Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's Going On Here?

A bunch of stories lately have got me asking, What's Going On Here?  So I wanted to share them with you...

1. Businesses Fire Pregnant Ladies, Pregnant Ladies Take Aim:

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was introduced last Friday.

Nur Suryani

Geez, Where Does the Baby Fit?
Pregnancy is always an odd duck, legally.  It's not treated as a disability, which seems right.  But on the other hand, when you are pregnant you may have limitations on what you can do.

We can't all be Kerri Walsh Jennings (see right) - and even Jennings probably couldn't win a gold medal in beach volleyball when 7 months pregnant (though Malaysian Olympian Nur Suryani competed in air rifle while 8 months pregnant - see above).

But the PWFA was introduced to help women like Heather Wiseman - who was fired for carrying bottled water by Walmart, and Victoria Seredny - who was fired for asking for assistance to lift heavy objects when ordered by her doctor not to do so (Seredny was not a mover or weightlifter, she was a nursing home activities director who had to move heavy things a few times a day - and coworkers offered to help).

What's Going On Here?

I don't know if you've noticed, but there are mainstream Republicans suggesting that there shouldn't be any abortions, shouldn't be any hormonal birth control (the pill, IUDs, norplant, etc), and that your boss should be able to decide whether your health insurance covers birth control.  If those things happen, there are going to be a whole lot more pregnant workers, and they are going to be pregnant more of the time.  Most families cannot afford to have women at home and pregnant repeatedly, especially if they are now expected to have many more kids (or stop having sex, which is always great for a marriage).  Kids are expensive.  Let's remember that the birth control movement in America was more a movement to alleviate child and mother poverty than it was about sexual freedom.  And many jobs can be done while pregnant.

Now, I don't claim to know what's going on in the hearts and minds of people who fire a pregnant woman for not being able to lift a heavy object every once in awhile or carrying a bottle of water...  But I do know this: if there needs to be a rule to justify giving pregnant women who work reasonable accommodations, because rule-bound-people-who-don't-have-enough-compassion can't figure out a way to do this without being told to do so?  Then there needs to be a new rule.  So get'er done, Congress.

2. "Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color, and as you can see, she's not."

Scott Brown first denying that he said you could tell what race Elizabeth Warren is by looking at her, 
then making that claim, at a debate last week.

Senator Scott Brown is running against Elizabeth Warren for Senate in Massachusetts.  It's been a close race, pretty much the whole way, and until very recently, Brown has been up in the polls.  This is impressive, he's a Republican running in a very Blue state.  But there has been one persistent story that Brown and his campaign will not let go: that Elizabeth Warren "claims" to be Native American, and that Brown and his campaign say she is not.  They also (falsely) claim that she used her heritage to get advantages in hiring and schooling.  This is a crappy story.  It's negative, it's impugning somebody's family and heritage, it's laden with moral issues.  But then in the last week, Brown claimed in a debate (see above) that you can tell Warren isn't Native American by looking at her.  Then his staffers were caught on tape at a Brown rally doing the Tomahawk Chop at Warren supporters who had shown up.

What's Going On Here?  Are we seriously at a point when a Senate candidate in Massachusetts (though I'm not sure it should really matter which state) thinks he's more likely to win with this garbage?  It's okay now to say that we can tell - based on looks alone - what somebody's racial or ethnic background is?  That race is solely a visual construct?  Because that's not the history, folks - and it's not how you can tell who has been impacted by racism.  And Brown wants to fight the good fight of stopping Warren from using what he claims is a fake heritage, by employing the Tomahawk Chop?  This is an offensive and arrogant theory, and it belies the (dubious) "bipartisan" rhetoric that Brown claims to embody.

3. "Why Do They Hate Us?"

"Why do they hate us?"  We hear this refrain constantly after every time America or Americans are attacked, are denigrated, are protested across the globe.  And there are many reasons why the people who do "hate" America hold that hate.  But I saw this Politico excerpt from Tony Blair, and I thought it was interesting:

If I were you, I would sort of give up on being loved.  If that’s your ambition as still the world’s greatest power, give up on it, because it’s not going to happen. 
Don’t forget that underneath all that sort of anti-Americanism, the people on the street burning the flags and all the rest, there’s a huge residual respect for America, what it stands for, what it believes in. 
It’s always a great test of a country: Are people trying to get into it or get out of it? I just think, don’t worry about whether from time to time, you’re going to get people coming out and saying terrible things about you. Actually, that’s far more a reflection of them, their society, the way they’ve grown up over a period of time. Understand that there are a lot of people out there, particularly in the Middle East region, who want basically the same type of things we want. 
I always say this to people, because in America, you see these pictures of people burning the flag and out on the street and so on.  You just got to understand that there is another side to all of that, which is actually people who admire America, respect it and need it to be strong. And I always say to people in America, don’t worry so much about being loved. Just be strong.

I might change the "Just be strong" to "Just do the right thing," but in essence, I agree with Blair.

What's Going On Here, with the "Why Do They Hate Us" question?  It's melodramatic and naive to think that everybody should love America.  We do things, we do lots of things in the world, and those things have profound impacts on other people.  Most Americans do not pay attention to the many ways America engages with the world.  We have that luxury, because: we are large in area, bordered by 2 friendly nations and 2 large bodies of water, and are comparatively sparsely-populated.  There are many places in America where you can be alone - and not even have to deal with many Americans, let alone foreigners.  That's just not true in much of the world.

If there is one thing that living in Europe as an adult taught me, it is that European political decision-making is more profoundly affected by proximity to others than American political decision-making.  And so America worries much more about state rivalries than international ones.  We have that luxury.

And yes, we give international aid - and many, many people are grateful for it.  We should give more.  There is desperate need and we are (still) a very rich country.

We also send troops all over, to do things that are in our interest.  Sure, sometimes we help other people, other countries.  But the common thread is The American Interest, not anything else.

There are people who don't like us.  So what?  Not everybody is going to like you.  Your mom was right, eventually you will not care.  The challenge for America should be "how do we do the right thing in the world, and what do we - as a country - believe is the right thing?"  It should not be "we never apologize," or "screw those guys, they insulted us," or any other petty thought that pops into Mitt Romney's head.  We should take a larger view.  We should be the bigger person/country.

And maybe even the people who are portrayed by the news as "hating" us should be listened to, not shouted at: I heard an NPR story about France bracing for attacks based on cartoons that lampooned Mohammed.  And one quote really stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me -

All of Tunis was abuzz with the news of the cartoons, and they were the main fodder for TV and radio talk shows. The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning urging French tourists in the Muslim world to be extremely vigilant and to avoid public gatherings and sensitive religious buildings. 
As dusk fell over the Tunisian capital, a unit of commando special forces and some muscular plainclothes cops stood guard outside the closed French embassy. Teenagers and parents with young children strolled the streets. Like most Tunisians, 45-year-old Selim Amri was shocked by the attack on the American embassy and condemned it wholeheartedly. He says true Muslims always treat guests with honor. But Amri doesn't understand the cartoons.

SELIM AMRI: (Through translator) Why do people do such things? Do they want to destabilize countries? They know Muhammad is our prophet and we love him more than life itself.  Is that the meaning of freedom of expression, deliberately hurting other people in their hearts?  [Emphasis mine.]

The guys who put together that awful video that much of the Muslim world thinks is "American," the French cartoonists who keep pushing people's big, red buttons by making fun of their religious beliefs - these guys are jerks.  Just imagine it was a Muslim who produced either work, and the religious figure in it was Jesus.  Sure, we have free speech, and it's incredibly important.  But let's not pretend that we don't understand why people would be upset by speech like this.  And let's understand that when you live in an autocratic country, you might think that all speech is government-sanctioned.

4. Reno Is a Lawless Town?

In September 2011, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sue Fahami, who runs the Reno office, sent a letter to the Reno ATF agents saying “at this time we are not accepting any cases submitted by your office.” She said she would reconsider taking cases after certain unidentified “issues” were resolved. Those issues were not identified. 
When the agents were unsuccessful at resolving the conflict, four of the six ATF Reno agents requested transfers to other offices. The four have moved out of Nevada, one to a supervisor post. Two agents remain, but sources close to the bureau say they aren’t working cases because they won’t be prosecuted. They now report to the ATF in Las Vegas.

What's Going On Here?  I haven't a clue, but it sure is unusual.

5.  Want to Meet an Impressive Woman?

This is Balpreet Kaur, an Ohio State University student, whose picture was surreptitiously snapped and put on Reddit's "Funny" thread, and on  She's president of the Sikh Student Association and plans to be a neurosurgeon.  And she does not cut her hair, even when it grows on her face, because of her Sikh beliefs.  But what's most impressive is the inspiring way she speaks about her faith:

Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. 
When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.

I'm seriously impressed by her dedication to her faith, and by her ability to transcend the enormous pressures put on women in our society to conform to certain beauty standards.  I don't think I could be that strong.


  1. When I feel the tiniest hair growing on my chin, it gets plucked. There is no way I could del with a full-on beard. So kudos to her, because that would certainly drive me crazy.

    I have never gotten the Elizabeth Warren thing. Many, many Americans claim Native American ancestry based solely on family lore, so I don't see wht the big deal is. It would be one thing if she knowingly lied about her ancestry, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

  2. re: Warren - That, and the fact that other people deciding what your racial makeup is - and judging you on it - is the very essence of racism.

    re: Kaur - I know, she is so strong in her convictions. Women are in a constant image battle.

  3. PS Do you have any theories on the Reno thing? It's got to be pretty big if people were transferred and DOJ is cool with the situation.

  4. Regarding Reno, my guess would be that the ATF office is probably doing something the prosecution considers unconstitutional or problematic. Rather than have it publicized, they just aren't taking any of their cases.

  5. Maybe so. It's seriously intriguing, though. Kind of like the weird story about Jesse Jackson Jr. Or the one about Mitt's taxes. I love a good mystery.

  6. Huh, that is weird about Reno. And what's the deal with Jesse Jackson, Jr.?

  7. He had some mystery illness and disappeared, then it turned out he was being treated for bipolar disorder -

  8. I hate it when the solution to the mystery is prosaic.