Friday, January 30, 2009

Sometimes even the local news really IS news - just not in the way that they mean for it to be.

So we're watching the local news the other night - purely by accident, mind you - and one of the top stories is about how, in the midst of a recession and everybody losing their jobs, there are plenty of jobs out there if you know where to look, emphasis on jobs that 'do not require years of education'. Some employers, apparently, are desperate for workers! Three examples were mentioned: the police (a spokesman for the Police Dept at one of the smaller towns out in the county told the reporter: in these hard economic times, we can expect greater demands on the police!!! I'm not even making this up.), plumbers (the local plumbers union hasn't taken applications for two years), and Manpower Inc!

Besides the idiotic propaganda of this 'news' story - there are plenty of jobs if you're smart and not too picky - it was basically an ad for intensified exploitation. (Manpower, like most temp agencies does it directly: they simply keep a big chunk of your wage as a sort of 'finder's fee'.) Of course on another level, it is relatively practical advice: these are the employers who are hiring in your area (sort of).

The big economic news is ignored, of course: 2009/01/27/bank-of-america-hosted-an_ n_161248.html. The big bailout recipients have gone back to living large and busting unions. What will Congress do? What will we expect them to do?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama gets a few right

ome of my radical friends – friends I agree with the vast majority of the time – say individual presidents make no difference, the Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same, or they make no difference to real people’s lives, or to the poor and downtrodden of the world they are equally bad. Obama’s reversal of the so-called “Mexico City policy” denying federal funding to international groups that provide abortion or other family planning services proves this is a hasty swipe. Put this move in the “Real Differences” column.

It’s not as groundbreaking as closing Guantanamo Bay prison or cancelling waterboarding. As the article says, Reagan perpetrated this crime against the global poor, Clinton reversed it, Bush II reinstated it. But Obama is steadily moving down a “give-a-damn” agenda (his “AfPak” policy notwithstanding).

Is it enough? ‘Course not! Cancelling the sadistic Mexico City Policy is just a start. Liberal defenses of “choice” often ignore economic and social reality, but that does not imply “un-legalizing” abortion from a supposedly humanitarian perspective, as one Libertarian Party candidate I know recently argued:

“I find Obama to be quite consistent in his policy. He supports the killing of innocents both at home and abroad, both with his warfare and with his ‘welfare’. One can't say that Obama is incoherent as an international minister of death.”

“Abortion is the most explicit expression of racism and class warfare in our contemporary world. It is the most dastardly and cowardly of all human rights violations, since it violates the most fundamental Natural Right, the Right to Life, and it attacks the Unborn, who are completely helpless.

“The operative social purpose of abortion is to rid the society of ‘human weeds’. The founders of Planned Parenthood identified as the poor and the Negro as undesirables who should not be allowed to reproduce. Have you read Margaret Sanger's writings? Have you read about her ‘Negro Project’?

“I have some commentary at my website: I hope that you will watch the three videos there and then report back with your take on those issues.”

Now, obviously I know this guy, and I do appreciate his concern, as always, for the downtrodden, but I'm afraid it's misapplied here. Many people I agree with on most issues would dismiss his and others' anti-abortion views as another example of their religious blinders; I don't. My guess is that he is both as sincere and as misguided and the many good humanitarians who supported, e.g. the US attacks in Kosovo (to save the ethnic Albanians from Serbian aggression) or the US conquest of the Philippines (to save the locals from Spanish tyranny, etc.) or the British conquest of India (to rid the Indians of superstition and slavery, etc.).

OK, so it’s not like his whole outburst makes sense. Words like “Unborn” I list with “Undead” as quirky cultural artifacts that don’t really help anybody figure out anything rationally. And the ethical question of abortion rights has next to nothing to do with Margaret Sanger's infamous Social Darwinism (which is anyway not exactly the Nazism that some ideologues paint it as), any more than this guy’s own Christian views are questionable in light of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the European 'civilizing' campaigns that masscred millions of indigenous people on one continent after another, or the many other Christian atrocities against the poor and downtrodden of the world.

(There are other good reasons to question Christianity, as in, it’s own teachings.)

The question of abortion as racism, or class oppression, I take more seriously. It is true, for starters, that abortion has been visited on the poor and people of color in this country and elsewhere as a form of violence. We can go further: forced abortions and forced sterilizations have been practiced as genocide for generations at least. Less overt public welfare policies have targetted oppressed groups in many ways from the days of workhouses. And, yes, this has continued up to and including reproductive policies, some of which my fellow NOW organizers and I encountered in Mississippi in the 1990s: the locally administered Medicaid program would pay for poor women to have subdermal contraceptive Norplant insertions BUT NOT pay to have them removed, regardless of the woman's wishes or even of the side-effects or allergic reactions, which were not uncommon.

It may surprise some honest abortion-foes to learn that NOW fought against such policies as hard as we fought for clinic access. Our reasoning is relevant. NOW and other wrongly described "pro-abortion" groups currently working in the US support a basic principle that clears away the bullshit in one swat: the individual liberty, autonomy, freedom, of a woman as well as a man to decide what happens to her physically, sexually, and in particular reproductively – getting or staying pregnant, or not. As such it is the most fundamental libertarian political right.

Critics of the "pro-choice" movement rightly point out that decisions about reproduction, often difficult enough in themselves, do not happen in an economic vacuum - and so are not truly "free" choices. Women and their families or support networks (spouses, partners, siblings, parents, close friends) often have to make tough decisions based on economic realities not of their own choosing.

Nowadays there are convincing statistical arguments that women overall have very nearly caught up with men in terms of earning power, and the biggest difference that lingers is that when women hit their child-bearing years they fall behind and usually never catch up. Of course some men encounter the same problem – me – but overall it is women.

For these and many other reasons (oppressive parents, drug-use, birth defects) abortion is not always a "free" choice any more than a large family has been a real choice for billions of women for thousands of years – women often have children or have abortions in part because their choices are severely constrained. This is a bad plan for the human race.

It’s because the choice is not “free” that publicly-funded childcare, maternity and paternity leave and other employment considerations, free access to birth control and family planning services, rational sex education, and free abortion on demand are and must all be part of a comprehensive program of human rights that includes women as valued equal members of society and not second-class citizens.

It’s part of why I believe the values of libertarianism require the values of socialism, to be logically and humanly consistent. It’s why abortion opponents who want to say they support women's rights and oppose racism and oppression must pick and choose which freedoms they support, which pieces of the overall reality they bring into their argument. And it's why liberals who want to support “choice” are not always allies in the struggle for women's rights, but their programs do sometimes coincide – like this time.

Obama's move against the vicious "Mexico City" policy is progress, toward allowing poor women and families in communities – their livelihoods often wrecked by US policies – to at least make the best decisions they can in that disaster. The Reagan-Bush-Bush “Mexico City” policy limited the options of the global poor, often our own victims, and that’s oppression on top of oppression. Lifting that ban is at least mild relief. It isn't enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Somebody slap these guys ... hard

Couple of even more annoying developments, from Nick Burbules's excellent news roundup ...

And even the most superficial overview of Burris's past seems to suggest that his current level of opportunism - and apparent blythe empty-headedness - is par for the course, e.g.:

Can Burris really be that stupid - or disingenuous? Can that be the reason a Blagojevich appointment suits him so readily?

Don't these clowns realize the damage they're doing to Illinois - currently mired in debt, schools in desperate need, etc. - and to the rest of the country, which really could stand to judge its first black president on his own merits? Isn't there enough to worry about there that's real?

Are we really going to have to start the Obama Administration arguing over non-issues like, "Obama's just a sneaky Chicago politician like that Blago and Burris..." or allegedly "lynching" a stooge like Burris (according to Bobby Rush)?

Or distracted from the substance of our real, widespread needs by what my friend John Conlon at the University of Mississippi calls 'courageous ignorance' - like (as someone shouted at last month's antiwar demo here in Champaign-Urbana) "He [Obama] is a Muslim! [as if that were a problem, but of course he isn't] Oh, yeah? Then why'd he change his name to a Muslim name? [cue the sound of truck engine zooming away]" - or better yet, "Good luck with the Magic Negro" ...


Don't we have enough problems to try to sort out, you know, with economic depression looming and huge tracts of the planet drowning in blood? ... for example?