Wednesday, May 26, 2010

EPA may prohibit BP from receiving government contracts

The non-profit investigative journalism news site ProPublica reports that the Environmental Protection Agency might bar BP from doing business with the federal government, based on its long history of ignoring environmental and safety regulations.
Over the past 10 years, BP has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and been implicated in four separate instances of criminal misconduct that could have prompted this far more serious action. Until now, the company's executives and their lawyers have fended off such a penalty by promising that BP would change its ways.
That strategy may no longer work.
Days ago, in an unannounced move, the EPA suspended negotiations with the petroleum giant over whether it would be barred from federal contracts because of the environmental crimes it committed before the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials said they are putting the talks on hold until they learn more about the British company's responsibility for the plume of oil that is spreading across the Gulf.
ProPublica also has an interesting FAQ that discusses issues such as how much oil has spilled and why the spill hasn't been stopped.

This is what smaller government looks like

AngryBlackBitch has written the blog post I wanted to write about the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Any frequent reader of this blog couldn't help picking up my ambivalent attitude toward government. But it seems infinitely ironic that the same conservatives who have worked for a generation to give corporations the power to operate without the most minimal restraints, the same conservatives who have done everything they could to downsize government regulation, these same conservatives now criticize the federal government for not doing more to stop this environmental disaster.This is the government they asked for, but conservatives don't want to take credit for the consequences of their actions.

Here's how Angry Black Bitch puts it:
BP is arrogant because they can be…they aren’t taking responsibility because they don’t have to…they lack a sense of urgency because they know that their proposals to fix this shit might not work and there aren’t consequences for that, other than our anger…and the worse thing about all that is that BP is a monster the lack of regulations created.

The federal government doesn’t have the answers because they don’t have to…they’ve been reformed to do just what they are doing – spin in circles while waiting for private business to solve problems.

This is small government, rampant free enterprise and lax regulations in practice…economic theory playing out in a real life scenario for all the world to see.
The entire post is well worth reading.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reason, intuition, emotion, and two of my favorite philosophers

I've been talking with friends about the relationship between (among?) reason, intuition, and emotion. Some friends seem to think that reason should be used to guide and restrain the unruly impulses of emotion, which can otherwise get is into such big trouble. Other friends argue that clear intuition, properly understood, is the best guide to action. I think it all goes together, reason, emotion, and intuition, and they all affect and correct each other. My friends are tolerant and open-minded people, but they seem to think that this is a rather unusual idea. As much as I would like to believe that I am the creative genius that has discovered this innovative way of looking at the world, it just ain't so. It is something that many radical feminists and lesbian feminists have been saying for years. This discussion inspired me to look up what two of my favorite philosophers have to say about the subject.

First, here is a passage from Mary Daly's autobiography, Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage. Starting on page 74, she describes her struggle with the concepts of reason and intuition when writing her dissertation for her doctoral dissertation in philosophy:
The point is that although I cherished this intuition, and could see no use in philosophizing without it, perhaps even in living without it, I wanted a clear defense of intellectual rigor/vigor. This insistence on having it all--intuition and arduous reasoning that is rooted in intuition--was of deep importance to me. I loved both modes of knowing, which I recognized as essential to each other. Sickened by the downgrading and caricaturing of intuition and the relegation of this pathetically reduced "talent" to women--which of course also implied the safeguarding of "reason" as the prerogative of males--I was struggling to Name this game which had been played by academics for centuries. It was indeed one of the masters' major mind fucks of the millennia.
That is one of my favorite things about feminist thinking, this wild insistence on having it all, on not having ourselves cut up into little pieces that get labeled "masculine" or "feminine." Another example of this wild insistence comes from radical lesbian Sarah Hoagland, whose 1988 book Lesbian Ethics has been one of the major influences on my own thinking. Hoagland has a long and interesting chapter on "Integrating Reason and Emotions," which I haven't the time to re-read at the moment. I'll content myself with quoting most of her first paragraph, found on page 157:
I want to discuss the split between reasoning and emotions, and the subsequent belief that one must control the other, which informs traditional anglo-european philosophy from ancient greece to the present and which we as lesbians perpetuate in our interactions. I want to suggest that accepting the split keeps alive the idea of power as control and keeps our selves fragmented and isolated. My overall argument is that our moral agency is encouraged by integrating and so politicizing reasoning and emotions within the community, for this is how we get back in touch with the energy that moves us, energy which is deadened when we separate reasoning and emotions.
Here is to unfucking all of our our minds and putting our reason, emotion, and intuition back together.

Monday, May 10, 2010

On President Obama's Supreme Court nomination

President Obama has nominated Solicitor General and former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan to fill the Supreme Court seat that will soon be vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.

The National Organization for Women gave cautious support to the nomination:
"While we are pleased to see the second woman in a row nominated to the court, gender alone is not enough," said [NOW President Terry] O'Neill. "Justice Stevens was a clear champion of social justice, who will leave behind a proud liberal legacy. We are eager to learn that Elena Kagan, too, will stand for equality and fairness across the board."

Encouragingly, Kagan has expressed clear opposition to the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that has forced out thousands of lesbian and gay service members from the military. However, having never served as a judge herself, it is unclear where Kagan stands on most of NOW's key issues.
Elizabeth Nowicki at Feminist Law Professors points out that as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagen hired mostly white men: had an interesting article (here) about Kagan and women who pull the ladder up after themselves.  The article’s author made a good point about the fact that, although Elena Kagan, Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court, is a woman, she is a woman whose record at Harvard Law School might suggest to some observers that she does not value diversity or promote other women.  For example, the article’s author notes that, under Kagan’s leadership, Harvard Law School made 29 faculty hires consisting of 28 white faculty members and only five women.  (This despite the fact that law school graduates have been more than 40% female for quite some time.)
Katherine Franke at the Gender and Sexuality Law Blog notes that Kagen is best known for her ability to bring peace between warring factions of white men at Harvard Law School, and that she is a safe, non-ideological choice for the court. She clearly not as liberal as John Paul Stevens, and not as liberal as other candidates whose names have been mentioned in the news. Furthermore:
There is something to watch out for, however, in the confirmation of Elena Kagan, about which I have already blogged: Queer-baiting.  Despite White House insistence to the contrary, rumors still circulate broadly that Kagan is a lesbian.  The same kind of insinuation surrounded David Souter’s nomination to the Court as would have Janet Napolitano’s or other “single women.”
To this end, surely much will be made of Kagan’s handling of the “Solomon Amendment” issue and litigation while she was Dean, largely in an effort to identify her with lesbian and gay rights issues.

The Solomon Amendment is a federal law that allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal grants to institutions of higher education if they prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus.  Many law schools have sought to prohibit the JAG Corps from on-campus recruiting of law students because of its official policy of hiring only heterosexual or celibate applicants.  Kagan was one of the deans who supported a lawsuit challenging the military’s hiring policies in FAIR v Rumsfeld, and was one of 40 Harvard Law School professors who signed a friend-of-the-court brief written by Walter Dellinger supporting the FAIR plaintiffs.

Franke notes that right-wing blogs have started claiming that Kagen is a lesbian. The White House says she isn't, and "has been treating it like some kind of a scandal that she might be so accused." Franke already views the Kagen nomination as a setback for progressives, and thinks it could also be "a setback for supporters of lgbt rights." She says that the president has been "sucker punched" by the homophobic right. I think that what she means is that they've gotten him to talk as if being a lesbian is a bad thing.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Who was that masked animal?

I have always liked raccoons. I have fond memories of looking out of my bedroom window at my mother's house in Philadelphia on a cold winter night to find a raccoon snuggled up to the other side of the window, soaking up the heat. I also remember waking once in the middle of the night by the horrid noise of three raccoons fighting over some chicken bones out on the roof. My mother always put such things in a tightly sealed glass jar before she threw them away, but I suppose the neighbors weren't so careful.

Like many cute and appealing beings, raccoons are capable of causing great inconvenience to others. I've always known this. Besides raiding garbage cans, they are susceptible to a number of diseases -- although apparently, most of those diseases are rarely transmitted to humans. What I didn't know until just today -- when a friend was dealing with the aftermath of the situation -- is that raccoons are habitual attic invaders. According to
THE MAJORITY OF THE TIME, A RACCOON IN AN ATTIC IS A FEMALE WITH YOUNG – Yes, the majority of the time, about 80% of cases of any raccoon in an attic, there’s a litter of 3-5 baby raccoon pups. The most common reason for a raccoon to enter an attic and choose to live there is the case of a female who needs a safe place to give birth and raise its babies. The mother raccoon usually gives birth shortly after moving into the attic, within 1-2 weeks, and then spends about 10 weeks nursing the baby raccoons. She is very active during this time, often leaving the attic during the daytime to gather additional food. Then at 10 weeks, she starts to take the young out at night to forage.
Removing these animals can be difficult and complicated, even for a professional wildlife trapping specialist:
As stated, the vast majority of the time, the raccoon in the attic is a mother with babies. You don’t trap the mother and leave the babies up there to cry for two weeks, die, and cause a big odor. First, you go into the attic and find the babies! That’s right, you explore the whole attic and remove the young by hand. Be careful, there’s a protective and ferocious mother raccoon nearby! Actually, I’ve removed hundreds of raccoon litters in my lifetime, and I’ve never been attacked. But there have been some close calls, so do so at your own risk. It might be a good idea to wait until the mother isn’t nearby the litter before removing them. Of course, when in an attic, be mindful to walk only on the wooden beams, or you’ll fall through the ceiling. And be careful not to get insulation on your skin. I wear a HEPA filter mask to avoid breathing in airborne dust particles. And I wear thick gloves, particularly when handling wildlife, even baby raccoons, which are usually gentle, but can bite and claw. I put them in a pillowcase, and bring them out of the attic. They can often be very hard to find. The mother raccoon stashes them in a safe place, often down at the very tight edge of the attic, down in the soffit, or down a wall. I usually find myself climbing through very tight quarters to find the young. It can be hard to do, but a 75-year-old woman I know, a wildlife rehabber, has done it, so I guess it’s possible for anyone!
Interesting, isn't it, how this guy assumes that if a 75-year-old-woman can do it, anyone can do it. Other than that, he seems to know what he's talking about. (I'm assuming he's a guy, because his picture is on his home page, decked out in his respirator, with a big old raccoon in his grasp.) He notes, for instance that "Animals that live in houses also sometimes die in houses, and the odor of a dead raccoon is incredible." From my experience this afternoon, I can attest that he is absolutely right about that.

On the other hand, while human beings have great difficulty in keeping raccoons under control, there is at least one cat in the world who has no difficulty keeping the upper paw:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Forty years ago

May 5, 2010: Forty years ago today, I was 13 years old, and I was in the ninth grade at the Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia. I was a strange, intense young person, trying to figure out how to adapt to my maturing female body in a world in which it felt that a woman could not be an independent human being. It was becoming clear that despite my hopes and my tomboyish behavior, I could not become a man, and I could not bear the thought of being a woman.

Unlike most of my classmates -- who held regular protests in support of ending the Vietnam War, I thought that the United States government was defending democracy and freedom in South Vietnam. I was the only person in the school assembly who would stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem. This was my first effort at political activism. From where I stand today, the position I took was dead wrong. But I respect the 13-year-old who was willing to defy her peers to do what she thought was right.

Forty years ago this morning, I woke up to the radio news that National Guardsmen had shot and killed demonstrating college students at Kent State University the day before. I had never heard of Kent State University, and at first I thought they said it was Penn State University. At first, I was horrified. But the radio made it sound as if the soldiers had been frightened of the student protesters and were only defending themselves. I believed that explanation, although forty years later, it sounds ridiculous. To believe otherwise, I would have to believe that my government was engaged in repressing freedom rather than defending it.

This is a complicated story that I don't have room to tell in a blog post, but eventually, I worked my way around to an understanding that my government does exactly that. That it most often works to defend oppression -- patriarchy, racism, unlimited bloodthirsty capitalism -- rather than freedom. I stand against everything that the "tea party" movement stands for -- but I have the uncomfortable awareness that I don't trust my government any more than the tea-partiers do.

Less than two weeks after the shootings at Kent State, city and state police in Jackson, Miss. killed two students and wounded 12. At the time, these murders received less attention than those at Kent State, because the victims at Jackson State were black instead of white.

So here I am, 40 years later, a radical feminist, caught somewhere between socialism and left-wing anarchism, still not knowing how to help to create the egalitarian society that I insist on believing is possible. One thing that started me down this road was coming to understand that my government had lied to me about why we were fighting in Vietnam. I believed my government, and I supported my government when everyone around me said it was doing wrong, and then it turned out that my government was lying to me. I think that would be enough to make a radical out of almost anyone. But the other thing that started me on the path to being who I am now was that one day that spring, on a bulletin board in the halls of Masterman, I discovered a mimeographed flyer about women's liberation. From which I derived the outrageous idea that I could be a woman and a human being at the same time. I haven't been the same ever since.

Have a great day, y'all, and happy Cinco de Mayo.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Will the financial reform bill really work?

I have been so busy rewriting my circus novel that I haven't had much time to attend to current events. So I was happy to see this op-ed piece on t r u t h o u t by economist Dean Baker discussing the financial reform bills currently being considered by Congress. Dean Baker, incidentally, is one of my favorite economists. You can see a selection of his work at the home page of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

I have received several emails from, urging me to tell my Republican senators to support this reform effort. My question has been will this reform actually do any good?

According to Dean Baker, the answer is a big maybe.He says that the bills passed by the House and approved by the Senate Banking Committee would help prevent some of the worst abuses that we've seen over the past decade -- but that neither bill will prevent future economic crises. Furthermore, the recent reappointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke "told future regulators that the failure to crack down on recklessness in the financial sector carries no consequence."

Baker identifies three possible additions to the Senate Bill that could help weaken the power of the financial services industry so that future crises would be less likely. First is an amendment proposed by Senators Brown and Kaufman which would put a size limit on banks. If banks are kept at a reasonable size, then they won't be "too big to fail" -- and thus the pressure for future bailouts would be much less. Second, an amendment by Senators Merkley and Levin that would prevent banks that are covered by federal deposit insurance from trading in the stock market. This amendment would restore some of the protections of the old Glass-Steagall Act. This would stop banks from "speculating in financial markets with the money guaranteed by the government." Finally, Baker says, the Senate will wrangle over the issue of how to regulate derivatives trading.
The bill that was voted out of the Agriculture Committee would prohibit commercial banks from being directly involved as brokers in derivative trading. The rationale is that this trading creates large risks and potential conflicts of interest. This would mean a major departure from current practice, since the six major banks currently control the overwhelming majority of derivative trading. If they had to spin off their derivative business, it would lead to a very different structure in the financial industry.

Without those three changes, Baker says, financial reform legislation will not make much difference in the way the financial services industry does business.

Not that they are likely to listen, but when I write to senators Inhofe and Coburn, I will ask them to support a bill that limits the size of banks, and prevents federally insured banks from trading on the stock market or speculating in derivatives.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A rambling rant about reaching con-census

Today on my way to the Red Cup, I saw a federal census taker walking up my street. I shook her hand and thanked her for her service to our country. I'm as much of an anarchist as the next person, but in the face of all the tea-party protests, I find myself getting downright sentimental about the federal government. At least in theory, the federal government belongs to all of us, male and female, black and white, rich, poor, capitalist and worker. At least in theory, the government could be wrested away from the control of big business and forced to serve the interests of ordinary people. At least in theory, we could make our government take its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and Okinawa and Kazakhstan and set it to fixing roads and repairing schools and creating an environmentally sustainable economic base. The tea party folks, in theory they are in favor of freedom, too, but their waving of guns and their hurling of threats and insults at people who disagree with them, well, it sure looks like their real goal is to keep the same rich white guys in charge. So I shook the hand of the census taker, and smiled at her, and engaged her in a brief conversation as a way of taking one small stand in favor of peace and civility.

Besides which, I thought the census taker might be headed up to my place to ask me some questions, and I knew I'd be absent when she got there. So I thought I'd save her the trouble of having to come back again. You see, I filled in my census form and mailed it back, but I didn't fill it out the way the nice folks at the Commerce Department hoped that I would. I just couldn't wrap my head around some of the questions.

First off, why on Earth did they have to ask whether I was male or female. As I explained to the census taker, I'm old school, I came up with the women's liberation movement, and I can't stand it after all these years that the first question we still ask about anyone is, "Is it a boy or a girl?"

I was also going to explain that I'd done my best to get around the race question, too. The tea partiers are getting awfully riled up about the fact of our having an African American president. The tea partiers are even more riled up about the fact that large numbers of Latino people are making the United States their home. One big reason for this is that the tea partiers are all too aware that someday soon, people of  European extraction -- "white" people -- will no longer make up a majority of the US population. Maybe keeping track of racial demographics is just inflaming the situation? "Whiteness" is such an artificial and arbitrary thing. The world would be better off without it. As a person who happens to be of northern European extraction, white privilege is part of my life, and I need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for it. But when it came to the census, being an undefined beige person just seemed more responsible. When it came to the race question, I checked the box marked "other," and filled in "human." It's an idea I got by listening to the radio.

But I didn't get that far, because the census taker had her own remarks about the questions we are expected to answer. If you have children, you are supposed to say whether they are biological or adopted children. The census taker didn't like this. She told, "According to the law, they're both the same, and in your heart, they're both the same, but according to the census, you're supposed to say which is which." She happened to have adopted some children, and she didn't like this approach. "I have to ask some stupid questions," she said with a smile, but it's my job." She and I agreed that sometimes all of us is required to do stupid things because it's our job.

Then she checked her list, and said that I was not on her list of houses to visit. Apparently, the fact that I had filled out the form, however imperfectly, is all the Census Bureau cared about. So I bid the census taker a fond adieu and continued on my way to breakfast.