Rape and the carceral state

Regarding Brock Turner, the Facebook/Twitter mob has called for a higher level of incarceration. In response, some lefties who I generally agree with are making the point that our country is vastly over-incarcerated and that if we are going to stick to our principles we can’t go calling for more incarceration when it makes us feel good.

As a lefty who believes the US does indeed sentence too many people to prison for terms too long, but who also believes Brock Turner got too light of a sentence for his crime, I think it’s useful to clarify the principles involved here.

First, “less incarceration” is something I agree with, but it is not a political principle in and of itself for anyone other than anarchists. Less incarceration is a policy – one many of us advocate as a response to our specific conditions here in the US. Appropriate incarceration; effective incarceration; those are principles.

As such, it is possible for us to believe in less incarceration in the vast majority of cases, yet still acknowledge that there are crimes in our society that are under-incarcerated. War crimes and financial crimes come to mind. So do abuses of authority and power, corruption, police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct. And rape. Our justice system has long under-valued the safety of adult women (and LGBTs and other minorities). It has also vastly under-estimated the damage rape does to victims. In fact within our prisons themselves we treat rape as a tool of justice.

It’s true that “sex offender” lists have become Kafkaesque nightmares; a form of bureaucratic sadism rendered unjustifiable by even the most elementary morality. But rapists are dangerous and made more so by our society’s permissive attitude toward their crimes. Six months is too short a sentence for some crimes, and rape is one of them. Believing that we shouldn’t impose life sentences for shoplifiting is not incompatible with the belief that our attitude toward rape has been too permissive.

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Hillary’s stance toward money in politics is worse than Donald Trump’s

Watching the Town Hall with Clinton and Sanders last night I was struck with Clinton’s response when asked about her exorbitant remuneration for speeches delivered to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms (to the tune of $5000 per minute of speaking time, $625K from Goldman alone).

Her response has been that politicians do this, it’s normal in our system, and that just because a politician takes loads of cash from big money interests doesn’t necessarily point to corruption. She shrugged off the amount (literally shrugged) and said “Well, that’s what they offered”. As if to say “hey, who can blame me?” And then demanded that anyone who doubts her integrity point to one single instance of the money affecting her activities in office. She has since repeated this demand multiple times to underscore her point. If you can’t point to an actual instance of a specific action being bought with specific money, then you can shut up about it.

It’s worth noting that this idea – that politicians being showered with money is not corrupt unless one can point to a specific quid pro quo – is the exact argument made by Scalia and Thomas in Citizens United. So, there’s that.

I think it’s pretty obvious that taking $625K from Goldman Sachs in “speaking fees” so that you can take their money while circumventing campaign finance rules by calling it a payment for service rather than a contribution is, in and of itself, an act of political corruption.

When Donald Trump has been asked about money in politics his answer has basically gone something like this: “Yea I know money buys political influence, because I’ve been buying it for years. I give them money, they do what I want. But you can short-circuit this system by electing me because I’m rich as hell and I don’t need their money.” This is cynical and ugly, of course, but it at least has the virtue of admitting that showering politicians with money does indeed have a corrupting influence which we ought to avoid if we can.

Clinton’s response is much worse. She basically says “oh no, this system of politicians taking huge sums of money from Wall Street isn’t corrupt at all.” With a straight face she tells us there’s nothing fishy about her taking gobs of cash from Wall St. and then running a “I’ll get tough on Wall St.” campaign for the presidency.

Friends of mine who support Hillary are sometimes bewildered by why I oppose her so vigorously. They’re quick to tell you “a lot of politicians do it”. And that’s just the thing – Hillary represents this system. She is loyal to it. She wants to protect it – from both the far right which would burn it out by burying the throttle until it explodes AND from those of us on the left who want to fundamentally change it.

We cannot change the system by electing the same old people who behave the same old way, folks. Expecting Hillary Clinton to reign in Wall Street is like expecting the Ferguson Police Dept to reform itself from the inside, or expecting the Vatican to punish itself for abuse scandals. That’s simply not how power systems work.

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Hillary Clinton, #HillaryMen, and 1% Feminism

I’ve ventured back into Twitter, in what is sure to be a short-lived mistake. A good example of why I hate it happened today. I don’t remember when I followed him, but this guy has been stumping hard for Hillary Clinton over the last few weeks. Today I get this:

A perennial frustration for me is watching fans of Hillary Clinton portray her as a champion of women simply because she is a woman. Never mind the Clinton welfare reform that caused real, measurable harm to countless women who were forced out of the home, bused for hours to shit jobs, basically turned into indentured servants under the threat of starving their children. Or the Clinton crime bill which moved countless men, disproportionately black, from their homes into the prison system, leaving women with more responsibility and fewer means.

Or, most importantly, never mind the Iraq war and it’s horrific impact on countless women:

Hillary Clinton was not just another Democrat supporting the war. She was instrumental in the Bush administration’s efforts to drum up support among Democrats. 600K dead. How many women among them? How many wives lost their husbands, mothers their sons? And despite this, she remains an incredibly hawkish, bellicose Democrat in support of endless war. About the post-Qaddafi bloodbath in Libya (note: there are women there) she said “We came, we saw, he died.” When Obama declared that he would not nuke Pakistan or Afghanistan (also countries where women live) she rebuked him for it and said that option should remain on the table. She said in the debate that she wants the US to take more of a military leadership role in the world. She bragged more than once about her role in bringing about sanctions on Iran, an act of economic warfare estimated to have killed 500,000 children (undoubtedly some female). According to Hillary Clinton, women in places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan literally have no right to live. American actions that kill them are justifiable in terms of “interests” and do not violate any basic moral tenets or rights. This is what I was confronting Peter Dou about. The right of Billions of women to not be killed.

The reply? See for yourself:

Asked about hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, Peter Dou replies by ignoring them completely so that he can defend a rich, elite, white, American woman – perhaps the most powerful woman on earth – from sexist language. This is what the Clinton campaign is all about. Serving the interests of the powerful elite at the expense of the poor and powerless. And make no mistake, to them the 95% of women on earth who are not American, have no rights, no value, and aren’t even worth mentioning.

Of the world’s women, 95% do not live in America. For them, the only issue in American politics is our use of the military. Planned Parenthood (as important as it is here) does not affect them. And out of the 5% of women who do live here, 40% of them are poor and can’t afford policies like the ones enacted during the Clinton years.

So who are these women Peter Dou and #HillaryMen are so nobly defending? I suspect they are very similar to the black people Ben Carson’s fans seek to protect in their newfound crusade against racism. And they are the same women Sarah Palin’s fans sought to defend. The select members of the powerful American elite. And who are they protecting them from? Why, us racist, sexist, horrible people on the left, of course.

PS: I admit my choice of words was stupid. Where I come from (Detroit) we often speak colloquially of someone being “your boy” or “your girl” if you like them. Many black people refer to Obama as “my boy.” It’s how we speak here. I should have been more careful, especially considering the topic of conversation. Kids, don’t do this on the internet. The subtleties are lost, and it’s fundamentally wrong for young women seeing a female world figure and cultural icon referred to as “girl”. I expect Hillary Men would have forgiven me had I referred to “my girl Hillary” in a supportive tweet, but that’s a separate issue. Dou’s gross disregard for the real circumstances of real women in service of an elite American hawkish politician doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have spoken that way.

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Religious freedom MANDATES gay equality

One very obvious point that I just never seem to see get made in the kerfuffle over Indiana’s latest hate-law: Lots of gay people are religious. Where is their religious freedom?

I mean, if you’re going to have a state in which everyone’s freedom to practice their religion is respected, that means you have a state where gay people are free to believe in a gay-loving god that wants to fully commune with them through sacraments like marriage. Religious freedom means you get to believe in the pro-gay God just as freely as the anti-gay God. Religious freedom DEMANDS gay marriage.

I just never see that point made, and it seems so obvious to me.

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Male Belly Dancers coming back in Istanbul

This is pretty awesome:

Dressed in skirts decorated with coins and shimmering tassels, male belly dancers are back in vogue, jerking their hips and trembling their abs to hypnotic Turkish rhythms. Known as “zennes,” the performers were once a mainstay at the courts of Ottoman sultans, but they have been largely out of sight for decades. Their renewed popularity comes amid a broader revival of Ottoman-era culture that has spread to television, fashion and politics.

My advice: watch the video, it’s awesome. Don’t look at the comments. They are not.

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White people expressing their hatred of Kanye West may literally be the most boring thing in the world. What else could be more typical, more predictable, less interesting, more standardized, and overall oh my god I can’t even stay awake long enough to zzzzz snore snore.

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Blogs vs. Social Media

Thinking about Andrew Sullivan retiring the Dish makes me consider my own inconsistent relationship with blogs and writing. As it did for many, my attention turned to social media a few years ago and much of my blog reading came through links and posts of friends. But I feel like social media lacks the life the blogosphere had.

Facebook? Twitter? Ugh. I’m thankful for Facebook for the social contact it allows with friends and family. But the ignorance…the dead, dead dumbness of so much of it. We all have the Tea-Party relative, the Positive-Thinking cousin, and so forth. And Twitter…I absolutely loathe Twitter. I tried it, didn’t like it and quit. Then I went back when it became the place to be for politicos, journalists, and new media voices. And then I began to truly hate it. The shameless tit-for-tat, begging for retweets, the pathetic stampedes to find the perfect one-liner. It’s really just an awful, toxic culture.

I feel like I get more out of loyally checking out five or ten blogs a week than hearing from fifty sources every hour. How many major stories are even getting talked about at a time, anyway? What is the benefit to reading thirty hot-takes of the same story?

I was thinking the inverse of this dynamic is also true. If I’m blogging for personal enjoyment rather than as a career, I’d rather have fifty loyal readers that will check out my work even when I go days or weeks between posts than a thousand readers who demand daily updates to stay entertained.

There’s no real point to this post. I’m just musing about this blog specifically and The Blog in general. I’ve missed it, kind of.

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Thanks, Sully

My feelings toward Andrew Sullivan’s blog have ranged the gamut. Frustration to admiration, sometimes cheering, sometimes eye-rolling. And the internet is suffering no shortage of eulogies so I will be brief.

The thing I always admired most about Andrew’s blog is his willingness to examine his own opinions, reconsider them, consider the thoughts of his dissenters and express his doubts. You saw him grow as a person, not just as a writer. I think this was what gave him the following he has, compared to so many of his contemporaries who have basically been recycling the same posts for years.

He was also generous and diligent with posting emails from readers with links to their own blogs as possible. He linked to mine once, for which I was grateful. (In typical form, I squandered the traffic by not posting for weeks afterward.)

As frustrated as I often was with it, I read his blog regularly and I will miss it a lot. Thanks, Andrew. All the best to you.

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The poor are stressed, not stupid

Via Andrew Sullivan, Keith Humphries in the Washington Post asks Why have the wealthy quit smoking while the poor have not? While I wouldn’t describe the article as offensive, I think it does embody something that is. I’m talking about the miserable quality of our media’s discourse on issues relating to poor and working class Americans.

Now, I’m not a researcher on this topic but a few possibilities come to my mind. Unfortunately, the ones that seem most obvious to me are totally unmentioned in the article. It’s emblematic of how badly the media understands the lives of poor people and how subsequently bad it makes them at educating middle and upper class Americans on the facts of life faced by those at the bottom.

First, let’s look at the causes Humphreys does mention. First, he says poor smokers get more addicted because they smoke harder:

1) Lower income smokers take longer and deeper drags on each cigarette than their remaining better-off counterparts.  This strengthens their addiction (e.g., craving) and makes it more difficult to turn a resolution to quit into an enduring change.

He links to a firewalled research paper that ostensibly supports that conclusion, but since I haven’t paid the $19 for it and neither have you, I guess we’ll take his word for it. But from the summary, the paper appears to be saying that higher taxes cause smokers to inhale more deeply so as to extract more nicotine and, I suppose, increase the value proposition of the cigarettes. This may be true but I’m suspicious that this is a big factor. With smoking rates nearly three times higher for low-income workers than for the rich it seems like this can’t possibly explain more than a point or two. I guess I’m just suspicious because I have smoked and I have been in that 6-11K income bracket and I’ll tell you, the idea that I would inhale more deeply as cigarettes got more expensive seems kind of ridiculous. I can tell you there are far bigger factors, but I’ll get to those in a second.

The second claim – the wealthy face more peer pressure:

Because income tends to segregate where people work and live, poor smokers often have to make quit-attempts alongside people who are continuing to smoke, but wealthier smokers usually do not.  The last physician in a hospital who still smokes will face social disapproval from colleagues for smoking and receive social approval from those same individuals for quitting; the first worker on a roadside cleanup crew who tries to quit may face precisely the reverse social incentives from his smoking coworkers.

Ok, fine, but at best this effect tells us that there is some snowball effect at work here. That makes sense, but it doesn’t address what started the ball rolling in the first place. Why did the wealthy start quitting in greater numbers? Where do these peer pressures come from, and why do they diverge with different income levels?

His third point is that the poor have less access to resources that help a person quit smoking:

Although lower income people’s access to health care is being improved by the Affordable Care Act, they are still likely to lag middle class people in their access to effective smoking cessation treatments.  They also may face challenges in accessing care for co-occurring mental health problems (e.g., depression) which make quitting smoking more difficult.

Of the three, this comes closest to addressing some of the real-life issues that might keep a person hooked on cigs. But – and again, while I am a professional researcher, I have done zero real research on this topic – how many of the wealthy quitters got help from their doctors or therapists when they quit? According to the American Cancer Society the vast majority of quitters (91.4 percent) quit by going cold turkey. Only 6.8% of former smokers quit using drug therapy and/or counseling. This negates Humphreys’ point, at least the way he states it. However, I think health care access likely does help insofar as just having a person with medical authority tell you every year or so “you really need to quit smoking” probably makes a big difference.  (Now, I study I would like to see but never will would study how often doctors tell their wealthy patients to quit versus their poor patients).

These are three things worth considering, but they totally leave out the factors that seem most important and obvious to me. If you walked down the street in Detroit and found a smoker who made $11k per year and you asked them “Why do you still smoke?” Or “What has prevented you from quitting smoking?” What do you think they’d say? Do you think they would say “I smoke because of my health insurance status?” Do you think they’d say “I smoke because my friends do?” Let me tell you, as someone who has been extremely poor and who has smoked during poverty, why poor people don’t quit:

1. Quitting smoking is very stressful, and stress is more risky to poor people. The quitting process fills your brain with stress chemicals, makes you irritable, and makes any small stressful occurrence in your day feel like a major catastrophe. It can be seriously exhausting. This creates more risk for poor people than for the wealthy. If the boss has a nic fit and starts biting people’s heads off he might face some disgruntled workers, but he’ll be fine. If an employee experiences nic-withdrawals and bites off the boss’ head it can mean serious consequences ranging from losing hours to being passed up for raises or promotions or even job loss if their boss is a serious dick. How safe is your job as a Wal-Mart cashier if you have a chemical reaction going on in your brain that makes you apt to snap at customers and managers both? On the home front, what happens when you have that huge, loud blowout with your spouse because your brain is making you see red? If you’re wealthy, you get a motel room or crash with a friend or retreat to separate areas of the house. If you’re poor the cops come, maybe haul you off, maybe you’ve violated your probation, maybe you get locked up or fined more money you can’t afford. Stress is a bigger problem for the poor and they have ever rational reason to avoid it.

2. Stress causes relapse, and the poor are under more stress. For those who do try to quit, there are more obstacles when you are poor and forced to navigate a life full of stressors. Car broke down? Got a speeding ticket? Kid got a cold? Common occurrences for most people. For the wealthy, not a big deal. For a poor person any of those speedbumps can be catastrophic events. The article doesn’t mention success rates, but I’d bet a lot of money that poor people who do try to quit relapse more often and more quickly.

3. When you are really poor, that cigarette may be the best damn part of your day. I’m serious. When you make $9.00 per hour getting hung up on, yelled at, or spending your days sandwiched between shitty customers and shitty bosses, smoking becomes a bright spot in the day. When you get off work having a beer and a cigarette can feel like oxygen. I’m sure if Gwynneth Paltrow smoked she’d view it as a shameful dirty-dirty and she’d hide her face and she’d quit as soon as possible, all the while distracting herself with gluten-free vegan tofu livornese and trips to Bora-Bora. But being poor can make life really suck, and when life really sucks booze and cigarettes (and other drugs) can sometimes be the only respite within reach. Giving them up might make you feel physically healthier, but going without one of the only simple pleasures your life holds is a more serious sacrifice for the poor than for the wealthy.

4. Poor people have more immediate worries. When you are wealthy and life is pretty much going your way, worrying about your smoking habit giving you cancer seems like something you really ought to worry about right now. Also, cancer doesn’t care about your paycheck. Which is to say that as one gets richer, many of life’s worries fade away which has the effect of pushing health concerns up toward the top. (Indeed, the reason medical science has been such a success story for the human race is that the rich get sick too. If the rich died in famines we’d have eliminated that with ease long ago). When you are poor, your priority list looks a little different. Worrying about your life 20 years from now is a luxury that you don’t have time for when you have to worry about your life next week.

5. Have you looked around in a poor neighborhood lately? This seems like the most obvious omission to me. When you walk around a poor neighborhood you see stores on every corner advertising, on the outside, liquor, beer, wine, lottery and cigarettes. When do you think the last time was that David Koch saw a sign advertising a two-for-one deal on Newports? This phenomenon is well-known, oft-discussed, usually cited in any discussion of the socioeconomics of smoking, and seems glaringly absent here.

My big problem with the article is that it talks about the lives of poor people without seeming genuinely interested in the lives of poor people at all. If you just asked a a handful of smokers who make $15k per year, they’d be able to give you ten times the insight that this article does.

What’s worst though is what you see in the comments (I know) where people link smoking with education. I bring it up not just because of internet comments. It’s very often cited in articles like this (to his credit, Humphreys has avoided it) about smoking, and you see the same thing in articles about all sorts of other problems that plague poor people’s lives. Yes, there is a correlation between smoking and education. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to quit smoking. Too many people stop there. That’s the story. Poor people are dumb. If we just send them to college they’ll learn that smoking is bad.

This is total bullshit. No one goes to college and takes “Smoking is bad for your health 101″. In the last 4 decades or so, the vast majority of anti-smoking education has taken place on television; a medium consumed in greater quantities by the poor. And if poor people smoke more and get more cancer, that means poor people have watched more of their relatives die of smoking-related cancers. They know smoking is unhealthy. They know better than anyone.

This is a problem I have with a certain vein of liberal thought that places education at the center of anti-poverty efforts. The implication is that poor people just don’t know things. They just don’t know how to not be poor. We’ll get them in night school, and then we can teach them that stealing is bad, crack is whack, and smoking is bad. And once they have degrees they can go out and just grab one of those high-skilled jobs that grow on trees in Detroit.

To the contrary, what I think we see is that it is the wealthy and middle classes who are uneducated on matters of poverty. Harvard doesn’t offer classes in how to set up payment plans for your electric and water bills. No one at Yale has had to learn that if you don’t have money for a dentist you can buy fish antibiotics at the pet store that will clear up an oral infection. And apparently, no one has been taught about why poor people smoke.


I started wondering about a big gap in this whole narrative. All the studies seem to talk about the demographics of people who quit smoking. But the speculations that are being made often relate not to quitting but to trying to quit. Is it that poor people try to quit less often than wealthy people, or is it that poor people are less successful at quitting? That’s important. Well, I did some googling and I had a hard time finding answers, but I did find a summary from this study that says:

Except for an inverse association with age, attempting to quit was not associated with sociodemographic variables.

If that’s true it’s interesting and important. It means poor people try to quit just as much as wealthy people but are just a lot less successful at it. Vital information if you’re trying to answer the questions Humphreys is looking at.

My beef with Humphreys’ article, though, isn’t that he got this wrong, or that he talked about education. He made no mention of education and he rightly concludes that poor people have a harder time quitting. My beef is that the way he talk about poor lives omits much of their reality which leaves the door open for lots of the typical anti-poor bias. I’ve lived many years as a very poor person in America who smoked, and I don’t see an ounce of my experience in his article. I want to see people speaking about the poor. I’d really love to see poor people speaking about being poor, but if the closest I’m going to get to a voice for the poor is Keith Humphreys’ well-meaning article, then I’d like it to at least resonate with the basic realities they face.

I’m not troubled by this article specifically. I’m troubled by the general distance I see between contemporary liberals and poor people. I think your average white center-left plugged-in Clinton supporting liberal has very little idea what it’s like to be poor in America. Liberals have spent too long talking about poverty as if it’s a complex web of environmental factors that we can fix with social work, health policy, housing policy, etc. It’s time to consider that poverty is not a product of the poor and that we can’t solve it by changing poor people’s behavior. You don’t solve poverty by giving money to health insurance companies, researchers, social workers, NGOs, policy institutes, Democrats, small businesses, or schools. You solve poverty by giving money to poor people.

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Islam is not the problem, and if you think it is, you are.

Islamic jihadist terrorists want desperately, above all else, to lead all of Islam in an uprising against the world’s powers. To this end, they claim to represent all of Islam and indeed Allah himself. They want a Islam vs. The West war and they want the power and status that comes from being Islam’s vanguard in that war.

I am considered an appeaser because I refuse to grant them this status. I refuse to acknowledge an insane and imaginary holy war that pits the world’s billion Muslims against European and American culture. I want to deny them the status they seek and leave them to be considered what they are – criminals who should be hunted down and brought to justice. I want them to be nobodies. I want their names to be forgotten, not hung on posters.

Most, it seems, of the American commentariat seems ready to fearfully grant them all the status they desire. White faces, nodding solemnly, are tripping over themselves in the media to hand these zealots all of Islam on a silver platter by portraying them as the embodiment of Islam itself. Islam is violent, they say. Islam is a civilization that is engaging in a “clash”, led by these vanguard jihadists, with The West.

Why is not considered appeasement to expend vast amounts of air and ink in an effort to make every Islamic terrorist’s bloodiest dream come true? Why are those of us who resist and deny the terrorist’s world view the appeasers while the people who are taking their claims, affirming them, and spreading them as gospel considered the “serious” people who really understand the threat?

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