Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bush Screws Women Globally: Still Gagging on the Rules

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

802 words

Now that Gore's got his Oscar, and Barbara Boxer's in charge of the Environment and Public Works Committee, a safer home for those cute little arctic seals is practically in the bag. But what about that other endangered category: women?

Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 imposing his global gag rule, we've been crushed between the rock and the hard place with no end in sight.

The gag rule cuts off U.S. funds to any foreign organization making any mention of abortion for any reason, no matter where the funding for those services came from. So even mention abortion among a hundred other things, and women in developing countries can kiss goodbye prenatal care and cancer screening and open their arms wide to the half a million women that will die this year during pregnancy or childbirth -- from largely preventable causes.

That's the rock. The hard place is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which does do some good in providing money for treatment and prevention of AIDS in developing countries, but again has a crushing provision that a full one-third of the prevention money go to programs preaching only abstinence.

For Bush, sex workers are garbage. Girls that aren't given the chance to say "no" are crap along the side of the road. Girls forced to marry young are what you scrape off your shoe. Women that already have HIV and have no means to prevent transmitting it aren't even on the map.

When are we going to roll that back?

Is it even on the agenda of the macho Dems when the bad news from Iraq takes half the newspaper every day, and the other half is consumed by presidential wannabees grunting at each other while garden variety torture cases barely get a mention. If another Abu Ghraib was uncovered now, or even if anyone wanted to follow-up on the old one, they'd have to wait in line behind whatever Hillar-Ama brainfart hits the stands next.

There's been little coverage of that lug José Padilla, the "enemy combatant" from Chicago that could barely spell his own name, but was nabbed in 2002 and thrown in an army brig for supposedly coordinating more deadly attacks. He's finally come up for trial and it turns out they tortured him so much he's almost completely insane. Forget poor women dying slowly of AIDS, or during deliveries.

I even resent all the coverage of Academy Awards, though Helen Mirren won best actress and I've had a crush on her for ages, except during her recent incarnation as the pin-curled, blue-rinsed Queen.

If I had my druthers it would other women on the front page this morning, all the forgotten ones dying and at risk, and the handful trying to do something about them.

As it turns out, overturning the gag rule is on the Democratic agenda, kinda, just not far up enough to make it to most newspapers. On January 22, Democratic Representative Nita Lowey from New York re-introduced the timeworn Global Democracy Promotion Act expressly devoted to overturning the gag rule. A couple of weeks ago, California's Rep. Barbara Lee, re-introduced the Pathways Act, which would remove the requirement that one-third of PEPFAR AIDS prevention programs be abstinence-based.

The problem is neither bill will go anywhere this time either. Even if the new clench-fisted, testosterone stoked Dems suddenly admitted sympathy for the problems of women, Bush would veto the bills anyway.

Pressure probably won't come from outside, either. Dr. Margaret Chan, the new director-general of the World Health Organization has announced that women's health is one of her top priorities, but she also seems to be courting America's Big Pharma in recent comments in Bangkok criticizing Thailand for challenging intellectual property laws to develop generic AIDS and cardiac drugs.

Will she turn a blind eye to the United States' global gag rule and PEPFAR policies that are based on moral crusades than good science and public interest? WHO knows?

Sexual and reproductive health worldwide is a mess. According to a global study published in the British medical journal the Lancet last November, international aid for family planning dropped from $560 million in 1995 to $460 million in 2003.

We need Helen Mirren to return, not as queen, but President, a kind of unsmiling, childless, tough-as-nails Inspector Tennyson to defend the rights of women.

Hillary is tough, and Pelosi, too, but I don't like seeing the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives doing photo shoots with a grandkid on her hip. She's being the dog that rolls over to expose her belly and show how non-threatening she is to all the male voters out there. Yeah, I understand the game, but it creeps me out.

Show your soft side long enough, some wolf'll rip it to shreds.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thoughts on Memory, Violence, and Ilan Halimi's Death as a Jew

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

808 words

In Paris, the flaneur capital of the world, you start one place, end up somewhere else in time and space.

Stop by the Hôtel de Ville to watch ice skaters twirl around in front of two cheesy igloos and the grandiose City Hall building, you'll see an enormous photo of Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian-French politician kidnapped in Colombia in 2002 and still held (if she's not dead) by FARC.

On the rue du Temple, you might be browsing for fancy handbags, and run across a plaque to Raoul Naudet, resistance member, who lived in the building before he got arrested and exterminated in the camp of Mauthausen in 1942.

Last year, I went out with Marina's mom for an ice cream, and we ended up at a memorial to French deportees.

There's a sandy park to one side of Notre Dame. At the far end, you see this long, low wall that's insignificant after the knobby soaring spires and muscular flying buttresses of the Cathedral.

In front is a little placard explaining the memorial, who was taken away and why, how many were exterminated, how many survived. Along the bottom edge are differently colored triangles and the yellow star used to mark the deportees.

Marina's Mom wept a little as she read. She knows the pink triangle is a gay thing, and that the Nazis had interred a lot of different kinds of people, but it hit her hard to see that triangle there condemning her own daughter and son to death camps along with gypsies and dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, and of course, Jews.

I went back this week. It was the one year anniversary of the death of Ilan Halimi, a young man, who was kidnapped by a neighborhood gang united in a love for money and hatred for Jews.

It didn't matter that he was a salaried worker in a cell phone store. He was a Jew and they can always come up with some dough, they said. The "Gang of Barbarians" lived up to their chosen name, torturing him for fun while they waited, then dumping his ravaged, barely living, body by some railroad tracks.

For a while the cops tried to cover up the nature of the death, nothing to do with him being a Jew, or them being Muslim even though they taunted the family with anti-Semitic rants when they made ransom calls, recited Muslim prayers, and in one ransom video, showed Ilan blindfolded with a gun to his head like the ones coming out of Iraq from kidnappers there.

Worst of all, was that some neighbors knew, and said nothing from fear or approval.

I went to an SOS Racisme march organized after the story broke. There were a lot of people, but not as many as I expected, and almost all the marchers were Jews. It was a peculiar experience, being in a march like that in Paris where it was just a couple of generations ago the French rounded up Jews like the people I was walking next to, and sent them to extermination camps.

Usually, when I go to a march, I feel invulnerable. That time, even surrounded by thousands of other people, I felt the joint frailty of our human bodies, and how easy it would be herd us all into cattle cars and kill us, that is, if you first re-imagined us as beasts and nothing more.

The march got ugly after a while when teenage Jewish boys started running around with Israeli flags and Jewish Defense League banners and handkerchiefs drawn up over their faces like guerillas. They shouted and shoved and laughed their heads off.

At first, they just seemed high spirited, reclaiming some ground after the petty harassments they put up with in the Metro, on the streets. Then we heard the sound of breaking store windows. Some of the older people were shaken. Later, a Muslim shopkeeper was roughed up, and a couple of passersby.

That's the double-edged sword of memory, fueling grudges and violence on the one side, on the other compassion. It could be you on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

At the memorial to the 200,000 martyred French deportees, visitors descend a narrow stairway into an imprisoning stone patio, circled all around with high walls. There's a kind of spiked sculpture on the far side, and a barred opening with a glimpse of the Seine.

You turn around and there's an impossibly small passageway into the main memorial, and tomb of an unknown deportee. Inside are narrow barred rooms and walls inscribed with the names of Nazi camps. The main chamber, that you see through bars, has thousands upon thousands of little stones on both sides, each a deportee. They catch the light, burn in the darkness.

As you leave, you see the inscription, "Forgive, but never forget."

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Send An Email, Save the World

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

805 words

So John Edwards hitched his cybercampaign to a couple of unknown mules and found himself yanking on the reins in horror. I'm not surprised. The internet is supposed to be the next big thing in democracy, but when it comes down to it, U.S. candidates really only see it as another fundraising and advertising tool.

Hence the outcry about bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. They were hired for their popularity and democratic cred, then had to issue a bushel of mea culpas for pre-historic, pre-hiring comments on abortion, queers, and the "Christofascist" Catholic Church.

Don't you know you should wipe your feet, ladies, before you come in the door?

The internet is a lot of things, but the blogosphere more than any other part of it is one big intimate invitation into somebody else's brain. People don't mince words or go salt-free all worried about the neighbors.

American politics needs more of that. There's so much pressure on candidates to sanitize themselves that in '04 we ended up with a Kerry so wooden he made Pinocchio look spry.

As candidates get more pre-fab, they look for ways to seem more hip, more current, accessible even, so they put up a site, hire bloggers and scream, "I'm on the internet. Visit my site."

But just what are we really invited to do? Watch their videos. Read their press releases. And give, give, give. Howard Dean's glorious and doomed assertion, "You have the power," has largely been transformed into, "You have the money, hand it to me." Even votes seem like an afterthought.

Not to say there isn't window dressing. The Take Action page of Hillary Clinton's "exploratory" site promises an open blog that is "a crucial part of our exciting national conversation about the direction of our country and the place to go to learn more about Hillary." Whoopee.

Mostly though, her Take Action page is about money. Giving it yourself, or getting someone else to.

Ditto for Barak Obama and the embattled Mr. Edwards whose Take Action page tells us that, "If we want to live in a moral and just America tomorrow, we must act today. Please donate using our secure online form." Rad, man.

McCain, who's had his own blogging controversies, doesn't even pretend. His action page asks supporters to "join our team here. Then choose actions on the right to help raise money, recruit your friends, and help get others involved in this effort." That's it.

In this internet age, we've mistaken information for participation. In their January report on the use of the internet in the 2006 elections, the Pew Research Center rightly touted the increasing importance of the internet, but if you look at what they're actually saying, it seems almost all of the activity goes one direction.

A small, but significant, percentage gave money. Most users just sucked up information about candidates' positions on the issues or voting records, or tried to confirm what they'd already learned. Twenty percent shockingly relied on the candidate's own site for the info.

Plenty of people forward emails or sent links to articles, but only eight percent posted their own political commentary. One percent created and posted their own political video or audio.

What that means to me is that the internet creates a false sense of involvement. Send an email, save the world. Even Pew fell into the trap, defining 23 percent of "campaign internet users" as "activists," not only people that came up with their own opinion, but anybody who hit forward on their email program.

Sure, informing yourself is an important prelude to participation, but passing on an email is just a kind of online gossip, barbershop and beauty parlor stuff. You feel connected, create community, but that's only the appetizer to democracy. There's nothing terribly active about it.

Frankly, there's only one presidential candidate using the internet to empower voters. And she's running in the wrong country.

In France, Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate has used internet organizing from the beginning, in part to sidestep the old boy (elephant) network of the Socialist Party, but more importantly to get feedback and organize real world meetings to ask people what they think are France's most significant problems, and, get this, found out what they think should be done to address them.

The big question in the press has been if she would actually incorporate all this feedback, all these opinions. From her definitive policy speech on February 11th, the answer is "Yes."

As the people demanded, she promised to boost pensions of poor people, raise minimum wage, support job creation for young people, and institute "citizen juries" to evaluate the work of local and federal government.

Win or lose, she's already made a difference just by raising expectations, and redefining political debate as something that should include us all.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

No Deeper Than Skin

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

802 words.

You may not know a tailback from a nose tackle, but it was worth watching the Super Bowl last weekend anyway, and not just because there were guys in tight pants.

In a historic first, all the couch potatoes used to watching black Americans provide the muscle and speed of football, got to see them provide the brains as well when for the first time ever shots of the sidelines showed two African American coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, directing the whole shebang.

People throw around words like post-feminism, and post-queer, but what does that mean, really, when we're still having so many firsts? First female Speaker of the House, maybe soon, a first female President.

I'm still a little surprised every time I flip on the tube in the afternoon and see Ellen Degeneres there, one of the first out dykes on TV making jokes in her chic dyke haircut, and white shoes, and tailored dyke suits. I remember how thousands of us lesbians came together in bars and living rooms to watch the coming out episode on her sitcom. The show tanked afterwards, but not her.

I'm glad. It's still important having the face of an out dyke on national TV. Remember how TV changed after 9/11? For almost a month, the rainbow of New York personalities like Al Sharpton, Margarita Lopez, and Freddy Ferrer along with the black and brown local newscasters were erased by the horror of the falling towers and the equally terrifying Giuliani show that featured all white guys all the time.

It was like I lost the city twice. Call me superficial, but appearances are everything.

Which is why I like to see black coaches, and dykes on the small and large screen, even a black female representing America as Secretary of State. So Condi was hatched from a Cold War nest of vipers, big deal. Any replacement would have been as bad. Meanwhile, she and Colin Powell changed the face of America. And abroad, even countries that themselves struggle with race and gender are forced to roll out the red carpet for the Ivy League, piano-playing, African American brainiac femme.

It doesn't entirely matter that Condi herself would probably rather not be seen either as female or black. Or that black businessman Ward Connerly is actively campaigning against affirmative action, what the French call "positive discrimination." They are what they are.

Besides, they're right to have concerns. Organizing around sexual identity or race, the very nature of identity politics, means reinforcing the idea that differences in things like skin, in and of themselves, are meaningful, which is a knife's edge away from bigotry.

So who needs affirmative action? We do.

A couple hundred years of democracy tells us we're all the same under the skin. But in actual practice, like I said, appearance is everything.

I thought about it the other day when I went out for a walk. I'm back in Paris now, and like New York it's a city of neighborhoods. When I found myself in the Goutte-d'Or area, I thought I'd found the anti-Lesbos, a quartier of men.

Some cafés and restaurants seemed to have all Moroccan or Algerian men, others all men from West Africa, Senegal maybe, or Côte d'Ivoire. Testosterone flowed instead of wine. When I paused at the door of a gyro stand, their eyes would follow me, usually with curiosity or indifference, a couple of times with hate.

One man bristled, literally, at my short hair and stared at my white face as if I was an animal waiting to devour him, and not just the lamb I could smell roasting from the street.

I finally got a sandwich in a shop where there were two other women, even if they were only there with their boyfriends in the midst of the men. Their uncovered females faces were like welcome beacons. Appearances again.

Whose street? Not mine, that's for sure.

Faces are like guide posts telling you where you can go. I probably could have gotten a sandwich in any of those places, but I wanted to be comfortable for the six minutes it took to make my sandwich.

For kids, seeing a reflection of themselves on the playing field or TV, in the classroom or news conference has higher stakes. How can a girl see herself as a scientist if all the math and science teachers are men? How can some Hispanic boy see himself going to university if all the pictures in the college brochures are jam-packed with white students?

It's trickier with queers, who usually have to come out in words, accept labels, repeatedly, because humans suffer from nothing if not serial amnesia. At any rate, coming out and staying there still matters.

The truth is that something profound changes when faces do.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.