Chewing Over Executive Action On Immigration, Ctd

I’ve been struggling with the issue of precedents for Obama’s proposed deferral of deportation initiative, so it behooves me to link to Mark Krikorian’s argument that the Reagan and Bush deferrals should not be counted as apposite. His first point is numerical:

Despite claims at the time that “as many as 1.5 million” illegal aliens might benefit from the policy, the actual number was much, much smaller. In 1990, Congress passed legislation granting green cards to “legalization dependents” — in effect codifying the executive action Bush had taken a just few months earlier. That (lawful) measure actually cast the net wider than Bush’s action, and yet only about 140,000 people took advantage of it — less than one-tenth the number advocates claim.

But could it be that the purported beneficiaries of the current deferral are also being over-estimated? What matters, surely, is how many children Reagan and Bush thought would be protected by their executive actions, if we are looking for a precise precedent of presidential intent. And the Reagan/Bush precedent did give the deferred the right to work. There’s also the argument that as a percentage of the total population of illegal immigrants, the numbers are not so dissimilar. In 1990, there were an estimated 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the US – so deferring deportation for 1.5 million meant deferring it for 43 percent of the relevant population. In 2014, there are 11.7 million illegal immigrants, of which up to 4 million would be affected by the proposed deferral. That’s 34 percent or 42 percent if you include the DREAMERs. Seems like a rough precedent to me.

Then Kirkorian argues that the Reagan/Bush precedent was a mere tidying up after the 1986 amnesty – and not a unilateral attempt to bypass the Congress:

It was a coda, a tying up of loose ends, for something that Congress had actually enacted, and thus arguably a legitimate part of executing the law — which is, after all, the function of the executive. Obama’s threatened move, on the other hand, is directly contrary to Congress’s decision not to pass an amnesty. In effect, Bush was saying “Congress has acted and I’m doing my best to implement its directives,” while Obama is saying “Congress has not done my bidding, so I’m going to implement my own directives.”

But a tidying up can mean many things. In this case, it meant giving a reprieve from deportation that the law did not itself contain. Yes, it was subsequently superseded by the 1990 law – but that indicates to me that it needed a law to make it more than an executive decision. And yet that executive action nonetheless went ahead.

It seems pretty clear to me that Obama may not be as out on a limb as some Republicans are claiming – but that he is pushing his luck in ways that, as I’ve argued before, are likely to hurt him and even the cause he seeks. He could make immigration a political liability for Democrats rather than for Republicans; or at the very least be credibly described as an initiator of partisan conflict, with unforeseen consequences. If I were advising POTUS, I’d urge that he use this threat as a way to negotiate an expeditious immigration reform bill. If that fails, by all means blame the Republicans. But it would be an act of great recklessness – both for his future and his legacy – to press ahead regardless.

Some Suggestions On Gender Wars

Here’s a modest proposal that might help us bridge some differences: an avoidance of arguments in the gender debate that there is no legitimate debate to be had. There is always a debate to be had in any area of human inquiry or life – because most social and political questions weigh one good against another. So, to take an obvious example, the fight over “affirmative consent” balances the security of women from assault and rape against the due process rights of the accused. These things conflict in a liberal polity – because in a liberal world, moral, collective imperatives cannot properly come at the expense of individual injustice.

And it is simply a fact that there are cases of false allegations of rape, just as there are false accusations of every sort of crime. They’re very small in number, and we may exaggerate the problem, but they do exist. My instinct, for what it’s worth, in almost all these cases is to believe the woman. That goes for most alleged crimes and offenses regarding gender, including harassment in the workplace. Readers may have gotten the wrong impression from me about this, but from Anita Hill to Paula Jones, I’ve long supported the women’s side in some of these high profile cases. But there is always another side, and that requires some consideration. Even Bill Clinton deserved that. And what troubles me is the assertion by some on the fem-left side that there is only one side ever. And that even questioning that assertion is a sign of moral failure.

Take this piece from the Guardian today, lambasting Jed Rubenfeld’s nuanced take on the question in Sunday’s NYT. And notice not the engagement with another point of view, but a blanket dismissal of its right even to exist:

You might think that someone given a platform at the New York Times, like Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld was in Sunday’s paper, might have done more than simply note that women are attacked “in appalling numbers” and colleges mishandle rape cases … The worst offense is Rubenfeld’s apparent belief that there is a “debate” to be had – as if there are two equal sides, both with reasonable and legitimate points. There are not. On the one side, there are the 20% of college women who can expect to be victimized by rapists and would-be rapists; on the other side is a bunch of adult men (and a few women) worrying themselves to death that a few college-aged men might have to find a new college to attend.

That echoes Ezra Klein’s endorsement of expelling male students accused of rape without due process. The contention is that it is neither legitimate nor reasonable to worry about someone being punished for a terrible crime he did not commit. And if this is something that worries you, then you really need to be educated by those more informed on the issue before you open your mouth:

If you can’t talk about rape without blaming victims, don’t talk about rape.

If you do happen to express concern about individuals losing due process in defending themselves from a charge that will follow them their entire life, you are one of the following: a male (ugh); a rapist-excuser; a rapist-enabler; or a “regressive rape apologist.” Or even worse, you are a “rape-truther” even if you cite three actual cases of alleged false accusations. The TPM piece that used that term did not prove that those cases didn’t exist, it merely insisted that they cannot exist. Remember “trutherism” was coined to describe delusional maniacs who believed the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, despite massive, voluminous, unimpeachable evidence that this was not the case. But a college rape case we don’t even know the details of? This is a way not of engaging in debate, but of shutting it down.

Over the years, I’ve learned the various tricks to prevent free and open discussion: you’re not educated enough to talk about it; you’re male/female/black/white/gay/straight/Jewish/gentile or whatever and that disqualifies you from an opinion; you’re irresponsible even to raise the issue. But the over-arching theme is simply describing an argument as a moral delinquency rather than an intellectual mistake. If that is the nature of our public discourse, we are no longer in a discourse at all. We are in a church.

Lumbersexuals: The Triumph Of The Bears

Funny kid at Dennys was looking at my beard. - Imgur

It’s now eleven years since I wrote an early piece on bear culture for Salon. But I was obviously onto something bigger than I imagined:

“Bears” almost all have facial hair — the more the better. Of all the various characteristics of Beardom, this seems to be one of the most essential. The Ur-bears have bushy beards that meander down their necks and merge with a large forest of chest and back-hair to provide a sort of all-hair body environment … Bears at their most typical look like regular, beer-drinking, unkempt men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They have guts. They have furry backs. They don’t know what cologne is and they tend not to wear deodorant.

Bears were partly a reaction to the whole ghastly metrosexual moment when straight men, for some elusive reason, decided to shave, product and starve themselves so as to look more like women (at the behest of those Queer Eye minstrels). And exactly the same kind of hirsute transition is now – a decade later – well under way among straights.

I regard this, in the spirit of Tim Teeman, first as a huge achievement for gay male America. Not only are we more comfortable in our own unpolished masculinity, we have created a cultural space for straight men to be the same. To put it another way: gays have helped redefine masculinity for straights – and for the first time, straights have not responded by feeling in any way tainted or discomfited by the association. In the process (don’t tell anyone), the gays have craftily transformed the public space by exponentially increasing the number of men we might have a hankering or a fetish for. Win-win!

(We’ve been quietly doing this for quite a while, of course. One reason every film star in an action movie looks like Arnold Scharzenegger is that gay men adopted steroids in the 1990s and strode around town with huge pecs and tight abs and traps that could lift a tow-truck – thereby upping the ante for the now relatively-puny straights. Yes, steroids in sports – especially football – also ramped up muscle culture. But the sexual and aesthetic appreciation of it – often suppressed in public female discourse – encountered no such restraints among the gays.)

The new vibe has many parts. It seems to me driven by a little cultural balancing of the high-tech 21st Century by the mores of the low-tech 19th – whether it be local brews, carpentry or sturdy all-weather clothing. This doesn’t mean being an actual lumberjack of course, as Holly Baxter explains:

I like the poseur who sits beside me at a nauseatingly hip cafe with his cold brew, Barbour jacket and anchor tattoos – I can’t deny it. He isn’t telling me he’s anything but a freelance web designer who can grow an impressively bushy moustache. He isn’t sitting at home, crying over his laptop and wondering why he can’t just get out there and be a “real man”. Instead, he’s playing with the concept of what masculinity looks like and does. He is at the same time both aggressively attached to the traditionally masculine look and completely removed from the lifestyle that it advertises.

Attaboy! It was the same idea that caused Victorian men to adopt the beards of those returning from the Crimean war – which was the first war that, because of the severe cold, allowed British soldiers to grow beards. No one mistook the newly bearded civilians for actual war heroes of course, but it was the heroic aesthetic that had cachet – and begat a new trend that lasted decades. There’s a minor parallel to that today as well. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also gave us real Special Ops heroes who grew big beards to melt into the surrounding population more easily. Of course, bearded hipsters are not actual war heroes, but they sure don’t mind looking like one. And what greater fantasy of male derring-do than a bearded, horse-riding badass chasing the Taliban in the mountains of Af-Pak?

I can’t help but wonder also if this public display of raw masculinity isn’t also a reaction to the relative decline in male power in American life and culture. As girls beat boys in school, and as women increasingly beat men in college, and as women out-pace men in vast swathes of the economy, and as old patterns of allegedly sexist male culture are policed and patrolled with ever-greater assiduity, the beard and the old-school manliness of the lumbersexual become new ways to express masculinity which cannot be denigrated or dismissed as sexist. It’s a way to reclaim manliness without running afoul of the new prophets of gender justice.

And it’s a default. If many cannot concede the power of testosterone in creating male culture, they surely have to concede its power in growing a beard. Think of it as testosterone’s last permissible stand against the forces of relentless sameness. And all you have to do to display it is … nothing.

(Photo: from our Beard of the Week last June.)

Gruberism And Our Democracy

In general, I tend to agree with Tyler Cowen that off-the-cuff remarks by academics at conferences should not be vulnerable to political use and abuse. We need spaces where we can riff and think out loud without being held responsible for every phrase. But then again, this is 2014, where nothing anyone has ever said or written can be forgotten if you have a dogged web researcher to root it out. And when those remarks come from someone who helped design and write the ACA, and speak to the way in which it was constructed and sold to the public, it’s a legitimate gotcha.

Of course, a large amount of what Gruber said is hardly unusual in Washington. Gaming the CBO scoring, framing the pros and cons in deceptive ways, making it easy for congressmen to vote for something without being hit by 30-second ads in the next election cycle: all this is part of messy governance. But Gruber’s remarks about the stupidity of the American electorate are so typical of a certain Democratic mindset they’re worth unpacking.

And as we noted earlier, Chait makes the point that Gruber really means ignorance rather than stupidity:

Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare — most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating. Since people know so little about public policy in general and health-care policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences. Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

I actually think this makes it worse. The only reason Americans are ignorant about the ACA is that they were never clearly told what it was designed to achieve and how it would work. The debate was had among elites, using often technical language – who really knows what a vague “public option” means, for example? – and then sold to the public with either blanket reassurances (if you have an insurance policy, you can keep it) or terror stories about a government take-over (which it wasn’t). The reason for this failure by both sides to lay out the actual plan in ways anyone could understand was political. Neither side wanted a free-wheeling debate with unknown consequences; one was aiming for passage (something never achieved before), and the other was rooting for failure (for rank partisan reasons). Neither side was really interested in a real debate about the pros and cons.

This remains a huge disservice to democracy and it helps explain why our elites are so despised. I mean: why couldn’t Obama or leading Democrats actually make the simple case: we’re going to give subsidies to the working poor to get private health insurance and force insurers to take anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions. We’re going to make this affordable for the insurance companies by mandating that everyone get insurance, thereby including more young, healthy people in the risk pool to offset the costs of the sick. And we’re going to make sure that insurance is better than in the past, and is not subject to lifetime caps or getting booted off the minute you get sick.

That wasn’t that hard, was it?

Most people understand that there are trade-offs in life; most people have insurance of one sort or another and are cognizant of how insurance works – the bigger the pool the better. And to my mind, the trade-offs are worth it. If someone were willing to explain the ACA in simple, clear and honest terms, I think most Americans would back it. What’s maddening is that American politicians never speak this way. A proposal is either all honey or all vinegar. And each side assumes that that’s the only kind of argument Americans are prepared or able to understand. So, it isn’t really ignorance that’s the problem – because that can be fixed. It really is a cynical assumption of most Americans’ stupidity.

The Republicans are shameless in their deployment of this – tax cuts always good! no trade-offs ever! – but so too are the Democrats. There really is a mentality out there that sees politics as finding a way to deceive voters to give them what they need but for some inexplicable reason don’t actually want. They really do treat people as if they were stupid. If some smidgen of honesty could be used against a politician in a sound-bite, he’d prefer bullshit. The most obvious example was Obama’s categorical pledge that no one with insurance would ever be forced to change – even though the minimal benefits of an ACA plan were greater than those in many existing private sector plans. You can call this a lie – which it was – or you can call it a cheap dodge to get what you want with a little flim-flam. But no one would ever have said such a thing if they had bothered to make the good faith argument that change for the better requires some trade-offs, that some will benefit and others may take a hit. Obama pledged to be that kind of honest, straight-talking president. Often he is. On the most important domestic policy achievement of his presidency, he wasn’t.

I support the ACA; but I cannot support the kind of politics that made it happen. And I refuse to believe that a democracy has to operate this way for change to occur. Gruber’s arrogance and condescension are just meta-phenomena of this deeper dysfunction. Someone needs to treat Americans as adults again before this democracy can regain the credibility it so desperately needs to endure.

“Libidinal Pathology”

Any writer who wants to tackle touchy subjects in this day and age will be subjected to constant and often colorful insults, attacks, smears, ad hominems and general abuse. I’m used to it and don’t whine. And so I am resigned to the fact that any post or essay I might write will be condemned at some point (whatever its subject) because of my support for the Iraq War (despite countless mea culpas, including a whole e-book), or for the sentence in 2001 about a potential “fifth column” (for which I have also apologized), or for asking for some minimal documentation of the story of Sarah Palin’s astonishing fifth pregnancy (for which I see no reason to apologize), or for doubting that gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity can be entirely explained by social constructionism. And look, this is fair enough. I had my say; people also get to have theirs’ about what I wrote. Just because you’ve apologized for something doesn’t mean others have to accept it.

But one meme that crops up eternally whenever the left side of the spectrum wants to take a whack is my alleged sexual hypocrisy from as far back as 2001. A recent Gawker piece – after ticking off the usual accusations that I’m a racist, a misogynist, etc. – prompted the following reader comment:

Anyone remember when he was criticizing gay men for their “libidinal pathology” while posting ads for himself on a bareback sex site?

I do!

Except I wasn’t. That phrase – which appeared in countless articles asserting my hypocrisy – comes from Love Undetectable. It’s used in a section on circuit “rave” parties in the gay male world, and the debate they provoked in the 1990s. Here’s the full context of that phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether I was “criticizing gay men for their ‘libidinal pathology'”:

Slowly the proliferation of these events became impossible to ignore, and the secrecy that once shrouded them turned into an increasingly raucous debate on the front pages of newspapers across the country. Despite representing a tiny sub-subculture, and dwarfed, for example, by the explosion of gay religion and spirituality in the same period, the parties seemed to symbolize something larger: the question of whether, as AIDS receded, gay men were prepared to choose further integration, or were poised to leap into another spasm of libidinal pathology.

I am not criticizing gay men for “libidinal pathology” at a circuit party. I am describing a “raucous debate” about the possibility of them signifying the revival of such a thing. My own actual answer to that question was the following:

What these events really were about, whatever their critics have claimed, was not sex … what replaced sex was the idea of sex; and what replaced promiscuity was the idea of promiscuity, masked by the ecstatic high of drug-enhanced drug-music.

It also makes little sense for me to be slamming circuit parties for “libidinal pathology,” when I am describing my attendance at one – and not as a reporter but as a participant. In fact, the section is a celebration in part of unabashed gay sexuality:

What would the guardians of reality think, I remember asking myself, if they could see this now, see this display of unapologetic masculinity and understand that it was homosexual … [I]t was hard not to be struck, as I was the first time I saw it, by a genuine, brazen act of cultural defiance, a spectacle designed not only to exclude but to reclaim a gender, the ultimate response to a heterosexual order that denies gay men the masculinity that is also their own.

As to circuit parties as a whole, I have long gone to them, and, as you can see if you actually read what I wrote, celebrated them as one way I found liberation in a dark time. I met my husband at that very same party a decade later. I went to one last year. Yes, in that essay, I was trying to understand them in the AIDS era and to explain them to an outside world – and I was prepared to address some of the issues around them, including the very issue of promiscuity itself that hovered around the AIDS question. But the notion that this proves I was a sexual Puritan is ridiculous. A reviewer even lamented that in the book, “Sullivan drones on and on about his sexual encounters.” Well which is it: am I boring you with an account of my own promiscuity or condemning others for it?

Another sentence was routinely hauled out to condemn me for hypocrisy and pops up from time to time. Here is Richard Goldstein’s phrase of accusation:

[Sullivan] considers gay marriage the only healthy alternative to “a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation.”

Again, go check the original context. It’s from the same book. It comes from a section where I am impugning the idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” and the failure of the churches to offer moral direction of any kind to gay men, leaving us for millennia vulnerable to, yes, sexual pathologies born out of desperation or the need for relief from the contradictions of our lives. Here’s the full passage:

If you teach people that something as deep inside them as their very personality is either a source of unimaginable shame or unmentionable sin, and if you tell them that their only ethical direction is either the suppression of that self in a life of suffering, or a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation, then it is perhaps not surprising that their moral and sexual behavior becomes wildly dichotic; that it veers from compulsive activity to shame and withdrawal; or that it becomes anesthetized by drugs or alcohol or fatally distorted by the false, crude ideology of easy prophets.

It’s clear from this passage that I am actually criticizing those who hold the belief that Goldstein and countless others ascribed … to me! You can watch the debate at the New School in 2002 where I directly confronted Goldstein about this … and he had nothing to say in his own defense, as the very lefty crowd discovered to their shock and mounting anger. I could go on. In the same book, I wrote explicitly about my own first experience of sex without rubbers with another survivor of HIV and a good friend. So in a book published in 1998, I recount details about my many sexual encounters and also unprotected sex with another man with HIV … and yet three years later I am a hypocrite for doing exactly the same things.

To be sure, the essay was about finding a way between no sexual boundaries and more humane ones for gay men. It does contain an implicit critique of compulsive sex – but in the context of my own experience of it. It revealed things about the gay subculture that are not usually told to heterosexuals or a general reader. It’s a raw book, written in a much more fraught time for the gay community. But it was also a memoir that placed myself in the middle of that struggle – and not above or outside it. And yes, I used terms like “hairy-backed homos” which critics took to be condemnatory – when it was anything but (as any Dishhead surely knows by now)! And, yes, arguing for marriage equality was also about ending the psychic wounds that led so many gay men into such painful places for so long. My only criticism of promiscuity per se was Randy Shilts’: when the AIDS epidemic first showed up and there was resistance to shutting down bathhouses. And Randy got slut-shamed as I was for taking what now seems like an honorable, brave and prescient stand.

Then the alleged irresponsibility. We know for certain that one of the most effective ways of curtailing HIV transmission is what we now call sero-sorting – i.e. HIV-positive men having sex only with other HIV-positive men. I was an early proponent and practitioner of it – as an informed act of responsibility. For this act of responsibility, I was hauled out to be condemned and humiliated and accused of rank hypocrisy.

This is a very old story but also a very old lie. It rests on misrepresentations of what I wrote and what I believe. Every now and again, since it is a lie that won’t die, it is perhaps necessary to remind people of this.

(Sidebar image by Marc Love)

What Washington Refuses To Admit

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Let me put this as baldly as I can. The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well. The president himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals tout simple, and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure. Obama and his aides revealed that their commitment to realism and not to intervene in Syria could be up-ended on a dime – and a war initiated without any debate in Congress, let alone a war authorization. They actually believed they had the right to re-start the Iraq War – glibly tell us it’s no big deal – tell us about it afterwards, and then ramp up the numbers of combat forces on the ground to early Vietnam levels.

This is not just a Republican fixation. It’s a function of the hegemony reflexively sought by liberal internationalists as well. Just listen to Jon Stewart calling Samantha Power’s smug bluff last night:


It was one of Stewart’s best interviews in a long while. One telling moment comes when Stewart asks Power why, if the threat from ISIS is “existential”, the regional powers most threatened by it cannot take it on themselves. She had no answer – because there is none. The US is intervening – despite clear evidence that it can do no real good – simply to make sure that ISIS doesn’t actually take over the country and thereby make president Obama look bad. But the IS was never likely to take over Kurdistan or the Shiite areas of Iraq, without an almighty struggle. And our elevating ISIS into a global brand has only intensified its recruitment and appeal. We responded, in other words, in the worst way possible and for the worst reasons possible: without the force to alter the underlying dynamic, without a breakthrough in multi-sectarian governance in Baghdad, without the regional powers taking the lead, without any exit plan, and all to protect the president from being blamed for “losing Iraq” – even though “Iraq” was lost almost as soon as it was occupied in 2003.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory?

The reason, I fear, is that the leadership in both parties cannot help themselves when they have a big shiny military and see something they don’t like happening in the world. If they can actually decide to intervene in a civil war to suppress an insurgency they couldn’t fully defeat even with 100,000 troops in the country, without any direct threat to national security, they can do anything. Worse, our political culture asks no more of them. The Congress doesn’t want to take a stand, the public just wants beheadings-induced panic satiated by a pliant president (who is then blamed anyway), and the voices that need to be heard – the voices of those who fought and lost so much in Iraq – are largely absent.

That’s why I found this op-ed in yesterday’s NYT so refreshing. A former lieutenant general in Iraq reminds us of the facts McCain and Obama both want to deny:

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

To go back in and try to do again with no combat troops what we could not do with 100,000 is a definition of madness brought on by pride. It is to restart the entire war all over again. It makes no sense – except as political cover. I was chatting recently with an officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq, based in Mosul. I asked him how he felt about ISIS taking over a city he had risked his life to save. And I can’t forget his response (I paraphrase): “Anyone who was over there knew right then that as soon as we left, all this shit would happen again. I’m not surprised. The grunts on the ground knew this, and saw this, but the military leadership can’t admit their own failure and the troops cannot speak out because it’s seen as an insult to those who died. And so we keep making the same fucking mistakes over and over again.”

At what point will we listen to those men and women willing to tell the ugly, painful truth about our recent past – and follow the logical conclusion? When will Washington actually admit its catastrophic errors and crimes of the last decade – and try to reform its own compulsive-interventionist habits to reflect reality rather than myth? Not yet, it appears, not yet. Washington cannot bear very much reality.

(Photo: U.S. Army soldiers of the D-CO 2/325 AIR 82nd Airborne Division during a dismounted movement to conduct early morning raids on homes in Baghdad, Iraq on April 26, 2007. The soldiers are part of the United States military surge as they try to help control the violence plagued city. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

Dissent Of The Day: My “Scorn Of Feminism”

Anti Sexist Stickers

A reader writes:

I see you’re jumping into commentary against feminism again. First, let me just note that I snorted in amusement when you wrote: “Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech?” You must admit that that is a funny thing for you to write, given your policy of not allowing comments on Dish posts. If it is such a good thing, this rough-and tumble, and if it’s so easy to handle it, why don’t you turn commenting on?

I’m also disappointed in the continuing scorn that you heap upon feminism. You don’t seem to understand even the most basic facts about it and the sneering tone that you take is unbecoming and not like you. You seem to lose all ability to understand nuance when you write about it. I’m a “straight white male” and even I realized that, in that video, my demographic “as a group” was not being disparaged. You’re like a walking poster child for the #notallmen hashtag and the enraged, entitled, petulant man-boys who complain on it.

And the strawmen – could you just stop with that? You wrote: “Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe … that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands”. Um, what? Show me a feminist who thinks that women are “not strong or capable enough.” Go on, show me one, anyone, anywhere. You cannot, because they don’t exist. It’s the anti-feminists who think that. Just look at the words of Phyllis Schlafly, for example, and the immeasurable damage that she has done.

And then there is this: “They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves.” Gender quotas, huh? Well, I looked through WAM’s “About us” page, the “What we do” page, and the “Action center” page, and didn’t see a thing about “gender quotas.” In fact, what they seem to want to do is simply to raise awareness of the disparities – there is no call for legal action to implement and enforce some quota. It’s intellectually dishonest, Andrew, to write things like that when you know them to be untrue.

First up, the Dish has long opted for an edited and curated version of dissents, rather than a comments free-for-all. And that’s because Dish readers have voted down a comments section multiple times and because we want to create a different atmosphere of civilized debate than in many troll-feeding sites. If we were not publishing strong dissents – like my reader’s – it would be one thing. But we do all the time.

Second: let me address the assumption that I am pouring scorn on feminism. I’m really, really not. I favor the removal of any formal or legal barriers to women’s success. And I’m happy to celebrate moments of women’s cultural, political and social success – and they are many and multiplying. But I’m still a conservative-libertarian. I don’t believe in an identity politics that seeks to remove structural oppression by forcing others to say things they may not want to say, or do things they may not want to do, or by ostracizing people for whatever-ism they are found guilty of. And I’m still a believer in some irreducible differences between men and women that have nothing to do with culture, except to shape it.

This is what animates my contrarian skepticism about groups like WAM who seek to police the culture in pursuit of social justice. (No, I won’t use the SJW term again, since it seems to rile people up unnecessarily.) And if you think I’m just singling out feminists, you should see what I have said about the gay equivalent, GLAAD, when they seek to do exactly the same thing.

If you think my opposition to a certain kind of left-liberalism is merely about women, then why is my position identical when it comes to gay rights? Why am I defending the rights and free speech of bigots who refuse to marry gay couples, or the boy scouts (of old), or the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade? It’s because I really believe that the best response to injustice is more free speech rather than less of it. It’s because I believe in maximal freedom of expression – especially by those segments of the society who are rightly reviled by most of us. A defense of free speech that did not include the speech of racists, misogynists, homophobes and bigots is no real defense of free speech at all. And it says something depressing about our contemporary culture that if you make this classically liberal point, you are immediately told you are in favor of misogyny or racism or homophobia.

I can see that an argument on these grounds is hard to make after the extreme polarization and emotional wounds of the past few months over #gamergate and other gender issues. In a pitched battle, you are supposed to pick sides and stick with it. But I have chosen sides. On the question of real harassment, stalking and personal threats, I’m strongly against them on both sides, and emphatically against them when they are laced with foul misogynistic language and hatred. I find the big majority of #gamergate tweets to be repellent. I have no problem with Twitter deciding that that kind of abuse should lead a user to be suspended. I’ve said this in virtually every post I’ve written on this.

Have I misrepresented WAM? Go read their site as I urged readers to do in my first post. Does “gender justice” require that half of all reporters be one gender? Or that half of all media organizations be owned by women? They don’t explicitly say those things but they sure do imply many of them. And I do think they are claiming that abusive rhetoric and language online makes the web an unsafe space for women, in a way it does not for men. But, while such abuse is vile, there’s plenty of evidence that it flies both ways toward men and women – see Cathy Young’s exploration of that here. And I don’t think women need special protection from this. That’s what I think is condescending. We are all capable of having thick skins and that isn’t restricted to one gender or another.

Am I being overly provocative? I plead guilty to some degree. It’s sometimes my job to take a highly unpopular position if I think there’s something awry in the popular consensus. It’s not trolling – because there’s an issue of principle here that I strongly believe in. But it can be seen as tendentious  in a broader context. My hope is that what you read here on the Dish every day balances that out. Posts where I take a strong and sometimes counter-intuitive viewpoint are balanced by reader dissents, aggregation of other views of the subject elsewhere online, and an open debate. This is not a one-person blog any more and hasn’t been for years. Whatever your views of me, I hope you’ll see that we’ve tried to create a place where my bias is balanced. Judge us on the whole rather than the part. And keep the dissents coming.

Update from another dissenter:

You: “we want to create a different atmosphere of civilized debate than in many troll-feeding sites. If we were not publishing strong dissents – like my reader’s – it would be one thing. But we do all the time.”

First, cut the shit. You tend to publish dissents that serve your own agenda: those that you can use to reinforce your own views and easily juxtapose the “correct” view from that which is obviously “wrong.”  Your response to this dissent is quite typical of how this works; it’s as disingenuous as it is self-serving. But hey, it’s your website, so I guess you have a libertarian right to use it as you choose.

Second, if by an “atmosphere of civilized debate” you mean that you intend to frame the debate as you want it framed, well, you may be on to something. But my sense of “civilized debate” is that everybody is entitled to make a contribution as well as frame the debate itself in the way that one sees fit. Your website does not do this. True, neither do many troll-feeding sites.  Sites like the New York Times, however, allow for a much freer and open exchange of ideas than the Dish does. Yet they’re also able to keep the trolls at bay.

Third – and this gets to the heart of the previous two points – I would challenge the statement that the Dish publishes dissents “all the time.” I don’t know what percentage of dissents you publish, but I’m guessing it’s pretty low. I haven’t written many dissents – maybe two or three since I started visiting the site five or six years ago. But I do know this: never were they published or even acknowledged with a response. And I don’t expect this one to be any different.

We get hundreds of emails a day, a large percentage of which are long and thought out – two qualities increasingly scarce in a comments section – so it’s difficult to feature all of your feedback within the concise reading experience of the Dish. But we try our best. You can browse all our Dissents of the Day here and here to determine for yourself if we publish them “all the time”. And critical feedback on the Dish isn’t confined to the Dissent feature; it just contains the most cutting and persuasive examples. Dish editor Chris Bodenner selects almost all of the dissents, thus creating a layer of critical distance that greatly decreases the chance of selection bias on my part. It’s a system that has evolved over the years and we think it’s the best fit for the blog, but we are always open to further change. So keep the feedback coming.

By the way, below are the two other emails our Update dissenter has sent to the Dish in the past, posted here in the spirit of continued dissent. Here’s one from six days ago, in response to my post, “No, Mr President: Wait Some More On Immigration Reform“:

With all due respect, are you fucking kidding me? Obama already delayed executive action on immigration, and what did he get from it? Recent immigrants didn’t vote, while Pryor and Landrieu lost their seats anyway. If he had moved on immigration before the election, it would have likely brought more Democrats to the polls and enabled Democratic politicians to draw a clearer distinction between themselves and the xenophobic Republicans. Given how Pryor and Landrieu voted as senators, Obama simply should have said to them good riddance and moved ahead with securing more of the Latino vote. This is just the latest example of this president’s political ineptitude.

Now you’re suggesting that Obama further delay executive action. So what’s he going to get out of it?

There are two possibilities. The first is that he gets an immigration deal done, but in the process he has to compromise to the point that Republicans will get virtually everything they want while the Democrats will have to fuck their Latino constituents over. The second (and more likely) is that Republicans will continue to bait Obama and lead him on, making him look even weaker and out of touch than he already appears.

What will this mean for Republicans? With the former, they could claim that they’re able to govern and accomplish for immigrants what the Democrats could not. With the latter, Republicans will boast how principled they are because they refused to compromise with the Kenyan Socialist. In either case, though, the Democrats will come off looking as they do today: a bunch of feckless, spineless, cowering milquetoasts.

Now, what happens if Obama takes executive action without delay?

He and the Democrats come off as principled and thus willing to stand up and fight for what’s right. Meanwhile, the Republicans go apeshit over what Obama has done, revealing themselves as the xenophobic assholes that they really are. It might even provoke some in the Cruz caucus to pursue impeachment, which would be the gift that keeps on giving for Obama and the Democrats.

Andrew, I’m fucking tired of this “only adult in the room,” “no red state or blue state,” “meep meep motherfucker” bullshit about Obama. Say what you will about the Clintons and their triangulation strategy, at least they had the balls to stand up to Republicans and dish out as much as they took. What did we get from Obama? It’s nearly impossible to overstate what the 2010 and 2014 debacles mean for Democrats. They are now assured of remaining a minority party for an entire generation, and likely many more years after that. So what about Obamacare? Do you really think that there’s going to be anything left of it now that Republicans control both houses in Washington, to say nothing of all the state legislatures that they took over? Fat fucking chance.

Needless to say, this is not just a matter of which party deserves to be in power; it’s not about whether the blue team or the red team is winning. What’s likely to occur for the next 25 years is further erosion of economic and social equality in this country – above all for African-Americans – further demonization of the federal government and the role that it plays in assuring a level playing field and providing basic services, and further destruction of the environment and denial of climate change. You want to hear something really scary? Do you realize who’s about to become the new chair of the Senate committee on the environment? None other than the climate-change-is-a-hoax-in-chief, James Inhofe. With dipshits like these in power, this nation – if not the whole global environment – is absolutely fucked.

Meep meep motherfucker my ass.

The other email, from 2010:

I’m very much enjoying the YouTube clips that you are putting up regarding your recent talk at Princeton. It has provoked a lot of thought in my own mind regarding not only homosexuality, but more broadly how it should be understood within a free and democratic society – to say nothing of the faith tradition that we happen to share, but which I have recently abandoned for some of the reasons that your blog has helped make consistently clear.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that your position is rife with inconsistency regarding the very principles on which your talk is based, namely reason and freedom. On the one hand, you make an eloquent critique of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, showing how its concept of sex being solely for the purpose of procreation is inconsistent – from a rational point of view – when it concerns the heterosexual infertile, pregnant, post-menopausal, or practitioners of natural family planning. On the other hand, though, you made it very clear in the latest clip that “religion is not about reason.” But if the latter is true, it seems to me that your argument against the Church’s position on homosexuality is thoroughly useless and without merit.

You can’t have it both ways. The only plausible conclusion, then, is that Religion IS about reason in many significant ways; to deny otherwise – particularly when you are discussing a tradition in which faith and reason have perennially been seen as complementary – not only undermines your own argument, but makes a caricature of religion itself.

Similarly, you criticize liberalism as being a bastion for protecting minorities and in effect infantilizing them. At the same time, however, you argue that in your fight against the religious right you have taken shelter behind the First Amendment, which of course guarantees your right to free speech and emboldens you. But if the First Amendment is not based on the principle of liberalism, then the very term, “liberalism,” is thoroughly meaningless. Moreover, was not First Amendment adopted for the express purpose of protecting those who, precisely because they find themselves in a vulnerable minority, are liable to suffer negative consequences for what they say? In other words, you run to liberalism when it benefits your argument and enables you to express it, yet you deride it whenever it is an inconvenient reminder of your need for, and dependence on, minority protection. Your selectivity about liberalism also strikes me as a caricature of this ideology than anything else.

In the end, why not simply admit that your position is as riddled with inconsistency as those against which you argue? And if indeed that is the case, then what the argument really comes down to is a matter of which inconsistencies are more convenient to one’s own intrinsic beliefs, values, and assumptions. In such a case, nevertheless, I’m much more likely to side with you than those against whom you argue.

(Image of “anti-sexist” street-art from Jonathan McIntosh)

The SJWs Now Get To Police Speech On Twitter, Ctd

Last night, a reader wrote:

It looks like the fears mentioned in your post have already come to pass; @nero, the Twitter account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart, is currently suspended. I am no fan of the guy – he is trans-phobic, but not violently or inappropriately so. I am sure his account will be re-enabled shortly, but that this group was able to get his account shut off not for harassment, but for wrong-think, is disturbing. I’m really liberal/left leaning, but nothing gets me foaming at the mouth more than crap like this. This does a ton of harm to the Women’s Rights movement, turning off people like me who would normally support it wholeheartedly.

Gawker’s Tom Scocca accuses that reader and me of the following:

What really matters is not the stalking and abuse that has taken place, but the hypothetical danger that feminists will seize power as authoritarian censors, burning Beethoven and establishing anti-masculinity brainwashing camps.

No. Try again, Tom. As I’ve now written many times – and did in the post Scocca links to – I actively support suspending abusive, stalking tweeters or those threatening violence. I just worry that some are using this to advance a left-feminist ideology through censorship of journalists. I would imagine a Gawker writer might be sensitive to journalists’ being censored on Twitter because of saying politically incorrect things. Apparently not. Easier to throw a few tired, ancient cheap shots at yours truly than see if I’m actually onto something here. Another reader notes some non-harassing tweeters have also been suspended recently:

Gone are the accounts of Mykeru, a critic of feminism within the Atheist-Skeptic movement, as well as Janet Bloomfield, Social Media Director of A Voice for Men. Their accounts also disappeared in the past three days. Thunderf00t, another prominent critic of feminism within the Skeptic movement, had his account suspended for close to a month. None of these accounts were abusive or harassing. The only thing they had in common was that they were all critical of feminism.

Or critical of a particular strand of contemporary left-feminism. It looks as if Thunderf00t has had his Twitter account suspended because he linked to YouTube videos critical of Anita Sarkeesian. @nero’s account just went back online, but did WAM get it suspended in the first place? Here’s evidence they did:

We’ve asked WAM if they did or did not report @nero for suspension. No word back as of yet. And what threats or stalking or harassment did @nero engage in to merit the brief suspension? Drum roll:

Yiannopoulos apologized for that sexist swipe against @redlianak:

So it looks like he had already been held accountable for his shitty words in the best way – public embarrassment, not Twitter censorship. And the tweeter who bragged of getting Yiannopoulos banned was quite clear why of another reason: @nero opposed marriage equality, and is therefore allegedly homophobic (especially because he’s gay). So the standard for banning people from Twitter is now homophobia. And why not? If homophobic speech oppresses someone, it must be forbidden, right?

Let me know if you’ve been suspended for ideological reasons – and not for harassment or stalking or threats of violence. And if you know of a Twitter account that has been rightly suspended for actual threats to individual women, ditto.

The SJWs Now Get To Police Speech On Twitter

Well, you could see this coming. Twitter announced last Thursday that it was teaming up with a left-feminist activist group to investigate gender-based harassment on the social networking site:

A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.”

I wondered what exactly this small non-profit believes in. You can check them out here or check their agenda from the statements in the video above. Their core objective is what they call “gender justice in media.” That means that they are interested in far more than curbing online harassment. They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves. They are outraged by the following:

Less than 1 in 100 of classical pieces performed in concert in 2009-2010 were written by a female composer (and 1 in 15 was written by Beethoven!). Women make up 2% of the standard repertoire of pieces (Repertoire Report 2009-2010).

Less Beethoven – more, er, women! The crudeness of their identity politics is of a piece with their analysis. Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe it is rigged against female voices, or that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands, voices, websites and fighting back against ideas they abhor with wit and energy and passion and freedom. Instead, WAM’s goal is to police and punish others for their alleged sexism – along the well-worn lines of contemporary and controlling left-feminism. Here’s the mindset behind the project:

“I see this as a free speech issue,” Friedman said. She said she knew some would see the work WAM does as “censorship,” but that a completely open and unmoderated platform imposes its own form of censorship. It effectively prevents women, especially queer women and women of color, from getting to speak on the service.

How exactly? Does Twitter prevent women of color from using the service? Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech? And WAM’s intent with Twitter is not merely to highlight physical threats, abuse or stalking. They are quite upfront about casting a much wider net against those insufficiently committed to “gender justice in media”:

“We’ll be escalating [harassment reports] even if they don’t fit Twitter’s exact abuse guidelines,” Friedman said. WAM intends to “cast a wider net” and see what Twitter’s moderators address.

I can find no reason to oppose a stronger effort by Twitter to prevent individual users from stalking or harassing others – but if merely saying nasty things about someone can be seen as harassment, then where on earth does this well-intentioned censorship end? Is it designed to censor only misogyny and not racism? What about blasphemy? Are the only suspects in this brave new Twitterverse the “straight, white males” disparaged as a group in the video above? And yet, among those liberals who might worry about policing free speech in this way – let alone handing over the censorship tools to a radical activist group bent on social transformation –  it’s hard to find anyone anywhere who has any qualms. Jesse Singal wonders if it’s enough to keep the trolls at bay:

There are two ways to look at this.

One is that it’s good that Twitter, in the wake of what the Verge calls “high-profile threats against game critic Anita Sarkeesian and other women” working in the gaming world, is working with an outside organization to potentially beef up its very ineffective harassment-reporting tools. The other, more cynical response is that this could be a useful way for Twitter to make it look like it’s doing something about online harassment without actually doing very much at all. After all, given Twitter’s massive resources, why should it need to outsource this job to someone else?

Marcotte is hopeful that this will help stem the tide of troll bile:

There’s reason to think that WAM!’s involvement will do some good. As anyone who has reported abuse on Twitter can tell you, pretty much anything is better than the current system. And a woman’s group might also be much better at sussing out what is and isn’t sexist harassment than the mostly-male staff at Twitter. But WAM! also has experience in this sort of thing. Last summer, the group decided to run a campaign shaming Facebook over the proliferation of pro-rape and other anti-woman hate groups that escaped censure by declaring themselves “humor” pages. Facebook responded by cracking down on this kind of content. Twitter has wisely chosen to work with WAM! directly rather than go through that sort of public shaming, and hopefully this collaboration will be mutually beneficial.

Mutually beneficial? Does she mean that WAM can get to advance their broader ideas about policing the speech of white straight males by this legitimizing alliance with Twitter?

Somehow, I suspect the culture wars online just got a little more frayed. Because Twitter has empowered leftist feminists to have a censorship field day.

(Update: Follow-up post here. A long reader dissent here.)

Where The Logic Of “Hate Crimes” Leads

Every now and again, you have to remind yourself of the wonder of the First Amendment. Given the deep human urge to silence those with whom we disagree, it’s proven indispensable to protecting wild, open and robust debate against the micro-managers of the Social Justice Warriors on the left and the Jihadist-extremism monitors on the right. And if you doubt its value, just take a look over the pond, where the Tory party is proposing the most draconian crackdown on free speech since the press won its independence centuries ago.

As usual, you have the Orwellian terminology, and in this case it’s something called an “Extremism Disruption Order.” A more accurate term would be a “Government Censorship Order” – for that is exactly what this betrayal of British values truly is:

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. The difference is spelled out in the detail of the policy, where it says that it is intended to catch not just those who “spread or incite hatred” on grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake “harmful activities” for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

Or to put it more plainly: the government has an obligation to censor dangerous ideas because they might hurt someone’s feelings:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

So this is how blasphemy laws get a comeback in a post-Christian country: all religions are now immune from any public criticism that could be regarded as “extremist”. And not just religions: also gay people, women and the disabled. And why end there? You can see the multiple, proliferating lines for government interference. If a gay man attacks Islam for being homophobic, he could be prosecuted. But ditto if a Muslim cleric denounces homosexuality. It’s win-win for government power to monitor and control public speech in all directions!

In fact, the proposed law is  an invitation for an orgy of allegations of victimhood, for a million ways to define hatred, and for countless lawsuits which would be extremely hard for most people to defend against. I’m sure this blog could be liable in England under these terms – if the government decides my questioning of the Matthew Shepard myth is hateful or my insistence on the Islamic factor in contemporary Jihadist terrorism is Islamophobic. And if this blog were in the UK, I’d be constantly worried that it could be shut down:

Once served with an EDO, you will be banned from publishing on the Internet, speaking in a public forum, or appearing on TV. To say something online, including just tweeting or posting on Facebook, you will need the permission of the police. There will be a “requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or print.” That is, you will effectively need a licence from the state to speak, to publish, even to tweet, just as writers and poets did in the 1600s before the licensing of the press was swept away and modern, enlightened Britain was born (or so we thought).

You won’t even be able to tweet once the government has found out your views are noxious to some aggrieved group or individual. The goal, of course, is laudable – as laudable as hate crimes laws in intent: the creation of a society where impure thoughts are forbidden and thereby less likely to affect or influence others. And all this to advance what the Tories call the “British values” of tolerance, good faith and moderation.

But notice one British value that falls by the wayside. That value is freedom of speech. In our many concessions in the fight to monitor and control Islamist extremism and terror, that one should remain inviolable.