Posts tagged Austin

Texas psychoprisons

Trigger warning. The news report I discuss includes verbal descriptions of sexual exploitation and extreme violence by caretakers against male and female patients under their control. It may be triggering for past experiences of violence.

In the past, when I’ve written about violence committed by government police officers or prison guards, I’ve often written something like this:

Please note that if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, the people around us would more or less universally conclude that we’re belligerent and dangerous lunatics. In fact, if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, and it was caught on camera, we would soon be in jail for on a charge of assault and battery. When someone with a badge and a gun acts like this, and it’s caught on camera, with a very few exceptions, the worst that ever happens is that they might get fired. The most common response from the powers that be is either to do nothing at all, or else to give the pig a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand.

— GT 2008-02-18: Cops are here to protect you.

That’s a point that I stand by, and that I think is vitally important. But one thing you’ve got to remember when thinking about that point is that the class of government-privileged cops and prison guards is larger than the obvious cases you might first think of when asked. Badges and guns come in a lot of shapes and sizes and prisons can be found in a lot of places. Sometimes the badge is a gold shield and the prison is a penitentiary surrounded by razor-wire and high fences. Sometimes the badge is a white coat, the gun is a syringe, and the prison is the locked mental ward of a hospital. What matters is not the external form, but the underlying relationship of power, and when so-called caretakers have the legal power to restrain, confine, hold down, drug, shock, spy on, and otherwise coerce or violate a so-called patient, to treat her against her will, to force her to remain in a locked room even if she wants to leave, and to chase her down and force her back into that locked room if she tries to slip out without permission, then those so-called caretakers function as a jailers, and their hospital as a prison, no less than the corrections officers and correctional facilities of the official State prison system.

This is, by the way, a basic point that needs to be made, and needs to be accepted, whether or not one accepts presuppositions of institutional psychiatry, and whether or not one accepts the common practices of involuntary civil commitment, the imprisonment of criminals deemed legally insane in State-run psychoprisons, drugging patients through the use of force or deception, etc. etc. etc. If you accept those presuppositions and you support imprisoning and forcibly drugging people who, for example, try to hurt (only) themselves, or who have hallucinations, or who steadfastly cling to beliefs that the majority of people consider irrational, then you should go ahead and defend that. But that is what you need to defend–imprisonment and coercive force–not some sentimentalized helping professions myth in which caretakers are helping willing patients through a disease just like cancer or diabetes. If you have cancer and diabetes, and you decide (for whatever reason) that you’d rather suffer or even die from it than undergo the conventional treatments, nobody has the legal power to force those treatments on you against your will. And therein lies one of the fundamental political differences between real doctor-patient relationships and psychiatry as it is practiced today. If you want to try to defend psychiatry as it’s practiced today, that difference–the fact of psychiatric imprisonment–is something you’ll have to admit, and where you’ll have to start.

And for those of us who have spent some time watching how the official State prisons and their prison guards work, and who know that the pervasive violence and domination that runs through the system, even when it is judged excessive or abusive by the powers that be, should be dismissed as Yet Another Isolated Incident carried out by A Few More Bad Apples, but rather recognized as the natural and inevitable result of the kind of environment fostered by the unaccountable power of government enforcers–well, for those of us, things like the Dallas Morning News‘s recent report on intense, pervasive abuse of patients in Texas’s state psychoprisons should be an outrage, but (heart-breakingly) not at all a surprise:

Last year, one [Texas] state mental hospital employee tackled an adolescent patient who was sobbing for his mother, dragging him across the floor by his wrists and hair.

The year before, another brought a female patient into a hospital bathroom and sexually abused her.

And dozens more have participated in brutal beatings at the psychiatric hospitals since 2005, employee disciplinary reports show – using chokeholds, headlocks and threats of violence to restrain the patients under their watch.

In all, 72 employees across Texas’ 10 state mental hospitals have been fired in the last three years for allegations of physical abuse, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of state personnel records. Hundreds more have been terminated for other violations, the records show, from sleeping on the job to over-medicating mentally ill patients.

. . . Among the allegations of abuse and neglect state hospital workers have been fired for since 2005:

  • A worker at the North Texas State Hospital slammed a clipboard on a patient’s head, dragged her by her feet and kicked her in the legs and buttocks.

  • An employee at the Big Spring State Hospital failed to notice a patient who knotted her sheet and strung it around her neck. The patient was blue by the time staff found her.

  • At the Austin State Hospital, a male employee brought a female patient into a private room for her to carry out a sexual act on him.

  • An employee at the Austin hospital tackled a juvenile patient and pinned the patient’s neck and head to the floor, bloodying his lips and face and breaking his glasses.

Other employees were punished for offensive treatment, from using racial slurs on patients to making verbal threats and sexual advances. Some ignored patients’ cries for help while they watched TV, played video games and wrote text messages. Others stole state property and sold tobacco products to patients.

. . .

Jason Evans called 911 in November during a bipolar meltdown and was admitted to the Terrell State Hospital. Days later, the 34-year-old was dead – and his parents still don’t know why.

State officials told the Kaufman couple that their son, who was severely mentally ill but in good physical condition, had been disruptive that evening, and records obtained by the family indicate hospital workers medicated him before sending him to sleep. Mr. Evans was apparently found hours later in his bed, and was no longer breathing.

Lynn Evans, his mother, said psychiatric hospital workers attributed the death to natural causes, and doctors said her son had lost oxygen to the brain. But she and Mr. Evans’ father, a pharmacist, have been unable to get specific details about their son’s death. They believe Jason was effectively overdosed by hospital workers trying to restrain him.

It was a disease. Jason couldn’t help it, said Mrs. Evans, choking back sobs. In my heart, I will go to my grave knowing that hospital killed him.

Mr. McBride said that the agency is prohibited from confirming the identities of anyone in their care – but that any unexpected deaths are investigated by the Department of Family and Protective Services or by local law enforcement.

There were no deaths among Terrell State Hospital patients last fall from anything other than natural causes, he said.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

And anyone who has followed the official response to past prison abuse scandals (cf. GT 2008-02-21: Mississippi Corrections, GT 2008-02-05: Rapists in uniform, GT 2007-10-28: Corrections officers, etc.) should be outraged, but not at all surprised, by the fact that state Mental Health officials have responded to the threatening, neglecting, assaulting, raping, and torturing of imprisoned patients in the usual way that prison bosses respond. That, when the administrators are forced to admit that abuses have happened, the individual psychoprison guards are usually administratively disciplined, or at worst fired, rather than arrested or sued like the violent criminals that they are. That, when asked, the official mouthpieces of the mental health prison system reply by lying, covering up, whitewashing, isolating, or minimizing the extent of the violence against patients, by making excuses for the perpetrators, and by telling a bunch of sob-stories about the hard luck of supposed trained professionals who are expected to actually do their tough job without hurting people.

State officials say there will always be some reports of abuse and neglect in an institutional setting. And they say they take any allegations of mistreatment seriously. But the records show that as in other state-run facilities, abuse and neglect are systemic.

. . .

The state’s juvenile prisons, group homes for the disabled, and state schools for people with mental disabilities all came under fire last year for reports of widespread physical and sexual abuse.

. . .

Officials with the Department of State Health Services, the agency that runs the psychiatric hospitals, say abuse and neglect are absolutely not pervasive – and verified cases are actually dropping.

In the last two years, they confirmed 15 Class I cases – the most serious abuse. On average, investigators substantiate 5 percent of the more than 2,000 allegations they examine annually. And 90 percent of patient deaths since 2005 were attributed to natural causes, agency spokesman Doug McBride said. Five were suicides, and none were the result of abuse.

Keep in mind there are about 7,400 employees, 18,000 patient admissions and probably hundreds of thousands of staff-patient interactions in a year, Mr. McBride said.

State officials acknowledge that the psychiatric hospitals are stressful environments; there are times, Mr. McBride said, when employees do not handle a situation appropriately. But they say the rules for reporting abuse and neglect are stringent – and confirmed cases of physical and sexual abuse are reported to police.

And they balk at the suggestion that conditions bear a resemblance to the state schools for people with mental disabilities, where the U.S. Justice Department has intervened twice in recent years.

The state psychiatric hospitals, which have about 2,500 patients daily, had 137 confirmed abuse cases in 2007. The state schools for people with disabilities, which have twice as many residents, have an average of 300 confirmed abuse cases per year.

But some advocates fear the mentally ill patients may face greater risks. Patients of the psychiatric hospitals are largely indigent, transient and not connected to their families, so they have few allies as they bounce through the mental health system.

It’s a population that’s easy to abuse because they’re not on the radar in any way, said Richard Hansen, a Texas mental health advocate who was chemically restrained, shackled and beaten to the point of broken ribs years ago while suffering from bipolar disorder in a New York mental hospital.

. . . Mr. Hansen said many employees are conscientious, but conditions vary from hospital to hospital and ward to ward. Some are simply warehouses, where patients are often overmedicated and ignored. In others, patients frequently turn up with unexplained injuries, he said.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

Besides the fact that it is just a lie to claim that a problem that has involved hundreds of employees in the last three years alone is somehow absolutely not pervasive, one of the most important factors simply goes unmentioned here — that it is really, really easy to get away with far more violence and abuse than crops up in verified official reports, simply because guards tend to stick together against any allegations made by inmates, and because they can act with an incredible amount of impunity when officials will never trust a victim’s testimony, and will happily wave it off, whenever it’s convenient to do so, as the product–literally–of feeble-mindedness or insanity. No wonder that 5% (and dropping) of the 2,000 abuse allegations filed every year end up getting verified by the officials.

And, to cap it all, no matter how bad and how widespread the abuse may get, the administrators can always count on the pro-establishment wing of their supposed critics to go to the public and to the legislature to beg for even more tax money and even more prison guards to be sent into the psychiatric prison system, so that the very people who created these maddening prison-ward hellholes can be rewarded for their institutionalized violence by being allowed to take even more money from taxpayers to go on doing the same old thing:

The state psychiatric hospitals, like other systems for vulnerable Texans, are chronically starved for cash, advocates of more state funding say, and services at the local level can’t keep up.

. . .

You get what you pay for, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who has bipolar disorder. When you financially dumb something down, you make services cheap, something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it usually ends up being a mentally ill or disabled Texan.

. . .

Aaryce Hayes, a mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc., said the Department of State Health Services is working to improve the state hospital system, from incorporating trauma-informed treatment into care regimens to increasing employee empathy training. It is also trying to reduce reliance on restraint and seclusion to keep control of patients.

They get it, she said. They want to see a culture change.

But it’s hard to improve when the state hospital system is so overburdened, Ms. Hayes said. Right now, the state funds just 27 percent of mental health needs in the community – meaning everyone else rotates in and out of crisis care. There are more than 450,000 adult Texans with serious and persistent mental illness, everything from schizophrenia to major depression, Ms. Hayes said.

If we said we were serving just 27 percent of people who had cancer, or diabetes, nobody would be comfortable with that, Ms. Hayes said.

Money is a persistent problem. In 2003, lawmakers stripped $100 million from the state’s mental health budget, Mr. Coleman said – funding that has only partially been replaced.

The Legislature approved $82 million last year to improve community mental health crisis services, said Robin Peyson, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Texas chapter. But Texas ranks 48th in the country in per capita funding for people with mental illness, so that money only begins to address the shortfall.

There are not services at the community level and there are not enough beds in the system, she said. If you have inadequate funding, you’re just supporting this cycle, this revolving wheel.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

The reality is that what is needed is not more money, or more guards, or better training, or even a culture change. A culture change would be a step forward, but the real solution that is needed is something that goes far deeper: a solution that strikes at the root from which that culture and these conditions grow. What is really needed is a power change, so that psychiatric wards are no longer artificially packed by court order, so that patients can leave and seek help through other means if conditions become unbearable, and so that supposed patients are no longer treated against their will and held down at the mercy of their helper-captors. If you make a hospital into a prison camp, then it should be no surprise when the hospital caregivers start acting like prison camp guards. The only thing to do — the only thing you can do that will not just recreate the same problem in a superficially different form — is to respect the will of patients, to treat violence against them as a real crime worthy of punishment, to repeal the laws that privilege and protect their captors, and to break open the doors and tear off the straitjackets that hold them back from living their lives as human beings, rather than as objects of pity and coercion.

Free the Texas 2,500!

Free all psychiatric prisoners!

Further reading:

Tuesday Lazy Linking

Around the web in the past couple weeks. Some of the news that’s fit to link.

  • Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children takes on professional anti-feminist Caitlin Flanagan (for background reading, see the profile in Ms.) and her latest foray into the teensploitation genre — a hand-wringing and voyeuristic article about a non-existent teenage oral sex craze amongst our Troubled Suburban Youth, and touches on feminism, amnesiac nostalgia, privileged suburban angst, and Judy Blume in the process.

    Thinking back on my own privileged adolescence, I can remember girls who performed oral sex on boys on a more or less casual basis, girls who denied rumors that they did the above, girls who did it with their boyfriends and related the experience the next morning with a mix of panic and excitement, girls who didn’t think it was a big deal, girls who thought it was a big deal, girls who talked about it loudly at lunchtime and did seductive poses with every potentially phallic food product in sight (including CapriSun straws and granola bars) but had no more than a vague idea what it actually involved, girls who thought it was the grossest thing ever, EVER, oh my God, girls who had no qualms about doing it (it in italics) but thought oral sex was unnatural, girls who tried to freak out self-consciously innocent girls like me by saying, Luke Lepinski is SO CUTE. Don’t you just want to put his DICK in your MOUTH? and then laughing like maniacs at my genuine bafflement, Christian girls who plugged their ears and shrieked if you tried to talk about any kind of genital-related program activity, even in the most abstract and theoretical language, girls who had heard you could get pregnant that way (and might have a cousin who knew someone who did,) and myself. My opinions on the matter were all based on my strong and growing aversion to boys, and were not particularly well-formed, nor did I have occasion to put them into practice. I recite this autobiographical litany as a way of illustrating the complex nature of that steady decline in morals called growing up, and to suggest that gnashing one’s teeth about the unexpected depravities of our formerly delicate rosebud-like daughters may not be the best response thereto. What is the best response? I don’t know, but Caitlin Flanagan is a bit too eager to put down Planned Parenthood for its attempts to give sane and sensible advice on the matter ….

    — Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children

    … and don’t miss the response to Flanagan’s closing remarks — an employment of the old Double Standard so overt and so uncritical that it leaves no avenues of criticism open other than something stodgy like rank sexism:

    Frankly, I’d rather have a daughter who gives out a few undeserved blowjobs of her own volition than a son who thinks sex is his right and privilege as a Hot-Blooded American Male. Oops, there I go slandering men with my insane expectation that they take responsibility for their own desires! Damn insidious radical feminist influence! What won’t it disfigure with its toxic fumes of seething, sulfurous hatred?

    — Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children

    Read the whole thing

  • Sarah Goldstein at Broadsheet (2006-02-03): New hope in the fight against domestic violence gives a shout-out to a new program for rehabilitating men who batter women, called Resolve to Abolish Violence Everywhere. The plan? Stop focusing on anger management, and start tackling male entitlement:

    What’s exciting about this approach to combating domestic abuse is that it tackles the institutionalization of male dominance, looking at the offender’s action within a larger system of violence. Women’s eNews reports, Staffers [in Austin] say this program assumes that violence arises from a decision based on deeply-held beliefs of male dominance, not a flash of uncontrollable emotion. Whereas most anger management classes are just three or four weeks long, this program works with the offender for an entire year after his release.

    — Sarah Goldstein at Broadsheet (2006-02-03): New hope in the fight against domestic violence

    Of course, there’s no magic bullet for ending battery, and this program, like any others, has limitations to worry about (like the institutional limitations imposed on any program run by cops, or the fact that it only catches men once they’ve already tortured one or more women to the point that it reached the criminal justice system). But insofar as there are going to be court-mandated rehabilitation programs, this is certainly a step forward, and I wish them the best.

    Read the whole thing.

  • Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy (2006-02-07): To Be Hot And Nuts points out a story from this month’s Prospect that will make you want to tear your hair out and then run out in a blind rage and bury the entire psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex under a library of Women and Madness and the collected works of Thomas Szasz.

    But then tragedy strikes. The drug that works also makes her fat. This a horror the doctors find intolerable. Her beauty is destroyed. So they take her off that drug because in a patriarchy a hot girl cannot be fat. So Nia immediately goes nuts again because the new drug, though it does not make her fat, also doesn’t work. She is nuts again, but at least she’s still a babe. Whew. That was close.

    But she is so nuts that, after a month of hell, doctors reluctantly put her back on the fat drug. The crazy part is that Nia doesn’t give a crap about being fat. She’s happy as a clam to get rid of the voices. Yet the doctors assume that, because she isn’t crying herself to sleep every night over her lost beauty, she isn’t really getting well at all. Any 17-year-old in her right mind would be bulimic and wanna slice herself up with razors under these circumstances, right?

    — Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy (2006-02-07): To Be Hot And Nuts

    Selections from the first five or six comments: Oh give me a fucking break, I don’t know what to do besides shout obscenities. Good fucking god, This makes me so mad I can’t see straight. That last paragraph … is insulting in about 10 THOUSAND different ways and makes me want to slap the authors and Nia’s dr’s repeatedly about the head and face, etc. That’s just about right.

    Read the whole damn thing. But only on an empty stomach. Then write a letter to the editor.

  • Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-02): Vacuums, internalized sexism and yes, that invisibility of privilege looks at the politics of housework, as one of the arenas of in which anti-feminists love to point out how women themselves are deputized as the primary enforcers of sexist standards. Shockingly, she finds that this looks more like classic male privilege than it does some kind of self-imposed drudgery that women have ended up with by being naturally the Fairer Sex.

    You see this sort of thing a lot, where women are judged by a different standard than men, but the appointed judges are technically other women, so the whole thing can be written off as women being weird instead of women trying to adapt to a patriarchal system. That way, not only can men benefit from the thing women are supposed to do to fit into a standard, they have the added bonus of acting like they are simply above such female nonsense. In the case of housework, men can benefit from having a clean home without either working or appearing so uncool as to care if the house is clean, since the work is done by invisible female hands.

    … It’s true–make-up, shoes, exercise, dieting, the whole routine is developed by and enforced by women while being sneered at all too often by the very men the entire routine is developed to benefit. The complaint is not so much that women do all these things, of course. It’s that men might accidentally be exposed to these things; in the good old days, I suppose, women worked harder at the conspiracy to shield men from having to perceive their own privilege. (For a really great example of this, read Pink Think by Lynn Peril–she excerpts an advice book to women that suggests that women should rise before their husbands to do their make-up and preserve the illusion that they never look any different.)

    … That’s the basic argument behind choice feminism, and it’s whipped out to explain away every instance of women’s second class status, from breast implants to domestic service. And that’s the argument that EricP is resorting to when explaining away the difference between expectations on men and women for level of cleanliness. It’s easy to look at how women are expected to police ourselves for adhering to a patriachal standard and say that it’s our fault. But it’s not the cops that are the ones to look at when the laws themselves are suspect.

    — Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-02): Vacuums, internalized sexism and yes, that invisibility of privilege

    Read the whole thing. I’d also like to add a note from Andrea Dworkin that I came across the same day that I read Amanda’s post. This is from In Memory of Nicole Brown Simpson, in Life and Death (41–50):

    While race-hate is expressed through forced segregation, woman-hate is expressed through forced closeness, which makes punishment swift, easy, and sure. In private, women often empathize with one another, across race and class, because their experiences with men are so much the same. But in public, including on juries, women rarely dare.

    –Andrea Dworkin, Life and Death, pp. 49–50

    Maybe one way to gloss the essential goal of feminism is to create a platform from which that private empathy can erupt into public solidarity and action.

  • BB at Den of the Biting Beaver (2006-02-10): Friday Fun with Sitemeter offers a guided tour to the kind of Google searches that you get when you run a radical feminist anti-pornography website.

  • Roderick at Austro-Athenian Empire (2006-02-03): Tarzan’s Burden mentions Hollywood popcult’s mutilation of the character of Tarzan, and points to an interesting four-part essay by F. X. Blisard on race relations in the Tarzan novels and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work in general — fairly enlightened for Burroughs’ era, it turns out, and far superior to Hollywood’s treatment. Read the whole thing.

  • Ken Gregg (2006-02-08) at CLASSical Liberalism: It Usually Begins With… takes another look at Jules Verne, his literary accomplishments, his prescience, the way his politics have been excised from bowdlerized English translations until very recently, and what those politics were (in short, a mixed bag):

    Verne’s novels have contrary trends: support for national liberation movements such as the Irish and Polish, but also a strong pacifist streak; paternalism toward colonial peoples, but a hatred of slavery and imperialism (especially British); sympathy for utopian experiments, but resentment toward state power; affirmation of free enterprise, but assaults on big capitalism (especially American); a celebration of loyalty and community, but sympathy for militant individualism.

    — Ken Gregg (2006-02-08) at CLASSical Liberalism: It Usually Begins With…

    Read the whole thing.

  • media girl (2006-02-10): Spying on Americans is for kids! takes a look at the NSA’s ongoing attempts at cute, furry cartoon outreach to children, which is either a very funny comment on bureaucratic rationality or else a daring new form of avant-garde surrealist theater.

  • The Dominion (2006-01-16): CBC’s true colors discovers that the government-owned CBC is solicitous of the party in power in the government to the point of altering their logo to match the party color scheme. Surprised?

  • Paganarchy (2006-02-04): Serious Organised Crime? Ha Ha Ha! — a squad of clowns takes to the street to protest restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly around Parliament, and a copper stops them from entering Parliament to talk with their MPs:

    Our first port of call was to visit our MPs in the House Of Commons. Just through the security gate and whoa — the duty sergeant stopped us from going in. Alas, we were deemed not dignified enough by a copper calling himself the chief arbiter of style.

    As opposed to the grave dignity of a copper who has appointed himself the chief arbiter of style for the House of Commons and taken it upon himself to make sure the dress of visitors is up to his sartorial standards.

    Read the whole thing.

  • The North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists posts links to left-anarchist debate over the iterative Five Year Plan participatory economics.

  • Kevin Carson at the UnCapitalist Journal (2005-09-22): What Can Bosses Know? looks at mutualist anarchism, worker self-management, and the knowledge problems that afflict corporate as well as government bureaucracies. (Yeah, I know it’s from last September. But it’s good, and I just found it in the past couple weeks. Also, you may find it relevant in connection with the debate over Five Year Planning by iterated collective bargaining between the deputies of several massive federations in an appropriately participatory bureaucratic forum.)

    As Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) of the Movement of the Libertarian Left said somewhere (I can’t find it–little help?) organizational inefficiency starts when you have one supervisor taking orders from another supervisor: that is, the point at which hierarchy replaces market contracting.

    … The central problem is that, since the costs of tracking the results of individual decisions becomes prohibitively expensive in a large organization, market incentives must be replaced by administrative ones. Milton Friedman pointed out long ago that people do a better job of spending money on themselves than on other people, and do better spending their own money than other people’s money. That’s the standard, and correct, libertarian argument for why government is so inefficient. It’s spending other people’s money on other people; and unlike a private firm not only can it not go out of business for inefficiency, it gets rewarded with more money. Well, the very same incentive problems apply to the decision-maker in a corporate hierarchy. He’s a steward of other people’s money, and the costs and benefits of any decision he makes can be determined only badly, if at all. Unlike a self-employed actor whose relations with others are mediated by the market, he is motivated by purely administrative incentives.

    — Kevin Carson at the UnCapitalist Journal (2005-09-22): What Can Bosses Know?

  • Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek (2006-02-09): We Don’t Make Anything Anymore takes on the factory protectionists over the state of industry in America. The worriers like to complain that we don’t make anything anymore. America is being hollowed out. Soon we’re going to be left doing one another’s laundry. Boy, will we be poor then. The problem is an old one: the heavy-industry hand-wringers are measuring the inputs, not the outputs. When you look at the stuff actually being produced, rather than the number of people employed or the size of the pile of resources invested in producing it, you’ll find that we’re making more stuff than ever. (I’d add that there are lots of reasons to worry about what happens to heavy-industry workers as they lose their jobs. And that Roberts’ summary and selective swipes at the unions are unwarranted. But the basic point is well-taken. Our aims should not be to prop up an elaborate industrial make-work program.)

  • David Friedman, Ideas (2006-02-09): Unschooling: The Advantage of the Real World: One point raised in comments on my recent unschooling post was that you sometimes have to do things you don’t like, a lesson we can teach our children by making them study things they are not currently interested in studying. It is an interesting point, and I think reflects a serious error. Friedman challenges would-be educators to help students expose themselves to the natural consequences of effort and fortitude, rather than imposing make-work punishments and rewards on them in order to teach them a lesson where the incentives bear no natural relation to the task at hand. Read the whole thing.

  • Tim Bray, ongoing (2006-02-10) asks, What Do GNU and Linux Mean? in a free software world where the user experience is (praise the Good) further and further removed from the technical wotsits of the kernel, where Firefox, OpenOffice, and GNU software provide an increasingly standard software environment, and where the choice between GNU/OpenSolaris and GNU/Linux is going to be a strictly technical choice with basically no impact on the end-user environment? What should you even call what’s emerging? Tim suggests some deliberate provocations: So you’ve got the combination of a Solaris or Linux kernel with a mish-mosh of GNU, Mozilla, OpenOffice and other random software, and calling it Linux or Solaris is misleading. I think Sun could legally ship something like this under the name GNU/Unix. Which would be concise, descriptive, accurate, and funny. (Because GNU stands for Gnu’s Not Unix and Solaris, after all, is.) I think maybe we should just call it GNU, and encourage ordinary users to leave the worries about what comes after the slash to people who have reasons to care about kernels.

  • August Pollak (2006-02-08): As a white guy, did you just throw up right now? and Mikhaela Reed (2006-02-09): The so-called conservative Doonesbury mention Chris Muir’s imaginary Black friend and the excellent opportunity that having one provides white cartoonists to lecture African-Americans about how they should think of themselves in early 21st century America. A Touch of Ego offers some background context on Muir and Day By Day. Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-08) calls for fixes to help Chris Muir write a funny strip. My favorite repair job is from Ampersand at Alas (2006-02-09).

  • Claire Wolfe (2006-02-13): Back from the meditation workshop reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly of her two-week long meditation retreat in silence. One of the good things about the retreat was the distance it allowed from the hot air of professional blowhards that passes for News and Views these days: The omnipresent Information Flow also became irrelevant. I worried at times about what was happening to Steve Kubby and Cory Maye, but could have cared less about the monotonous, inevitable sturm und drang that passes for Vital News. Funny, too. They call it news, but the same rot was being broadcast and podcast and web-posted when I left and when I returned. Nothing new about the news. … Time to live. Time to think deeply, rather than think in quick brain bytes between rushed emails and frequent checks of LewRockwell.com, Rational Review, Google News, and TCF. Read the whole thing.

  • Carnival is two weeks from today. In honor of the liturgical occasion, be sure to read up on the latest weblog Carnivals. In particular, the inaugural editions of the Radical Women of Color Carnival and the Big Fat Carnival are up at Reappropriate and Alas, A Blog respectively. Not to mention the eighth Carnival of the Feminists at Gendergeek. Enjoy!

Over My Shoulder #4: Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is again from Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor.

Paradoxically and simultaneously, industrial unionism–though born of the radicalism of Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco–became a new mode of enforcing the contract. Attempts to seize back the initiative from foremen and time-study experts were met, now, with directives from industrial union leaders to stay in line until a greivance could be properly negotiated. Soon, union dues would be deducted automatically from wages, so that officials no longer needed to bother making personal contact and monthly appeals to the loyalty of members.

Meany, treating industrial unionists at large as enemies, could not for many years grasp that events were bringing the CIO’s elected officials closer to him. He was steeped in a craft tradition to which the very idea of workers united into a single, roughly roughly egalitarian body hinted at revolutionary transformation. But many less conservative sectors were equally surprised by the course of the more democratic CIO unions toward the end of the 1930s. A triangle of government, business, and labor leadership brought about a compact that served mutual interest in stability, though often not in the interests of the workers left out of this power arrangement.

Not until 1937 did business unionism confirm its institutional form, when the Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act. Now, a legitimate union (that is to say, a union legitimated by the National Labor Relation Board) with more than 50 percent of the vote in a union election became the sole bargaining agent for all. Unions stood on the brink of a membership gold-rush. The left-led Farm Equipment union could that same year, for instance, win a tremendous victory of five thousand workers at International Harvester in Chicago without a strike, thanks to the NLRB-sanctioned vote. But union leaders also prepared to reciprocate the assistance with a crackdown against membership indiscipline. The United Auto Workers, a case in point, arose out of Wobbly traditions mixed with a 1920s Communist-led Auto Workers Union and an amalgam of radicals’ efforts to work within early CIO formations. The fate of the industry, which fought back furiously against unionization, was set by the famed 1937 sit-down strikes centered in Flint, which seemed for a moment to bring the region close to class and civil war. Only the personal intercession of Michigan’s liberal Governor Murphy, it was widely believed, had prevented a bloodbath of employers’ armed goons retaking the basic means of production and setting off something like a class war. Therein lay a contradiction which the likes of George Meany could appreciate without being able to comprehend fully. The notorious willingness of UAW members to halt production until their greivances were met did not end because the union had employed the good offices of the goveronr (and the appeals of Franklin Roosevelt) to bring union recognition. On the one hand, a vast social movement of the unemployed grew up around the auto workers’ strongholds in Michigan, generating a sustained classwide movement of employed and unemployed, lasting until wartime brought near full employment. On the other hand, union leaders, including UAW leaders, swiftly traded off benefits for discipline in an uneven process complicated by strategic and often-changing conflicts within the political left.

The continuing struggle for more complete democratic participation was often restricted to the local or the particularistic, and thanks to a long-standing tradition of autonomy, sometimes to insular circles of AFL veterans. For instance, in heavily French-Canadian Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a vibrant Independent Textile Union had sprung up out of a history of severe repression and the riotous 1934 general textile strike. The ITU remained outside the CIO and set about organizing workers in many industries across Woonsocket; then, after a conservatizing wartime phase, it died slowly with the postwar shutdown of the mills. To take another example, the All Workers Union of Austin, Minnesota–an IWW-like entity which would reappear in spirit during the 1980s as rebellious Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers–held out for several years in the 1930s against merger. A model par excellence of horizontal, unionism with wide democratic participation and public support, the AWU (urged by Communist regulars and Trotskyists alike) willingly yielded its autonomy, and in so doing also its internal democracy, to the overwhelming influence of the CIO. In yet another case, the Progressive Miners of America, which grew out of a grassroots rebellion against John L. Lewis’s autocratic rule, attempted to place itself in th AFL that Lewis abandoned, on the basis of rank-and-file democracy with a strong dose of anti-foreign and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric. Or again: the AFL Seaman’s Union of the Pacific, reacting ferociously to Communist efforts to discipline the sea lanes, stirred syndicalist energies and like the PMA simultaneously drew upon a racist exclusionary streak far more typical of the AFL than the CIO.

These and many less dramatic experiments died or collapsed into the mainstream by wartime. But for industrial unionism at large, the damage had already been done to the possibilities of resisting creeping bureaucratization. Indeed, only where union delegates themselves decreed safety measures of decentralization, as in the UAW in 1939 (against the advice of Communists and their rivals), did conventions emerge guaranteeing participation from below, to some significant degree.

–Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, 119-121.

Let the hand-wringing begin

Nobody likes to have an abortion, and nobody would like to have one even under the best of conditions. Things are much better now than they were in the dark days of back-alley butchers; and they could be made much better yet if it weren’t for miles of punitive regulations and red tape made with the explicit purpose of making abortions harder for legally vulnerable women to obtain. But even without the cultural bullies and screaming protestors, even without the government-imposed cartel costs and the intense curtailment of options for procedures, your choices would still in the end be between invasive surgery of some form or another or drugs that make you nauseous and bleeding over the course of a few days. Of course abortion is not the horrendous experience that anti-choicers repeatedly make it out to be; it is far safer and quicker and easier on both patient and provider than nearly every other kind of surgery that there is. It’s safer and less psychologically taxing than giving birth. (Somehow these comparisons don’t seem to get made very often by either the anti-choice leadership or their foot soldiers. How strange.) But root canals are very safe and relatively simple too; that doesn’t mean that anyone is excited to have one.

But so what? Nobody goes around talking about the terrible tragedy of root canals either, or about the need to reach across the divide to unite with the anti-root-canal community (I take it that there are some Christian Scientist types who oppose dental surgery out of deeply felt religious conviction) in order to prevent unwanted tooth decay. Nobody feels the need to prefix every remark about their support for the right to get a root canal with a half-hour of qualifications and apologies. Yet the Party Hack wing of the Democratic leadership seems to have decided, yet again, that this is just what they need. Here, for example, is how Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to celebrate the anniversary of one of the greatest political triumphs for women’s liberation in recent history:

In a speech to about 1,000 abortion rights supporters near the New York State Capitol, Mrs. Clinton firmly restated her support for the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. But then she quickly shifted gears, offering warm words to opponents of legalized abortion and praising the influence of “religious and moral values” on delaying teenage girls from becoming sexually active.

There is an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate — we should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be wanted, cherished and loved, Mrs. Clinton said.

Her speech came on the same day as the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington marking the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

Mrs. Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats who support abortion rights. She did so not by changing her political stands, but by underscoring her views in preventing unplanned pregnancies, promoting adoption, recognizing the influence of religion in abstinence and championing what she has long called teenage celibacy.

She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education — including abstinence counseling — family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.

We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women, Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Most of this is true enough, as far as it goes. Nobody wants abortion instead of widesperad contraception and responsible sexual education. Nobody likes to get an abortion. And in the present political and cultural climate, all too many women are made to feel far worse about their decision to have an abortion than should be. Fine. But the latter isn’t an unchangeable given; it’s a political fact that is enforced by a constant and intentional climate of harassment and intimidation. And the fact that we’d rather women were able to avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place is no reason to spend hours hand-wringing over it and apologizing for it unless you already think that there’s something wrong with getting an abortion. But why should you think that?

Actually, there is one other reason that you might do all that hand-wringing. You might be cavilling in spite of your own beliefs because you think that kind of dissembling is politically useful. I hate to say it about Hillary — she gave such a great speech at the March and all — but it’s hard to know what else to conclude about this particular strategy:

Mrs. Clinton’s address came as the Democratic Party itself engages in its own re-examination of its handling of the issue in the wake of Senator John Kerry’s loss in the presidential race.

Democratic senators such as Harry Reid of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California have also pressed for a greater focus on reducing unintended pregnancies, and some Democratic consultants have urged that party leaders mint new language to reach voters who identified moral values as a top issue for them in last November’s election.

Jesus Christ people. Look. No. Just, no.

First, you’re not trying to mint new language. You’re repeating the same crap that you did for the past 12 years. Here, for example, is how Electable John Kerry answered questions on abortion during the second and third debates:

Mr. Schieffer Senator Kerry a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem call research. What is your reaction to that?

Mr. Kerry I respect their views. I completely respect their views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views, but I disagree with them, as do many. I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith. I believe that choice, a woman’s choice is between a woman, God and her doctor. And that’s why I support that. Now I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade. The president has never said whether or not he would do that. But we know from the people he’s tried to appoint to the court he wants to. I will not. I will defend the right of Roe v. Wade.

Now with respect to religion, you know, as I said I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me. And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, I’m not running to be a Catholic president. I’m running to be a president who happens to be Catholic. Now my faith affects everything that I do and choose. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says What does it mean my brother to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead. And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith. But I know this: that President Kennedy in his inaugural address told of us that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own. And that’s what we have to – I think that’s the test of public service.

And before that in the second debate:

DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?

KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.

First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I’m a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.

But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that.

But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.

But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.

Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro-abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don’t deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can’t afford it otherwise.

That’s why I think it’s important. That’s why I think it’s important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.

You’ll help prevent AIDS.

You’ll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.

You’ll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it.

Apparently the apparatchiks have decided that there isn’t enough hand-wringing and pandering to the sensibilities of the Religious Right there. I don’t know how you could add any more hand-wringing and searching for “common ground” with the Christian Right there without the references to a woman’s right to an abortion disappearing entirely, but there you have it.

Guess what? It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Why in the world do they think that it would? Are they trying to win votes from the Christian Right? Do they honestly think that moving the political debate over reproductive freedom back from abortion to the Sanger-era fights over birth control and sex education is going to improve the political climate in this country?

In other words: stop treating the right to abortion like you treat free speech rights for the Klan. If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with abortion then quit hemming and hawing forever about how much you respect the position of people who do and how much you’d like to work with them on birth control. You’re wasting your time: a lot if not most ofthem also hate birth control and sex education anyway. And in the process of wasting your time you are also dissembling about your real motives and spitting on women’s struggle for freedom.

Incidentally, Rox, among the reasons I like Howard Dean as much as I do is that in the heat of an election, this is how he answers a question about abortion:

Diane Rehm: We have seen reports that builders across the country are refusing to participate in the construction of Planned Parenthood buildings. What would you do about the threats to freedom for a woman to choose?

Howard Dean: Well, I think that’s a very dangerous game those builders are playing, especially in the city of Austin, which is where it’s going on. Were I down there I would immediately refuse to do business with any of the contractors who were boycotting that. So all groups can play that game; you have the right-wingers playing the game today, but other groups who may disagree with that can also play that game. And I think that’s a mistake for them to do that.

I am pro-choice. I’m a doctor; I frankly believe that it’s none of the government’s business to interfere in a woman’s making decisions about her own healthcare. And I tend not to be very supportive of efforts to enforce political points of view on individuals’ healthcare, and that’s what’s going on in Austin, Texas.

On the Diane Rehms show, WAMU, 2004-12-01 10:00am (they don’t seem to have a transcript; the question is around 45’45” on the audio version)

Elsewhere he’s also directly, and without apology or cavil, taken on both parental consent restrictions and late-term abortion bans, and pointedly insisted that on the issue of abortion, We can change our vocabulary but I don’t think we ought to change our principles..

Second, even if this were a new tack, and even if there were any reason to believe that it would get anything worth accomplishing accomplished, why would you think that women’s control over their own bodies is an acceptable bargaining chip? Women are not pawns to be sacrificed for better board position. Lots of Democrats bolted the party in the late 1960s to become Republicans because the national leadership would no longer keep silent about Jim Crow and the efforts of efforts such as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party finally broke the Eastland-Wallace white supremacist stranglehold on the Southern state parties. That lost the Democrats a lot of voters. The difference even lost them several elections. So what? Does anyone think that it would be a good idea to endlessly fret about how to reach out across the divide and find common ground to bring the Klan vote back into the party?

To hell with that. If you’re going to get hung up on winning political office, this is not how you should be trying to do it. Falling back on the apparatchiks and electable candidates using electably mealy-mouthed rhetoric doesn’t work and it wouldn’t have gained anything worth winning even if it did. Meanwhile, the other side won’t believe it, your side won’t pull out the stops for you, and the people in the middle won’t know where the hell you actually stand.

If Democrats are looking for new language with which to frame the abortion debate, I’d like to suggest a good old standard: ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY.

Sounds Familiar

Ol’ Jerry Falwell is at it again; the latest, from his 21 November Old Time Gospel Hour broadcast, is the following incisive tidbit:

And we’re going to invite PETA [to Wild Game Night] as our special guest, P-E-T-A — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We want you to come, we’re going to give you a top seat there, so you can sit there and suffer. This is one of my special groups, another one’s the ACLU, another is the NOW — the National Order of Witches [sic]. We’ve got — I’ve got a lot of special groups.

Ouch! As Jessica put it over at feministing, Yeah, I bet all the ladies over at NOW were huddled around their cauldrons just fuming over that one. Please.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too hasty to pile on. Perhaps poor Jerry wasn’t trying to be insulting. Maybe he just got confused, and mixed up NOW with another famous feminist organizing effort:

WITCH was born on Halloween, 1968, in New York, but within a few weeks Covens had sprung up in such diverse spots as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, North Carolina, Portland (Oregon), Austin (Texas), and Tokyo (Japan). They’re still spreading. A certain common style–insousciance, theatricality, humor, and activism, unite the Covens–which are otherwise totally autonomous, and unhierarchical to the point of anarchy. …

Washington, D.C. WITCH–after an action hexing the United Fruit Company’s oppressive policy on the Third World and on secretaries in its offices at home (Bananas and rifles, sugar and death / War for profit, tarantulas’ breath / United Fruit makes lots of loot / The CIA is in its boot)–claimed that WITCH was a total concept of revolutionary female identity and was the striking arm of the Women’s Liberation Movement, aiming mainly at financial and corporate America, at those institutions that have the power to control and define human life.

Chicago WITCH Covens showered the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago with hair cuttings and nail clippings after the firing of a radical feminist woman professor, and the Chicago Witches also demonstrated against a transit fare hike. They, as well as Witches in New York, San Francisco, North Dakota, and New England, disrupted local Bridal Fairs. The fluidity and wit of the Witches is evident in the ever-changing acronyms: the basic, original title was Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, but on Mother’s Day one Coven became Women Infuriated at Taking Care of Hooligans; another group, working at a major Eastern insurance corporation, became Women Indentured to Traveler’s Corporate Hell; still another set of infiltrators, working at Bell Telephone, manifested themselves disruptively as Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harrassment. When hexing inflationary prices at supermarkets, a Midwest Coven appeared as Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers; Women Interested in Toppling Consumption Holidays was another transfigutory appellation–and the latest heard at this writing is Women Inspired to Commit Herstory.

For Rebellion Is As The Sin Of Witchcraft. —I Samuel, 15:23

–Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970)

photo: Feminist activists dressed as witches storm the Chicago Metro system

Chicago WITCH hexes the Transit Authority (photo by Louise Brotsky)

Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble
We’re convicted of murder if abortion is planned
Convicted of shame if we don’t have a man
Convicted of conspiracy if we fight for our rights
And burned at the stake when we stand up to fight
Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble.
We curse your empire to make it fall–
When you take on one of us, you take on us all!

–Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers (W.I.T.C.H.)

Who says that feminists don’t have a sense of humor?

If Jerry F. is trying to get our goat, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than that. You should feel free to let him know that at his contact page.

Update 2004-11-29: Looks like flea had the same idea at One Good Thing (thanks, Amanda):

This, sadly, is what passes for wit in those circles. They’ve been calling feminists “witches” for literally twenty years, possibly more. I think more. I think second wave feminist icon (and one of my heroes) Robin Morgan started a group called WITCH in response to it, where they ran around and did Abbie Hoffman-esque stunts like casting a spell on the New York Stock Exchange to shut it down at the beginning of the day. When the Wall Streeters tried to open the doors, they found that they could not. The WITCHes took full credit for their spell working, of course, and they were indeed responsible, as they had superglued the locks shut the night before.