Republicans switching parties isn’t a good thing

What I run into occasionally in my facebook feed etc. are gleeful stories about some Republican or another switching parties because the GOP has become to extreme for him (so far, it’s always been a “him”, at least as far as I’m aware). And while I’m sure these stories are entertaining, and maybe even vindicate people in their opinion that the GOP has made an extreme shift rightwards, I don’t actually think this is a good development.

To explain this, let me backtrack a bit and first talk a bit about the U.S. political system and its parties a bit. The way voting is set up in the U.S. by its constitution, all of it is stuck at single-member districts in which candidates are elected to represent a region, not ideas*. As the wikipedia article notes, that tends to lead to two-party systems, with maybe an occasional 3rd party cropping up. Historically, in the U.S. 3-party situations tend to be unstable though and either an old party collapses, or the small 3td-party does, and either way you end up very quickly with only 2; and today even that much flexibility doesn’t exist, because the 2 parties are basically very rich and powerful political corporations, and the country is still suffering a 2000 election hangover and consequent allergy to everything 3rd-party. In other words, barring a complete collapse of the current political structure, the U.S. is stuck with the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party.
What this means in the context of Republicans leaving and becoming Democrats is that after all the “moderately” conservative people leave, the Republican party is not going to collapse under the mass of its epistemic black hole (at least not without causing the aforementioned collapse of the political structure), and the Democratic Party is not going to split into one moderately conservative and one progressive party**. Instead, by having people fall off the “left” edge of the Republicans and onto the right edge of the Democrats, the entire system shifts rightward even more, by making both parties just that little bit more conservative. And that’s just the obvious and immediate bad result. Another bad consequence is that when these former Republicans run for (re-)election, they will no longer be competing in primaries against other Republicans, i.e. people more to the right of them; they’ll instead be competing against Democrats, usually people to the left of them. That means whenever one of these guys ends up going into the general election, he does so instead of a more leftish candidate.

So what I’m saying is: unless these dudes have actually changed their minds and genuinely shifted leftwards rather than have the GOP shift rightwards away from them, I don’t want them changing parties; I want them to stay where they are and force the Republican party to be more like them and less like the teafucks. There’s nothing to celebrate when these guys change parties, because all that does is speed up the rightward shift of the US.

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* Although, my entirely non-lawyery reading of the U.S. Constitution failed to find a requirement for congressional districts voting for one representative; AFAICT the relevant parts (Article 1 Section 2; 14th Amendment Section 2) only say that the number of representatives would be determined by population in some way. For the states that currently have one representative this makes no difference, but there’s states with many representatives, and I’m not sure there’s a constitutional reason not to apportion a state’s seats proportionally after a state-wide election, rather than with district-level elections for a single representative.
OTOH, doing it that way would probably cause an even greater imbalance in the relative over-importance given to low-population states.
And while I’m at it, I’m not sure there’s a constitutional requirement for First Past The Goalpost voting, instead of preferential voting systems where you pick your top 3 candidates. Which could also help undo the 2-party-default, but are oddly unpopular at least in the media for some reason.

** Not that all people cheering at Republicans becoming Democrats necessarily think this, it’s just that believing something like that is one of a very few reasons I can think of to cheer this development. Some others I can think of are treating party politics like sports, and Rs leaving to become Ds means your team is winning; and thinking that Rs leaving means they’re becoming more moderate.

“women” didn’t

When Obama won re-election, the media story went that “women voters” rejected Romney because of his stance on reproductive rights*. This framing is not a false claim in itself; women as a group really were more likely to vote for Obama than for Romney (55% and 44% respectively). And since many sites that present demographic stats on such elections are doing so by sorting people into single-demographic-marker categories**, that tends to look like the entirety of the story. But it isn’t. When you take apart these large demographic lumps, as CNN did here, it becomes obvious that “women voters” didn’t vote as a block at all. Only 42% of white women voted for Obama, while 96% of black women and 76% of Latina voters did; they’re the ones who won the “women vote” for Obama***

Why am I bringing this up now, a year after the presidential election?

Because the same narrative about “women voters” is being dragged out to explain the Virginia Governor race which Ken Cuccinelli just lost and in which according to the exit polls(pdf) barely over half the women voted for the Democrat in the race. Such articles were being written before the race (and Rachel Maddow talked about the gender gap as well), but the election results show a much smaller gap than had been predicted. And yet, despite that tiny number, people are writing articles again about how “women” elected the Democratic candidate****. Granted, they’re a bit more nuanced this time than during the presidential race, actually looking a bit deeper at the demographics; but the overall narrative and the headlines stay the same. Even though white women, again, voted for the Republican candidate (54%), while only 38% of them voted for the Democrat.

What bothers me about the narrative of “Women” deciding these elections is not that they’re not strictly speaking true; statistically they’re true but incomplete. What bothers me is that the narrative exemplified in these articles then gets picked up by individual white women as well as organizations with few minority women as a story about a collective “us” that voted for Democrats (or against Republicans) that completely erases the regressiveness of the average white woman voter as well as the heavy lifting done by progressive minority women; a heavy lifting done in the face of ongoing voter suppression, to boot. This appropriation of positive actions is in many ways the twin of the appropriation of violence statistics in which a too large demographic “we” is made out to be victims of violence, when most of the incidences come from oppressed groups within that huge demographic but they are used as talking points to promote the agenda of the (relatively) dominant groups within it.

Not only is this erasure and appropriation rather disgusting in itself, it will also assure a complete lack of self-reflection, a lack of trying to figure out how to stop the white, wealthier, and/or married women from voting against the interests of all other women, and to some degree even against their own. There will be too little analysis of race and class, even though they are so eminently relevant to why a particular group of women keeps on voting for the most toxic candidates available.

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*for example, here, here, and here

**like this one orthis one

***and by the way, the same thing was true for the “youth vote”, since only 44% of white 20-somethings voted for Obama.

****for example here and here

Think Progress gets something wrong

couple weeks ago, The article Idaho Lawmaker Compares Abortion To Prostitution* appeared on Think Progress. It’s in the style of their many other “Republicans say outrageously horrible things” articles, but I think they screwed it up this time.

Mind you, saying that “Prostitution is a choice “more so than an abortion would be […] Because (in an abortion) there’s two beating hearts. And then there’s one” is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Both are choices about one’s bodily autonomy, and consequently neither is more of a choice than another. Aside from that, these two issues have little to do with each other though, as one is a medical procedure, and another is a form of making money. So the Republican in question, State Rep. Ron Mendive from Idaho, was definitely being a fuckweasel and talking out of his ass. And being anti-choice, which one wouldn’t know from reading the Think Progress articl, because the article never mentions that rather salient point. And then, the article also buys into incredibly toxic narratives about sex work, to boot. The writer of the article, Annie-Rose Strasser, introduces Mendive’s comments as follows (emphasis mine):

Presenting abortion and prostitution as cavaler [sic] choices women make and ignoring the real danger of sex slavery, State Rep. Ron Mendive (R) elicited “audible gasps” on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the group, which later condemned his comparison

As far as I can tell, dude was talking about prostitution, not sex slavery. Those are two entirely different things, and conflating them like that is toxic bullshit. Besides, how does it help victims of actual sex slavery for prostitution to be illegal? How does it help to criminalize that which the enslaved folks are being forced to do against their will? doesn’t that merely criminalize the victims? Also, I don’t know about “cavalier choices”. I can’t find a good source for what the dude actually said, but he seems to have talked in general about a “double standard” where abortion is seen as a choice, but prostitution isn’t. That’s not saying they’re “cavalier choices”, it’s just saying they’re choices. And I’m afraid that he’s kind of right about this: there is a double standard. And since the Think Progress article doesn’t provide the context of this comment, it’s hard to tell whether what he said was outrageously shitty or not. If he argued for legalization of prostitution on the basis of bodily autonomy, then he’d be right. If he was trying to argue that both should be illegal, he’d be a toxic assface. But that isolated quote, by itself, is simply true.
And then there’s a quote by one of the ACLU folks about this comparison:

He was correlating a criminal action with something that is constitutionally protected. Those are two completely separate issues,

ok, they’re two completely different issues, but not because one is legal and one isn’t. Comparing legal and illegal things is how you figure out whether something should remain illegal or not (see for example alcohol vs weed comparisons). Now again, the article doesn’t provide the context of this speech**,focusing more on the outrage than on actually reporting details that would show why that comparison is supposed to be so outrageous. It simply assumes that the comparison is outrageous per se, not because it is being used in an outrageous argument that both should be illegal to undo the double standard. If he had instead argued that prostitution should be legal because it’s also about the freedom of choice about one’s body, he’d have a point***.

So my complaint about this article is twofold: for one, bringing sex slavery into this is irresponsible. It’s very similar to arguing against weed by arguing that it may lead to driving under the influence. For two, writing an article as if it should be obvious that a comparison like that would be a Todd Akin moment regardless of context is false and irresponsible. There are contexts in which arguing that there exists such a double standard is indeed perfectly valid. So the context should have been included, the context being that he’s an anti-choicer who was trying to argue that giving women choices leads to horrible things; like abortion, or prostitution.
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*the url ends with /idaho-sex-slavery/ which… um… no. O.o
**the RHealitycheck article it links to does though. Despite being much shorter, it actually bothers to show WHY his argument was outrageous, by including the context. THAT is how the article should have been written.
***granted, that would be an amazingly weird thing to argue for a Republican, but we’re supposed to be upset at what he said; and for that, you need to show why it’s supposed to be upsetting, ffs.

Feedback loops of erosion of privacy and civil rights

At the RNC las week, Nikki Haley said the following:

We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central sacred rights we’re blessed with in America, the right to vote

The detail aside that there’s no constitutional right to pseudoephedrine and airtravel, this is actually an example of a pattern I’ve seen where erosion of privacy rights (both of customers and especially workers) in private business settings is then used to normalize this break of privacy to the point where it becomes acceptable for government to do the same, despite the fact that in many cases, the government would not really have a right to do so due to the restrictions the US constitution has placed on it. For example, a few months back when I was out protesting the installation of surveillance cameras by the Police throughout the downtown area, a common argument I heard (both before and during the protest) was that stores have surveillance cameras watching customers and workers, so why was it suddenly a problem when the city decided to also protect against criminals by watching people? Another example is the fact that a lot of Americans will argue for drug-testing of welfare recipients based on the fact that businesses like Walmart already demand drug-tests from prospective employees.

I think this normalization of invasion into customers’ and workers’ privacy is potentially dangerous and corrosive to a society, if it can really lead to this kind of acceptance of government invasion of privacy (as well as, of course, on its own terms. drug testing employees in jobs where it’s entirely fucking irrelevant is fucked up, and really just a manifestation of classism, a means of debasing poor people further). It’s another reason why pretending that government is the only power capable of limiting people’s freedom while completely ignoring the business sector is stupid and dangerous. Businesses, too, should have limits on just what they should be allowed to do to their customers; and especially their workers, since abuse of workers by businesses seems to be followed shortly by an expansion of that abuse to all poor people by the government.

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: