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Colorblind Casting

[ 94 ] January 9, 2016 |

I really enjoyed this Angelica Jade Bastién essay on the problems with colorblind casting in Hollywood. Using Oscar Isaac as an example, she explores how he has been able to work without his ethnicity defining his roles, but also how he had to not use his given last name of Hernandez in order to do this. I didn’t even know Issac was Latino. I thought he was Jewish, not that he can’t be both. The real issue of colorblind casting in Hollwyood, Bastién argues, is that it serves to reflect the world white liberals wish existed–one where race doesn’t exist–as opposed to actually dealing with the enormous racial inequality in the film industry, where only tiny numbers of people of color rise to be directors, producers, lead actors, etc.

But his success hasn’t come without compromises. Isaac is open about the choices he’s made in his career including dropping his last name, Hernández. “Starting out as an actor, you immediately worry about being pigeonholed or typecast,” he said to the magazine In. “I don’t want to just go up for the dead body, the gangster, the bandolero, whatever. I don’t want to be defined by someone else’s idea of what an Oscar Hernández should be playing.” His tendency to play characters of different backgrounds extends to his new Star Wars character, whom Isaac has described as “non-ethnic.” Notably, he didn’t say “white” or “racially ambiguous,” instead referring to his character’s absence of ethnicity.

Which fits in neatly with the idea that colorblind casting is the easiest and most visible way to address the need for diversity within Hollywood. Indeed, the practice has led to great, high-profile performances including Morgan Freeman’s Red in The Shawshank Redemption, the majority of Will Smith’s career from the mid-1990s onward, Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in the kitschy 1960s Batman television series, and most recently, Laverne Cox taking on the role of Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. On a more political level, colorblind casting exists as a hopeful emblem for how many wish the world to be: post-racial. The powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who’s been extensively praised for her use of colorblind casting, has said that she doesn’t write with race in mind. In the early days of Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes explained her reasoning by saying, “My friends and I don’t sit around and discuss race … We’re post-civil rights, post-feminist babies, and we take it for granted we live in a diverse world.” And yet, with minorities making up a small fraction of directors and other key behind-the-scenes roles, it’s hard to know how seriously the industry cares about improving representation in general.

In the face of Hollywood’s deeply entrenched racism, colorblind casting seems like a solution with broad appeal and an actual history of producing great performances. But its downsides go beyond the fact that white actors can end up taking roles for non-white characters, as in Aloha and Pan, or that productions can slot minority actors into secondary roles and get praised for “diversity.” It’s simply counterintuitive to argue that problems related to race can be fixed by ignoring race altogether. In practice, colorblind casting isn’t a form of acceptance or progress: It can just as easily be erasure wrapped up as benevolence.

This pretty well sums up how a lot of white liberals want to think about race. Post-racial just sounds so nice, doesn’t it. Then we can all just get along and not have to think about those hard questions of structural inequality. Of course this reflects the ways a lot of liberals were talking about America generally for a few months at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, before a massive white backlash to President Obama reminded them that race is the most important category of analysis in nearly ever issue in this country.

Colorblind casting also makes no sense in reflecting a society that is profoundly racial. That’s why I was never comfortable with the scripts of either The Shawshank Redemption or Unforgiven. Morgan Freeman’s character in both of those movies would have had to exist in a world where race is a profound factor, yet it is not addressed in either. Gene Hackman whips Freeman to death in Unforgiven, yet race is never mentioned, except that his character has married an indigenous woman!

Colorblind fantasies contribute to the problem of racial inequality more than reflect progressive values amongst those who hold them. That certainly includes Hollywood, where the “race film,” now in a politically liberal form, still often provides people of color the only large-scale casting opportunities they have.


Minimum Wage Hikes

[ 9 ] January 9, 2016 |


In the new year, 14 states had minimum wage hikes go into effect.

As the United States marks more than six years without an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, 14 states and several cities are moving forward with their own increases, with most set to start taking effect on Friday.

California and Massachusetts are highest among the states, both increasing from $9 to $10 an hour, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. At the low end is Arkansas, where the minimum wage is increasing from $7.50 to $8. The smallest increase, a nickel, comes in South Dakota, where the hourly minimum is now $8.55.

The increases come in the wake of a series of “living wage” protests across the country, including a November campaign in which thousands of protesters in 270 cities marched in support of a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for fast food workers. Food service workers make up the largest group of minimum-wage earners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I can’t say I’m sure what the rational is to raise the minimum wage by a mere nickel, but it’s South Dakota. In any case, this shows the continued popularity of growing minimum wages, even in conservative states like Arkansas. If there was any real accountability for members of Congress, they would raise the national minimum wage by at least $1, but with gerrymandering and corporate funding, Congress can completely ignore most of the will of the voters and serve their corporate masters with no threat to their jobs.

Trump! ISIL! Sexy!

[ 43 ] January 9, 2016 |

Video content warning – Lyrics are slightly more offensive than any Trump rally. To date. (Also, B. Geldof looking creepier than a roomful of Trump supporters. Brrr!)

T. Ronald Dump wants to know where all the Syrian women at.

Refugees from Syria “could be ISIS … and by the way, it is turning out that they probably are ISIS,” said Trump in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “There’s so many men, they’re so young, they are very strong. Where are the women? Where are the children?”

Young bucks! Strong like bear! Taking our t-bone steaks! And replacing them with Sharia!

And they don’t have any women-folk! And you know what that means!

One of the things that is so delightful about Le Donald is how well he demonstrates the fact that without logical fallacies and outright fibs, the GOP would be rendered mute. And the logical fallacy of choice is appeal to emotion (fear/anger). I’ve long thought the Republican establishment will stop messing about with sentences and adopt a Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! form of communication that involves yelling words that encapsulate whatever they want the following to be upset about at the moment.

We have Hillary Clinton who wants to destroy and take your guns away from you, by the way. She wants to take your guns away.

Foreigners! Guns! CLINTON!!!!

Et pourquoi pas? It’s effective, efficient and would make the business of writing and giving speeches so much easier. And that would give everyone more time to roll around in the latest shipment of money from the rich assholes who are taking part in the GOP’s plutocracy by hire purchase program. Sexy!

(By the way – Will someone please alert Dr. C. Tingle? [Link may trigger your workplace’s naughty words filter.] He’s the only one I trust to explore the erotic potential of Donald Trump, that nicotine-stained thing that lives on his head and a gang of young, strong, Syrian sauropods. Thanks ever so.)


A Few Saturday Morning Links

[ 32 ] January 9, 2016 |


[ 7 ] January 9, 2016 |


Harold Pollock on a relatively unappreciated achievement from the two-year period in which both houses of Congress were controlled by non-wingnuts:

Millions of Americans, particularly those with modest incomes or those who are just starting out, struggle with their credit cards. My wife and I often had high balances when we lived on one modest income and had two kids in day care. My students often face similar issues. More than a few choose not to reveal their monthly credit card bill to their live-in romantic partners.

My favorite finance paper published last year makes clear that struggling with credit cards is not unusual. The study examined 2008–2012 data from a mammoth database of 160 million credit card accounts at America’s eight largest banks to analyze the practical impact of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which Congress passed in 2009. The authors found that the CARD Act was a triumph of financial regulation.

“The CARD Act did two main things,” according to Neale Mahoney, a co-author of the study and my cross-campus colleague at the University of Chicago. “First, it restricted a number of credit card fees. Second, it required credit card issuers to provide information on annual statements that was designed to ‘nudge’ consumers into making larger monthly payments on their cards.”

Mahoney and his co-authors found that the legislation saved consumers $11.9 billion per year, largely by reducing fees imposed on the least sophisticated consumers who have the lowest credit scores.

James Tracy and the limits of academic freedom

[ 214 ] January 8, 2016 |

noah pozner

Sandy Hook murder victim Noah Pozner

Florida Atlantic has fired James Tracy, a communications professor who among other things teaches classes on conspiracy theories. Tracy believes that the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t take place, and he has harassed the parents of one of the murdered children, demanding that they “prove” their child ever existed, and suggesting they faked their child’s death for money.

When Tracy’s accusations first drew public attention, the school’s administration took the public position that both his views and activities were protected by academic freedom (Tracy has or had tenure). The school is now claiming that Tracy is being fired for failing to file some paperwork:

Last month, the parents of a victim of the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., published an op-ed piece in the (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,) Sun-Sentinel. Lenny and Veronique Pozner wrote that they had requested Tracy remove a picture of their son, 6-year-old Noah, from his blog. Tracy responded, they said, by sending them a letter demanding proof that Noah ever existed.

The Pozner’s argued that “conspiracy theorists” abound, but Tracy garnered widespread attention because of his credentials.

“A plethora of conspiracies arose after Sandy Hook, but none received as much mainstream publicity as Tracy,” they wrote. “This professor achieved fame among the morbid and deranged precisely because his theories were attached to his academic credentials and his affiliation with FAU.”

One week after that article’s publication, FAU administrators started moving to dismiss Tracy, but not over his specific statements.

University officials sent him a memorandum reminding him that he had failed to submit forms required of university employees outlining any professional activities they engage in outside of the university. Tracy is open about his views and articulates them on radio shows, alternative news sites and his blog, the Memory Hole.

After some back and forth, the administration sent him a termination letter on Tuesday, arguing that his outside work needed to be reported to the university to make sure no conflicts of interest existed.

“You publicly engage in external personal activity that requires your time and effort,” the termination letter read. “Disclosure and management of your outside activity is necessary and reasonable. It is for the administration to decide, with your input, if a conflict exists, and how to manage a conflict where necessary. You have repeatedly and willfully failed to provide the administration the information it needs to discharge its responsibilities.”

On its face this seems obviously pre-textual. On the other hand, Tracy is also obviously nuts [insert appropriate DSM-V term here], and he may well have engaged quite consciously in acts of insubordination, so that he could achieve the bureaucratic equivalent of martyrdom.

Anyway, this case in my view raises serious and difficult questions in regard to academic freedom. As I mentioned in my original post on this subject, this isn’t a situation in which someone is advocating crazy views that have nothing to do with his academic expertise, like the Northwestern engineering professor who is a Holocaust denier in his spare time. Tracy is an actual conspiracy theorist, in the most pejorative and unhinged sense of that term, whose career is dedicated to studying and teaching students about conspiracy theories. Is that something a university should tolerate?

The Brazil Mining Disaster, Updated

[ 4 ] January 8, 2016 |


In November, I discussed the awful Brazil mining disaster sending tons of toxic mud down the Rio Doce toward the Atlantic. Well, it has now reached the Atlantic. It’s not pretty.

Since millions of gallons of mining waste burst from an inland iron ore mine a month ago, 300 miles of the Rio Doce stretching to the Atlantic Ocean has turned a Martian shade of bright orange, and the deadly consequences for residents and wildlife are just beginning to emerge.

At least 13 people died in the initial flooding, and many in communities along the river have suffered from diarrhea and vomiting as the toxic mud seeped into their water supply.

Eleven of the 90 native fish species in the river were already at risk of extinction prior to the spill, according to federal environmental officials, and experts believe that wide-ranging forms of animal and plant life will be wiped out as entire ecosystems are destroyed.

With Brazil’s level of biodiversity, the die-off is likely to include an untold number of species that have yet to even be discovered.

Several days ago, the toxic sludge, which continues to spew from the mining site, reached the Atlantic Ocean in the city of Linhares north of Rio de Janeiro, as workers undertake a series of emergency projects to mitigate the damage along the river and into the Atlantic.

“There’s never been a disaster like this before, so there’s no guidebook for what we’re supposed to do,” said Rodrigo Paneto, environmental secretary for Linhares, who is overseeing an emergency dam project to protect the city’s water source. “We’re in war mode, just running around responding to dangers as they appear.”

Meanwhile, residents of Linhares, nearby Colatina, and myriad inland communities join long lines to receive bottled water from the military.

Experts say diseases related to water supply issues will likely result in deaths of riverside residents. Authorities, meanwhile, struggle to learn what other types of toxic material have spewed from the broken dam. So far, they know that the mud contains extremely high levels of iron and manganese; dangerous levels of arsenic have also been detected.

We’ll see if anyone is really held accountable for this. Or whether, as is more likely, business-as-usual mining will go on around the world with more disasters like this inevitably occurring.

Black Pain, Past and Present

[ 31 ] January 8, 2016 |


I liked this Lisa Wade piece connecting the desperate attempts by ex-slaves to reconstruct their families through placing newspaper ads in the late 19th century to Black Lives Matter today in the terms of how white people consistently denigrate and ignore the emotional pain African-Americans have felt over the centuries over the violent destruction of their families and their bodies. It includes a link to this newly released digital collection of these advertisements. Wade’s conclusion:

I worry that white America still does not see black people as their emotional equals. Psychologists continue to document what is now called a racial empathy gap, both blacks and whites show lesser empathy when they see darker-skinned people experiencing physical or emotional pain. When white people are reminded that black people are disproportionately imprisoned, for example, it increases their support for tougher policing and harsher sentencing. Black prisoners receive presidential pardons at much lower rates than whites. And we think that black people have a higher physical pain threshold than whites.

How many of us tolerate the systematic deprivation and oppression of black people in America today — a people whose families are being torn asunder by death and imprisonment — by simply failing to notice the depths of their pain?

The Historic Home Tour

[ 29 ] January 8, 2016 |


Historic homes of famous old white people was one of the first ways Americans began remembering their past. But they have tons of problems. Largely, those problems can be summed up in the word boring. These were originally created, such as George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, as ways to revere great past leaders. And they were ways to save old homes from destruction. But they always largely served an old, white, conservative audience, telling stories of continuity and comfort for people who wanted to hear them. These stories almost never included slavery, dispossession, violence, or anything other than fitting some obscure 18th century figure into narratives of American greatness.

But that doesn’t really play anymore. Most historic home tours are awful, saying nothing about the times and really nothing about the person either. They are just houses full of antiques, fussy and musty. So I love this story on a self-described “anarchist” rethinking the historic home and trying to make it relevant again, attempting to bring in local communities, creating signs in *gasp* Spanish and generally trying to tell stories about real human beings.

One of Vagnone’s best test cases is the Dyckman Farmhouse, a Dutch colonial-style house in Inwood that recently reopened after hiring a new executive director. That director, Meredith Horsford, was formerly Vagnone’s deputy at the Historic House Trust and contributed to the ideas within the Anarchist’s Guide. The farmhouse, along with three other homes (the Wyckoff Farmhouse in Brooklyn, the Bartow-Pell Mansion in the Bronx, and the Old Stone House in Brooklyn), has received $5,000 to test out innovative ideas, as part of a Historic House Trust initiative funded by the 1772 Foundation in partnership with the Chipstone Foundation.

The Dyckman Farmhouse receives about 6,000 visitors a year, and Horsford and her team are trying to up those numbers. Not surprisingly, Vagnone, at a planning meeting for the house, is willing to do whatever might be necessary to make the house more appealing, even if it means starting from scratch: “My first thought is, I wonder if you took everything out of the house and it’s a brand new house. What would you talk about? What stories would you tell?”

The Dyckman team has ideas: they’ve removed the wrought iron art deco barriers that had blocked the doorways into some of the rooms for decades. They are introducing Spanish text into the museum’s interpretive materials. This fall, museum studies graduate students from Cooperstown will troubleshoot some potential aesthetic changes to the home.

Even these fairly moderate changes drive the conservative old people who run these museums crazy.

At Dyckman, the staff members pondered ways to show the perspective of the free black man and woman who had lived in the house and were listed at the bottom of the family tree that was on display in the museum. Little information about them remains in the in-house archive. In the discussion, another example of Anarchist Guide-style thinking emerged: “What if we literally take that [family tree] and flip it upside down?”

These kinds of ideas are provocative in the historic house community. At some of his talks around the country—and even once before a New York City board—Vagnone says he has been confronted by audience members, had listeners walk out of his talks, and been called “a menace,” “nuts,” and an “idiot.”

Not only would stories like this be more interesting and challenging, but they would make more people care about history. Yet making more people care about history seems to actually be opposed by a lot of the people invested in these museums, not if it means making Spanish-speakers and poor people and LGBT communities finding things they can relate to in these places.

The Heritage Uncertainty Principle In Action

[ 14 ] January 8, 2016 |

ryan is a working man

Paul Ryan in 2011:

We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative.

The committees we lead will tackle these challenges with the seriousness and steadfastness of purpose they deserve.

Repeal is the first, not the last step. Compassionate, innovative and job-creating health care reform is what’s next.

Paul Ryan, 5 years later, after Congress passed a symbolic repeal of the ACA:

This week, House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare and restore the health-care status quo. But what about replacing Obamacare with an alternative plan that does all of the wonderful stuff without any trade-offs, the one they’ve been promising since 2009? “Just wait,” a smiling Paul Ryan told reporters.

Today brings shocking news from Politico, which reports, “Senior House Republican aides and lawmakers say they do not plan to hold votes on many of the agenda items the party plans to unveil — such as a health care plan to replace Obamacare, or tax reform — because of a tight legislative calendar over the next few months and the reality that none of the bills would be signed by the president, anyway.”

Why, I’m beginning to think that not only do Republicans not favor Barack Obama’s Republican health care reform, they don’t favor any health care reform! Had Republicans been in charge of Congress in 1995, though, I bet they would have passed something.

Elsewhere in health care path dependence news, Bevin backing off plans to completely dismantle Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion is indeed a big deal. I wouldn’t get complacent about this — who knows what a Republican Congress and President Cruz would be willing to do — but it’s a positive sign, and good news for poor people in Kentucky (even granting that they are likely to be worse off under Bevin’s modified plan.) Bevin’s actions have also given us a perfect illustration of the eternal fact that nobody actually cares about federalism:

In Kentucky, newly elected governor Matt Bevin ran promising to destroy the hated law, which is working well in his state and demonstrably improving the health of its citizenry. Faced with a conflict between his ideology and reality, Bevin has chosen a bizarre compromise. He is turning the operations of Kynect, the popular, state-run insurance exchange, over to the federal government. And he is promising to put his state’s government in charge of the law’s Medicaid expansion. The background here is that Obamacare is designed to cover the poorest uninsured citizens by expanding Medicaid, a federal program, while offering coverage to more affluent people through state-run exchanges. Bevin is simply inverting that design out of sheer spite. Obamacare wants a federal program for the poor and a state program for the middle class? Well, then, he’ll insist on putting his state in charge of the program for the poor and making the federal government run the program for the middle class!

There is no ideological reason why a Republican would prefer to federalize one of those programs but not the other. It is simply a demonstration of spite, allowing Bevin to posture against the law without having to live with the costs of actually forgoing its benefits. Kentucky is a vision of Obamacare repeal-and-replace in action — a body lurching forward and thrashing about after its head has been cut off.

Such principled constitutionalism. Next, you’ll tell me that the radical shift that took place in Antonin Scalia’s interpretation of the necessary and proper clause between 2005 and 2012 was motivated rather by his substantive views of the federal government’s policy!

Mixed up sex talk, Clinton edition

[ 275 ] January 8, 2016 |


Karen Tumulty and Frances Sellers in the Washington Post:

Last month, a woman in the audience at a Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire asked her: “You say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and/or Paula Jones?”

Clinton responded: “Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”

It was not a spontaneous question. The woman read from a card and mispronounced the first two names she mentioned.

But to anyone who followed the sagas of the Clinton presidency, they were familiar ones:

●Broaddrick had accused Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978, when she was working on his Arkansas gubernatorial campaign.

●Willey, a former White House volunteer, said he had attempted to kiss and grope her in a private hallway leading to the Oval Office.

●Jones, a onetime Arkansas state employee, sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment, saying he had three years earlier exposed his erect penis to her and asked her to kiss it.

And, of course, the biggest of all was the scandal over Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, who was a White House intern at the time. [Emphasis added]

Tumulty and Sellers are “just reporting,” but it would be nice if while doing so they might give some indication somewhere in their story that one of these things is not like the others (they don’t).

In regard to Juanita Broaddrick, Michelle Goldberg and Dylan Matthews both have good rundowns on why her allegations are a potential problem for HRC, given that in November Clinton tweeted that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”

In 1999, Broaddrick publicly claimed that Bill Clinton had raped her in a hotel room 21 years earlier. She reportedly told a few people about the alleged assault at the time, and right-wing operatives shopped the story during Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Broaddrick refused to talk, however, and she later denied the rape in an affidavit in the Paula Jones case. It was only when she was interviewed by the FBI in the course of Kenneth Starr’s investigation that she changed her story and said the rape had in fact happened. (In the New York Times, she explained the about-face by saying she hadn’t wanted to go public but felt she couldn’t lie to federal investigators.) Shortly afterward, frustrated with rumors that had begun to circulate about her, she gave several high-profile interviews.

We will probably never know the truth of what happened between Broaddrick and Clinton. But today, few feminists would find her shifting story disqualifying. Consider, also, another piece of evidence that was marshaled against Broaddrick in the 1990s: Three weeks after the alleged assault, she attended a fundraiser for Clinton. Speaking to Klein, she says she was traumatized and blamed herself for what happened. “I felt responsible. I don’t know if you know the mentality of women and men at that time. But me letting him come to my room? I accepted full blame.” In any other context, most feminists today would find this credible. After all, many were outraged when rape skeptics tried to discredit Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz because she’d sent friendly Facebook messages to her alleged rapist after the alleged rape.

Of course the proposition that every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed is, when taken literally, a tautology. But statement’s like Clinton’s are often not taken literally: instead they are understood to mean that people who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve to be believed. This, as Jeannie Suk points out, is a problem:

What could possibly be the logic on which criticism of “The Hunting Ground” could be said to contribute to a hostile environment, or to cause a student to feel unsafe? The film features the first-person narratives of individuals who describe their sexual assaults and then go on to describe the insensitivity of campus officials or police who did not vindicate their claims. At the Sundance festival première, which I attended, when an audience member asked what people could do to join the fight against campus sexual assault, one of the survivors featured in the film responded, simply, “Believe us.” It is a near-religious teaching among many people today that if you are against sexual assault, then you must always believe individuals who say they have been assaulted. Questioning in a particular instance whether a sexual assault occurred violates that principle. Examining evidence and concluding that a particular accuser is not indeed a survivor, or a particular accused is not an assailant, is a sin that reveals that one is a rape denier, or biased in favor of perpetrators.

This is the set of axioms on which one might build a suggestion that challenging the accuracy of “The Hunting Ground” contributes to a hostile environment on campus. If I am a student at a school where professors seem to disbelieve one accuser’s account, then it is possible that they could disbelieve me if I am assaulted. That possibility makes me feel both that I am unsafe and that my school is a sexually hostile environment. Under this logic, individuals would not feel safe on campus unless they could know that professors are closed off to the possibility that a particular person accused of sexual misconduct may be innocent or wrongly accused. But, then, what would be the purpose of a process in which evidence on multiple sides is evaluated? Fair process for investigating sexual-misconduct cases, for which I, along with many of my colleagues, have fought, in effect violates the tenet that you must always believe the accuser. Fair process must be open to the possibility that either side might turn out to be correct. If the process is not at least open to both possibilities, we might as well put sexual-misconduct cases through no process at all.

The ironclad principle that you must always believe the accuser comes as a corrective to hundreds of years in which rape victims were systematically disbelieved and painted as liars, sluts, or crazies. This history, along with the facts that sexual assault is notoriously underreported and that the crime suffers no more false reports than other crimes—and the related idea that only those actually assaulted would take on the burden of coming forward—leads many advocates today to the “always believe” orthodoxy. We have seen recent high-profile instances in which that article of faith has led to damaging errors, as in Rolling Stone’s reporting of a rape at the University of Virginia, or the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse case. The extent of the damage comes out of the fact that “always believe” unwittingly renders the stakes of each individual case impossibly high, by linking the veracity of any one claim to the veracity of all claims. When the core belief is that accusers never lie, if any one accuser has lied, it brings into question the stability of the entire thought system, rendering uncertain all allegations of sexual assault. But this is neither sensible nor necessary: that a few claims turn out to be false does not mean that all, most, or even many claims are wrongful. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims.

(Emily Yoffe describes the disturbing story behind The Hunting Ground here).

Goldberg notes that “the people who hope to use Broaddrick against Hillary [don’t] care about victim blaming. And it would be a profound sexist irony if these accusations, having failed to derail Bill Clinton’s political career, came back to haunt his wife.” (Over at The Corner, David French inadvertently provides a fine specimen of the paranoid style in action, when he admits that he came to Vox’s story “expecting a whitewash.” Because if there’s one principle that the “liberal media” has stuck to over the years is that it will cover up accusations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton).

But, as she also notes, “particularly when it comes to Broaddrick, it’s not easy to square the arguments against believing her with the dominant progressive consensus on trusting victims. This is a tension that people on the right are eager to exploit.” And exploit it they will.

Thoughts and Media on Labour’s Longest Reshuffle in History

[ 145 ] January 8, 2016 |


Don’t piss me off.

As LGM’s Senior British Correspondent, I discuss how the opposition Labour Party has just completed a reshuffle of its front bench team. Because nothing screams “clickbait!” like a good reshuffle.

Reshuffles are common in parliamentary systems for a variety of reasons. The most recently executed Labour reshuffle did have some legitimate motivations; of the three shadow ministers sacked or moved, two (with excruciatingly minimal profiles) had been explicitly criticising the very leadership of which they were participants, and one (Maria Eagle) held a policy position in direct opposition to the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

That’s all well and good. Michael Dugher, former shadow minister for culture, had written at least one column in the New Statesman directly critical of the leadership (to the point where immediately following the sacking, Dugher edited his Twitter bio to read, in part “MP for Barnsley East. Sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for too much straight talking, honest politics.” which is sort of funny). The sideways shift of Eagle from defence to culture is more problematic; she’s in favor of the renewal of Trident, which is Labour Party policy, but Corbyn is stridently opposed to Trident and wanted a defence spokesperson consistent with his views.

It’s critical that the leadership of either party speaks with a common voice and presents a coherent face and message to the nation, the overwhelming majority of whom are not paying any attention to politics at the present time. Furthermore, this is consistent with the very concept of collective responsibility. While the rank and file in the back benches are free to publicly criticise the party leadership (though it is preferable that they do not) to have the leadership team sniping amongst itself is highly problematic. However, when you’re conducting a reshuffle a mere three and a half months into the leadership, you quite clearly got it wrong in the first instance. Furthermore, this was a laughably amateur reshuffle:

“On what planet is it even slightly a good idea to take four days to reshuffle what turns out to be a derisory number of posts?”

While it took four days, this does not take into account the briefings to the media that kicked off in mid-December.

This speaks to two more profound problems afflicting Labour at the moment.  First, the leadership under Jeremy Corbyn (whom I voted for) has not accomplished what it needs to: to craft a clear, succinct, shared narrative offering a credible alternative to the policies of the Conservative Government. Second, to varying degrees the narrative that the media are running with is that the Labour Party is at war with itself, not only within the Parliamentary Labour Party:

Of course the media are partly to blame, though I scarcely see the point complaining about it. If the British press wasn’t overwhelmingly hostile to a Labour leader who opposed the status quo, then it wouldn’t be the British press. If the British press really could just brainwash the public into thinking what media moguls wanted them to believe, we might as well give up. The dysfunctional relationship between the Labour leadership and the broader parliamentary Labour party (PLP) – inevitably exploited by the media – is something that can be addressed. All Labour leaders reshuffle their top team: but media-savvy Labour opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, such as Michael Dugher, have capably framed any changes as a “revenge reshuffle”

But beyond, as well:

What we have seen in the past days is a collective attack on Corbyn by the right-wing press, the right-wing Tory party, and many of the right-wing members of the PLP who are so very wrongly dubbed as ‘moderates’ within Labour. An attack that is being used by all the groups named above as a way of deepening the rifts within the Labour party, in an attempt to discredit the leader.

Yet when people look in on the Labour party and see the great chasm that the party has become, the Bitterites blame it all on the leadership and use it for their personal, ideological advancement. The Bitterites claim to want to oppose the Tories, yet they are stopping their party from being one of effective opposition, and are creating great divides within the party.

The reason I include that as “beyond” is that piece represents a broader battle being fought even at the local level.  Bitterites? Placing all the blame on the Blairite wing of the party?  Come on, improve or you’ll convince nobody of your position.  I have two good friends, both activists in different parts of the country who represent two different wings of the party (one clearly Corbynista, the other a centrist within the context of the party itself) who have grown somewhat disillusioned because of the interminable in-fighting within the Party itself.

This has to stop.

An awkward bit of my role here is that I’m often called upon by the media to comment on stuff. When the topic is Donald Trump, I’m in a very safe space, free to (perhaps overly enthusiastically) speak my mind. However, when it’s about British politics in general and the Labour Party (of which I am a member and activist) more specifically, I walk a fine line; I speak as an academic, not a member of the party.  Twice this week BBC Radio Devon called on me to offer commentary on the reshuffle:

Wednesday 6 January (about 38 minutes in, following a quite inspiring Phil Collins track)

Tuesday 5 January (about 1:30 in, following an equally inspiring piece on naming teddy bears).

Note, the above will expire a week after the interview.  Thankfully.

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