Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Archive for the ‘civil liberties’ Category

Marriage Equality in New York

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By Wiz

I stopped by the big Pride Parade yesterday, which, for obvious reasons, was pretty exciting this year. I parked myself on Christopher and Bleecker Streets, a place which I figured had some pretty historic connotations and took some pictures (click on them to blow them up), which I thought I’d share along with some thoughts.

1. The only moment, in my life, where I’ve seen so much authentic and unscripted joy was election night 2008, when the whole city burst into spontaneous celebration. New Yorkers are a pretty rude antisocial bunch, but the mood in Greenwich Village was completely jubilant and communal. Everyone was talking about the bill in every coffee shop and restaurant. I heard strangers discussing it in the Strand bookstore, and the level of authentic joy and happiness, including among the many straight people, was infectious.

The Cutest old Gay Men. Sign says Together 54 Years.

2. If anyone still thinks of the gay rights movement as a rich white movement, they haven’t spent much time in New York City. It may be that marriage equality was able to pass because rich white New Yorkers, by and large, either supported it or didn’t care. But both the crowd and the marchers were appropriate for New York: a completely diverse, rowdy, and democratic bunch. There were the South Asian gay marchers, the Orthodox Jews, the Latina Women, the Asian marchers, etc…I’d like to think it would make Walt Whitman proud, on a whole bunch of levels.
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Written by Peter Wirzbicki

June 27, 2011 at 16:14

Nuremberg, Eichmann, Bin Laden: Some Thoughts on Justice and Punishment

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by Weiner

I recently listened to this superb debate between Glenn Greenwald and David Frum on the subject of Osama Bin Laden’s death. In terms of policy, I’m far more sympathetic to GG than Frum, even with Frum’s most recent slight turn left. I think GG got the best of this debate, except when the subject of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials came up. There I sided with Frum.

Greenwald, like many others, argues that the Nuremberg trials (pictured above) represent a highlight in our society’s dedication to the rule of law. Even the most heinous Nazi war criminals were offered a trial, found guilty, and justifiably punished. He also mentioned the Eichmann trial as an example when the Israelis brought a criminal to justice, provided him with a trial, and rendered the correct verdict. He wishes that Americans had been able to do the same with Osama Bin Laden, thinking a trial, guilty verdict, and then meted out punishment. To GG, that would have been a more effective outcome in the “war on terror.”

In this article, Greenwald highlights what he calls “The Osama Bin Laden Exception.” People who normally prefer abiding by the rule of law, but will make an exception in the case of Bin Laden. He points to Jonathan Capeheart’s confession of hypocrisy in this regard, along with John Cole’s similar admission. Greenwald has more respect for this hypocrisy as long as these people own it.

Still, Greenwald disagress with them, and would have preferred a trial. Over on Facebook, Wotty presented a similar view, expressing his preference for:

a legitimate trial where [Osama Bin Laden] then got to spend the rest of his years rotting in prison would have been a sweeter victory over the man and his ideas, though it would have made for fewer screaming frat boys at “Ground Zero.”

I must respectfully disagree with Greenwald and Wotty here, for a number of reasons.

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Written by David Weinfeld

May 7, 2011 at 08:32

Editing Ross Douthat

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by Luce

What is it about the New Year, or 2011, that reproduction is suddenly becoming the focus of such media scrutiny? Could it have anything to do with the coming into power of a militantly anti-choice Speaker?

Cultural sniffer Ross Douthat has also noticed this trend and decided to add his two cents in a recent Times column. Mostly it’s a yawn-fest whose point of view can be most quickly summed up by the fact that he refuses to call embryos and fetuses anything except the “unborn.” But he’s really doing his best to do a nuanced analysis of recent all the media representations of abortion ever and the adoption vs. surrogacy debate. I’ll hold back from line edits, but I thought I’d helpfully provide Douthat with some feedback on larger ideas that I think could use reworking.

1. The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion.

Ross, the recent, sanitized, and mainstream American entertainment industry is not comfortable with abortion. But watch a Paul Mazursky film from the late ’70s, say the really wonderful An Unmarried Woman, and you’ll find the  15-year-old daughter casually talking to her mother about helping to pay for a classmate’s abortion while they set the dinner table together. Note that this is the only mention of abortion in the entire movie. There’s no hand-wringing, abortion just happens to be embedded in the everyday.

2. MTV being MTV, the special’s attitude was resolutely pro-choice. But it was a heartbreaking spectacle, whatever your perspective.

Is any media representation in the era of reality TV going to be anything but a “heartbreaking spectacle”? On the Real Housewives of New York being late for opening night at the Met is a “heartbreaking spectacle.” What network is going to air a woman self-assuredly and quietly going in for an abortion? In this case, and since you yourself say the American media is uncomfortable with abortion, should you really use a reality show as your only case study to show “how abortion can simultaneously seem like a moral wrong and the only possible solution”?

3. Last month there was Vanessa Grigoriadis’s provocative New York Magazine story “Waking Up From the Pill“…

Hang on, just a quick word choice suggestion even though I know I said I wouldn’t line edit, but “provocative” doesn’t seem to quite capture Grigoradis’s story. Let me know what you think of one of the following instead: sensationalistic, outlandish, insupportable.

4. In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason…Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.

Though you don’t cross all your t’s, I get your underlying contention that it’s a tragedy that all these young, poor, unmarried girls now have the option to terminate their pregnancies rather than gestate for 9 months so that a wealthier, older, better-positioned, married woman can take their baby off their hands, and that now these wealthier women are forced to actually pay those women who now have a legal choice to act as surrogates or supply eggs for their (re)productive labor. I don’t have any real suggestions on this one, I just thought you could make that more clear.

5. This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.

Wait, I’m confused. For something you want to find so concrete (“unborn life,” not “a mass of cells”), I’m surprised that you’re abstracting here so much. Which life? Whose life? Is this the unborn life of someone who desires a child, or the unborn life of someone who doesn’t? I think differentiating between the two might help resolve this paradox.

Written by Kristen Loveland

January 4, 2011 at 10:40

A Modest Proposal: Job Creation through Incarceration

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by Nemo

For the past few days, thousands of Georgia prisoners have been striking against their poor working conditions. The strikers—by demanding actual wages and fair working conditions—risk undermining one of the America’s few areas of global economic competitiveness. Ever buy packaged Starbucks coffee? Ever buy a mouse from Microsoft? Ever shopped at Wal-Mart? Chances are you have benefited from a quality product made in the USA—by prisoners. Prison labor represents one of the few ways that American companies can compete with the low wages offered in the developing world. Prison authorities must break the Georgia prison strike—the fate of the American worker might depend on it.

Although Georgia–unlike dozens of other states–has barred the age old right for prisoners to work without pay for private companies, it has managed to cutback on many costly state and municipal jobs by making prisoners do them instead. With their irresponsible protests, the strikers risk creating better working conditions at prisons more generally.

This is especially the case since Georgia has been so innovative in making prisons economically productive. It spends less on prisoner upkeep than nearly anywhere else does in the country. As one journalist has observed “Prisoners are confined in overcrowded cells, with very little heat in the winter months and sweltering heat in the summer.”

Georgia has also cut back on wasteful government spending by denying prisoners access to any educational opportunities beyond the General Equivalency Diploma. After all, if prisoners had access to education, it might increase the chances that they would never return to jail, and thus deny the state its right to their unpaid labor. With nearly 1 in 13 of Georgia’s citizens either in prison, probation, or on parole, these huge labor reserves provide a great way to reign in runaway government spending.

Snake River Correctional Institution Call Center, Oregon. Ensuring that those telemarketing calls you receive during dinner are "made in the USA."

Georgia’s prison employment has been a particular boon to the state’s black community. While comprising 30% of the state’s population, African Americans make up 63% of the state’s prisoners. This provides the community with well-needed jobs. On this point, Georgia has established itself as a leader in a broader national trend.  As Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has observed, “Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males.  African-Americans–males and females–make up .6 percent of the entire world’s population, but African-American males–alone–make up 8 percent of the entire world’s prison population.” Thus, the prison strike threatens not only American financial competitiveness, but also employment opportunities for some of the nation’s most economically disadvantaged citizens.

The good news, however, is that America holds the world’s largest prison population. If prison officials make sure to shutdown this peaceful protest with maximum force—as they seem intent on doing—this important system of competitive labor management stands a high chance of remaining in place. In fact, if Georgia succeeds, President Obama might follow the state’s example in launching the “job creation” package that his liberal supporters have long been demanding. Indeed, with federal judges now ruling the health care mandate unconstitutional, Congress should consider re-opening debtors’ prisons for Americans who cannot afford to pay their health care bills. This might not solve the health care crisis, but it would go along way to reducing unemployment.

Written by Julian Nemeth

December 13, 2010 at 17:47

Those Tyrannical Paranoid Chinese

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By Wiz

From the New York Times:

As China ratcheted up the pressure on Google to censor its Internet searches last year, the American Embassy sent a secret cable to Washington detailing why top Chinese leaders had become so obsessed with the Internet search company: they were Googling themselves…That cable from American diplomats was one of many made public by WikiLeaks that portray China’s leadership as nearly obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power

Nothing like that would ever happen here!

The AP:

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks struggled to stay online Friday as governments and hackers hounded the organization across the Internet, trying to deprive it of a direct line to the public.

Talking Points Memo:

The nation’s biggest defense contractors, who employ thousands of people with security clearances, are taking steps to restrict their access to Wikileaks, including one company which is blocking employees from accessing any website, including news stories, with “wikileaks” in the URL.

Columbia University:

Students of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs were warned this week not to spread the Wikileak cables online if they ever wanted a job at the State Department.


BERLIN (AP) – Online payment service provider PayPal says in a company blog it has cut off the account used by WikiLeaks to collect donations.


On Wednesday, WikiLeaks – the organization behind one of the largest diplomatic data dumps in history – was ejected from Amazon cloud-based servers, apparently under pressure from US politicians.

Update: Digby steals my thunder.

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

December 4, 2010 at 13:17

In Case Anyone Cares What I Think about Wikileaks

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By Wiz

1. I don’t understand why people, by and large, are ignoring the fact that Obama has been waging an illegal war in Yemen? To me, this trumps everything else. I know we’ve just all agreed to completely ignore the Constitutional requirement to get congressional approval before military action. But aren’t people just a tad bit concerned that their government is waging secret wars without democratic consent? I guess Obama has been learning a bit too much from hanging out with Henry Kissinger. I’m sure there is some sophistical and technical reason someone can give me why this is different than Nixon bombing Cambodia, but I don’t see it. We dropped more bombs on Cambodia, I guess, but that’s a quantitative, not qualitative, distinction. And hey! You both get Nobel Peace Prizes!

2. Is there anything more disgusting than the bursts of self-righteousness from the Obama administration? I’ll make a deal, Mr. President. You agree that you can’t assassinate us whenever and wherever you feel like it, you follow through on even 10% of your campaign promises regarding civil liberties, and we’ll stop cheering on the non-violent spread of (redacted) information from the State Department. You can’t systemically undermine our privacy and then go crying about yours.

3. This stuff is embarrassing, but not really dangerous for America. Insiders mostly knew all this stuff anyway (at least, that’s what this friendly British guy told me on Democracy Now). I’d say its impact is more in the realm of one more brick in the wall in the steady decline of the moral authority of the American Empire.

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

November 29, 2010 at 17:36

Violent Foreigners Invade Ground Zero

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By Wiz

I’m normally a tolerant person, and generally welcome immigration. It’s what makes America great and all. But recently, some of you may have noticed, there have been groups of foreign radicals, zealots known as exponents of terrorism and violence who have infiltrated our shores, even showing up here in Manhattan, near the sensitive location of Ground Zero.

I’m talking, of course, about the English.

Specifically, the English Defence League, who rallied over the weekend opposed to the construction of an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero. They’re a truly noxious group of people, who intentionally exacerbate conflicts between Islamic citizens and others.

Outside Agitators

A group of them were allowed to come to America to protest. Good for America for letting them in, we shouldn’t be blocking any ideas no matter how hateful. But think for a second if an analagous group of Muslims from some other country wanted to come to protest something in New York City. I’m sure they would have no problems getting past customs.

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

September 13, 2010 at 17:42