The symbolism of a “slutwalk” is clear: No means no

The current issue of Nation has an opinion piece by Salamishah Tillet that discusses a term of which I was only vaguely aware before: the slutwalk.

A slutwalk is an anti-rape march and street protest.  As I understand it, the women marching in a slutwalk dress in a provocative and revealing manner that shows plenty of skin and/or adorn themselves with the kind of cosmetics or hair styles often associated with women presumed to have a lot of sexual partners.

According to Tillet, the first slutwalk occurred last April in Toronto after a Toronto police officer told a group of students in a public safety class that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Tillet reports that there have now been more than 70 slutwalks all over the world, including in Chicago, Berlin, Cape Town, New Delhi and Mexico City.  New York City is holding one tomorrow, October 1.

I personally don’t care for women who don the attire and cosmetics associated with slutwalks.  No woman with whom I have ever been involved or in whom I have ever had a romantic interest has ever dressed in the slutwalk manner.  When women at my company have occasionally dressed that way, I have asked other female employees to speak with them about what constitutes a business-like appearance and why.

But I think the slutwalk is a wonderful statement of the simple fact that “no means no.” 

As we know from the news and entertainment media, defense attorneys in rape trials often accuse the rape victim of “having asked for it” by the way she dressed or presented herself or tries to establish that the woman had engaged in intimate relationships with many men, or several men in the hours preceding the rape.  I have never understood either line or reasoning:

  • So what if a woman is dressing in a sexually arousing way?  We don’t excuse a murderer because the deceased pissed him/her off by their actions.  And we don’t excuse a thief because he is poor or has lost a lot of money gambling or in the stock market.  Civilized humans are supposed to be able to curb their instincts when to act upon them would be against the law or inappropriate for the situation.  This ability to discipline one’s self is part of the essence of our humanity. Many philosophers through the ages would say it’s the primary factor that distinguishes us from other animals.

  • Why is it that a man who sleeps with a lot of women is called a stud, which has a positive connotation (unless he is married and prominent, in which case he is a “sex addict who needs treatment”), but a woman who sleeps with a lot of men is called a slut, which has a negative connotation? The stud-slut dichotomy was and is a major tenet of sexism and all right-thinking people should reject this double standard. Treat the goose and gander the same way.

Let me use the rhetorical technique called reductio ad absurdum—taking something to its most absurd conclusion—to make my point.  Let’s say a woman of her own free will and not under the influence of foreign substances has decided to have sex with 8 men in a row, with the other males watching while she is engaged with each man, what is crudely called a “gang bang” or “pulling the chain.”  She has completed her business with 7 of the men and the 8th is about to take his turn. If she says “no” and he continues, it’s rape. Period. End of story.  That police departments, prosecutors, judges and juries don’t always see it that way is a continuing travesty of justice and makes a mockery of our concepts of freedom and free will.

I salute the women marching against rape in tomorrow’s slutwalk in New York and in all the slutwalks that have taken place or will take place.  These women are not saying that women should dress or act provocatively.  They’re saying that “no” means “no,” no matter what.  They’re saying that rape is not about anything other than violently forcing a woman to engage unwillingly in a sexual act. 

“No” means “no.”

The time has come to run warnings on TV commercials for fast food, junk food and processed food

When traveling in foreign lands I always tune into the local TV for a few hours each day.  I’m currently in the middle of a two-week trip to France (which explains why the OpEdge blogs have not been as topical as usual), and so have been watching some French TV.

For the most part, I can’t tell the difference between the offerings on French and American TV:  Reality TV, superficial news coverage, police procedurals, situation comedies and mediocre or popular movies dominate French television programming, some of it older episodes of American shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Two and a Half Men (called “Uncle Charlie,” a name they’ll now have to change).  I even got to see the end of Police Academy I and the beginning of Police Academy II dubbed in French the other night.

The French TV commercials also resemble those on American TV.  The major products sold are cars and fast, junk and processed food products such as Kellogg’s cereal with chocolate and frozen bread. Not a commercial break went by in which I didn’t see a commercial for McDonald’s, although I have seen no commercial for any kind of alcohol.

But there is one enormous difference between French and American TV.  Every French commercial for fast, junk and processed food has a warning superimposed on the screen.  The warnings I have seen include (my translations):

  • “Avoid eating between meals”

  • “Have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.”

  • “For your health, avoid eating too much sugar and fat.”

  • “For your health, participate regularly in physical activity”

  • Statistically speaking, the French are among the slimmest people in the developed world, but obesity there doubled from 1994 to 2003.  The French weight problem, however, pales compared to what we face in the United States. Here are the latest statistics I was able to find in a quick Internet search (with some rounding up or down):

    Percent obese:

    United States: 34%

    France: 11.3%

    Percent overweight:

    United States: 34%

    France: 31%

    Obesity among children:

    United States: 17%

    France: 3.8%

    Ranking among 29 developed countries:

    United States: First!!

    France: 23rd

    And here’s the kicker: A few years ago, France became the first country in the European Union in which childhood obesity rates have started to level off. 

    Obesity is bad for the individuals carrying the extra pounds and it’s bad for society in general.  Obesity (and to the lesser extent being overweight) has been linked to a number of serious health problems including diabetes and heart disease.  Obesity also costs our society a lot of money, since people with health problems consume many more medical resources than those without a weight problem and thus jack up the cost of health insurance for everyone. 

    The French government saw the problem and acted.  The French are doing many things to overcome their weight problem, but only the naïve (or those with a vested interest) could deny that a major step is to remind people of healthy eating habits every time they see tantalizing commercials for innutritious or less nutritious food.  TV is the main source of information for many people, and TV commercials use just about every tactic and technique of persuasion.

    By contrast, the United States seems to pay lip service only to acknowledging and acting upon our collective weight problem:

    • There are no warnings on American TV commercials for fast, processed and junk food. 

    • The Food and Drug Administration’s food pyramid was turned into a confusing mess, and it remains to be seen if the new “food plate” will be any better. 

    • Our mass media stresses exercise as much as, if not more than, reduced food consumption as the key to losing weight.  Regular exercise is important for many reasons, but when it comes to weight loss, it’s absurd to put as much stress on exercise as on food consumption once you learn that it takes a half an hour to an hour of moderate exercise to work off one donut.

    Why the difference? Here’s my take: When the French government saw the problem, it acted in the best interest of its people, whereas the U.S. government has felt constrained by the lobbying efforts of processed, junk and fast food interests.  Both France and the United States have market economies, but the French are much more willing to intervene in the markets for the good of the country.

    There is no such thing as an absolutely free market, despite what the right-wing says.  We give subsidies to industries.  We enter into trade agreements.  We don’t allow people to steal from others and sell it.  We enforce contracts.  We collect taxes.  All of these are free market constraints. To add one more and make processed, junk and fast food advertisers run warnings on their TV commercials seems like a no-brainer. 

    After deciding to deep-six Islamic-tinged white bread music, did PA school board have Mexican fast food for lunch?

    Around my house, when one wants to give an example of sappy and saccharine light classical music, one usually invokes Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances.”  And when we want to disparage the kind of corny white-bread show-tune music of our parents’ generation, the go-to song is “Take my hand, I’m a stranger of paradise,” a hit from the 1954 movie of the musical Kismet, which uses Borodin’s dances and takes a small whiff of the Islamic orientalism of 1001 Arabian Nights to primp up a standard western love story told unimaginatively.  Kismet is kind of like applying the “theme restaurant” approach to musical drama.  Instead of the pinch of cilantro of a Chili’s or a few icons of Italian décor in a Pizza Hut, Kismet gives us a little romantic jigger of the Near East.

    You’d think such an American chain-like recipe would be perfect for a rural western Pennsylvania school district looking for a safe play for the annual high school drama.  But the Richland School District has decided to scrap its plans to have the high-schoolers tackle Kismet after community members complained about the timing so soon after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    I’m not sure what timing has to do with it.  The only thing offensive in Kismet is its very lack of offensiveness—something that the residents of rural areas would usually embrace, judging from the local restaurant, movie and radio selections.  In this case, “timing” is a code word for “anti-Islamic,” much as “support our troops” was usually a code phrase for “support this illegal and ill-considered war.”

    What’s most disappointing was that the school district capitulated to a group of local ignoramuses.  Nowhere in the coverage do we know how many people really complained.  I do know from past experience that organizations tend to capitulate too quickly to complaints and often draw a conclusion from a very low sample size.  The latest to fold to a small part of the public was Netflix, which made a smart long-term business move by separating the fee for DVD rentals from that of unlimited program streaming.   When people complained, the Netflix reaction was a stupid move—separating the two delivery mechanisms into two distinct companies.

    I remember when I was PR counsel for a large supermarket company, an advocacy organization with a name that included the word “American” wanted the client to put brown slip covers on copies of Cosmopolitan, GQ and other supposedly racy magazines that the supermarket displayed on its shelves.  An absurd request, since the material is far less risqué than what’s on TV and billboards.  Another major supermarket had recently agreed to this organization’s demands. 

    Instead of knee-jerking to this unnecessary assault on first amendment rights, I did some research.  I found out that in the previous three years, only one complaint of the more than 50,000 that the supermarket had received had mentioned risqué magazine covers; I should point out that virtually all of the company’s stores were in rural areas or small cities, places in which one would be more likely to receive a complaint.  The other fact I uncovered was that this foundation consisted of one individual who ran such a website.  We did not fold, and we received no further complaints.

    Would that the Richland School District had stood its ground!  Then I could have placed my complaint that the school district has no business offering their students such pabulum as Kismet with South Pacific, My Fair Lady, the H.M.S. Pinafore and West Side Story available.   

    With its military sales, the United States reverses Isaiah, turning plowshares into swords

    America buys oil from Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  We buy cars from Japan, South Korea and Europe.  And from China, we buy clothes, appliances, plastic goods, toys, shoes and medical equipment.

    But for what goods and services are we the dominant world seller (that is, besides Spiderman movies and Lady Gaga)?

    The answer is weapons.

    According to a Congressional report released a few days ago, the United States dominates the world’s weapons market, selling almost 53% of the $40.4 billion in total world trade in arms in 2010.  In second place, with a mere 19.3% of world arms trade, was Russia.  And while the recession sent arms sales into a nose dive in 2010, going from $65.2 billion to $40.4 billion in the prior year, the U.S. percentage of total sales has been rising steadily. According to a Congressional report from a year ago, from 2006-2009, the United States had made only 38.6% of all agreements to sell weapons to other countries.  

    And who is buying all of these bombs, guns, bullets, tanks and anti-aircraft systems? It turns out it’s the developing world, where governments tend to be less stable.  Of total arms sales last year, developing countries bought 76.2% of all implements of war, with the America supplying 48.6%—almost half—of all weapons of that total. 

    Here’s the list of developing countries that bought the most bombs and bullets in 2010.  You tell me how many of these countries you want to have more weapons:

    1. India
    2. Taiwan
    3. Saudi Arabia
    4. Egypt
    5. Israel
    6. Algeria
    7. Syria
    8. South Korea
    9. Singapore
    10. Jordan

    We’re perverting the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah.  Instead of turning swords into plowshares, we’re turning plowshares into swords, by arming to the teeth some of the most unstable countries or countries in some of the most unstable areas of the world. 

    The weapons we sell are sophisticated, high-tech stuff that help countries perfect the art of mass killing: For example, The New York Times reported over the weekend that the Obama administration has supplied Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets.  My rhetorical question on this bit of news: will these bombs guide Israel towards a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians and a rapprochement with the Arab world, or will it embolden Israel to stoke the flames of Middle Eastern violence?

    And even as the U.S. cash register for arms sales sounds a steady ka-ching ka-ching, we continue to develop more and more sophisticated arms like drone planes that turn war into a video game.  For a good overview of our drone program and other robotic weapons we are developing, check out Christian Caryl’s review of two books on the subject in the latest New York Review of Books.  This new generation of weapons makes it easier for aggressors to launch attacks that inflict maximum damage on the enemy and its innocent citizens with minimal damage to the soldiers of the attacking nation. 

    One of our lesser presidents, Calvin Coolidge, once said that “the chief business of the American people is business.” Perhaps we should update his statement and say that the chief business of the American people has become war.

    Another survey of “best” cities fixes the outcome by selection of what they think is important for the good life

    The latest mass media survey of the best cities in which to live again fixes the results by putting bias into the criteria by which it measures things.  The fix is always in favor of an automobile, mall and chain store-based existence, even when considering city life.   This time, it’s a Bloomberg Business Week study of the “best cities” appearing earlier this week that uses its list to communicate the ideological imperative of  American consumerism.  

    At first, Bloomberg teases us with the idea that it will be judging cities on what have traditionally been the virtues of cities (except for mass transit): “What if you could live in a city that offered a wealth of culture, entertainment, good schools, low crime and plenty of green space? Many people might opt for the obvious choices, such as New York or San Francisco, but, great as they are, data reveals there are other cities that are even better.”

    But when it gets down to actual evaluation, Bloomberg relies on very few attributes of that define traditional urban life:  “We looked at a range of positive metrics around quality of life, counted up restaurants, evaluated school scores, and considered the number of colleges and pro sports teams.”

    Here’s what they forgot:

    • Mass transit
    • Number of locally-owned non-chain restaurants (they only count the absolute number of restaurants)
    • Museums/monuments and architectural marvels (they only list pro sports teams)
    • Diversity
    • Average environmental footprint per resident
    • Public space, which includes more than parks, and does not include malls, which are private spaces
    • Access to the highest quality health care

    Here is Bloomberg Business Week’s list of “Best Cities” for those who want the suburban experience and don’t mind driving a lot and eating at a lot of chain restaurants:

    1. Raleigh, North Carolina
    2. Arlington, Virginia
    3. Honolulu, Hawaii
    4. Scottsdale, Arizona
    5. Irvine, California
    6. Washington, DC
    7. San Diego, California
    8. Virginia Beach, Virginia
    9. San Francisco, California
    10. Anchorage, Alaska

    The Bloomberg list includes San Francisco, Irvine and Honolulu and thus does not measure cost of living.  It also includes a number of places that aren’t really cities, but suburbs that depend on their proximity to cities for some of their high rating, e.g., Arlington, Scottsdale and Irvine. The only city not in the South or West is in Alaska. Only two have decent mass transit, Washington and San Francisco; and except for these two and parts of San Diego and Raleigh, all of these cities look like and lay out like car-loving suburbs.

    Now I’d like to present my alternative list of America’s “Best Cities” for living, based on the bulleted items, adding good schools, universities and secondary schools and entertainment from the Bloomberg list.  Note that I am talking about cities in which you live within the city limit: or can walk (not take the car) to a train (not a bus) to the city.  Also note that the high cost cities on the list also tend to offer higher salaries and that the few cities with mediocre mass transit demand only very short car trips and have a lot of walkable neighborhoods. 

    OpEdge American Best Cities

    1. New York, New York
    2. Boston, Massachusetts
    3. Washington, DC
    4. Chicago, Illinois
    5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    7. San Francisco, California
    8. Seattle, Washington
    9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    10. Portland, Oregon

    I didn’t mean it for it to happen this way, but note that every city on my list is located in the bluest of blue states.  By contrast, with the exception of Honolulu and Washington the Bloomberg cities are located in red states or the red state part of California. As the French poet Baudelaire once put it, “To everyone, his (or her) illusion.”

    Anti-death penalty movement and the idea of justice go one for two in stays of execution

    In baseball parlance, the anti-death penalty movement has batted 500 over the past 24 hours.  The Supreme Court of the United States stopped the execution of white man Cleve Foster, but the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to back man Troy Davis.  The racial contrast speaks for itself.

    Much has been written about perversion of justice in the Troy Davis case.  Post-trial findings have put the testimony and other evidence used to convict him in grave doubt.   Even Amnesty International has gotten involved in organizing support for granting clemency to Davis.

    Despite this substantial new information, the prosecutors have dug in their heels and insisted that they have the right man.  We can only assume that these prosecutors are not Christian and thus have not heard of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before a fall.”  No one likes to be proven wrong, so it’s only human nature for prosecutors to stare past a raft of new evidence.

    But the Board of Pardons is not implicated in the mistakes of the prosecutors.   These five people, voting in secret, decided that the law is not the hand-maiden of justice but an end unto itself.  Once the law convicts someone, we can continue to punish him or her even if we find out that the conviction was in error.

    Beyond the ho-hum barbarism of seeing a man fry who is probably innocent—and I call it ho-hum because we can see it every day in war reporting from around the globe—is the idiocy of capital punishment.

    There are many arguments against capital punishment, including:

    Of course, those serious proponents of capital punishment could respond by saying that the value of societal revenge is what matters, not deterrence; and that fixes to the system can drive out racism and cut the cost of the capital process by speeding it up (killing people faster!).

    But one argument trumps all the others, and that is the ethical or moral one.  I won’t call it religious, since so many religions condone the taking of another person’s life.  As a society, we are supposed to be better than our worst elements.  If we kill, we stoop to the level of the killer. 

    Sparing the killer’s life makes us more human and more humane than the killer, and increases the value that our society puts on human life.

    Sparing the killer is an affirmation of our social contract to live in peace.

    Sparing the killer tells him or her, and the world, that when we say that human life is holy we mean it.

    Nobody likes pathological monsters who commit crimes heinous enough to justify our current capital punishment.  Those who do it are the scum of the earth.  But just as we have to protect the free speech rights of Nazis, pornographers and global warming deniers, so must we protect the lives of those who have killed others.  Let them rot in jail, but let them live.  Not for their sakes, but for our own.   

    Obama finally shows backbone with “Buffett tax” on millionaires; Republicans respond with same old nonsense

    Bravo to President Obama for remembering his progressive roots and the location of his spine and proposing the Buffett tax, named after billionaire financier Warren Buffett who says he and his fellow ultra-wealthy should be paying more in taxes.

    The Buffett tax would raise the minimum federal income tax that people with more than $1 million in annual income have to pay.  Right now, those in the million-per-annum club pay the lowest rates in the history of the income tax.  Most economists (not in the pay of right-wing institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute and the Cato Foundation) now agree that the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy in 2001 and 2003 are what caused our federal budget surplus from the Clinton years to turn to the greatest deficit in our history. 

    Poll after poll after poll of voters over the past year show that more than 60% of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy.  So what Obama is proposing isn’t radical, by any means.

    The Republicans were not wasting away in Margaritaville with the lesser Buffett when the President dropped the news.  Such right-wing luminaries as Representative Paul Ryan and Senators Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell immediately opposed the proposed tax.

    Collectively, the Republicans gave four completely bogus arguments, the same ones they always give when someone proposes to raise taxes on the wealthy or opposes one of their frequent schemes to lower taxes on the same.   Here are the reasons, with an explanation of their “bogusness” (bogusity?) in bold:

    1. The tax on millionaires is a form of class warfare: They have a lot of nerve talking about class warfare after trying to bust up public unions, end unemployment benefits and destroy Social Security and Medicare.
    2. It hurts corporate investment and job creation: But corporations are not creating new jobs now, but instead building up profit and paying their executives (the millionaires) hefty sums.  With the additional money collected from the millionaire tax, the federal government could do more job creation of its own, something that it happens to do well.
    3. It adds to uncertainty in the economy: Huh?  There is no greater uncertainty, just a new set of certainties.  The uncertainty argument when applied to taxes or regulation is always bogus. 
    4. It punishes the people who create jobs: These people have gotten off pretty well these past few decades.  They control more of our wealth and make a larger share of total income than they did 30 years ago.  They also pay far less in taxes than they did 30 years ago. President Obama doesn’t want to strip them of their wealth and the many privileges that come with it, he just wants them to pay a little bit more. 

    I have a feeling that even before this entry appears that others will have thoroughly analyzed the political angle.  With one bold action, Obama hopes to get the attention of his core progressive constituency, whom he has abandoned as he tacks further and further to the right on economic, environmental and military issues.  As long as the Republicans vociferously oppose the millionaire tax, the contrast between Obama and his rightwing opponents will be very clearly drawn, much more clearly than, let’s say, after the President deep-sixed needed environmental regulations a few weeks back.

    I don’t believe that President Obama is going to make a case for reelection based on this one proposal.  He will need a number of proposals that put him on the progressive side of the issue and his Republican opponents, and then opponent, clearly on the other side. 

    Is the Obama Administration planning to go to war in Somalia and Yemen?

    Reading the lead story on the front page of today’s New York Times certainly sent a shiver up and down my spine, as I’m sure it did for many people. 

    The Times story discusses a debate in administration circles on “whether the United States may take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States or whether it may also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns: controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden, which separates the countries.”  The Times goes on to state that the dispute over legal limits on the use of expanded lethal force in the region has divided the State Department and the Pentagon for months, but the article claims that the discussions are all theoretical since current administration policy is to attack only “high-value individuals” in the region.

    The low-level soldiers involved in the “attack or not to attack” debate are in Somalia and Yemen, so essentially the theoretical discussion is, or may be, an implicit or veiled way to deterrmine if President Obama has the legal right to wage war in Somalia and Yemen without approval of Congress. 

    In other words, the Obama Administration is considering a war against groups in Yemen and Somalia.

    In that context, the article is another attempt by The Times to float an extreme idea, something The Times likes to do a lot. For example, this past January The Times, in another front page lead story, floated the idea that states be allowed to go bankrupt in a way that would allow them to pay bondholders but break contracts and pension agreements with unions.

    Clearly, some powerful forces in the Obama Administration want us, once again, to expand the war on terrorism beyond its natural boundaries by attacking people on foreign soil who are uninvolved in terrorist acts.  It sounds like an idea from the Cheney-John Yoo branch of the Republican Party, and the very fact that the Administration is still discussing this option—even in theory— after months does not speak well for the Obama Presidency.

    Every time President Obama imitates the Republicans or gives away the store in a negotiation (or more typically before the talking starts), he turns off more of the Democratic base of progressives and unionized workers.  In doing so, he gains no political points with the right, which will hate him no matter what he does.  Instead of making courageous stands that he could defend in a winning reelection campaign, Obama prefers to create a lose-lose situation: he loses more of his base but gains nothing in return.  At this point, for Obama to tack center, he would have to move to the left.


    Perhaps the most unneeded products ever are beauty aids like dye and sparkles for women’s privates

    Thanks to an article published today by the Associated Press (AP), the American public now knows more than we need to know about a brand new category of products and services: cosmetics for a woman’s most private part.

    Here are examples of ways to decorate the vagina that the article mentions:

    • “Vajazzling” — gluing on sparkly gems such as Swarovski crystals to jazz up a bikini wax.  According to the AP story, a New York spa charges $25 for house designs like a butterfly or dragon, and as much as $100 for custom designs.
    • Pubic hair dyes, which are now available in salons and beauty stores.  The $14.99 product works like normal hair dye but the company that makes it says it is formulated to be safe for the pubic area.
    • The Schick Quattro Trimstyle Razor now has a bikini trimmer on one side.  Let’s quote the article: “An ad for the product, which first aired in Europe and shows women dancing to a catchy song called ‘Mow the Lawn’ as they trim hedges, became a viral hit online.  A toned down U.S. version of the ad shows shrubs shrinking into various designs as women walk by them – an allusion to trimming the bikini line.”
    • A TV actress described her favorite tattoo on her vagina to a late-night talk show host.

    I can’t imagine a more unnecessary product or service than something to enhance the appearance of the vagina.  These are perhaps the most unneeded products ever sold.

    Over the decades, I have gathered anecdotal evidence concerning the appearance of this most private part of a woman through informal interviews with hundreds of straight men and a small number of gay women, often over a drink or in a locker room.  What I have found is that whether a woman is 110 pounds or 300 pounds, virtually all men or women who are interested in women are completely enchanted to be able to look at, touch, etc., a woman’s vagina in its natural state without enhancement.  Many may prefer that a woman shave under her arms or her legs and some may like perfume, makeup or jewelry. But when it comes to the vagina, no woman has to do anything to make hers look more attractive to virtually any potential sexual partner.   

    But it’s the American way to commoditize all emotions, human interactions and relationships, that is, to make the purchase of a product the primary way to express the emotion, initiate the interaction or pursue the relationship. 

    One way to get people to reduce all emotional aspects of life to buying things is to make them feel insecure about themselves.  Another is to create a need that doesn’t really exist, such as the need for feminine deodorants and douches that the marketers created about 30 years ago (even though soap and water should be enough to keep anyone’s genitals “fresh”).  FYI, the article also discusses risqué new ads for feminine deodorants and new sanitary products that have bright colors and designs on them.

    Products and services to decorate the vagina use both of these marketing strategies. They attempt to extend to the vagina the insecurity about their looks that many women develop because of the constant drumbeat of celebrity culture about idealized beauty that so often depend solely on the purchase of other products; thus the celebrity tattoo.  At the same time, the products fill a newly created need:  to make the vagina more alluring or appealing to the loved one.

    One truism of marketing is that sex sells, and in this case, the Associated Press is using sex to sell the American ideology of consumerism.  The article titillates, but behind the titillation is the same old message:  Buying something is the basis of all relationships, celebrations, manifestations of love, respect and all other emotional states, and every other emotional component of life.   To coin a phrase, the American ideology is “salvation through consumption.”

    We see similar articles every day for other products and services, plus an avalanche of advertising, all dedicated to getting people to make a purchase to express an emotion or improve an emotional situation.  But in the case of products and services to decorate the vagina, added to the ideology of “salvation through consumption” is an ugly kind of anti-feminism.  It strikes me, for example, that shaving the vagina returns a woman to pre-pubescence, and thus symbolically more under the control of and less a threat to the (insecure) adult male.   

    Obama’s plan should depend more on job creation and less on giving more money to people who have jobs

    The tax cut part of the Obama plan is a big mistake because it gives more money to people who already have money, instead of directly creating jobs for people who don’t have jobs.

    The centerpiece of the Obama plan, what he’s selling on his current road show, is that the temporary cut in the payroll tax be continued, and be extended to businesses.  The government assumes that both consumers and businesses will spend the extra cash, despite overwhelming evidence that the businesses will pocket the money as profit and some evidence that debt-ridden consumers will pay off loans instead of buying more things.

    The other problem with further cutting payroll taxes is that we weaken the Social Security Trust Fund, since that’s where the taxes we are cutting go, or are eventually supposed to go.  As I have discussed in the past, Social Security needs a few minor adjustments to be sustainable through the retirement years of the enormous baby boom generation.  But if we keep robbing Social Security to pay for tax cuts today, we may create the retirement apocalypse that Rick Perry and others are predicting.

    Apart from the Social Security issue, the simple fact of the matter is that lowering payroll taxes gives money to people who already have jobs at a time when we have more than 16% of the country unemployed or underemployed and a poverty rate of 15.1%, the highest in 52 years.  Why not directly create jobs?

    • When the government funds the repair of roads, bridges, mass transit and sewers, it directly creates jobs.
    • When the government gives school districts grants to hire more teachers, it directly creates jobs.
    • When the government loans more money to companies developing solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies, it directly creates jobs.

    And how do we pay for this government infusion of job-creating capital into the economy?  Not by lowering taxes, but by raising taxes.  So I like the part of the Obama plan that ends loopholes for people who make over $250,000 per year.  But it’s not enough.  We need to raise taxes on the wealthy more and invest that money directly into jobs.

    A strong argument against my proposal is that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will never go for it.  But all they say they’ll go for is further tax cuts for the wealthy, and maybe some cuts for the middle class as well.  And we know that this approach—also known as austerity government–will not work.  It’s what killed the recovery that we began to experience last year, and it’s what killed the initial recovery from the depression of the 1930’s. 

    Why compromise to achieve a plan that isn’t going to work?  Obama would be better off laying out a plan that actually creates a lot of jobs and then winning the November 2011 elections by blaming the Republicans if the Republicans decide to continue to imitate the Roman Emperor Nero and fiddle away while the country burns.  Most surveys suggest that the country is really on the side of raising taxes on the wealthy, protecting Social Security and having the government invest more in creating jobs.  Rather than try to compromise into something that will fail, the President should stand up for what will work and let the voters see the contrast.

    President Obama compromised when he said the Department of Justice would not pursue indictments against those who illegally create an American torture gulag.  He compromised when he extended the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy before the November 2010 elections and he compromised in January of this year when he agreed to pay for extending those cuts by cutting government programs for education, the unemployed and infrastructure development.  And he compromised by agreeing to link the debt ceiling increase to more cuts.

    It’s about time for the President to stand up for the ideals that he claimed to uphold while serving in other offices and running for President.  Some people are saying that he is finally taking a stand with this jobs program.  The trouble is that the plan already makes the compromises before the discussion.  So once again, instead of standing up, our President is standing down before the skirmish begins.