Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A New Way Forward

One of the most vexing things about the Obama Administration is its perplexing generosity with Wall Street and the banking industry. We've already thrown billions of dollars of bailout money at the greedy incompetents running the financial industry, and they still can't see their way clear to make credit available to individuals and businesses. Defenders of the bailout say that the giant banks are too big to be allowed to fail, and that if they go under, they'll take the whole economy with them. Meanwhile, economists such as Paul Krugman argue that this type of bailout can't and won't work.

Thanks to janinsanfran and William Greider, I discovered the website of a group of activists who are mad as hell and not going to put up with nonsense any more. According to A New Way Forward, "If it's too big to fail, it's too big to exist." They insist that "We must break up the banks and never again let them get so big that they distort our politics and take down the economy."

At 2 p.m. EDT, (this would be 1 p.m. Central time), A New Way Forward is sponsoring demonstrations nationwide to support their program to nationalize, reorganize, and decentralize the banks. There may even be a demonstration here in OKC, although as of this writing, only two people have committed to attend it.

In my rush to finish this post before the library closes, I'm probably oversimplifying what A New Way Forward is all about. For more information, you can visit their blog. They also offer an online discussion forum.

Why, indeed?

Over at thenation.com, John Nichols asks why Auto Gets Tough Love, While Wall Street Feels the Love.

Nichols wants to know:
How come, if the auto industry must feel the pain, the speculators on Wall Street and the CEOs of the big banks and insurance companies only feel the love of the TARP program?

Why is it, as the Politico headline on Monday evening suggested, "Carrots for banks, sticks for autos"?

Why is it that Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, sounds so logical when he asks, "When will the Wall Street CEOs receiving TARP funds summon the honor to resign? Will this White House ever bother to raise the issue?"

And why does McCotter's answer to his question about the White House getting as tough with Wall Street as it has with Detroit--"I doubt it"--sound so achingly accurate?

All good questions.

Alternatives to the private bicycle

Thanks to my friends Ginger and Terri for this link to something called B-cycle.

This seems to be the high-tech version of something I remember seeing back in Moscow, Idaho, when I lived there during the very early 1980s--shared bicycles. Back in Moscow, these were old beater bikes, spray-painted orange and left at public bike racks. You could borrow one, bicycle around on it to your heart's content, then leave it at another bike rack. I'm not sure how successful this venture was. The bikes were supposed to be too ugly to steal, but I'm sure a few of them got stolen. I don't know who was in charge of maintenance, and since you didn't have to pay to use the bike, there wasn't a maintenance fund. Besides that, although Moscow had a fairly small population and not a huge amount of traffic, it was very hilly and not much fine to ride around on a single-speed bike. I can't be sure of this, but if I went back to Moscow, Idaho today, I bet that all of the public bikes would be gone.

B-cycle, on the other hand appears to be a co-operative venture of the advertising agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, the bicycle manufacturer Trek and the health insurance company Humana. I found this by doing a little googling, and reading a post on the Inspired Economist. It seems to be presented as an effort of these companies to combat environmental degradation and improve public health. The idea is that riders can check out these simple single-speed bikes at numerous convenient public locations, then return them to the same or a different B-cycle rack.

It's not a free service. Riders pay for the use of the bikes with a credit card or a B-cycle account. I haven't seen the business model for B-cycle. I'm not sure what the use of the machines costs--the B-knowledge link on the B-cycle site offers to answer the question "What does it cost?", but the answer is, "Rates will be coming soon." so, on the one hand, this public rent-a-bike system offers the advantage that the bicycles can be tracked, and there is income to use for maintenance of the machines. Is the hope of the sponsors that the fees for the bikes will also generate a profit? Or is the project meant as a form a community service (as well as public relations for its sponsors)?

Let's see what else I can find...

April Streeter on the Huffington Post thinks it's a great idea, but doesn't offer a lot more details. Writing on the New York Times Green, Inc. blog, Azadeh Ensha says that a B-cycle membership is slated to cost $50/year. Each bike reportedly costs $2500-$3000.

Ensha notes that other bike-sharing programs worldwide have had mixed success, but that the president of B-cycle is optimistic that the company can succeed:
“We’ve done a lot of research on both successful and unsuccessful bike-sharing programs — about 100 throughout the world,” says Nate Kvamme, the president of B-cycle and a former director at Humana’s Innovation Center. Mr. Kvamme says his bike-sharing program boasts some distinct advantages over earlier comers — including fourth-generation bicycles that will track and measure usage, and a business plan that relies on integration with local businesses.
Meanwhile, according to the Cafe Evoke's A Thought Over Coffee blog, Oklahoma City is second in the nation in people who have voted on B-cycle's Who Wants It More? page to bring B-cycle to our city.

I'm not sure what I think. B-cycle sounds like an intriguing idea, but I tend to be wary of corporations bearing gifts. For myself, I like the OKC Infoshop, where they have a free bicycle recyclery. Anyone out there have any different opinions?

Monday, March 30, 2009

An answer to the deficit hawks

Dean Baker compares Budget Deficits and Blow Up Dolls.
In the movie Lars and the Real Girl, the main character imagines that a female blow-up doll is his fiancé. To humor Lars, his brother and sister-in-law go along with the charade. Over the course of the movie, more people are drawn into the circle, until eventually the whole town is treating Bianca the blow-up doll as one of its leading citizens.

This seems to pretty well describe the debate over the budget deficit, except it's not clear that many people realize it's a charade. The main story is that Lars' budget hawk counterparts are upset that the deficits projected for 2013 or 2019 are too large. They want President Obama to commit to spending cuts and/or tax increases in order to bring these deficits to levels they consider acceptable.
The whole thing is well worth reading.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Supporting President Obama's budget

I wish I had more time to research this, but Congress seems to be ready to vote on President Obama's budget next week.

On economic matters, Obama seems to have an odd sort of split personality. On the one hand, his plans to bail out financial institutions will give away billions of dollars to the irresponsible tycoons who screwed everything up so badly--while proposing a cure for their bad behavior that may be worse than the disease. On the other hand his fiscal year 2010 budget seems to be a genuinely progressive document that would make badly needed investments in health care, clean energy, education, and infrastructure.

If you would like to support the president's budget, there are several ways to do so. The Campaign for America's Future has an online form you can use to contact your senators and congressperson. (They also have a set of talking points that you can use to make an argument in support of the budget.) Or, you can go to barackobama.com to sign a pledge to support the budget. On this site, you can also click a button that will tell you where to call your representatives. Sure, here in Oklahoma we live in the reddest of the red states, and it's easy to feel that there is no point in contacting our representatives to tell them how we feel. On the other hand, they need to know that not all of their constituents are right-wing conservatives.

Predictably, Republicans and some Democrats have attacked President Obama's budget on the grounds that it would massively increase the federal deficit and make the federal government larger. My best understanding is that these are really bad arguments, as economist Ellen Frank point would point out. (The link above is to an online interview with her. Her book, The Raw Deal, is available throught the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library System.)

To oversimplify, Frank argues that policies that keep deficits, inflation and government small tend to benefit a very small group of owners of capital and disadvantage ordinary working people and society as a whole. I think that we as a nation need to debate the conventional wisdom that says that big government and big deficits are automatically bad, and I'm frustrated that this debate seems to be largely ignored. In the future, I hope to be able to return to this discussion. I suppose I'm as skeptical of big government as the next person, but sometimes government intervention is necessary to control capitalism gone amok.

Hillary Clinton is right

So reports Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
It’s an indictment of our fact-averse political culture that a statement of the blindingly obvious could sound so revolutionary. “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on her plane Wednesday as she flew to Mexico for an official visit. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border ... causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians.”
You can see the rest of Robinson's thought-provoking analysis at Truthdig.

Senate bill to benefit subprime borrowers offers most aid to women

According to Women's eNews, "Women are almost twice as likely as men to hold subprime mortgages. That means the ability of many to hang on to their homes could be tied up with Senate action--expected this month--on a bill to reduce mortgage payments."

They have the details here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

On guard against Gardasil

Gardasil is a vaccine against human papilloma virus. HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and a variety of other diseases, including penile and anal cancer.

Gardasil is marketed by the pharmaceutical giant Merck, and costs about $500 for the three shots necessary to establish immunity. A couple of years ago Merck sponsored a legislative campaign to make Gardasil one of the vaccinations girls would have to receive in order to attend school. This campaign proved controversial, and only Virginia and the District of Columbia passed this legislation. Now, Merck is pushing to have boys and men vaccinated with Gardasil.

The National Partnership for Women and Families discusses this situation in its Daily Women's Health Policy Report issued yesterday. This report is based on an article in that day's edition of the Washington Post.

According to the Post:
When a vaccine designed to protect girls against a sexually transmitted virus arrived three years ago, the debate centered on one question: Would the shots make young girls more likely to have sex?

Now the vaccine's maker is trying to get approval to sell the vaccine for boys, and the debate is focusing on something else entirely: Is it worth the money, and is it safe and effective enough?

Like most generalizations, this one has some exceptions. For instance back during the summer of 2007, I found this post over on AlterNet. It's the first part of a four-part series on the politics and PR of cervical cancer by Judith Siers-Poisson.

Siers-Poisson writes:
Given the anxiety of most people about cancer and the number of people infected with HPV, it is not surprising that what is touted as the first vaccine against cancer has been largely greeted with acclaim. But despite having been affected personally, I became concerned by the headlong rush to not only approve the vaccine, but to mandate it for middle-school aged girls. It is also worrisome that a vaccine may give a false sense of security, which could lead to a decline in the very reliable and proven diagnostic tools available, including Pap tests. Decisions affecting millions of young women should not be made lightly, and certainly not without examining the marketing, PR, and profit motives of a corporation like Merck.

Apparently, HPV is incredibly common, so common that more than half of all sexually active people acquire it at some point. By age 50, 80 percent or more of all women will have become infected with genital HPV. But most people fight off the infection on their own. There are more than 30 strains of HPV, a few of which cause cancer. Merck claims that its vaccine protects against the strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

Siers-Poisson argues that the most effective preventative measure against cervical cancer is a regular Pap smear. Unfortunately, poor women, women of color, and women in non-industrialized countries often lack access to regular medical care, including Pap tests. Furthermore, cervical cancer causes far fewer deaths than do heart disease and breast cancer. While not minimizing the threat of cervical cancer, Siers-Poisson wonders if Gardasil is vastly more important to the health of Merck than it is to the health of women.

Meanwhile, let's go back to the Washington Post. The Post article raises the question of whether it might be sexist to consider cost-effectiveness in the case of Gardasil:
"The cost-effectiveness studies are really important, but I don't think they should be the sole driver of public health policy," said Gregory D. Zimet, a professor of pediatrics and psychology at Indiana University. "This is a vaccine that principally benefits women's health. I wonder if it was the reverse, and there was a vaccine for women that helped prevent prostate cancer in men, this would be as much of an issue."
For me, the real question is, are we protecting the health of patients, or are we protecting the health of giant corporations? We're often told that universal health care is unaffordable. But it's not always true that the most expensive treatment is the one that is most effective. If we can find a way to spend our health care dollars in the most cost-effective way, maybe we could afford health care for everyone. If that requires more government intervention in the free market, that's really not such a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More on Paul Krugman

Just the other day, I linked to some opinions by Paul Krugman about the Obama administration's plan for bailing out banks and unfreezing credit markets. He was against it. On the other hand, Krugman thinks Obama's budget is very good. For instance:
The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.
For this budget allocates $634 billion over the next decade for health reform. That’s not enough to pay for universal coverage, but it’s an impressive start. And Mr. Obama plans to pay for health reform, not just with higher taxes on the affluent, but by putting a halt to the creeping privatization of Medicare, eliminating overpayments to insurance companies.

It seems to me that I remember Krugman from back during the Clinton administration as a neo-liberal economist who very much promoted the mainstream line on globalization. Maybe Krugman has changed over the past eight years. Maybe I have changed and lost my radical edge. Or maybe Krugman just looks good in comparison to right-wing economic orthodoxy.

Whatever it is, I find that these days I look forward to reading Krugman's opinions, and often find them useful and informative. Oddly enough, moderately progressive economists such as Krugman seem to be somewhat out of favor in the Obama White House. See this post on Alas, a blog for the details. It includes an embedded link to a very funny music video.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Food for thought

Via Feminist Blogs, I found this post from Feminist Law Professors that linked to a post on I Blame the Patriarchy. That post links to a blog called Suicide Food -- which tracks advertising that features animals who seem to want to be eaten.

Interesting post. One quote compares the use of animals in meat production to the use of women and prostitution. In both cases, patriarchal propaganda suggests that animals and prostitutes both want to be used.

Makes tofu sound a lot more appealing by comparison.

US Jews support strong US leadership for two-state solution in Middle East...

...according to a new poll of American Jews' views on Israel and the Middle East released by the progressive Jewish organization J Street.

According to an email message announcing the poll:
  • American Jews remain remarkably supportive of assertive American efforts to achieve Middle East peace. The poll finds an extraordinarily strong base of 69 percent of American Jews firmly supporting active American engagement in bringing about Middle East peace, even if it means publicly disagreeing with or exerting pressure on both Arabs and Israelis, compared to 66 percent eight months ago;
  • 69 percent also support the U.S. working with a unified Hamas-Fatah Palestinian Authority government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel, even when informed that the U.S. does not recognize Hamas due to its status as a terrorist organization and its refusal to recognize Israel. Interestingly, a March poll conducted by the Truman Institute at Hebrew University reported that 69 percent of Israelis also think Israel should negotiate with a joint Hamas-Fatah government;
  • By 76-24 percent, American Jews support a two-state, final status deal between Israel and the Palestinians along the lines of the agreement nearly reached eight years ago during the Camp David and Taba talks;

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Webcam shows eagle nest near Stillwater

Follow this link to see live views of a bald eagle nest, as well as information about eagles. It's pretty cool.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This isn't change. This is large amounts of our money, and our President seems to want to throw it away.

Common Dreams has this disconcerting view by Paul Krugman of the Obama administration's plan to unfreeze US capital markets.
This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn't actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won't be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work.
Krugman is basing his analysis on this New York Times article. The article not only gives details of the three-part administration plan to get credit flowing again, but explains what the source of the problem is:
Risk-taking institutional investors, like hedge funds and private equity funds, have refused to pay more than about 30 cents on the dollar for many bundles of mortgages, even if most of the borrowers are still current. But banks holding those mortgages, not wanting to book huge losses on their holdings, have often refused to sell for less than 60 cents on the dollar.

The result has been a paralyzing impasse. Banks, unwilling to sell their loans at fire-sale prices, have had less capital available to make new loans. Mortgage investors, unable to leverage their investments with borrowed money, have been unwilling to pay more than fire-sale prices.

To break that impasse, the government’s crucial subsidy is meant to provide investors with the kind of low-cost financing that has been utterly unavailable in today’s credit markets.
In an update posted on his blog, Krugman gives a further explanation of his opposition to the Obama plan:

So now we have a bank crisis. Is it the result of fundamentally bad investment, or is it because of a self-fulfilling panic?

If you think it’s just a panic, then the government can pull a magic trick: by stepping in to buy the assets banks are selling, it can make banks look solvent again, and end the run. Yippee! And sometimes that really does work.

But if you think that the banks really, really have made lousy investments, this won’t work at all; it will simply be a waste of taxpayer money. To keep the banks operating, you need to provide a real backstop — you need to guarantee their debts, and seize ownership of those banks that don’t have enough assets to cover their debts; that’s the Swedish solution, it’s what we eventually did with our own S&Ls.

Now, early on in this crisis, it was possible to argue that it was mainly a panic. But at this point, that’s an indefensible position. Banks and other highly leveraged institutions collectively made a huge bet that the normal rules for house prices and sustainable levels of consumer debt no longer applied; they were wrong. Time for a Swedish solution.

Krugman argues, cogently I think, that if this plan fails, as it is likely to do, the Obama administration won't have the political capital to try a plan that might actually work.

In addition, I would argue that the failure of this Wall Street bailout would undermine efforts by the president to gain support for his ambitious budget.

Numbers show OK economic woes continue

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment level rose to 5.0 percent in January (up from 4.6 percent in December). Building permits for the last quarter of 2008 declined 44 percent from the same period a year previously. And the state government's revenue collections dropped sharply for the second straight month.

For more information, you can view the March edition of OPI's Numbers You Need.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Afghan women's party to compete at polls...

...and Inter Press Service has this interview with party leader Fatima Nazari.

Among other things, Nazari says:
The two main problems we face are the lack of a funds and the prevalence of Mujahedeen. Most of the time, (the mujahedeen) suffocate our voices. They don’t give us a chance to talk, and whenever they speak, the parliamentary authorities allow it. The parliament never listens to our suggestions. I’ve always been intimidated by the jihadi leaders in our parliament. Once, for example, (Haji Mohammed) Mohaqeq and (Abdul Rab Rasul) Sayaff (two notorious mujahedeen warlords turned parliamentarians) wanted to speak about some issue, and they were allowed to speak three times. But we never got a chance to speak.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has focused a lot attention and support on these mujahedeen warlords. They should listen more to the people, not to a bunch of former warlords. People don’t want to see these jihadi leaders in power. When the U.S. invaded, people were hoping to be released from the grip of these jihadis. But it never happened.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh, come on, now

Here's a news article that popped up on msn.com when I signed out of my Hotmail account:

Obama 'stunned' by millions in AIG bonuses - White House- msnbc.com

Sure, the behavior of the executives at American International Group was repulsive, but is anyone really surprised?

Here's hoping that the outrage leads to some actual regulation of the financial industry.

No joke.

So I was hanging out in a local coffee shop the other night when I overheard some young folks telling Helen Keller jokes. You know me. I felt impelled to deliver a political lecture. But before I delivered the lecture, I needed to check my facts. So I looked up Helen Keller on Wikipedia.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Keller was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor's degree. And I thought I already knew that "Keller was well traveled and was outspoken in her opposition to war. She campaigned for women's suffrage, workers' rights, and socialism, as well as many other progressive causes." That was exactly the piece of information that I was looking for.

But then I read further. We've all heard the story about how Anne Sullivan taught Keller to understand the concept of language. But before there was Anne Sullivan, there was Martha Washington (and we're not talking about the first First Lady) :
Helen Keller was not born blind and deaf; it was not until she was nineteen months old that she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain," which could possibly have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. At that time, her only communication partner was Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who was able to create a sign language with her; by the age of seven, she had over sixty home signs to communicate with her family. According to Soviet blind-deaf psychologist A. Meshcheryakov, Martha's friendship and teaching was crucial for Helen's later developments.
By Keller's own account, she was downright mean to the companion to whom she owed so much:
In those days a little coloured girl, Martha Washington, the child of our cook, and Belle, an old setter, and a great hunter in her day, were my constant companions. Martha Washington understood my signs, and I seldom had any difficulty in makingher do just as I wished. It pleased me to domineer over her, and she generally submitted to my tyranny rather than risk a hand-to-hand encounter. I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences. I knew my own mind well enough and always had my own way, even if I had to fight tooth and nail for it.
I did some web searching to find out more about little Martha Washington, and didn't find much beyond Keller's description and the mention in Wikipedia. I did, however, find a long essay about Keller in the Journal of Southern History. In this essay, Kim E. Neilson explores "The Southern Ties of Helen Keller." What emerges is a complicated and interesting portrait of a Keller's position as a disabled southern white woman from a powerful Confederate family who often challenged "southern gender and racial traditions."

Neilson notes that as a child, "Keller maintained her tyranny (over Martha Washington) with the threat of personal violence, but that aggression was simply a part of and enabled by the much larger racial realities of post-Redemption Alabama." Her northern tutor Anne Sullivan exposed Helen Keller to ideals of racial equality. Keller's education at Radcliffe College further radicalized her. Sometimes she took bold stands against racism. Sometimes, giving way to family pressure, she backed away from those bold stands.

In her brilliance, in her struggle to live as a whole person in a world that wanted to patronize and control her as a disabled person and a woman, in her bravery as a human rights activist, and yes, in her failures to live up to her own ideals, I find the real complicated Helen Keller more inspired than the cardboard heroine and butt of stupid jokes that is sometimes presented to us. Helen Keller gives me hope that I myself, sometimes brave, sometimes brilliant, sometimes failing to live up to my own ideals, can also contribute to creating a free and equal world

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The difference between privilege and power

I've been thinking about the connections between different forms of oppression. I've been thinking about the ways that patriarchs keep power by setting oppressed groups against each other. I've been thinking about the commonplace accusation that feminism is a white phenomenon, that feminism, almost by definition, is racist. This is something I've been struggling to write about for years, and nothing that I write about it ever satisfies me. I think this is something that I will have to write about in small pieces, rather than all at once.

Here's a small piece of the puzzle.

Sexism and racism are both part of the structure of of society in the United States and around the world. These structures help to create individual attitudes, but are made up of much more. There is nothing about adopting feminist ideals that makes sure that feminists won't have racist attitudes--or sexist attitudes, for that fact. It also seems true that movements to free oppressed people are often dominated by people within the group who have the most privilege. I don't think it's true that feminism is merely a creation of white, economically privileged women. I think that idea is insulting to millions of women of color and working class women who have made up the grassroots of feminism. Nevertheless, economically privileged white women are the ones with access to the most resources to shape public understanding of the movement and influence government actions.

The fact that women and other people have a difficult time living up to their ideals is sad and painful. But what I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the concept that focusing on women and trying to eradicate patriarchy somehow, by definition, means supporting racism or other forms of oppression.

"For the Love of Separatism," by Anna Lee, was something that helped me organize my thoughts on this issue. Years ago I read this essay that I'm linking to in the magazine Lesbian Ethics. A while back I found it electronically on the wonderful web site Feminist Reprise.

Anna Lee offers the perspective that white women promote racism not by focusing on other women, but by making alliances with white men. Here is one example she gives:
The original radical analysis of rape by organizers of rape crisis centers was replaced (often along with the original organizers) with organizers’ acceptance even desire for police participation in preventing the crime of rape. Rape crisis center organizers eagerly sought police involvement even though police had never demonstrated a concern with or success in finding the male rapists of black women. The police, however, have shown a willingness to rape black women.(6) In fact, white feminists’ analysis of rape discounted the experiences of black women. The police have also shown a very successful record of protecting white men from facing the penalties for their rapist acts, while, as I commented earlier, black males are disproportionately targeted to pay the penalty for the crime of rape. Who benefitted from police involvement with rape crisis centers? Not black women. Not black men. But white males did benefit. While white feminists’ agenda may not have been articulated, their desire to bond with white males was not unnoticed.

Anna Lee continues to offer a thought-provoking analysis of why white feminists and lesbians seek out connection with and approval from white males:

What all of us, especially white lesbians, must be clear about is the difference between power and revokable privilege. Power-over is the necessary resources to decide what the outcome of a situation will be. Revokable privilege is the ability to carry out someone else’s decisions and their agenda. Privilege can be wielded as long as someone else’s decisions and agenda are followed. White women have revokable privilege. When they serve white male interests, resources are made available to them. When they do not, the availability of resources decreases. When battered women’s shelters hire out-lesbians or make services available to lesbians who have been battered, funding from city, county, state or national government is canceled. It is important to males that women be patched up and returned to them. It is not important to them that lesbians be patched up and returned to a lesbian battering situation.

White lesbians or feminists may, in fact, know that the availability of resources is dependent upon making the male givers of the resources comfortable, or they may not want to examine the gift horses’ mouths too closely. When certain actions result in predictable, consistent outcomes then the actions not the rhetoric must be examined. I’m still waiting for white lesbians to question their bond with white men and what that bond means to creating a diverse lesbian community. The bond between white lesbians and men is currently a stumbling block to the creation of meaningful race and class diversity.

This is one of those times when I don't seem to have a useful concluding sentence. I guess I'm just looking for the next piece of the puzzle.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Guess what?

Right-wing Republicans are bellyaching that if the Employee Free Choice Act passes, "union thugs" will interfere with the right for workers to choose not to join a union.

But the Center for Economic Policy Research has a new report that demonstrates that if you try to help form a union in your workplace, your employer is likely to try to fire your ass.

I am shocked. Truly shocked. Maybe the Employee Free Choice Act really is necessary to protect the right to form unions?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Does new White House council have real power to help women?

According to Voice of America, President Obama signed an executive order last week establishing the White House Council on Women and Girls.
A statement from the White House says the council will work on improving women's economic security, evaluating and developing public policy that is family-friendly, finding new ways to prevent violence against women, and improving women's health care.

Mr. Obama noted that while women and girls make up half the nation's population, women make up only 17 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress and three percent of the heads of the top 500 corporations in the United States.

Feministe and Feministing both have commentary on this (and both have embedded YouTube videos of the president's speech announcing the council), and both blogs seem to think this panel offers real hope of improving the position of women in the US. On the other hand, Linda Lowen at about.com suggests that this might be a public relations move with very little real substance. Using a post on politico.com as her source, she notes that the council has no full-time staff and no set meeting schedule.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oklahoma state government not immune to economic woes

This update from the Oklahoma Policy Institute has the details.

Big Google is watching you...but you can opt out of their tracking program

Electronic Frontier Foundation has the details.

Meanwhile, EFF offers a link to a post on slight paranoia that asks if "tracking data from videos embedded into the White House Web site end up in Google's targeted advertising database?"

Both posts are well worth reading.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How women got the vote in Oklahoma

In a recent post, I noted that Oklahoma voters passed an amendment in November 1918 granting women the right to vote in this state. You might well wonder, how did women in a conservative state like Oklahoma win the suffrage before passage of the federal amendment?

Oklahoma's history is more complicated than you might imagine, but that's a story for another time. For the moment, suffice it to say, an account of the Oklahoma suffrage campaign can be found in Eleanor Flexner's Century of Struggle:The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. This campaign took place in the context of the difficult final campaign to win the vote for US women, which finally gained victory on August 26, 1920.

According to Flexner, after suffering through "the doldrums" during the years 1896-1910, the movement to gain the vote for US women gained new life in the second decade of the 20th century. The old National American Woman Suffrage Association had stagnated, limited, in part by the refusal of the (white) members of its southern affiliates to support a federal amendment because that would interfere with "states rights."

The upstart Congressional Union, led by Alice Paul, began a militant campaign of demonstrating and lobbying for a federal suffrage amendment. This spurred NAWSA, now under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, into new effectiveness. Catt developed a "winning plan" that involved working for both the federal amendment and state amendments.

In the November 1918 elections, NAWSA targeted four anti-suffrage US Senators for defeat, and managed to remove Republican Weeks of Massachusetts and Democrat Saulsbury of Delaware. Flexner writes that  this election also "saw four state suffrage referenda come up, of which threee were victorious, South Dakota, Michigan, and Oklahoma, while the fourth, Louisiana, lost by only a few thousand votes, a showing of some consequence in a southern state."

Flexner describes what happened in Oklahoma on pages 305-306 of Century of Struggle.

The difficulties encountered by the suffragists in Oklahoma referendum probably represented the worst in unprincipled opposition in any suffrage campaign. There were innumerable special local problems, not the least of  which was a complete breakdown of the state suffrage organization after the campaign was underway. This was particularly serious because the Oklahoma state constitution required that the number of votes in favor of an amendment must exceed the total, not only of the negative votes, but also of  those ballots not marked either for  or against. The Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of the State Elections Board left no stone unturned to defeat the suffrage amendment. They even went to such lengths as printing only half as many ballots on the amendment as regular ballots and withholding them altogether from soldiers voting in the army camps in the state. The National kept two of its best  organizers,  the Shuler mother-and-daughter  team, in Oklahoma for months and spent more money on the campaign--nearly $20,000--than in any other state. Flagrant efforts were made after election day to count out what was clearly a suffrage victory, and the last National organizer did not leave Oklahoma until December 3, one month later, when the Governor finally surrendered to the facts of life and proclaimed the measure passed.

As her source for this information, Flexner cites  pages 529-535 of the History of Woman Suffrage.

I've quoted from the "enlarged edition" of Century of Struggle published in 1996 by Harvard University's Belknap Press. Ellen Fitzpatrick is listed as co-author of this edition. Having read an earlier edition of the work, it appears to me that Fitzpatrick's contribution to this volume consisted mostly of writing a foreward and afterword, which do provide interesting information about Eleanor Flexner, the creation of the book, and the relationship of the first wave of US women's rights activism to the contemporary feminist movement.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When I get around to starting a garden, I think I'd like to try this...

Someone in my neighborhood recently mentioned to me that there exists Oklavore, a local blog about eating locally. Not only does it exist, it had this cool recent article about no-dig gardening.

While any form of gardening involves a certain amount of manual labor (which is part of its charm), no-dig gardening does eliminate one time-consuming and difficult garden task. Plus, it seems to require very little water, a definite plus in a dry climate like ours.

It's a charming post, well worth reading. Check it out.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Moving forward

Today is International Women's Day, and also, in most of the United States, the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. Did you remember to set your clock forward an hour?

Here's a fun fact for today. Did you know that Oklahoma was one of the states that granted the vote to women before the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution?

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society's online Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, activism to gain votes for women began in Oklahoma Territory as early as 1890, when the Women's Christian Temperance Union organized in the territory. Prohibitionists believed they needed the vote in order to be effective in their work. By 1893, women in the territory had gained only the right to vote in school elections. By 1895, the WCTU had allied with the National American Woman Suffrage Association to further their struggle for the vote.
Suffragists from Oklahoma and Indian territories met in 1904 at Oklahoma City and established the Woman Suffrage Association of Oklahoma and Indian Territory. With Kate H. Biggers as president, the joint association adopted a pro-statehood resolution declaring that no law should be enacted "restricting the right of suffrage on account of sex, race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Despite a well-organized suffrage campaign the 1906 Oklahoma Constitutional Convention denied the vote to women. Not surprisingly, this convention also passed a number of restrictions on the rights of African Americans. Nevertheless,
As a favorable climate toward enfranchisement increased nationwide during World War I, Oklahoma suffragists, led by Pres. Adelia C. Stephens, lobbied the legislature in 1917, which submitted the matter as a constitutional amendment to be decided at the next general election. A splinter group of the national suffrage movement, the Congressional Union or National Woman's Party, was also active. In 1916 they sent Iris Calderhead of St. Mary's, Kansas, to Oklahoma to enlist support. Unlike the NAWSA, this organization was restricted to female membership and took a more militant and radical strategy. The Suffragist, the Union Party's official organ, encouraged women to paste literature on farmers' wagons, picket and parade, and shout from boxes at county fairs, picnics, and tent meetings. The most vocal of the local officers was Secretary Kate Stafford, who was unable to assume her duties until she had served thirty days in a Washington, D.C., jail for picketing the White House.

On November 5, 1918, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 97, which extended suffrage to women (emphasis added). A ratification committee, chaired by Katherine Pierce of Oklahoma City, helped ensure passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the state legislature. When Oklahoma ratified the Nineteenth Amendment on February 28, 1920, the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association disbanded and the state's League of Women Voters formed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oh, Jesus

ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES reports that a Catholic archbishop in Brazil announced that everyone will be excommunicated who helped a nine-year old survivor of incestuous rape get an abortion. Not only was the pregnancy the result of rape, but it also endangered the life of the girl, who weighs only 80 pounds.

The Catholic Church is apparently unable to tell the difference between being "pro life" and being pro-patriarchy.

Heaven help us all.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

An alternative proposal

Today the California Supreme Court heard arguments in a case brought by gay marriage advocates to overturn last November's Proposition 8. Plaintiffs in the case, including lesbian comedian Robin Tyler, argue that marriage is a basic civil right and that voters don't have the power to overturn the basic rights of minority groups.

There's an interesting discussion of the court proceedings over on Pam's House Blend. Consensus seems to be that the court will uphold the ban on gay marriages, while declaring that the gay marriages that took place before Prop. 8 passed will still be valid. But one possible outcome seems to be that the court will simply discontinue marriage in California and offer all couples the option of domestic partnership.

I've gotta say, that sounds interesting. If you believe in the separation of church and state, or in women's equality, marriage is a terribly troublesome institution.

Why not leave marriage to the church, and allow the state to offer domestic partnership instead? Why not work to provide universal health care and universal secure retirement to everyone, regardless of whether they're in a particular type of relationship?

Just a thought...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Everything or the kitchen sink

There have been a lot of things I would like to blog about. I would like to blog about President Obama's new budget. I would like to blog about how different forms of oppression interact with each other, which seems to me like one of the most important ways to celebrate Women's History Month. What I did instead this past  weekend was to re-do the plumbing underneath my kitchen sink to prevent a replay of the amazing exploding plumbing episode.

I did go ahead and get the specialized tool for PEX pipe. I  ended up getting the tool for the cinch-type connector, even though I'd read that they were inferior to the crimp type.  My biggest reason for doing this is that by using the crimp type of connector, I could get one tool that would fasten fittings for all sizes of pipe up to one inch in diameter, rather than having to buy a different tool if I needed to connect a different size of PEX pipe. Trust me, buying one tool is expensive enough, even though I violated my principles and bought it at a home improvement chain store. I found that the system was fairly easy to use, but it does require care and a little bit of practice to get the hang of.

Meanwhile, I  found two fascinating books about plumbing through the Metropolitan Library System. One is Remodel Plumbing by  Rex Cauldwell (published 2005 by Taunton Press, shelf number 696.1 C372r). Cauldwell explains why compression fittings (particularly the metal kind) are so fussy:
In metal compression fittings, leaks are normally caused by the tightening nut being a little too big (due to manufacturer tolerances) for the brass ferrule sleeve. As the nut tightens down on the body, instead of  the ferrule evenly compressing around the pipe to make a good seal, one side of the ferrule slips up on the pipe (and the other slips down) resulting in an uneven seal...Metal compression fittings also have a habit of leaking hours or days later.
So, I'm a terribly inexperienced amateur plumber, but it's a relief to find out that it's not just me.

The other great plumbing book I found was the second edition of The Plumber's Troubleshooting Guide by R. Dodge Woodson. (A  2009 McGraw-Hill book with the shelf number 696.1 W898p2.) Most of  it didn't apply directly to the situation I was dealing with, but it did teach me one nifty trick.  A good way to check for leaks around a bit of plumbing is to touch it with a piece of dry toilet paper. Even a small leak will make the toilet paper wet.

Besides  the plumbing adventure, I spent a happy hour or two climbing around underneath the house examining it so I can figure out what I need to know in order to get my house leveled. It seems that the foundation of my house is a mess, but it's kind of an interesting mess. I'll  keep you posted.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It starts today

One of the helpful staff members at the Red Cup just reminded me that today marks the start of National Women's History Month.