Break the Silence: Hillary Clinton’s Role in Decimating Black America

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I will not ask you not to vote for Hillary Clinton.

In this most bizarre and troublesome of all American elections in which the stakes are both high and unpredictable, it would be foolish on my part. What I will ask Clinton supporters to do is look clearly at who she is. One can both vote for her and acknowledge the terrible damage she has inflicted on women and children both in the United States and abroad. Which is to say, she has inflicted terrible damage on human beings around the globe because, as she declared in Beijing in 1995, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s right are human rights, once and for all”.

It is contrary to the principles of better strains of feminism than Clinton has promoted to proclaim that breaking the glass ceiling is somehow a dazzling victory.

A strong strain of feminism in the 1960s, for example, included opposing war. In 1965, following the example of Vietnamese Buddhist monks, after the United States began its B52 bombing mission in Vietnam, Holocaust survivor and founding member of Women’s Strike for Peace, Alice Herz, set herself on fire on a street corner in Detroit. She left behind a letter in which she challenged Americans to “decide if this world shall be a good place to live for all human beings or if it should blow itself up into oblivion”. While the words of the two feminists, Herz and Clinton, may appear to reveal similar world views, they are miles apart.

In Haiti, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, the United States and elsewhere, Clinton has undermined human rights which, as she said, necessarily are women’s rights.

Among the issues for which she needs to be held accountable in the United States are promoting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act while she was First Lady.

Abroad, as Secretary of State, Clinton needs to be held accountable, to one degree or another, for promoting the sweatshop model of production in Haiti, working surreptitiously to ensure the 2009 coup of Honduras’s duly elected president, Manuel Zelaya, which threw the country into a downward spiral of poverty and violence including femicide, relentlessly supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel despite their well-documented human rights (which we remember are coterminous with women’s rights), and thereby the bloodbaths in Syria and Yemen, arguably becoming the “top salesperson for the military-industrial complex in US history”, practicing brinksmanship in foreign policy and regime changes which necessarily mean bloodbaths, proxy wars, and neoliberal economic policies.

PROBLEMS
During Bill Clinton’s bid for the presidency, Hillary Clinton famously claimed she would not stay home and bake cookies and host teas.

And she did not. She supported and lobbied for the very policies that damaged
Black people and poor people with the purpose of delivering political gain to Bill Clinton and the Democrat party.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, 1994

Even the title is a dog whistle, i.e. coded language designed to appeal to white racial fears. But Hillary Clinton issued her own dog whistle when she depicted black children as vicious animals.

“They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

The package was the largest crime bill in the history of the United States. Among other things, it greatly expanded the federal death penalty, creating 60 new death penalty offenses. It created new crimes in statutes related to immigration, gang related crime, and others. It eliminated higher education Pell Grants for inmates, instituted community oriented policing, and created “boot camps” for delinquent children. Prison overcrowding and plea bargaining became systemic.

It provided for 100,000 new police officers and $9.7 billion in funding for prisons in a $30 billion crime package. And we know who filled those prisons – primarily Black men and poor people.

How was it paid for? In part by slashing billions of dollars from public housing and child welfare budgets and transferring that money to the mass incarceration behemoth. According to the University of California, Berkley’s sociologist Loïc Wacquant, the bill succeeding in “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.” As a result, he has written, African-Americans now live “in the first prison society in history”. It is difficult to argue that mass incarceration was an unintended consequence of the crime package.

Michelle Alexander, African American lawyer, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and new member of the faculty at Union Theological Seminary wrote “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote” for The Nation. Bill Clinton, she wrote, “supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement”. The crime bill created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for 3-time offenders, the so-called “3 strikes and you’re out” provision, mandatory minimums, and “truth in sentencing” i.e. severe restrictions on parole.

Among the consequences: the jobless rate among Black men in their 20s without a college degree rose to the highest level ever, at 42% when Clinton left office, according to Alexander, and was accompanied by a skyrocketing incarceration rate. Meaning, among the obvious consequences, that they were no longer counted among the poverty and unemployment statistics. You can watch a video suggesting what the consequences of her point of view in terms of police brutality have been here.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act [PRWORA], 1996

250px-clinton_prworaThis “reform” package savaged poor America by dismantling Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Liza Featherstone is a Nation contributor and editor of False Choices: The Faux Feminism Of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She concludes that Hillary Clinton was “no mere bystander” to welfare reform. She advocated “harsher policies like ending traditional welfare” even while others in the Bill Clinton administration including Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, were proposing alternatives. In 1997, according to Featherstone, she “took credit” for pushing a welfare bill that would “monitor and punish women’s ‘poor parenting behavior’.”

Clinton’s was a point of view, in my opinion, that is both racist, because of the supposed racial profile of women on welfare, and offensively sexist in its suggestion that poor women need disciplining and punishment.

Look, for example, at the dog whistle scene above taken as President Bill Clinton signed the “Welfare to Work” package as the banner proclaims. Note the two African American women “deadbeats” who are being disciplined into becoming workers. The racism and hostility to poor women of the visual message is palpable.

And, so seemed the package to three Clinton administration officials at the Department of Health and Human Services who resigned in protest – Mary Jo Bane, Wendell Primus, and Peter Edelman, who had been a longtime friend of the Clintons.

The PRWORA decimated Aid to Families With Dependent Children and instituted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF]. Most states required those who received assistance to accept the first job they were offered, regardless of the pay or working conditions. Most were low-paying, dirty, and short-term jobs which, in essence, were being assigned to women and poor people of color. TANF, again according to Featherstone, also nullified the counting of pursuing a four year college degree as a work-related activity which could aid in making women and poor people of color eligible for benefits. Thus, while in 1995, 649,000 student parents were receiving cash assistance while enrolled full-time in education programs, only 35,000 full-time students received TANF aid in 2004.

If this is not both institutional racism and institutional sexism, I don’t know what is.

Moreover, as late as 2002, when Hillary Clinton was Senator, she continued to champion PRWORA, according to Alexander Marchevsky and Jeanne Theoharis in “Why It Matters That Hillary Clinton Championed Welfare Reform”.

In yet another dog whistle statement, she referred to people who had been on welfare as “deadbeats” and exclaimed that because of PRWORA “they’re actually out there being productive.”

Yet, in 2011, sociologists Kathryn Edin of Johns Hopkins University and H. Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan concluded that data on Americans showed a “sharp spike in families living in extreme poverty” between 1996 and 2011. They reported that approximately 20% of poor households with children, or about 1.46 million, were having to survive on $2.00 or less per person. They concluded that the growth in poverty was concentrated among those most affected by the 1996 welfare reform, especially black families but also among Latino and white families. Black families experienced a 183 percent increase during this period while Latinos experienced a 132 percent increase and whites a 100 percent increase.

That is structural racism by almost any definition, in my opinion.

As Marchevsky and Theoharis put it, Clinton “betrayed” poor people and women many of whom are poorer than they were prior to PRWORA. The reformed welfare system “provides little safety net and no hand-up. Instead, it traps poor mothers into exploitative, poverty-wage jobs and dangerous personal situations, deters them from college, and contributes to the growing trend of poor mothers who can neither find a job nor access public assistance.”

Or, as Michelle Alexander concluded, “From the crime bill to welfare reform”, Bill and Hillary Clinton “decimated black America.” It is difficult, she writes,

to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

I am not especially interested in whether Hillary Clinton was or is “racist in her heart.” What I am interested in is whether in their dog whistling, purposes, and consequences, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Acts are violent structural racism and that she actively supported it.

Dismantling welfare, criminalizing poverty, and creating a mass incarceration state for African Americans in particular and others generally is not something I can simply overlook nor feel is somehow equalized by Hillary Clinton’s shattering of political glass ceilings for middle class women.

Break the Silence: Hillary Clinton’s Role in the 2009 Military Coup in Honduras

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Berta Cáceres

 

This article originally appeared in Latino Rebels, November 1, 2016.
On June 28, 2009, when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown by a military coup. Under US law, all military aid to Honduras should have ceased immediately. Sec. Clinton was directly involved in continuing military aid to Honduras and in maneuvering behind the scenes to support the coup and thus the already beleaguered country’s downward spiral into greater poverty and violence, including rape and femicide, which it precipitated in Honduras.

If you consider Honduras, it becomes difficult to argue that Clinton is in any meaningful way a protector of women and children specifically or of human rights generally.

Manuel Zelaya took office as president of Honduras on January 27, 2006. A leftist, Zelaya put in place free education and meals for children, subsidies to small farmers, lower interest rates, and free electricity. Owners of American, Honduran, and multinational corporations disliked him immensely. He supported a 60% raise in the minimum wage – to $213 per month for rural workers and $290 for urban workers. He pledged rural, indigenous farmers he would help them recover land rights.

This “infuriated two U.S. companies, Chiquita Brands International (formerly United Fruit) and Dole Food Company,” said John Perkins in an interview with Truthout. Chiquita Brands is a California based producer and distributor of bananas. Dole Food Company is a multinational agricultural company also headquartered in California. Above all, they did not want a raise in Honduras’ minimum wage.

Writing two weeks after the coup, Nikolas Kozloff wrote that Colsiba, the Coordinating Body of Banana Plantation Workers in Latin America, compared the horrendous labor conditions on Chiquita plantations to “concentration camps”. While the comparison is inflated, it contains agonizing truth. Women and girls as young as 14 worked from 6:30 AM to 7:00 PM. Covered in rubber gloves, their hands burned. They had sued for damages against Chiquita for exposing them in the fields to DBCP, a pesticide which causes sterility, cancer, and birth defects in children.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for business interests was when Zelaya steered to an upcoming election ballot a non-binding resolution asking voters whether they wished to reform the constitution. The gist of this question was to ask those in rural communities whether they wanted to continue being subjected to foreign corporate mining practices.

The opinion poll was scheduled for June 28, 2009. In the early hours of that day, armed military forces carried out the coup. Still in his pajamas, they kidnapped Zelaya at gunpoint and took him to Costa Rica.

Fifteen US House Democrats, according to Adam Johnson for Foreign Policy in Focus, condemned the coup. Led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, they sent a letter to President Obama insisting that Secretary of State Clinton and her State Department “fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place” and “follow through with the total suspension of non-humanitarian aid, as required by law.” Clinton declined. This means that she made possible the condition that allowed aid to continue to flow to military forces.

In a cable to Clinton and other top US officials, US Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, wrote that the coup was an “open and shut” case without any doubt whatsoever that the kidnapping “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” You can read the cable here.

It seemed obvious to countries and organizations around the world that the overthrow of Zelaya was illegal, i.e.a violation of international law, and dangerous to the concepts of national sovereignty, democracy, and constitutional order.

The list includes Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belarus, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada (equivocally), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, whose president, Fernando Lugo, demanded those behind the coup be given prison sentences, Peru, Russia, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Many announced they would not recognize a replacement government.

Israel supported the coup; the United States backed it.

Organizations which condemned the coup included the Association of Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Caribbean Community, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the European Union, the Inter-American Bank Development Bank, Mercosur, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the United Nations.

An organization which financially supported the coup, on the other hand, was the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC], a US foreign aid agency established by the US Congress under the George W. Bush administration. One of its strongest supporters is the conservative Heritage Foundation. Among the criticisms MCC received about this period was that it disbursed some $17 million to support the coup. Hillary Clinton was chair of the board of directors.

An election was set to choose a new president. According to Lee Fang for The Intercept, “major international observers, including the United Nations and the Carter Center, as well as most major opposition candidates, boycotted the [2009] election.” Nonetheless, Porfirio Lobo became the country’s new president.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Clinton worked to avoid returning Zelaya to office. Clinton admitted she used the power of the State Department to support the coup: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere” Clinton wrote in her book, Hard Choices. “We strategized on a plan to . . . render the question of Zelaya moot.” In other words, she actively connived to prohibit the return of Zelaya even though he was the democratically elected president of Honduras by delaying any action that might help force the illegally elected Lobo government to step down. If you look in the paperback version of Hard Choices, you won’t find these lines. They have been edited out.

The military coup which displaced Manuel Zelaya catapulted already impoverished and violent Honduras into a downward spiral into greater poverty and more violence.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, summarized the effects for Al Jazeera America. “The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.”

To repeat, femicides skyrocketed as did rape.

According to Annie Kelly, writing from Tegucigalpa, women began to be murdered at the rate of one a day following the coup while the police “turned a blind eye”. In the month following the coup, according to a report by Oxfam Honduras and the Honduran Tribunal of Women against Femicide, there was a 60% rise in the number of femicides. In that month, the bodies of more than 50 women, in assassinations related to their gender, were found in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s largest cities. The report accused the Clinton backed Lobo government of complicity in the femicides. By 2011, there were reports of 1,110 femicides with only 4.2% resulting in convictions.

Some of the women’s lives were taken by the deadly Mara gangs in order to send a message to the women’s families. Others were raped and threatened with the deaths of their families if they resisted.

Many of these women, some with their children, fled to the US. Others fleeing were children without their mothers. American University professor, Adrienne Pine, concluded that “if it weren’t for Hillary Clinton,” there would not have been the refugee crisis from Honduras at the level that it is today. “Hondurans would be living a very different reality from the tragic one they are living right now.” Pine was quoted in an article by Marjorie Cone, professor emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in “Hillary Clinton’s Link to a Nasty Piece of Work in Honduras”.

Clinton was unsympathetic. In 2014, at the height of the surge of Central American women and children crossing the United States’ southern border, after having survived Mexico’s treacherous 2,000 miles, Clinton told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that, “it may be safer for the children to remain in the US”, but they “should be sent back”. Dozens were returned to their deaths.

The most well-known of the women who were murdered in Honduras was Berta Cáceres. Her murder as well as anything else, according to Adam Johnson, an associate editor at AlterNet, exposes Clinton’s “grim legacy in Honduras”.

On June 28, 2009, the day of the coup, the Washington, DC based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [IACHR], placed Berta Cáceres’s name on a list of people whose lives were in danger because of the coup. The following day, it acknowledged that military forces had surrounded her home. Cáceres had a long history of activism including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and the presence of US military bases on indigenous Lenca land.

In 2014, Cáceres specifically singled out Sec. Hillary Clinton for her role in the Honduran coup. Here is an excerpt from a Democracy Now! interview and transcript.

We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.

On the morning of March 3, 2016, Cáceres was shot dead in her home by armed intruders. Under “precautionary measures” recommended by the IACHR, the Honduran government was supposed to have protected her. However, on that morning, they were nowhere to be found.

In the days following the murder, Amnesty International criticized President Hernández for his refusal to meet with Cáceres’ relatives, human rights defenders, and AI. It condemned “the Honduran government’s absolute lack of willingness to protect human rights defenders in the country” and noted that the Honduran authorities had failed “to follow the most basic lines of investigation, including the fact that Berta had been receiving serious death threats related to her human rights work for a very long time.”

A former soldier with the US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military reported that Cáceres’ name was included on a hit list distributed to them months before her assassination.

Did Hillary Clinton pull the trigger on Berta Cáceres? Did she single-handedly carry out the military coup which overthrew Manuel Zelaya? Did she herself rape any young girl or woman in Honduras or threaten the lives of their families? Did she make vulgar statements about the genitals of women and girls? The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”.

Yet, it is beyond doubt that Hillary Clinton, while she was Secretary of State, actively supported and made possible the conditions which led to femicide, rape, and other human rights violations in Honduras. I contend that one may vote for her but commit to exposing and condemning her record. In particular, those who vote for her have a moral obligation to women and children, especially those in Honduras, to tell the truth about her. Moral outrage compels us to break the silence.

Taco Trucks on Every Corner

Jesus TacoTruck for Fig Revolution

This morning Marco Gutierrez, the founder of Latinos for Trump, issued a solemn promise to all Americans. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, he warned, there will be “taco trucks on every corner”.

Gutierrez went on to add, in a conversation he recorded while driving to an interview with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, “If you don’t do something about it, us as Hispanics, we’re going to have the White House full of taco trucks and we are going to be selling paletas on every corner around the White House. And, we are going to have piñatas and atole … I know my people guys … You need to defend your country, our country.”

Latinos for Trump has declared September, in which Hispanic Heritage Month falls, Taco Bowl Awareness Month.

You can’t make this stuff up.

In response, I created this meme: “Jesus wants to eat street tacos with us on the corner. And talk about stuff.” As we know, Jesus showed up at banquets and weddings and enjoyed eating with all sorts of people.

My guess is that if he were to return tomorrow, and landed in America, he would make a beeline for a taco truck and want to chew the fat about what the Sam Hill is going on?

The Emperor Has No Balls: Are the Trump Statues Body Shaming or Legitimate Political Commentary?

Last Thursday, something unusual happened in America. In a country uncomfortable with both political discussions and art which is not decorative, we heatedly discussed a statue. You know the one I’m referencing – the nude statue of presidential hopeful Donald Trump – depicting him as a pompous dictator with no clothes and no testicles and a very, very small penis.

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Photo by James Michael Nichols via Twitter

Commissioned by the anarchist art collective, INDECLINE, statues of a salmon pink Trump simultaneously were erected (its hard to find another word) in public spaces in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Seattle. Named “The Emperor Has No Balls”, New York City’s Parks Department removed the statue. A spokesman said they removed it because the statue was unaccompanied and had been installed without a permit. A Parks employee quipped, “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small,” to the delight of many. I have to admit I thought the quip was pretty funny.

Others, however, were not laughing. They said the statue was an example of body shaming.

Mark Sandlin, a Presbyterian minister and highly regarded progressive Christian blogger, acknowledges the important role that art plays in society. He believes we need to be careful about “limiting and controlling the artist’s expression”. Yet, he feels INDECLINE crossed the line into body shaming for its own sake. He told me,

We also need to guard against people who want to hide behind the claim of “art” when all they are really doing is belittling, bullying, or embarrassing someone. While I appreciate the “emperor’s new clothes” angle of the Trump statues, I’m finding it very difficult to see them as much more than a case of body shaming, and that’s never OK with me. If they had been statues of a naked Hillary [Clinton], I feel certain we would have been incensed by them.

Similarly, Meghna Sridhar writing for Feministing, raised a fair point about the “smug liberalism” of American leftist culture in PSA: Your Transphobia and Body Shaming Isn’t Radical.

Nothing is being said by the piece that is difficult for one in the current political climate to say – that Trump is a joke, or that fat people must be shamed, or that male bodies that don’t conform to masculine notions of genitalia deserve scorn. Indeed, the real naked emperors seem to be the installation’s smug audience instead, parading around in seeming robes of progressive politics, which actually, upon closer inspection, are their own naked delusions of open minded, non-oppressive grandeur.

I, too, can see how the statues may reinforce Americans’ regrettable habits of body shaming and transphobia or anxieties around anyone who is not cisgendered or any man who does not have testicles or or who does have a very small penis. These are problems in American culture and work to harm more people than many of us realize. It is a problem when we associate genitalia with maturity or bravery or intelligence. I agree with Sandlin and Sridhar as far as that goes. 

In fact, INDECLINE says that is what they were doing — appropriating the association of testicles with being a man in American culture and using that against Trump. But they were doing something more. “We decided to depict Trump without his balls because we refuse to acknowledge that he is a man,” they said. “He is a small arrogant child and thus, has nothing in the way of testicles.” 

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Painting by Illma Gore

By the same token, in a painting called “Make America Great Again”, genderfluid feminist artist, Illma Gore, painted a nude portrait of Trump which also featured a small penis. Gore readily admits her intention was to shame Trump and his politics by invoking American men’s anxiety over small penises. “if anyone is going to be threatened by a small penis, it’s Trump.”

Her painting was modeled after a real life, middle aged friend. As far as I can tell, no one seemed to take exception to the slight pot belly and sagging skin of her painting. Other than commentary of the small penis, the painting is a fairly straightforward depiction of a naked man.

Yet, “Make America Great Again” has provoked hysterical responses. Gore has been anonymously threatened with lawsuits if she sells the painting, has been punched in the face by a Trump supporter in her own Los Angeles neighborhood, and has received thousands of death threats.

She notes that her painting has been understood and well received “everywhere apart from America”. This has to raise the question, “What about this painting has triggered the anxieties of Americans in particular?”

The brouhaha over the INDECLINE statues is reminiscent of the controversy over Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, In The Night Kitchen, published in 1970.

7093296881_29003e966b_o-1The “before” picture here was how Sendak originally drew a 3 year old little boy who dreams, falls out of his pajamas and into the Night Kitchen where he bakes cakes. The “after” pictures show the diaper which was painted on him by librarians who fancied themselves the custodians of American morality and felt independently authorized to censor Sendak. The book remains on any list of the most analyzed, controversial, and banned books in America.

Americans have legitimate concerns about body shaming and transphobia. But Americans also are anxious about seeing penises in library books, on paintings, and on statues.

This aspect of body exaggeration is what other commentators about the INDECLINE statues were interested in. They were not worried about body shaming or transphobia. They saw the exaggeratedly small penises as essential to legitimate commentary about this particular politician. 

Journalist David Person is on the board of contributors for USA Today. INDECLINE is suggesting, he says, “that despite Trump’s bravado and bluster, he essentially is the emperor who has no clothes. Worse, he lacks the strength to provide true leadership. That is what the emasculated statue is about. They also seem to be suggesting that Trump’s allegiance is not to this nation but that he has a secret agenda — hence the Masonic ring on his finger.”

Los Angeles area filmmaker and artist Robin Rosenthal places the statue “in a long tradition among artists, notably Spain’s Francisco de Goya, of political cartoons.” INDECLINE’s statue is “pure political commentary”, insists Rosenthal. “It’s a political cartoon in the form of a sculpture. If it is body shaming, artists and cartoonists have license to body shame.”

Goya’s cartoons were hard hitting political commentaries. His Los Caprichos [Whims] published in 1799 and his Los desastres de la guerra [The Disasters of War] produced in the 1810s are sharp observations of his era. Goya skewered groups of people, such as the Catholic clergy, he believed to be largely responsible for many of the ills of Spanish society. A precursor to today’s political cartoonists, Goya excelled in an informal style, exaggerations, and pointed attacks on contemporary prejudices and superstitions. It also is worth noting that he withdrew his Caprichos in 1803, after having sold only 27 copies of the set. His reason: concerns about the repressions of the Spanish Inquisition

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The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, from Caprichos, Francisco de Goya, 1799

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The Same, from The Disasters of War, Goya, ca. 1810

If I were Trump and someone painted me with an exaggeratedly small penis for political reasons, I’d be offended. No doubt about that.

Yet, as Rosenthal suggests, there is a long history of exaggerating human bodies in order to make a political point. In fact, the exaggeration of political figures’ bodies is essential to American political commentary. If you google “political cartoon + Abraham Lincoln” or the name of any American politician, you will find exaggerations of their bodies.

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Political Cartoon by Thomas Nast

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Threat

Lincoln as long and thin as a string bean. William Howard Taft, said to have weighed in at 300 pounds, busting out of his impossibly ill-fitting clothes. Barack Obama with his inevitable big ears and, in this cartoon by Michael Ramirez, exposed bottom.

Body shaming? Sure it is. Is it intentional? Without doubt.

I’m under no illusion, however, that with these political cartoons of American presidents, I am looking at anywhere near accurate representations of their bodies. Obama is an extraordinarily good looking man whose ears do not proceed from his shoulders. Of that I am certain.

And with INDECLINE’s Trump statue, it does not occur to me that I am looking at an actual representation of Trump’s body. He is not, after all, salmon pink, nor is he fat. I assume he is not old enough to have the varicose veins given to him (although I could be wrong). I assume he has testicles. I have no way of knowing the size of his penis. Nor do I care to. 

What I do care about is Trump’s relationship to every petty demagogue who ever lived with their swagger and self importance and their erecting of expensive, grotesque statues of themselves in public squares. I care about Trump’s misogyny. I care about how he reflects and has tapped into a disturbing aspect of American culture — that horrid delight in making fun of anybody who is vulnerable, different from us, or presents any sort of real or imagined existential threat. And, yes, I get that is what the INDECLINE artists were doing — delighting in giving Trump a taste of  his own medicine. That, too, disturbs me. But only a little bit.

Mostly, I think, “Well done, INDECLINE!” With your guerrilla tactics and guerrilla art, you provoked a conversation among us about politics, art, and about our own culture. And for that, I thank you.

 

Why I Do Not Call Out Trump

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In case it matters, several people have asked me why I do not publicly call out Trump for his language about Mexicans and deportation. The reason is simple: it seems self evident that Trump is an obnoxious, foul-mouthed, racist, sexist, homophobic, crude, ignorant, dishonest, narcissistic, dangerous creep.

In addition, it has never been my habit or my interest to call out people with whom I have little or no association. By that I mean that I am a Democrat so I tend to be critical of other Democrats — especially those in power.

 

So, yes, I call out Obama rather than Trump at this moment in time. Obama has deported 2.8 million people. Few Democrats (those I hear from) seem to care. Trump has deported none. One has a record on deportation; the other does not. Trump’s rhetoric about Mexicans is over the top crude. Yet, Obama has had his abusive rhetoric, too — “they don’t play by the rules” — when he knows full well there are no rules to play by.

Whether this is right or wrong on my part, I am not in a position to say.

To draw a parallel, I was never the parent who continually pointed out or obsessed over the wrong-doings of other people’s kids. I was always more interested in whether my own kids were doing right. I felt that was my duty and where I could have the most impact. It was also out of love for them. I wanted the best for them.

However, if anyone needs me to say it (and I’m always surprised anybody really cares what I think or say): I dislike Trump and his rhetoric immensely. And I am distressed that America produced him and has allowed him to get this close to the Presidency.

Dear Mr. Trump: You Do Not Represent Me

IMG_0293Dear Mr. Trump,

At the Republican National Convention last week, you invoked the names of parents whose children had been killed by undocumented immigrants. You indicated your impression that you represent them and their interests.

I want to let you know that my child, too, was killed by an undocumented immigrant. But you do not in any way represent me or my interests.

The picture here was taken of Leigh Anna Jimmerson, my 16 year old daughter, and her 19 year old boyfriend, Tad Joseph Mattle, on the night they died. You may be able to tell from the expressions on their faces that they were happy, beautiful people. I can tell you that to her family, Leigh Anna was Christmas, as they say. She was the Dancing Queen. Mardi Gras all year long.

On the night of April 17, 2009, an undocumented drunk driver slammed into them as they were stopped at a red light at a busy intersection in Huntsville, Alabama. The driver was being pursued, at a high speed, by a police officer. They died immediately. Tad’s car exploded on impact and Leigh Anna’s body burned up.

I am fortunate in that I was able to forgive the undocumented drunk driver. I never felt any anger toward him. I felt no hatred toward him. It just seemed to me that it had been a terribly bad night for everyone involved. I have often been grateful that in addition to the sadness that I carry with me every day of my life, I am not also burdened with bitterness.

imagesFor what it might be worth to you, this picture is one of my favorites of Leigh Anna. It was taken two years before she died. She had elected to go with me to a rally the Ku Klux Klan was having in Athens, Alabama. They were protesting illegal immigrants. We went to a counter protest. She was a little nervous, as you can imagine, but she wanted to go anyway. Once there, she held this sign which, as you can see, was as big as she.

As we were leaving the rally, a Klansman or Klan supporter said something rude to her (she never would tell me what he had said). I heard her say to him, laughing: “Love you back!”

At the trial the driver was convicted on two counts of murder. After the sentencing, he asked to speak to the families. He acknowledged what he had done. He asked for our forgiveness. Later, in a private conversation with him when he was on his way to prison, he told my husband and me that, if he could, he would change places with Tad and Leigh Anna.

The morning after the crash, the police officer who chased him said that he was perplexed that the faster he drove pursuing the driver, the faster the driver went.

The police never came to our house that evening. They never acknowledged their role in the death of my child. In the death of my dreams. The police officer who pursued the undocumented man never asked for my forgiveness. To my knowledge, he never faced any official consequences.

My heart goes out to the other families who have lost their children under similar circumstances. I do not ask them to forgive the one who took their child and their dreams. I understand not being able to forgive. There are those in my family who have not been able to forgive either. There is no shame in not being able to forgive someone who has caused you such grief.

You, however, are neither in a position to forgive or not to forgive. Instead, what you are doing, in my opinion, is encouraging people like you, people who neither are in a position to forgive or not to forgive, to get some sort of mean-spirited pleasure out of condemning people they have never met and who have never harmed them.

10208382_BG4I have a favor to ask of you, Mr. Trump. I want to ask you not to encourage mean-spiritedness towards undocumented immigrants. I want to ask you to speak about them in ways that would honor Leigh Anna and her gentleness of spirit. I would ask you to speak about them in ways that reflect the love she exhibited every day of her life. I would ask you to show the kind of courage she showed in attending a protest of the Ku Klux Klan when she was scared and when they, too, were acting out of mean-spiritedness.

Until you do, Mr. Trump, please know that you do not represent me or my interests.

Why Melissa Hillman’s Privilege Argument Was Backwards

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Hillary Clinton

A recent article by Melissa Hillman for Quartz created a stir among loyalists in Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s camp. Hillman insisted that “privilege is what allows Sanders supporters to say they’ll ‘never’ vote for Clinton under any circumstance.”

That is inaccurate. There are those who are well outside the ranks of privilege who will not vote for Clinton. Period.

Quartz, a digital global business news publication culls its 150 writers from conservative business journals including Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, as well as the New York Times. Its core market is global business people who want international markets. In other words, they are among the market oriented neoliberals where Clinton finds many of her supporters.

The truth is that there are those who will not vote for Clinton precisely because of their lack of privilege or because of their work among those who lack the kind of extraordinary privilege Quartz readers have or aspire to have.

One is Luis Efrain Serrano, an illegal (the term he prefers) Latino and an activist with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out Of LA in Los Angeles. The organization exists to end deportations and the criminalization of illegal immigrants. He believes the privilege argument is backwards.

People are voting for Clinton, Serrano believes, “because of their privilege. Wealthy or middle class white folks would not be as negatively affected by her as those of us who are less privileged.”  The Democrats “give us weird little reforms like DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] which help us out a bit. We are ok with them only because things are so bad.”

Ultimately, Serrano wants systemic change. Although he does not support Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Serrano believes a Trump election could aid in forcing the collapse of the establishment. He believes Trump has shaken “the neoliberal establishment which Clinton represents because he exposes an economic system that they have kept hidden.” Reality is that the Clinton establishment, in Serrano’s opinion, has “perfected keeping people oppressed and distracted.” Trump has brought that into the open.

Serrano concludes, “for those without privilege, there is no strategy in electing Clinton.”

Zac Henson is a self-proclaimed “mad redneck” with a Ph. D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management but who makes his living delivering papers and driving for Uber in East Lake, Alabama.

Henson, too, is concerned about the political system. He also wants to challenge individualized ideas of what constitutes oppression or privilege. No one, is all oppressor or all oppressed,” he thinks. Instead, he believes, we need to talk more about “multiple overarching systems of power.” For instance, he says, “I’m white and male, so there are certainly advantages that I have in certain situations. But, I’m also mentally ill, working class, and Southern, so there are disadvantages that I have to deal with too.”

As for the election, Henson’s identities and philosophies slide between Clinton and Trump. Like Clinton, he believes in multiculturalism and diversity. But like Trump, he opposes economic globalization. He believes each has been engaged in an all-out war on the working class from both the left and the right. Partly because of Clinton’s neoliberalism, and the neoliberalism of the Democratic establishment, the white working class “literally has no place else to go but to Trump, which is both worrisome and sad.”

Trump, however, “is a monster arising in a cauldron of white working class rage and a generation of abandonment of the white working class by the left.” Because of the war on the working class, “people are frustrated, mad, and confused. It seems as if the American Dream is a distant memory.”

Even someone like me, he says, “who is a community organizer, an antiracist, a feminist, and a communist can see Trump’s appeal to people who are just desperate. So, I’ll probably just vote for Jill Stein, even though I know that it’s a throw away vote. Not much of a choice, if you ask me.”

Jorge Mújica Murias is the Strategic Campaigns Organizer at Arise Chicago, an organization devoted to combatting worker injustice. A Latino, he ran for Congress as a candidate for Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District in 2009 and for Alderman for the City of Chicago in 2015. A socialist, he supports Jill Stein of the Green Party.

“My reason for not supporting Clinton is simple,” Mújica says. “I want to do away with the two-party system.”

He wants to see the Democratic Party split. “I want to help give a solid third party status to the Green Party. I don’t want people re-electing Hillary in 2020 because Ted Cruz runs against her nor do I want to see Chelsea Clinton running against Trump. Giving a solid third party status to the Green Party might open up the system.” Just as he would like to see the Democratic Party split, Mújica continues, “I would have hoped to see the Republicans splitting and founding a third party, the Tea Party. That is not going to happen apparently. But we can make it happen in the Democratic party if people will not cave in and vote for Clinton.”

Pippa Abston is a pediatrician in Huntsville, Alabama. She counts herself among the privileged in no small measure because she has health insurance. She tends daily to people, however, who do not – and she cares about them.

Based in large part on what she has seen in her practice, she believes that those who already lack political and socioeconomic privilege would be placed at higher risk in a Clinton presidency.

Clinton, she believes, “has ignored the need to insure every single person in the US for healthcare and has accepted President Obama’s incremental approach with the Affordable Care Act [ACA].” The ACA, according to Abston, is unethical because it leaves out some already marginalized groups. Those groups include poor adults in those states like Alabama which does not allow them access to Medicaid, undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants because of a five year waiting period, and those who live just above the poverty line but cannot afford insurance even with the ACA.

An ethical person, Abston says, “would not find it acceptable to leave anyone out.” Clinton, on the other hand, is “a utilitarian who is able to abstract human beings into numbers and treat them interchangeably, trading out some lives for others. This is not ethically acceptable to me.” Because she sees children and their parents every day in her office, she says, “I can’t possibly forget what they need and I can’t possibly vote for Clinton who could put them at risk.”

As are Serrano, Henson, and Mújica, Abston is concerned about the entire political system. Clinton, she says, represents a political philosophy, neoliberalism, which she finds “abhorrent.”

It is an “imposter on the left” but it is not truly leftist, because it “transfers power and representation even further away from the public sphere into the oligarchy, and then tells the powerless that they can lift themselves up if they try harder.”

By occupying the left as an imposter, Abston says, the neoliberal wing prevents the development of a true left, a true democratic movement “by convincing supporters it is the left they are seeking, that it cares about them, but it does not. I find this even more repugnant than the right wing, which is at least moderately honest about its nefarious intentions.”

Like Abston, I, too am a person of multiple privileges. I am white, upper middle class, and enjoy a high social status. I am a Ph. D. historian, liberation theologian, ordained Baptist minister, and film maker. Much of my professional life consists of advocacy for illegal immigrants, domestic labor, and guest workers in the US legally with an H2 visa.

Free trade agreements are closely associated with the displacement of the millions of Latinos who are in the US illegally as well as with the creation of a billionaire class in Mexico and elsewhere. Free trade agreements and neoliberal economic policies generally are a priority issue for me.

Although Clinton has recently distanced herself from the looming Trans Pacific Partnership, in the past she has applauded it as the “gold standard” of trade agreements.

Trade agreements favor the well being of corporations over that of human beings. They are in large part about the creation of “investor states” which legally transfer local, state, and national sovereignty to corporations which may sue governments which act to adversely affect, or threaten to adversely affect, corporations’ profits. This includes such things as labor regulations, environmental efforts, and regulations over pharmaceutical businesses.

Clinton has waffled on free trade agreements. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Dr. Jill Stein, on the other hand, consistently have opposed them.

Each seems to understand that the agreements are not really about trade — they certainly are not about the creation of a multicultural “global village” — they are about the offshoring of national sovereignty and the creation of a new legal framework to create and protect new, sinister investor states. They are about displacing more and more vulnerable peoples around the world and making it next to impossible for the rest of us to do anything about it. I have written more on the sovereignty problems with free trade agreements here.

This article is based on anecdotal evidence, of course, as was Melissa Hillman’s. But it should go some distance in demonstrating that she is wrong about privilege being the reason for people on the left opposing Clinton. Instead, the reasons for many of us include deep concerns about America’s working class, the current failure of the two-party system to address systemic economic problems, and neoliberal economic policies. Many of us have concluded that Clinton is not only a poor choice to lead America, she is downright dangerous for all of us.

Sanders’ “Stupid Trump” Comment to Rachel Maddow

th-1Yesterday, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Democratic presidential party hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Madison, Wisconsin. She mentioned Republican contender Donald Trump’s recent remark that “women should be punished for having an abortion”. Sanders reply, in part, was that it was a “stupid remark”. Sanders also said that the idea of punishing a woman for having an abortion was “incomprehensible”.

Predictably, Sanders’ remark has been construed as having been dismissive of a woman’s right to choose. Sanders’ remarks to Rachel Maddow in full as well as his history on the issue ought to be brought into play.

Below is Sander’s reply (edited by me for brevity), but you can read the entire transcript here if you wish. You also could watch this video of the exchange which will indicate very well that the emphasis in Sander’s remarks was on Trump’s incomprehensible stupidity as well as on too much of American media’s “flavor of the day” approach to reporting.

Sanders said, “But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension. . . . I don’t know what world this person [Trump] lives in.  So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everything that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so.

The idea of punishing a woman, that is just, you know, beyond comprehension. . . .

You know, you mentioned a moment ago, Rachel, that the media is paying attention to Donald Trump.

Duh? No kidding. Once again, every stupid remark will be broadcast, you know, for the next five days.

But because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.  Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context.

MADDOW:  Are you suggesting, though, that the media shouldn’t be focusing on his call to potentially jail women who have abortions?  Because that’s another stupid —

SANDERS:  I am saying that every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remark, of course it should be mentioned. But so should Trump’s overall positions. . . .  All that I’m saying is that Trump is nobody’s fool.  He knows how to manipulate the media and you say an absurd thing and the media is all over it.”

Maddow later asked the other Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Clinton, whether Sanders’ remark was “just another Donald Trump stupid comment”.

Clinton replied, “No, absolutely not. I’ve been on the front lines of the fight to preserve a woman’s choice and ability to make these difficult decision, that is why I was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood action fund, that is why I was endorsed by NARAL, I am a leader in trying to make sure that our rights as women are in no way eroded.”

Clinton continued, “And to think this is an issue that is not deserving of reaction demonstrates a lack of understanding of how serious this is. It goes to the heart.”

You can watch a video of the exchange between Maddow and Clinton here.

In my opinion, Clinton either misunderstood the nature of Sanders’ remark and Maddow’s question or did not want to address it. If you look at the video and look at the transcript, it seems clear to me that Sander’s was not reacting to a woman’s right to choose as an issue, he was reacting to the absurdity of Trump’s remark about “punishing” women and to the absurdity of media’s absorption with his every idiotic utterance. Instead, she changed the subject (as I truly might have if I were running for office) to her record, her endorsement by NARAL, and the Republican party’s record. The gist of Clinton’s remarks was that Sanders did not fully appreciate the issue.

In sorting through this, it might be helpful to look at Sanders’ voting and support record on a woman’s right to choose and related issues. Source: OnTheIssues.com.

  • (1993) Sanders supported the protection of women’s reproductive rights
  • (1997) said women should have the right to choose regardless of income
  • (1999) voted NO on barring transporting minors to get an abotion
  • (2000) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortions
  • (2001) voted NO on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad
  • (2002) voted NO on funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion info
  • (2003) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life
  • (2003) rated 100% by NARAL [Pro Choice America], ostensibly for his pro-choice record
  • (2005) voted NO on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions
  • (2006) supported emergency contraception for rape victims at all hospitals
  • (2006) rated 0% by the National Right to Life Committee, ostensibly for his pro-choice stance
  • (2007) he voted NO on barring Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions
  • (2007) supported access to and funding for contraception
  • (2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
  • (2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program]
  • (2009) voted NO on restricting UN funding for population control
  • (2009) focused on preventing unwanted pregnancy, plus emergency contraception
  • (2011) supported requiring pharmacies to fulfill contraceptive prescriptions
  • (2013) supported banning anti-abortion limitations on abortion services
  • (2015) supported access to safe, legal abortions without restrictions

Here is Clinton’s voting and support record using the same source:

  • (2001) Recommended by Emily’s List, a group which endorses Democrat women candidates who support right to choose
  • (2003) Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life
  • (2003) rated 100% by NARAL, ostensibly for her pro-choice voting record
  • (2005) voted YES on $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy via education & contraceptives
  • (2006) voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions
  • (2006) sponsored bill providing contraceptives for low-income women
  • (2006) sponsored bill for emergency contraception for rape victims
  • (2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
  • (2007) supported ensuring access to and funding for contraception
  • (2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP
  • (2009) supported focusing on preventing pregnancy, plus emergency contraception

Here is a graphic provided by the Bing Political Index which shows that, on the issue of abortion, Sanders is to the left of Clinton and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is to the left of them both.

Of course, that clearly is debatable depending on how you read the evidence as to who is the stronger candidate. If you look at length of years supporting a woman’s right to choose, Sanders might look better. If you look at an emphasis on education, Clinton might look better. On this particular issue, they both look good to me. Sanders has what seems to me to be an impeccable record on a woman’s right to choose. This should not be overlooked or obscured because during a moment’s completely comprehensible frustration, he decided to tell it like it is.