U.S. spying may cost the U.S. economy billions

Talk about bad timing.

This week marked the start of renewed negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the U.S. And mere days before that, the German federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that it is investigating another possible case of U.S. spying in Germany. Imagine being at the TTIP negotiating table with that elephant in the room.

Billions upon billions of dollars in potential economic growth for both Germany and the U.S. are at stake with this free trade agreement. Forbes notes that “one study, done for the EU, concluded that a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement would add $122 billion annually to the American economy and $150 billion annually to the European economy.”

But now European anger over U.S. spying may put this landmark deal in serious jeopardy.

TTIP is complex and multifaceted, but essentially it is an attempt to reduce trade barriers and streamline regulations. Let’s focus on just a couple tiny slivers of it to get a sense of how important it could be to economies on both sides of the Atlantic. Simply standardizing regulatory differences between the EU and the U.S. could yield tremendous gains. For example, Germany mandates that blinker lights on cars must be orange. The U.S. mandates they must be red. This discrepancy creates an artificial and useless barrier to trade. Former congressman and WTO official James Bacchus calculated that streamlining these kinds of regulations by just 25 percent could increase combined GDP by $106 billion.

Another example: The U.S. and EU require different models of crash test dummies for car safety tests, even though the dummies ultimately accomplish the same goal. For carmakers, this means doing the same tests twice, adding significantly to the cost of the cars. Studies have found that differing auto safety standards end up adding about 25 percent to the costs of American cars sold in the EU.

In the midst of a tepid U.S. economic recovery, an agreement like TTIP would provide everyone with a much-needed economic boost. The benefits to eased and increased trade between countries really cannot be overstated.

And that’s why now is such a bad time for the world to learn that a German soldier may have been passing information to U.S. military intelligence, acting as an alleged double agent in Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service, according to media reports.

No wonder 70 percent of Germans characterize the U.S. as “power-hungry.” In addition, majorities of Germans describe the U.S. as arrogant and reckless. Germans are incredibly disappointed in President Obama. Based on Obama’s “hope and change” campaign rhetoric and promises of “the most transparent administration in history”, millions of people throughout Europe expected a radical departure from the hawkish policies of President Bush. Instead, they have become increasingly disillusioned with Obama over the depth and breadth of NSA spying — including the spying on U.S. allies like Germany revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

That included recruiting German officials to spy on Germany for the U.S., tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, and monitoring around half a billion telephone calls, emails, and text messages in the country every month.

And now, many in German politics are using outrage over such snooping revelations to hold TTIP hostage.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Merkel’s former justice minister and a member of the traditionally pro-American Free Democratic Party, said she wanted free-trade negotiations to be put on ice and Edward Snowden — whose leaks informed Germany of the spying — to be granted the right to stay in Germany.

“We can’t go on like this,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said. “The Americans know no boundaries. They will only understand a clear message.”

But it’s Germany’s Green Party that is taking the lead on TTIP opposition. Berlin must “take a more resolute approach to the U.S. government,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of the Green Party’s parliamentary group. That has already meant expelling U.S. intelligence operatives from the country. But it could also mean expanding counterespionage against the U.S., and, of course, blocking TTIP.

The White House isn’t budging. The Obama administration recently rejected a proposed “no-spy” agreement between Washington and Berlin. And the administration is resisting any potential legal constraints on its foreign intelligence collection, citing worries that other countries would ask for similar treatment.

The diplomatic toll of spying on friendly nations led by friendly leaders is considerable. The German people are now justifiably distrustful and upset with their American allies. And the unwillingness on the part of the U.S. to put any limits on spying or provide any transparency about who is being targeted or why further divides the U.S. from its allies.

However, with TTIP now in the balance, the toll is no longer just diplomatic, but financial as well. Billions of dollars in economic growth are at stake. So far, the Obama administration has offered no satisfactory justification for surreptitious foreign intelligence gathering in Germany. With the costs of spying this high, explanation and justification are the least that we, Americans and Germans alike, deserve.

This post originally appeared at The Week.


Netroots Nation and Liberal Populism Key to Defeating Hillary

Last week Netroots Nation, formerly Yearly Kos, went down in the city that best represents how well a corrupt, overweening government can respond to changing economic conditions. Detroit, Michigan hosted a meetup for particularly whiny and net-savvy liberals got together to whine about how the Democratic Party isn’t in touch with the people. And it’s within the belly of this discontent beast that we can see the key to defeating Hillary at the ballot box.

Netroots refers generally to the lefty blogosphere. It’s kind of like the Tea Party of the that side, in that it’s people who are more liberal than mainstream left wingers. For example, when Vice President Joe Biden was speaking, a faction of the audience had to be escorted out for chanting “Stop deporting our families.”

They also take social justice more seriously than mainstream Democrats. A candidate for state representative in Michigan asserted that water is a human right and called on the crowd to call Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s office to stop the water shutoffs for Detroit residents before Biden got up to speak.

But unlike the Tea Party, the average netroot netizen is actually younger than the average Democrat. In 2008, and less so in 2012, this young voter was essential to candidate Barack Obama’s success. He got this voter off their butt and into the booth with his lofty, lefty promises. He promised not to raise taxes one cent on those making under $100,000. He promised to close Guantanamo. He was going to oversee the most transparent administration in history. He would provide a path to citizenship, implement a non-interventionist foreign policy, and stand up to business corruption.

Today, that voter is disillusioned with the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama has been a major disappointment in every single area, and broken nearly every campaign promise he made. His one area of “success,” the policy on which he spent every cent of his political capital, his one accomplishment as a president, ObamaCare, is riddled with hiccups, underperformance, rollbacks, delays, exemptions, and errors. And, as the Netroots Netizen will point out, even if it works as intended, ObamaCare is not single-payer health insurance, which is what liberals want. Instead, ObamaCare is a major handout to those loathsome creatures the health insurance companies. Obama offered the companies every single American citizen on a silver platter. Obama told Americans, “Buy health insurance from these companies, or pay a fine.”

In a way, Hillary Clinton is a boon to the GOP. She’s not even going to try to energize the young, liberal Democratic wing. She has nothing to offer.

She’s a typical tax-and-spend liberal, something young people who are chronically un- and under-employed are not exactly energized by. When Jon Stewart asked Hillary Clinton about her views on America’s foreign policy, she replied, “We have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” There is literally no space between her and whoever the GOP might nominate.

No mention of Guantanamo. No denunciation of extrajudicial killings of American citizens abroad. No drone strikes. No, America has been doing it right, we’re just not adamant enough about our rightness. On NSA spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, Hillary has called for his prosecution.

As far as standing up to business corruption, Hillary Clinton IS business corruption. From the Arkansas legislature to the White House to New York, Hillary Clinton has left a trail of backroom deals, shady businessmen, and crony capitalism in her wake.

These young, liberal voters may not all know about Hillary Clinton’s frankly establishment Republican stances on foreign policy and spying and collusion between business and government. But a candidate like Rand Paul could help bring these deficiencies to light. Rand Paul has stood up to President Obama about NSA overreach, extrajudicial killings, punishing whistleblowers, staying out of foreign conflicts and crony capitalism. Rand Paul would be able to, if not woo these young liberals, at least show them that they should stay home for Hillary.

Either way, it should be the goal of the Republican noise machine from now until Election Day to show the lefty young uns that Hillary Clinton is NOT one of them.


Why I’m an Anarcha-Feminist: A Moral System Explained

I’m not, in any way, a Noam Chomsky fan. However, I couldn’t help be struck by his description of anarchism in a recent interview.

Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.

First of all, yes, exactly, brilliant.

But second, “patriarchal families” is something I’d generally skip over. The pithiness of the entire statement, plus me going through and deciding where and when to cut off the part I wanted to quote, had me pass over it again, and notice it.

Anarchy asks whether patriarchal families are justified.

The answer I’ve come to, after years of thought, beginning while I was still embroiled in Evangelical Christianity, on through self-identifying as a non-practicing deist Christian anarcho-capitalist, is, essentially, sometimes.

First we’ve got to decide what we mean by justified. I don’t know Chomsky’s moral system, but from the fact that he’s an anarcho-syndicalist I’d guess that maximizing human prosperity isn’t the aim of his ethics.

It is mine.

And what I have decided, after looking at the evidence, is that patriarchal families are not conducive to maximizing human prosperity. So to me, they are not justified.

Part of why I broke up with the Evangelical church is that I lost faith in its moral system. I overgeneralize and hyperbolize here, I realize, but, for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize the Evangelical moral philosophy as:

We think Jesus or Paul said this activity is right or wrong, so that makes it right or wrong.

The idea that it is morally wrong for women to teach men, or that premarital sex is wrong, is justified on the exact same grounds that one could use to justify requiring that women must cover their heads in church in order to be right with God. That they don’t cover their heads is clearly a matter of practicality, but pointing that out made my fellow churchgoers hella uncomfortable.

Similarly, I overgeneralize and hyperbolize when I describe the moral system of social conservatism to be,

This activity is different than the activity I’m comfortable with and that has a long track record so it’s wrong.

Though my social conservatism was inextricably linked with Evangelical Christianity, and fell away as I dumped it, I similarly reject its premise. Accepting or rejecting an activity as moral requires more, for me, than approval by a person or persons or a long track record. Cab companies have a long track record. Uber is better.

I get, intellectually, the idea that humans are incomplete and fallible in our intellect, information and understanding. The idea is that because we are not omniscient, we need a supernatural power to tell us how to act. How interesting that faith in the supernatural (but not church membership or attendance) negatively correlates with education and intelligence. It’s almost like the more faith one has in one’s own intellect, information and understanding, the less able one is to buy into this particular moral system.

Because when you look at it, the Evangelical moral system is actually opposed to intellect, information and understanding. God loves us, right? So surely he’d set up a moral system which would maximize our self-interest. Surely being a devout Christian would make us wealthier, happier, more fulfilled and living longer, healthier lives. But, no, it says in the New Testament pretty clearly that following Jesus will lead to alienation, persecution and suffering.

I don’t know, man. I’m just not sure I’m into that. I really mean that. I don’t know. Maybe I should be proclaiming the Gospel and being shunned and sacrificing my worldly happiness for eternal glory. But I do know that the moral code I preached when I was Evangelical, a path to heaven which consisted of renouncing homosexuality and saving yourself for marriage and eschewing drugs, was wrong. And worse, incredibly alienating and hurtful. So since following that moral code brought me to a place I shudder to remember, hurting people and making their lives more difficult, I’ve rejected and replaced it.

As well, I intellectually understand the socially conservative idea that because institutions like marriage and monogamy have “worked” over millennia, they should be protected and enshrined, and that deviation from them threatens the entire working system, and should be punished accordingly. But worked for whom? Yes, marriage and monogamy and insisting women maintain modesty and sexual purity has in the past helped establish and maintain stable, two-parent households in which children could grow up relatively unscathed. However, at what cost to the women involved? And, are we mistaking cause and effect here? Stable marriages, marriage at all, really, has always been most easily and readily available to the wealthiest, the most educated, the most intelligent and the most emotionally strong among us. Is it possible that it’s all those factors which make for the best parenting among the married, and not the marriage itself?

Furthermore, is it possible that what we’re actually seeing is a vicious cycle, in which our ideas about a woman’s proper place help keep her from being able to be economically independent, which then makes her solo parenting marred by grinding poverty, which helps bolster support for the idea that she should be parenting within a marriage?

And even beyond that, is it possible that a man as head of the household, which is what I believe Chomsky was referring to when he said “patriarchal families” only makes sense when women are poorly educated? Now that women are earning more degrees than are men, why relegate decision making to the less-informed of the two?

Another data point which challenges the justification for “patriarchal families” is whether it makes sense for men to head households when their wives outearn them. Since single, childless women in cities outearn their male counterparts, insisting that a family be headed by a man will lead to women eschewing marriage entirely, for lack of a suitable partner.

No, I find both moral systems irredeemably flawed. That’s not to say either get everything wrong. It’s to say that I reject the foundations upon which they are built. No, it’s not enough for me to accept something as moral that Jesus or Paul reportedly said it is. I’ll wear my head fully uncovered should I go to church, thankyouverymuch. And no, that people have always done it and it’s worked okay is not reason enough for me to accept that in the here and now, it’s something worth doing. You can take your admonition for me to submit to my husband and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

My moral system is essentially this: Something is moral if the empirical evidence indicates it makes people happier, more connected or wealthier. Is this arbitrary? Arbitrary as hell. I could have as easily said that something is moral if it increases equality. And I do enjoy equality, but I justify it by the evidence that equality of opportunity, and equality before the law is generally conducive to happiness, connectedness and prosperity.

So, basically, all that is part of why I’m an anarcha-feminist.

This post originally appeared in


How the US is Using Money Laundering Laws to Imprison Political Dissidents

Political prisoners, in common parlance, are people imprisoned as a result of their political activity. Places such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and North Korea come to mind when we think about the practice. But more and more, the US is imprisoning people, as well as silencing speech, and telling companies who they can and can’t do business with for political purposes.

Probably the best recent example of US political imprisonment is also the most tragic. When internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, he faced up to 25 years in prison for what appears to be a politically motivated crime. When Swartz downloaded files from online database JSTOR, there’s no indication the multi-millionaire intended to sell the files. In fact, JSTOR had little interest in pressing charges against him. But they ultimately complied with the prosecutor’s wish to make an example out of Swartz for his disregard for copyright legislation. It’s an open question whether the fact that Swartz led a successful crusade against additional, sweeping copyright legislation played any role in the prosecutor seeking unprecedentedly harsh sentence for the man not yet in his 30’s.

Besides imprisoning political dissidents who actually break laws, the Department of Justice has also begun punishing people its bureaucrats just don’t like. Take, for example, guns and pornography — two legal entities which are part of a DOJ list of “bad” businesses. Instead of outlawing these activities clearly and transparently, the DOJ is threatening banks with money laundering investigations in order to coerce them into cutting off services to disfavored customers. It’s called Operation Choke Point and the results have been exactly what you’d expect. Thousands of gun businesses and porn stars have lost their bank accounts, caught in the crosshairs of a political war.

When they’re not cutting off services, the government is suppressing disfavored speech by seizing web sites. Most recently, the FBI seized sex-worker support site My Redbook. The FBI regularly takes over websites, essentially taking property from citizens, before convicting them of any crimes. And like many instances, the charges include money laundering. Why, it isn’t clear, since the site mainly operated as a place for sex workers to share health and safety information and to find clients in a safe environment.

Money laundering itself is the victimless crime of sending or receiving money without telling government bureaucrats much about it. Laws against it were sold initially as add-on charges for prosecutions of mob bosses and crime ring participants. However, they’ve increasingly been used as primary charges for, essentially, earning or spending money in ways government doesn’t like.

Examples of this include alleged Silk Road head honcho Ross Ulrich and bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem. Both are in custody awaiting trial, Ulrich in jail and Shrem under house arrest, for no other crimes except money laundering. It appears the murder-for-hire charges were invented to conceal the political motivation behind Ulrich’s arrest, as they’ve since been dropped.

Again, both men appear to have been engaging in legal, but unfavored activity, at the time of their arrests. And both men are outspoken libertarians. Ulrich is accused now of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, and engaging in a criminal enterprise for his alleged involvement in Silk Road.

Silk Road is a website which removed the violence from the drug trade. It replaced broken kneecaps for bad user reviews, and in doing so helped reveal the futility of the drug war. But its shutdown revealed something even worse. In order to continue the rights-violating drug war which has created the world’s largest prison population, alienated communities from police, and created urban zones so violent they produce people with worse PTSD than is seen in people who serve in Afghanistan, the DEA shut down the safest way for people to buy and sell drugs.

The charges against Ulrich don’t even pass the common-sense test. He’s accused of running Silk Road, on which crimes might have been committed by other people. Running a website where narcotics are sold, computers are hacked, money is laundered isn’t selling narcotics, hacking computers or laundering money. So far the government has produced zero evidence Ulrich actually engaged in any of these activities.

There is nothing illegal about operating an online marketplace, nor should these marketplaces have to take on responsibility for the legality of each of the millions of transactions which occur on their sites.

Charlie Shrem is in custody for trading bitcoin for US dollars without the proper paperwork. Though he’s accused of laundering one million dollars, he’s unable to move freely. By contrast, megabank HSBC was convicted of laundering millions of dollars for known violent criminal gangs and terrorist organizations. They received a small fine.

Money laundering laws are not and never have been necessary, and are built on the troubling premise that we owe the government information about our money. Until recently, they were always used to help prosecute people for breaking other laws, mostly non-violent and victimless crimes such as illegal gambling and buying and selling drugs. That they’re now being used to punish dissidents for legal but unliked activity is evidence that they are not worth their cost in terms of enforcement or the erosion of our right to dissent.

The FBI, DEA, and DOJ must be reined in before we create more political prisoners and deprive more citizens of their right to free speech.

This post originally appeared at


Self-described “Liberal” Millennials are Actually Libertarian

This week another Reason/Rupe poll came out, this one on the political leanings of my generation, the Millennials. One interesting thing to note for people concerned with how we vote is that a plurality of Millennials surveyed who described themselves as “liberal” express support for downright libertarian positions.

Liberal, to many Millennials (33 percent), just means belief in “social tolerance, openness, and personal freedom.” And far from preferring a leviathan state, many Millennials said they were liberal because people should have freedom to do what they want in their personal lives without government interference.

So how does that impact our voting? More liberal millennials than conservative ones indicated support for a classically “libertarian-leaning candidate,” by a margin of 60 to 27 percent. But nearly half of conservative millennials oppose a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” candidate.

Here’s the deal. Conservative Millennials won’t vote for a Democrat. They especially won’t vote for any of the Democrats being floated. But what this poll is showing is that liberal Millennials are fed up with a Democratic party which has been anything but liberal. Consider that 60 percent of Hillary Clinton voters and 56 percent of those who approve of President Obama say they would support a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate. They’re open to free markets, as long as they get their personal freedoms.

In total, a majority—53 percent—of millennials say they would support a candidate who described him or herself as socially liberal and economically conservative.

So what does that mean?

Young people were key to Obama’s election and re-election. Ignoring their wishes not only harms the GOP now, but also going forward.

Traditionally, the GOP has had an all-too-testy relationship with its libertarian wing. Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell:

To wit: There’s the GOP’s historically poor convention treatment of Paul supporters; the incessant scapegoating of Libertarian candidates for GOP losses, even despite mathematical impossibility; the perpetual misunderstanding of what libertarians believe in; the conservative belittling of libertarian causes; the penchant for selecting terrible candidates and then getting pissy when libertarians hesitate to get behind the false choice; and plenty of embarrassing moves that make libertarians want to crawl under a rock.

The personal freedoms we Millennials want in no way violate small-government principles. In fact, they are full expressions of that idea that that government which governs least, governs best. Ending the War on Drugs, fixing our broken immigration system, no longer allowing the state to discriminate against gays in marriage, reining in domestic spying, and protecting whistleblowers are all, fundamentally, small-government positions which would all result in a net decrease in the state.

Nominating truly small-government politicians, who want the government out of the bedroom and the boardroom, isn’t just the only principled path forward for the GOP. It’s also the best way to attract my generation to the party. It’s the GOP, not the Democrats, who Millennials should associate with “social tolerance, openness, and personal freedom.”

This post originally appeared at


Why Facebook Should Embrace Polyamory

Facebook raised eyebrows earlier this year by unveiling 49 new gender options for users. Hopefully that’s just the start of the ubiquitous social network’s social boundary-pushing ways.

The next frontier? Unconventional relationship options. Instead of multiple options for relationships with just one other user, Facebook should allow users to be in relationships with multiple users. There’s even a petition demanding as much — though it’s only won a couple hundred signatures so far.

“We appreciate and thank Facebook for their recent change in allowing all people to put their own gender identities,” reads the petition. “We ask that they have the same respect for people of all relationship types. They deserve the basic right to be honest about who they care about. Please sign this petition to allow those in open relationships to name their partners truthfully as everybody else does.”

Now let’s face it: Facebook is unlikely to make this change anytime soon. But it should.

American social mores are changing. Support for gay marriage is rocketing upwards. Also increasing is our acceptance of trans-identified individuals.

But society’s approval of multi-partner relationships is still low. Polling done by Gallup last year revealed that while 59 percent of Americans considered homosexual relations morally acceptable, just 14 percent approved of polygamy. (It should be noted that polyamory differs from polygamy in that it allows for multiple male partners as well as female, and so is generally considered more egalitarian.)

A large degree of stigma around any non-monogamous relationship persists. For the vast majority or Americans, there are two options: monogamy, or cheating.

But many people are living out a third option, such as polyamorous writer Lauren Rumpler: ethical non-monogamy. “People assume that to be faithful, you have to be monogamous,” Rumpler explained in a recent interview with me. “To be faithful, you have to be honest. Faithfulness is measured in degree based on the couple. The faithfulness is not to the individual. It’s to the contract that you’ve made to that individual.” The idea is that as long as you’re open and honest with your partners, and they’re comfortable with the terms of the arrangement, you are faithful, no matter how many people you sleep with.

And that’s where the “ethical” portion of ethical non-monogamy comes in, referring to adherence to clearly laid out rules around the extra-relationship relationships. So instead of promising yourself to your partner, you’re promising to obey the rules you’ve decided on with your partner.

Polyamory, a subset of ethical non-monogamy, refers to multiple concurrent sexual relationships, and is generally differentiated from open relationships by long-term, emotionally involved, and/or committed “secondary” relationships. Some poly relationships involve hierarchy, with primary, secondary, (and so on) relationships. And some are non-hierarchical, with no partner being more important than the other. In some poly relationships, “metamours,” as partners of partners call each other, have romantic relationships. In others, partners either don’t know about each other (Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell) or remain friendly but not romantically involved.

The site Polyamory in the News documents the growing coverage this “alternative lifestyle” has received in recent years. There’s even a reality show about poly couples, called, appropriately, Polyamory: Married and Dating.

The main arguments against polyamory center around whether multi-partner relationships are good for children. “Marriage is the institution that provides social stability because it attempts to ensure, insofar as possible, that the mother and father who create a new life commit to caring for that child until adulthood,” writes conservative author Mona Charen. “No other adult arrangement has ever been shown to benefit children as much.”

There aren’t many studies available regarding the impact of non-monogamy on children. Two studies by Elisabeth Sheff indicate some benefits: the children had more individualized time with adults, they “could spend less time in daycare because of the flexibility of having multiple parental figures involved in their lives,” and “the greater diversity of interests available from adult figures helped children foster a wider variety of hobbies and skills.”

However the studies also revealed some drawbacks, particularly “the discomfort of having partnerships between adults dissolve and the resulting emotional trauma for children who may have been very attached to a departing partner.” But the research is also clear that family stability is more important for healthy child development than family makeup.

Conservative columnist Jonathan Rauch makes an interesting case against polyamory when he points out that multiple wives are far more common than multiple husbands, and that this kind of plural marriage is likely to result in a surplus of single men, which is bad for society. However, it’s probably no coincidence that while this particular kind of plural relationship thrived throughout history, women were also terrifically oppressed, and wealth disparities meant that survival was more likely as the third wife of a rich man than the only wife of a dirt-poor one.

In the end, the main benefit of ethical non-monogamy is that it helps people who feel unsuited to monogamy enjoy their relationships. It also accepts that no one person is capable of meeting all of your needs. Acceptance of and education around ethical non-monogamy is important because too many people end up in monogamous relationships not because they enjoy monogamy, but because it’s the default position, and they never consider other options.

This is where Facebook comes in. Of course, Facebook doesn’t exactly grant rights or set policy. But can you imagine how many more people would consider and accept polyamory as a viable and ethical life choice if Facebook gave polyamory its imprimatur?

This post originally appeared on The Week.


Libertarians Who Fret About Libertarians Who Fret About Privilege

About a year later, has realized there’s a conversation in liberty-land happening about “privilege.” And writer Bretigne Shaffer is none-too-pleased.

Now, C4SS just held an excellent Mutual Exchange debate to which I contributed one essay, and many other far-more-brilliant minds submitted several pieces. But for whatever reason Shaffer only cites me and my FEE debate mate Julie Borowski on the topic.

When looking at my work on the subject, the first mistake Shaffer makes is to claim I failed to address criticisms to my “shaming is coercion” article that I actually did address. In the follow-up article. Which is linked to from the original.


What gets left out of this discussion are the implications of declaring something to be “coercive.” From a libertarian viewpoint, coercion implies force or the threat of force. And force is justified as a response to force. So when Reisenwitz asserts that “shaming” is a form of coercion, and doesn’t distinguish it from other forms of coercion (say, for example, actual coercion), then it should follow that some form of force is justified as a response to the “coercion” of shaming. It’s funny how these things get left out.

Also funny: When writers don’t do their due diligence. In fact I clarified that although I do acknowledge that shaming can be a form of coercion (something I’m not the only writer to assert) that fact doesn’t justify using even more coercion to punish it.

Shaffer claims I’m “confused” on the force distinction, and then offers no actual rebuttal to my definition of coercion than that coercion is “force.” Tautological much? No, in fact I’m not confused. I just disagree with you. Or might, if I understood what you were saying.

Moving on, Shaffer calls my claim that looking at the bigoted roots of bigoted laws and policies “complete nonsense.” “It is not a ‘lack of empathy’ that is at the root of these bad laws – it is the institution of the state itself,” she writes.

This is a statement so asinine it’s difficult for me to formulate a response. First, yes, sure, if there were no state there would be no laws. Unfortunately for all of us, there is one, so fighting specific laws is necessary.

Now, where, I’d ask Shaffer, does the will and drive to create and tolerate sodomy laws, redlining, vagrancy laws, laws against women owning property, and so on originate? The “state itself” isn’t a good enough, or actually helpful in any way, answer. States make laws to placate people and businesses. So if those people are businesses are bigoted enough to create and/or tolerate bigoted laws, then that’s what you get. That, among other reasons, is why bigotry matters.

Shaffer is claiming she’s taking “a principled stance against coercion,” by ignoring bigotry, and it’s result: privilege. In reality, she’s decided, arbitrarily, that the only thing that matters is that physical violence is threatened against an individual. Questions like why that violence is threatened, who it’s used on, why physical violence is coercion but character assassination or blackmail isn’t, are all unanswered.

It’s fine to be, for whatever reason, personally disinterested in identity-based oppression. But to pretend that disinterest somehow constitutes principle, or that there is nothing to be gained, regarding freedom, by examining the origins of laws which oppress unevenly based on gender, race, orientation or whatever arbitrary basis you want to pick is intellectually (and, I’d argue, morally) bankrupt.

This post originally appeared at


Why Obama’s Plan for Working Moms Just Won’t Work

President Obama has been pushing the idea that “family-friendly” workplace policies—such as paid family leave, flexible hours, low-cost or free child care and a higher minimum wage—are “basic needs.” He recently lauded states that “give” workers paid family leave and are “offering” paid sick days.

But in reality, states don’t give or offer. They force businesses to give and offer. And like all well-intended legislation, this kind of micromanagement of business-employee relationships comes with unintended consequences.

Take paid family leave, which is funded by the payroll tax, the nation’s most regressive tax. No matter how little you earn, you pay the same percentage, beginning with your first dollar. This means that the teen girl and single mother working at McDonald’s are paying into the system so a CEO can take a few weeks off to care for her sick mother.

Then there’s the fact that, as conservative author Kay Hymowitz recently pointed out, even with a paycheck coming in, taking time off work still has negative consequences over the long term.

She looked at the data from Nordic countries, where parents are guaranteed up to 12 months leave after the birth of a child, and found that women who availed themselves of the time off were generally “mommy-tracked.” They came back to their jobs, but their pay was lower, and they had less power than women who took less, or no, time off.

The unintended consequences of forcing businesses to pay a higher minimum wage are likewise well documented, most recently by conservative writer Carrie Lukas. In her response to President Obama for Forbes, she explains that the poverty problem disproportionately facing women and single mothers is less about low wages and more about under- and unemployment.

In fact, insufficient employment is a bigger cause of poverty than low wages. When you look at who’s living in poverty, only 1 in 10 have full-time, year-round work. Two-thirds of people in poverty don’t work at all, according to the U.S. Census. How does raising the minimum wage help them, especially when it may make it even harder to find work?

President Obama is right to point how the exorbitant cost of child care can be devastating for families. What he leaves unacknowledged, however, are the reasons that care for an infant is more expensive than yearly public college tuition (PDF) in 31 states, or roughly $15,000 a year on average. Ineffective, burdensome day-care regulations, such as the requirement for supervised training of child-care providers, jack up the price of something that illegal immigrants with minimal training and language skills can do with little difficulty.

What is Obama’s position on the fact that poor women either pay out the nose for poor-quality care or stay home, while rich women exploit our broken immigration system to get high-quality, low-cost in-home care?

President Obama is absolutely correct that ensuring work is compatible with motherhood is essential. Making mothering and working an either/or robs us all of the powerful contributions mothers make to our economy.

However, trying to force that outcome by fiat not only has and will continue to have unintended consequences, it also fundamentally ignores the root of the problem with working motherhood: We, as a culture, demand more from women when they’re at home.

Interestingly, while studying who took time off when it was offered to both mothers and fathers, Hymowitz found that the wife would nearly always take the time and the husband would nearly always work. The only way dads would take time off was when the time couldn’t be transferred.

Similarly, studies on the gender pay gap have found that when mothers have the choice between higher pay and a more flexible schedule, flex time nearly always wins out. The opposite is true for fathers.

The reason motherhood, and not fatherhood, is so difficult to mesh with full-time, high-paying work results not from bad policy, but from our cultural ideas about what motherhood and fatherhood should look like.

No amount of policy will change these fundamental facts. Mothers, and not fathers, are expected to want to take time off after the birth of the child. Mothers, not fathers, are expected to be the ones to leave work for the doctor’s appointment and dance recitals.

Paid family leave, flexible hours, low-cost child care and a higher minimum wage are wonderful things when government regulations get out of the way so businesses can offer them voluntarily. Google, for example, offers better family leave than California mandates, as well as on-site day care, flex time, and a high average wage. It does so because competition for the kind of high-skill workers it needs to innovate is high. Workplaces improve when employers have to compete for workers, and not the other way around. The only way to get there is through a growing economy.

So let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that a few policy changes will achieve workplace equality. The truth is that mothers will never be fully utilized in the workforce until fathers are fully utilized in the home.

That’s a hard truth for policymakers and culture warriors alike, but it’s the only “family-friendly” policy that truly helps the whole family.

This post originally appeared at The Daily Beast.


Unveiled: A Support Group For Ex-Hijabis

Marwa was eight-years-old when her parents began covering her head. She was 23 years-old when she stopped, soon after arriving in the United States. She recently began the Ex-Hijabi Photo Fashion Journal to tell the stories of women who have also uncovered. The self-described “ex-Muslim Atheist” runs the site, along with her blog Between a Veil and a Dark Place.

I spoke to Marwa about what gave her the idea, what she hopes to accomplish, and the themes the submissions share.

Marwa got the idea for the Photo Fashion Journal while talking about her first summer without the hijab. She and a fellow ex-Muslim and asylum seeker discussed the beauty of being “able to be out and feel the sun and the sand and the wind all over your body.” Yet that bliss was also marked by new pains. She found “easing into” displaying her body for the first time difficult, as well as dealing with the self-consciousness of bikini season.

But, eventually she grew more comfortable with her newfound freedom. “We started taking selfies of ourselves in our bikinis,” Marwa said. Which led her to an idea.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there were a space for everyone to do this? A space to celebrate?” And so the fashion journal was born.

Marwa clearly tries to be fair when discussing the hijab. When discussing some of the cultural baggage, issues surrounding it include modesty requirements, objectification, female agency, she is careful to note there’s more to the story. “A lot of the modesty doctrines and the limitations on interactions, I do believe that these things are evolving,” she states. “I actually know a lot of people who wear the hijab that they consciously claim has nothing to do with the male gaze and has nothing to do with modesty.”

“I do believe that more and more women who choose to wear the veil or even were socialized to wear the veil, it’s acceptable for them to interact and to get an education and to have jobs and to be public speakers and doctors and authority figures,” she says. “And so they’re moving away from the traditional understanding of what modesty ought to be. But unfortunately, in many places in the world, it’s still a big thing. You can’t have lunch with your male colleagues because that’s considered sinful. You can’t have friendships with men. You can’t go to places where there will be a lot of mixing and gender segregation is still a radically enforced norm.”

For her, being uncovered wasn’t really a choice. She grew up in Lebanon, which she describes as “arguable the most liberal Arab country.”

“When people think of Beirut, my hometown, they often think of sex and booze and nightclubs,” she says. “And that’s one subsection of it. But I grew up in Hezbollah culture. And over there it was just as unthinkable. Even though there was no legal apparatus, it was just as unthinkable to try to do that as if I had been in Saudi Arabia. And I was, I grew up there, before moving back to Lebanon.”

People often say, ‘It’s not like you live in Saudi Arabia. There are very few countries that actually enforce the veil by law.’ That tends to be a cop-out because in so many Muslim-majority countries and societies, even insular communities within the West, you face a lot of stigma and ostracization, you’ll become poor if you try to defy these norms. It’s not as simple and as clear cut as it might seem.”

The thing about a choice is, you look at, even people who say, ‘I choose to wear the veil,’ you have to ask, “Well what would happen if you chose otherwise?’

And there are implications of covering eight year old girls beyond just the choice argument which disturb her. “What are you saying about their bodies?” with the veil, she asks. “You’re saying their bodies are sexual objects. And sexual objects of discord that need to be covered up. That’s really where a lot of the stigma and shame set in for me. Before I even knew what sex was, I knew that it was dangerous and harmful for people to look at certain part of my body.”

What bothers her in addition is that “attempts to avoid objectification end up reinforcing it,” she says. “Like, we see all the rhetoric surrounding the hijab often couches it in terms of protecting, and then there are all these dehumanizing analogies used. Like a woman is a pearl that’s protected by her oyster. Or, a piece of candy. Would you prefer a piece of candy that was unwrapped and passed around or one that was wrapped? And they are literally comparing women to objects! And objects that you own and consume!”

“Fundamentally what that is it’s viewing women and their bodies as for other people rather than for themselves. It’s considered that you as a woman are even oppressing men by exposing them to your body. There are arguments along these lines. And all of them are dehumanizing. And speaking of trying to prevent sexual objectification in particular, they end up tending to hypersexualize the body instead. If the cloth would slip from my wrist there would be moral outrage.“

Having come through this, Marwa sees the journal as a place for people with a common experience to find healing. Where, “not only are their words welcome, but they’re understood.”

She describes the journal as “a space of healing,” the focus is on inclusivity. Marwa wants the project to be a welcoming place for people of all sizes, genders, and backgrounds. The project doesn’t even require that participants wore the hijab. Anyone who’s thrown off “modesty requirements” is welcome to participate. She welcomes women who have been “shamed and stigmatized” for showing their arms or legs. “It’s really about acceptance.”

Survivors speak about how their oppression and restriction affected them. How their families reacted. They describe shame and denigration. “I don’t think that focusing on that is a bad thing,” she says. “I think it helps dealing with it.”

Throughout this project, however, Marwa is concerned that none of her work feed into anti-Muslim bigotry. The focus, she says, is on bodily autonomy.

“Even if we believe that the veil plays into patriarchal values, people are allowed to make bad choices with their bodies,” she says. “By talking about the very real detriment that forced hijab poses, and how it happens to real people, real people who you know and whose stories you can become intimate with, real people you aren’t othering as some foreign culture that’s stuck in the Middle Ages as if we don’t have Enlightenment and modernities, as if the Middle East is stuck in a marsh of backwards values, and you give voice to the women who actually have experience with these things, I think that serves to humanize it. And once it’s humanized, it’s very hard for it to be misused in bigoted ways.”

“Because it’s personal, because it happened to us, we have the right to talk about it,” she says. “Because it’s our bodies and our bodily history.”

Interestingly for a project seemingly about the hijab, with “hijab” in the name even, that’s not actually the point for Marwa. It doesn’t matter if you choose to wear the hijab or not,” she says. “The focus is on bodily autonomy.” And a beautiful focus it is.

This post originally appeared at