Rad Geek People's Daily

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Posts from May 2002

Raise the Nation

The folks at Insanity House, an advocacy group for single-parent and non-traditional families, has developed the Raise the Nation Foundation, a non-profit foundation helping single parent women continue their education or re-pay education expenses.

One of the most damnable things about the 1996 welfare deform package is that it gives major economic incentives to states to convert their welfare program into a government-sponsored temp agency for shitty, dead-end labor–with no particular provisions for giving single mothers (by far the largest group of TANF recipients) the time and resources to go to University or vocational schools so that they can better provide for themselves and their families in the long term. The paradigm has been either to run women’s entire lives through do-gooder government bureaucratic busybodies, or else Right-wing "reformers" who prefer to use the government bureaucratic busybodies to drive poor women into more dead-end low-wage "jobs" and ensure that they remain perpetually available to capital.

We need groups like Raise the Nation which provide grassroots mutual aid and support for women in economic need to take charge of their own education and economic well-being. Thank goodness for them.

For further reading:

Abercrombie & Fitch Say Sexualization of Children is “Cute and Fun and Sweet”

Clothing-makers Abercrombie & Fitch are once again in the news for paedophile-chic clothing lines. This time it’s thongs for seven year old girls, imprinted with such cute and fun and sweet slogans as eye candy, sexy, and wink wink.

A&F apparently thinks that it is cute to portray little girls as eroticized future sex objects. However, this is pretty obviously a lie; as usual, they are trying to attract attention to their stupid clothing line by being edgy. The thing that people don’t seem to get is that this kind of shit isn’t even remotely edgy. It’s the same old cultural detritus, repackaged. The quasi-child porn thing was already old when Calvin Klein did it; it was even older when Britney Spears did it; and it’s older than dirt by now. It’s not only not cute, it’s not edgy, either. It’s just also-ran, offensive and stupid.

Take action!

Write a complaint to Abercrombie & Fitch asking them why they think that portraying children as sex objects is cute and fun and sweet, and ask them to pull the line from stores. Public outcry has already forced them to remove their racist caricatures of Asians from stores, and now it’s time to turn up the heat on their paedophile-chic.

Leftists and Libertarians Shocked To Find They Agree

Lakshmi Chaudhry has written a column examining chances for a left-libertarian alliance [AlterNet]. The column focuses on the recent direction of articles from the Cato Institute, which have made bold stands for civil liberties, against corporate welfare, and against the ever-expanding military-security Leviathan of the "War on Terrorism."

This shouldn’t come as that much a surprise. Cato has always held a good line on issues such as foreign policy towards the Mideast (1991) and corporate welfare (1995). The supposed animosity between Cato and the Left is based on fights that emerged from Cato’s role in fueling the economic policies of the 1994 Republican Reaction. But of course, the Republicans never seriously followed Cato; they merely altered the nature of tax-and-manage bureaucratic coercion. They turned welfare into a government-sponsored temp agency for shitty dead-end labor. And they never saw a massive corporate welfare boondoggle they didn’t like. Meanwhile, Cato kept calling for a society based on free association and mutual aid—not State privilege for corporations and a hawkish military.

The move towards a more robust and self-conscious Left-Libertarian alliance is emerging as the natural consequence of the growth of the "War on Terrorism," which like all global warfare, naturally brings the nexus of economic, military, and governmental power into the starkest relief. When the military-industrial Leviathan rises from the sea, it naturally draws together those who are fighting government power and those who are fighting boss power. The last time this happened on a wide scale, the radical libertarian Murray Rothbard allied with the radical left in the Peace and Freedom Party against the Vietnam War and imperialist "anti-Communism" worldwide, and the repression of dissent at home. And the "War on Terrorism" is now playing the same role. Former Libertarian Presidential candidate Harry Browne has written a column condemning United States foreign policy as "terrorism" and urging against a second war on Iraq. Cato itself has published a lengthy report addressing the need to understand the "root causes" of terrorism against the United States and urging an end to military interventionism overseas. Leftist and Libertarians are being brought together as government policy increasingly seems designed with the explicit purpose of proving the dictum, "War is the health of the State."

This is all for the best. I’ve been urging the Left to look to Libertarianism for a while, and I don’t think this should come as much of a surprise. The struggle for social justice is a struggle for equity and against power and privilege. And Libertarianism, properly conceived, is a struggle against the power and privilege of the government over the governed. Now, a lot of members of the Libertarian Party are little more than Young Republican rejects who don’t think that the Republicans go far enough on social welfare or public education. But at their best, the Libertarians have a lot to teach those of us on the Left who have remained too complacent about the bureaucratic State as a solution to societal ills. And the Left has a lot to teach Libertarians about the ways in which the systematic power of "private" hierarchies and exploitations undermine the necessary psychological and cultural conditions for maintaining a free and open society, even if they do not directly involve the use of physical violence. Statism in the polity is deeply linked with authoritarianism in the society, and we need to fight them together.

For further reading:

Ending Gerrymandering: Power to the People

Poor Lee county is a mixture of a prosperous college town and a run-down old mill town; rural areas facing extreme poverty; and sitting not far north of the Alabama black belt counties. As a result, if you look at the House districting map of Lee county, you’ll see that we’re carved up into six different fiefdoms for the state House of Representatives, you see that we have six different districts of the state House of Representatives, with lines running straight through the middle of towns to carve out safe districts. And Lee isn’t unique: we’re just part of a larger problem (look at the Birmingham district in Jefferson County and the surrounding area). This carved-up districting process establishes fiefdoms for dynastic state legislators; if you get elected enough to be in the legislature at the time of a census, you get to redraw the map for your own re-election. And gee whillikers, the people writing the rule book keep winning from census to census.

In the aptly-named How to Rig an Election, the [Economist][] examines America’s peculiar system of legislative redistricting, in which the lines are drawn and redrawn state-by-state according to partisan power politics. District gerrymandering gives state legislators the tools for egregious incumbent-protection schemes, which decimate the possibility of competitive races and completely invert democratic control of governance. The corrupt gerrymandering of safe districts means that legislators pick their voters, instead of voters picking their legislators.

So how can we fight back and reclaim the power from the careerist political hacks?

The Economist suggests a more European style of redistricting, Putting it into cleaner hands such as bipartisan commissions or neutral civil servants. But this isn’t going to help matters any. The problem is the power that rests in the hands of experts who know how to tweak and twist and manipulate the demographic data to shore up power. Ameliorating the direct interest of personal power by taking it out of the hands of the legislators themselves helps a little, but it doesn’t remove the process from partisan or bureaucratic power politics. Strategic interests don’t disappear when you switch over to an army of bureaucratic civil servant tweakers.

Our reluctance to challenge the arrogance of careerist bureaucratic "experts" has limited our ability to see other answers. But it is precisely expertise that is the problem. This doesn’t mean that the people drawing the lines should be stupid; it means that they shouldn’t be professionals who have invested their efforts in the art of twisting, tweaking, and manipulating districting lines.

So here’s how we reform redistricting

  • First, completely overhaul how districting is done in the first place. State legislature districting should only be done within a county: each county gets one state senator, and a number of state representatives proportional to its population. Because they’re elected at the county level, district lines can only be drawn within the county, and you have no more gerrymandering across county lines. Also, since this scheme will generally increase the number of senators and representatives, it will also make legislators more responsive and representative towards individual constituents.

  • Set strict guidelines for the shapes of districts which prevent egregious gerrymandering.

  • Now ditch the legislators, ditch the bureaucrats. Instead, bring the people into the process. Create a process for selecting committees of randomly-chosen ordinary citizens who will be charged with redrawing the districts in a rational manner. For the state House of Representatives, districting can be done with citizens from the county represented. For the US House of Representatives, districting can be done with a larger committee of citizens cluster-sampled from across the state.

  • Make the entire process open to the public, with media coverage and input from citizens not on the committee.

While this will help a great deal, fixing districting is hardly the be-all and end-all of democratic reform. To challenge the dynastic power of entrenched legislators, more will have to be done.

  • Ensure that no candidate ever runs unopposed: give voters the option to vote None of the Above in any given race. If NOTA prevents a candidate from getting a majority of the vote, then the election is scuttled and new candidates run for the position.

  • Implement legislative term limits, to break up the power of dynastic candidates. If they can’t stay in office from one redistricting to another, there’s no point in trying to mainpulate it in your favor.

  • Obliterate ballot access restrictions which prevent non-Demopublican parties and independent candidates from getting on the ballot. Every citizen needs to feel empowered to run for office and alternative viewpoints need to be included in the discourse: giving an up-down decision on the pre-selected favorite of the Party elite is democracy as it was practiced in the Soviet Union. It’s not a real choice.

  • Similarly, institute ballot reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting, which will empower independents and third parties by destroying the wasting your vote and lesser of two evils arguments. IRV allows for preferential voting, where if no-one gets a clear majority of the vote, the second (and if necessary, third, fourth, etc.) choices of the voters still count towards choosing the winner.

  • Empower citizens to go over the heads of the state legislature to the people themselves. Institute a voter initiative process so that action doesn’t have to be filtered through the whims of legislative power.

  • Empowering citizens also involves the creation of participatory, local spaces for citizen organization and power. This means forming neighborhood assemblies and interest-based caucuses of citizens, which can pass resolutions, organize cooperative mutual aid in the use of money and goods, and open up a space for people to work at running their own lives.

The Betrayal of Women in Iran

Last year, Iran was terrorized by the serial murder of 21 women in prostitution, most of them in the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad, over the course of 12 months. On July 26, 2001, the spider-killer Saeed Hanayi was finally arrested by Iranian police. He confessed to murdering 16 of the women and raping 13 of his victims before he killed them, and said he would have gladly murdered 150 if the police hadn’t stopped him. He was hanged for his crimes in April of this year.

The Iranian police, of course, were doing what they could to stand up for the victims of this slaughter. The day before Hanayi was arrested, with credible information that a gang had been involved in some of the crimes, police took decisive action to stop the slaughter. No, they didn’t arrest the suspected murderers; they arrested about 500 women in prostitution in Mashhad and threw them in prison [IranMania News]. On July 29, the followed it up by arresting 32 more in northwestern Iran.

Immediately after Hanayi’s arrest and confession, the religious conservatives who hold absolute power to direct the civil government, showed their commitment to humane government and women’s rights by writing in Jomhuri Eslami (which speaks for the religious ruler Ayatollah Khamenei): Who is to be judged in Mashhad? Those who look to eradicate the sickness or those who stand at the root of the corruption? That’s right: they stood by a serial murderer who had strangled 16 women, because he did not spill the blood of innocents.

Update: By a freak coincidence, today the Mashhad police decided to re-affirm their commitment to imprisoning and punishing women for trying to survive. They arrested 44 women in prostitution in a crackdown on vice in the holy city. Since the majority of the 148 people arrested are apparently men, it seems that the government is at least arresting pimps as well, which is better than we ordinarily do in the United States. But does the attention focus on the 104 men who are exploiting women whose only crime is trying to survive in hard economic times? Of course not. What’s important to the Iranian police is that:

The police are ready to pick up all street women and prostitutes in less than 72 hours across the country, he added.

On the other hand, apparently they couldn’t be bothered to pick up a serial murderer for over a year.

There are a few still in the Left who continue to believe that any regime which opposes American imperialism is, ipso facto, good, no matter what horrors it perpetrates against its own people. The poster-child for the sociopathic Left, for the past 25 years, has been the Islamic Revolution in Iran. I’ve even met male Leftists who claimed that the Islamic Revolution was a revolution for women’s rights. Well, look, it’s certainly true that the Shah’s blood-soaked tyranny in Iran was oppressive to women. However, this revolutionary Islamic Republic has a theocratic government which praises serial murderers of women in prostitution, and young women are burning themselves to death at increasing rates due out of poverty, desperation, and political oppression. It is high past time we asked: Whose Revolution was this? When women played a central role in the fight against the patriarchal tyranny of the Shah, was this what they were fighting for?

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