Thursday, July 19, 2007

Speaking freely

The Gauntlet reports that Canada's universities are not taking warmly to the idea of a boycott on Israeli's academic institutions. It's increasingly rare that I find myself in Israel's corner, but I have to think that Canadians are making the right decision here by rejecting an unfair and ineffective policy. One of the professors quoted correctly points out that such a policy presumes an intellectual consensus (perhaps even homogeneity) amongst all of the implicated communities at the university calling the boycott as well as the universities being targeted. I agree, and I'd add that trying to isolate Israeli thinkers is not the way to cultivate a critical consciousness for Palestinian justice amongst academics or students. Israel, like the United States, finds many of its most prominent Leftists and critics in the ivory tower - making it into an ivory Bastille just doesn't seem promising. All this concerns the potential utility of Israel's students and academics to anti-militarist, Pro-Palestinian consciousness, so I'll note for the sake of clarity that even an Israeli academia that loyally supported the IDF and showed no sign of altering its perspective would not be deserving of a boycott.

One argument made in this controversy does strike me as disingenuous, though, and that is the move to contrast "boycott" with "academic freedom", as in this sentence:

"Universities, idealistically, are supposed to be politically free," said Stortz. "The university is all about freedom of thought and activity. It is designed to create ideas, research them, and deconstruct them for critical discussion, and therefore, must take a fairly non-political posture to try and understand ideas intellectually."
I take issue to this line of argument not because I disagree that a boycott would strike a blow to the exchange of ideas that is crucial to intellectual development. It most certainly would be. But I do not think we should be fooled into thinking that not engaging in such a boycott in anyway leaves us with a politically neutral forum for discussion, or that the ideal of the "politically free" university is anything but that.

Universities, like all other forums of discourse, are inevitably pervaded by power. At my school, brining in a pro-Palestinian feminist activist to speak about her work required that a student coalition of activists (of which I was a part) to put forward the funds and, more importantly, to name ourselves as her host. No department (like Political Science) or student-service institution (like Multicultural Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Center) on campus was willing to risk the political liability of affiliating with her. Even those that were sympathetic to her work and excited about the prospect of her visit simply did not want to face the backlash of defying the considerable pro-Israel consensus amongst faculty, administrators and trustees. Certainly no one was being boycotted, but political power was still brought to bear on the exchange of ideas. To introduce something like an academic boycott would not impose power on what once was a power-neutral territory, it would merely reform the existing networks of power.

This is the same argument I make in reply to conservatives who believe that "political correctness" will compromise the political neutrality of campus speech. Campus speech is manifestly not politically neutral even absent a speech code or an anti-harassment policy. True such a policy might shift some power in the direction of, for example, queer students. But in discursive climate of the American university, there is nothing that I, as a gay student, can say to a straight interlocutor that has the psychological or social capacity to induce shame, self-doubt, or marginality based on her or his sexual orientation. But my straight interlocutor wield precisely that power, and can unleash it by using homophobic stereotypes or epithets. Similarly, there are a variety of speech situations in which my race, gender, ability status and national origin grant me a considerable amount of power. The subject position of an interlocutor and their relative power in a conversation depends upon their place in structures of privilege that accrue on all types of social axes. To the extent that the array of policies lumped under the banner of "political correctness" by conservative critics can help to reverse asymmetries of power (or at least blunt their capacity to induce harm) I support them.

Similarly, I might support reform policies that could dampen the ability of powerful campus figures to exert influence over the type of political activity that students engage in. But the boycott of Israeli universities would do no such thing.

Are Republicans MORE likely to support a single-payer healthcare system? No, but maybe they should be.

Much of the controversy surrounding filmmaker Michael Moore’s lambasting of the American healthcare system in his recent documentary SiCKO has revolved around his analysis of healthcare costs in America as compared to costs in other Western countries. Moore and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently debated some numbers on Larry King Live after Gupta suggested that some of the information presented in the film was misleading and even flat-out inaccurate. Regardless of whether or not Moore fudged some data in the film, his fundamental critique of our healthcare system cannot be disputed. Americans pay much more for healthcare than citizens of other nations while receiving lower quality care. The single-payer, government financed healthcare in these nations provides a high-level of care without wasting money on administrative overhead and without generating nauseatingly enormous profits in the private sector. Gupta and Moore’s data on healthcare costs may have been conflicting, but both sets of data reveal this truth.

Moore goes on to suggest that the major barrier to implementing a single-payer system is the size of the healthcare lobby in Washington. Politicians, including presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton, the leader of the failed 1993 effort to implement sweeping healthcare reform, depend on the support and financial backing of the healthcare industry. It’s not surprising that she and the other “first-tier” presidential candidates are not advocating a single-payer system. Insurance companies would have no role in a single-payer system and, to protect their livelihoods, are throwing money—the real thing that wins elections in the U.S.—at all the major candidates. Even if they were not so dependent on the industry for campaign dollars, the candidates would likely still balk at promoting a single-payer system for fear of the ruinous “socialist” label that would come along with it.

For obvious reasons, Republicans, typically the pro-business party in our two-party system, are overwhelmingly opposed to a single-payer system. But if they were to take a step back for a moment and consider the impact of lower-quality care on the American workforce, they might become the stronger advocate for single-payer. One of the most cited reasons for their support (albeit, sometimes lackluster and/or misguided support) of public education is that it pays of financially in the long-term. Educated people accomplish more and are more productive than uneducated people. Famed economist Adam Smith, hero of the Reagan administration when it sought smaller government, even posited the benefit public education provides to the economy. Taking this sentiment to the next step, wouldn’t better healthcare lead to higher worker productivity? In the long run, wouldn’t a healthier, more productive workforce lead to a healthier and more stable economy? Moreover, if a single-payer system lead to lower healthcare costs overall, wouldn’t new investments stemming from those healthcare savings grow the economy?

I think the answer to these questions is yes. Perhaps a single-payer system would be pro-business in the long-term. Unfortunately for us, politics in this country is rarely concerned with the long-term. As Niccolo Machiavelli realized a half-millennium ago, the most important goal of those in power is to do whatever it takes to stay in power. No serious presidential candidate will support a single-payer system until that breaking point when support from the for-profit healthcare industry does not translate into enough campaign cash to buyout the votes of an American electorate too fed-up with our increasingly dreary system of healthcare. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but maybe SiCKO will get a rise out of us.

Stop me if you've heard this one before

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Croatia, I've been reading up some regional history. This passage comes from Ann Lane's Yugoslavia: When Ideals Collide.

The dissolution of Yugoslavia was the response of a fractured community with little experience of the practice of pluralist politics to the rapid imposition of western democratic practices of government and the pressures on the economy and society arising from globalisation.
I'm trying to think of major policy decisions made in the intervening decade where this lesson might have been crucially relevant but overlooked. Maybe by people who later claimed there was no way of knowing the mess their decision would've created, that all the intelligence pointed their way?

But, damnedest thing, I'm drawing a blank. Why do they even make us study history?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Least surprising news story ever

The Justice Policy Institute has published the results of a study on approaches to gang violence. Their conclusion: social justice is more important than criminal justice in de-escalating the levels of violence in American communities. What a shocker. The Star summarizes the findings:

More police, more prisons and more punitive measures aren't the answer to reducing gang activity, concludes a new U.S. study that experts here say underscores the need for Canada to reject that approach in favour of investing in jobs, schools and programs for disenfranchised youth.

Mass arrests, tougher prison sentences, increased surveillance and staggeringly huge gang databases typify the enforcement approach relied upon to respond to gang violence. These methods are rooted in rational choice theories which hold that if only law enforcers can make the penalties and risks of gang activity sufficiently scary in comparison to the perceived benefits, youth will stop joining gangs. There's a major problem with this trend, and it's that the decision to join a gang is hardly the result of cost-benefit analysis.

While a small proportion of youth will join a gang for protection or excitement, the vast majority report more subtle push factors that incline them to participate. Most youth join because they become connected to gangs through their family members or peer groups. The less connected the youth are to mainstream social institutions such as schools, workplaces and families, the more likely they are to join. This list of risk factors for gang membership shows that academic failure, unemployment, and family break-down consistently make the list across a wide range of studies. Drug use is also a major risk factor, as drug-using peer groups tend to overlap with gang-participating peer groups.

The solution is manifestly not imprisonment. While in jail, about 60% of inmates lose their jobs, another 40% lose touch with their families. Gangs, unlike employers, students, and mothers, are a presence in juvenile incarceration facilities. With their social networks and career prospects damaged by imprisonment, released youth are very likely to be pulled into gang activity once again. This also suggests that imprisoning drug-using youth is a poor approach (and an unfair one, since affluent white kids get an inordinate amount of the court-assigned rehab stints, while working-class minorities see much more of the prison time). More than often, as David Schraub recently noted, prison stints for minor drug offenders only produce especially hardened criminals who will only return to incarceration.

What is needed are better crisis intervention programs for at-risk youth, to connect youth on the edge to positive peer groups and proper educational facilities. Too often though, these development programs are alienating to urban and working-class youth, as they essentially try to integrate those youth into middle-class white peer groups. They also tend to emphasize the criminality and deviance of the community the youth came from (and was heading to), rather than emphasizing the institutional conditions producing these outcomes. A corrective to this would be development programs that are designed for minority and poor youth with a social justice approach to development that emphasize social awareness as well as self awareness in decision-making.

And of course, as the Justice Institute finds, there's no reason we should be worried only once we've identified youth as being at-risk. Stronger schools in low-income communities that try to tackle the cumulative developmental disadvantages of growing up poor (which range from poor nutrition to under-stimulation as a result of parents working long hours), employers that offer reasonable income and hours to poor adolescents, and reforms in both work and welfare that allow parents to spend more time with their children would all go along way to limiting the pull of gangs in low-income communities.

How might we pay for all that? Well, a strong progressive income tax has never hurt anyone. And de-criminalizing marijuana use would free up millions of dollars from enforcement and imprisonment expenditures. In these instances, we almost have the choice to look at a kid and decide if we're going to pay for his classroom or his jail cell.

In the mean time,trying to punish violence after-the-fact with harsh penalties is a no-win strategy. And there is no apparent gain to suppression tactics that use heavy surveillance and intimidation tactics, save to give poor children the experience of living in a police state. A more promising tact is to seek out the sources of violence and marginalization in American life that push so many youth into criminal circles. The war on crime and drugs has only produced what philosopher Brian Barry calls a Black Gulag, a vast and costly system of incarcerated black men as a result of unfair policing and sentencing, not to mention a flagging, underfunded system. of social programs - and which, as the ultimate insult, seems to have failed to significantly reduce crime rates in urban communities. The JPI report reveals disturbing but unsurprising parallels in the fruitless punitive-militarist approaches to gang activity that are too frequently adopted by law enforces. The police war on gangs appears, so far, to have been nothing more than a war on America's poorest youth.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why do we blog?

I'd be interested in hearing from both my writers and everyone else reading our humble blog. Why do we blog? What effects will blogs have on the coming presidential election? How do we assess the validity of a blog verses the validity of a letter to the editor?

What makes blogging appealing?

These questions surround the very essence of blogging. Blogging is the fastest growing media form according to a recent report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Does this mean newspapers will vanish? magazines?

If you have an opinion on the art of blogging and it's impact on mass media, I'd love to hear it.

Ellison on trial

Keith Ellison (D-MN), for not the fist time, is the scourge of the conservative blogosphere. That's a title that is quite difficult to hold for any extended period of time, so props to him for even intermittently triumphing over such bogeymen as trans people who want to pee in our bathrooms, reds who want Castro to be America's health provider, and the always-popular Hilary Clinton, who, even while on hiatus from doing something that conservatives will find scandalous (read: anything), can at least be counted on to be Hilary Clinton. Which, for many bloggers, is enough.

But Ellison has incensed everyone from the reliably hateful JawaReport (Ellison is inexplicably asked to answer for the actions of a Muslim cleric who supported Hitler in WWII), to the predictably insane Michelle Malkin (who is still to convinced that Ellison is out to impose sharia law despite his having civil libertarian credentials that look especially convincing next to her own fascist bluster), and even harsh criticisms from conservative commentators who teeter precipitously on the edge of the mainstream at Power Line and Fox News. Ladies and gentleman, we may have the makings of a genuine controversy.The reason: KEITH ELLISON COMPARED GEORGE BUSH TO HITLER.

Kind of.

Ellison actually compared 9/11 to the burning of the Reichstag.

"It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that," Mr Ellison said. "After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted."

Which, if we limit the analogy to just what Ellison said, is not particularly extreme. And why shouldn't we? The purpose of an analogy, after all, is not to say that two things are homologous (the same), but, of course, analogous (that they bear comparison in at least one attribute). Keith Ellison is saying that 9/11 was a national tragedy which was quickly politicized and resulted in the extension of executive power to a level that would be easily abused and incredibly difficult to check. Yes, this means the analogy set Bush opposite Hitler, insofar as both were the recipient of enlarged, and subsequently misused, executive power. Given the Bush administrations use of torture, warrant-less wire-tapping, and continued invocation of executive privilege to dodge oversight, that comparison is not particularly extreme. Certainly, Ellison could have avoided the controversy altogether had he picked any other example of a leader who exploited nationalism and fear after a major tragedy to increase his power. Personally, I would have come out of left-field by dropping in an Emperor Palpatine reference (with the separatist menace to the Republic replacing 9/11 as the rhetorical cudgel). But I see nothing particularly offensive about the comparison Ellison chose to make. Politically unwise, perhaps, but not historically inaccurate or arguably unethical.

The reactions of conservatives are hard to understand.

Mark Drake, of the Republican party in Minnesota, said: "To compare the democratically elected leader of the United States of America to Hitler is an absolute moral outrage which trivialises the horrors of Nazi Germany."

Hitler too, was democratically elected. And it would be a moral outrage to say, for example, that United States use of violence in the war on terror surpasses or rivals the brutality of the Nazi regime. But that is not what Ellison said, nor is it implied by his comment. Ultimately, Ellison is making the oft-heard point that Bush, like so many ascendant authoritarians, is a masterful manipulator of fear. Research in political psychology bears this critique out. The linked study shows that reminders of death and terrorism don't substantially increase a subject's propensity to support George W. Bush. But when one group was made to reflect on the process of dying and death, while the other focused on less weighty concerns, it was found the first group was significantly more likely to support Bush. Sustaining support for his own counter-terrorism policies depends on Bush's ability to cultivate the fear of death amongst citizens. The political weaponization of fear has always been a reliable tool in the arsenal of despots. Fear silences dissent and breeds mistrust - both of which have been linked to stronger support for conservative policies.

The conservative blogopshere is certainly aware of this fact. Their menace-of-the-week approach to politics seeks to do at the grassroots what Bush does from the bully pulpit - to make American suspicious of their neighbors, mistrustful of immigrants, skeptical of the motives of reformers and leaders of communities unlike their own. Their spin on the Ellison story is a calculated move within that game. Their insistence on associating Ellison with terrorists, oppressive regimes culminating with some phantasmic clutch for the heart and soul of Middle America is demagoguery at its worst.

One commenter on Malkin's blog shouts down a level-headed defense of Ellison with this:

Why do I have the feeling that MikeB can’t wait to don the burqua and pay the jizya as a good, subservient dhimmi? (You do realize that your beloved 9/10-era Bill of Rights won’t be observed under the coming Sharia-based regime, don’t you?)

It’s amusing (in a sad and terrifying way) how hand-wringing useful idiots like you can’t stand the idea that you aren’t extending undeserved rights to forces who solely seek your conversion, subjugation or death. I’m sure the jihadis lay awake at night worrying about your rights as well.

A climate in which such a threat is even passingly entertained as probable has clearly collapsed into its own rhetorical constructs, utterly separated from reality by fear. But the real shockers is the bitter conclusion of the second paragraph. "Don't worry about their rights, they aren't worried about yours." The corrosive effects of fear on human solidarity could not be demonstrated more clearly.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Public Service and Heterocitizenship

Via Pinknews, It would appear that the White House has decided to change its issue on the grave security threat posed by gay, lesbian and bisexuals working in sensitive public service positions. Turns out if your a would-be-White-House staffer whose been a bit too indiscreet about the ol' lavender streak, you might be denied security clearance.

The 1997 regulation which stated that, "sexual orientation may not be used as a basis for denying clearance," has been modified to read: "security clearances cannot be denied solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual."

And there you have it. Sexual orientation may now be part of the argument for denying someone clearance. Which is irrefutably brilliant, since typical bases for denying security clearance, such as adult extramarital sexual relationships, don't already stack the deck against gays, lesbians and bisexuals as is, on account of the you wont let us get married thing. Good thing there are special rules to accommodate flamobyant, sex-crazed homos, as long as they behave themselves:

New regulations distributed in December also said that if sexual behaviour is "strictly private, consensual and discreet," it could reduce security concerns.

I love/am-tremendously-disturbed-by the casual insertion of “consensual” between “private” and “discreet”, as though not-being-a-rapist were just another matter of sexual propriety.

And on that note, clearly, homosexual relationships need to be private and discreet, whereas straight people should have giant expensive ceremonies to which every single person they've ever known is invited. This is nothing more than the common injunction for gays, lesbians and bisexuals to “cover.” You know- “I'm not a homophobe, but do they have to flaunt it by holding hands in public?” People with stigmatized identities are expected to downplay their identities in public, otherwise they may face reprisal, both formal (no security clearance) and informal (taunting, appalled reactions, physical violence).

It's a kind of socio-cultural Don't Ask, Don't Tell: we're willing to tolerate your difference, so long as you play along by making that difference as imperceptible as possible. This prevents gays, lesbians and bisexuals from doing many of the things that heterosexuals can do without thinking. Under DADT, straight soldiers don't have to worry about the consequences of carrying a picture of their lover, or speaking publicly about the gal/guy waiting for them back home. Likewise, in offices where non-discrimination policies protect only straight people, it is acceptable to wear your wedding band and keep family photos on the desk, but not to have a picture of your partner. That's disruptive, distracting, unprofessional, and totally queer.

And now, gays, lesbians and bisexuals who's career plans might lead toward Pennsylvania Avenue should think twice about these heterosexual luxuries: public dates, taking your partner to work events, surviving a less-than-clean break-up. Etc.

But don't worry. This is not a move toward discrimination.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's Republican staff director, Bill Duhnke, said that the regulations have the same effect, although they approach the issue in slightly different way.

See? They're the same, but slightly different! I feel so much better now.

Gay rights activists say that sexuality will be given increased attention and unnecessarily lead to subsequent discrimination by intolerant employers.

It could also result in blackmail of homosexuals who choose not to disclose their sexuality.

Aw, dammit.

But none of this is surprising. The Lavender Scare has held Washington in it's grip for some time. David Johnson's book, The Lavender Scare, points out that during the McCarthy Era, more federal employees lost their job for their sexual orientation (or blackmail surrounding their perceived sexual orientation) than for demonstrated Communist sympathies. In an interview, Johnson explained the significant overlap in homophobia and anti-Communist paranoia:

Both groups were perceived as hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, literature, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. Both groups were thought to recruit to their ranks the psychologically weak or disturbed. And both groups were considered immoral and godless.

An interesting bit. Certainly, the association of God and Country did nothing to help homosexuals who are still on the outs with many religious leaders. But I think the first two sentences hit on the more profound sense in which citizenship is constructed as heterosexual by playing to exclusionary conceptions of public life that far predate the Red Scare and, in fact, preoccupied the likes of John Jay and Thomas Jefferson.

The first, I think, gets at the notion that homosexuals, as a marginalized population, owe their loyalties to – gasp – something other than the Red, White and Blue. Just as recent immigrants have typically been suspected (in nearly any context) of being fifth columnists for the capitalists/communists/terrorists, there seems to be a suspicion that the loyalty of homosexuals would be compromised by their implication in any non-mainstream culture. The stereotype that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are “sex-driven” only plays into this fear. After all, how can we trust them to prioritize the public good over the good of the communities that allow them to indulge their sexual deviancies?

This idea, that bodily passion would inhibit public spiritedness is an exclusionary trope that, as I indicated earlier, goes back to the days of Jefferson. Many of the founding fathers agreed that women and natives could not participate in democracy because they were to given to the passions of the body and blood. Public-spiritedness meant that one needed to objectively transcend their own passions and apply the objective force of reason to problems.

Iris Marion Young astutely grasped the extent to which this mindset still pervades the speech-culture of Western democracies. We are skeptical of emotive speakers, people who cry, use lofty rhetoric, get angry, tell too many stories, make grand gestures, and so forth. Public speech, like public-mindedness, is supposed to be rational, clam, dispassionate, impartial, and calculated. Surprise, surprise – that just happens to be the way that middle-and-upper-class white men are trained to speak. The practicing of political rhetoric in which emotion, greeting, and narrative were regular features, Young argues, would expose the whole game. We'd have to admit that even when we spoke objectively, we were coming from a contingent position just as much as the people who integrated their subjectivity into their speech. But then the claims of the majority to represent a "common good" would have to be shown for what they were: demands issued from a specific socio-political position, a good that would privilege some at the expense of others. The incisiveness of Young's commentary is that she traces the lingering effects of this sexism on discourse, which seeks to preserve the Enlightenment myth of universal reason and public good - and of course the effect of discursive standard on sexism.

When high-modernists express fear that anecdotes and impassioned rhetoric will undo the deliberative system, they in fact worry that the very political bond will be corrupted. Interestingly, when women were derided for there lack of rationality and impartiality, there was no mention of the fact that men might have their neutrality compromised if they were forced to engage and repress their bodily desires while interacting with women. In the tradition of great female temptresses going back to Eve, it is women who would lead men from the path of virtue by corrupting the objectivity of the proceedings. For this reason, maintenance of the halls of government as homosocial space was a priority.

And of course, nothing jeopardizes a homosocial space like a homosexual! The idea that homosexuals would occupy public roles threatens to make the public-political bond between men indistinguishable from the private-sexual bond between men. The Enlightenment virtue of fraternity is that all men are concerned for each others interests, but the high-rationality of the Enlightenment depends on the disavowal of pre-modern romanticism. We are interested as thinkers and mutual practitioners of reason, not as feelers or lovers. The corruption of the homosocial by the homosexual is seen, at least implicitly, as a threat to the very virtues that enable citizenship. How ironic that the democratic legacy had its origins in pederastic Athens. Whereas Athenians integrated the homosocial and the homosexual, the new conception of the homosocial does not allow for that.

But not everywhere are the two separated today. In discussing the spectrum of homosocial-to-heterosexual that defines female life, Eve Sedgwick notes that the political site of female homosociality is feminism – women deliberating amongst women for the interests of women. The homosexual end of the spectrum is lesbianism, women loving women. The fact that there are feminist lesbians does not appear to be problematic for either group.Yet the same does not (or is not though to) apply to men:

When Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms get down to serious logrolling on "family policy", they are men promoting men's interests... Is their bond in any way congruent with the bond of a loving gay male couple? Reagan and Helms would say no--disgustedly. Most gay couples would say no--disgustedly. But why not? Doesn't the continuum between "men-loving-men" and "men-promoting-the-interests-of-men" have the same intuitive force that it has for women?

Perhaps it has to do with Heidi Hartmann's definition of patriarchy as: “relations between men... [which] create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.” The sexualization of the homosocial bond not only threatens the civic enterprise, but comprises the locus of patriarchal force. Patriarchal solidarity (fraternity) cannot maintain the veneer of rational objectivity unless the possibility of male sexual desire for men is repressed. Hence the need to exclude homosexuals from citizenship.

The debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell displays this notion at its clearest. The military is another homosocial site of public service. The argument, made implicitly and explicitly by conservatives, is that gay men and lesbians cannot serve in the military because they will be too focused on (actual or prospective) sexual relationships with other service members to effectively fulfill their duties. This of course, displays the curious one-sided-ness of the colonial men who feared the effects of feminine passion on their discourse, but did not suspects any ill-effects emergent from their own sexual desire. Is there not, perhaps, a fear on the behalf of all who tout the military as a symbol of traditional masculinity that the ostensibly straight servicemen will have their capacities compromised by desire for their openly homosexual colleagues? Like so much homophobia, could the necessity of abjecting the queer other be emergent from an inability to confront the latent homosexuality of the self?

Repressing the feminine and homosexual to protect the ostensible masculine homosociality of public life is significant: if we were all forced to confront the contingent and self-situated nature of or public convictions, the facade of enlightenment rationality would fall away, revealing the domination of partial interests that is so much of public policy. Just as the feminine figure threatens male discourse by confronting men with the extent to which subjective experience as opposed to objective reason informs their political positions, the figure of the homosexual raises doubt on the purity of the public bond, exposing it to be as subject to the same rule of contingent desire as personal (and indeed, sexual) life – removing the rhetorical cloak of universal fraternity and solidarity from a set of relations that is in fact driven by lust and power. The loyalty of homosexuals is suspect, as Johnson showed, because of their ties to a particular community – by disavowing similar contingent bonds, the dominant majority can naturalize their loyalties to their community of interest and argue that all who do not recognize the legitimacy of those established interests are simply part of a subversive and unpatriotic agenda. It is, after all, the contingent privilege of powerful people that permits them to serve the institutions of the status quo, not any superior quality of character.

Against this, I would call for a queer citizenship, that in integrating the homosexual with the homosocial highlights the queerness of the public sphere – the role of contingency and power in shaping the public bond. Queer citizenship would acknowledge the partiality of public relationships, exposing the self-selected exclusions and arbitrary inclusions that inform the extension of solidarity. Queer citizenship would also acknowledge the scattered loyalties that emerge from a life of intersecting and plural identities, calling into question the alleged purity of expressing loyalty to the needs of the dominant majority. I think that this model could prove not only a viable corrective to the mainstream political understanding of citizen relations and public service, but also to the current problematics of the mainstream LGBT movement.

The push for marriage for example, seeks to integrate, unproblematically, LGBT people into the fabric of American society. It demands equal citizenship, without interrogating the exclusive construction of citizenship. A distressful example of this blind spot is the budding relationship between anti-DADT activists and militarist Democrats. The bill currently proposed to overturn DADT is the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. As one might imagine from the title, the arguments surrounding the bill take up not the injustice of discrimination but the inefficiency of discrimination in maintaining the military power of the United States. Here, equal citizenship is uncritical citizenship. It cannot and should not be an ethically neutral proposal to “enhance” the US military given its current and historical exercises in imperialist brutality. Too willing to prove that they can be objective, loyal public servants just as straight people can, gays, lesbians and bisexuals are uncritically buying into the militarist project.

A more fruitful alliance would be the one budding between immigrant activists and LGBT activists problematizing the unjust border policies of the United States. The economic status, marital status, political activities, and national origin of potential immigrants are all analyzed at the border, in a system that effectively discriminates against poor people, queers, radicals and people from countries that have “excessive” rates of immigration or are, for whatever reason, no longer desired. Here, the ideal US citizen is typified and constructed as middle-class, hard-working, politically moderate and white. For even as non-white immigrants enter the country, the balance is maintained so that the relative population of Latin@s, blacks, Asians, and others to whites remains “acceptable.”

Resisting these selection policies would be more politically radical than demanding equal citizenship because it would problematize the very construction of citizenship rather than silently integrating. It would be a step towards true democracy because it would allow a chance to build coalitions of abjected identities who could extend their claim to participate against the hegemony of the ideal citizenship. By explicitly operating at the ground of designation between citizen and non-citizen, the movement could explode the binary, calling into question the extent to which all citizens deviate from the naturalized model of the ideal citizen. Such a movement could stake the claim of all to be citizens and highlight the failure of any to be citizens. The result would be a society in which the category of citizen could be mobilized for political demand while deconstructed to call attention to political exclusion. The total erasure of the bond between identity and citizenship may be the ultimate expression of the radical democratic potential of identity politics.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I will be personally responsible for ensuring that Giuliani never comes close to the White House

I'm currently reading Why Social Justice Matters by Brian Barry. So far,my verdict is that the book is inessential from a theoretical standpoint, but certainly informative as it marshals a staggering amount of empirical data to depict the damage of cumulative disadvantages on individual life-chances and the structural maintenance of gross inequality in the US and UK. But this post is just meant to share a choice passage on Giuliani, which comes up in the context of comparing a couple different models of social policy.

Giuliani embraced the ethic of the Work and Personal Responsibility Reconciliation Act with such fervor that he actually instructed city employees not to welfare recipients that they were also eligible for food stamps.


That line actually almost made me throw up. The media depicts Giuliani as “Rudy!”, this big-hearted grinning guy who was “America's mayor”. And in reality, he is exactly the type of person who will jeopardize the ability of his own citizens to feed themselves and their families, just so he can shave some money off the food stamp budget and score whatever political points come from reducing the number of people on food stamps. Which to be honest, I didn't even fathom was a type of person so much as an utterly disturbing caricature of a person that might be a villain in a Dickens novel.

Only slightly less terrifying is Giuliani's approach to helping homeless people:

His first homeless service commissioner, Joan Malin (who resigned in 1996),

recalled that in 1995 the Mayor had determined to shrink the soaring shelter population the way Richard J. Schwartz, his senior policy adviser, was shrinking the welfare rolls: tighten eligibility rules, deter applicants at the front door, and eject those who failed to meet work requirements. ... 'What Richard's done in the welfare system is what you need to be doing' , She was told by Giuliani. 'It became his mantra.'

To back up this policy, he 'reduced subsidized housing placements from the shelters to a 10-year-low, and let the pipe-line of city-owned apartments dry up'.

Unfortunately, Giuliani's theory that the homeless were responsible for their own plight did not seem to be borne out by reality. 'By February of 2001, the number of people lodging nightly in the shelter system equaled the 1980s peak of 28,737...

In the end, it turns out that the simple-minded explanation of homelessness – that it is due to lack of affordable housing – was right all along. 'A New York University Study that followed homeless families in 1988 and a random group on public assistance who had not been homeless found that only one factor – subsidized housing - determined whether a family in either group was stably housed five years later'.

Surprise, surprise.

My earliest memories of politics are from the Clinton years, New Democrats who climbed on-board the conservative rallying cry of “personal responsibility”. And since then, I've had six years of W., a man who finds it endearing, not unsettling, when a woman has to work three jobs to support her family. This whole idea that social policy should chiefly entail preaching to underprivileged women and men about their bad life choices while we cut off their support systems is absurd, but the political mainstream seems content with the “condescend-and-let'em-fend” approach. Sure, people make choices. But those choices are undeniably constrained by systems of which individuals have no control. Hell, the consistent ability of privileged employers and wealthy tax-payers to control the domestic policy agenda suggests that even an organized coalitions of individuals have few chances when it comes to, say, creating a market for affordable housing. So exactly how can one feel justified in demanding that a family demonstrate more personal responsibility for their position in the market we do have? And what about the responsibility of the privileged to ensure a minimally decent standard of living for our neighbors? It's a unique kind of cruelty that blames the homeless – perhaps America's most stigmatized and excluded sub-class – for their plight.

But leaving the esoteric mattes on hold, I think even Americans of a less determinist bent than I would find Giuliani's approach unacceptable. And yet the “values voters” of our country could care less about how many families he's sent to the streets, so long as he'll come around on sending women to jail for having abortions. He may have been America's mayor, but if he becomes America's president, I'm going to grad school in Canada.

Good (but not great) news for trans people

Jamie Tyroler has a great column up at CAMP situating the AMA's newly minted non-discrimination policy within debates over transgender equality and universal healthcare. Medical discrimination is an issue that transgender people have struggled with for too long, and in a way that no other group in the United States has. Tyroler's article relates a disturbing and personal example:

A few years ago, a transgender friend of mine tried committing suicide by swallowing a large amount of over-the-counter medication. She walked to a local emergency room where the doctor on duty ordered her to leave and not to return. The doctor told her that this hospital would never treat someone like her. Fortunately, she survived her suicide attempt. Unfortunately though, walking home in a very fragile state, she was raped.

A post at MySoCalledGayLife reminds us of another tragedy:

In 1999, Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual, died of ovarian cancer after multiple doctors refused to treat him. His case was documented in the 2001 documentary, Southern Comfort.

All around the country, people have been dying simply because the ethical commitment that doctors have made to respond to those in need seems to be outweighed by their irrepressible disgust for those who do not, and indeed, can not, live within the confines of the binary equation of sex and gender. This is not an issue that requires a PhD in Gender Studies to grasp. There is little that deconstruction can offer in comprehending the great pain and misery that medical discrimination deals. It is an issue as simple as whether or not we will heal the sick and tend to the suffering, regardless of how they relate to the loaded vocabularies of "man" and "woman".

Thankfully, the AMA gets it right. In fact, they nail it. From employment, to insurance, to treatment, the AMA will now forbid discrimination based on gender identity. Many trans people who have labored to find help from our nation's doctors will rest easier with the burden of medical discrimination lifted from them.

But there is still much to be done on the front of transgender health. Transgender cultural competency needs to be a priority in medical training. No one should have to feel like alien or unsafe when they go to visit the doctor. Insurance providers should research the actual (not hypothetical, stereotypical, or downright mythological) costs and benefits of sexual reassignment so that their trans clients can receive fair quotes - rather than being unfairly gouged, or as is usually the case, completely denied coverage. Surveys and studies need to identify trans subjects so that a profile of the health needs of the trans community can emerge. If we do not effectively and preemptively concern ourselves with the health needs of American minority populations and prioritize a strong response to disparities in health care and research, then we will continue to watch each underserved population die in unnecessarily high numbers. It doesn't seem like a hard choice.

But the Christian right is ful of surprises. Led by Tom Coburn and the AFA, they're already lining up against such efforts. They would rather see tax cuts than an increase of spending for the CDC. And they are especially incensed that the CDC has made strides to include trans people, MSM, WSW, sex workers and drug users into the fold of people whose health will be addressed. Forget that we know little about most of these groups except for the simple fact that they appear to be at elevated risks for a variety of illnesses. Apparently, the price of deviance is not only shame, but marginalization, destitution, sickness and death. The AFA even offers a direct action meme, which lures in fundies with the "outrageous" claim that the CDC has used their money for an event focusing on trans people! The horrors!

And so now, the bizarre alliance between "family values" voters and free market capitalists has one of the largest Christian organizations lobbying the President to spend less on health care. The followers of a Christ who not only healed lepers and the blind, but counseled and comforted prostitutes, criminals and adulterers, cannot bear the idea of spending their money to assist the ill and at-risk who must exist on the fringes of the social mainstream because of absurd norms of propriety and sexual conservativism. Irony does not do the situation justice. It is merely a disgrace.