Rape and Other “Gifts from God”

During a debate this past Tuesday, Indiana Republican senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, made the case against the rape exception for abortions: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

So according to Mourdock, God intends for rape to happen, and the outcome of rape is a gift from God.


What puzzles me is how Mourdock’s rape enthusiast comments fit with Missouri Republican senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments that “legitimate rape” (read “forcible rape”) rarely leads to pregnancy because, ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Mourdock and Akin’s beliefs, when considered together, produce a bizarre philosophy. I would like to know: Why would God create female bodies that reject God’s “gifts”? And if women don’t get pregnant from “forcible rape,” does that mean that God doesn’t intend “forcible rapes”? Put another way, does God only intend certain types of rape, you know, the ones that come with “the gift”?

One-in-five Americans agree with Mourdock and Akin’s abortion stance. Razib Khan’s analysis of the General Social Survey shows that 20% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in cases of rape. Republicans with lower levels of education who identify as extremely conservative and believe the Bible is the word of God are more likely than other Americans to hold this belief.

For Mourdock, Akin, and more than 50 million other Americans, God truly does work in mysterious ways.

2012 Election Sexism Watch #10: “Much More Ladylike”

In case you missed it, Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin has again raised the ire of those who care about gender justice by stating that his opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, was “much more ladylike” when she ran in 2006. He went on to say, “I think we have a very clear path to victory, and apparently Claire McCaskill thinks we do, too, because she was very aggressive at the debate, which was quite different than it was when she ran against Jim Talent.” (The Washington Post, and the Associated Press described the debate as more cordial.) In other words, Akin thinks that McCaskill’s unladylike aggressiveness at the debate will cause her to lose the election.

It’s rare to hear such a clear articulation of the double-bind of women’s leadership, where female leaders have to enact masculine traits to be considered “leaderly,” but this is then held against them because they aren’t being “properly ladylike.” I hope that Missouri voters are smarter than this, but maybe Akin is on to something. Several prominent Republicans who shunned Akin in August for his conflation of “forcible rape” with “legitimate rape,” endorsed him the day following his unrepentant “unladylike” statements. But it’s hard to say whether they were responding to this statement or his suggestion the next day that employers should be able to pay women less than men.

The close timing of these two overtly sexist statements begs the questions: Is Todd Akin purposefully exploiting potential sexism in the Missouri electorate to advance his campaign, and are notable Republicans supporting him because this tactic might work? Political journalist Chris Cillizza thinks Akin is a “devastatingly bad candidate” who will cost Republicans the Senate, but a series of polls indicate that he’s not only climbed back into this race, he may have a slight lead.

President Obama on Modern Day Slavery

On Tuesday, President Obama gave a speech on human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference that no doubt elevated the priority of this policy in a way that only a presidential speech can. He gave an impassioned plea to end the scourge of human trafficking, remarking that children younger than his daughters are sold into servitude.

President Obama used all the right words, noting that a better term for human trafficking is modern day slavery, and drawing historical parallels to slavery in the U.S.  The President also accurately noted that human trafficking is a problem across the globe, including in the U.S.

What President Obama failed to mention in his speech is that, despite having the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act since 2000, anti-trafficking efforts in the U.S. have been an abysmal failure. Investigations are open on fewer than 3% of estimated cases, and, according to two whistle blowers, the FBI has practices in place that discourage agents from investigating human trafficking cases. But it’s difficult to get a real handle on anti-human trafficking efforts in America since the FBI is unusually stingy with data on this crime. At least one member of congress has called upon the FBI to release its human trafficking data.

During his speech, President Obama announced a new Executive Order that requires greater accountability from government contractors. The law moves us one step closer to addressing labor slavery, but does nothing to address the most common form of trafficking — sexual exploitation  (79% of trafficking worldwide). In fact, throughout his speech, I was struck by the President’s overt emphasis on manual labor trafficking over sex trafficking in the many examples he furnished. (Both types of slavery are heinous, and this discussion is not meant to suggest otherwise.) Whether his intention was to avoid the graphic nature of sex slavery or focus on the type of slavery that is addressed by his Executive Order, President Obama left viewers with a misleading impression of the problem.

My last quibble with the President’s speech is that he twice understated the problem by claiming that 20 million people were in modern day slavery worldwide. His own State Department estimates put the number at 28 million, while critics show that U.S. and global statistics are likely underestimates.

It is a wonderful day when the President of the United States raises awareness about such a pressing social ill. It would be more wonderful if the actions of his Administration matched his elegant words.

A Recession for White Americans, A Depression for Black and Latino Americans

A new study from the Pew Research Center reports staggering gaps in median wealth–a person’s accumulated assets minus her debt–between whites ($113,149), blacks ($5,677) and Latinos ($6,325). That’s a 20-to-1 white-to-black ratio of wealth and a 18-to-1 white-to-Latino ratio.

Essentially, all of the economic gains made by people of color since the Civil Rights Movement have been erased in a few years by the Long Recession. Whites experienced a net wealth loss of 16 percent from 2005 to 2009, while blacks lost about half of their wealth (53 percent) and Latinos lost two-thirds of their wealth.

Media outlets reporting on the Pew study point to housing loss as the primary culprit, since the net worth of blacks and Latinos is heavily reliant on home ownership, while whites are more likely to have retirement accounts and stock.

While this is certainly accurate, it obscures the core racism at play. Public policy decisions have been responsible for the speedy recovery of the financial market and the slow recovery of the housing market. From the start, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) favored Wall Street recovery over homeowner recovery, with only $12 billion of the $700 billion bailout spent on foreclosure programs. (To be fair, most of the Wall Street money was eventually paid back.)

So prioritization of corporate interests disproportionately assisted whites in the recovery–but (perhaps) not intentionally. The same cannot be said for actual lending practices.

Rampant–and racist–fraud in the home loan industry was a primary contributor to the collapse, with 61 percent of sub-prime loan holders actually qualifying for prime loans that would have been easier to maintain. Blacks and Latinos were especially targeted for sub-prime loans, a practice called “reverse redlining.” Wells Fargo loan officer-turned-whistle blower Elizabeth Jacobson admitted that her company specifically went after African Americans for sub-prime loans through “wealth building” conferences hosted in black churches.

The employment gap between whites and blacks is also a contributor to the wealth gap. While white American are suffering through the Long Recession with 7.9 percent unemployment, blacks are experiencing Great Depression-like figures of 16.1 percent unemployment. This figure jumps to 31.4 percent for blacks ages 16 to 24, and black Americans have consistently had the higher rate of unemployment compared to white Americans since 2007.

Not surprisingly, the employment gap, too, has racist origins. The Center for American Progress analyzed unemployment data from the last three recessions and found that black unemployment starts earlier, rises faster and lingers longer. Explanations include the concentration of black workers in the stumbling manufacturing sector, the cutting of public sector jobs–and racial discrimination. This last finding is no shock given that employers are more likely to call back a white job applicant with a criminal record than a similarly qualified black man without a record.

The role of racism in poverty is important to keep in mind at a time Washington politicians are manufacturing crises that will slash the entitlement programs that 1 in 6 Americans rely on. It’s ironic that we’re cutting safety nets for the poor just as we’re experiencing the highest poverty rate since 1960, with blacks and Latinos three times as likely to live in poverty. Public policy is supposed to knock down racial and other non-meritorious barriers to pursuing life, liberty, and happiness, not jack them higher.

Photo of unemployment line from Flickr user Bernard Pollack under Creative Commons 2.0

This post was originally published at Ms. Blog on July 28, 2011.

Five Myths About the 2010 Midterm Elections

The 24-hour punditry cycle has produced some narratives about the 2010 midterm election that are less than factual.  I tackle five of them here.

It wasn’t as bad as expected.  This was a prominent theme in MSNBC’s coverage of Election day, although Geraldine Ferraro said it outright on Fox News.  Sure, Democrats did not gain the senate, but the outcome was much worse for Democrats than most pundits predicted.  At the federal level, after all the votes are counted, Republicans are expected to gain 65 seats, possibly surpassing the largest swing on record from 1938.  Compare this to the Newt Gingrich-led 1994 Republican Revolution where the GOP picked up 54 House seats. 

At the state level, Republicans have already picked up 19 chambers, and when the dust settles, that number is likely to exceed the record of 20 set in 1994.  This shift toward Republican power is very important given that state legislatures will be involved in the process of redrawing congressional districts based on the 2010 census.  In other words, this midterm election will have a Republican power rippled effect for years to come as district lines are redrawn to maximize party electability.

It was another “Year of the Woman.” As in 1992, the “Year of the Woman” label was applied to the 2010 midterms.  1992 was dubbed this because 24 women were elected to the House, six female senators were elected, and California became the first state to be represented by women in the Senate.  That’s right.  A whopping 6% in each chamber in a country where 51% of the citizens are female and women turn out to vote at a higher rate than men.  This percentage rose slowly in the intervening years and plateaued at 17%, until the 2010 midterm.

If current projections hold, the 2010 midterm election will reverse a 30-year trend of women gaining seats in Congress.  The slip from 17% to 16% is significant because it confirms what a handful of scholars have feared — that we have hit a ceiling of representation for women in Congress that requires fundamental alterations to political and societal institutions to break through.

One silver living is that three states elected women as their governors for the first time (Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, and Mary Fallin in Oklahoma).  Haley is the first Indian-American governor in the U.S., and Martinez is the first Latina to be elected to this office. 

However, these women (all Republican) do not espouse pro-woman agendas, which illustrates how limited representational equality is in the larger fight for gender equity.  But at least their presence will normalize women in positions of political power and show girls/young women that ambition is just fine.

The Tea Party has taken over Congress.  While Tea Party candidates have been vocal in this election, only one-third of candidates who identify with this movement actually won their seat.  This translates into about 40 members in the House — less than 10% of the entire body.  If Tea Party members vote as a block, they may have some success in blocking legislation, but they will not be able to enact anything on their own without aligning with one of the major parties (Republicans).

The 2008 Republican landslide means voter endorsement of a Republican/Tea Party agenda.  This election was about jobs and anti-incumbency sentiment, not about love for Republicans.  While voters are mad at Democrats and President Obama, 43% say neither political party represents the American people. 

And a majority of voters do not support the Republican/Tea Party agenda.  Two-thirds of Americans oppose privatizing Social Security, give those making $250,000 or more a tax break, eliminating the Department of Education, raising the retirement age, eliminating the minimum wage, or allowing insurance companies to deny health care coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  This election is anything but a policy mandate.

Sarah Palin’s endorsements didn’t matter.  Some pundits on election night chose to focus on Palin’s high-profile endorsee losses (e.g., Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell), but she ended the day with a winning scorecard.  Candidates Palin backed won 37 of 52 House contests and 6-in-10 Senate races. Seven of her gubernatorial endorsees were victorious. 

Palin is laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential run, and her involvement in the 2010 midterms was strategic and to her benefit.  Her work to get Kelly Ayotte elected in New Hampshire will especially pay off when this state hosts the first presidential primary of the 2012 election season.