The Political Animal

The Barbaric Subjugation of Women


I once wrote, “The original, unredeemed social and political crime of human history is the displacement and genocidal destruction of aboriginal populations.” Yet there is something prior. We might call it first a human crime, though it transforms almost immediately into a social, then political crime. Unlike the crime against indigenous peoples it has its roots, though not a rationale, in evolutionary biology. Stories like these two from India this week only reinforce the commonplace that rape is not about sex, but power and violence.  Still, the particular characteristics of these events overwhelm with the sense of their physical and social monstrosity.

First, there is the case of the young woman gang raped on a bus.

As protests grew in India Saturday over the death of a young woman who was raped in Delhi this month by several men in a moving bus, police said her attackers would be charged with murder.

The charges came as government officials appealed for calm in the streets after the woman, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, died early Saturday in a Singapore hospital. In a statement, Dr. Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, said the woman died “peacefully.”

Indian police said Saturday that if convicted, the men could face the death penalty for the attack, which has served as a reminder of the dangerous conditions women face in India.

The woman, whose intestines were removed because of injuries caused by a metal rod used during the rape, has not been identified. She was flown to Singapore on Wednesday night after undergoing three abdominal operations at a local hospital. She had also suffered a major brain injury, cardiac arrest and infections of the lungs and abdomen. “She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,” Dr. Loh’s statement said.

One contemplates the circumstances that could bring disparate men together in an ad hoc group to attack another human being so brutally, confusing their barbarity with sexual acts. What must be the currents in a society, a cultural milieu, reinforced by what tenets of religion and tradition, that permit women to be so dehumanized in the vision of some men as to enable the men to behave in this way? To attack like the wildest animals attacking prey or natural threats?

Closer to home, behaviorally, is the story that soon followed, of the young victim of rape, encouraged to marry her attacker, who committed suicide in response.

A 17-year-old Indian girl who was gang-raped committed suicide after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers, police and a relative said on Thursday.

Amid the ongoing uproar over the gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi earlier this month, the latest case has again shone the spotlight on the police’s handling of sex crimes.

One police officer has been sacked and another suspended over their conduct after the assault during the festival of Diwali on November 13 in the Patiala region in the Punjab, according to officials.

The teenager was found dead on Wednesday night after swallowing poison.

Inspector General Paramjit Singh Gill said that the teenager had been “running from pillar to post to get her case registered” but officers failed to open a formal inquiry.

“One of the officers tried to convince her to withdraw the case,” Gill, the police chief for the area, told AFP.

Before her death, there had been no arrests over her case although three people were detained on Thursday. Two of them were her alleged male attackers and the third was a suspected woman accomplice.

The victim’s sister told Indian television that the teenager had been urged to either accept a cash settlement or marry one of her attackers.

“The police started pressuring her to either reach a financial settlement with her attackers or marry one of them,” her sister told the NDTV network.

One is compelled to contemplate the humanness of this young woman in the eyes of the policemen. They not only so dismiss the import of the crime as not to bring a case, but are so absent human empathy that they cannot begin to appreciate the psychic crime. The rape is like a petty theft to them, not a violation of a woman’s integral self.

When in the United States we hear the mockery by a Rush Limbaugh of a woman’s sexual nature and her right to control her sexuality and reproduction, when we see states manipulate law and regulation – in Kansas and Mississippi, for instance – to deny women, through denial of access, their constitutional right to abortions services, when GOP candidates for office speak of rape in the ignorant and  controlling manner that several did this election year, when religious traditions we are urged to respect for their Godliness, here, too, in the United States, continue to conceive and preach of marriage as a relationship in which a woman fulfills a subordinate role – then we know we are removed from these greater abuses by degree of development but not by nature of origin.

The truth is that the war on women, much maligned in defensiveness by rabid conservatives this U.S. election year, is probably the original human war: against desire and sometimes love, also domination, subjugation, control, and brutality – a Taliban of human nature. Our development will be far less remarkable than we even think it until that first crime, and the ideologies of its defense, is finally insupportable.


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The Political Animal

Mourning In America


A nation doesn’t lose its freedoms in foreign lands. It loses them at home. Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not diminish American democracy. Neither will drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. The GOP is doing that under our noses every day, right now, in cities and the states, in the congress of the United States. We know, symbolically, what the 2008 presidential election brought us. We need to remember, too, what the 2010 midterm elections produced. 2012 will determine which prevails in setting the nation’s course for decades to come.

From the Guttmacher Institute:

By almost any measure, 2011 saw unprecedented attention to issues related to reproductive health and rights at the state level. In all 50 states, legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states, again an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009.

Fully 68% of these new provisions, 92 provisions in 24 states, restrict access to abortion services, a striking increase from last year, when 26% of new provisions restricted abortion. The 92 new abortion restrictions shattered the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions adopted in 2005.

In another realm, of worker rights, as soon after the 2010 midterms as March 2011,

The National Conference of State Legislatures is tracking an explosion of 744 bills that largely target public-sector unions, introduced in virtually every state.


Nearly half of the states are considering legislation to limit public employees’ collective bargaining rights. In New Hampshire, the House last week approved a measure that one union leader assailed as “Wisconsin on steroids.”


A number of states are considering bills that would limit unions’ ability to collect dues from public employees. The Florida House approved a bill to ban dues deductions from government paychecks and require unions to obtain members’ permission before using dues for political activity. Similar legislation is under consideration in Kansas. Other bills would eliminate a requirement that workers covered by union contracts pay union dues or fees.

Much like the Orwellian inversion of language I characterized in a different context, these bills deceive in their titles:

Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, Employee Rights Act, Jobs Protection Act, Employee Workplace Freedom Act, Secret Ballot Protection Act, National Right to Work Act, Truth in Employment Act, National Labor Relations Reorganization Act, and others.

What is the purpose of the Employee Workplace Freedom Act?

To repeal the rule requiring employers to post notices relating to the National Labor Relations Act.

Wouldn’t that make you feel freer?

Gordon Lafer has written an overview of this “coordinated assault on labour standards“:

One of the most striking aspects of the past year is not only the extent to which these legislative initiatives appeared simultaneously in so many states, but also the extent to which such a disparate array of proposals were promoted as components of a coherent policy agenda.

Striking, but not surprising when one considers the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as Lafer and others do. What is just some of the purpose?

While policy debates have been largely framed around the need for fiscal austerity, the year also saw widespread attacks on the legal rights and economic standards of private- sector workers. Eighteen states introduced so-called ‘right to work’ laws, aimed at undermining private-sector unions. This Orwellian named policy does not guarantee anyone a job. Rather, it makes it illegal for a union to require that employees who benefit from a collective contract contribute their fair share of the costs of administering that contract. By weakening unions’ ability to sustain themselves financially, such laws aim to weaken the bargaining power of organized workers, and ultimately to drive private-sector unions out of existence.

So, too, a dozen states introduced bills restricting the ability of both public- and private-sector unions to participate in the political process, by requiring unions to obtain annual written authorization from each member in order to spend dues money on politics. Since both federal and state law already allow anyone covered by a union contract to withhold dues from political uses, such laws provide no new rights to employees, but consume considerable union resources in the bureaucratic activity of collecting annual notifications, and aim to muzzle the political voice of organized workers.14 Similarly, thirteen states introduced bills banning public employees from having union dues deducted through the state payroll system – even for employees who voluntarily choose to pay dues. Since there is virtually no cost to states for electronic payroll deductions, the sole purpose of such legislation is to cripple unions financially and limit the ability of organized labour to participate in electoral politics.

The assault on wage standards extends to non-union as well as unionized employees. Most states uphold ‘prevailing wage’ laws, for instance, which ensure that publicly funded construction doesn’t serve to undercut local wage standards. Such laws benefit union and non-union employees alike, but have long been opposed by non-union contractors who believe they could make higher profits with lower wage standards. This year they saw their chance to advance this agenda. Legislation weakening or eliminating prevailing wage standards was introduced in fourteen states and passed in five, severely eroding construction pay scales.

Similarly, minimum wage and overtime laws were scaled back in multiple states, undermining the most important wage protections available to non-union workers.

As Gregory M. Saltzman tells us,

Anti-union changes in labor law are most likely in jurisdictions where simultaneous control of both legislative branches and the executive shifts to the Republicans.

This happened in ten states in 2010.

Most Republicans had not campaigned in 2010 on a platform of restricting publicemployees’ bargaining rights. But the change in the political climate, especially the shift in ten states to unified Republican control of the legislature and the governorship, created an opportunity to weaken public-employee unions.

In Michigan, now effectively a one-party state tyranny, Governor Rick Snyder’s emergency manager powers enable him to deprive American citizens in selected Michigan cities and towns of their rights of self-governance, invalidating their most recent electoral choices and appointing managers who govern without democratic legitimacy or the right of redress.

At the state level in Michigan, the one-party tyranny now produces the scene below, in which a GOP speaker ignores the calls of Democratic legislators for a roll call vote to test the two-thirds super-majority requirement for the legislature’s “immediate effect” provision on new legislation.

Michigan House votes on SB 754 from The Rachel Maddow Show on Vimeo.

In particular, the legislation makes it harder to run a voter-registration drive.

Immediate effect for this legislation is designed to put it into effect in time for the November election, where a diminished Democratic vote might swing the state for Romney.

This as “Voter Suppression Bills Sweep the Country,” not just in Florida.

As we see “Senate Republicans Now Blockading Every Single Appeals Court Nominee.”

And we witness the product of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court – the consequence of GOP Presidential dominance in 28 out of 40 years from 1968-2008 and the elections of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush – having effectively sold American democracy to the super rich, led by Sheldon Adelson.

All this is the meaning of this election. The rest is foolishness.


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The Political Animal

Threats to Democracy


The New York Times editorialized the other day, in “Too Much Power for a President,”

It has been clear for years that the Obama administration believes the shadow war on terrorism gives it the power to choose targets for assassination, including Americans, without any oversight.

The Times argued,

No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield — depriving Americans of their due-process rights — without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle.

This is a discussion always worth having, but it can never be productively engaged if one does not honestly acknowledge some of the essential terms of the debate. Proponents and defenders of drone attacks against Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have long maintained that the declared hostility and the campaign of terror waged by those organizations constitute a new paradigm of war, by non-state actors. Drone killings are not “assassinations” but military actions. Opponents and critics who, like the Times, simply continue to use terminology like “assassination” and “far from a battlefield,” state thereby a position, but ignore by this reiteration the opposing view and evade, plain and simple, the actual argument. If one argues that the President is acting as Commander in Chief in a condition of war, then it is not, as the Times said,

too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief.

It is, instead, a coherent position. In contrast, the the Times takes the position that

[a] unilateral campaign of death is untenable. To provide real assurance, President Obamashould publish clear guidelines for targeting to be carried out by nonpoliticians, making assassination truly a last resort, and allow an outside court to review the evidence before placing Americans on a kill list. And it should release the legal briefs upon which the targeted killing was based.

That last recommendation is appropriate, as would be some Presidential characterization of what conditions might represent an “end” to this particular non-state war. The legal justifications for government acts should never be secret or war be pursued without a conceivable close. But the “campaign of death,” i.e. war, is not “unilateral.” It is founded in the Joint Resolution Authorization for the Use of Military Force of September 18, 2001. In war, the President makes these ultimate decisions. Harry Truman, and not an unelected panel of judges, made the decision to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is, in fact, our constitutional system.

Many of those who regularly inveigh against the drone program do so with dire threats about the loss of American liberty inherent in the whole war on terror, including its accompanying intelligence and detention regimes. There is probably no more frequent vocalizer of shrill and hysterical threat than Glenn Greenwald, whose stock self-identification is as former Constitutional and civil rights attorney. Let it be noted, then, that in contrast to the current President and his party, we have in the United States a political party in the current Republican Party that has become, functionally, the most undemocratic force the nation has seen outside of the old apparatus of Jim Crow in the South.

While all politicians stretch the truth, evade, and double talk, and can be caricatured by their political opposites as ideological threats to liberty and the “American way of life,” examining the substance of claims can help us determine the truth. Already there has probably not been, since Richard Nixon, a more baldfaced liar and awkwardly grinning and dishonest prevaricator in pursuit of the presidency than Mitt Romney. Even more to the documentable truth, while the GOP for nearly four years has made those wild general arguments against the Obama administration, that it, through the Affordable Care Act, for instance, would be robbing Americans through expanded federal power of their liberty, the GOP itself, at the state level – the level at which, historically, Americans have actually most often been deprived of their rights – has been since 2010 aggressively attacking and limiting,  in a manner unprecedented, the democratic rights of varied groups of Americans.

Google Glenn Greenwald and “drones” or “terror” and its variations and you will get pages of hits. Try, instead, Googling Greenwald and “reproductive rights” or “war on women.” Google Greenwald and “labor.”  Google Greenwald and “Wisconsin” or “Scott Walker. Google him on Michigan and its emergency manager law – the single most tyrannical act in American governance. Google him on the Michigan GOP’s abuse of the “immediate effect” practice in passing legislation.

Google Greenwald and “voter suppression,” in Florida or anywhere else.

While Greenwald and his minions have relentlessly attacked the Obama administration as a threat to liberty and, literally, American life, as they drone on monomaniacally about how there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans, the Republicans have been already, for two years, without yet having won the Presidency and potentially both Houses of Congress, depriving Americans of their rights in ways that have real effects ever day, on workers and women, gays, and whole towns and cities.

The eye, for these people, is forever on the drone. They need to put it back on the ball.


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