Saudi Arabia is the model for the American Right

22 May 2017 05:07 pm
Posted by: Donna

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is taking a lot of ribbing for what seems to be a willfully obtuse observation about the lack of protests of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Anyone with a glancing familiarity with the nation knows it is a brutally repressive theocratic monarchy where the kind of protests accepted as normal in the West would be likely be punished with severe beatings up to death. I wouldn’t be so fast to assume Ross was just being clueless, though. If you’ve study the right wing here in the US at all, it becomes quickly clear they are big fans of suppressing dissent, particularly if justified by religion or in the name of “national security”. For all the blather about left wing PC culture stifling speech on college campuses and elsewhere, it’s not the Left threatening to jail reporters.

I honestly don’t think most people here grasp how much the American Right admires Saudi Arabia, despite how counterintuitive that may seem since they’re also on the forefront of the “war against radical Islam” and forever reminding liberals of how terrible the Moozlims are to women and gays. Trump himself during his campaign spared no effort in pandering to anti-Muslim sentiment, even going so far as to admonish LGBTQ people that he was the better choice for President (despite his full embrace of GOP culture war stances and selection of rabidly anti-gay Mike Pence as his running mate) because he’d be “tougher on radical Islam” or some such garbage. Better the devil you know, who’s merely denying you the right to marry and get a job, than risk the possibility of Sharia Law sometime in the future.

But, yeah, they frigging love the cut of Saudi Arabia’s jib, culture and government-wise, and Americans who find that appalling should not be lulled the false sense that the technological advances and social progress we’ve enjoyed in the last century will be a bulwark against them imposing their own (very similar) version of a strict Christian theocracy. Though the various right wing Christians groups differ in beliefs and tactics, they are bound by the common view that they are in a holy war.

What I suspect guys like Donald Trump and Mike Pence (not as much daylight between those two as you might think) love most about a place like Saudi Arabia is how the repressive rules are imposed vigorously on the lower orders while the men at the top enjoy many freedoms and privileges they deny to others. That is a feature, not a bug.

In the first episode of excellent Hulu TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale the main character Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss) sets the tone for life in the future fundamentalist Christian dystopia of Gilead (formerly the United States) in a wry voiceover where she watches the “Martha” (what housekeepers are called) knead bread dough in the kitchen. “A return to traditional values,” explains Offred, “That’s what they fought for.”

No women in Gilead are permitted to be in leadership roles over men and all women, regardless of status otherwise, are banned from reading. Female characters who disobey the rules or even verbally oppose them have a tendency to lose eyes or hands. Or worse. Meanwhile, the men in charge of Gilead own luxury cars and have access to the internet and to forbidden things like alcoholic beverages. There are frequent references to ongoing fighting, presumably with top-of-the-line military equipment. Like the real Saudi Arabia, fictitious Gilead is a wet dream to guys like Donald Trump and Mike Pence. So I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss what Secretary Ross said as an offhand gaffe. I take it as a genuine statement of what he and his cohorts want here: complete power and no opposition to it.

“Moderate” Martha McSally votes to yank health care from millions

04 May 2017 01:52 pm
Posted by: Donna

About ending protections from lifelong coverage caps on children born with illnesses, making being a rape or domestic violence victim a preexisting condition, etc. You know, cool stuff like that.

I’ve certainly mentioned a time or two the maddening kneejerk tendency of the civic and media establishment in Arizona to ascribe pleasant things like “moderation” and “reasonableness” to Republicans who don’t seem like they’re seconds away from biting the head off a bat on live TV. Arguably no one has benefited more from that tendency in recent years than Martha McSally, who represents the Tucson area CD2 in Congress.

McSally has ridden on a carefully crafted image of macho and feminist cred by touting her record as the first female air force fighter pilot while exhibiting the kind of squishiness on stating her (hardcore right wing) policy policy positions that Jeff Flake (who patented that maneuver) must envy.

That quote from McSally may seem like an uncharacteristically bold statement but it feels like staged political theater to me. The aim of which is people focus on how boldly she said “let’s get this fucking thing done!” and not what she actually fucking did, which was vote to kill people, literally.

McSally is also trying to distract with a bill she sponsored that would strip away the exemption the GOP Congressional majority wrote for members of Congress and their staff in Trump’s health care bill.

H.R. 2192, her bill to strike exemptions for members of Congress and their staff in the AHCA, passed out of the House today.

Normally, this is smart politics since Americans love to imagine Congresscritters suffering under the same punishments they want to inflict on Americans. McSally’s gambit doesn’t seem to be working yet, judging from social media reactions like this:

CD2 is definitely a seat Democrats should take back. And in a choice between (and you should view it as this choice) primarying Kyrsten Sinema or ousting McSally, I’ll emphatically go for the latter. Sinema pisses liberals off frequently, but she voted against the bill and votes with Dems most of the time. McSally is a radical right wing reactionary (voting record doesn’t lie) passing herself off as a moderate using third rate marketing tricks. Better two Sinemas than two McSallys.

And speaking of Jeff Flake, Arizona voters need to call him right fucking now and also John McCain to vote this turd down in the Senate.

Sen. McCain: 602-952-2410
Sen. Flake: 602-840-1891

Call your Rep and Senators Flake and McCain, now!

03 May 2017 07:24 pm
Posted by: Donna

I’m old enough to remember the outraged protests from the right against the Affordable Care Act as it made its way through Congress to President Obama in 2009-10. It was being shoved down our throats, we were told. No one voting on the bill had really read it, supposedly. Tyranny!

What we know so far about “Trumpcare” is that it will take a bunch of money out of the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) and transfer it to the rich in the form of tax cuts. It will also gut Medicaid and strip away coverage for millions with preexisting conditions.


A House vote is expected Thursday. If it passes it will then go to the Senate, where it is not predicted to pass but remember this is relying on the GOP majority to be reasonable. Contact your reps at their DC numbers or at their local offices.

No Democrats in our state delegation are expected to vote yes but here are local numbers for Arizona Republican lawmakers:

Sen. McCain: 602-952-2410
Sen. Flake: 602-840-1891
Rep. McSally: 520-881-3588
Rep. Gosar: Couldn’t find a local phone number but here’s a contact form.
Rep. Biggs: 602-926-4371
Rep. Schweikert: 480-946-2411
Rep. Franks: 623-776-7911

What all “pro-life Democrats” must do to earn my trust.

26 Apr 2017 06:18 pm
Posted by: Donna

Oh yes, am watching this tonight.

There’s been an uproar on the left the past week over Bernie Sanders giving a full-throated endorsement to a Democratic Omaha mayoral candidate with a troubling anti-choice record (warning: autoplays) while seeming to give the cold shoulder to, then finally endorsing after much criticism, pro-choice Georgia candidate for Congress Jon Ossoff.

What has emerged from it, among other things, is confirmation of what we pro-choice feminists have long suspected about the econ populist wing of the left: that they view our reproductive rights as dispensable and a bargaining chip to win white voters in the Heartland. Viewing repro rights as a distraction (the word often used) is an astonishingly ignorant and tone deaf position to take on purely economic merits, since babies cost a lot of money and having them can greatly alter women’s earning prospects.

But even worse, these perennial demands on Democrats to be more open to abortion and (increasingly) contraception restrictions and to anti-choice Democrats running for office reflect a profound misunderstanding of the character and intentions of the anti-choice movement. Put simply, the organized opposition to abortion and contraception is a hate movement, every bit as dedicated to their particular brand of rabid misogyny as other hate movements are toward homophobia or anti-Blackness or anti-Semitism.

That may seem to be a shocking comparison but I would suggest people miss the obvious similarities for several reasons, among them leaders in the anti-choice movement being clergy or in other trusted authority positions. Also, antis find a disheartening amount of support for many of their views in the general public. It’s not difficult to convince a populace already disinclined to trust women with sexual freedom that some sensible measures are needed to stop irresponsible women from (say it with me now!) “using abortion as birth control” or aborting healthy 8 month pregnancies for no reason, even if they don’t buy the whole anti-choice program.

Make no mistake, though, anti-choicers fully intend to deprive all women of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, while brutally punishing (up to and including death) those they can for the “crimes” of being sexually active and rejecting compulsory motherhood. If you don’t believe me I don’t have time to educate you on this. Go read their websites and the comments sections.

Democrats, when you compromise with this movement on anything (and I’m not saying that’s always avoidable) know that you are helping to perpetuate their hatred. This isn’t a debate over marginal tax rates. Please stop believing you will find the magic compromise sweet spot that will finally put the debate to rest because I can promise you a committed group of organized sex-obsessed misogynists will never fucking rest! That “sensible” 20 week ban will be used to push for earlier bans, and also to prosecute women. Parental notification laws are used to terrorize young girls. Cuts to Planned Parenthood have devastating (intentional) outcomes. Et cetera and so forth

Anti-choicers are well aware of the consequences to vulnerable people of their policies. They want them. Don’t find common ground with them if at all possible.

But there are people who identify as both anti-abortion and Democratic, some of whom are politicians. There are areas of the country where full-throated support of abortion rights could be a problem for Democrats trying to be elected. There are people of all political affiliations who are uncomfortable with abortion because the anti-choice movement has done a damn good job convincing them they should be and also we live in a shitty patriarchy.

What to do about it? Is there, as we’re so often asked, room for pro-life Democrats in the Big Tent™? Sure there is. But if you want me to trust you and see you as an ally, you need to do this one thing. And I mean after you express support for all the parts of the Democratic platform that are good for women (and men and children too), such as universal health care, education, social safety net, equal rights, environment, etc. You need to oppose all abortion restrictions, especially if they involve criminal penalties of any kind.

Democrats describing themselves as “personally pro-life” who are already doing this include people like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine. It’s possible for Heath Mello to make the transition from a guy who sponsors mandatory ultrasounds and other anti-choice bills to an acceptable Democratic politician on choice (in behavior if not rhetoric).

Those of you considering yourselves pro-life Dems who can’t make the no-bans conversion? Sorry, but no. I’m unimpressed with your sincere commitment to economic justice and to helping women “choose life”. There is no political will at the national or most state levels to implement the European-style welfare system you insist would ameliorate that bans you also insist must be in place. It’s dishonest to pretend they would coexist. And even under this (purely hypothetical at this point) generous safety net, there will always be women who choose to terminate. Please stop assuming the default state of all persons with uteri is enthusiastic motherhood. You may have the best intentions but what you are really doing is playing Ivanka Trump, softening the image of a bunch of nasty misogynists.

Don’t be Ivanka.

Most Americans, despite aforementioned sympathies with anti-choicers’ views on women, don’t want to live in The Handmaid’s Tale. They want the space to be able to express their discomfort with abortion (which is in most cases really a proxy for female promiscuity) and, in the less-liberal districts, to have Democratic politicians reflect it back to them. It sucks, I know, but changing hearts and minds is the job of the pro-choice movement, not Democrats in tough districts. Democrats in those districts need to learn how to say things like, “I understand abortion is a difficult issue but it needs to be treated as a personal health and economic matter, not a criminal one”. And then not vote with the anti-choicers.

You know who created lots of jobs? (Rhymes with Gaydolf Ditler)

21 Apr 2017 01:39 pm
Posted by: Donna

I used to subscribe somewhat to the view of this bike shop owner, until SB1070 in 2010 made me scrutinize it really hard and then the election of 2016 and aftermath beat it completely out of me.

It seems plausible at first glance but there’s simply historical no basis for it. Racism has persisted throughout all kinds of economic conditions and, if anything, the election of Barack Obama twice, first in a recession and next when the economy was improving but unemployment was higher than it was four years later (when Donald Trump rode to an Electoral College victory on a supposed economic populist wave) would seem to indicate that tough economic times don’t necessarily predict racism in the voting booth. But I’ll leave it to the political scientists to debate if there is a correlation that goes either way.

I was thinking yesterday about how economic populism has been used in the past to cloak bigotry and brutality in virtue and (because Godwin’s Law has been obliterated) the obvious example of that came to mind. Looking for a historical account that wasn’t too much of a long reading haul, I found this school exercise the BBC prepared to help students understand how it arose.

Economic policies and benefits

Many German people had suffered during the First World War and the Depression, so welcomed Hitler’s economic policies with open arms. There was full employment, new public works and ordinary workers even had the opportunity to purchase a car to drive on the new autobahns [Autobahns: German motorways ].

Economic policy summary
Hitler’s economic policy had four main ideas:

Full employment – the idea that everyone should have a job. By 1939, there was virtually no unemployment in Germany.
Beauty of Work – the Nazis set up the SdA (Beauty of Work) to help Germans see that work was good, and that everyone who could work should. In fact – because the Nazis had abolished the trade unions, banned strikes, and given more power to the industrialists – real wages fell and hours were longer under Hitler.
Re-armament begun in 1935 – the idea of ‘guns before butter’.
Autarky – there was an unsuccessful attempt at making Germany self-sufficient.

The good life in Nazi Germany
Despite the loss of political and religious freedom, life improved in Germany for many ordinary people who were prepared to ‘toe the line’ and look the other way.

Everybody had a job, and a wage. To people who had been unemployed and starving, ‘work and bread’ was a wonderful blessing worth every civil liberty they lost.
The Nazis set up KdF (Strength through Joy), which gave workers rewards for their work – evening classes, theatre trips, picnics, and even free holidays.
The Nazis devised a scheme to allow workers to buy a Volkswagen Beetle car for a small weekly payment.
The autobahns improved transport and travel.
People appreciated the public works – eg new schools and hospitals.
The streets were safe and there was no crime.
Germany was strong and successful in world affairs.
Nazi rallies provided colour and fun.
Nazi Youth groups provided activities and holidays for young people.
Nazi ideology gave people hope and confidence.

Breaking unions is clearly not populist but the Nazis were careful to promise other things that were. And they made good on many of the promises. People (mostly men) were able to go back to work, public works projects were done, and some German industries (armaments for sure) flourished. Others did not fare so well.

Many Jews were sacked and their jobs given to non-Jews.
Many women were sacked and their jobs given to men.

As we all know it got much, much worse and, contrary to the beliefs of the bike shop owner and others, the bigotry was most assuredly not sorted out by the majority residents of Germany enjoying some increased economic prosperity.

Economic populism is a real thing and a necessary counterpoint to corporate and elite power run amok. Crucial planks of the Democratic Party include supporting a living wage, workers rights, the right to form a union, universal healthcare, and a social safety net. But I no longer think it’s possible to downplay so-called “identity politics” and unite on colorblind econ populist issues. Not in general but certainly not under the current Presidential administration and most state governments.

As our democratic institutions are quickly being overrun by a hideous admixture of religious fundamentalists and white supremacists, it is the worst possible time for Democrats and others on the left to abandon a commitment to racial, gender, LGBTQ, and other identity-based justice movements in the hopes of peeling off some Trump voters, most of whom were primarily motivated by racism and sexism to vote for him.

And if you think many of Trump’s voters are bad, at least most aren’t in the positions of authority to enforce the new immigration bans and anti-choice laws that are sure to come. Speaking of the latter, guess who had definite ideas about women and reproduction?

Jeff Flake held a town hall! I was there!

14 Apr 2017 04:58 pm
Posted by: Donna

When I arrived via light rail at the Mesa Convention Center Thursday evening for Senator Jeff Flake’s town hall there was a long line of cars waiting to get in the parking lot and the extra-large event room was already nearly full.

I expected there would be more people on my side in the audience than the other but I wasn’t prepared to see so many YES ACA stickers on shirts (a woman in a chicken costume – signifying Flake’s reticence in standing up to President Trump is my guess – was handing them out) before my eyes.

I tweeted furiously throughout the event, and you can check out my feed if you’re interested in my searing real-time takes. Suffice it to say the people lined up to interrogate the Senator, one by one, had done their homework and checked their answers twice on topics ranging from health care to climate change to information security.

And yes, because local pearl-clutching pundits are wont to emphasize it, there was a lot of yelling.

Credit where it’s due, it was obvious early on this was not going to be a pleasant experience for him but our junior Senator gamely strode out on that stage and faced it. Flake tried valiantly to defend himself against a barrage of difficult questions with his trademark bland affability and carefully memorized talking points and dodges but this crowd simply wasn’t having it.

Some moments I found particularly memorable, and telling, included Flake answering a young scientist’s excellent, detailed question about Flake’s well-known disdain for scientific research funding – which is hugely important and barely a tiny fraction of federal spending – by citing the deficit. However, to several questions about the President’s constant trips to Mar-a-Lago, at taxpayer expense that will end up dwarfing the budget for science research, Flake’s response was that it wasn’t his business what the President did with his free time, the deficit and his famous rock-ribbed fiscal conservatism seemingly forgotten.

Several women went to the microphone to challenge Flake on his deplorable record on reproductive rights, including his recent support of the law Trump had quietly signed that day allowing states to pull funding from Planned Parenthood (warning: link autoplays). It was rage-inducing hearing Flake repeat the oft-debunked canards about “tax payer-funded abortion” and “thousands of federally funded clinics that do what Planned Parenthood does“. Flake then compounded it by condescendingly rebutting the women’s detailed accounts of the necessity of Planned Parenthood in their lives with “I disagree”, as if it were a debate over what color the curtains should be rather than women’s health and lives being at stake.

So Flake got yelled at, a lot. I can already hear the comparisons to Tea Party behavior at events held by Democratic lawmakers in 2010. Okay, fair enough, yelling is yelling in terms of volume and how jarring it can be. But not all yelling is equal in terms of the anger behind it being justified. The Tea Party protesters were offended by the Kenyan Usurper giving health care to minorities and outraged over lies they’d been fed by right wing media, such as “death panels”, and were uninterested in anything Democratic Reps like Harry Mitchell or Ann Kirkpatrick had to say and mostly unamenable to rational arguments.

I also distinctly remember the national and local media being very deferential to the Tea Party, treating them like a refreshing grassroots political movement and taking their stated concerns at face value. News teams showed up for every TP event, no matter how sparsely attended, and lavished attention on the participants, rarely questioning the overall incoherence of their views or challenging their obvious contempt for President Obama and his voters. So, pundits, miss me with your sudden concern for propriety, okay?

Also, pundits, when the accusation of “paid protesters” arises, as it so often does when Republicans attempt to distract from the endless monstrosities being protested, ask yourself why anyone needs to be paid to protest the destruction of education, democracy, and the environment and demand evidence from the Republican making the charge.

“Alt Schools fiasco” for Ducey, Republican legislators? Maybe we can make it so!

07 Apr 2017 05:21 pm
Posted by: Donna

When you’ve lost Laurie Roberts.

Big tip of the hat to my sweetie Mark for using the phrase “alt-schools fiasco” to describe the expansion of vouchers Governor Ducey just signed into law.

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey late Thursday signed legislation to make all public school students in Arizona eligible to get state money to attend private and parochial schools.

But the plan, approved by the House and Senate hours earlier with no Democrat support and several Republicans in opposition, will not mean every child would be able to get one of these vouchers. The bill has a limit, though that could be removed by lawmakers in the future.

Mark’s sobriquet for the voucher law is an homage to the infamous Alt Fuels Scandal of 2000, in which mostly affluent Arizonans were given thousands per gas guzzling vehicle in tax subsidies if said vehicles merely had the option to burn cleaner fuel, thanks to legislation pushed by then-Speaker of the House Jeff Groscost. Both he and then-Governor Jane Hull were humiliated by the bad publicity and I recall several of my coworkers at Intel, who did not tend to pay much attention to state politics, being furious about it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to be chary of the idea Democrats can win in most of Arizona by emphasizing education, outside of certain, highly educationally-driven districts with a lot of households with a lot of K-12 or college students in them. Most people will tell pollsters they care about the schools, but Republicans have been adept at calming the concerns of voters who are low information on education issues (AKA most voters) via pleasing buzzwords and platitudes like “school choice” and “putting more money in the classroom”. It works, clearly.

But these vouchers allow (warning: autoplay) rich Arizonans to take thousands of tax dollars to educate their kids in private schools while local public school districts beg for funding. This is not hard to explain and you can already see the backlash against it fomenting. You don’t have to have a student in your home to be outraged at this tax giveaway, just as you didn’t have to own a vehicle to be incensed at the alt-fuels boondoggle sixteen years ago.

And while it is true the Alt-Fuels blew a far bigger hole in the state budget than the voucher expansion is expected to, that’s really kind of beside the point. Yes, the eye-popping figure of $200M was certainly helpful in fueling the outrage and resentment to the alt-fuels fiasco but it wasn’t the crux of it, as demonstrated by quotes like this:

Taxpayers are fuming at the extravagant cost. Vehicle buyers are considering suing the state for reneging on the deal. The House speaker lost an election for his role. And drivers of the vehicles say their distinctive blue license plates make them targets of what writer William Least Heat Moon calls fellow travelers’ “middle digit opinion.”

“The other people around town in $50,000 Excursions with a TV and leather seats and a one-gallon (alternative-fuel) tank they’ll never fill up — they’re the ones taking advantage of the system,” said Bill McPeters, owner of a trenching company. He invested more than $100,000 in two trucks, two fueling stations and other costs, with the expectation of recouping tens of thousands of dollars from the state.

“Alt Schools Fiasco” has the added benefit of sounding hip and referential of modern uses of “alt” to ridicule Trump’s and other Republican’s lies, making it the perfect label for an Arizona taxpayer boondoggle to wealthy families sold with absurd lies.

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