Mark Gitenstein for Office of Legal Policy

From a letter to President Obama by respected legal professionals Larry Tribe, Abner Mikva, Walter Dellinger, and Christopher Schroeder, emphasis mine:

Recent news reports indicate that you are considering nominating Mark Gitenstein to head the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. At the same time, these reports have raised questions about whether his nomination would be consistent with your administration's ethics policies.

... In light of Mark's representations, the issue areas from which he will need to recuse himself will include the Federal Arbitration Act, private securities litigation, asbestos liability, regulation of the accounting profession, and matters related to the US-German Tax Treaty. ...

Gitenstein is a former lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce and AT&T, among others, and do they ever want to kill any chance that the Arbitration Fairness Act might pass, this year or ever.

Arbitration reform would prevent companies from forcing their customers or employees into binding mandatory arbitration agreements when they sign credit card, cell phone, nursing home, medical care or employment contracts. These agreements mean you can't go to court if you have a dispute, you have to go to a company-selected arbitration judge, someone who was neither elected nor selected by an elected representative, and be bound with no appeal to their decision. And I guarantee that you have signed at least one of these agreements.

Binding arbitration acts as a license for companies to shop for private judges in a parallel court system who depend on them for repeat business and a paycheck. If an arbitrator finds against their corporate customers they don't come back and they tell all their friends and they are done as an arbitration judge. There is effectively no appeal to the regular courts.

But it's really even a step farther. It's a license for judges on a corporate payroll to interpret and enforce laws (contracts) written by corporations. You step into a binding mandatory arbitration agreement, you might as well be living in the United States of AT&T, because the only point of the arbitration system is to protect corporate profit. Justice and individual rights hardly enter into it.

More of our social contract is covered by these agreements all the time. It's a quiet, private takeover of the function of the judiciary's role in consumer protection and employment agreements. It's a theft of democracy that excuses are made for because the courts are overburdened and underfunded; such is the story of all our public infrastructure.

A person's right to go to court shouldn't be something they're even allowed to give away before a dispute arises, in much the same way that people are not allowed to sell themselves into slavery or sell their votes. Even if they claim they really, really want to because they need the money, and it's not duress, honest. There are things that should never be for sale because it's wrong that someone could ask you to give them up when they have you at a disadvantage.

Indeed, maybe one of the Senators at the confirmation hearing can ask Gitenstein how he feels about the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, the Halliburton/KBR employee who was raped in Iraq, stuffed in a shipping container under guard to try keeping her quiet, and couldn't even sue for damages because of the arbitration agreement in her employment contract.

If he's in favor of this, Gitenstein shouldn't be anywhere near the Justice Department's strategic planning, nor the judicial hiring recommendations made by the OLP.

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Family Planning: Not Your Plaything

Some Democrats have fallen prey to the delusion that politics is a gentlemen's parlor game in which they're being judged on style, as opposed to a set of deadly serious struggles in which they're being judged on their results.

It's a stupid belief that will lead its holders to no good end in the future, just as it has not in the past.

Though likely, long before they suffer any consequence for their foolishness, some young family with crappy jobs, a child or children that they can barely feed already, and no insurance is going to find themselves in a jam this year that these bozos could prevent by funding family planning for low-income households. At least the Republicans have the decency, transparent to everyone who isn't a brainwashed moron, to be plain that they don't represent that family's interests and don't give a dessicated rodent's anus about their problems.

And while it likely would be better for the economic health of the country's families if they were able to decide on their own terms whether they could manage a(nother) child in this very lean year, without having to attempt celibacy, it does in fact suck that the economic argument has more legitimacy than the humanist one:

... Note also the "promote global economic development" tag. God forbid we should throw women a bone without reassuring an anxious public that there's money in it somewhere for someone. What's good for the goose had better be good for the gander, or why bother? Sure, women who have control over their reproductive functions have a better shot at clawing their way out of poverty, but if that's what Obama meant -- and I'm not saying it is -- why didn't he spell it out? Everybody knows who is likely to benefit the most from the promotion of "global economic development." ...

Let's hope Obama got more out of giving up on this fight than some inevitably worthless promise of cooperation out of the worthless Republican leadership.

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Colorism

The video clip isn't in English, so you can turn the sound off, but you don't really need the sound. It's an Indian commercial for a skin whitening product and the story it tells is easy to understand.

A young woman is mockingly rejected for work because her skin is too dark, she's understandably despondent. Her kindly (father?) doesn't want to see her unhappy and gives her something to lighten her skin. She goes back to the place that rejected her before, and now she dazzles everyone. A handsome man can't keep his eyes off her. She goes on to a life of jetsetting glamour.

The product is called Fair and Lovely.

Loryn Wilson writes about what this ad means to her, as a woman of color who's seen the harm of a beauty standard that pervasively idolizes whichever nearby shade of skin is palest.

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Creeping Police State Stories

- More info and what you can do about the police execution of Oscar Grant. The unarmed, SF Bay Area 22 year old was lying face down on the ground when a BART officer shot him in the back.

- Although a study of survey data showed that 98 percent of ER doctors suspect excessive force has been used on some patients during police encounters, there's no requirement to report these suspicions and few say anything.

- In Norfolk, Virginia, an officer tased an unarmed, mentally ill woman because she explained that pins in her shoulders made it hard for her to put her hands behind her back, and would he please look at her medic alert necklace, which she helpfully holds out to him. After he tases her the first time, she can still be heard in video of the incident still asking him to look at her medic alert info in her back pocket. The officer was under no threat, and he tortured a helpless woman anyway, while responding to a noise complaint raised by a neighbor.

- This past Thursday, in Martinsville, VA, a 17 year old died after being tasered. A neighbor called in suspicious behavior, and an officer interrupting a bout of underage drinking ended up killing the teen in his own home.

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Detroit School Without Toilet Paper, Lightbulbs, and Other Economic News

So there's a school in the richest country on Earth that doesn't have money for toilet paper or lightbulbs for their students. Total travesty. Elsewhere ...

As real unemployment reaches 13.6 percent, demand is rising for poverty relief all over the country as many states have been forced to cut vital social services due to budget shortfalls. Many families will be pushed right off a financial cliff.

Still, there's some good news. If you live in Vermont, that state has expanded food stamp eligibility and removed asset testing. This means that households on the edge and with little money coming in won't have to put their houses up for sale, move, and then pawn any valuables before they get assistance. When the recovery comes (cross your fingers) it will mean they can get back on their feet that much faster. And if you live in a region where winter heating is a must, Venezuela's Citgo will continue heating oil aid to low income US residents.

Do you think enough help is on the way from the incoming administration?

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Rich Blog, Poor Blog

Last night I was watching NOW, featuring Harvard law professor and TPM guest writer Elizabeth Warren, discussing the rapidly melting down state of consumer credit in a segment entitled, "The Secret History of the Credit Card." And do check out the full Elizabeth Warren interview.

It reminded me of how funny it was, that time when I lost my job a couple months ago and called the company that was 'insuring' my credit card, charging a moderate fraction of the balance so that in the event I lost my job they'd make my payments for me. And they asked how many hours I'd worked a week, but because I was a part-time contractor who only worked 20 hours a week, they wouldn't pay.

Then I called the credit card company, who had marketed this product to me while I was doing part-time contract work to complain, and they said it was too bad, but if I could come up with some money, then a consumer credit counseling service would be able to negotiate a fair deal with my creditors. So I told the nice, not very helpful lady on the phone that it's too bad my creditors wouldn't just give me a fair deal. So hilarious.

In other news ...

- I have a philosophical dilemma that maybe you can help me answer. Certain Democrats who shall remain nameless: are they arthropods or annelids? Both phyla are comprised of spineless organisms, but I lean arthropod (your crustaceans, insects, spiders, etc,) and it's because creatures with jointed exoskeletons can occasionally show a little verve, usually at times when you wish they wouldn't. On the anti-arthropod side, even their tiny brains have better friend or foe recognition than your typical elected Democrat. Annelids (segmented worms like earthworms, leeches, marine tubeworms, etc,) on the other hand, tend to be bottom feeders when not parasitic, and when more classically predatory they usually attack other invertebrates. On the anti-annelid side, earthworm sh*t makes the flowers grow, which is to say that they serve some greater purpose. I'm open to lively debate on the matter.

- These facets of society are features, not bugs.

- This is not the 'business cycle'. This is the whole nation getting bled dry by a bunch of greedy f*in' bastiches.

- What's wrong with 'public' solutions?

- Intriguing. Is climate change an energy problem? The author contends that it isn't, and when he puts it as he does, I must admit that he makes a fine point.

- Facebook fratboys think breastfeeding is obscene, but pasties, not so much. It should be understood as a friend of mine explains: breastfeeding women are performing the public service of calming hungry babies, and is it ever a public service. It's unreasonable to make women choose between giving their children formula at an early age and cloistering themselves in private for what can add up to quite a lot of time. Total *sshattery.

- The Israel/Palestine thing just isn't that hard to understand. Unfortunately, we can't get a better press, so here's a translation guide for reporters. Why Americans can't predict the likely outcome of a powerful nation deciding to dispossess, starve out, financially ruin, institutionally destroy and disproportionately attack a weaker population, I just don't get.

What're you reading these days?

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Corporate Personhood

How about this ... we end corporate personhood or corporations have to be tried in criminal court when they kill or injure human beings.

For example, the Bhopaldisaster should perhaps have got Union Carbide the death penalty.

Thoughts?

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Snow Blogging

It's mighty cold here where we're visiting in upstate NY. Though the snow is melting a little today, it's clearly just going to settle a bit with a foot or two on the ground where it hasn't been plowed away or in direct sun. It reminds me of when I was a very small person living in northern California near Mt. Shasta. My family had a house in a tiny town with a one-screen movie theater that'd get releases several months after all the other theaters had finished with them, one grocery store, and not much else. Every winter it would snow like crazy, for months.

We'd get completely snowed in sometimes, 2 and 3 foot icicles would form slowly on the roof, and we'd mostly eat whatever my Mom had canned during the summer or that my Dad had shot during hunting season and put in the big freezer. There was a lot of agriculture in the area, and the families we knew through our church would keep track of when farms and orchards were done with their harvest and opened their gates to gleaners. The woodstove was kept going all winter.

My Mom, btw, makes the best blackberry jam ever. OMFG. And don't get me started on the clove pear preserves.

When Dad got sick, and after he died but before we moved to Los Angeles for good, other church members would come and chop wood for us in the winter. Neither my Mom nor my older sister were strong enough to do it all themselves and you couldn't be without a well-stocked wood pile in that weather.

These days, they've got a video store in town and residents don't need to chop nearly so much wood. It only snows for a week or two anymore there, if that. It's anecdotal, sure, but the Sierra Nevada snowpack that waters California has been much reduced in recent years, including this one. Either not as much snow has fallen as water administrators had come to expect as normal, or early, warm spring weather has melted it off much earlier than the usual summer months when the state needs it. This year's drought cost state farmers $260 million, and 80,000 acres of farmland went uncultivated.

Anyway, the following is what I'm reading today. Share your top reads and/or memories of the season down below, if you'd be so kind.

- Yes, Rick Warren is an insulting choice.

- The coal companies are poisoning our sushi, and covering the countryside with toxic slurry with their latest spill bigger than the Exxon-Valdez disaster.  

- Ask Iran to free these two AIDS doctors.

- LED holiday light sales are booming, as more people realize that the energy cost savings pay for the higher up front cost of the bulbs.

- Dear California courts, please don't divorce these families.

- The South: their elites hate us for our freedoms, and good wages. Agreed that it's time for a Third Reconstruction.

- More good stuff to read than you can shake a stick at.

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Blog of the Flies

... But the main reason agrarian life was often deperately impoverished was because farmers were being systematically robbed. American agrarian culture came largely ... from Europe, where our peasant ancestors saw close to half of their production directly expropriated by a protection racket run by feudal warlords. ... American agrarianism developed, by contrast, in a capitalist market economy - under which the crop is frequently worth less than what it costs to produce. This means (if I'm doing my math right) that 100 percent of farmers' production is being expropriated, along with some of their other wealth besides - usually income from another job, or the investment in land with which they started. Such agriculture is indeed an economic miracle, but not for farmers. ... - Brian Donahue, The Essential Agrarian Reader

- I can't argue with disapproval of Obama's cabinet picks for their impacts on food and the environment. Anyway, I only said Vilsack wasn't a completely terrible choice, hardly a ringing endorsement.

- Underwater permafrost is thawing, releasing methane. As a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the release of this carbon store poses a significant danger of irreversible global climate disruption.

- Taser International says that their product is perfectly safe. Anyone who says otherwise, including county medical examiners, is a damn, dirty liar.

- FBI triaging agents to invesigate financial crimes. (via HuffPo)

- The failed state of Somalia has become a haven for pirates, like the ones who've been holing up in the remote village of Hobyo, where Islamist militants are using their opposition to piracy to win the sympathy of locals.

- Yay, the recording industry won't be suing their customers anymore. They'll just shut off their internet access. Which is better because it isn't a matter of public record.

- Best explanation for our economic crisis yet: the tweakers are crashing.

- Held hostage by an insane Republican minority, California may have to lay off 200,000 state employees.

- Rick Warren, one of the Davos people. Naturally he's also been welcome at the Clinton Global Initiative. The people who run the world need their celebrity cover.

- The Pope says humanity needs to be saved from gays and transsexuals. Huh. And here I was more worried about the hurricanes, the droughts, the pollution, the corporate criminals and the terrible, terrible bears.

- Immigration used to be called Manifest Destiny when it was Europeans doing it.

- Imagine a United States where most people thought it was wrong to cheer on the incipient poverty and starvation of poor people in other countries, even if we didn't like their government. Go ahead, try to imagine it.

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Ain't I A Person?

So I was reading the discussion about the Rick Warren benediction pick and also an article about the Christian Reconstructionist ideals of gender and these bits jumped out at me:

Vision Forum's product line includes the Beautiful Girlhood Collection, which, "aspires, by the grace of God, to the rebuilding of a culture of virtuous womanhood. In a world that frowns on femininity, that minimizes motherhood, and that belittles the beauty of being a true woman of God, we dare to believe that the biblical vision for girlhood is a glorious vision."

- Frederick Clarkson writing about the Christian Reconstructionist vision of proper gender roles.

-----

"I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

- Pastor Rick Warren, 2008

Both reminded me of a quote that largely defines feminism and gender issues for me:

... That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman? ...

- Sojourner Truth, 1851

It was not that long ago when the blogosphere and much of the political establishment was ablaze with talk of how wrong and divisive it was to claim that certain groups of the citizenry were "real" Americans. If the class of all people who are American citizens contains a smaller subset defined as real Americans, the people outside that subset are ... wrong? anti-? inauthentic? fallen? rejected? cast out? disowned? excommunicated? imaginary? fake? What? What, we all wanted to know, (though of course we already knew,) did they mean by that?

Right wing religionists have a very particular view of what constitutes a real person, but more precisely, a real man or woman. From those definitions, ones that all of us more or less understand, follow the views of what constitutes a real relationship.

A "real" man is in control, of something at least. He is not given to womanly displays of emotion, which implies being governed by logic, but actually means giving oneself over to jealousy, easily bruised pride, a will to dominate, and disgust towards those who would live otherwise. It begets a constant need to defend one's prerogatives in a role-based hierarchy that assigns people value based on their fulfillment of certain parts in a nonstop morality play existence.

A "real" woman is delicate, dammit! She understands herself to be the rightful property of a man, an adornment and accessory for his life, and her emotions don't matter at all so long as every conversation ends in, "Yes, dear." She is structurally, perpetually, a child. Albeit a child that it's all right to have sex with and employ as an unpaid domestic. Think about this every time one of the wingnuts compares a consensual, adult relationship between two men or two women to pedophilia and consider yourself encouraged to grimace disapprovingly at said wingnut.

These definitions of "real" manhood and womanhood take subsets of men and women as being exclusively worthy and leave everyone else out in the cold. The types of relationships that these real men and women are supposed to have are then taken as the definitive "real" relationship.

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Diaries

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