Tag Archives: Politics

Everyone Deserves Respect, Dignity & Autonomy—Sex Workers Included

A usually well-respected defense lawyer, Susan Necheles, today engaged in a so-called “sluts and nuts” defense of her client, Donald Trump, in his current hush-money trial. She painted Stormy Daniels as wacky and not credible by querying Ms. Daniels about her spiritual practices on the stand. Even worse, she branded Ms. Daniels as insincere when she said she had felt scared and anxious on the night she and Trump had sex. She implied that Daniels’ expression of fear over thinking she was in a situation in which her safety and career could be compromised if she didn’t agree to sex with Trump was unbelievable.

And that’s disgusting.

Trump is accused of paying Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep silent about a sexual encounter they had nearly two decades ago. While such payoffs are not necessarily illegal, paying off someone to hide information that could materially affect public opinion during a presidential campaign is. So is lying about that to the federal government.

Ms. Daniels made clear that she never intended to have sex with Trump. She thought had been invited for dinner and a talk—two entertainment professionals having a discussion that might lead to a business deal. Perhaps he’d offer her a stint on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice TV show. She even teased him when she showed up and he was in silky pajamas, and told him to go get dressed—which he did before they talked for two hours.

Ms. Daniels asked if he was always so rude as to show up for dinner in pajamas, and not even have any food to feed her? She teased him, shaming him into getting dressed in something other than a satin robe. When he constantly interrupted her answers to his many questions, she asked him if he was always so self-absorbed. She thought she’d set a tone that showed she was in control of herself, and capable of setting boundaries and setting him straight when he treated her without respect and dignity. It seemed to be going well.

Trump and Ms. Daniels talked about work and families. The then-60-year-old man said three times that his then-27-year-old guest reminded him of his daughter Ivanka—both were beautiful, smart, and not given the respect they deserved.

But after two hours of talk, when she excused herself to use the bathroom, she walked out to find Trump in his underwear on a bed, looking at her, obviously ready and waiting to have sex with her. Her stomach dropped. She worried what the bodyguard would do if she said no. Would the bodyguard let her leave? Would Trump? What would happen to her career? She’d not wanted to go dinner with Trump in the first place, but only did so because her manager had said it could be a good career move to talk with him, and “What could go wrong?”

Lawyer Necheles acted incredulous that the famous Stormy Daniels wouldn’t be willing to have sex with just anybody at any time. How could she of all people be anxious when a large, powerful, famous man with a big bodyguard just outside the door made it clear that he expected her to give in to him? Necheles acted as if it were unbelievable that Ms. Daniels, then a married woman who had worked as an exotic dancer and a porn movie star, should have any compunction over, preferences about, or fear for her safety when faced with an potential sex partner whom she hadn’t chosen or approved. A man famous for having sex with lots of young women. A man who had determined that Ms. Daniels was regularly tested for STDs, but who had no such proof of his own to offer about his health.

Necheles acted as if every sex worker is just a careless and worthless person with no right to respect, dignity, or physical autonomy. No need to be concerned for her health and safety. No reason to say no to a married man over twice her age who expected her to do whatever he wanted—and who didn’t even wear a condom during their encounter.

No one should EVER feel pressured into a sexual situation with anyone. Not even a (supposed) billionaire with fame, power, and a reputation as a litigious bully (which he had even back then).

Ms. Daniels says she was not raped, and not forced to have sex. But the power imbalance between her and Trump was huge. Their age imbalance was enormous. The amount of respect Trump got as the star of a popular TV show vs. the respect Stormy got as a woman who had sex on camera for money was vastly different. Ms. Daniels says she went along with his wishes, but that she felt numb, that she dissociated, that she asked herself how’d she’d gotten herself in that situation. She was shaking so much afterward that she had trouble putting her boots back on to leave. Because she’s a human being who felt shame for being in a situation that scared her, and humiliation for thinking that she mattered to Trump as more than a sex toy.

If a person isn’t interested in having sex, says no, asks to stop at any time, or was willing in the past but is no longer, it legally makes no difference whether that person is one’s wife or a X-rated movie star. Pressuring anyone sexually is wrong, regardless of career, personal experience, number of partners, or current relationship. The idea that someone who has sex as part of her job should be totally without preferences about partners, fear about unwanted encounters, or concern or say over who uses her body, is repugnant. And using such a defense in court is outrageous.

Fascism in America

Vice News has created a powerful documentary on the murderous fascist violence that took over Charlottesville last weekend. It is hard to watch, but important to see. We must all bear witness to what is happening and not turn away from it but fight it together.

Fascism has been an undercurrent in American politics for many decades and has never been wiped out. But it now has thousands of newly emboldened, well-armed adherents who feel safe leaving their shadows, rifles in hand. They see themselves as part of a holy war. Aided and abetted by Trump and Bannon, American Nazis have gained the confidence to come out, threaten, attack, even murder. They act out more forcefully now because they fear no reprisals—they believe God and Trump are on their side. This makes them a much more powerful force for evil than they were only months ago.

Unless we stomp this fascist uprising down hard and fast with the rule of law, show immediate intervention between sides at rallies where fascists appear, and disallow armed proponents of violence from threatening others and brandishing weapons in the streets and elsewhere—unless we legislate against the legal arming of members of hate groups who actively support the murder of innocents and the overthrow of our government—we may enter an age of increasing white fascist terrorism.
 
The president has spit in the face of all who fought the Nazis during World War II. He has made a dirty joke of the sacrifices of all who were tortured and slaughtered by Hitler and his followers. Trump has all but welcomed the Klan into the White House. He daily proves himself to be an utterly unfit and illegitimate head of state, a leader opposed to his own people and his own nation, a traitor in support of a malign foreign power and a man with a malignant and severe personality disorder that keeps him from thinking rationally or caring about any interests other than his own.
 
If Trump should eventually be impeached and ousted by those in power who recognize his instability and moral bankruptcy, we may hear and see threats made against those who oppose him. Extremists who feel their fascist president was toppled by a communist coup d’etat will go after both liberals and conservatives who finally feel too soiled and disgusted to carry water for an unhinged tyrant who seems to be in league with Putin against the United States.
Whether Trump stays in power or not, he has unleashed heavily armed monsters without morals or mercy. So far, they have been given the benefit of the doubt by police and government agencies when they should have been held back. Legislators in the pocket of the NRA have allowed people with documented mental illness and histories of domestic violence to own and use deadly firearms and even purchase semi-automatic weapons of mass destruction. Our nation has been willing to coddle supporters of violence and support them in their efforts to arm themselves like professional soldiers and build up huge personal armories.
 
Fascists do not stop at threats. They do not stop at murder. There is a good chance that, emboldened by irrational hatred and violent tendencies, some will believe that it is their holy duty to engage in what they see as righteous war against members of the U.S. government. No, they cannot topple our government, but they have already infiltrated it. They are massively armed and exist in larger numbers than we have seen in decades. They are likely to continue to do great damage, and to distract us all from helping those who are in need and watching how international affairs affect us. We must speak against tyrants, demagogues and terrorists. We must change our gun laws. We must be ready to bring fascists down.

Why the Boston Globe’s Trump Satire is Good Journalism

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The Boston Globe’s satirical front page warning of life under a Trump presidency, published in their opinion section on April Fool’s Day

This morning the Boston Globe shared a brilliant piece of satire in their opinion section: a mock-up of what their paper would be like one year from today if Donald Trump were to win the presidency. Predictably, social media is blowing up with explosions of outrage from people who don’t know the particulars or the place of opinion pieces in journalism and have no awareness of the importance and history of satire in affecting political change. They say they are appalled and offended and that the Boston Globe has lost all credibility. Let us pause to consider some important truths.

The mocked-up pages of the newspaper did not take over the front of the newspaper. Those who go to the Boston Globe will find the satire in the opinion section, the same section in which other political positions are taken every single day in thousands of newspapers and news sites across the nation and around the world in the form of editorials, op-ed pieces and political cartoons.

For those who cry “Outrage!” that the Globe would stoop so low as to share a political opinion in the form of satire, I ask them: does your favorite news source publish opinion pieces? Have you never seen a political cartoon? Do you not read infographics which selectively choose which facts to highlight every day? These tools have been used to sway popular opinion and have been integral pieces of journalism for hundreds of years. Newspapers and journals have always taken stands; very few of them do not endorse candidates for president. The best of them present their opinion pieces in the clearly labeled opinion section; they do their best to report the facts with little adornment throughout the rest of the paper and then put the opinions of their editorial board and columnists in a section expressly labeled as a place where people take sides and try to persuade. The Boston Globe did exactly this with their publication of their “Donald Trump’s world” satire.

Confused and misinformed modern readers often erroneously believe that it is the job of the media to be completely without bias at all times. Ironically, this idea is most often promulgated by followers of extreme-right news media whose every pronouncement has conservative political overtones. There is not a middle ground to every question, and the correct journalistic response to opposing views is often to refuse to sit squarely in the middle and pretend that there is no right or wrong answer when facts point clearly to one side over the other. In many situations, there is a clear and fundamental truth at stake, and not just a matter of opinion. Vaccines do not cause autism, for example, and sweeping worldwide climate change is real. Reporting on such issues as if they were controversial and unanswerable questions would be to mislead readers into thinking that established facts are mere opinions.

When trained journalists turn their well-informed and often cynical eyes on a world full of opposing opinions, murky details and obvious facts, it is their job to not only gather and separate facts from misstatements but also to ask questions about where those facts will lead us. It is their job to think of the likely consequences of a world in which each of the presidential candidates went on to be elected and then ran their administration according to their stated beliefs. Usually they do this in words or cartoons. In a world in which newspapers are quickly dying for lack of readership and most people gather the bulk of their news from online sources, the most effective way to get attention for their opinions is now to take chunks of information and spread them via Facebook or Twitter or Instagram alongside punchy visuals.

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Another page from the Boston Globe satire

By creating a stunning visual parody mini-newspaper as a warning of what could come, the Boston Globe knew that they would be able to get attention for their opinions and get people to consider consequences in a more visual, visceral and immediate fashion. They knew that they were taking an editorial risk, but that their message would be carried and discussed by thousands of news outlets and social media platforms around the world. They decided to present an editorial in visual form to get attention, yes, but they buttressed their opinions with facts, quotes and context in the way of a warning. This is their Orwellian admonishment to those who will not bother to read newspapers or consider facts anymore.

The job of any editorial board is to get attention and sway opinion by asking people to consider the consequences of their choices. Those who raise the alarm that the Boston Globe has now shown itself willing to trick people with fake news are the same people who haven’t bothered to actually look at the well-produced parody itself, nor to consider that they get much of their own information from avowedly conservative sources with axes to grind who are more than willing to publish opinion and pretend that it is fact.

As has happened throughout history, a large proportion of the population is bored by and tired of politics and won’t read the facts about the candidates’ actual stances on substantive issues. The average citizen of the U.S. only thinks of the candidates in broad, cartoonish terms without thinking through what the consequences of our electoral choices may be. People justify their political agnosticism and ennui by saying that all candidates are equally corrupt and evil and all of them will lead to the same bad outcomes, so their votes are meaningless and futile. This is demonstrably false.

Being a good citizen requires mental effort and a willingness to expend some time and expose one’s opinions to rigor. Lives and livelihoods depend on it. Rights are won and lost over such things. People starve or go without medicine or surgery because of politics. Wars begin and end, countries are invaded and people go to jail or are freed or executed based on the choices we make at the polls. The stakes are so incredibly high that those who spend their lives following politics obsessively and who report on these issues feel they have a duty to use every tool they have in order to get us to sit up and take notice when it’s time for us to make life-changing, world-altering decisions. The Boston Globe has done this using pointed and potent (and clearly labeled) satire. I applaud them for it.