Truthout Stories Sun, 29 Mar 2015 15:29:23 -0400 en-gb New York Still Charges Teenagers as Adults; Will Cuomo's Bill Change That?

In the United States, 16-year-olds can’t vote or buy beer. But there is one place where they are treated as adults: New York state’s criminal justice system. New York is one of just two states – the other is North Carolina – where 16-year-olds facing criminal charges are automatically put into the adult criminal system.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan to end that policy. He has proposed a bill that would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 and would prohibit minors from being held in any adult facility. But some critics say the bill is filled with caveats and far less than meets the eye.

Here’s a review of what Cuomo is proposing and where critics say it comes up short.


Why does New York automatically prosecute teens aged 16 or older as adults?

Because that’s been the law for almost 200 years. In 1824, New York created one of the country’s first juvenile detention centers – the House of Refuge – for kids under 16 years old. The issue was briefly revisited in 1961 when New York amended its constitution to reorganize its juvenile courts as family courts that also handle juvenile delinquency cases. But the legislative committee assigned to reorganize the courts couldn’t decide whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Instead the committee called for a study, which then called for more studies.

Aren’t teenagers sometimes charged as adults in other states?

Yes. Nine states automatically charge 17-year-olds as adults. And many other states give prosecutors or judges discretion to decide whether a case should be transferred to adult court for more serious charges like homicide.

What is Cuomo proposing to do?

He wants to gradually raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York to 18 through a budget bill. The bill would roll out in two phases. The maximum age of juvenile jurisdiction will be raised to 17 on Jan. 1, 2017 and raised again to 18 by Jan. 1, 2018. The bill would also prohibit the confinement of minors under 21 in adult jails and prisons, prevent minors with first-time misdemeanor offenses or probation violations from being held in detention, and create a separate branch of adult courts for teenagers charged with violent felonies.

The bill is based on a set of recommendations published earlier this year by a governor-appointed commission of experts and advocates.

Many advocates support the bill, including the New York City Bar Association. It is “not perfect but it would be unfortunate if we lost this opportunity to really take a step forward for young people,” said Mishi Faruqee, juvenile justice policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “There is a real urgency to this and I hope New York doesn’t squander this opportunity.”

What are the criticisms of the bill?

The bill has a variety of provisions that actually create stricter sentencing schemes, particularly for kids charged with violent crimes. Currently, most offenders under 19 have their records sealed. Under Cuomo’s bill, a youthful offender’s previous violent crimes would be taken into account if the person is charged with another one. The bill would also extend the amount of time a juvenile offender would have to serve before being eligible for probation. Judges would also be prohibited from moving teenagers to the juvenile system if the teen was a principal perpetrator or used a weapon.

Alexandra Cox, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY New Paltz who has worked in juvenile facilities, wrote that the proposed changes “will actually harm the very individuals it purports to help.”

The New York State Defenders Association, which provides legal support to public defenders, has called for the bill to be withdrawn. The group wrote that the bill is “too long, too complicated and too nuanced to be rushed through in the compressed political process that is represented by budget negotiations.” The commission whose recommendations the bill is based on did not include defense attorneys.

Cuomo’s office, in turn, has defended the bill. “If somebody is unhappy or doesn’t think [the bill] goes far enough, we’ll point to the wide support the legislation has among children's and civil rights advocates and law enforcement,” said Frank Sobrino, spokesman for the governor.

What opposition or criticism does the bill face in Albany?

Plenty, and from both sides of the aisle. At a February legislative budget hearing in Albany, state officials in charge of the juvenile system fielded a slew of questions by mostly Republican lawmakers. Ahead of the hearing, Republican state Sen. Martin Golden criticized the proposal, telling the New York Daily News, “Some of the most heinous crimes are committed by kids who are 16 and 17.” A Democratic assemblyman, meanwhile, has said he plans to push competing legislation that would keep more kids out of the adult system.

News Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
UN Security Council Focuses on Children as Victims of Armed Groups

Twenty-four hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.

In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”

In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.

“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.

U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.

“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.

Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.

“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.

Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.

Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”


Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

News Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Colombian Report on US Military's Child Rapes Not Newsworthy to US News Outlets

An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries.

The report was part of a broader historical analysis meant to establish the “causes and violence aggravators” of the 50-year-long conflict between the government and rebels that’s presently being negotiated to an end. As Colombia  Reports (3/23/15) would spell out:

In his report, the historian [Renan Vega] cited one 2004 case in the central Colombian town of Melgar where 53 underage girls were sexually abused by nearby stationed military contractors “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”

According to Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, the victims of the sexual abuse practices were forced to flee the region after their families received death threats.

Other Americans stationed at the Tolemaida Air Base allegedly committed similar crimes, but possibly also never saw a day in court due to an immunity arrangement for American soldiers and military contractors agreed by Washington and Bogota.

One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.

Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.

However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.


Thus far, however, these explosive claims seem to have received zero coverage in the general US press, despite having been reported on Venezuela’s Telesur (3/23/15), the British tabloid Daily Mail (3/24/15) and Russian RT (3/25/15).

But why? These aren’t fringe claims, nor can the government of American ally Colombia be dismissed as a peddler of Bolivarian propaganda. Indeed, the Miami Herald (9/3/09) documented the case of US Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz in 2009:

The US government has made little effort to investigate a US Army sergeant and a Mexican civil contractor implicated in Colombia in the raping of a 12-year-old girl in August 2007, according to an El Nuevo Herald investigation.

The suspects, Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz, were taken out of Colombia under diplomatic immunity, and do not face criminal charges in the United States in the rape in a room at Colombia’s Germán Olano Air Force Base in Melgar, 62 miles west of Bogotá.


So why no coverage? Certainly one of Washington’s stanchest Latin American allies co-authoring a blistering report about systemic US military child rape of a civilian population should be of note–if for no other reason than, as the report lays out, it undermined American military efforts to stop drug trafficking and fight leftist rebels:

However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.

The case has caused major indignation among Colombians for years….

The special envoy will possibly have to deal with the role of the US military and its members in the alleged victimization of Colombians.

Yet here we are, over 72 hours since the Colombian and foreign press first reported on the allegations, and there’s a virtual media blackout in America over the case.  Nothing on CNN, nothing on MSNBC, nothing in the New York Times or Miami Herald. Nothing in Huffington Post. Nothing in Fusion or Vice. Why?

As UK authorities and NATO officials stress the importance of clamping down on “false Russian” narratives in the media, perhaps our own media could stop providing a shining example as to why such anti-Western narratives are so often the only outlet for certain ugly truths.

News Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Attitudes and Outcomes of Sex Ed: The US vs. the Netherlands

Many people lose their virginity as teenagers. But it's not exactly a celebrated phenomenon, with most teens hiding their sexual activities from adults. Getting caught with a boy upstairs got a lot of my girlfriends grounded back in high school. Sneaking around seems to have become a staple of the American teenage experience (see almost any romantic comedy made in the early ‘80s). 

Amy Schalet, associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has spent over a decade investigating the anxiety surrounding adolescent sexuality. Her book, Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex focuses on the United States and the Netherlands – two countries similar in wealth and education that have, respectively, had the highest and (one of) the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in the Western world.

Schalet found that, on average, teens in the Netherlands become sexually active around the same age as their American counterparts, 17 years old. But, as of 2006, American teenage girls are twice as likely to have abortions, and eight times as likely to give birth as their Dutch equivalents.

And the issue goes beyond pregnancy. Schalet found that American teenagers collectively acquire more than 3 million sexually transmitted infections a year (more than a quarter of all STIs in the country).

So how do we explain this difference? There’s no evidence to suggest that teens in the Netherlands are having less sex than teens in the United States. It is true that poverty has been linked to high birthrates among teens, and poverty rates in U.S. far exceed those of other industrialized countries. From there, we're left with just a few areas left to explore; namely birth control and sex education, and the conversations we have about them.

I reached out to Schalet and asked her to walk me through her research. She told me, “Before the sexual revolution, there was a lot of emphasis on [the negative aspects of sex]. So why did that stay in the United States? I think one piece is the fact that, for the Dutch, they applied a concept that had existed before the sexual revolution, mainly that of having a courtship through the teenage period. So even though now you’re not seeing it as ‘these people are engaged for life,’ you’re still applying a relational concept of, ‘this is a safe, steady relationship, and these days, people have sex.’”

“In the Netherlands, one of the really famous [sex education] curriculums is called ‘Long Live Love'... Or they’re called ‘relationship lessons.’ Or, for instance, a sex education curriculum that talks about sexual orientation would have a header saying, ‘Who do you want to wake up next to in the morning.’ It’s putting it in the context of an ongoing relationship.”

“In the U.S., I think because of different ideas about the individual and a certain kind of concept of individualism, there’s a lot more ambivalence about whether or not young people at 14,15,16 can form love, whether they should. And so therefore sexuality remains this sort of unanchored force; it’s not contained in some ways within the context of an established sexual relationship. So it can seem a lot more fearful, especially when you’re dealing with young people who are in that transition period.”

In the United States, 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided when sex education is taught. Twenty-five of those states require abstinence be stressed. Nineteen states require educators to highlight the importance of sex within marriage. And 13 states require the inclusion of information on the negative outcomes of teen sex and pregnancy. In instances when HIV education is taught, only 19 states require information on condoms or contraception be provided.

Given the rates of teenage pregnancy and STIs within the United States, it’s clear the abstinence-only approach isn’t the most effective one out there. But the push for these programs stems from beyond the institutions where they’re taught. Some cultural trends specific to the United States may help explain where it originates.

Schalet said, “I think it’s not just about religious factors; it’s also about how we think about the individual, and the role of love, and the role of relationships and whether or not that’s supposed to happen at that age. That’s one piece. The second piece has to do with contraception. Are contraceptives available to young people? In the Netherlands there was a huge push to make the pill available, and it brought down the teen pregnancy rate and it gave folks less reason to be fearful. You’re [less likely to] associate teen sexuality with an unwanted pregnancy or a life derailed. The availability of abortion is also, of course, really critical.”

I would say a third factor is the religious right. Even if people aren’t extremely religious themselves, they live in a country where the religious right is like ‘keep fear alive. How can we make this thing, that doesn’t have to be dangerous, that doesn’t have to ruin lives if you educate young people, [something to be feared]? It’s not per se a ‘dangerous thing.’ So ‘how can we keep that idea that this is a very dangerous part of life alive?’ I think that has had a really profound influence on our culture and society beyond people who hold those beliefs.”

The “purity movement,” as it exists in the U.S., revolves around teaching young people the importance of abstaining from sex until marriage. Often times, the brunt of the message falls on young girls.

Last year, Officer Regina Coward, president of the Nevada Black Police Association, was approached by her church to create a community event about the importance of abstaining from sex until marriage. Coward maintains there are four outcomes of premarital sex: sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution. The “Choose Purity” event took place last May in North Las Vegas. One hundred-twenty-five parents and children were shown recorded interviews with pimps and prostitutes, learned about the modern-day slave trade, and saw explicit images of people gripped by drug addiction. There were also reenactments of girls who had entered into prostitution and died from the STIs they contracted while working in the field. As the Las Vegas Sun reported, “The monologues concluded with each girl getting on a gurney and into a body bag.”

Not all events related to the purity movement are so dramatic. Many “Purity Balls” resemble the traditional father-daughter dance. The only difference is that purity balls end with an exchange of vows between father and daughter (the daughters pledge their purity to the fathers, and promise to remain chaste until marriage). In some cases, girls as young as five are encouraged to attend. This community often gravitates toward the idea that fathers must protect their daughters from the dirty, horny boys who surround them. That’s how we land at the idea that sex is a mistake teens will make, and an act parents must fear.

Schalet explained, “There’s a real gender component there, and that’s also where the Dutch, I think, do things differently. They leave room for boys to think of themselves as romantic, of having feelings. And it’s not that American boys aren’t romantic, it’s that everything in their culture tells them that they shouldn’t be. So then they have this sort of duality if they have those feelings, like ‘am I a man? Or does this make me not a man? A boy becoming a man?’”

“For girls, I think the Dutch put a lot more emphasis on the fact that women can make choices. It’s not like it’s perfect, but there’s at least a conversation about, ‘what do you want? What do you feel?’ You can also see it in the fact that the Dutch are one of the few countries that really openly talk about masturbation for both sexes [during sex education]. It’s often thought that that’s one way that women can really become empowered about their sexuality, when they know about sexual pleasure and their own bodies. That’s not usually part of American sex education.”

In her article Must We Fear Adolescent Sexuality? Schalet explains that Dutch parents have a term to describe their children’s capacity for self-regulating sexual activity: er aan toe zijn. The phrase translates to “being ready” in English. She also notes that over the past three decades the Dutch community has worked to promote acceptance of adolescent sexuality and easy access to contraceptives. Conversations about sex often take place at home, and many Dutch teens experience their first sexual encounters there as well.

She noted, “I’m continuously struck by TV shows – even ones I love – by the portrayal of girls, especially in the eyes of parents… One show that comes to my mind is Friday Night Lights. The parents in that show are portrayed as really, really good parents... But they way they give their daughter sex education is appalling… it’s all about how boys are going to use her. They make the daughter, who’s in a very loving relationship, feel so bad about [sex]. It’s really interesting, because... if some sort of sex happens, the girl is put in the position of disappointing the parents. And I guess I just always ask myself when I’m watching these shows, ‘When do you want it to happen? How do you want it to happen? What is actually wrong about this situation?’”

She added, “What’s really problematic [about abstinence-only education] is that people are actually being taught to be afraid of their sexual impulses, that they can’t regulate them and gender stereotypes. So there are a lot of [negative] things that people are being taught that are not helpful. And certainly, that needs to stop.”

“There’s also research to show that when young people have gender-stereotypical ideas, they’re much less likely to be sexually healthy. So I think there is some very harmful material in abstinence-only education, asides from the fact that young people don’t get taught about contraception. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What young people really need is a very comprehensive form of sex education that approaches sexuality as a positive part of life that they can relate to in a positive way.”

The Dutch experience provides us with many insights. One is that perhaps educating teens on STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies can go a lot further than threatening them with that information.

News Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
We Need a Million More Bowe Bergdahls, Says a Former US Army Ranger

An undated handout photo of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive as a prisoner of war for nearly five years by the Taliban. Bergdahl, who disappeared from his Army outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and held by the Haqqani insurgent network until last May, is being charged with desertion, United States officials said on March 25, 2015. (Photo: US Army via The New York Times)An undated handout photo of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive as a prisoner of war for nearly five years by the Taliban. Bergdahl, who disappeared from his Army outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and held by the Haqqani insurgent network until last May, is being charged with desertion, United States officials said on March 25, 2015. (Photo: US Army via The New York Times)The news that the most powerful organization in the known universe, the United States military, intends to focus its coercive mechanisms on a frightened, sensitive, traumatized young man, Bowe Bergdahl, has elicited howls of delight from that section of our public arena leased at below-market prices by the guild of belligerent cowards.

Back Issues is a blog about The Nation’s archives, but one would need a magazine much older than 150 years to find archival evidence of a time when such views had the merest claim to morality, not to mention, as the guild so often and so tediously does, piety.

“I am shocked at the concerted effort led by pro-war elements to pillory this guy, rather than offer serious compassion,” Robert Musil, who wrote an article on Vietnam deserters for The Nation in 1973, told me last year. “Where is all that rhetoric about ‘we support our troops’? He has suffered a lot, as have others. Where is the understanding, the compassion, the humanity? I frankly think that’s the proper response to an American kid stranded in the middle of Afghanistan who feels he has no choice but to go away from his unit.”

After I wrote that post, I was contacted by Rory Fanning, a former US Army Ranger in Afghanistan who served in the same unit as Pat Tillman. Fanning kindly sent me a copy of his book, Worth Fighting For, published last November by Haymarket. It is a profoundly moving memoir about his trek across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, but more importantly it is a thoughtful, historically literate and often hilarious account of Fanning’s effort to forge a new relationship with a country he worried he had betrayed and had been betrayed by: disturbed by what he saw in Afghanistan, Fanning briefly went AWOL. He likely would have suffered the same fate that Bergdahl faces had not imperial stupidity, incompetence and lying saved him at the last moment. Preoccupied by the fallout from Tillman’s death and the attempted cover-up to prevent disclosure that it was caused by friendly fire, military authorities allowed Fanning to leave their custody without charges.

Fanning returned home and a few years later embarked on his transcontinental walk, seeking (and ultimately finding) a more profound connection to the American people, past and land than he had thought possible when he was growing up.

(I cannot recommend the book highly enough.)

My first reaction upon hearing the news that Bergdahl would be charged with desertion was to unfurl a string of expletives. My second was to get Fanning on the phone.

“Clearly,” he began, “the main reason they’re going after him is because they don’t want to be responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay that they owe him. I find that ironic, as they’ve been giving millions to warlords, throwing away trillions since 2001.”

Indeed, The New York Times’ otherwise somewhat mysterious suggestion that “there appears to be little desire to see him serve time” makes a lot more sense if you reason, as Fanning does, that they are only charging him to avoid having to cough up the back pay.

“The evidence against him that he’s responsible for the deaths of six soldiers is tenuous at best,” Fanning continued. “But the bigger point is the fact that the entity to blame for these deaths is the US military, for sending these soldiers into a war that should never have happened. The Taliban surrendered months after the initial invasion. But our politicians wanted blood.”

Fanning feels for Bergdahl. “Anyone who has been in Afghanistan could clearly see that the US had nothing to do in that country,” he told me. “We were little more than pawns in village disputes most of the time.”

“To be honest with you,” Fanning said, “we need a million more Bowe Bergdahls. Anybody who has any degree of common sense or moral fortitude would say, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m not gonna fight this war.’”

Fanning told me, as Musil had last year, that it is not at all easy or in some cases possible to declare yourself a conscientious objector once you are in war.

“I could totally relate to this guy,” he said. “I consider him a hero. To kill somebody for a cause you don’t believe in is potentially worse than being killed yourself, because those scars last forever. Just walking off the battlefield as Bergdahl did seems like an easier route than seeking conscientious-objector status.”

Why the wingnut feeding frenzy?

“It’s a lot of fear-mongering to prop up this state of perpetual war,” Fanning concluded. “Recruitment is down. People are realizing we’re not fighting for freedom or democracy, but for empire. They have to make an example out of someone like Bowe Bergdahl.”

Opinion Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Disproportionate Representation: A Look at Women Leadership in Congress

Political representation is defined as the election of officials, who then stand in for, and speak for a group of their constituents in the legislature, for a set period of time. Unfortunately, moneyed interests, the threat of being "primaried" by the tea party lunatic fringe, and other factors have dismantled this process. Over the last few years, and certainly for most of the Obama Administration, Congress has had a low approval rating - so much so that they have been nicknamed the "Do Nothing" Congress. These elected officials have been voting in lock-step with each other, and often opposite the opinions and desires of the American people. Consider the public's desire to implement some degree of regulations on gun use in this country (In 2012, 54% wanted more strict laws, and 90% wanted to expand background checks), and Congress's unwillingness to even deliberate on the matter. Thus, the questions have to be asked - Who are these congressional members really representing? What values do they represent? Who do they really speak for? What issues do they advocate for? What segment of the American populace do they look like ?

One merely has to take a glance at the collective members of the United State Congress to realize that there is, and has always been, a glaring problem. That problem has to do with representation, and not just political representation. In short, Congress, like The Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts, is not an equal-opportunity employer, and yes #CongressSoWhite. Women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population but only 19.4% of the current 114th U.S. Congress. In fact, Congress resembles a frat house where young intoxicated men are replaced with middle age men, and the type of policies voted upon, discussed, and proposed by the recently out-going, also Republican controlled Congress, reflects the group think that occurs with members of a fraternity. In 2010, Senate Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, made a statement and put out a call for action for members of his party -- who are overwhelmingly white, male, and old -- to make their primary focus obstruction in order to ensure that President Obama would not serve a second term. They Tried It, but failed.

However, their actions and historic "obstructionism" have succeeded in impeding the passing of progressive policies such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was unanimously voted against by all Republican Senators, with women among them. And it is this same level of obstructionism that has allowed the United States to be one of the few nations that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEADW), despite the document being signed in 1978 by President Carter. Out of 194 U.N. member nations, 187 countries have ratified the document. When considering this, one has to be realistic about whether the election of Senator Elizabeth Warren, or 2016 Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, to the U.S. presidency, would bring about the passage and ratification of these proposed legislations. The realistic answer would be NO. What we should have learned after the past 6 years of the Obama Administration - and his failed attempts to "reach across the aisle" and utilize bipartisanship in order to pass legislation, instead of having to continuously rely on Executive Orders - is that we have to set our eyes on far more than the Presidency if we want to effect change. And the first step of this process will have to involve addressing the issue of disproportionate representation. Here we will discuss what this looks like in terms of gender.


Snapshot: What Leadership Currently Looks Like in the US CONGRESS?

So, what does the current representation of women in Congress look like?

We can begin with the fact that, despite women (and girls) making up 50.8% of the U.S. population, women currently make up only 19.4% of the 114th U.S. Congress, which took office in January 2015.1 In terms of each chamber of Congress, women make up 20.0% of the Senate and 19.3% of the House of Representatives. 1 A closer look of the 2015 Congress reveals the following:

19.4% of Congress means that women only hold 104 seats out of 5351

20.0% of the Senate means that women hold 20 seats out of 1001

19.3% of the House of Representatives means that women hold 84 seats out of 4351

In the 114th Congress, women have been sent from 31 of the 51 states as members of the House of Representatives1

The Intersections -- Women of Color leadership in the 2015 Congress and Other Elective Offices

Of the 104 women serving in Congress in 2015, 33 are women of color (18 African American women, 6 Asian/Pacific Islander women, and 9 Latinas)2

31.7% of the women in Congress are women of color2

Women of color only constitute 6.2% of the total 535 members of Congress2

There is only 1 woman of color in the Senate 2

Of the 77 women serving in statewide elective executive offices, 9, or 11.7% are women of color. 2

Women of color constitute 2.8% of the total 318 statewide elective executives2

Women of color constitute 5.3% of the total 7,383 state legislators. 2

In the United States's 100 largest cities, 5 women of color serve as mayor2

A Historical Overview

Women, and certainly women of color, have essentially been denied adequate representation in Congress since the founding of the United States. This reality was of course worse for African American women, who were denied their freedom until 1965, and other women of color -- Indigenous, Asian, Latina, who were denied citizenship despite many of their ancestors being on North American soil for centuries. Since 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve, a total of 307 women have served in the U.S. Congress; with the vast majority serving in the House of Representatives.1 In fact, since 1917, 35 women have served as Senators, 261 as representatives, 11 as both Senators and Representatives, and 6 as Delegates to the House. 1 When considering the span of 98 years, these numbers may seem like there has been a great deal of progress. However, the problem of disproportionate representation persists. Further, real progress is only being carried out by a few states within the Union. While California has sent the most women to Congress than any other state (39 to date), followed by New York (27 to date), no other state has sent more than 17 women to Congress; and some states, such as Delaware, Mississippi and Vermont, have yet to send a woman to serve in the House or Senate. 1

Past vs. Current Representation

1992 was dubbed the "Year of the Women" due to a surge in the number of female candidates running and eventually being elected to office. However, this exalted year did not change the status quo greatly, as the problem of disproportionate representation has persisted. 4 out of 11 women running for the U.S. Senate were elected, and those victors included Senator Barabara Boxer (D-CA), who recently announced that she will be retiring from the U.S. Senate in 2016, at the end of her term. 24 females were elected to the House during the Year of the Women, and this election increased the percentage of women in the House from 6% to 11%. 1992 thus remains a high mark in terms of the rate of growth assessed by the number of women elected versus incumbents. While 24 new women were elected in 1992, 13 were elected in 2010, and 19 in 2012. However, there are some small signs of progress. In the short period of 2010 to 2015, the number of women who have served in the U.S. Congress went from 260 to 307.

2013 was also celebrated as a year of high achievement for women in Congress, and again the 2015 114th Congress shows signs of small progress. Women make up 19.4% of the 114th Congress, compared to 18% of the 113th Congress. Further, 79 women were members of the House of Representatives, accounting for 17.9% of the body. While the numbers in the Senate have remained constant with 20 - or 20% - of the members of the Senate being women. Still, the following 2013 infographic shows how small this "progress" is in the larger scope of things by illustrating the problem of disproportionate representation.

2015 0329con 1

In terms of inclusion of women of color there has also been minute progress. In the 113th Congress, women of color only made up 4.5% of the total members of Congress, and 30.6% of women serving in Congress. While the 114th has seen a slight increase, where women of color make up 6.2% of the total members of Congress, and 31.7% of the women serving in Congress. Again, the following 2013 Infographic helps to convey that these nominal increases will not be enough to mitigate the problem of disproportionate representation.

2015 0329con 2

The Standouts: Female Firsts in Congress and Feminist Leadership

For much of US history, women were not a part of the legislative system or process. This did not change until the 20th century (144 years later) with the success of the women's suffrage movement, where women of color like Sojourner Truth and Mary Church Terrell were actively involved. The 19 th Amendment passed in 1920 officially granted women in the United States the right to vote. However, the right to vote was not safeguarded for women of color, particularly Black women in the Southern United States, until the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act; which the predominantly White and male, U.S. Supreme court is currently dismantling. In 2014, the court invalidated key parts of the legislation. A critical legislation that many sacrificed, suffered, and gave their lives for.

The following is a brief overview of some of these trailblazing women in U.S. politics:

In 1917 Jeanette Rankin of Montana, a Republican prior to the beginning of the parties "Southern Strategy", became the first woman in Congress, where she served in the House of Representatives. In 1916 she noted that, "I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won't be the last".3 She went on to serve again from 1941-1943, but did not win re-election due to her anti-war stance, where she voted vote against both World War I and World War II; proving that she was ahead-of-her-time; speaking out against the military industrial complex, well before it had grown to its current size and influence. In terms of feminist leadership, Rankin was a former lobbyist for the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and her speaking and organizing efforts help to secure the right to vote for women in Montana in 1914. In her campaigns she ran as a Progressive, and during her time in Congress she focused on social welfare issues.

While many remember and praise Ronald Reagan, despite the horrific result of Reaganomics, there was another stage star from California, who made a greater impact on policy and U.S. society, and she was Helen Gahagan Douglas, a New Deal liberal. Gahagan served in the House for three terms, from 1945 - 1951, where she spoke about a range of topics including: equal rights for women, civil rights for African Americans and other people of color, labor rights and the protection of the American worker, food subsidies (all prior to the 1964 Food Stamps Act being signed into law by President Lydon B. Johnson), affordable housing, unemployment insurance for returning GIs, a revitalized farm security program, as well as income-based taxation for farmers and small business owners. Where President Johnson needed to be pushed to act on removing the barriers to the ballot for African Americans in the South, Helen Douglas openly attacked the practice of poll taxes. 4-5 Her political viewpoint was progressive in ever since of the word. Even more remarkable was the fact that she was a White women of wealth and status, who focused on the intersectional issues of the working class and women of color. In fact, many of these issues that she championed remain relevant today, and are those that were widely discussed in the Occupy movement.

Julia Hansen, served as a Democratic Representative from the state of Washington from 1959-1975, was the first woman to chair an Appropriations subcommittee. Appropriations committees are of a great deal of importance, in that they are responsible for setting specific expenditures of money by the government of the United States. In other words, they literally hold the purse strings of Congress. Their actions decide whether a particular legislation, agency, etc. is actually funded, and able to carry out its purpose. Martha Griffiths served as a Democratic Representative from Michigan from 1955 to 1975, and her tenure in office spanned a period that was swept with great social changes, brought about by the implementation of federal policies. Martha was very much part of that process, and she is known as the "Mother of the ERA". Representative Griffith championed the sexual discrimination clause of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment. Her career was groundbreaking in another way: being the first woman to secure a seat on the influential Ways and Means committee.2 The Ways and Means committee is the oldest committee in the U.S. Congress, and it is the chief tax-writing committee, having jurisdiction over revenue and related issues such as tariffs, reciprocal trade agreements, and the bonded debt of the United States, as well as revenue-related aspects of the Social Security system, Medicare, and social services programs.

Bella Abzug, served as a Democratic Representative from the state of New York from 1971-1977, running on an antiwar and pro-feminist platform. Bella openly and apologetically identified as a feminist, and was a staunch civil rights advocate; working to combat the ISMs -- racism, sexism, ableism, etc. -- in American society. During her time in Congress she introduced legislation demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam and authored an institution to end the draft. She was referred to by the epithet Battling Bella, and some would say that it was due to her tenacity and confrontational demeanor. However, it may be more likely due to the fact that she had the audacity and courage to be an assertive woman. Battling Bella actually called for an investigation of the competence of J. Edgar Hoover, the notorious Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and founder of the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO).6 Representative Abzug also introduced groundbreaking legislation, which called for the amending of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual or affectional preference.7 In 1988, a former aide to Representative Abzug, shared these comments about her legacy, "It wasn't that she was the first woman in Congress. It was that she was the first woman to get in Congress and lead the way toward creating a feminist presence".8

Patsy Takemoto Mink should truly be a household name. Being of Japanese descent, she was the first woman of color to serve in Congress. She was a Democratic Representative from the state of Hawaii, serving in the house from 1965-1977 and again from 1990-2002. A documentary film, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, profiles the Representative; covering her battles with racism and sexism, and highlighting how she helped to redefine American politics. She participated and pushed for the passage of the 1960s Great Society legislation. During her time in the House she served on the Committee on Education and Labor, and it was there that she introduced or sponsored the first childcare bill and legislation establishing bilingual education, student loans, special education, and Head Start. Clearly setting the foundation for a more diverse and inclusive educational system in America. She championed many women's issues, which garnered her the title, Mother of Title IX, which passed in 1972, and has recently became part of contemporary discourse, as the federal government tries to grapple with the epidemic of rape culture and sexual violence on university campuses; including the most recent assault to garner the attention of the press, involving a student claiming that he was merely acting out scenes from the movie 50 Shades of Grey. Another one of Representative Mink's great legislative triumphs was the Women's Education Equity Act, which provided $30 million a year in educational funds for programs to promote gender equity in schools, to increase educational and job opportunities for women, and to excise sexual stereotypes from textbooks and school curricula. She was certainly a visionary thinker, and thus was one of the first to raise concern about the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002; which was hastily created in response to terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Ultimately, she feared that "the DHS might undermine civil liberties by violating the privacy of American citizens in the name of national security. In favor of full disclosure of government attempts to safeguard the nation from international threats, she proposed that no secrets be kept from the public". Ultimately she feared that the DHS might undermine civil liberties by violating the privacy of American citizens in the name of national security.6

Shirley Chisholm, was a community activist who went on to serve as a Democratic Representative from the state of New York from 1969 to 1983. She was the first African American woman in Congress. In 1972 she became the first woman, first African American, and the first person of color to run for the United States presidency. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She focused on a variety of causes that impacted the poorest and most marginalized people in the nation. These causes included increases in federal funding to extend the hours of day care facilities, pointing out early on that Child Care was not just a women's issue; and these sentiments were echoed by President Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address. Her other caucuses included: guaranteed minimum annual income for families and assistance for education.

Pat Schroeder, served as a Democratic Representative from the state of Colorado from 1973-1997. She served on the Armed Services Committee, who became a household name after telling Pentagon officials that if they were women, they would always be pregnant, because they never said "no".9 And when asked on how she could be a mother of two small children and a Member of Congress at the same time, she replied "I have a brain and a uterus and I use both".10 With statements such as these, there should be no doubt that Representative Schroeder was a feminist. In fact, much of Schroeder's career was dedicated to women's rights and reforms affecting families; and these issues included: women's health care, child rearing, expansion of Social Security benefits, and gender equity in the workplace. Her contributions include the following: founding of the Congressional Women's Caucus, helping to pass the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which mandated that employers could not dismiss women employees simply because they were pregnant or deny them disability or maternity benefits (yes these rights and benefits were not secured until 1978!), created and chaired the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families (which was subsequently dismantled in 1995, and should rightfully be reinstated), her biggest successes were the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act.

Carolyn Mosley Braun was the first African American woman elected to the Senate in 1992, during the Year of the Women, and she previously served as a Democratic Representative for the State of Illinois. During her time in office she was referred to as a women's rights activist and civil rights activist; and she even dared to campaign for gun control. However, her career was marred by a scandal involving misconduct and mismanagement of funds.

Nancy Pelosi serves as a Democratic Representative from the state of California. She was also the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, and is now the minority leader.

In 2012, Mazie Hironon became the first Asian American to serve in the Senate, after previously serving in the House and as the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii. During her time in office she has cosponsored a number of Bills that focus on safeguarding human rights, women's rights, labor rights, and the rights of marginalized populations. These bills include: S/2687-Access to Contraception for women service members and dependents, S.2625-Access to Birth Control Act, S.2629-Preventative Care Coverage Notification Act, S.2599-Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2014, S.2578-Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014, S.2223-Minimum Wage Fairness Act, S.2199-Paycheck Fairness Act, and the S.2472-International Women Act of 2014. However her cosponsoring of S.2472 comes with a great deal of irony, being that she cosponsored a number of bills upholding the United States' support of the state of Israel, despite the nation's human rights violations that it carries out against the Palestinian people.

Barbara Lee is a Progressive voice in Congress, who was first elected to Congress in 1998 as a Democratic Representative from California. She advocates for social and economic justice, international peace, and civil & human rights. She is a founding member and Vice Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, a member of the Pro-Choice Caucus, receiving a 100-percent rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America; and is a founding member of the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, a coalition of the Congressional Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Hispanic Caucus. She gained national attention and notoriety in 2001 for being the ONLY member of Congress to vote against the Authorization fro Use of Military Force, following the terrorist attacks on September 11th; showing that she is not afraid of sticking to her ideals and convictions. Unfortunately the other members of Congress gave George Bush what he later proclaimed was a "mandate" to rage war in the Middle East - in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing millions (on both sides), and creating new enemies for the nation, leading to networks such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); all while being the major contributing factor for the current recession that the U.S. is still trying to dig itself out of. Yet, when pundits speak about the failure of this war that has persisted for 14 years, many do not bother to mention the courage and foresight of Representative Barbara Lee. Even more interesting is that many speak about Hilary Clinton, or freshmen Senator Elizabeth Warren, both Caucasian, being frontrunners for the 2016 Democratic ticket; without even considering Barbara Lee, the African American progressive and feminist.


Is the United States Really a World Leader?

American exceptionalism is a theory that the United States is qualitively different from other nations, and the implication is often that the United States serves as a model first world nation; and thus Americans are able to take on a strangely passionate patriotic pride in this exceptionalism. When it comes to many social issues and political institutions, America is indeed exceptional. It is the only post-industrial nation that lacks universal healthcare and paid sick leave, and continues to be one of two hold outs in ratifying a human rights treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), despite the treaty being signed in 1979 by President Carter. The aforementioned Progressive Congresswoman Barbara Lee is co-sponsor of current legislation urging Congress to ratify the CEDAW.

Further, when it comes to the representation of women in the government, especially at the Federal level, there is certainly a great deal of American exceptionalism. So much so that, in 2014, the United States ranked 84th in worldwide female leadership. In the past several years, there has actually been a steady decline in the status or leadership positions of women in the U.S. government, as outlined below:

· In 2002, the United States ranked 57th in worldwide female leadership; out of 188 countries

· In 2008, the United States ranked 69th in worldwide female leadership.

· In 2009, the United States ranked 71st in worldwide female leadership.

· In 2010, the United States ranked 72nd in worldwide female leadership.

· In 2012, the United States ranked 80th in worldwide female leadership.

· In 2013, the United States ranked 77th in worldwide female leadership.

· In 2014, the United States ranked 84th in worldwide female leadership.


Snapshot: A Look at Women Legislators Around the World

The 1952 United Nations Convention on the Political Rights of Women brought forth a number of provisions, but did not diminish the concerns of equal access to political participation for women. Thuss it was restated in the Article 7 of the CEDAW, which again the U.S. government has failed to ratify. Under this article, women are guaranteed the rights to vote, hold public office, and to exercise public functions. Under Article 8 of the CEDAW, these rights are expanded to include equal rights for women to represent their countries at the international level.

However, despite this well-meaning legislation, women are still underrepresented in governments around the world. Only 21.9% of national parliamentarians were female as of December 1, 2014. Here are some other disheartening statistics:

· As of January 2014, only 10 women have served as Head of State and 15 as Head of Government

· Globally, there are 37 States in which women account for less than 10% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of December 2014

· As of January 2014, only 17% of government ministers were women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family

2015 0329con 3When considering these statistics and the global problem of disproportionate leadership, the U.S. does not seem too exceptional, in that it is merely upholding the status quo. Among the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is goal Number 3 - Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. This will not be achieved without the full participation of women in government. Additionally, without achieving this, demanding and enforcing gender equality in other sectors will prove to be hypocritical and impossible.

Still, there have been some achievements for women's participation in government, globally. While the United States continues to be "exceptional" and has never elected a woman as head of State/government, many other nations have. In recent years, these nations include:

  • Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany (Elected 2005)
  • Executive President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia (Elected 2006)
  • Executive President Michelle Bachelet Jeria, Chile (Elected 2006)
  • Minister President Emily de Jongh-Elhage, Nederlandse Antillen (Self-governing Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) (Elected 2006)
  • Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica (Elected 2007)
  • Prime Minister Han Myung-sook, South Korea (Elected 2007)
  • President Pratibha Patil, India (Elected 2007)
  • Executive President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina (Elected 2007)
  • Acting President Dr. Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, South Africa (Elected 2008)
  • Leader of the Government Antonella Mularoni, San Marino (Elected 2008)
  • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh (Elected 2009)
  • Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland (Elected 2009)
  • Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, Croatia (Elected 2009)
  • President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Lithuania (Elected 2009)
  • President of the Confederation Doris Leuthard, Switzerland (Elected 2010)
  • President Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan (Elected 2010)
  • President-Elect Laura Chinchilla Miranda, Costa Rica (Elected 2010)

One nation to take note of is Rwanda. Although it may be deemed a developing nation, and had suffered economic and social setbacks during the 1994 Genocide, Rwanda proves to be progressive in terms of government. Due to the fact that the country's constitution provides for Ombudsman who act as public advocates, the nation has some of the lowest levels of corruption relative to other African nations. Transparency International actually ranked Rwanda as the 8th cleanest out of 47 countries is sub-Saharan Africa, and the 66th cleanest out of 178 in the world. The nation also ranks first in female leadership worldwide, where it has the highest number of women parliamentarians. These women hold 63.8% of the seats in the lower house of government.

Why Are Numbers Not Enough?

In advocating for the increase in number of women holding political office in governments, we must be cognizant of the fact that numbers are not enough. There is no benefit in having women holding positions of leadership if these women do not advocate for women's human rights and other socioeconomic issues -- racism, police brutality, labor rights, health care access, affordable housing, consumer protections, environmental regulations -- from a progressive standpoint. Electing women who are unwilling to take the necessary stand on these issues - and this is greatly represented by their voting record, and not the lip service that they pay in the media - would only hold up the status quo of gender inequity.

For example, while many celebrate Rebecca Latimer Felton, of the State of Georgia, as being the first woman in the U.S. Senate, one cannot ignore the fact that she was an ardent racist and would certainly not have been an ally to women of color. Take for example her comments from an 1897 speech regarding lynching, "The biggest problem facing women on the farm was the danger of the black rapists. If it takes lynching to protect women's dearest possession from drunken, ravening beasts....then I say lynch a thousand a week". As a Southerner, Latimer Felton condemned anyone who dared to question the South's racial policies, and one can be certain that her discussion about women did not include the Black or indigenous women living in the State of Georgia at that time, who were also subjected to lynchings and mob violence.

Now, take a look at some of the photos of The Texas Federation of Republican Women, which boasts that it is the most powerful women's political organization in Texas, and ask yourself whether this organization and the candidates that it supports and funds look like they consider women of color and the intersecting issues that impact their lives?

Again, it is not enough to have a woman elected to office if she is a racist, blinded by white privilege, or finds some reason to view another group of people - particularly women as "The Other" - outside her scope of representation. It is beliefs like this that later helped usher in the era of Reganomics, with the falsehood of the Welfare Queen and the War on Drugs, which was a nothing more than a War on the Poor and an Attack on the Middle Class. The Welfare Queen story essentially incited, and continues to incite, racial animosity, where Black women (and other women of color) are viewed as being lazy and constantly looking for government handouts when the truth of the matter is that most welfare recipients are white and do not live in urban settings. Yet, the stereotypical view persists and is still used to cut social safety net programs.

Consider the 2014 Paul Ryan Plan, a budget proposal that would get 69 of its budget cuts from programs for people with low or moderate incomes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This was a hypocritical move coming from the Chair of the House Ways and Means committee considering his dependency on government entitlements, public education, etc. The plan, which would see cuts of $3.4 trillion over ten years (2015-2024) predictably does not include any cuts to the defense budget. Defense contractors and their political allies would not have to be concerned about a loss in profits, which they acquire from the military industrial complex - something President Eisenhower warned Americans about. Of course, the 2014 plan was not Ryan's first attempt at putting forth this budget proposal; it is just more worrisome given the current make-up of the U.S. Congress. In 2012, Ryan put forth a similar plan which was famously rejected by women.

Ultimately, having the wrong women in office only contributes to these disastrous effects of wedge politics and social inequity.

Finally, there is no greater example as to why numbers are not enough than the case of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a proposed law that would make it easier for employees to talk about wages - and thus potentially help women learn whether they earn less than their male colleagues. The law would also force employers to explain or justify why two similarly qualified workers earn different wages. However, it was unanimously voted against by the Republican members of the Senate in 2014, including these four Republican women:

New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte thinks that it would prohibit merit-based pay. She also voted against it because Democrats opposed her amendment to the legislation.

Maine's Susan Collins thinks that the Civil Rights Act the 1963 Equal Pay Act are enough protection to provide equal pay. According to Collins, the proposed law would "impose a real burden … on small businesses." She thinks that women get paid less because of their own choices.

Nebraska's Deb Fischer accused Democrats of politics for putting the bill forward for the second time, this time one week before the congressional recess for midterm elections.

Alaska's Lisa Murkowski is on the Right.

You can read these Senators comments and attempts to justify their actions here.

It was the third time since 2012 that the GOP has voted down the bill. The legislation required 60 votes to move on to debate but received only 52, a unanimous vote from Democrats. Clearly the numbers were not enough, as having these additional women - and votes- in the Senate was not enough, because these women care more about their political party affiliation than advancing women's human rights and social equality. One can make the case that they would not be members of the Republican party if they cared about these things. Their voting record exemplifies why we need to focus on much more than increasing the number of women in Congress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is of course not the first legislation that elicited a unanimous vote against it by Republicans (and of course Republican women) in Congress. In 2013, GOP members in the House voted unanimously against The Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010) which would have raised the nation's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015, and the rate would have been indexed to inflation each year thereafter. Well, here we are in 2015 and the U.S. minimum wage is still $7.25 per hour. Now, compare that to other post-industrial nations:

2015 0329con 4When looking at women in government and political candidates, we must realize that their being a woman is not enough for our support. We must consider their agenda, look at their affiliations, determine whether they have a feminist platform or one that is at least pro-women's human rights, and review their voting record. For instance, consider the voting record of Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Here are few highlights:

What's at Stake?

The reason why we must advocate for the inclusion of 'pro-women's human rights' women in Congress and other houses and government is because there is truly much at stake. The War on women is well documented and has been discussed thoroughly. There are attempts to take agency over our bodies, to categorize rape and talk about "legitimate rape", decrease access to birth control and safe abortions, and the list goes on; including the continued rape and degradation of the environment, which are exemplified by ongoing fracking and attempts to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. From an economic standpoint, there is also the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will have the greatest and most negative impact on women and children, the groups most marginalized and impoverished in society.

Still, there is the need to ensure the enforcement of Title IX on college campuses as well as investigate the once-silent rape epidemic in the U.S. military. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) still awaits ratification, and American workers are still not guaranteed paid sick leave, extended maternal leave, and child care aid; all of which directly impacts women and children. Thus, legislation such as the Affordable Care Act, despite its flaws and avoidance of the single-payer option, should be protected. The act ensures that all women have access to preventative care such as mammograms and pap smears.

We must keep in mind that there is much at stake, and there are attempts to erode women's human rights. Within literally weeks in office, the newly minted Republican-majority Congress attempted to push through an anti-abortion measure, the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act", which was surprisingly defeated due to the moderate members of the GOP. House GOP members actually broke rank with their party, protesting the language of the bill that required women who seek an exception to the ban due to being raped, having to back up their claim with a formal police report. Although this defeat is welcome news, it does not mean that there will not be even more attempts to curtail the reproductive rights of American women. Which makes the efforts of Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Jackie Speier (CA) seem even more important. On February 4, 2015, the two introduced the Access to Contraception for Women Service-members and Dependents Act. In applauding the efforts of the Senators, the National Women's Law Center described the legislation as such: A critical piece of legislation that will ensure all women who rely on the military for health care receive comprehensive contraceptive coverage and counseling. The bill will give these women equal access to the same comprehensive birth control coverage, education and counseling at no cost that all other federal employees and tens of millions of other women now enjoy, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The bill also ensures that servicewomen will receive comprehensive family planning counseling and are provided the information they need to plan if and when to have a child.

Strategies to Increase Women's Political Leadership

There is certainly no easy way to increase women's political leadership, and that is one of the reasons why much has not changed since Jeannette Rankin entered Congress 99 years ago. However, the United States cannot continue to claim that it is a world leader while ignoring this disparity in representation that threatens the status of women in this country. This disparity is shown with the constant attempt to legislate what a woman can and cannot do with or to her body, as well as with social policies that continue to allow gender-based wage discrimination. Here are just a few strategies that should be implemented to increase participation and improve the political representation of women in the U.S.:

Encourage more women, especially women of color, to become more interested and involved in politics and governance in order to cultivate more viable candidates for office. According to the Center for Women and Politics of Rutgers University, in 2008, 60.4% of eligible females voted (70.4 million) while 55.7% of eligible men voted (60.7 million), compared to 48.6% of women, and 46.9% of men in 2006. The fact of that matter is that more women vote in U.S. elections than men, however there only option are only male candidates.

CHECK voting records and hold women in office accountable. Let them know that we are paying attention and that we expect them to vote in a matter that truly represents the needs of women. During the 2010 midterm elections, female (mostly White) voters shifted to the Republican party despite the horrific anti-woman legislation and attacks on social programs, depended upon by many women, that the party was proposing. This shift speaks to the issue of White privilege, where White women voters who are not burdened with stereotypes and racist propaganda such as the Welfare Queen or illegal immigrant worker coming for American jobs, and who do not have to cope with a myriad of intersecting issues, often and more readily shift their votes between the two parties without giving much thought to the detrimental effects of their "swing" vote.

VOTE and support the right women candidates; and this includes voting at the local level where the candidates who eventually seek national office begin their careers and decided upon legislation that would most directly impact your lives.


Required Quota


Quota for women must not be less than 30% for charter of political parties


Women granted at least 30% of positions in all "decision-making organizations"


PR elections have a 50% quota for women for 56 positions. Majority elections 30% for 243 seats


30% quota for women candidates for political party elections


30% quota for women on a candidate list; one of the first three names on the list must be from each gender


Candidate lest must be 20% women, or parties cannot register


Candidate lists must be equal

Bosnia & Herzegovina

33% of candidates must be of the underrepresented sex


On candidates list, one out of 3 must be a woman


On candidates list, the total number of either gender must not be lower than 35%


On candidate lists, minimum 33% of each gender


On candidate lists minimum 40% and maximum of 60% of each gender

Costa Rica

Candidate lists must be 40% of women


30% quota for women in party and general elections


30% quota for women on party lists


30% quota for women on candidate lists


Candidates must be one-third women


30% quota for women

Source: Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in Government. New York: Catalyst, 2012.

It is perhaps time to follow the lead of countries such as Rwanda, Angola, Korea, Albania, France, Macedonia, Belgium, Uzbekistan, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and many others in post-industrial nations, as well as those in the Global South, and put in place legislation to increase the representation of women in national government. Yes, this would be a quota that would ensure that a minimum number of seats in the national government be reserved for women. Doing so may be the only way to ensure that women are represented in a manner which closely reflects their concerns and numbers in society; and to also ensure that women's issues are not debated over by a room full of men.


1. Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). Eagleton Institute of Politics. Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. Fact Sheet. Women in the U.S. Congress 2015

2. Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). Eagleton Institute of Politics. Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. Fact Sheet. Women of Color in Elective Office, 2015

3. Winifred Mallon, An Impression of Jeannette Rankin" The Suffragist (March 31, 1917)

4. Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 1st sess. (12 June 1945): 5977

5. Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 2nd sess. (2 August 1946): 10771-10772.

6. Karen Forestel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999): 19

7. Congressional Record, House, 94th Congress, 1st sess. (25 March 1975): 8581

8. Susan Baer, "Founding, Enduring Feminist Bella Abzug is dead at 77, 1 April 1998, Baltimore Sun: 1A

9. Llyod Grove, Laying Down Her Quip; For Rep. Pat Schroeder, A Hard-Hitting Decision, 1 December 1995, Washington Post: F1

10. Current Biography, 1978: 368

News Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Schumer's Choice: To Succeed Reid, He Must Back Iran Deal

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters in New York, Oct, 26, 2014. (Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times)Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) speaks to reporters in New York, October, 26, 2014. (Photo: James Estrin / The New York Times)

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will not run for re-election. Reid has endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) to succeed him as Democratic leader.

But in order to succeed Reid as Senate Democratic leader, Schumer is going to have to pay a price: he's going to have to back President Obama's multilateral diplomacy with Iran, which Bloomberg reports could produce a "framework agreement" this weekend. Some of Senator Schumer's New York constituents might not like that, but as the soldiers say, they'll just have to "embrace the suck." Senate Republicans may think it's ok for them to try to undermine a diplomatic agreement. But the prospective leader of Senate Democrats isn't allowed to do that.

On Thursday, Schumer officially became a co-sponsor of the main Republican bill in the Senate designed to blow up the Iran talks: the Corker-Menendez bill. The Corker-Menendez bill would give the Republican Congress an immediate veto over any deal with Iran, which everyone understands would kill any deal. The administration has threatened to veto the Corker-Menendez bill if it is passed by Congress. Republicans who want to derail the talks have been seeking a veto-proof majority for the Corker-Menendez bill, which means they are trying to get a bunch of Senate Democrats - like Schumer - to agree to help them undermine President Obama.

Schumer will have to make a choice. If he maintains his support for the Corker bill, he would help kill the talks. But then he would never be the leader of Senate Democrats. If he wants to be leader of Senate Democrats, Schumer will have to support President Obama on Iran diplomacy.

When the news broke that Reid was retiring and Schumer was being considered to replace him as Senate Democratic leader, Ilya Sheyman, executive director of Political Action, said, "Supporting reckless legislation that undermines President Obama's diplomacy with Iran and risks a dangerous, unnecessary war in the Middle East should disqualify anyone from leading the Senate Democratic caucus. Sen. Schumer needs to withdraw his support from the Corker and Menendez legislation."

You can add your voice to MoveOn's here.

Opinion Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sustainable Living Means Making Big Changes; Why Can't We Face Up to It?

Get used to bike riding – cleaner cars won't be enough.Get used to bike riding - cleaner cars won't be enough. (Image: Riding bicycle via Shutterstock)

Despite the significant risks for human and non-human life, greenhouse gas emissions (GhG) are still rising. Something has to give – and that something would appear more significant than those with the power to stimulate change are willing to admit.

The UK government’s Global Calculator is a good example. This recently released tool allows us to model the compatibility of our food, travel, housing and work environment with national targets to limit climate change. The climate secretary, Ed Davey, reckons the calculator shows “everyone in the world can prosper while limiting global temperature rises to two degrees, preventing the most serious impacts of climate change.”

Yet even the most ambitious changes the tool advocates deviate little from our current “normal” patterns of behaviour – supposedly “essential” appliances still include tumble driers, while under the “extremely ambitious” scenario, the urban car would still account for 29% of journeys (currently 41.5%) per year. Meat is included as a core component of daily meals, and very few indicators relate to diet. It remains to be seen which government would adopt the “extremely ambitious” changes.

This isn’t what a sustainable future looks like. It isn’t even close. Do we really need tumbledried clothes, or to eat meat every day?

Transitioning to sustainability will require profound changes in our everyday ways of living, particularly in westernised countries. It requires changes that are much more significant than simply doing the things that we currently do, but more efficiently.

It’s not about driving more efficiently to reduce the GhG emissions of the commute, but perhaps leaving the car at home, cycling to work – or working from home.

While tools such as the one above enable people to calculate their carbon footprint, they tell us little about the changes we’d actually need to make, and how these changes would affect our daily lives.

We Are Capable of Big Changes

Humans are adaptive creatures, able to move homes, jobs, retire or have children – all of which require us to break down and rebuild our existing ways of doing things.

Consider how eating practices change with retirement. Many retirees find themselves with the time and desire to begin growing their own food in an allotment or their gardens. Retirement might provide the flexibility to shift energy-intensive cooking and laundry to daylight hours, taking advantage of solar energy.

But retirement can also mean being less environmentally sustainable. The significance of food can diminish as a result of children leaving home or the loss of a partner. Ready meals (which are often worse for the environment) might take the place of cooking from scratch. And, as food becomes a leisure activity, this can involve more car journeys.

The point is that people can and do make major life transitions, and these moments are big opportunities to go green. But also, that talking about “going green” as a significant change to how we currently live doesn’t have to be as daunting a prospect as it might first seem.

Sustainable Transitions?

So, rather than a Global Calculator that simply tells us whether or not we’re helping fight climate change, we suggest a more useful tool would be one that supports us in making a metaphorical “U-turn”. This tool would guide us through a process of throwing our lives out of kilter, and renegotiating and exploring more sustainable ways of being.

It couldn’t pull any punches. Rather than focusing on “things” and “stuff”, like a more efficient boiler or a washing machine that does eco mode, such a tool would have to be framed in terms of shifting practices – grow and cook more, eat little (or, better still, no) meat, work and travel less, wear more layers to keep warm and rely less on the heating, buy less “stuff”, and so on.

But that’s not to say that living sustainably is easy. Significant changes to our lives are difficult and disruptive, even more so when current policies and infrastructures don’t comfortably support them (for example: public transport systems, expectations of appropriate work clothes). And so we should design tools that encourage us to make transitions towards sustainability that are themselves more sustainable.

While big changes are needed, we should work towards them in smaller, more manageable steps. But, nonetheless, steps that involve reconsidering practices, not just tweaking them. After all, encouraging someone to think that switching washing machine, or buying a more efficient car is enough, is misleading. Far better to change practices entirely, so that driving less or line drying clothes becomes the new normal.

Opinion Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
France: Hatred a la Mode

Éric Zemmour's Le Suicide français was the second-best-selling book in France last year, and the most argued over. In the book, Zemmour adopts a prosecutorial tone, and one thing becomes very clear the deeper one gets into his book: He does not give a damn about his Muslim fellow citizens. He has contempt for them - and wants his readers to share his view.

(Image: French and European Publications Inc.)(Image: French and European Publications Inc.)Le Suicide français
By Éric Zemmour,
Paris: Albin Michel, 534 pages, 23 euros (paper)



For three days the sirens never stopped in Paris. They began on the morning of Jan. 7 right after two French Muslim terrorists infiltrated the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the Marais and killed 12 people. A police dragnet spread out as the killers veered through the city before they escaped in the direction of Rennes. The next morning a young policewoman was shot dead on a street near a Jewish school just outside the freeway ringing the city and again the police spread out. On Jan. 9 television stations reported that another terrorist had taken hostages at a kosher grocery store near the Porte de Vincennes, and through the window of my office, which gives onto the Seine, I heard a steady stream of police and military vehicles rushing to the scene throughout the day. And then ambulances, which meant the news was not good.

Yet somehow it did not feel as if lightning had struck. Of course no one had predicted the spectacular assaults that took place. But throughout 2014 a series of disturbing events had in a sense primed the French public for them. Within days of the killings one began to witness a retrospective narrative developing, which suggested that "all the signs were there" but "they" - the government, the police, journalists - refused to recognize them. Untrue, but it is not a hard story to sell.

It all began in May when Mehdi Nemmouche - a Franco-Algerian petty criminal who had converted to radical Islamism in prison and then gone to Syria to join jihadist groups fighting there - walked into the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels and calmly murdered four people with an assault rifle and revolver. He had been inspired by Mohamed Merah, the terrorist who in March 2012 assassinated three Muslim French soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban, 30 miles away, then massacred a teacher and three students in a Jewish school in Toulouse. Merah's last victim was a little girl, whom he turned toward the surveillance camera before shooting her in the head. The public's response focused less on the victims than on the fact that Merah - who was killed by police while hiding out in an apartment in Toulouse - was then celebrated as a hero on social media by French Muslim sympathizers.

The battlefield successes of ISIS last summer brought more reasons to worry, as news reports circulated about devastated French families whose children, boys and girls, many recent converts, were leaving France to join jihadist forces. Four young men from one French country village, for example, were killed in Syria in a single week in October. The most dramatic case was that of Maxime Hauchard, a 22-year-old convert from a small Norman village, who, along with another French convert, was spotted in an ISIS video in November participating in the slaughter of 18 Syrian soldiers and an American aid worker. A few weeks before, an experienced French mountain travel guide was captured by jihadists in Algeria's Djurdjura Mountains while going to visit friends. He was shown in a video kneeling and wearing a blue T-shirt, and then we see his severed head. He was the sixth such French victim over the past five years.

Just before Christmas the French public was again put on edge. One Saturday a Muslim convert whose Facebook page was full of radical Islamist material walked into a police station outside of Tours crying "allahu akbar," pulled out a long knife, and stabbed three policemen, nearly killing one, whom he may have been trying to behead. He was shot and killed. The next day a Muslim man with severe psychological problems and screaming the same thing drove into a Christmas market in Dijon, killing one person and wounding a dozen more before trying, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. The following day another mentally unstable man babbling something about the children of Chechnya did the same thing in Nantes, killing a shopper at the market and injuring many more. The holidays were quiet, but one week into the new year the three French-born Muslim terrorists struck in Paris.

This cascade of events is largely why the killings provoked more horror than surprise in France: They "fit" into something already there. An additional reason is that for the three previous months a highly polemical debate had been taking place about a right-wing book that offered a grandiose, incendiary, apocalyptic vision of the decline of France in which French Muslims play a central part. Though it was only published in October, Éric Zemmour's Le Suicide français was the second-best-selling book in France last year, and the most argued over. It is one of those political tracts that seems to be printed on litmus paper, its meaning and force changing depending on whose hands are flipping the pages. Already the terms zemmouriste, zemmourien and even zemmourisation have entered the political lexicon.

Never was a book better timed. For those who had already adopted Zemmour's vision as their own, everything we have since learned about the Paris assassins - their petty crimes and drug dealing, their troublemaking in schools, the failure of teachers and social workers to help them, their contempt for the law, their embrace of fundamentalism and devotion to jihadism, their heartless filming of their murders and delight in committing them - serves to confirm that the country is mortally ill and its institutions in decay. For those who resist his vision, or what they imagine it to be without having read Le Suicide français, the book can only serve the explicitly xenophobic National Front and its president Marine Le Pen, who polls suggest would come in first if a presidential election were held today. A prophet, or He Who Shall Not Be Named? In either case, one cannot understand the French reaction to the present crisis without understanding the phenomenon of Éric Zemmour.


Zemmour is less a journalist or thinker than a medium through whom the political passions of the moment pass and take on form. The son of North African Jews, he began his career writing editorials for Le Figaro, then started appearing on television and radio where he would give intelligent and unpredictable commentary on the issues of the day. Though clearly on the right, he seemed like a fresh, affable voice, an épateur of the Voltairean sort in a new, McLuhan-cool style.

That Zemmour is no more. Today he is an omnipresent Jeremiah who telegraphs the same message, day in and day out, on all available media: "France awake! You have been betrayed and your country has been stolen from you." But his populism is nothing like that of the Poujadist movement of the 1950s or of Jean-Marie Le Pen today. He is a genuine intellectual - or what you might call a counterintellectual of the sort the French right produced in the interwar years and who sees others in his guild as the country's prime traitors. He is well educated, literary, stylish, light on his feet, a happy warrior who never raises his voice even when delivering bad news. And in Le Suicide français there is a lot of it.

It is a steamroller of a book. There are 79 short chapters, each devoted to a date supposedly marking France's decline. (Chapter title: "See Lisbon and Die.") Zemmour does not transform them into a continuous narrative or even try to explain how they are connected. The connections are meant to be felt; he is a master of affect. Revisiting so many Stations of the French Cross sounds unbearable, but it is a testament to his skill as a writer and slyness as a polemicist that the book works.

The list of catastrophes and especially betrayals is long: birth control, abandonment of the gold standard, speech codes, the Common Market, no-fault divorce, poststructuralism, denationalizing important industries, abortion, the euro, Muslim and Jewish communitarianism, gender studies, surrendering to American power in NATO, surrendering to German power in the EU, surrendering to Muslim power in the schools, banning smoking in restaurants, abolishing conscription, aggressive antiracism, laws defending illegal immigrants, and the introduction of halal food in schools. The list of traitors is shorter but just as various: feminists, left-wing journalists and professors, neoliberal businessmen, antineoliberal activists, cowardly politicians, the educational establishment, European bureaucrats and even coaches of professional soccer teams who have lost control of their players.

Some of the chapters are, as the French say, hallucinants - unhinged. Those devoted to Vichy have attracted the most criticism. Zemmour is angry with Jacques Chirac for making his famous speech in 1995 apologizing for France's complicity in the murder of its Jewish citizens during the Occupation - a cowardly act, Zemmour snaps, that turned "the Shoah into the official religion of the French Republic."

In a similar vein he attacks Robert Paxton, the American historian of Vichy and the Jews, who he claims singlehandedly turned the French against their history by dismantling the narrative of French innocence and resistance that De Gaulle constructed after the war to restore the country's pride. One can argue about the uses and misuses of De Gaulle's account, but Zemmour goes further, insisting that Vichy actually tried hard to save French Jews, which it did by coolly sacrificing foreign ones - a claim that numerous historians were quick to refute. It is so untenable that even Florian Fillipot, the modernizing vice-president of the National Front, dismissed Zemmour, declaring on television that "there is nothing, absolutely nothing from Vichy experience to defend. Vichy was not France, France was in London. It was the Resistance that saved the Jews."

Chapters like these make Zemmour sound like a mere crank. But in the others he scores enough genuine points that a sympathetically inclined reader will soon be prepared to follow him into more dubious territory. He is not the sort of demagogue who nails his theses to the door and declares, "Here I stand, I can do no other." Zemmour is more fluid, his positions and arguments constantly being refreshed, like a Web page, with new facts and fantasies. This creates a trap for his critics, who have obligingly jumped in. Not content to expose his exaggerations and fabrications, their instinct - a deep one on the French left since the days of the Popular Front - is to denounce anything someone on the right says, so as not to give comfort to the enemy. Their thinking is: If it is 4 o'clock, and Éric Zemmour says it is 4 o'clock, it is our duty to say it is 3 o'clock. Which guarantees that twice a day he will be able to look at his sympathizers and say, "You see what I mean?"

Zemmour's views are simply too eclectic to be labeled and dismissed tout court. And they can be surprising. Like everyone on the French right, he is a self-declared patriot nostalgic for national grandeur, and his prose turns purple whenever he quotes from De Gaulle's speeches or recounts the triumphs of Napoleon. But high on his list of national traitors is the French business class. He scolds CEOs who have outsourced jobs or planted box stores in exurban areas, effectively killing commerce in small towns and villages, whose streets have emptied, leaving only juvenile delinquents. He charges bankers and financiers with betraying workers and the nation by pushing for full European integration and abandoning the French franc.

He makes much of the fact that, as others have noted, the images on the euro currency lack any historical or geographical references. One sees only bridges that connect nowhere with nowhere, and architectural elements that float in vacant space - apt metaphors for what has happened to the European nation-state. The Revolution, which freed France to determine its own collective destiny, has finally been reversed by Brussels. "The aristocratic Europe of the past and the technocratic oligarchy of today have finally gotten their revenge on the incorrigible French."

Arguments like these can be found in the countless left-wing antiglobalization pamphlets that fill the tables of French bookstores today. But Zemmour tosses them into a mix with more familiar right-wing arguments, like his attacks on the Sixties generation for promoting radical feminism and defending large-scale immigration. He insinuates that all these things are connected. A decade ago he published a broadside titled "Le premier sexe" about how feminism confused gender roles and emasculated men. In Le Suicide français he attacks feminism for how it affects women, arguing that it just liberated men from marriage and responsibility, leaving large numbers of women as divorced single mothers who age and die alone - stock arguments on the American right, but also among some post-Sixties feminists.

But Zemmour is driving in a very different, nativist direction. Ever since their loss in the Franco-Prussian War, which was ascribed to cultural and physical weakness, the French have been obsessed with their birthrate. Today it is relatively high by European standards, but appears - the government refuses to collect statistics on ethnicity - to be sustained by higher rates among families of North and Central Arab African immigrant "stock." This has become a major obsession on the radical right, whose literature is full of predictions of an imminent grand remplacement that will silently turn France into a Muslim country through demographic inertia.

Zemmour never mentions this theory, he simply drops a quote from a speech made by former Algerian president Houari Boumediene in 1974, proclaiming that the southern hemisphere would conquer the northern one through immigration and reproduction: "The wombs of our women will bring us victory." Due to feminism, Zemmour implies, the wombs of white women have shriveled up. And due to multiculturalism, the flood of fertile immigrants is allowed to continue. This is one more reason why French Muslims should be considered, as he has recently been saying, "un peuple dans le peuple" - a classic motif of European anti-Semitism that he has readapted to meet the present danger.

The French term for multiculturalism is anti-racisme, and its history is wrapped up with the development - and decline - of the left. Writers like Pascal Bruckner and Alain Finkielkraut, who came from the left, have long argued that left-wing activists made a disastrous mistake in the 1970s by abandoning the traditional working class, which was offended by the culture of the Sixties, and turning toward identity politics. Deserted, the workers turned to the National Front and adopted its xenophobia; in response, the left formed organizations like SOS Racisme that defended immigrants and fended off any criticism of their mainly Muslim culture.

The republican picture of a France that could and should turn peasants and immigrants into equal citizens was replaced by the picture of a racist nation that after repressing its colonial subjects abroad consigned them to an underclass at home. By now, so the argument against the left goes, this antiracism is the central dogma of mainstream politics, and has stifled the will to integrate Muslims from immigrant backgrounds into French society, with disastrous results - first and foremost for Muslim youth. Worse, it has stifled open discussion by stigmatizing as racist anyone who raises questions about these developments.

Finkielkraut has made this strong case but in a tragic register recently in "L'identité malheureuse." Zemmour adopts a prosecutorial tone, and one thing becomes very clear the deeper one gets into his book: He does not give a damn about his Muslim fellow citizens. He has contempt for them - and wants his readers to share his view. It is one thing to say, as former president of SOS Racisme Malek Boutih has, that the antiracist rhetoric of victimization has blinded the French to the real threat of fundamentalist Islam brewing in the poor urban areas. It is quite another to dismiss out of hand, as Zemmour does, the enormous independent effects of poverty, segregation and unemployment in making people in those areas feel hopeless, cut off, angry, and contemptuous of republican pieties. The quartiers in which they live are modernist architectural disaster areas, brutal in appearance and run down, and far from the few jobs the French economy generates. Incarceration policies throw young offenders in together with seasoned criminals, including jihadist recruiters, and once they have records they are nearly unemployable. Dropout rates are high, which is why one sees teenage boys milling about on the streets during the day, causing trouble.

The list of policies that contribute to all these conditions - and, if changed, might help to ease them - is long. And France could change them while at the same time policing the streets, maintaining authority in the classrooms and teaching the republican values of laicity, democracy and public duty - which one would think Zemmour would favor. But for a demagogue like him it is important to convince readers that the rot is too deep, the traitors too numerous, for a patchwork of measures to have any effect. To follow his suicide metaphor, it would be like devising an exercise regimen for a patient on life support. On the book's last page we read that "France is dying, France is dead." There is no final chapter on what is to be done to revive it. He leaves that to his reader's imagination.

Successful ideologies follow a certain trajectory. They are first developed in narrow sects whose adherents share obsessions and principles, and see themselves as voices in the wilderness. To have any political effect, these groups must learn to work with other sects. That's difficult for obsessive, principled people, which is why at the political fringes one always finds little factions squabbling futilely with each other. But for an ideology to really reshape politics it must cease being a set of principles and become a vaguer but persuasive outlook that new information and events only strengthen. You really know when an ideology has a grip on someone when he takes both A and not-A to be confirmations of it. American conservatism followed something like this trajectory over the past 50 years, as distinctions between the old right and neoconservative intellectuals disappeared and a common, flexible doxa developed that could serve unreflective politicians and media demagogues alike.

The French right may be advancing on that trajectory today. Those on the right include pro-European businessmen, anti-European and anti-American Gaullists, traditionalist Catholics opposed to abortion and gay marriage, poor working-class whites who live uneasily next to poor Muslims, and, at the extreme fringe, nativists who want to expel those Muslims. On particular policies, their views are by and large incompatible.

But Éric Zemmour has made a large gift to the factions of the right with Le Suicide français. He has given them a common set of enemies; he has given them a calendar of the enemies' crimes; he has made them feel that there must be some connection between those crimes; and he has stirred them to an outraged hopelessness - which in politics is much more powerful than hope, as the current American president has learned. If the different parts of the French right still have trouble working together, they have just received a vision of France that they can all subscribe to. This at a time when the country is trying to wrap its collective mind around one of the great tragedies and challenges in its recent history.

After the collapse of the Maginot Line in 1940 and the quick end to the drôle de guerre, the great question in France was how to explain what Marc Bloch called "a strange defeat." A similar exercise in retrospective prophecy has now begun and French journalism is focused on little else. What is extraordinary about Éric Zemmour's book is that it was published before the terrorist attacks, but can now be - and is being - read as the chronicle of 17 deaths foretold. Yes, the publication of Le Suicide français was well timed, at least for its author. For France, not so much.


© 2015 The New York Review of Books
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Opinion Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Yemen Crisis: Could Domestic Conflict Grow Into Protracted Regional War?

As Saudi Arabia and Egypt threaten to send ground troops into Yemen, we look at the roots of the crisis. While many analysts have described the fighting as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, journalist Iona Craig says the fighting stems from a domestic conflict. "People try to frame this as an Iran versus Saudi kind of battle, which it has now become. But it is very much because of domestic politics," explains Iona Craig, who recently spent four years reporting from Sana'a. We also speak to Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor at The Guardian, about the decades-old history of Saudi intervention in Yemen.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Yemen and the Saudi-led bombing campaign, we're joined by two guests in London. Iona Craig is back with us, journalist who was based in Sana'a for four years as Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014. And Brian Whitaker is with us, former Middle East editor for The Guardian. He now runs the website, which covers Arab politics and society, where he wrote a new report on "Yemen and Saudi Arabia: A Historical Review of Relations."

Brian, let's begin with you. Can you lay that relationship out? The significance of Saudi Arabia now bombing Yemen with the U.S. supporting Saudi Arabia?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Well, it's a long and complicated relationship, really. You know, we have—Saudi Arabia is a rich, conservative monarchy, and on the other side, we have Yemen, which is very populous, it's very poor, and it's republican. And those two are separated by a border of about 1,500 miles, which is very difficult to police. I think, generally, among the Gulf monarchies, there's a certain level of apprehension about Yemen, partly because it's not like them.

And if we look at their relations with Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia was created as a state in 1932; within two years of that, there was a war between the Saudis and the Yemenis, which resulted in the—Yemen ceding some ethnically Yemeni territory to Saudi Arabia. And as part of that deal also, Yemenis were allowed to work in Saudi Arabia on quite generous terms, and that led to large numbers of Yemenis working in the kingdom and sending remittances back to Yemen. That was quite a rocky relationship, as well, because in the early 1990s, when the Saudis didn't much like Yemen's attitude to Saddam Hussein, several hundred thousand Yemeni workers were expelled from the kingdom.

We also had the North Yemeni Civil War in the 1960s, where we saw the Saudis intervening on behalf of the royalists, and the Egyptians intervening on behalf the republicans. So that was a military struggle. And then, in the mid-1990s when North and South Yemen became—have become unified, but then a war broke out between the North and the South. The Saudis were supporting the southern separatists.

And, of course, most recently, in 2009, when the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was having one of his six wars against the Houthis, the Saudis joined in then with a bombing campaign to help. So, there's a long history, and also there's a long history, apart from military things, of Saudi involvement in Yemeni politics, which has often taken the form of payments to tribes, politicians and so on—you know, the sort of things other people would probably call bribes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in effect, then, the Yemenis have functioned almost as a reserve labor force for Saudi Arabia? You were mentioning it. They also function that way for other states in the region? And also, you mentioned there were—the unification of Yemen. But for a time, there was actually—wasn't there a left-wing government in South Yemen?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Indeed. The only Arab Marxist government was in the South, and that disappeared in 1990 when North and South became unified. Then, the southerners had second thoughts about it, and a war broke out in 2004, which lasted a few weeks. And so, basically, the Saudis were, at that stage, supporting the—as they were then, the ex-Marxists who had ruled the South. So it's a curious relationship because, at some time or other, the Saudis have supported most of the different factions within Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, what do you feel is most important to understand right now? And can you talk about the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting that took place yesterday, a kind of Sunni meeting?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think at the moment in Yemen, you have to realize that the situation has got to where it is now largely because of domestic politics, as well. People try and frame this as an Iran-versus-Saudi kind of battle, which it has now become, but it's very much because of domestic politics. And the reason the Houthis have been able to get to where they are today is very much because of the support of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has been plotting this for some time, certainly, you know, at least since 2012, 2013. And although they're old enemies, they are now supporting each other in this battle. So, this came about, really, because Saleh was granted immunity by the GCC in the deal that he signed at the end of 2011. And these are the very same people that are now bombing him today, so there's quite a deep irony in the situation that's going on right now. And although Saleh hasn't been doing that overtly, it was clear and very evident to me when I was on the ground in September, when the Houthis took Sana'a, that those men that were in plainclothes with Houthi stickers on their Kalashnikovs were in fact the Republican Guard. They were saying it openly, and people recognized them as former Republican Guard soldiers who were under the command of Ahmed Ali, Ali Abdullah Saleh's son. So I think you have to be—you know, it has to be quite clear that although you talk about the Houthis being supported by Iran, they're actually, on the ground, being supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh much more than there is any evidence that they're being supported by Iran at the moment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona Craig, as the civil strife in Yemen grows, do you have any sense of what's going on with the jihadi forces within Yemen, and obviously, the United States' big concern, the drone strikes that have repeatedly been targeted within Yemen by the United States?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think the issue now is the counterterrorism policy for the U.S. has pretty much vanished, in the sense that the National Security Bureau, that was really set up by the Americans, the Yemeni intelligence agency, in order to gather human intelligence to counter al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is now the hands of the Houthis. In addition to that, the counterterrorism troops that were being trained by the Americans, that all stopped last Friday when the Americans finally left. And now the Saudis, backed by America, are bombing military bases across the country. So, it's certainly feasible that amongst all of that the counterterrorism troops are going to be impacted by that.

Now, as far as what the jihadist groups' reaction is to—for al-Qaeda, certainly, you know, for them, they're going to be able to take advantage of this kind of mess that's going on in Yemen, whether that means being able to take weapons as military bases are vacated, knowing that they're going to be hit—if the Houthis haven't already taken those weapons themselves. But it is going to be an opportunity for them, particularly as it's going to polarize the society within Yemen itself. This sectarian element will become, you know, a self-fulfilling prophecy, and therefore that will, almost inevitably, in some way, drive some people into the hands of al-Qaeda. Even if they're not before, they may find themselves fighting on the same side of al-Qaeda in order to defend themselves and their territory.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the U.S. role with Iran in all the different places now—working with Iran, if you will, in Iraq, although they kind of deny this; working against Iran in Yemen right now; and negotiating with Iran around a nuclear deal—Brian Whitaker, can you talk about the significance of this?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Well, obviously, there are quite a few ironies in that situation. The latest I've seen today, though, is that Iran doesn't seem particularly interested in getting more deeply involved in Yemen at the moment. And that might be quite a smart move. I think the Americans would also be probably leaning on them not to step things up in Yemen, in order to secure the nuclear deal. I think that—for the Americans, I think the nuclear deal is probably the priority at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: At this point, Iona Craig, what do you feel needs to happen? You know, we have President Obama famously recently saying that Yemen is the one major success story in the war against terrorism. What do you think, as you listen to a man I'm sure you know well, Farea Al-Muslimi, on the ground in Sana'a under the bombardment, saying, "What our country needs is investment in the economy, is education, is not more bombs"?

IONA CRAIG: I mean, certainly, most immediately, is some sort of political settlement to get out of this current crisis. But by pushing the Houthis this far, by deciding to bomb Yemen, I don't think—the indication from the Houthis at the moment is they are not prepared to back down, which means more bombing and the possibility of even ground troops. The Houthis, you know, have been fighting in Yemen for over 10 years now. And I think the real risk is, if ground troops are involved, that this could be a very protracted and long, borne-out conflict, which is going to impact Yemenis massively.

You know, what Farea was saying was really depressing, but absolutely true. The economy has all but collapsed. The government—not that there is one, really, but there isn't the finances to prop up the civil service indefinitely, and not even for many more weeks. You've got 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid, and that was before this conflict started. So, I think for Yemenis on the ground at the moment, there is this real risk for them that this becomes a long, drawn-out process, where the Saudis are saying it will be a few days of aerial bombardment in order to reduce the military power of the Houthis. But they know this territory. They've been fighting in Yemen, in the highlands in Yemen, for 10 years. If the Saudis or the Egyptians decide to take them on on the ground, this could be a very long process.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you for being with us, journalist based in Sana'a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, just recently awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Brian Whitaker, thanks so much for being with us, former Middle East editor for The Guardian, now runs the website We'll link to that. It covers Arab politics and society. Wrote the new report, "Yemen and Saudi Arabia: A Historical Review of Relations." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400