Why I’m skeptical of efforts to criminalize the sabotage of birth control

***UPDATED to fix Tressie’s twitter handle. Cuz that was embarrassing.***

Men sabotaging women’s birth control is A Thing.
It’s a form of abuse, an act of taking control over her own body away from a woman. Women suffering from domestic violence are often additionally victim to this as well as other forms of abuse, by men trying to keep them from leaving the relationship (which for obvious reasons is much harder when you’re pregnant or have children in the house), or sometimes just because it’s another form of control and DV is all about control. It is obvious therefore that sabotaging women’s birth control and other forms of reproductive coercion need to end, victims of this need to be able to seek justice, and perpetrators need to be made accountable.
Which of course means that now that a Canadian case has made a lot of people notice that this is A Thing, they want to criminalize it, based on the argument that the sexual assault laws in the U.S. would never suffice by themselves to persecute abusers for it*. Sounds sensible: if you think that the criminal justice system works even remotely well, then it makes sense to think that if someone commits an act of violence, they need to be sent throught the CJS for it. But this really does require the assumption that the U.S. legal system is just (or at least “close enough” to just to make it work more often than not)and therefore that criminalization will work as intended.

I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, because when I read this twitter exchange between Lauren Chief Elk (‏@ChiefElk) and Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq), I couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth of many of the points, if not necessarily their immediate applicability to the wider U.S. culture**. I’m skeptical, because I tend to come at these things from a harm-reduction-based perspective, and I’m not convinced that this will actually reduce rather than increase harm. I’m skeptical, because cultural myths play a huge role in the ways laws actually end up being applied.
For example, the Stand Your Ground laws don’t actually allow victims greater leeway in self-defense (see: Marissa Alexander***) but rather allow already privileged people to get away with violence even more. This is because cultural myths are such that black men and women are always seen as the danger, and white men and women always as the defenders of civilization. And how does this work with birth control sabotage? Our cultural myths claim that women are baby-crazy, and men don’t actually want kids; that women are more likely to be ok with an unplanned pregnancy than men (there’s how many movies with that plot? The one where an uncomplicated het-relationship gets derailed by pregnancy that switches the woman into “settling&nesting” mode while giving the guy a midlife crisis?); that women are more invested in committed relationships than men (see: ball-and-chain), and thus more likely to use desperate measures to prevent a breakup; etc. Hell, google “tricking into pregnancy” and see how that works out. As Brienne points out in the twitter dialogue, the cultural narrative is of a woman trapping a man rather than vice versa. Even the Daily Beast article linked at the beginning of this essay acknowledges this with a link to an article discussing NBA orientation for rookie players, in which the following quote appears:

They wanted us to see the dangers out there. They warned us about groupies poking holes in condoms, having hidden cameras and stuff like that. The temptations are hard to turn down, but if you don’t, you are subject to big problems.

And remember, we live in a society in which there are people convinced that women stealing sperm out of discarded condoms is some sort of epidemic (google “spermjacking” if you really want to know more about this; I wouldn’t recommend it tho).
So what I’m saying is this: when you’re operating within an extremely unjust legal system, you have to be exceedingly careful how you use it; in this case, the question is: how likely is it that criminalizing BC sabotage will be effectively used against actual abusers, rather than against women by e.g. dudes not wanting to pay child support?
BC sabotage is going to be a situation of he-said-she-said almost always, and “he said” will be always given more weight than “she said”, especially when other oppressions like race and class also work against the woman. I can imagine this even leading to greater reproductive coercion, if a guy who doesn’t want a kid threatens the pregnant woman to either get an abortion or be accused of spermjacking or some shit like that. I can also imagine that many women won’t report BC sabotage: consider the stigma BC has in this country (Sandra Fluke anyone? And she was a very privileged woman); consider the cultural myths about who sabotages BC; consider the “bitches be lyin'” trope. Basically, all the reasons ever mentioned in #IDidNotReport will figure in here as well, and we might well be increasing the potential for legal harassment of victims of DV, by giving their abusers another tool to subvert for their own needs.

Mind you, harm reduction is not the sole reason to criminalize something. The main other uses of criminalization in justice are punishment, normalization, process, and deterrence.
I reject the idea of punishment as a goal of justice, in general. Punishment of an offender as a goal of criminalization/incarceration (rather than a means towards another goal) relies on the notion that responsibility lies solely and entirely with the offender; it requires belief in a self-causing will, in the notion that an action is entirely and solely caused by the offender’s creation of a desire and opportunity to act as they did. I don’t accept this belief, because it goes against the evidence that shows us that the world outside our heads shapes our desires, priorities, and opportunities. Punishment for the offender and only for the offender (because how to you incarcerate social structures?) is an individualist erasure of the structural causes of violence.
So while accountability for the harm caused by an action is a sensible part of justice, punishment for its own sake is not. Making someone “pay the price” for a crime to society or to the victims has to actually be of value to society or the victims, and locking someone up does not, per-se, produce any value to society/victims. It can only do so as a means to a goal. Which brings us to the other aspects.
Despite the saying “morality cannot be legislated”, a law actually is a normative statement. And the fact that plenty of people can’t tell the difference between legal and moral (nor the difference between illegal and immoral)seems to indicate that normalization happens, if not immediately than into the next generation at least. Basically, if you allow or forbid something and the world doesn’t come crashing down (or significantly inconvenience anyone with social visilibity), people get used to it and start thinking of this as the new normal. So folks saying that it would make a statement that society doesn’t condone reproductive coercion if it were criminalized do have a point. But as a main reason to criminalize it, it seems not enough, given that it would also be a weak normative statement. Not because a law is a weak normative statement per-se, but because laws that go against strongly entrenched cultural myths have their normative function subverted. E.g. rape being illegal does mean the cultural idea is that rape is bad, but it’s entirely abstract; not only do some actual rapes get defined out of the rape category, the culture also creates a lot of exceptions (the most jarring example is prison-rape: people generally don’t deny it’s rape, but they treat it like a joke or a deserved punishment). I suspect the same will happen with these situations: even if we’d achieve a normalization of the belief that reproductive sabotage is a thing and a bad thing, the cultural mythology around it will subvert it so that real instances will be treated as not-it, or as exceptions where it’s somehow ok.
Process means simply giving someone a clear, pre-set way of dealing with something. Now, I don’t think any engagement with the American CJS is easily understandable, simple, etc. but having a set process and a set of legal tools to deal with something is usually preferable to no procedure at all. This is likely the strongest case for criminalization, because it’s useful and helpful to be able to take out restraining orders, have a concrete, codified thing to accuse your abuser of, and have other rules you can lean on when it’s hard to try to think your way out of a situation. But acknowledging this absolutely requires remembering that this will be useful primarily to those with educational and class**** privilege; who don’t make up the majority of DV victims.
Deterrence is/can be an acknowledgement of the way social structures shape choices. To deter means to change the environment in which a choice is made, and introduce a desire (the desire to avoid being held accountable) to hopefully outcompete the desire that would be satisfied by the criminal action. These changes can lead to reductions in the occurrence of a harmful act, and can therefore be actually useful. As such, deterrence is not inherently flawed the way punishment is; but it needs to actually accomplish the environmental and internal changes, or else it’s bullshit. A law as deterrent tends to only work if the likelihood of getting caught & convicted is high, or at least thought of as high. Laws that have low rates of perpetrators getting caught and getting convicted make lousy deterrents: if you get away with it sometimes, you learn that you can get away with it always, even if it’s not true. Works like that for texting-and-driving, for underage drinking, for pot-smoking-while-white, and because of rape culture it also works like that on rape. My suspicion is that given the difficulty to prove sabotage and the power-disparity in literal he-said-she-said situations, arrest and conviction rates would be low. So, not an effective deterrent in the long run.

So to sum up: there are positive things that criminalization could possibly accomplish, but these effects seem to be overall fairly small and doubtful given the current cultural narratives. And the way selective application of these protective laws protects aggressors more than victims, there are potentially many negative consequences to victims. The potential for abuse, for being directed against victims of domestic violence, and for even increasing some forms of reproductive coercion is pretty big given the current social narratives. I worry that the negative effects far outweigh any positive ones.

Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything about this problem, but I’m more and more thinking that putting the tools for defense in victims’ hands rather than in a severely broken, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-PoC criminal justice system is the better approach at harm-reduction and empowerment at this time. So, some suggestions along those lines, to help free women from reproductive coercion without risking anti-woman side effects:

1)increase free and gatekeeper-free access to as many form of birth control (both the contraceptive and post-conceptive kinds): controlling women’s reproduction happens often with the cooperation of laws on birth control which make access complicated, time intensive, expensive etc, thus preventing women in DV situation from discreetly controlling their reproduction and from choosing options that would be less manipulable by a violent and controlling partner. Give women more options and access for BC, and in many cases you take away the means by which an abuser can coerce their reproduction.

2)Destroy the cultural myths that harm victims of reproductive coercion: these would the the ideas that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy; that reproductive coercion is something women do, rather than something abusive men do; etc.

3)Provide better safety nets and community support for single pregnant women and single women with children. When pregnancy and children no longer function as traps keeping the women from leaving (e.g. because there’s no women’s shelter that will accept all her kids), the utility of reproductive sabotage as insurance against leaving will diminish, and with it the value of this action to abusers.

None of those will stop all or even many cases of reproductive sabotage immediately; but neither would criminalization. I just think that the suggestions above would also have fewer negative side effects on already victimized women.

- – – – – – – – -

*it’s complicated, but basically Canada has some stricter ideas about what is or isn’t legally consent than the U.S. does. The Canadian case that kicked off this interest in criminalizing reproductive coercion was one in which the sabotage was treated as aggravated sexual assault because even though the woman consented to sex, she didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Basically, at least in Nova Scotia, it’s (as the case stands now) legally true that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As this legal article explains, that’s not true in the U.S. because of that nasty thing called “generalized consent”, plus legal-structural shit that went over my head because IANAL.

**the conversation includes the following tweets:

[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Anti-Rape Law and Strategizing Accountability in Native American Communities via @andrea366 http://communityaccountability.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/decolonizing-antirape-law.pdf ]
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty via @sarahdeer http://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/deer-decolonizing-rape-law.pdf ]
The papers deal with the question of sexual assaults and tribal courts. They’re amazing and I find these immensely interesting and good material for thinking about anarchist communities, because not being able to deal with sexual violence is a major flaw of every idea (and praxis) of anarchist community I’ve ever encountered. But most women in the U.S. don’t at the moment live in the kinds of communities that would allow for analogues to tribal court justice.

***relevant and timely, on Friday there will be a discussion on Marissa Alexander and how DV laws backfire on minority women:

[Lauren Chief Elk ‏@ChiefElk
So on Friday we're going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.]

****class privilege is very relevant, even if you “fake” it. In this essay on poor people and expensive stuff, Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) recounts the story of her mother helping people in the community with bureaucracy; and how her mother had an expensive outfit to do it which seemed to gain her “respectability” from the office folks, at least enough to make it possible to get stuff done where the people her mom was helping couldn’t.

North Dakota and the ACA

Not that a lot of North Dakotans read my blog, but this stuff is bound to be googled a lot in the near future (signups for the insurance exchange and medicaid expansion start on October 1st), and I found it very hard to find anything, so once I finally stumbled on useful information, I figured it would be good to put it all into one place.

First of all, the basics: open enrollment starts October 1st, coverage kicks in January 1st, and open enrollment ends on March 31st. Everyone who lives in ND and is either a U.S. citizen or a resident alien is eligible for the exchange.

There’s the main site for health care stuff, https://www.healthcare.gov/. Clicking on the “See your options” button will get you the standard insurance-questionnaire and lead you to possible options of what you may or may not be eligible for, and also a short FAQ with some other issues relating to changes as a consequence of the ACA (Also known as Obamacare).

If you’re looking at Medicaid, ignore the part where it says you should go to ND’s medicaid website for more info. They’ve not updated anything to reflect the coming changes yet. This will probably be the most useful bit of advice:

Starting October 1, 2013, fill out an application for the Health Insurance Marketplace. When you finish this application, we’ll tell you which programs you and your family qualify for. If it looks like anyone is eligible for Medicaid, we’ll let the Medicaid agency know so your coverage can start in 2014.
[...]
North Dakota will expand its Medicaid program in 2014 to cover households with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. That works out to about $15,800 a year for 1 person or $32,500 for a family of 4.

If you’re looking at reduced premiums for coverage from the exchange, there’s a calculator that can give estimates, but nothing will be “official” until October 1st and the calculator is for national averages not for ND specifically, so the quotes may be somewhat inaccurate. The calculator is at http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/

The actual application forms etc. won’t be available until October 1st. As far as I can tell, it’ll be possible to apply online at https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/individual/#state=north-dakota; via mail (downloadable forms will be available Oct. 1st); and in person with the help of certain “navigators” (see below).

There will also be information sessions throughout October on the ACA: http://www.itstartswithbluend.com/sessions.php and there’s a toll free info line at 1-800-318-2596. Aside from that, four locations are meant to serve as “navigators”, meaning they are supposed to supply people with information to help with submitting applications, clarifying issues regarding the different plans etc., and also help people with applying and otherwise navigating through the application process. The information I found lists the following as the “navigators” for ND, but the sites of these places don’t say anything on the topic, so it may not be accurate:

Family HealthCare Center, Fargo – http://www.famhealthcare.org/index.html

Coal County Community Health Center, Beulah – http://www.coalcountryhealth.com/

Northland Community Health Center, Turtle Lake – http://www.northlandchc.org/

Valley health Community Center, Northwood – http://mabu-vchc.taopowered.net/

Feministe is apparently never going to learn this lesson

In February, there was that atrocious “in my feminist utopia, there wouldn’t be any sex work” piece which I took apart here. I noticed today that there was a new pingback to that post. It turned out to be this piece that talked about feministe’s problem with anti-sex-work narratives, which includes discussion of another shittastic piece posted at feministe 10 days ago, which in its original version indulged in fantasies of violence* against those who propose decriminalization**, even though given the choice between decriminalization and illegality, decriminalization leads to more reduction of harm towards sex workers***.

Unlike with the last piece, I won’t bother taking it apart line by line, if only because there’s really not that much content to be picked about. I do want to point out some of the most problematic bits, though. For one, what the article amounts to is a description of the strong reaction of a young privileged woman for the first time seeing deprivation and misery. As the article at Literate Perversions points out, the feministe article is not actually about the poor, drug-addicted women she describes:

Not a single word of her post is actually about the people in the city; it is entirely about how seeing them makes her feel. The people themselves are exotic others, with as much substance as if they had been green-screened into the background.

The othering is in fact entirely literal, when Pahman writes that what she sees “is ‘the other’ America, third world living conditions, the neighborhoods blighted.” There’s plenty of non-literal othering as well, for example in the fact that the piece manages not to include a word about their conditions or their own positions on the legality of prostitution from the people the article is supposedly about. Instead, we get indirect relation of what “every sexual abuse counselor, advocate and outreach team” she’s met told her when she asked them about legalization of prostitution, namely that none of them advocate for legalization**** of “this dire circumstance [she] was witness to” (which, as described below, was not just prostitution, or in any way wholly caused by prostitution). It’s entirely about her experience of going to the inner city for the first time ever and feeling shocked and overwhelmed at the deprivation and misery she saw from her van, and then unloading her feelz on an easy target.
And doing so indirectly, to boot, by pretending that it’s white privileged feminists who’ve never been within hearing distance of grinding poverty who are pro-decriminalization, while those people who live “in reality” as she claims of herself are those who are against it; when actually most prohibitionist rhetoric comes from the well established middle-class white feminists, while the voices for decriminalization are generally from those who are part of the communities in which sex work occurs in one way or another (example: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rmct2k ). Because screaming at sex workers themselves that they should stop advocating for themselves would be kinda awkward; much better to pretend one is screaming at clueless suburbanites instead.

The second major problem is the extreme simplification of the problems of American inner cities. She describes scenes that are caused by the complex interaction of American sociolopolitical structures, such as a history of sexism; a history of racial discrimination, for example in housing (redlining, white flight, etc.); decades of economic policies that increase inequality and erode the social safety net; the War on Drugs; and, yes, the policies regarding prostitution. But her reaction to this complex image focuses solely on how angry what she saw makes her at people who promote decriminalization of prostitution. At no point during that entire triade did any of the other contributing causes get even a token mention; at no point did it apparently occur to the author that prostitution isn’t going to be any more illegal than it already is, and yet there it is, apparently causing all the misery she desribes, all by itself, such as in this unreflective bit:

As I take brown bags of food into boarded up and blighted out crack houses where 20 women live, pregnant, addicted, and sought after by the police. When raids are done it is the women who are arrested and jailed, not the Johns.

Well, guess what wouldn’t happen to prostitutes if prostitution were legal; and not a word about the harm caused by the War on Drugs, either, no matter how self-evident its contribution to the quoted scenario#.

Then, of course, there’s the strawmanning. Most advocacy for decriminalization is as part of harm reduction, which pretty blatantly states that there’s harm that needs reducing. It’s about letting sex-workers speak for themselves and their needs at AIDS/HIV-related conferences, about providing resources such as Ugly Mugs, about forming labor movements of sex workers so that they can take power and thus defend and strike back against their oppressors. Yet Pahman claims that people who call prostitution sex-work and are against prostitution being illegal are pretending there’s no harm being done to sex workers, and that discussions of the agency of sex workers are actually claims about sex workers voluntarily or freely choosing## to be prostitutes.

And lastly, there’s the problem of feministe having published that; and published it with the line on wanting to do violence against people who support decriminalization (who are often sex workers themselves) intact, to boot. This is not “centering sex worker voices”; despite that being the title of her response to the last fuckup (not a retraction, mind you), Jill Filipovic of feministe has clearly no desire to actually do that. Much better to publish a ranty prohibitionist bit that erases sex worker voices and even fantasizes about violence against them.

- – – – – – – – – – – -
*the removed bit went like this:

Some may say “well that is why we must legalize it” and I want to spit in their face. I want to grasp my fingers around their neck and choke the ignorance from them.. I guess violence begets violence because my eyes go red when feminists lecture about “sex work.”

**the author called it legalization, because the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t actually know anyone on the pro-sex-worker side who calls for legalization; it’s always about decriminalization.

***some links to various articles/studies about effects of different laws on the harms related to sex work:
-> discussions of two reports on the effects of the “Swedish Model” in Norway; includes links to the report, but they’re in Norwegian: https://feministire.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-oslo-report-on-violence-against-sex-workers/ , https://feministire.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-latest-on-norways-sex-purchase-ban/
-> the actual report discussed in the first of the above articles, in English: http://humboldt1982.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/dangerous-liaisons.pdf
-> a NZ report on the effects of their decriminalization law: http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/documents/report.pdf
-> the new WHO guidelines for STI prevention and treatment among sex workers: http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/sex_worker/en/index.html
-> South African position paper citing the reasons for supporting decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Policy%20Brief%20Position%20Paper%20on%20Sex.pdf
-> a paper describing how possession of condoms is used as evidence for prostitution in places where any part of sex work is criminalized, with predictable consequences for health (it’s not just a NYC thing) http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/criminalizing-condoms-20120717%5B1%5D.pdf

****well, neither do sex-work advocates. But since we don’t get direct quotes from those people she’s asked about this, we can’t know whether they want it to stay illegal, or whether they’re pro-decriminalization. It’s a bit like those polls that said people were unhappy with Obamacare being used to support Republican opposition to it, when many people were unhappy with it cuz it didn’t go far enough.

#OTOH, who knows; maybe her opinion on drug policy is just as ass-backwards as her opinion on sex-work policy, and she would love to get violent against people who think the War on Drugs should end.

##This is pretty much why I’m opposed to the compatibilist conflation of free will and agency. Failing to clearly delineate the difference between those concepts leads to this kind of bullshit, or at least allow it to continue unchallenged.

The USA is not a safe place to send kids

When I was 17, I spend a year as a student in rural Canada, which resulted in a lot of culture shock. But you’re told about that when you prepare for your trip, and also that the Canadian families are very likely going to be much more religious than what we were used to. The kids who went to the USA got similar speeches, and sometimes their experiences were similar to mine. Very often however, the experiences went like this instead:
Polish Exchange Student in US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists

For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn’t had sex for the last 17 years because — so they told me — they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.

My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying ‘Michael, it’s time to go to church.’ I hated that sentence. When I didn’t want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn’t allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled — my mother’s heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

or like this: Chinese Atheists Lured to Find Jesus at U.S. Christian Schools

When Randy Liang wanted to study in the U.S., his parents’ friends at a Christian group that provides medical and small business services in Shanxi Province recommended Ben Lippen. He enrolled in January, 2010, as a sophomore, largely unfamiliar with the Scriptures and the English language.

He “really hated” the school at first, he said. “I thought they were trying to force me to be Christian. I couldn’t understand what they’re talking about. I thought, ‘This is boring.’”

Liang adjusted as his English improved and he joined teams in four sports: football, wrestling, cross-country and track. After watching a creationist video in Bible class, he developed doubts about evolution. Now a senior, he prays with teammates before games, he said. He lives in a teammate’s home, and prays with the family for success on exams.

or like this: High School Exchange Students Housed With Murderers, Sexual Predators

One of the most shocking cases alleges that at least four exchange students suffered sexually abuse over the years by the same host father — even after the first student to stay with the host reported the incidents, NBC reported.

“He said ‘this is American culture,’ and I should get used to it,” Christopher Herbon of Germany told NBC News.

or this: Exchange students live American nightmare

Jarbola said a girl from Norway, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Anne, tried to alert officials that she and some of the students were in dire straits.

Anne told CNN she had school officials send an e-mail to Aspect in October explaining how bad things were and including photographs of the inside of the home where she was placed. The home was later condemned by the city.

Anne’s high school principal took her in, but other students weren’t as lucky and spent nearly the entire school year in unsafe homes, until Children and Youth Services was tipped off about a month before school ended, Jarbola said.

Jarbola, who said Anne’s e-mail is now evidence in the criminal investigation, told CNN that when welfare officials interviewed the students, one was so hungry he wept when they gave him pizza during questioning. In all, five of the students were removed from homes where they’d been placed by Aspect.

and even though the last article is peppered with references to how very seriously the State Department is taking the cases, the end result of that taking it seriously was that the State Department requires prospective host-parents to photograph their houses and provide “outside” references, and not much else.

And exchange programs are not the only way in which bringing foreign kids to the USA can end up extremely dangerous. For one, the same reasoning that leads Fundies and Fundie schools to try to get foreign students to come to the US is also fueling the adoption-craze among fundie Christians. In the past, there have been reports of abuse related to the Fundie “To Train Up A Child” abuse manual, or the “adoptions” of Haitian “orphans” post-earthquake which turned out to be kidnappings, and other such reports. Now, there is another report about “re-homing” children, which is basically about treating international adoptees like pets, to be dumped when they become inconvenient, often onto the first person who volunteers to take them in (which, unsurprisingly, sometimes turn out to be child abusers of various kinds); and again we hear of the complete lack of oversight by US government.

It’s no wonder than that many countries are wary of sending minors to the USA. In the past, some exchange programs stopped offering exchanges to the USA; and many countries also block adoptions to the US, or insist on being able to track the well-being of these children themselves.

Texas jury: Escorts who follow the law are thieves, and shooting AK 47’s in someone’s direction is not intent to harm

Lenora Ivie Frago was shot on Christmas Eve 2009 in a dispute over $150; the shooting paralyzed her, and caused her death several months later. Her killer was accused of murder, but was just acquitted; and not because the jury didn’t think he shot her, but because they thought it was ok to shoot and kill her.

Frago was an escort advertising escorting services on craigslist. This is legal in Texas, as long as “escorting” is defined as renting someone’s company, not sex; prostitution is illegal in Texas*. So I’m going to speculate that the escorting ad in question didn’t say that sex was included in the price, and therefore legally, it can’t be theft or breach of contract or whateverthefuck to pay $150 bucks and get an escort to spend time with you, rather than fuck you. Regardless of what you thought you were paying for; regardless of whether the woman was really just a date-for-hire or a prostitute trying to “upsell”; legally, the only thing you could have possibly paid her for was company, no sex. And yet, the argument of the defense hinged on the claim that Frago stole her murderer’s money by refusing to return it after no sex happened and she was ready to leave. The “theft” line of reasoning was necessary because Section 9.42 of the Texas Penal Code allows “using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property”, and the only way a payment to an escort can be still considered the payer’s “tangible, movable property” is if she was in the process of stealing it, rather than in the process of leaving after doing all that she’s legally allowed to do in her job.
So that’s the first bit of toxic bullshit: apparently following the law about escorting is theft now.
The second bit of toxic bullshit comes from the very fact that you’re allowed to shoot-and-kill anyone over a property dispute at all, but it is Texas we’re talking about.
The third and fourth bits of toxic bullshit come in when you actually read Section 9.42. The relevant parts read as follows:

(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41**; and
(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
[...]
(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
(3) he reasonably believes that:
(A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means

So in order to use this particular defense, the defense tried to convince the jury not only that doing what escorts are legally permitted to do was theft, but also that a)deadly force was necessary to stop Frago; AND b)that there wasn’t any other means whatsoever of getting his $150 back (such as suing her for fraud or breach of contract or whatever)

There’s an alternative theory about why the jurors acquitted: this was a murder trial, which according to the Texas Penal Code requires that a person

(1)intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

or, translated into English, murder is when you try to kill or severely harm someone on purpose, or you harm someone in the process of committing another felony. So. Dude claimed that he didn’t mean to kill, and was aiming at the tires of the car Frago was in, and (at least according to the defense) it looks like what ultimately killed Frago was a bullet ricocheting from another part of the car.

But

Dude shot an AK 47 at the car. An AK 47***. Doesn’t fucking matter what you were aiming at, there was an extremely high likelihood there was going to be injury, and on owner of an AK 47 should bloody well know that; because even I know that AK 47’s are ridiculously inaccurate weapons. If that’s not “intend[ing] to cause serious bodily injury and commit[ting] an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual” I don’t know what is.

So either way you look at it, and regardless of which bullshit argument convinced the jury that shooting at escorts with assault rifles is a-ok, the verdict is a pile of toxic bullshit: gun worship; misogyny; whorephobia.
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*on a side-note, I find it… “interesting” that they felt they needed to draw a distinction between “sexual intercourse” (PIV), and “deviate sexual intercourse” (oral/anal)
**Section 9.41 is the one that specifies when you can use force in general (as opposed to deadly force) to defend your property; this is where the “theft” bullshittery comes in.
***who the fuck brings an AK 47 to what they think is going to be 30 minutes of screwing?! That’s first class toxic bullshit right there.

North Dakota’s War on Uteri, continued

Just got back from the Fargo rally organized by Stand Up For Women North Dakota against the ridiculously restrictive anti-abortion laws winding its way through the legislature. It was fucking cold, and I ended up standing for most of it on a 3 meter tall pile of snow and ice. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by actually getting to listen to a Republican who was a)actually one of the organizers of this rally; b)commented favorably on the importance of freedom from religion; and c)actually said that she’d expect people to hold her accountable in her office on a school board should she ever try to get religion into the curriculum. I didn’t know such Republicans even existed in this country anywhere.

Anyway, the rally (and its sister rallies in Bismarck and Grand Forks) was specifically a call for the governor of ND to veto proposed laws which have made it through both house and senate, and which should land on his desk sometime today. Three of them I’ve mentioned in my previous post on this, while the fourth one is one that had previously escaped my attention. The bills are: SB2305, a TRAP law designed to close down the last clinic in ND; HB1305, meant to prohibit “abortions for sex selection or genetic abnormalities”; HB1456, a “heartbeat” bill; and SB2368, which is the one I’d previously missed and which actually proposes to cross out the “within present constitutional limits” part and replace it with a “state’s compelling interest in the unborn human life from the time the unborn child is capable of feeling pain” line (among other shit*; basically, this is an attempt at a 20-week-abortion ban), and which also includes this last minute attempt to block the federal sex-ed grant that NDSU received and that was finally unblocked as (currently) perfectly within ND law (emphasis mine):

Except as required by federal law, no funds of this state or any agency, county, municipality, school district, or any other subdivision thereof, or institution under the control of the state board of higher education, and no federal funds passing through the state treasury or a state agency may be used:
1. As family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion; or
2. To contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.

As of this moment, the bills have neither been signed nor vetoed by the governor; and this morning, when asked, all he had to say on the topic was basically “blah blah flood is more important blah blah won’t comment until they’re on my desk” (audio found here. And even if he vetoes it, the same shit that just went down in Arkansas can also happen here: the veto can still be overridden. I don’t know that there’s much hope that it won’t come to that, one way or another. (UPDATE: ND Governor Dalrymple is a douche canoe)

And even if by some miraculous event the laws get vetoed AND the veto won’t get overridden, there’s still SCR4009, which also has been passed and which means ND will have a referendum on a personhood amendment in 2014.

Worst state for uterus-bearers, indeed.

UPDATE: here’s a picture, and here’s the InForum article about the rally

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*for example: they define abortions for ectopic pregnancies and to remove dead fetuses out of existence; it excludes even major psychological damage from the “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” which would allow for an exception to the law, and specifically excludes being diagnosed as suicidal from being a medical emergency;

North Dakota’s War on Uteri*

First, here’s the series Rachel Maddow did on the abortion clinics in states with only one such clinic:

Threats and traps push Mississippi to the brink of 40-year rights rollback
Last bastions of an unprotected right under attack
Women bear burden of extremist effort to undermine Roe v. Wade
GOP war on women continues to rage in the states
UPDATE: here’s another clip for that series, this time with Melissa Harris-Perry: Anti-abortion crusade misses target, hurts vulnerable women

Second, this is what’s going on in North Dakota in terms of proposed legislation:
North Dakota Lawmakers Have Plenty of Anti-Abortion Bills to Choose From, plenty meaning all these different bills: SCR4009, a fetal personhood bill which would require a 2014 vote to amend the constitustion and which was just approved by the ND Senate; SB2302, which would have banned chemical abortions and all abortions except those to save a woman’s life, which luckily seems to have failed in the senate 18 to 29; SB2303 another personhood bill, which passed the senate 25 to 22 and is now in another Committee Hearing; and SB2305, a TRAP law designed to close down the last clinic in ND, which has also passed the senate 30 to 17. Oh, and then there’s the newly proposedHB1305, which would prohibit “abortions for sex selection or genetic abnormalities” (which really just amounts to “please jump through more hoops”)
UPDATE: another one: HB1456, a “heartbeat” bill, passed by the house 63 to 28

And in addition to the anti-abortion bills, we have an anti-poor-people bill, HB1385, proposing a Fee to Get Welfare, by making welfare applicants pay for the mandatory drug test themselves (Because we all know people applying for welfare have lot’s of spare cash, amiright?); the deeply uninformative SB2175 titled “The liabilities of husband and wife” which seems to want to make separated-but-still-married folks responsible for each other’s debts; which sounds kinda dangerous.

And then there’s NDSU president Bresciani, caving in to assholes in the legislature and freezing funding two professors at NDSU have received to promote proper sex ed in this state: Sex Ed Program Provokes Fight Over Planned Parenthood in North Dakota

In conclusion, this state fucking sucks.

P.S.: completely unrelated to the topic at hand, ND is apparently also one of those states throwing a fit over federal gun laws: HB1183, a bill “relating to forbidding state governmental entities from providing aid and assistance to the federal government or any other governmental entity for the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of federal firearms laws not in force as of January”.

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*title changed, because I just realized I was doing what I criticize other people for. So: anti-abortion legislation concerns many women, but not all, since some don’t have uteri and can’t get pregnant; and on the other hand, it also concerns some non-women because they have uteri, i.e. trans men and some genderqueer folks.

The WSJ has opinions on non-rich folks again

Donald J. Boudreaux and Mark J. Perry at the Wall Street Journal would like you to know that the shrinking middle class is a mean and “spectacularly wrong” progressive trope; or rather, a “progressive” trope. Scare quotes are apparently necessary (link). Wanna have a look at their arguments?

First, the CPI overestimates inflation by underestimating the value of improvements in product quality and variety.

The what now? Variety I can understand, because increased variations on the same crap are how this consumer economy works. But how is making Planned Obsolescence into a basic production model, and how is lowering quality of products so they can be sold at a profit at Walmart an “improvement in quality”?

Would you prefer 1980 medical care at 1980 prices, or 2013 care at 2013 prices? Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.

1980’s care I can pay for, vs. 2013 care I can’t? Yeah, let me think about that one.

Asides from that, it’s complete BS that the increase in costs has anything to do with the increase in quality, since the US does not in fact have the best healthcare in the world, yet has the most expensive healthcare in the world. Quite the contrary, the US is below average in many aspects of healthcare as compared to other OECD countries, while at the same time spending 2.5 times the OECD average on healthcare costs. And many of the procedures cost more than in other countries, as well:
table comparing costs of 7 common medical procedures in several European countries, Canada, Australia, and U.S. Prices in the U.S. are consistently highest

And lastly, it’s not actually relevant that current care is more technologically advanced. A middle-class by definition should be able to afford a middle-level of care, regardless of its level of advancement.

Second, this wage figure ignores the rise over the past few decades in the portion of worker pay taken as (nontaxable) fringe benefits. This is no small matter—health benefits, pensions, paid leave and the rest now amount to an average of almost 31% of total compensation for all civilian workers according to the BLS.

You mean the ridiculously more expensive healthcare makes up a larger chunk of a paycheck? Shocking. Also, pensions are rarely pensions anymore, they’re 401k, which just became nearly worthless during the world economic crisis, regardless of how much money people put into them.

Third and most important, the average hourly wage is held down by the great increase of women and immigrants into the workforce over the past three decades. Precisely because the U.S. economy was flexible and strong, it created millions of jobs for the influx of many often lesser-skilled workers who sought employment during these years.

You can tell this is ass-backwards bullshit by the part where women are unskilled workers (the impressive sexism of that aside for a moment). The reality is once again the opposite: jobs entered into by women have become de-skilled as they entered them.
Aside from that… when a job that used to be a highly trained union job, but is now classified as a low-skilled non-union job, that means fewer middle-class jobs. When these jobs disappear entirely, and are replaced by non-unionized, unskilled service industry jobs, that’s once again fewer middle-class jobs. It’s not the magical appearance of uneducated wimmins and furriners that is causing this shift of the US workforce. It’s the lack of affordable education, de-skilling, and de-unionizing of jobs that did that; and those jobs were then filled by people entering the workforce, including women and immigrants.
And on the note of “unskilled labor”… you know what an easy solution to that problem is? Providing training and education for said labor; another thing that’s increasingly hard to come by, because education is becoming more expensive, because apprenticeships for union-jobs are becoming scarce, and because ever higher levels of education are required for ever lower-skilled work.

Since almost all lesser-skilled workers entering the workforce in any given year are paid wages lower than the average, the measured statistic, “average hourly wage,” remained stagnant over the years—even while the real wages of actual flesh-and-blood workers employed in any given year rose over time as they gained more experience and skills.

apparently only people who’ve been in the middle-class in the 1980’s count. O.o
Dudes, having a larger proportion of people in poverty jobs by definition shrinks the Middle Class.

No single measure of well-being is more informative or important than life expectancy. Happily, an American born today can expect to live approximately 79 years—a full five years longer than in 1980 and more than a decade longer than in 1950.

which is also still below OECD average, by a whole year. It also rose slower than in other OECD countries, and slower than in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. But once again, this doesn’t actually tell us shit about the Middle Class, since this is an U.S.-wide average. What might tell us something about the situation of the Middle Class is the fact that the life expectancy gap between the poor and the rich is growing; and unless we assume that the rich have gained enormously and/or poor people are dying much younger at much higher rates, the most likely explanation is a shifting of people out of the middle-ground. You know, a shrinking middle class.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending by households on many of modern life’s “basics”—food at home, automobiles, clothing and footwear, household furnishings and equipment, and housing and utilities—fell from 53% of disposable income in 1950 to 44% in 1970 to 32% today.

I notice that housing, education, and healthcare are not listed.

while income inequality might be rising when measured in dollars, it is falling when reckoned in what’s most important—our ability to consume.

consumption is what’s most important?! *barf*

Despite assertions by progressives who complain about stagnant wages, inequality and the (always) disappearing middle class, middle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before.

Considering the ridiculous degrees of indebtedness of Americans, this is a horribly callous thing to say. And kind of wrong, since increased debt accounts for the increased consumerism; it’s not an indicator of Middle-Class-ness.

They [...] have much greater access to the services and consumer products bought by billionaires.

like 1st class education, 1st class healthcare, protection from volatile energy prices and increased natural disasters? Oh, that’s not what you meant, is it. You meant gadgets. Oh well then: since both Bill Gates and a college student can afford an iPad, that must mean the Middle Class isn’t shrinking. WTF?

Incidentally, I looked at income distribution in the U.S. in 1980 and 2010. in 1980, median income was $44000; in 2010, it was $49000. The percentage of people living in neighborhoods between 80% and 125% of that median shrunk in that time from about 55% of the population to just over 40% of the population.

Looks to me like the middle segment of income earners in the U.S. shrunk. Huh.

Romney and Polish Missiles

Last week at the RNC, towards the end of a speech filled with bullshit, Romney produced this line:

He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.

I’ve seen all the other lies in the speech dissected, but not that one. So, I guess I’ll have to do it. It’s a complex one with extended history, so stick with me on this one.

The missile defense commitments Romney is talking about are about stationing a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This plan was part of Bush’s “New Europe” thing after he got pissy because “Old Europe” tried to stop him from invading Iraq, and came with other explicit and implicit promises, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, let’s start with something far more basic: Romney makes it sound as if these missiles were something promised to Poland because they were something that Poland wanted, but now Obama won’t give them what they asked for. That’s not how this worked, way back in 2007/2008 when discussions between Bush and Polish and Czech representatives were happening. At one point, 57% of Poles opposed the plan, and only 25% supported it; in the Czech Republic, it was 68% and 26%, respectively. This was not something the people of either country wanted, and politicians in both countries were skeptical of such installations, given what their existence would do to these two countries’ relationships with Russia. The Polish Defense Minister at the time said that his country would have to be convinced that these missiles would be a good idea for Poland1. In fact, especially after the 2007 elections in Poland in which a very USA-friendly PM was voted out, negotiations about these missiles toughened and Poland insisted that it wouldn’t let the USA place them there unless they got a security guarantee like the USA has with Israel, and unless the USA agreed to pay for a modernization of the Polish military2. Less explicitly, Poland (and the Czech Republic) were being given promises about closer relations with the USA as part of the aforementioned “New Europe” thing Bush was doing for a while. Investment by US companies was one; another was acceptance of these Eastern European countries into the visa-waiver program that allows citizens of the country to travel to the USA without having to apply for a visa first. The Czech Republic got into the program at the end of 20083, but Poland has been strung along on a promise to be included sometime soon ever since (the latest being a promise to do it this year, but the bill only got as far as being assigned to a committee), and is now, absurdly, the only Schengen* country not included4, 5. Point being, this entire missile defense thing was something the US wanted, not something that Poland asked for.

And then there’s the part where, supposedly, Obama has “abandoned” Poland and “walked away” from commitments. This, too, is crap. Obama cancelled the original agreement to place long-range missiles (including ones capable of delivering nuclear warheads) in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, but that agreement was replaced with another, which would instead supply short and intermediate range interceptor missiles and a computer center. And while the Czech Republic decided that the loss of the radar meant that the deal was no longer worth it for them6 (especially since they got their visa waiver already), Poland has accepted the new deal just fine, seeing as apparently their main concerns in terms of security were for one, to actually get American troops stationed in Poland pretty much regardless of what toys they would bring7, and two, the promised modernization of their troops, which Obama transferred from the old plan to the new one. The actual drama between Poland and the US had nothing at all to do with the content of the new treaty, but rather with the way the PR on it was handled back when it happened8, and the fact that a bunch of assholes in the US pretended as if it were only Obama who considered Russian hostility to the long-range missiles to be a problem (thus being able to make it look as if he backed down on a promise out of fear), while in reality both Poland and the Czech Republic were considering Russia as the main concern in their negotiations about this defense system.

In other words, Romney’s claim that Obama somehow broke a promise to deliver weapons systems that Poland wanted from the US is bullshit. It’s bullshit because Obama didn’t break any promises, and it’s bullshit to make it sound as if these missiles were something Poland wanted or needed, when really it’s something the USA wanted.
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*the article I’m using as a citation says “Eurozone”, but that’s of course nonsense. It’s supposed to say Schengen Area. See:

Of wedding rings and red herrings

The NYT has published an article bemoaning inequality; which would be great if it didn’t basically amount to: “if those silly women would just marry, most of their problems would go away”.

Mind you, I don’t dispute that unmarried women are generally hit worse by the ravages of the US economy (and incidentally, so are single fathers), nor that being unmarried seems to cluster in economically poorer social strata. However, the article is being ignorant and/or dismissive of systemic problems it even mentions (that dropping out of college tends to result in lower income; that having inadequate and expensive child-care makes things worse for those who need it more often; that hourly workers are massively underpaid in the US; that workers can’t get paid sick-leave even for severe injuries/recovery from surgery; that in the US, extra-curricular activities for kids cost and arm and a leg, and due to lack of safe public transportation, require a parent who can shuttle said kids to said activities; etc.), in favor of pointless hand-wringing about moral decay, lack of “marriageable men” in lower economic strata*, and other similarly moralistic complaints.
It uses such deeply problematic lines** as “their odds were not particularly good: nearly half the unmarried parents living together at a child’s birth split up within five years, according to Child Trends” to imply that if only people married right away, things would get better; as if it weren’t equally well-known that single-parenthood is actually healthier than the sort of extremely conflict-ridden marriages that would have resulted if all those couples that had split up had married instead and had insisted on “staying married for the children”. Bonus for whining about “children from multiple men”, despite the utter insignificance of that to the issue at hand; after all, being a single mother because one dude left you is not objectively better than being a single mother because several of them did (and I’m NOT touching a couple other possible reasons why a woman might have children by multiple men).
Another doozy: “Forty years ago, the top and middle income thirds had virtually identical family patterns”. Well that’s nice. 40 years ago, unions weren’t almost dead yet, minimum wage was higher, economic exploitation of workers was less, education was cheaper. All of this is far more relevant than whether people are married. And I know this because Sweden has a marriage rate lower, and an out-of-wedlock childbirth rate higher than the USA, and yet, inequality is low and children aren’t “doomed” to anything. Trying to guilt-trip women about their single-parent status by blaming their poverty on their singleness is pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Anyway, the article keeps on mentioning class and educational differences at childbirth, but it insists on focusing on marriage instead of getting women educated and providing better childcare services and worker protections. Why? Because writing about responsible social policy is a snooze compared to slut-shaming; which is why we get conclusions like this: “That is the essence of the story of Ms. Faulkner and Ms. Schairer. What most separates them is not the impact of globalization on their wages but a 6-foot-8-inch man named Kevin”, when in reality what separates them is that one has a college education and a salaried job, while the other is an hourly worker with a community college degree; and a special needs child.

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*Classism and promotion of toxic masculinity FTL.
**Another favorite: “Ms. Schairer has trouble explaining, even to herself, why she stayed so long with a man who she said earned little, berated her often and did no parenting.” Hm. Might that ‘why’ have something to do with the kind of “single motherhood = teh ebil” atmosphere that makes women cling to seriously flawed men because the alternative seems even worse?***
***And since I’m quoting depressing signs of sexism making people’s lives harder, read this exchange and weep:

“I’m not the only boy anymore; we’re going to do boy stuff!” Ms. Schairer recounts him saying.
“What’s boy stuff?” she asked.
“We’re going to play video games and shoot Nerf guns and play Legos,” he said.
“We do that now,” she said.
“Yeah, but you’re not a boy,” he said.