When Japan Had a Third Gender

A figure in a translucent kimono coyly holds a fan. Another arranges an iris in a vase. Are they men or women?

As a mind-bending exhibition that opened Friday at the Japan Society illustrates, they are what scholars call a third gender — adolescent males seen as the height of beauty in early modern Japan who were sexually available to both men and women. Known as wakashu, they are one of several examples in the show that reveal how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s.

The show, “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints,” arrives at a time of ferment about gender roles in the United States and abroad. Bathroom rights for transgender people have become a cultural flash point. The notion of “gender fluidity” — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is roiling traditional definitions.

Detail of “Two Couples in a Brothel” (1769–70), by Suzuki Harunobu. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

“This brings us back to history to think about the present and the future,” said Asato Ikeda, an assistant professor of art history at Fordham University and the guest curator of the exhibition, which covers the Edo period from 1603 to 1868.

She said that like other societies in the past and present — the hijra in India; the “two-spirit people in some American indigenous cultures — the diversity in gender definitions and sexual practices in Edo Japan challenges modern notions that male and female are clear either-or identities.

The art on display shows how many permutations were acceptable in Edo society: men or women in liaisons with the adolescent wakashu; female geisha dressing like wakashu and engaging in rough sex; male prostitutes cross-dressing as women; men impersonating women on the Kabuki stage, a tradition that lasts to this day; and even a male Kabuki actor impersonating a woman who pretends at one point to be a man.

Detail of “Merry-Making in the Mansion” (1624-1644), by an unidentified artist.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

That suggests, Professor Ikeda said, that some blurring of gender identity was deliberate, playful and often arousing, since the prints were relatively inexpensive and widely circulated, some as erotica.

The wakashu are a case in point. The term describes the time a male reaches puberty and his head is partly shaved, with a triangle-shaped cut above the forelocks that is a telltale way to identify wakashu. During this stage of life only, before full-fledged adulthood, it was socially permissible to have sex with either men or women.

In the prints, the wakashu are presented as beautiful and desirable, sometimes practicing what were seen at the time as feminine arts like flower-arranging or playing the samisen. Like unmarried women, wakashu who belonged to the samurai class could wear the long-sleeved kimono known as furisode. In several prints, you have to look closely to find the shaved triangle in the hair, or spot a sword tucked in a samurai wakashu’s sash (or, in the erotic woodblocks, to see the genitals on display), to differentiate between the wakashu and the women pictured near them.

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints Video by JapanSocietyNYC

In some cases, there are sly literary allusions that deliberately transpose gender. These prints depict episodes from classical literature, or Buddhist and Confucian traditions, but flip the genders of the main characters, or recast the men as wakashu.

“O-Kuni,” from the series “Patterns of Flowers” (1896), by Kobayashi Kiyochika.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The art in the exhibition ranges from lively snapshots of daily life to uninhibited portrayals of desire. A screen shows several wakashu surrounding a Buddhist monk, teasingly holding down his hands, plying him with alcohol and tickling his feet, suggesting foreplay before male-male sex. A young woman passes a love note to her wakashu lover behind the back of an older artist who is signing his name to a painting. A wakashu dreams of sex with a famous prostitute, while another woman tenderly covers him with a jacket.

Several prints reflect Edo society’s strict hierarchy of class and age, one reason the curators caution it is misleading to compare gender norms directly to the present day. The Edo period was one of relative peace in Japan, following many years of war between competing samurai. It was also marked by nearly complete isolation from the West. That is one reason it may have offered space for sexual experimentation, but only within certain bounds.

“Dancing in a Kabuki Performance” (1800s), by Kaian (Megata Morimichi).CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Any hint of adult male-male sex was confined to outcast groups such as Kabuki actors or prostitutes, said Michael Chagnon, the curator of exhibit interpretation at the Japan Society, although homosexuality was practiced among samurai for centuries and commercialized during the Edo period. Men are usually in charge, both in pursuit of sexual partners and in sexual positions, except for experienced women who pursue younger wakashu. There is virtually no depiction of lesbianism, since women were not granted the sexual freedoms men were. The only print showing two naked women is ambiguous, with art historians uncertain whether it suggests mutual desire. Older men have sex with younger wakashu.

The exhibition raises and confronts questions of pederasty or exploitation, given that wakashu were sexually available after puberty, younger than would now be considered the age of consent. The curators consulted social workers and lawyers during the original exhibit, held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, to make sure the work was not considered child pornography.

Mr. Chagnon said marriages and sexual liaisons took place at an earlier age than the present day, partly because people died so much younger, often by their late 30s. The notion of age of consent did not exist in Edo Japan, he said, and was imported later.

Detail of the perspective picture: triptych of “Three Poems on Autumn Twilight” (circa 1742–1744), by Okumura Masanobu. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Edo period ended after Japan was humiliated by demands from a militarily superior West – the black ships of Commodore Perry wrested concessions from a country that had once confined Western traders to offshore islands. And it was then in the late 1860s, as Japan rushed to adopt Western technology and forms of government, that it also imported more rigid Western notions of gender and permissible sexual expression. The tradition of wakashu ended. Homosexuality was outlawed for a time.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan today, although it was debated in the legislature in 2015 and some cities have allowed partnership certificates for same-sex couples. A gay subculture flourishes, with many artists playfully shifting and layering identities, mainly through the internet. But gay men are generally expected to marry women and produce children, fulfilling social expectations while conducting their sexual lives discreetly.

In an uncanny echo of the past, some Japanese men today, known as “genderless danshi,” are once again blurring lines, dressing androgynously, using makeup or wearing clothes typically seen as feminine.

“Even though we have this rich tradition of gender, prints like these are not found in our textbooks,” said Professor Ikeda, who grew up in Japan. “We don’t do these kinds of exhibitions in Japan.”

It is one of the many reflections on contemporary society that this provocative exhibition raises. Walking through it is a reckoning with categories, definitions and how they resonate in societies still uncertain about whether lines between genders should be bent or blurred.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/arts/design/when-japan-had-a-third-gender.html

50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14

Trump’s Agenda Is a Threat to Protections the LGBTQ Community Has Spent Decades Fighting For

The incoming administration is already targeting laws protecting basic civil rights.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr

Many are called but few are chosen during any presidential transition. That’s why it’s illuminating to consider who Donald Trump has chosen from the parade of possibilities for his transition team and senior administration appointments so far— and what they may portend for LGBTQ people.

The Christian Right, with few exceptions, backed the Trump ticket, with over 80 percent of White evangelicals voting for him, and now they’re being rewarded with traditional forms of political patronage. They’re scoring major appointments and have won a say in personnel and policy decisions on a scale far surpassing anything seen since the movement first arrived in Washington with the Reagan administration in 1980.

Since Trump himself has never held the kinds of values or displayed the kind of personal behavior prized by conservative Christians—and barely passes as any kind of a Christian at all—he and his backers needed a theological rationale for the Christian Right’s support. They found justification in biblical examples of God-anointed leaders who were ungodly themselves but who nevertheless delivered for God’s people. Christian Right leaders presented Trump in this way, it was broadly accepted by their followers, and Trump is now evidently making good on the deal.

Let’s look first at two early warnings from which all the rest flows.

The first is an important campaign promise affecting LGBTQ people. In November 2016, Trump told 60 Minutes that he was “fine” with gay marriage; at the Republican National Convention he described himself as “a supporter” of the LGBTQ community, and said he considers marriage equality a “settled” matter. But none of those statements amount to promises to LGBTQ people, to whom he is sending mixed messages He has also promised the Christian Right he would consider appointing justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Secondly, Trump has also positioned himself in the camp of establishing dangerously broad religious exemptions from all laws aimed at ensuring LGBTQ civil rights. He promised he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if it reached his desk. FADA, which was first introduced in 2015 and now has substantial support in both houses of Congress, would legalize discrimination in the name of “religious belief or moral conviction,” requiring nothing more than someone’s say so. The scope of the Act appears to primarily affect government departments and agencies, and federal contractors and grantees, including entities that may require federal accreditation or licensing, such as universities and hospitals. And maybe more.

Under FADA, denial of service could take many forms beyond matters of wedding cakes, flowers, and photographers, to include allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people (or their children), businesses to refuse health benefits to a same-sex partner, and child welfare workers to keep a child in foster care as opposed to placing them with a loving and qualified same-sex couple. If that’s not enough, FADA exempts non-profit organizations and businesses from non-discrimination standards. The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of direct discrimination. FADA might allow federal employees to refuse being involved in processing federal benefits and rights claims to which they conscientiously object, such as any involving married same-sex couples. The bill exempts “any person regardless of religious affiliation, including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status” from following non-discrimination codes on the basis of religious beliefs.

If this is the benchmark approach to policy (regardless of the immediate future of the legislation itself) the federal government will be leading efforts to reverse historic gains of recent decades—attacking the basis for LGBTQ freedom and the dignity and rights of everyone else for whom a religious justification for denying service can be made.

But there’s more.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his vice president was a transformational moment in the campaign, and arguably in American history. Pence may be best known for his theocratic political identity, proudly explaining at the 2010 Values Voter Summit in 2010, for example, that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Donald Trump, via his son Donald Jr., reportedly called an aide to his first choice for veep, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and told him that a president Trump would put Kasich in charge of both foreign and domestic policy, while the president himself would be in charge of “making America great again.” Pence hasn’t said whether he got the same deal, but his role as chair of the transition team suggests that he is already among the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

This does not bode well.

Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was marked by his signing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would make discrimination against same-sex couples legally defensible. Pence signed the Act in the company of his state’s Christian Right leadership, marking him as a movement leader himself. Following national outcry, the legislature passed an amendment that explicitly stated that such discrimination was not the intent of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given both Trump and Pence’s history and views, much of the Christian Right agenda, particularly with regards to anything that affects LGBTQ people, will probably come wrapped in the flag of religious freedom. Some leading indicators of the direction the administration will take in this regard are visible in the transition team that’s proposing staff for the new administration and the appointments and nominations that have resulted from their work so far.

Ken Blackwell heads domestic issues for the transition team. A longtime Christian Right pol from Ohio, he is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, the leading Christian Right lobby in Washington, D.C. Blackwell also serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian Right legal group that promotes religion based exemptions from the law.

Ed Meese leads the transition team for the Office of Management and Budget. He is one of the architects of FADA and served as Attorney General in the Reagan administration. He is joined by Kay Cole James, the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a former head of the federal Office of Personnel Management. These figures know how the federal government works and how to ensure their people are well represented among the 4,000 positions that need to be filled in the West Wing of the White House, and throughout the federal government over the course of the Trump administration and beyond.

Ken Klukowski serves on the part of the transition team focusing on executive authority, responsible for “protecting constitutional rights.” He is the senior counsel for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute (formerly the Liberty Institute), a leading Christian Right legal group focused on religious exemptions from the law, especially LGBTQ rights. He is also the senior legal editor for Breitbart News.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of twelve vice-chairs of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson is a Christian Right leader and anti-LGBTQ ideologue known for harsh rhetoric in support of his beliefs. Carson has associated being LGBTQ with polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. He thinks that transgender people are “the height of absurdity” and he claims that marriage equality is a Marxist plot that may lead the country to go the way of the Roman Empire. He has characterized the kind of public housing he would oversee at HUD as “communism” and as Secretary he could undermine if not reverse the Obama administration’s efforts to curb discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is also a co-sponsor of FADA. The Huffington Postheadlined an article about his nomination, “Pick Any LGBTQ Rights Issue. Jeff Sessions Has Voted Against It.” His Senate chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, is the executive director of the transition team.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s House voting record received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He is a co-sponsor of FADA and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is a longtime financier of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to “advance God’s kingdom.” She and her family, heirs to the Amway corporate fortune, have a long record of underwriting Christian Right and anti-LGBTQ projects and organizations for the same reason. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major backers of Focus on the Family, whose founder, James Dobson, called the battle against LGBTQ rights a “second civil war.” (Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who steadfastly supported Trump through the campaign, was Trump’s first choice for secretary. Falwell said he declined in order to attend to other obligations.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and top level appointments should be taken as clear indicators of the direction of the Trump administration with regard to the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ people. And if past is prologue, what Mr. Trump says may not be nearly as important as what he does. Continued vigilance regarding what his appointees do in his name will be vital.

 

Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates and a member of the Public Eye editorial board. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, and the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

http://www.alternet.org/lgbtq/trumps-agenda-threat-protections-lgbtq-community-has-spent-decades-fighting?akid=15112.265072.qavF5g&rd=1&src=newsletter1070542&t=8

Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers

There’s been a few hot topics this week, from Obama’s final speech as president to the amusing allegations of Donald’s pee fetish.

Let’s start with Obama. The era of hope and change most certainly ended with a whimper. Not much has changed and we don’t have much to hope for either.

Over the last eight years income disparity increased in the US (despite White House claims to the contrary), real wages plunged, and while productivity increased, hourly pay didn’t budge much. America’s obtuse wars in the Middle East rage on, and our country’s drone program is operating at full tilt. Obama also extended many of the nation’s most egregious energy policies.

In fact, Obama celebrated America’s biggest oil boom in decades. How’s that for battling climate change?

This isn’t to say we won’t be missing Obama for the next four years (if Trump’s presidency lasts that long, we’ll get to that in a moment), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obama was a huge disappointment.

Cornel West put it best this week for The Guardian:

“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail…

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.”

Facts are facts no matter how you want to sugarcoat them. Obama has been pissing in the wind for eight years now and progressives have little to be happy about.

Speaking of piss, how about Trump and those Russian call girls?

Buzzfeed’s release of the now infamous dossier, which was put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, an executive at a private intel company called Orbis Business Intelligence, has caused quite an uproar. Steele is respected in the intel community, having played a role in gathering info about corruption within FIFA, the global soccer organization. Much debate has swirled around the journalistic ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the uncorroborated account of Trump hiring prostitutes to piss on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite in Moscow.

Trump has called the whole thing fake news, but it is news nonetheless. Steele was likely paid a bundle of cash to put together the report, which had more to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russia than golden showers.

According to the New York Times, the origins of the report date back to September 2015 when a wealthy Republican donor hired Fusion GPS, an opposition research outfit headed by Glenn Simpson, an ex-journalist for the Wall Street Journal, to dig up dirt on The Donald. When Trump won the Republican nomination, this wealthy donor ended his support of Simpson’s work, but it was later picked up by backers of the Hillary Clinton campaign. At this point Steele was hired by Simpson to look into Trump’s Russia connections. According to the New York Times:

“Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.”

Steele’s report laid out two different Russian operations, the first was an alleged effort by the Russian government to entangle and influence Trump with compromising information, like a video of The Donald with prostitutes in Moscow. In the second operation, Steele alleged, among other things, that Trump surrogates, including his lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague to discuss the hack at the DNC. Cohen strongly denied the meeting ever took place, noting on Twitter that he’d never even been to Prague. Steele’s intel, factual or not, floated around Washington circles for months leading up to the election, with David Corn at Mother Jones being the only reporter to write about the allegations, minus the salacious pee party. The New York Times also reports that the FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the early fall. So while Hillary’s email scandal was being investigated so too was Trump, yet only one investigation was making any headlines.

Of course, the pee story and Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are almost too good to be true, which means they probably are not. Nevertheless, truth was never the dossier’s objective. A story, or an intel report for that matter, doesn’t have to be factual to cause damage – just like the Washington Post‘s absurd allegations that publications like CounterPunch are purveyors of Russian propaganda.

If there is one thing to take away from Goldengate it should be that the intelligence community has a myriad of ways to fuck with you. They are masters of the “leak” and we can expect more to come. Steele’s report is likely the tip of the golden iceberg. As Senator Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow this week, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s probably the truest and most obvious statement Chuckie has ever made. Trump, who still has a week before he moves his throne into the White House, is busy sharpening his knives for a battle with the intelligence community. The problem for Trump is the spooks don’t bring knives to a gunfight.

It may well be a depressing four years ahead, but at least nobody said it won’t be entertaining.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

COUNTERPUNCH 

A new war on birth control

Trump hires an anti-birth control policy adviser — and Republicans in Congress prepare to escalate the attack

A new war on birth control: Trump's victory has empowered the sex scolds
(Credit: Getty/ Alex Wong/AP/Andrew Harnik/Getyy/hbak)

Bad news for anyone who hoped that Donald Trump’s history as an adultery-loving and fornication champion might put a chill on the Republican Party’s war on sex: It seems that his election is instead inspiring the party of scolds to double down on their quest to punish ordinary people for having sex because they like it.

Trump, being wealthy and male, gets a pass for his lengthy history of sleeping with any woman who will have him — and bragging about grabbing the pussies of those who won’t. But for those of us who aren’t privileged enough to be wealthy men, Republicans are going to do everything in their power to inflict punishment in the form of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted childbearing.

Trump’s willingness to fully embrace the Junior Anti-Sex League was demonstrated on Thursday, when his transition team announced the hire of Katy Talento as domestic policy counsel for the White House, focusing on health care. Not only is Talento against abortion — which is par for the course in Republican circles — she’s also an anti-birth control fanatic.

Like most anti-contraception militants, Talento has an elaborate set of pseudoscientific arguments against the use of hormonal birth control. In a 2015 piece she wrote for The Federalist titled “Miscarriage Of Justice: Is Big Pharma Breaking Your Uterus?” Talento tried to scare women away from using effective, female-controlled methods of birth control, like the pill or the implant, by claiming these methods cause miscarriage and infertility.

It’s all nonsense, of course. The pill doesn’t cause miscarriage and most research shows that it doesn’t affect fertility. It may, in fact, improve fertility when a woman goes off the pill and tries to become pregnant.

“Decades of established science clearly show contraception prevents pregnancy — it does not cause abortion or miscarriages,” Dr. Anne Davis, a consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “Women and doctors know from research, as well as our collective experiences, that birth control does not harm a woman’s fertility or health.”

Talento’s half-baked arguments are a classic example of a conclusion looking for an argument. The only reason to cherry-pick a couple of bad studies or arguments, while ignoring the scientific consensus that the pill is safe and effective, is because you don’t like women using it and you’re trying to come up with some nonsense to deter them. And the only reason not to have women take the pill is because you think it makes it too darn easy to have sex.

The Talento pick should put to rest any notion that Trump will stand in the way of the deep-seated Republican longing to deprive women, especially those with a low income, of access to contraception.

With drool practically dripping off his lips, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Thursday that Congress would try to defund Planned Parenthood and end Obamacare in a single bill, as soon as possible. While there are many horrific ramifications to such an act, one of the biggest would be stripping millions of women of their current methods of contraception.

About half of Planned Parenthood’s patientsmore than a million people — are on Medicaid. Ryan’s plan would immediately mean that this group of individuals would be prevented from relying on their current reproductive health center. That would leave hundreds of thousands of women abruptly cut off from contraception access, and many of them will not be able to find another provider, especially on short notice.

For many, there will be no way to restore that access, as half of Planned Parenthood clinics are in medically underserved communities, meaning that there are few, if any, alternatives for the women who visit them.

In some states, Republicans have tried to justify cuts to Planned Parenthood by presenting supposed lists of alternative providers for women on Medicaid. These lists were, to put it bluntly, constructed of lies. The majority of clinics on these lists do not have a gynecologist on staff. In Florida, the list of “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood included dentists, optometrists and school nurses.

Even if women can find community clinics that do offer gynecological care, it’s often not as good as what’s available from Planned Parenthood, which offers more flexible scheduling. Generally speaking, these clinics are less equipped to handle contraception needs. Planned Parenthood facilities often have a large stockpile of contraceptive medication, so women can fill their prescriptions on-site — a service more general health clinics typically can’t provide.

Repealing Obamacare, even if Republicans do bother to come up with some flimsy replacement, will be devastating for women’s reproductive health care. Right now, well-women visits and contraception services are covered by insurance plans, without a co-payment required. It’s unlikely these aspects of Obamacare will survive.

That’s a problem, because zero-co-payment contraception has been a wildly successful program. The percentage of women who had to pay nothing out of pocket for oral contraception rose from 15 percent to 67 percent from 2012 to 2014. Not only does that save money; it also improves the rate for contraception use. Research shows that women are more likely to use contraception consistently and effectively if there’s no cost. Other research has demonstrated that when women have to pay out of pocket for contraception, they are often tempted to skip their pills or otherwise skimp on birth control in order to save money — which frequently leads directly to unintended pregnancy.

Of course, a sudden drop in the number of women using contraception would be a feature, not a bug, of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood and Obamacare. The nominal leader of their party may be a man who spent years going on Howard Stern’s show to brag about his sex life, but the GOP continues to begrudge ordinary women access to basic sexual health care.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible

Conservatives cared about the court this year, while many liberals didn’t. The damage will last for generations

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible
(Credit: Getty/Dominick Reuter/Reuters/Larry Downing/Salon)

Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, published a piece for Pacific Standard arguing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was smart to organize an unprecedented blockade of any hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, because the choice likely helped give Donald Trump the presidential election.

“McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election,” Masket wrote. “It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.”

A lot of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, had their doubts about a glib, insincere libertine like Trump, especially someone who had a history of donating to Democratic politicians and no record of Republican loyalty. But that empty seat on the Supreme Court, Masket argued, tipped the scales.

“The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play,” he wrote. “Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.”

My inclination is to agree with Masket. One of the most interesting things that I found, talking to attendees at both the Republican and Democratic conventions over the summer, was that Republicans often spoke about the Supreme Court and Democrats almost never did. The tendency to cite control of the court was particularly pronounced among Trump-skeptical Republicans I spoke with. Very few of them talked about the economy but the court came up over and over again. The opposite was true when I spoke with Democratic voters.

Trump understood that as long as he promised an anti-choice, anti-labor, anti-environmentalist philosophy when appointing judges, the Republican voter base would squelch its concerns about putting such a thoroughly unqualified man in charge of the nuclear codes and fall in line. Over the summer Trump took the highly unusual step of releasing a short list of judges he would consider, heavily advertising that the list was basically handed to him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, two far-right think tanks.

The move was brilliant precisely because Trump clearly doesn’t give two hoots about the Supreme Court or the judiciary in general, despite the fact that he’s been involved in a mind-boggling 3,500 lawsuits over the course of his career and had 75 ongoing when he was elected to office. Letting the Federalist Society pick judges for him clears up his schedule to focus on issues that really matter to him, such as the weight of Miss Universe pageant winners and demanding that black Broadway actors apologize for talking back to powerful white men like Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

For the past week and a half, I’ve been covering what it means for Trump to have the power to fill the Supreme Court seat that was left open after the death of former justice Antonin Scalia in March — and the even more dire possibility that he’ll be able to replace one of the aging liberals on the court in the next four years. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and Stephen Breyer is 78; Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the court’s conservative justices, is 80.)

It’s difficult to deny the conclusion that, in the end, Republican voters are more organized and focused on the long game than Democratic voters, and that ability to focus will pay off. Trump will likely be out in four years — possibly less, if the quickly mounting scandals result in enough legal troubles — but the damage he’s likely to do with his court appointments will last years and in some cases generations.

Using the courts to dismantle the right of workers to unionize, for instance, will pay off dividends for Republicans long after Trump leaves the White House in the inevitable cloud of shame and disgrace. Unions can organize and educate voters and represent the only real hope that Democrats have of convincing some of those longed-for white working-class voters to stop voting racial resentments and begin voting their economic self-interest. Republicans get this, which is why they have focused heavily on creative litigation aimed at destroying unions, and now they are on the cusp of dealing some wounding blows.

It’s the same story with conservative lawyers’ chipping away at campaign-finance laws. Trump will do plenty of damage to both parties, but the free flow of money in politics means that the Republicans will be able to rebuild more easily than the Democrats, who have a much less wealthy donor base. Just as important, elevating the power and voice of the wealthy over everyone else will help Republicans continue to capture more state legislatures and congressional seats, reinforcing the horrific situation we have now, whereby a Republican minority is ruling over a Democratic majority.

This year’s election postmortems were tedious before they even began, of course, but please indulge me for a moment: The media’s unwillingness to cover the court issues, especially McConnell’s unprecedented and unconstitutional holdup of Obama’s court appointee, was a major act of malfeasance. Yes, it’s hard to keep a story in the news when there aren’t new developments to cover. But McConnell’s corrupt and anti-democratic behavior was a far more serious story than Hillary Clinton’s email management. It should have been extensively covered, and it was not.

This problem is made all the more serious when you consider the divergent media consumption of conservative Americans and everyone else. Most Americans, moderate or liberal, get their news through the mainstream media. Most conservatives turn to conservative media, like Fox News. Conservative media is better about covering the court issues and keeping them at the forefront of voter minds, and the result was that Republican voters had their votes moved on this issue. For more Democratic-leaning voters, it completely fell out of mind.

The result is that Republican voters treated this election as if it were an urgent one, and millions of voters who turned out for Obama in the previous two presidential cycles couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots this time around. Perhaps if they had really understood that this election would determine the direction of the federal courts for a generation, they would have reconsidered their decision to stay home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte