a major budget crisis and all sorts of difficulties governing itself. Its initiative system allows voters to mandate specific forms of spending and to limit tax increases and also make them harder to enact. Absent a strong federal government with the power to offset the impact of the recession and the banking crisis, how would California fare in a global financial system?

OK, no metaphor is perfect, and there’s a compelling case that this sprawling and economically diverse state would perform better in the global economy than the beleaguered nations of southern Europe. Moreover, Gov. Jerry Brown deserves credit for trying to get a handle on the California budget crisis. He’s going to the voters this fall with a referendum to raise about $8 billion in taxes to stave off further cuts. Without the money, Brown says, education spending would have to be slashed beyond the cutbacks that have already taken effect.

But the metaphor is instructive because it turns on its head the usual nonsense from anti-government politicians that the United States is on the road to becoming Greece. No, we’re not. Our issues are entirely different. To the extent that the crisis in Europe has lessons for the United States, they go the other way.

First, we are lucky to have a robust federal government, which the European Union lacks. Early in the recession, the feds were able to offset problems in the country’s most troubled regions with a stimulus program (and also with that auto bailout that so many, including Mitt Romney, opposed). The stimulus should have been bigger, and it should have extended over a longer period. But it helped.

Second, we bailed out our banks right away and also have a more effective central bank. We thus avoided some of the problems now facing Europe, notably Spain. Again, we need to do more, not less, to deal with the damage caused by the housing bubble, which is especially threatening in parts of California. But the U.S. bit the bullet immediately to deal with potential insolvency in the banks, and the Obama administration’s stress tests helped restore confidence in the system.

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Student loan interest rates to double in July?

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Vagina: say it loud, Lisa Brown

From The Guardian UK:

Conservatives can legislate for vaginal probes but if a woman says the word, it’s a scandal? Damn right, we should call it out, Thursday 21 June 2012

You’ve got to love Lisa Brown and her vagina.

During a debate on anti-abortion legislation in the Michigan statehouse, the Democratic state senator said that she was flattered that there was such an interest in, as she put it, “my vagina”, but that “no means no.” She was barred from later debate because, she claimed, she dared to use that word.

To say, as a legislator, “I’m flattered that you are so interested in my vagina” – in the context of a Michigan legislative debate – is the perfect provocative sentence. And the storm that followed made the Michigan state courthouse the hottest place in the Midwest. But what was so incredibly bracing was the way in which Brown’s provocation – and the Republican response to it – laid bare, so to speak, what the real power struggle is. The issue is not about obscenity, of course: it is about political control.

Brown, with strategic audacity, insisted that she was kept from the statehouse debate because of censorship around the word “vagina”. House Republicans denied that this was the reason. They claimed something even more crazy, and more interesting: that it was her comparison of anti-abortion legislation to rape that led her – properly, in their view – to be barred, because, as they put it, the language she used was itself an act of chaos, disrupting proceedings. GOP Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons, of Alto, said in a statement last week:

“Her comments compared the support of legislation protecting women and life to rape, and I fully support majority floor leader Jim Stamas’ decision to maintain professionalism and order on the House floor.”

Brown understands her moment, and that the best defense is a great offense. Female liberals understand that when you enrage the opposition, you don’t back down; you go further. She staged a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” on the Michigan courthouse steps: 2,500 people, men and women, came to watch Brown, along with an appearance by revered playwright and rape campaigner Eve Ensler. (See this account from Autumn Smith.)

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The War on Old Folks

From In These Times:

BY Susan J. Douglas
June 11, 2012

I’m sitting here feeling my bile rise as I eye the cover of the publication I most love to hate, AARP The Magazine. This one features Diane Keaton and promises to explain “How she stays forever young.” The featured tip? “Take risks – do things you can’t imagine!” Month in and month out, this rag features well-preserved, wealthy, beaming celebrities who suggest that aging can be defied, and also that it’s just one big blast.

I’d like to see a somewhat different cover. This one would feature a sick, homeless grandma taking risks and doing all the things Keaton can’t imagine. Like living without Medicare. Or Social Security. Or affordable housing. Because if the Republicans get their way, more and more retirees are going to be increasingly impoverished. Sarah Palin and others may have gone ballistic over alleged “death panels,” but the real ghouls facing older people are the right-wingers in Congress, and in all too many state houses and legislatures.

While the Republican War on Women has gained national attention, there has been less outrage over the Republican War on Older Americans. But the battles are everywhere. State after state is going after pension funds. Here in Michigan, for example, one of the first things Republican Gov. Rick Snyder did was to impose new and higher taxes on retirement income and public pensions. Making matters worse, our state’s long recession forced many people in their 50s to take early retirement as employers downsized. When you retire early, your benefits are lower than if you wait until you’re 65. So now, a larger percentage of smaller retirement eggs will be subject to income tax. Why? To make up for cuts in the state’s business taxes.

Beyond Michigan, the AFL-CIO finds that older workers who lose their jobs have the highest rate of long-term unemployment, which in turn means significantly reduced retirement income. Plus, they often have to tap into what savings they have to get by.

So how are compassionate conservatives at the national level responding to the needs of aging Americans? Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposed budget is a full-out, concerted assault on old folks. According to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), he would cut Medicaid by $1 trillion over the next decade and convert it into a block grant to the states, which would result in deep cuts to vital services for seniors. Medicaid, according to SEIU, “is the nation’s main source of payment for long-term care, covering a million nursing home residents and paying for 41 percent of all long-term care expenditures in the country.” Clearly, those folks will be much more comfy living in a refrigerator box under an overpass.

Also, under Ryan’s plan, starting in 2022, Medicare would no longer exist. Instead, people currently in their early 50s would, when they retire, get a voucher to purchase private health insurance, thus transferring control of Medicare to the health insurance industry.Citing a Congressional Budget Office estimate, SEIU predicts that under this plan 20 million retirees won’t have Medicare when they retire, and that such a voucher program will double healthcare costs for seniors. It also notes that Ryan’s plan proposes to “cut future Social Security benefits for everyone who is earning more than $22,000 a year right now.”

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Congress to bury college grads in student loan debt?

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The World’s 99% Knows Capitalism Is Failing and Believes That Change Is Possible

From Truth Out:

By Joseph E Stiglitz, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. | Book Excerpt
Thursday, 21 June 2012

In Joseph E. Stiglitz’s new book, “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist argues that there is a price to be paid for economic inequality. You can obtain a copy of Stiglitz’s latest economic analysis directly from Truthout right now by clicking here.

There are moments in history when people all over the world seem to rise up, to say that something is wrong, to ask for change. This is what happened in the tumultuous years 1848 and 1968. Each of these years of upheaval marked the beginning of a new era. The year 2011 may prove to be another such moment.

A youth uprising that began in Tunisia, a little country on the coast of North Africa, spread to nearby Egypt, then to other countries of the Middle East. In some cases, the spark of protest seemed at least tempo- rarily doused. In others, though, small protests precipitated cataclysmic societal change, taking down long-established dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. Soon the people of Spain and Greece, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and other countries around the world, had their own reasons to be in the streets.

Throughout 2011, I gladly accepted invitations to Egypt, Spain, and Tunisia and met with protesters in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park, at Zuccotti Park in New York, and in Cairo, where I spoke with young men and women who had been at Tahrir Square.

As we talked, it was clear to me that while specific grievances varied from country to country and, in particular, that the political grievances in the Middle East were very different from those in the West, there were some shared themes. There was a common understanding that in many ways the economic and political system had failed and that both were fundamentally unfair.

The protesters were right that something was wrong. The gap between what our economic and political systems are supposed to do – what we were told they did do – and what they actually do became too large to be ignored. Governments around the world were not addressing key economic problems, including that of persistent unemployment; and as universal values of fairness became sacrificed to the greed of a few, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, the feeling of unfairness became a feeling of betrayal.

That the young would rise up against the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt was understandable. The youth were tired of aging, scle- rotic leaders who protected their own interests at the expense of the rest of society. They had no opportunities to call for change through democratic processes. But electoral politics had also failed in Western democracies. U.S. president Barack Obama had promised “change you can believe in,” but he subsequently delivered economic policies that, to many Americans, seemed like more of the same.

And yet in the United States and elsewhere, there were signs of hope in these youthful protesters, joined by their parents, grandparents, and teachers. They were not revolutionaries or anarchists. They were not trying to overthrow the system. They still believed that the electoral process might work, if only governments remembered that they are accountable to the people. The protesters took to the streets in order to push the system to change.

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Lakoff: Why Conservatives Sell Their Wildly Destructive Ideology Better Than Democrats

From Alternet:

Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them. Why are conservatives better at articulating these?

By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling
June 18, 2012

Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them.

As of their kickoff speeches in Ohio, Romney and Obama have both chosen economics as their major campaign theme. And thus the question of how they frame the economy will be crucial throughout the campaign. Their two speeches could not be more different.

Where Romney talks morality (conservative style), Obama mainly talks policy. Where Romney reframes Obama, Obama does not reframe Romney. In fact, he reinforces Romney’s frames in the first part of his speech by repeating Romney’s language word for word — without spelling out his own values explicitly.

Where Romney’s framing is moral, simple and straightforward, Obama’s is policy-oriented, filled with numbers, details, and so many proposals that they challenge ordinary understanding.

Where Obama talks mainly about economic fairness, Romney reframes it as economic freedom.

As the authors of Authors of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, here’s a discussion of Obama’s speech.

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