Could Justin Amash Make the GOP Gay Friendly?

Could Justin Amash Make the GOP Gay Friendly?

When Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema publicly claimed that  “gay men only want universal health care because they’re dying of AIDS,” no one expected an outcry from the GOP. But Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) is defying expectations of Republican leadership right and left. He recently joined other Michigan GOP leaders in calling for Agema to step down from his post.

“Defending civil liberties is at the heart of the Republican Party and our Constitution,” Amash said in a statement. “As I’ve demonstrated with my words and record, I am trying to grow a new generation of Republicans that includes more gays and lesbians, racial-ethnic minorities, women, and young people.”

Agema had also publicly approved of new anti-gay laws in Russia and posted an article last spring describing homosexuals as “filthy.”

“Dave’s approach has become a distraction for those of us who are standing up to the political establishment, whose push for bigger government, more corporate welfare, and less individual liberty have hurt our party.”

Amash advised, “I hope Dave will do the right thing for the next generation of conservatives and step down.”

Amash joins Gov. Rick Snyder and other party leaders in Michigan in renouncing the views expressed by Agema. The 64-year-old former state representative serves on the Republican party’s national board.

“Leaders have a responsibility to create an inclusive, welcoming party, not to exclude,” Ex-Republican National Committeewoman Betsy DeVos said. “What’s going on is cause for concern about our future prospects as a party and our ability to bring people around to our point of view and long-term agenda. We are driving people away who might otherwise support what we stand for.”

However, progress in the GOP is not equally distributed. In New Orleans, the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee opted to endorse a Democrat rather than endorse the only Republican candidate on the entire ballot, because military veteran and non-profit leader Drew Ward is openly gay.

However, on the national level, two candidates are trying to change history by becoming the first ever openly gay Republicans elected to Congress.

Amash, who is also openly libertarian, has made gay-friendliness a priority. He has called for the federal government to get out of marriage, saying, “My view has always been that government should not be in the business of defining or redefining marriage.” He also opposed DOMA, Tweeting: “Real threat to traditional marriage & religious liberty is government, not gay couples who love each other & want to spend lives together.”

Eat, Pray, Militate: Study Abroad and the Military-Industrial Complex

Eat, Pray, Militate: Study Abroad and the Military-Industrial Complex

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

If you were at the helm of a growing segment of both the private and public sectors, what would you consider to be the key to future growth? A poor (and therefore cheap) labor force, directed by a debt-laden (and therefore pliable) management class? Or the unconditional political support of every sector of your market, from the consumers to your government to the laborers? What if you could get it all on a silver platter?

That’s the function of study abroad programs in the United States.

Although the number of study abroad participants is still only 1% of all college students in the country, this percentage is slated to rise tremendously, if we can take seriously the Lincoln Commission’s stated goal of quintupling participation to 1 million students by 2017, with an even higher number studying in places like Africa instead of England, Spain, France, and other locations more or less full of white people and legacies of imperial conquest. Fun!

But as an industry big enough to merit its own lobby, study abroad has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for its corrupt backroom deals (between universities, government, and corporations) – in short, for playing the game set by our highly regulated system which, as in healthcare, promotes the use of third-party for-profit players over individual compensation and mutual aid groups. Most of the money forked over for study abroad, whether from banks or taxpayers, “goes directly to colleges, not always to the students who take the trips.”

I can vouch for this point personally. When applying to different programs in Dakar, Senegal, where I studied the Fall of 2013, I specifically sought out the best-priced option to make sure that my financial aid would cover my costs. Unthinkingly, I admit, I hadn’t expected that the cost didn’t matter – my college paid the (piddling) price and then billed me for the cost of a full semester…in America. I ended up paying tuition plus travel expenses, the third-party institution got paid a miniscule amount, and my college pocketed the difference.

No matter, I told myself. So what if I’d been ripped off for the sake of my college’s stamp of approval on my transcripts? I would still be broadening my horizons, expanding my experience, learning to appreciate my privilege, et cetera and ad nauseum. But what I found was something else, something disturbing, something much less Hallmark-card. At my third-party institution (funded primarily, it turns out, by the State Department), I found that study abroad, as an industry and a commercial service, is sponsored by a neoconservative establishment to reinforce the ideological foundations of an imperialist agenda. The liberal veneer of these programs masks a propaganda machine that plays on the humanitarian sensibilities (and saviour complexes) of their primary consumers, affluent white college students.

This is, of course, ground that’s been covered before: the evil straight white men are in the government, which is in Africa, in women’s bodies, and in your brain. While I agree with an aspect of that argument, it’s not a conversation I feel inclined to engage with right now. Instead, I think it’d be more fruitful to look at how two other classes of people have slid under the critical radar when it comes to empire-building and cultural domination: (straight) white women, and gay (white) men.

Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, America’s Right to Dominate

Study abroad appeals to a certain liberal American identity, an identity which is rooted in a highly affective self-image. Humanitarian concerns, empathy for the underprivileged (or the unwashed masses), and a simultaneous sense of both being privileged oneself (as a First-Worlder) and a martyr or victim (as an American in Africa, a woman, a gay man) – these are the pillars of 21st-century American liberalhood. To be liberal, in this sense of the word, is to care – and to be cared for/about. It is to “buy into” the system, quite literally if you are, say, a gay man who donates to the Human Rights Campaign, or a woman who buys a shirt from NOW or NARAL.

That’s not to say that these organizations are “bad.” They each do good work, as far as lobbying goes. But there’s a reason they’ve become as successful as they have. As Steven Thrasher wrote in Gawker last year apropos of the corporate sell-out/buy-out (depending on point of view) of the LGBT rights movement:

Since there are so many homos in positions of power on congressional staffs, buying a seat at their gay table was a solid financial investment. If a legislative chief of staff is a power bottom, a quick way for a lobbyist to get access to his boss is to lube him up by schmoozing him at a fundraising gala for his favorite cause.

This kind of analysis is anathema to liberal sensibilities: gay men are intrinsically incapable of being victimizers, because they are victims themselves. But why are the only causes addressed by the gay establishment (and its useful idiots, Thrasher’s “Professional Homosexuals”) those which also happen to promote the interests of a militarized and heteronormative state? The long and short of it is: because the establishment knows not to bite the hand that feeds it. The same can easily be said of the white feminist establishment, which has long thrown queer women and women of color under the bus for the sake of gaining “equality” with men in the all-American corporate rat race. Who is being represented by these movements? It’s not everyone, that much is clear. But it is people like me – and the many white (and straight or straight-presenting) women and other gay (white) men I went to Africa with.

Maybe it seems strange for a bunch of women and some openly gay men to choose to go to Senegal, where homosexuality and other “acts against nature” are illegal, and female genital excision is a widely accepted cultural practice. But with the mainstream victories of feminism and gay rights, and the formation of a popular 21st-century liberal identity centered around constantly proving one’s compassion and broad-mindedness, industries have adapted and discovered (created?) a new niche market. Study abroad is one such industry.

The gender gap in SA participants is much-documented and little-understood. To talk straight, it’s possible, even likely, that middle-class white womanhood as it’s constructed in the United States – with simultaneous emphases on emotionality, maternal feeling, and (most recently) careerism – leads many white women to actively pursue and dominate any field, educational or corporate, that has to do with humanitarian work. The female missionary lives and breathes today in the figure of the Development Studies major. And the standard feminist refrain – “We’re all oppressed, we’re all women” – isn’t enough to erase the racial disparities here.

In the same way that there’s a gender gap, might there also be a (male) sexuality gap, as more white gay men look to establish themselves as global citizens on an equal playing field with their straight-male and female compatriots? Might homonationalism have a part to play in turning more and more gay men into missionaries for a particular kind of Western sexual identity, over and above some imagined African and Middle Eastern sexual depravity? So the appeal to some kind of common liberal identity is pitched primarily to the people who’ve already been trained to think of themselves as sentimental and altruistic – or as universal victims tasked with the responsibility (and the right) to promote a universal gay identity.

Girl Exploited

This is all hardly speculative, particularly in light of Thrasher’s and others’ work on gay miltarism and colonial feminism, nor is it insignificant. How much money went into producing, for instance, Girl Rising, a film put out by my own study abroad institution and screened (among other locations) at a local Dakar business school? I recall sitting and laughing, peevishly I’m sure, at the movie’s cheap emotional tactics used to draw in potential donors, volunteers, and future employees. Girl Rising deploys the image most likely to inspire maternal protectiveness in white women and gay men, socially programmed as hyper-affective care-crusaders: the defenseless, vulnerable, adorable girl.

Maybe the producers, writers, and director were unaware of all the criticism that such ploys have garnered lately. Maybe they were unaware of the academic discourse, ongoing since at least the 80s, about the subaltern – the socially powerless figure – and her inability to speak freely in a system which uses her own vulnerability as justification to control her. If the Third-World woman, as some have argued, is the epitome of the subaltern, who could deny that the figure of the young girl surpasses even her older counterpart in vulnerability to exploitation? Isn’t anyone at these institutions asking the question: Are we helping these girls – or using their images to support empire-building and profit-making?

Let’s take one part of this film: a segment which takes place in Afghanistan, following the fortunes of girls under the ultra-conservative Taliban. This portion concludes with a sequence of young women triumphantly pulling off their burqas, à la Buffy, thanks to the displacement of the oppressive regime. But nowhere is mention made of the deplorable state of women’s rights under the American-imposed transitional government. Why leave out that detail? Maybe because the film’s primary backers have no interest in how women actually fare in the Middle East – though they do have a lot riding on the continual support of American-installed regimes.

Yet the general response to the movie was unadulterated praise for its compassion and promotion of a feminist cause. I was criticized for criticizing it. No reflection on its strengths and flaws was provoked by the faculty and staff of our institution. (The women on staff were, conveniently, not invited to watch. They were instead charged with setting up the refreshments.)

World Citizens or Emotional Tourists?

Without critical thinking, students only reconfirm their own biases, engaging in a kind of emotional tourism, complete with Julia Roberts and camel-riding. (“Critical thinking” in this case means reflection on how your political situation can affect your judgment, and understanding the impact of economic and political privilege on your interactions with locals.)

The Third World exists for such programs as the scene of their students’ collective catharsis and consequent acceptance of interventionism (“How wonderful we’ve deposed that awful Taliban”) and economic interference in the form of NGOs and multinationals with special trade privileges. Understanding this helped me to grasp why a Peace Corps volunteer I stayed with for a week told me that he actually supported high legal barriers to native Senegalese starting businesses, coupled with trade privileges for multinationals. Africans cannot help themselves, in this view, and so we must prevent them from hurting themselves…while, of course, making a healthy profit. This is little more than a 21st century white man’s burden, but (once again) formulated as the work of women, and, for somewhat different reasons, of gay men. And it’s a burden propagandized by the U.S. government via the supposedly liberal institution of study abroad.

End the Educational-Military-Industrial Complex

Sure, it’s not as catchy as “End the Fed” and you can’t make a hashtag out of it, but it’s got to end. Government involvement in study abroad does little more than transform what should be an educational experience into a propaganda machine. This is not in the interest of the taxpayers who partially subsidize these programs; nor of the students who attend them, presumably seeking to broaden their worldviews and not just to have their prejudices confirmed; and least of all the economically underdeveloped populations they claim to bring Americans in productive contact with. Instead, it leads to even more support for the American military-industrial complex by tacitly endorsing neoconservative policies which reduce the freedom of local peoples to manage their own lives, politically and economically. These students are the future employees of NGOs, the U.S. State Department, and other powerful institutions. They are the management class, indebted to the system, and willing to please it. They are men and women getting their humanitarian fix.

And they are not learning. In part, they are being thrown into foreign contexts with few critical thinking skills, leading to a large propensity for finding fault with their environment and bringing that judgment back home, unmediated by reflection and serious discussion of the dynamics of power in an international, postcolonial context. As one example: what is a student to make of their host father telling them, “Africans are born corrupt”? Without reflection on the position of the speaker (middle-class, Westernized to the point of volunteering to host an American student) and the invisible impact of his audience on how he expresses his opinion, that student might go home with the idea that interventionism isn’t so bad. After all, “Africans” (which?) support it. “Africans” (which?) agree that they’re incapable of surviving on their own. “Africans” (now it’s clear: all Africans) need Americans.

But when my host father said this exact sentence to me, I had to pause. I had to reflect. I had to remind myself not to repeat this particular anecdote out of context to conservative relatives at a Christmas party. I had to think – and refuse to be an emotional tourist.

1. There are, in fact, not many “gay” men or women in Africa, if identities can be measured. The terms more often used, aside from local words which have existed much longer than the words “gay” and “lesbian” as sexual and gender labels, are men who have sex with men [MSM] and women who have sex with women [WSW]. These acknowledge that few people in most African cultures surveyed engage only in same-sex sexual interactions. The fact that this almost never enters into discussions of “gay rights” in Africa is one clear result of the hegemony of American identity politics.

Brendan Moore is an undergrad studying English and French. He lives all over the place. He enjoys a good beer and subversive feminist stand-up. Both at the same time.

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Fed Banker Tries Criticizing Bitcoin, Ends Up Perfectly Describing The Fed

Fed Banker Tries Criticizing Bitcoin, Ends Up Perfectly Describing The Fed

In an article for Fox News, senior economist Francois Velde of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago describes Bitcoin. “Although some of the enthusiasm for Bitcoin is driven by a distrust of state-issued currency, it is hard to imagine a world where the main currency is based on an extremely complex code understood by only a few and controlled by even fewer, without accountability, arbitration or recourse,” Velde wrote.

In his attempt to criticize Bitcoin, Federal Reserve banker Velde actually summed up fairly well everything that’s wrong with his own employer, and in doing so outlines the threat Bitcoin poses to it.

To address Velde’s first criticism, Bitcoin’s underlying code, like all programs, does require some knowledge of programming to understand and manipulate. But the charge that it’s understood by only a few and controlled by even fewer is patently absurd. First, the code underlying Bitcoin is completely open-source. What that means is that every developer has access to the code, and can manipulate it to create new currencies, or entirely new solutions, at will.

In fact, the developers are currently modifying the Bitcoin protocol to create new platforms which do everything from fight censorship through a new TOR-like encrypted internet to rebuilding Twitter to evade the NSA.

As for the claim that Bitcoin is “controlled by even fewer” people, I suppose it’s difficult to get fewer people in control of Bitcoin than zero. No one controls Bitcoin, because it’s a protocol. Its operations are decentralized over thousands of computers, with no one computer or group of computers having any control whatsoever.

It’s true that there’s no central authority users can present with Bitcoin transaction disagreements. It’s certainly possible to get screwed and have to eat the cost. But this is an issue which can easily be solved. For example, online drug marketplace Silk Road holds Bitcoins internally until goods arrive. In this manner, Silk Road replaced the broken kneecaps endemic to the meatspace drug trade with bad user reviews and quick refunds.

But if anyone wants the money they’ve lost through currency inflation back due to the fact that the Fed has in no way, shape or form delivered on the promise of low unemployment or avoiding economic crises, there is literally zero, to quote, “accountability, arbitration or recourse.”

The value, availability and stability of the US dollar is in the hands of unaccountable private bankers, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Of course, “some of the enthusiasm for Bitcoin is driven by a distrust of state-issued currency.”

But in no way is it it “hard to imagine a world where the main currency is based on an extremely complex code understood by only a few and controlled by even fewer, without accountability, arbitration or recourse.” That’s exactly the world we live in under the US dollar. And it’s exactly the world Bitcoin has the potential to improve.

What A Porn Star Can Teach Us About the NSA

What A Porn Star Can Teach Us About the NSA

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

Ladies and gentlemen, boy and girls, and all those in between, please join me in shedding light on a subject that deserves more than your run-of-the-mill light shedding effort. Leave your flashlights and your dangerous incandescent bulbs at home because what we need here is the rhetorical equivalent of the Sun at high noon. I do not say this lightly, for only something as massive as our planet’s star will suffice in combating the massive imbecility of some of our fellow citizens’ opinions concerning the voyeur to end all voyeurs: the NSA.

The particular brew of jackassery of which I speak is that sheepish yet pervasive bromide used to defend the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, I have nothing to hide, a statement which is most certainly a lie nine times out of ten and is just as certain to transform into the prying inquisition “do you have something to hide?” as soon as the sentiment drips from the lips of authority.

I have tried different ways of appealing to people’s hearts and minds about the totalitarian creepiness  of the NSA’s operations, and I am happy  to say some people did not need convincing. A special thanks to you folks. I am also happy to say some people who needed convincing were receptive to those appeals meant to awaken their latent love of liberty, peace, and privacy. Again, I say thank you to them and to all those people who stand up in the effort to preserve our community’s liberty.

Yet still, there are some among us who insist there are no skeletons in their closets. These “open books” claim to have no secrets they wish to keep hidden from the prying eyes of the state. Either (1) these folks are lying to the public and themselves or (2) they are truthfully admitting their lives to be the reason words such as boredom, ennui, and tedium were birthed into existence.

So I must ask these frigid squares a solar-hot question: Would you be interested in having sex on camera for all the world to see?

Now before you get your boxers in a precarious butt bundle, let me be clear: I’m no purveyor of porn. I have nothing against sex workers and think their profession deserves more respect from the authorities as opposed to the usual scorn, derision, and condescension, but when it comes to my personal life, I answer the question of performing in porn with a “no.” To me, sex is a celebration; it is one of the greatest things life has to offer; I simply prefer it privately.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about you “open books.” So what will it be? Would you be interested in starring in your very own porno flick? Most likely, you have answered “no.”  Most people would answer “no.” But in case you are considering a dalliance, moonlighting, or a full-blown career in the porn industry, I recommend reading this crash course first.

I especially like this golden nugget of wisdom from the author and porn pop star, Stoya, regarding the importance of consent:

Remember that short of holding a gun to your head, nobody can force you to engage in a sex act that you do not want to perform, or with partners you do not want to perform those acts with. I would recommend avoiding people who threaten others with guns.

Hear, hear! Enthusiastic consent should be the name of the game. But with all that being said, allow me to ask a few more questions of you “open books.”

What if you weren’t allowed to say “no” to the question of performing in porn? What if the question was never even asked? What if your consent did not matter to and was not sought out by some Peeping Tom, peeking and prying into your private sex life? What if it wasn’t a one-off Peeping Tom but a whole group of people backed by the legal force of law? And worse than peeping into your love life, this group of voyeuristic government do-gooders had the ability to glean information about you more intimate than whatever it is you call your sex life. And after discovering these people’s prying ways through months of drawn-out “debate” in the national press, what if your so-called representatives decided you weren’t allowed to shut the blinds on these voyeurs. What if, at the end of the day, you aren’t  allowed to avoid the “people who threaten others with guns?” What if saying “I have nothing to hide” was helping those in power hide their own misdeeds?

You see, the state is the institution that can legally punch you in the face and then exonerate itself from its act of aggression. Sounds absurd? Maybe so, but much in this world is both absurd and true, especially when it comes to justifications of state power.

For instance, here is an excerpt from U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley’s “counter-punch” ruling in regards to the NSA’s ability to peer into the naked “truth” of your life (emphasis mine):

Regarding the statutory arguments, there is another level of absurdity in this case. The ACLU would never have learned about [ the NSA's spying] but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. Congress did not intend that targets of [the NSA's spying] would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered [the NSA's spying] implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets–including the means and methods of intelligence gathering–could frustrate Congress’s intent. To hold otherwise would spawn mischief.

This example is merely one in a long list of abuses and usurpations perpetrated by the United States federal government, all of which flow forth from the concept that “we” are the government and thus are bound to the government’s diktats under a “social contract” that rests upon the passive, general, and implied consent of “the public” rather than enthusiastic, individual, and explicit consent of the actual flesh-and-blood persons who make up “the public.”

Is it any wonder now that the federal government without your express consent or even initial Congressional consent assumed the power of modern-day general warrants because “we” have passively implied our consent by using our own communication devices? Is it any wonder now that this government claims the discovery of its own actions by the “passively” consenting public as something that could “spawn mischief” because the consenting public was never intended to know what it was consenting to? Is it any wonder now that this government treats the “social contract” as a self-serving rubber stamp for power, “passive and implied consent” as a green light to trample over our individual rights, and those who have “nothing to hide” as useful idiots in their attempts to hide government secrets?

Thus, when I hear these “open books” claim “I have nothing to hide,” I am of the mind to tell them that based upon the rules of the current game that is not for them to decide. It has already been decided for you, and your passivity in the matter will only lead to more decisions being made for you.

And for those smarty-pants people who argue in the abstract that this government in particular should have the NSA’s power to stand above the law through its ability to arbitrarily make, enforce, and dispose of positive law (“policy”) as it sees fit because it is “popularly sovereign,” then I can only assume you are the type of person who confuses consenting porn stars with private individuals who happen to fall victim to peep holes because, you know, the peeping tom happens to have a badge of authority that some mob indirectly gave him.

In the coming years, we will see if the “open books” and the powerful people using these rubes are allowed to continue peeking and prying into our lives. Right here and now, they have already won; they have and will continue to spy all they want on me whether I consent or not, and I feel violated in a manner far beyond what any Peeping Tom could ever accomplish. Accordingly, I plan on living as free as possible in this unfree world, for if they ever come sneaking around my house they’ll hear this song and hopefully its words blasting out of my stereo:

“What’s the matter with the world today?

The land of the free? Somebody lied.

They can bug my phone and peep around my home

They’ll only see you and me making love inside.”

joey headshot

Joey Clark is a freelance writer and political commentator. He is currently a radio producer and talk show host in Montgomery, AL. Read his blog. Send him mail.

Grounded Venezuelans May Want to Escape to Bitcoin

Grounded Venezuelans May Want to Escape to Bitcoin

Venezuelans are having trouble flying in and out of their country. Spanish discount airline Air Europa has indefinitely stopped taking taking bolivars, the Venezuelan currency, since the Venezuelan government stopped exchanging them for U.S. dollars. ”The reservation people told me that I could buy the ticket in dollars or euros, but not bolivars,” said one stranded passenger. “I’m Venezuelan, and what other money do I have?”

Indeed, around the world, citizens are subject to dictators’ whims by virtue of being forced to use a currency over which leaders have absolute control. Such was the case last year when the government of Cyprus declared an intention to confiscate the contents of Cyprian bank accounts.

What happened next may be instructive for the future. Instead of waiting to be stolen from, people began moving their money to Bitcoin, prompting a boom in prices as demand surged.

Not only does a Bitcoin escape hatch help citizens sidestep oppression, but the knowledge that citizens have that option may be enough to sway some governments away from some of their most onerous schemes. Consider how things might have been different had the citizens of the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe been able to easily transition to BTC.

Venezuela owes international airlines up to $2.6 billion for bolivars they have turned in to Venezuela’s Cadivi foreign exchange agency. Apparently Venezuela tried offering around $8,000 in free jet fuel, which the airlines refused.

The troubles began when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tightened control of the foreign exchange system in Venezuela in November. He claims his efforts to keep the bolivar valued above its returns on the black market will prevent speculation by those he refers to as the “parasitic bourgeoisie” and those who are waging what he calls an “economic war” against his government.

Inflation in Venezuela has soared to 49% while the bolivar has plunged on the black market to one-sixth of its official value since Maduro came into office power after the late Hugo Chavez in April.

Because the currency is undervalued, the last attempt to get it in line with the dollar led vendors to increase the number of bolivars they charged for their goods. But Maduro is on that. He’s setting up a joint civilian-military task force to force businesses to charge state-approved prices and not hoard scarce goods such as toilet paper and milk.

It’ll be interesting to see how all this shakes out. Things that could hamper a Venezuelan escape to Bitcoin include the fact that, according to the World Bank, in 2012 only 25% of mobile subscriptions in Venezuela include mobile internet. Venezuelans also might have trouble finding people who want to buy bolivars with Bitcoin. However, those with any internet access could exchange goods and services for BTC directly, once enough are obtained.

Regardless, when it comes to inept, out-of-control governments, more options are always better than fewer. Hopefully Bitcoin can offer one more option to the people of Venezuela.