Feminist news blog

Who Are The Barbarians?

During this election cycle, a cry goes up from the fearful masses, “The Barbarians are coming!”. This, however, begs the question, who are we and who the Barbarians? The Oxford English Dictionary[1] defines five meanings of the noun barbarian.

  • 1. etymologically, A foreigner, one whose language and customs differ from the speaker's.
  • 2. Hist. a. One not a Greek. b. One living outside the pale of the Roman empire and its civilization, applied especially to the northern nations that overthrew them. c. One outside the pale of Christian civilization. d. With the Italians of the Renascence: One of a nation outside of Italy.
  • 3. A rude, wild, uncivilized person. b. Sometimes distinguished from savage (perh. with a glance at 2). c. Applied by the Chinese contemptuously to foreigners.
  • 4. An uncultured person, or one who has no sympathy with literary culture.
  • 5. A native of Barbary. Obs.

Let us first examine the Republican presidential candidate who began his long and odious campaign on June 16, 2015 with the statement on Mexican immigrants: 'They're bringing drugs,' crime and are 'rapists'. This seems to imply, based on definitions one and three, that he believes that Mexicans fit the model of a barbarian. Later he adds Muslims and most immigrants to his list. This sentiment has fed the fires of fear and hatred, long a smoldering sentiment, in his far right political base. If you witness the fervor of a Trump rally, listening to the pronouncements of his supporters, you can visualize people with torches and pitchforks, rushing to repel the barbarians at the gate. So that makes immigrants and Mexicans the barbarians, but not so fast.

Before some of my readers become smug, a leading liberal news site, in an article entitled , “The Alt Right: Barbarians At The Gates…” stated in counterpoint; “The alt right movement is an insurgent, racially tinged one that seeks to dismantle traditional conservative institutions to provide a political voice to an array of exiles on the far right. These include, but are not limited to, a unified array of influential hard-core racists and conspiracists, who oppose contemporary political processes, institutions, and both political parties as threatening not only national security, but the Euro-centric traditions of the nation as well with ‘white genocide.’ ”[2]

Mr. Trump, the founder of this vitriolic feast, himself fits definition three and four of a barbarian. The bastion of center, The New York Times, supports this in op-ed by Charles M. Blow entitled “Donald Trump, Barbarian at the Debate”. Trump has planted the seeds of hate deep and watered them well. We, as good, caring and sane people, must take up the challenge to prevent the harvesting of this crop. Our first duty is to ensure that Mr. Trump never sits in the Oval Office. Our second duty, equally important, is to change the dialog between the right and left, addressing the extremes at both ends of the spectrum. Those at these limits are driven by real or perceived fears that we should address with action, not belittlement and scorn. Labeling

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarian

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A Tale of Too (Many) Cities

A Tale of Too (Many) Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times[1],” at no other time in history have we been more connected to others, yet hate still flourishes. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” we have the knowledge to cure many of man’s ailments, but price them out of the reach. “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” with the election of Obama as President we hoped that racism was a thing of the past, but the scene of black men being shot, beaten and choked to death belies this. The news is replete with overreach and callous use of authority as embodied in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Newark and many more cities we do not know.

An April 30th report from the Police Executive Research Forum, reported on St. Louis County, MO; where Ferguson is located. The PERF report found that an "inappropriate and misguided mission has been thrust upon the police in many communities: the need to generate large sums of revenue for their city governments.[2]"   We see police departments in Baltimore, New York and Newark, NJ accused of imposing clandestine arrest quotas on their officers. This drives a corrosive atmosphere where police essentially harass minorities on real and imagined minor offenses; such appears to be the fate of Freddie Gray.

This problem of police brutality or misconduct is not only across the country but also in our own backyard. In a recent rally in Newark, attended by Rosemary Lontka, Deb Huber, and Vicky Stapleton from our chapter, there were three mothers and a daughter who lost loved ones from police actions. Larry Hamm, director of POP, spoke about at least five people who have died in police custody in Newark. He also stated that a civilian complaint review Board is being set up in Newark and that the ACLU has so many cases of this police misconduct that they have referred this problem to the federal Department of Justice. The DOJ issued a scathing report [3]on Newark. They are soliciting applications for individuals and organizations to act as a Federal Monitor.

Morris County members, Rosemary and Vicky in partnership with the NAACP have participated in a program about criminal justice and policing policies. The NAACP is advocating more community involvement, body cameras, civilian complaint review boards of police activities, and legislative reform. These are just a few of the policies but these are good first steps in helping to end the suffering of wives, mothers, brothers and sisters. If we all continue to be vigilant and hold police and elected officials to the highest of standards then “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done.”1

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The Slow Slide to Ignorance

Evidence it building that the general population does not embrace intelligence as a valuable asset.  “Twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Twenty-three percent would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.”1 For decades, feminists have fought like hell to secure access to equal education. 

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In Honor of Those Who Have Given So Much

It is appropriate that we honor and give thanks to those men and women that gave all they had to give to insure our life and liberty.  There is a tendency to complain about rights that we lack, rather than celebrate what we have.  The journey to equality for women and minorities has been a long hard slog that spans centuries.  Pausing to concider only the history of this nation, approximately 1.3 million Americans have died in uniform to secure and preserve these rights.  Let us say, "Thank You"

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The Party of Hobson

In the 17th century, Thomas Hobson owned a livery stable in England. Afraid that his customers would always choose the best horses and wear those out, he would give a choice to take the horse in the stall nearest the door or to not take one at all.¹ Today we characterize this as a “take it or leave it” philosophy, an illusion of a free choice. The Conservatives that rule the Republican Party, following the example of Tom DeLay in Texas, have mastered the technique by gerrymandering Congressional districts. The 19th century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, wrote of this, "When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson's choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all." ² This “I’ll make him an offer that he can’t refuse” mentality appears to be the motivation behind Conservative efforts to limit options for women. It often seems that the ultimate social goal of attacking abortion, birth control, equal pay and a myriad of other women’s issues, is to reinstate a misogynistic hegemony over women. As noted by Mill almost 150 years ago, "Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other doors against them, lay themselves open to a similar retort. If they mean what they say, their opinion must evidently be, that men do not render the married condition so desirable to women, as to induce them to accept it for its own recommendations. It is not a sign of one's thinking the boon one offers very attractive, when one allows only Hobson's choice, 'that or none'....” ³ In world affairs, the Conservative reaction to threats follows a predictable pattern. We are offered Hobson’s choice between the drum beat for military action, closing borders, putting “them” in prison etc. or doing nothing, suffering defeat. This perpetual fear reflex works well on the rabid, low-information base. We must offer clear choices, real choices between our positions and the “My way or the highway” attitude of our opponents. We must not be dissuaded from voting by false Hobson’s choices that seem discouraging. We must affirm that this is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of the resurgence of progressive action.



²Mill, John Stuart (1861). Considerations on Representative Government (1 ed.). London: Parker, Son, & Bourn. p. 145.

³Mill, John Stuart (1869). The Subjection of Women (1869 first ed.). London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. pp. 51–2.

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A Christmas Carol

Stave One

The Progressive was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed on November fourth by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. The Conservative signed it. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story I am about to relate. (Dickens, 1843, p. 1)

In her biography of Charles Dickens, Claire Tomalin observes that the story of his cold-hearted miser, Scrooge, is a parable for the condition of the working class 1843. During that year of the industrial revolution, the first bored underwater tunnel is built, “The Economist” begins publication and Ada Lovelace writes the first computer program for the Babbage Engine. Then as now, however, the poor and unemployed are considered a lazy lot and a burden to the “makers” in society. As we first meet Scrooge, he is approached by two “Progressive” gentlemen who are attempting to create a fund to help the poor and destitute. To them he utters the now (in)famous lines “Are there no prisons … are there no Workhouses … the treadmill and poor law are in full vigor?” These are references to the general practice in this era to imprison or indenture debtors for failure or inability to repay. The poor laws and debtors’ prison were generally abolished by the end of the 19th century but ever-creative States in the U.S. have used legal chicanery to effectively reincarnate them. Debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using these loopholes to jail the poor who cannot legitimately pay their debts.

First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch[1], the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn't paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an "examination": a review of their financial assets. If the debtor fails to show up for the examination -- as often happens in such cases -- the creditor can ask for a "body attachment" -- essentially, a warrant for the debtor's arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there is a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

"Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they'll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor's release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor -- essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders."

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Alice in Wonderland

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” [1] This proclamation by the Queen of Hearts to Alice neatly sums up the plight of 27.5% of the households in New Jersey as documented in a 2014 report by the United Way of Northern NJ.[2] This is a report about ALICE, not Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but the “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” people in our society. These are individuals or households that, although employed, cannot afford basic household necessities, as defined by United Way, of housing, childcare, transportation and health care. While many in this group are earning more than the official National Poverty Level, they are at or below the survival level for New Jersey. 

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Blame it on Social Security

The United States is running a one trillion dollars a year budget deficit, and is sixteen trillion in debt. The right wing insists that it is all the fault of social programs and Social Security in particular. The reader should remember that in 2001 the USA had a $236 billion surplus with a promise to grow in the future. Rather than insure the long-term stability of the nation and the social contract between its people and government, the neo-conservatives guided us to huge tax breaks and two wars conducted on credit.   Like a lottery winner on an uncontrolled spending spree, the country burned through our entire surplus, maxed out our credit cards and then raided the piggy bank. The piggy bank, in this case, is the Social Security Trust Fund. The piggy bank is now full of I.O.U.’s, and the conservatives want to welch on the deal now that the “Baby Boomers” want their money back.

Social Security is not a welfare program. Throughout our working lives, we pay into a trust fund that manages the money, using treasury bonds, eventually paying benefits in proportion to our contributions. The money in the trust fund was loaned, not given, to the federal government. Conservatives never much liked Social Security. It’s a wildly popular government program that’s totally solvent until 2033. It will be easily fixable and by then may not need fixing at all. It is an example of government that works, Conservatives cannot allow that to happen. It should be remembered that before 2008, these people wanted to convert Social Security to a Wall Street investment mechanism. As history unfolded, this would have created great security for the Bankers and Hedge Fund Managers but left the remainder of us in trouble.

We must rise with one voice and declare that bill to the trust fund has come due. The same people that took from it to fund wars and tax breaks must now pay it back. It is our money the bill is due and we want it back.

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Victims of Ayn Rand

Conventional wisdom would have you believe that women are inherently caring, compassionate and altruistic individuals. There are, however, exceptions to every rule and the late author and philosopher Ayn Rand is this exception. She is characterized by undying hatred for government, most people and the very idea of human kindness and compassion.

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The Red Thread

Within Greek Mythology the thread of life is woven by the Fate Clotho, her decisions can overrule the gods. In the near future, on a brisk November day, she is has two threads in her hand, one red the other blue. What is our fate if she begins to weave with the red one? 

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The Crisis

THESE are the times that try one's soul. The summer activist and the sunshine feminist will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their causes; but they that stand by it now, deserve the love and thanks of man and woman. Inequality, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon equal rights; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as equality should not be highly rated. Conservatives, with an army of billionaires to fund their oppression, have declared that they have the right to bind us to their beliefs. If being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God. [1]

The crisis of which I speak is the convergence of world and political events, poised to turn back the clock on equal rights and, in particular, women’s rights. In the Middle East and particularly in Egypt, repressive conservative policies attempt to return the rights of women to medieval levels. The Egyptian parliament attempted to introduce legislation to return to female genital mutilation (a.k.a. female circumcision). In Mississippi, a new law that targets abortion services by making restrictive requirements for doctors, may force the state’s last clinic to close. Attacks by state governments on collective bargaining often affect women disproportionately. When I attend or chronicle protest marches and actions in our area, there is always the same small group of faces.  I am heartened by the positive trend of separate groups coming together to unite against the trend created by unfettered money from Conservative supporters. The NAACP now publically supports marriage equality. The Nurses Union leads a nationwide campaign to force Wall Street to pay their fair share with a transaction tax. Unions and progressives in Wisconsin united to attempt to reverse onerous policies of their governor. The “We Are Woman” March and Rally will take place in D.C. on August 18th (see article on Page 5). The summer activists say that these attempts are Quixotic and they do not turn out, even in the summer. I believe that a spark has been ignited that will grow into a groundswell of people and groups united against the Conservative power grab. Victory will not be in a month or a year, it may take a decade to reverse the current trend, but we have begun; only complacency and inaction stand in our way.

[1] The inspiration for this article is Thomas Paine’s, The Crisis, December 23, 1776. Paine, with whom I share a birthday, wrote in a time of despair for the American Revolution. I believe that his words speak across the centuries to us now giving us encouragement to carry on.

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Thoughts about Human Trafficking

So, bright and early this morning as I was sitting with my lap-top on my sofa researching ideas for upcoming educational programs I was hit with the thought that human trafficking was the direction I wanted to be focusing in on.  Not only for one quick passing program, but for the long haul of my time-consuming, energy-taking, barely-rewarding awareness and activist lifestyle.

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Gun Control is a Woman’s Right

Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed when a would-be assassin shot her in the head during a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona. The Press and political pundits were unanimous in their predictions that this would finally lead to some level of gun control. It was argued that, at a minimum, a ban on the 31 round clips was a fait accompli. The statistics are stunning. From Women Against Gun Violence, “American women who are killed by their intimate partners are more likely to be killed with guns than by all other methods combined.”

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Whittling Away at Women’s Rights

We are witnessing an almost daily unprecedented onslaught on many of the rights and freedoms that women have fought for in this country for over one hundred years.  Women only received the right to vote in 1920 (a battle that began in 1848), the right to have an abortion in 1973, to have a credit card in her own name, if married, in 1977.   Have no illusions, these rights are not guaranteed.  The effort in Wisconsin to curtail the collective bargaining rights of teachers, nurses and civil employees is disproportionately targeted at women.  That state’s Governor and Legislature carefully omitted public safety positions (police and fire) which are typically male dominated professions.  This may have not been their plan but it is the effect.

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Doomed to Re-live It ?

The President is into the third year of his term in office. The nation has weathered through a stock market crash and crushing bank failures that began in the previous administration. Public spending programs, while softening the worst part of the economic calamity, have not had the ‘miracle’ effect of bouncing the nation back to prosperity. Political opponents claim that this spending is not doing any good and must be stopped. The real answer, in the belief of the President’s opponents, is to reduce borrowing, increase the reserve requirements for the banks and balance the budget. The result of the tight money and reduction of government spending was to create a recession within a depression.

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Waking the Sleeping Giant

The attack on women’s rights, rights long believed settled, has been on a steady increase over the past four decades. A return to near medieval religious orthodoxies has forged an alliance with conservatives determined to march backwards to a day when workers and women had few rights. Through most of this time the Giant, women’s organizations and supporters, slowly diminished and fell asleep. Granted, activism and feminism are clearly not dead, but their gigantic voice of the 60’s and 70’s is very difficult to hear.

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