Barack Obama 2013 Inauguration Speech

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Trans people and the current feminist movement

From The New Statesman:

Don’t be fooled: feminism is about exploring gender, not policing it.

By Petra Davis
Published 18 January 2013

An international movement is building that links trans liberation with feminist organising. Based around activism and campaigning on grassroots issues and connected through social media, it draws on a rich history of queer and feminist theory while avoiding the binary, male-female thinking which has made some parts of the feminist movement hostile to trans people. For those more interested in the commonalities between feminist and trans campaigning, a host of Tumblrs such as the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project and Facebook groups such as Feminists Against Transphobia and Feminist: Discuss are creating both transgender space that is explicitly feminist, and feminist space that is explicitly trans inclusive.

The need for such spaces is far from academic, and social media has given rise to street-level organising. As austerity systematically targets marginalised people and decimates the resources aimed at reducing gender inequality, transgender and feminist movements are finding common ground in campaigning around domestic violence, street harassment and reproductive rights, all issues that directly affect women and trans people. For Caitlin Hayward-Tapp, one organiser of the Brighton Feminist Collective, a focus on transgender was always important.

“One of the things that we were very clear on was that we wanted it to be a trans inclusive feminist space. We’ve worked quite closely with Brighton Pro-Choice; trans men also get pregnant and need abortions too. We organised the Brighton Reclaim the Night; trans inclusivity was a driving force behind organising that march. Street violence is a huge issue for trans people and women in general,” she argues. The group takes its methodology from the second-wave feminist model of consciousness-raising and grassroots campaigning.  “We meet every week; half of our meeting is an activist session where we decide what kinds of campaigns we want to get involved in, and the other half is a discussion. People bring their own knowledge to the group and offer to lead discussions on race, or on rape culture, and we’ll spend an hour thrashing out ideas as a group. We’re not a women-only space, but if we were, we would be for self-defined women; the idea that trans women aren’t women is hugely difficult for me. It’s not feminist to say you have to have a certain kind of biology to get involved in our activism.”

Ariel Silvera, feminist trans activist and writer, was born and raised in Argentina but has spent the last 10 years campaigning in Dublin’s feminist scene. She addressed Dublin’s enormous 2012 Rally For Choice, discussing the reproductive rights of trans men, to a rapturous reception. “I have had to do a lot of educating [as a trans woman in feminist circles] but there hasn’t been resistance. I’ve had a long involvement with the Irish pro choice movement, it’s kind of where my feminist roots lie,” she says.

Though Silvera says there’s not yet an explicitly trans-focused feminism in Ireland, she feels that the priorities of Irish feminism leave little room for policing trans people out of feminist campaigning. “In England in the eighties when [feminists] were having wars over kink and porn, Irish women were trying to smuggle condoms from Northern Ireland, trying not to get sent to Magdalene laundries, and trying to escape husbands they could not divorce. In Ireland divorce was illegal until 1995 and homosexuality was illegal until 1994. Who has time to be transphobic?” She laughs. “[In Dublin currently] there are more trans people who are feminists, outspokenly and publicly so, and there are more feminists who are willing to engage in trans issues.”

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Prejudice: trans people shouldn’t have been subjected to such abuse

From The Observer UK:

Julie Burchill’s ill-informed rant added to the victimised community’s woes

The Observer, Saturday 19 January 2013

EB White once said: “Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.” On the basis of last week’s article (“Cut it out, you transsexuals”, Comment), Julie Burchill has taken this to be an axiom rather than a witticism.

Unfortunately, transphobia in the media has real-world consequences. Statistics on transphobic crime are currently still difficult to obtain as few large-scale studies have been undertaken, but what evidence there is strongly indicates that trans people are at much higher risk of casual violence and verbal abuse than the general population. Then, of course, there is everyday prejudice and marginalisation, highlighted for instance by the twitter hashtag #transdocfail, which records the medical community’s failure to carry out its duties to its trans patients.

If even a newspaper such as the Observer, which prides itself on its left-leaning principles and support for social justice issues, can publish transparently transphobic invective and call it journalism, then it is a worrying indictment of systemic prejudice in Britain today.

Dr Rachel Moss

Corpus Christi College, Oxford

The hostility towards trans people that Ms Burchill exhibited in her article was discrimination, no different from any other form of discriminatory conduct. It is unacceptable and rightly so. Ms Burchill peppered her article with insults, threats and misinformation. She resorted to name-calling and provocation and, in doing so, completely undermined any value to her piece.

As someone who works as a solicitor in the field of discrimination law, I am all too regularly struck by how damaging discriminatory comments can be, both to the individuals on the receiving end and to the basic principle that a tolerant society is a better one for all.

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Trans people, pronouns and language

From The New Statesman:

When it comes to pronouns or gendered descriptors, it’s better to allow people autonomy over their identities rather than impose your own preconceptions.

By Juliet Jacques
16 January 2013

In 1910, German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld published The Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress ­– the first investigation into the practice of wearing clothes designated for the “opposite” sex, and those who wanted to be the “opposite” sex or find space between “male” and “female”. With no recognised word to describe any of these positions or practices, Hirschfeld popularised “transvestite” from the Latin trans- (meaning “across”) and vestitus (“dressed”), variations on which had been used across Europe since the sixteenth century. (Zagria’s Gender Variance Who’s Who provides a potted history here.)

The sexological categorisation of gender-variant practices, and the new possibilities opened by scientific advances and changing attitudes throughout the twentieth century, posed a significant challenge to European languages, which had not previously been seriously demanded to accommodate areas between the two established sexes or genders. The definition of transvestite has been narrowed following the emergence of transsexual and genderqueer people, commonly referring to people who cross-dress for sexual pleasure without wishing for sex or gender reassignment, but a linguistic problem around gender variance that persists is that of pronouns – with just “he/him” and “she/her” in common English usage, little possibility traditionally existed for those between the gender binary, with third parties often unsure of how to address even those who have moved from male to female, or vice versa.

There exists a decades-long lag between trans activism and mainstream media discussion of trans people and politics, with the latter still struggling to catch up with the former. Before the internet, it was hard to find trans people talking about their lives in their voices – a search through the Guardian archives, for example, reveals that “transsexual” was first used in the Observer on 28 April 1974, in an article headlined “Trans-Sexuals” by medical correspondent Christine Doyle. It was not until the 1990s that any openly transsexual person was given any platform in the Guardian or the Observer, and not until the late 2000s that they were allowed more than one-off columns.

Kept out of the mainstream media, gender-variant people, many of whom could not “out” in their daily lives, communicated directly in spaces that allowed them to retain anonymity – fanzines and online forums. Sandy Stone’s brilliant essay The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manifesto was written in 1987 in response to radical feminist Janice Raymond’s searing attacks on Gender Identity Clinics and transsexual people in The Transsexual Empire (1979) and circulated on early online communities, before being published in 1991. This called for transsexual people to move beyond “passing” and be open about their gender histories, but the wave of transgender activists and academics that coalesced in the early 1990s, such as Transgender Warriors author Leslie Feinberg, felt it was worth exploring a new linguistic framework to better describe their experiences, starting with pronouns such as “ze” and “hir” to create space between “he” and “she”, “him” and “her”, and generate a lexicon that was not imposed by the medical community.

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Evangelicals confuse ‘freedom’ with free rein to insult others

Moore and Burchill share the same sort of bully mind set as Evangelicals who piss and moan about how pushing back against their bullying is infringing upon their freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means those people you bully have the right to punch back.

From LGBTQ Nation:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

For fifty years, Bob Jones University, in Greenville, S.C., prohibited interracial dating and Bob Jones Jr. once claimed that Catholicism was a “satanic counterfeit” of fundamentalist Christianity.

Despite the ugly rhetoric and vile policies, Republican candidates regularly flocked to the school and groveled for its endorsement. The GOP luminaries who appeared at the university include Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, and Bob Dole.

This ignoble political ritual ended in 2000 after presidential candidate George W. Bush was excoriated for appearing at the school.

In 1983, Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status over its dating rules and argued in court, “God intended segregation of the races and that the Scriptures forbid interracial marriage.” However, the media firestorm over the Bush speech forced Bob Jones III to announce on CNN’s Larry King Live that it was reversing its bigoted policy.

Over time, so-called traditional values can come to be seen as valueless traditions. While the transformation of attitudes can take decades, the actual policy change itself can seem abrupt. Bush was simply following in the footsteps of others, but failed to realize America was walking down a different path.

The same can be said about last week’s uproar over the removal of Rev. Louie Giglio from President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony, after Think Progress discovered that he had delivered a toxic anti-gay sermon in the mid-90s.

A few notable nuggets from Giglio’s talk:

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See Also The Guardian UK:  It saddens me that supporting freedom makes me an opponent of equality

Suzanne Moore is totally puzzled that a regular radical feminist punching bag turned around and hit back.

Get used to it Transsexual and Transgender people are a minority people and we are tired of being the punch lines for bigoted people who are trying to be funny.

Julie Burchill and the Observer

From The Guardian UK:

The readers’ editor on why the paper was wrong to publish slurs against trans people

The Observer, Friday 18 January 2013

It was “appalling”, “vile”, “hateful”. It was “incredibly offensive”. It was “rude, bigoted and downright insulting”. In the 24 hours following the publication of Julie Burchill‘s Observer piece headlined “Transsexuals should cut it out”, more than 1,000 emails arrived in my inbox and 2,952 comments were posted online, most of them highly critical of the decision to publish what one correspondent called “her bullying nonsense”.

The piece in question was a defence of her friend, the columnist Suzanne Moore, who claims she has been driven off Twitter by a vociferous campaign from transsexual people. Moore had contributed an essay on women’s anger to an anthology of polemical writing. Women were angry, she wrote, at the effect of government policy on the weakest members of society, many of whom happened to be women, and they were angry, among other things, at “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”.

This, wrote Burchill, led to Moore being “monstered” by a lobby that Burchill said would rather silence Moore than decry the idea “that every broad should look like an oven-ready porn star”. She said the lobby was now saying it was Moore’s refusal to apologise that “made” them drive her from Twitter, presumably in the name of solidarity. Some of the language was gratuitously offensive; to repeat it here would be to add insult to injury.

The ensuing storm was notable both for its vociferous nature and for its individuality. A controversial issue will often bring a blizzard of identikit protest of apparently confected anger but while clearly this lobby was organised most of the emails and letters we received were personal and heartfelt. And they were not only from trans people. Concerned readers with no connection to the trans lobby felt hurt that a minority that could expect to be protected by a liberal publication was being attacked in an extremely insulting manner.

“Would you have run the article if it had contained similar slurs regarding people of colour or people with disabilities?” was a typical question.

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Transgender rights protest at Guardian and Observer offices over Burchill row

From The Guardian UK:

More than 100 transgender people and supporters stage peaceful vigil over ‘hate speech’ in Observer column

The Guardian, Thursday 17 January 2013

A peaceful protest took place on Thursday afternoon outside the Guardian Media Group offices in London over Julie Burchill‘s column in last Sunday’s Observer.

Organisers of the gathering of more than 100 transgender people and supporters said the column – for which the Observer has apologised and which has been removed from its website – was “transphobic hate speech” and a “deliberate baiting” of a community that is already the subject of widespread social abuse and ridicule.

“The Burchill piece was a deliberate baiting,” said Martha Dunkley, a member of TransLondon. “It was straightforward, transphobic hate speech for which, had she been targeting another group, she would have been arrested. It threw us back into the days when we could be the objects of violence and ridicule with impunity.”

The protest was the culmination of a row sparked by Suzanne Moore, who wrote in an article that women were, among other things, angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”.

Moore subsequently became involved in an increasingly heated row on Twitter with members of the transgender community, which concluded in her leaving the social media site. Burchill’s column was in defence of Moore, her close friend.

The protesters said they are seeking a full apology from the Observer and reassurance that they will take steps to ensure that the Guardian Media Group’s publications “will never again be used as a platform for hate speech”.

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Trans Brits demand to be freed from a hate-filled media

From Gay Star News:

Burchill anti-trans rant sparks protests at the Observer and Telegraph newspapers against media hate speech

By Ray Filar
18 January 2013

The mainstream British media’s hate of trans people has been sharply exposed in the last few weeks and the community is hitting back.

Sick of lazy media misrepresentation, vilification and outright hate speech, trans people and allies in the UK have, over the last two weeks, become visible.

Last night (18 January) over 150 activists gathered on a freezing, dark evening to protest transphobia at the Observer newspaper. They took to the streets in order to make their voices heard.

Standing with banners, megaphones, and woolly hats, the mood of the protest ranged from the enthused to the despairing.

The furore initially kicked off after columnist Suzanne Moore’s careless reference to a ‘Brazilian transsexual’ in an article otherwise focusing on the power of women’s anger. Her throwaway line sparked internet upset, but her following Twitter comments turned upset to outrage.

It may have died down if not for writer Julie Burchill, whose subsequent Observer column contained anti-trans hate speech, comparing trans women to ‘the Black and White Minstrels’ and using words such as ‘shims’ and ‘shemales’.

Around 800 complaints and a barrage of other comment pieces later, the Observer editor John Mulholland withdrew Burchill’s article. It was then reprinted by conservative blogger Toby Young at the Telegraph in the name of ‘free speech’.

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Guy Talk: Why A Straight Man Like Me Cares About Transgender Rights

From The Frisky:

Dan Solomon
January 18, 2013

Over the weekend, the UK’s Guardian published an editorial about transgender people that crossed a bunch of lines. It’s not really worth repeating the things that the author wrote, but they included the sort of slurs that, if used against, say, black people or women, would make your eyes pop out. The Guardian has since removed it, but it was full of “N-word” level stuff, with an editorial tone dripping with self-righteous, “if you don’t want to be called these things, stop being the way you are” privilege.

It was gross, in other words. I tweeted about it throughout the day on Sunday, when it ran, as I learned more about the author or different things occurred to me. Most of the rest of my tweets from that day were about football, which meant that I got some confused replies from people who follow me because they like when I make fun of Matt Schaub. I’m not transgender, and I don’t have any close friends or family who are, so why was I treating that editorial like it was personal? I am a dude who is straight and cisgender (that is, someone whose gender identity matches their biology) and who seems to have no stake in this fight.

Here’s why I take transgender issues personally…

Because I or someone I love might get cancer at some point, and a trans person who is capable of discovering the cure is otherwise occupied defending their right to exist.

I live in a world that needs leadership, and a smart, tireless trans person who should maybe be President is busy arguing that they deserve basic human respect.

I want to drive a fucking flying car someday, and the trans person who might invent it is stuck responding to Guardian editorials that treat them like they’re subhuman.

All of which is to say that this is about more than compassion. Compassion is important, and straight, white cisgender dudes like me ought to have a very strong sense of it, since everyone else tends to treat us pretty well (at least when compared to people from similar backgrounds who aren’t those things). If you’re a compassionate person, the fact that transgender people live under a constant threat of violence should stir you. The stories of the challenges even the more privileged trans people face when they come out should move you. The fear that accompanies the moment when they tell their story to the people they love should bring out your compassion. But it goes beyond compassion. Compassion is good, but compassion also means that it’s always someone else’s struggle.

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Aid Groups Fight Anti-Prostitution ‘Oath’ on Free Speech Grounds

From In These Times:

By Michelle Chen
Friday Jan 18, 2013

One of the few bright spots in the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been PEPFAR, the United States government’s program to fund treatment and prevention for vulnerable populations across the Global South. But several years ago, lawmakers singled out one group of people as less worthy of that care. In fact, aid groups must publicly denounce them—or risk losing U.S. funding.

That’s the basic idea behind the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” embedded in the global AIDS initiative legislation. As a condition of receiving federal funds, organizations must adhere to a vaguely worded anti-prostitution pledge, essentially swearing to the government that they do not support or promote prostitution. The extent of this restriction on their work is unclear; the only thing that is clear is that federal health authorities have sought to impose ideological views on aid workers in a way that could undermine both public health and organizations’ free speech rights.

The policy has been blocked on constitutional grounds in lower court decisions, but the White House will now take the case to the Supreme Court, which will rule later this year on the question of whether the government can link support for U.S. health organizations to the adoption of certain ideological positions on prostitution.

Though the policy began under the Bush administration, it has remained essentially intact under Obama. According to an analysis by  the Brennan Center, one of the legal advocacy groups involved with the case:

[Current Health and Human Services guidelines mandate] that recipients of [PEPFAR] funds maintain a substantial degree of separation from any “affiliated organization that engages in activities inconsistent with the recipient’s opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking . . .,” though the regulation fails to define “affiliated organization” or the prohibited activities and sets no firm rules on the degree of separation that will be considered sufficient.

The open-endedness of the policy could pressure organizations not only to censor their own activities with sex workers, but even to avoid partnering with local community groups that might be perceived as “supporting” sex workers. The overall effect would be to hamper relationships between provider and client, and undermine crucial trust between aid workers and the surrounding community. Moreover, the policy perpetuates the pathologization of sex work as a moral blight, rather than a real form of work that deserves equal protections for labor and human rights. That stigma only further criminalizes and alienates sex workers at high risk of HIV/AIDS.

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Labiaplasty. Why On Earth?

From Echidne of the Snakes:

By Echidne
Thursday, January 17, 2013

This story about labiaplasty may not describe a truly common new type of surgery, but that something called vaginal rejuvenation surgery exists is pretty astonishing stuff.  This is cosmetic surgery, for the most part, not surgery to correct something which causes physical pain or discomfort:

While labiaplasty is increasingly popular, it remains controversial, sparking debate within the medical profession broadly, among specialists, and in wider society. The surgery is relatively unregulated and frequently botched, as indicated by the staggering number of clinics that advertise discreet revisions of bungled previous surgeries. At the same time, detractors claim that women have been manipulated by the media to believe in a mythical “perfect vagina.” Some women undergo labiaplasty for medical or practical reasons—large labia can cause irritation and pain during sex and exercise—but the vast majority elect to undergo the surgery for cosmetic purposes, anxious to achieve a more attractive genital area. The desired “look” is consistently that of a smaller, less obtruding vulva, with “neat,” even labia, and this “streamlined” ideal is becoming increasingly minimalist.

“But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”Dr. Red Alinsod, a urogynecologist in Laguna Beach, California, claims that his most requested surgical procedure is the Barbie: a procedure that excises the entire labia minora. This results in a “clamshell” aesthetic: a smooth genital area, the outer labia appearing “sealed” together with no labia minora protrusion. Alinsod tells me he invented the Barbie in 2005. “I had been doing more conservative labiaplasties before then,” he says. “But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”

Bolds are mine, to make you read the sentences I want you to read!

First, what is this media which manipulates women into believing in a mythical “perfect vagina?”  Could its name possible begin with the letter “p”, continue with the letter “o” and end with the letters “r” and “n?”  Duh, that is really completely obvious.  For most women, relatively few people see their labia in the first place and doctors are unlikely to make comments about how they look.

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Rape one for the Gipper? Rape culture, maudlin sentimentality, and professional sports

By The Washington Monthly:

By Kathleen Geier
January 20, 2013

Besides Monsignor Meth, the other irrestistible WTF story of the week was, of course, the Manti Te’o fake dead girlfriend saga.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o continues to adamantly maintain that he had absolutely no idea that his supposed girlfriend Lenny Kekua was fake; he claims he was catfished. This seems highly implausible, and various hypotheses about what really happened abound. I’m kind of liking the “Te’o is gay-o” theory myself; Te’o both belongs to a religion (the Mormon Church) and plays for a sport that is homophobic, and the Kekua fiction could have provided a distracting cover story for a gay affair.

But whether, and to what extent, Te’o was in on the hoax is much less important than a bigger question, which is, why is it that the sports press and sports fans cared so much about this story? Why did they find the idea of a young woman dying so tragically, in the prime of life, and a young man using her death as an inspiration to achieve great things, so very entertaining?

Feminists who have written about the Te’o hoax have made the point that while Notre Dame officials showed such touching concern over the fake dead girlfriend, they showed no sympathy whatsoever for a real young woman named Lizzy Seeberg, who in 2011 committed suicide after allegedly being raped by a member of the Notre Dame football team. No one was ever punished in that case — both the alleged rapist and his friend, who sent Seeberg threatening texts warning her not to pursue the case, got off scot-free. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger has reported that several months after Lizzy Seeberg’s death, another young woman at Notre Dame said she was raped by a member of the football team. However, the second woman never reported attack; after being barraged by texts from other players warning her to keep quiet, she refrained from pressing charges.

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The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers From the Rise of Robots

From The Atlantic:

Technology used to make us better at our jobs. Now it’s making many of us obsolete, as the share of income going to workers is crashing, all over the world. What do we do now?

Noah Smith
Jan 14 2013

Here’s a scene that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever taken an introductory economics course. The professor has just finished explaining that in economics, “efficiency” means that there are no possible gains from trade. Then some loudmouth kid in the back raises his hand and asks: “Wait, so if one person has everything, and everyone else has nothing and just dies, is that an ‘efficient’ outcome?” The professor, looking a little chagrined, responds: “Well, yes, it is.” And the whole class rolls their eyes and thinks: Economists.

For most of modern history, inequality has been a manageable problem. The reason is that no matter how unequal things get, most people are born with something valuable: the ability to work, to learn, and to earn money. In economist-ese, people are born with an “endowment of human capital.” It’s just not possible for one person to have everything, as in the nightmare example in Econ 101.

For most of modern history, two-thirds of the income of most rich nations has gone to pay salaries and wages for people who work, while one-third has gone to pay dividends, capital gains, interest, rent, etc. to the people who own capital. This two-thirds/one-third division was so stable that people began to believe it would last forever. But in the past ten years, something has changed. Labor’s share of income has steadily declined, falling by several percentage points since 2000. It now sits at around 60% or lower. The fall of labor income, and the rise of capital income, has contributed to America’s growing inequality.


What can explain this shift? One hypothesis is: China. The recent entry of China into the global trading system basically doubled the labor force available to multinational companies. When labor becomes more plentiful, the return to labor goes down. In a world flooded with cheap Chinese labor, capital becomes relatively scarce, and its share of income goes up. As China develops, this effect should go away, as China builds up its own capital stock. This is probably already happening.

But there is another, more sinister explanation for the change. In past times, technological change always augmented the abilities of human beings. A worker with a machine saw was much more productive than a worker with a hand saw. The fears of “Luddites,” who tried to prevent the spread of technology out of fear of losing their jobs, proved unfounded. But that was then, and this is now. Recent technological advances in the area of computers and automation have begun to do some higher cognitive tasks – think of robots building cars, stocking groceries, doing your taxes.

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Dear Whole Foods CEO, This Is What a Fascist Looks Like

From Reader Supported News:

By Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks, Thom Hartmann Program
20 January 13

Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, doesn’t know what a fascist is.

Speaking with NPR this week, multimillionaire Mackey tried to express how much he hates Obamacare. Back in 2009, he hated Obamacare so much that he called it “socialism.” But now, in 2013, Mackey thinks Obamacare is “fascism.”

“Technically speaking, [Obamacare] is more like fascism,” he said. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.”

Mackey has since walked back this description saying he “regrets using that word now” because there’s “so much baggage attached to it.”

But, whether Mackey meant to or not, it’s about time someone injected the word fascism back into our political debate. Especially now that corporations wield more power today than they have in America since the Robber Baron Era.

First, let’s take on Mackey’s definitions of socialism and fascism, which he likely procured from the Google machine after typing in, “What are the differences between socialism and fascism?”

Yes, socialism encourages more democratic control of the economy. Or, if Mackey insists, more government ownership of the economy – in particular, ownership of the commons and natural resources.

Fascism, on the other hand, is something completely different. Reporter Sy Mukherjee, who blogged about this story over at notes, “Although fascist nations do often control their ‘means of production,’ Mackey seems to have forgotten that they usually utilize warfare, forced mass mobilization of the public, and politically-motivated violence against their own peoples to achieve their ends.”

The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” Fascism originated in Italy, and Mussolini claims to have invented the word itself. It was actually his ghostwriter, Giovanni Gentile, who invented it and defined it in the Encyclopedia Italiana in this way: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

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Even With the Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Coverage Remains Unaffordable for Many

From Truth Out:

By Mike Alberti
Sunday, 20 January 2013

Any hopes that large employers would be penalized for failing to offer affordable insurance coverage to the spouses and dependent children of their employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) were recently dashed by a proposed interpretation of the law from the Obama Administration.

The interpretation, which was released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) late last month in the form of a proposed rule, related to the “Employer Shared Responsibility Provision” of the ACA, popularly known as the employer mandate. That provision provides that larger employers (those with more than 50 employees) offer insurance coverage not only to their employees, but to the “dependents” of those employees as well. If these employers fail to offer “affordable” coverage, they may be subject to monetary penalties.

But the IRS’s definition of dependents in the proposed rule excludes the spouses of employees, regardless of whether the spouse is employed.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on legal interpretations of the ACA, explained that there is thus nothing in the proposed rule that would incentivize large employers who do not currently offer coverage to spouses to do so. And for employers who do currently offer coverage to spouses, he said, there is no disincentive in the proposed rule against dropping that coverage in the future.

The proposed rule may address the concerns of some employers about the costs associated with offering coverage to their employees’ spouses, said Shana Alex Lavarreda, director of health insurance studies at the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California Los Angeles, “but from an employee’s perspective, your spouse is a hugely important part of your family, somebody who you want to be covered, and if they don’t have other coverage options this rule isn’t going to do anything to address that.”

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Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery

From The New York Times:

January 19, 2013

The re-election of President Obama was like a Rorschach test, subject to many interpretations. In this election, each side debated issues that deeply worry me: the long malaise into which the economy seems to be settling, and the growing divide between the 1 percent and the rest — an inequality not only of outcomes but also of opportunity. To me, these problems are two sides of the same coin: with inequality at its highest level since before the Depression, a robust recovery will be difficult in the short term, and the American dream — a good life in exchange for hard work — is slowly dying.

Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth. When even the free-market-oriented magazine The Economist argues — as it did in a special feature in October — that the magnitude and nature of the country’s inequality represent a serious threat to America, we should know that something has gone horribly wrong. And yet, after four decades of widening inequality and the greatest economic downturn since the Depression, we haven’t done anything about it.

There are four major reasons inequality is squelching our recovery. The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth. While the top 1 percent of income earners took home 93 percent of the growth in incomes in 2010, the households in the middle — who are most likely to spend their incomes rather than save them and who are, in a sense, the true job creators — have lower household incomes, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1996. The growth in the decade before the crisis was unsustainable — it was reliant on the bottom 80 percent consuming about 110 percent of their income.

Second, the hollowing out of the middle class since the 1970s, a phenomenon interrupted only briefly in the 1990s, means that they are unable to invest in their future, by educating themselves and their children and by starting or improving businesses.

Third, the weakness of the middle class is holding back tax receipts, especially because those at the top are so adroit in avoiding taxes and in getting Washington to give them tax breaks. The recent modest agreement to restore Clinton-level marginal income-tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 and households making more than $450,000 did nothing to change this. Returns from Wall Street speculation are taxed at a far lower rate than other forms of income. Low tax receipts mean that the government cannot make the vital investments in infrastructure, education, research and health that are crucial for restoring long-term economic strength.

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$240 billion amassed by 100 richest people enough to end extreme poverty four times over: Oxfam

From The Guardian UK:

By Phillip Inman
Saturday, January 19, 2013

The vast fortunes made by the world’s richest 100 billionaires is driving up inequality and hindering the world’s ability to tackle poverty, according to Oxfam.

The charity said the accumulation of wealth and income on an unprecedented scale, often at the expense of secure jobs and decent wages for the poorest, undermined the ability of people who survive on aid or low wages to improve their situation and escape poverty.

Oxfam said the world’s poorest could be lifted out of poverty several times over should the richest 100 billionaires give away the money they made last year.

Without pointing a finger at individuals, the charity argued that the $240bn (£150bn) net income amassed in 2012 by the richest 100 billionaires would be enough to make extreme poverty history four times over.

It is rare for charities to attack the wealthy, who are usually regarded as a source of funding. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are among a group of 40 US billionaires who have pledged much of their wealth to aid projects, but there is little detail about the level of their annual donations. Their actions have also not been matched by Russian, Middle Eastern or Chinese billionaires.

In the report, The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All, published before the World Economic Forum in Davos next week, the charity calls on world leaders to curb income extremes and commit to reducing inequality to at least 1990 levels.

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Rift Widens Over Mining of Uranium in Virginia

From The New York Times:

Published: January 19, 2013

CHATHAM, Va. — In a landscape of rolling pastures and grazing cattle, Stewart East stepped from his pickup truck with a Geiger counter. He pointed it at a puddle filled by recent rains, and the instrument erupted in scratchy feedback.

“This is the top of the deposit,” said Mr. East, an employee of a company that wants to mine one of the largest lodes of uranium in the United States, which happens to be found here in southern Virginia.

A fight over whether to drill beneath the oak hedgerows, an undertaking that would yield 1,000 jobs and a bounty of tax revenue in addition to nuclear fuel, has divided the region. The bitterness is reflected in competing lawn signs that read “No Uranium Mining” and, on the other side of the road, “Stop whining. Start mining.”

Now, after years of government reports and hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations that included a trip to France for state lawmakers, the issue has reached the crucible of Virginia’s General Assembly.

Bills introduced last week would lift a moratorium on uranium mining at the site here, known as Coles Hill. Political supporters say that the mining would bring economic benefits and that risks from radioactive wastes, or tailings, can be safely managed. Opponents fear the contamination of drinking water in case of an accident, and a stigma from uranium that would deter people and businesses from moving to the area.

The politics of the issue do not divide neatly along party lines. Opponents include most state lawmakers from the region, all of whom are Republicans. A prominent supporter is the minority leader of the State Senate, Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat, who lives in the northern suburbs. Asked about buried uranium tailings that remain a risk for hundreds of years, Mr. Saslaw, who is known for unguarded statements, said in a radio interview, “I’m not going to be here.”

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Water grabbing to follow food speculation? Where are the checks and balances?

From The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

by Shiney Varghese
January 18, 2013

Writing in National Geographic in December 2012 about “small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment” that “are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty” water expert Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project cautioned against reckless land and water-related investments in Africa. “[U]nless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.”

That same month, the online publication Market Oracle reported that “ [t]he new ‘water barons’—the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires—are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.”The report reveals two phenomena that have been gathering speed, and that could potentially lead to profit accumulation at the cost of communities and commons —the expansion of market instruments beyond the water supply and sanitation to other areas of water governance, and the increasingly prominent role of financial institutions.

In several instances this has meant that the government itself has set up public corporations that run like a business, contracting out water supply and sanitation operations to those with expertise, or entering into public–private–partnerships, often with water multinationals. This happened recently in Nagpur and New Delhi, India. In most rural areas, ensuring a clean drinking water supply and sanitation continues to be a challenge. For-profit companies such as Sarvajal have begun setting up pre-paid water kiosks (or water ATMs) that would dispense units of water upon the insertion of a pre-paid card. It is no surprise that these are popular among people who otherwise have no access to clean drinking water.

With climate change, however, the water crisis is no longer perceived as confined to developing countries or even primarily a concern related to water supply and sanitation. Fresh water commons are becoming degraded and depleted in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, diversion of water for expanded commodity crop production, biofuels and gas hydro-fracking is compounding the crisis in rural areas. In areas ranging from the Ogallala aquifer to the Great Lakes in North America, water has been referred to as liquid gold. Billionaires such as T. Boone Pickens have been buying up land overlying the Ogallala aquifer, acquiring water rights; companies such as Dow Chemicals, with a long history of water pollution, are investing in the business of water purification, making pollution itself a cash-cow.

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