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Utah Polygyny Often Intricately Linked with Child Brides

Growing up in Utah, my biases about polygamy and polyamory were deeply marked by the oppressive religious practice of control and child rape practiced by some splinter sects of the LDS faith. The obvious difference is consent, but I had to unlearn years of association of polyamory with coercion and abuse.

It’s easy to condemn those in other places that condone child rape through marriage. It’s safe and comfortable. But the painful fact is, I live in a state where child brides have been (and almost certainly continue to be) part of an ongoing system of abuse. I have a deep rage that the communities where it happens are calculatedly isolated, and they exert total control over the lives of growing children, who have even less capacity for autonomy & consent than most.

We are talking about the kind of subculture that has literally burned books intended for a local library to keep control and maintain ignorance. It’s been almost impossible to find and prosecute the child marriages rapes because the communities have their own police and shunning the outside world is a religious imperative.

What’s even worse, even men who have admitted their child rape may not even be eligible for prosecution because within the last decade Utah’s legal code allowed the rape of girls as young as 14 so long as their parents consent.

At the time, Utah’s marriage age was 14 with parental consent. In 2005, the Utah State Legislature changed it to 16. In 2003, the legislature made any polygamous marriage involving anyone under 18 a felony of child bigamy.

Shit like this shows just how uninterested our judicial system really is in prioritizing the protection of adolescents from predators using religious coercion. When as recently as 10 years ago, parents’ will could substitute for full legal consent to sexual activity, it’s clear that far from being the enlightened moral actors we make ourselves out to be, we are just beginning to question living in the dark ages.

A criticism (I believe fairly) lodged against more moderate religious voices is they give cover to, and downplay the abuse of more extreme versions because they find criticism of religiously backed abuses uncomfortable. There is no more clear example in our modern backyard than the fact that a man like Winston Blackmore may not even have committed a crime under our laws.

Predictably, Defense Tries to Put Murdered Teenager On Trial

I’m sure no one has been surprised that the tactic used by George Zimmerman’s defense counsel is to try to put a murdered black minor on trial instead of the man who stalked, harassed and ultimately killed him. The entire trial has seemingly been an attempt to make us distrust the morals and credibility of the black people involved in front of a nearly all-white jury.

So it’s offensive, but not sadly consistent that Mr. Zimmerman has regularly referred to a dead kid, Trayvon Martin as “the suspect.”

Suspected of what crime? Blackness in Zimmerman’s neighborhood, but the defense is obviously hoping the jurors don’t register this prejudicial language and think about the naked racism it expresses.

I’m furious that this needs to be stated, but Trayvon Martin was not a criminal, was not a “suspect.” He was a boy who will now never know what it’s like to live as a grown man.

When the Phrase “Being Armed” Is Meaningless

This week has been so packed with important, groundbreaking and openly discriminatory news that is has been overwhelming. But there is one underreported thing from the start of George Zimmerman’s trial on Monday that leaves me so angry, outraged and sad that it bears mentioning.

Many places have reported with shock that Mr. Zimmerman’s defense counsel included a knock-knock joke in his opening statements. And it was offensive bullshit, so it’s understandable that people are talking about it alongside Don West’s shitty treatment of Rachel Jeantel in an attempt to make the super white jury think she’s not worth listening to.

But what still makes me feel ill when I think about it is the assertion West made in opening statements that the murdered teenager was not actually unarmed. Dead high schooler Trayvon Martin purportedly “armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman’s head.”

George Zimmerman, we were told, was simply a helpful citizen who was savaged by an out-of-place black kid. He had no choice but to shoot and kill this minor. This idea makes me so angry still that I want to smash things into little pieces.

I cannot believe anyone could be so transparently dishonest to try to contort the simple concept of weaponry and being armed in such a way that no one can ever be “unarmed” because there is always something that can be claimed as a weapon, including the ground you stand on. This is not just insulting, but asks us to throw out any legal standards of proportional response. It asks us to use the self-defensive, desperate tactics of victims as an excuse for their attack or murder.

This asks the jury to ignore the vast differentials in power and physical threat that exist here. Mr. Zimmerman used his vehicle, his age, his assumed justification as a neighborhood vigilante to intimidate and frighten a young man who will now never see adulthood. He’s now using the claim of injuries after he stalked and harassed Trayvon Martin to excuse his murder.

I desperately want to be wrong, but I have strong suspicions that Mr. Zimmerman will not face conviction and prison for profiling, stalking and murdering a minor. This makes me so helplessly angry it brings tears of rage to my eyes. I want to be wrong. I want there to be justice for Trayvon.

Do We Need Penicillin, Mr. Gohmert?

On Monday, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert made a deeply disingenuous argument to ensure that having sex remains as shameful and risky as possible to continue a long standing history of backing up religious hang-ups with healthy sexuality with intentionally created risk.

His statements on the conservative radio show, WallBuilders:

You don’t have to force this sexuality stuff into their life at such a point. It was never intended to be that way. They’ll find out soon enough. Mankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex-ed lesson to anybody.

This got me thinking about all the things that humans have existed without for “a pretty long time” and which of these important modern developments Representative Gohmert thinks we don’t really need either. Of course, the obvious answer is that we’re only supposed to follow shitty antiquated levels of ignorance and suffering when it comes to the sex, but I’d really like to get him to own up to that.

Here’s is a extremely incomplete list just off the top of my head of things that humans as a species have done perfectly well without.

  • antibiotics
  • air conditioning
  • glasses/contacts
  • television
  • safe potable water
  • roads
  • modern sanitation
  • safe surgical procedures
  • football
  • guns
  • computers
  • injectable insulin
  • cars
  • airplanes
  • boats
  • painkillers
  • blood transfusions
  • washing machines
  • restaurants
  • radio
  • deodorant
  • CPR
  • formalized education
  • agriculture
  • domesticated animals
  • electricity
  • representative government
  • chemotherapy
  • phones
  • birth control
  • movies
  • pharmacology
  • soap
  • coffee
  • refrigeration
  • chocolate

Yes, the United States Senate is “Very, Very Unequal.” And that’s a good thing.

I normally love the kind of numerical/graphical analysis Ezra Klein does. So it was with great shock and frustration I watched him do his signature challenge while he was guest hosting the Rachel Maddow Show last Monday and he explained the Senate structure giving influence to less populous states as a bug, not  a feature. (His shorter writeup post is up at the Washington Post here.)

It’s factually correct that the way that the US Constitution sets up the Senate, it decreases the proportional power of the residents of populous states in a major way. More so now than it did when the Constitution was first drafted (from approximately 11:1 to 66:1). He includes this big and shocking looking graphic showing the seemingly over-weighted influence the same population has at the federal level.

Washington Post Graphic from Ezra Klein's Article

Washington Post Graphic from Ezra Klein’s Article

What he doesn’t really talk about is why the architects of our federal government would choose to create an inherently lopsided seeming system of representation. There was the idea that a number of checks would be required to ensure that risk inherent in democracy, the “tyranny of the majority,” was balanced. Small states feared (reasonably I might add) that because they were small their interests and needs would likely be swallowed if a majority of highly populous states ignored the need.

Our Constitution and federal government is structured in such a way to recognize that and mitigate harms. To protect individuals, we have the Bill of Rights, later amendments and a judiciary system to ensure that the rights of of individuals don’t get trampled.  But what about the representation needs of people in less populous states? Well for that, we have the United States Senate.

A major function of government and taxation is to ensure that vulnerable and poor people in our population are given the support they need; it’s the “common welfare” idea from the preamble. But there is no reason why that allocation would be proportional by state. In fact, when you look at the states with lower populations, there is a decent correlation between states that are lower in population but significantly higher in terms of poverty and strained infrastructure.

What’s more, some states are burdened in ways others are not. As a concrete example, the Intermountain West has two things that either directly govern or highly influence every important aspect of life here: lots and lots of space and very little water. That reality means our populations are clustered around areas where we can find enough water to survive, mainly around mountain ranges with reservoirs. What does that mean? Lots and lots of infrastructure costs; without federal transportation funds, we couldn’t function in a modern way*. We rely on interstate highway corridors for transportation in a way that other states don’t need to. Does that mean we’re “making out like bandits?”

I don’t think so. States will smaller populations are going to necessarily have a harder time generating comparable tax revenue to cover the needs of their citizens than highly populous states with affluent urban centers. Okay you say, but what does that have to do with the original idea of super-lopsided representation in the Senate?

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the Senate were proportional body like the House of Representatives. What would happen to the federal aid, infrastructure and other funds that small states rely on? Well, it seems safe to say that we wouldn’t get most of it. It’s a lot easier to ignore the needs of constituents of small, poor states with two or three representatives when their votes have zero clout and impact in how federal legislation is passed in D.C.

So stop telling Californians they should hate the Senate, Ezra Klein. It does what it’s supposed to.

*In Utah, the town of Boulder got its postal delivery by pack mule well after World War II because of how remote & isolating the geography is.

Perennial Pointless Posturing Over Safe Gun Regulation

Every time some asshole decides to murder a bunch of people in a mass shooting, there is a very showy conversation about outrage and analysis of the cause. But ultimately, nothing is done because it’s hard and requires actual planning, change and action.

Instead, we see anti-regulation fanatics fighting what the vast majority of the country (including a majority of gun enthusiasts and hunters) think is fair and helpful progress to help curb violence. We see politicians engaging in or allowing scapegoating of media, social demographics, mentally ill people, popular culture and anything else they can blame to prevent really coming up with a solution.

I was in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. And I remember how the focus was so obsessive on why the shooters did what they did, and how we could identify individuals like them to prevent shootings rather than actually controlling the weapons used to murder others. The hysteria was so huge that my school began to focus on absolutely harmless individuals I knew for no other reason that they had small surface similarities to the murderers in Colorado. Thrack stopped wearing his coat for months because he didn’t feel it was safe for him to do so. Another friend was also profiled and interrogated by school administration; his understandably sarcastic and flippant response to being irrationally singled out led to being kicked out of school.

What happened to scapegoats after Columbine wasn’t some isolated case. People are doing stupid, hateful and stigmatizing things following our recent tragedies as well.  Atheists and those damn uppity feminists were blamed directly for the shooting by assholes who would have us believe that the murderer was so messed up by our demands for equality and a secular government that he had no choice but to kill teachers, administrators and small children.

Other assholes have decided to find scapegoats and take action like in Southington, a town 30 miles from Newtown, Connecticut. Local leaders there (in government and the community) recently organized an idiotic game burning event. Because that’s what’s going to keep us safe from constant gun violence.

Some others have suggested that we should throw standards of medical care, ethical standards for medical privacy and any respect for the mentally ill to the winds and start penalizing people more like to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. They want to increase the stigma people with mental illness face, rather than help us. They want us tracked, reported and cataloged because they’re assholes.

Fuck this shit. I’m tired of it.

So are The Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who have organized a push that people actually do something this time.  They are asking everyone who is tired of the inaction in favor of lip service to demand that policy makers tell us what they actually intend to do to fix things.

They are DEMANDING A PLAN. I signed their petition and I think you should too.

Chuck Hagel and Our Diverse Military

As a county, the United States is beginning to wrap up the longest war in our history. And while operational decisions are and will continue to be a priority, at the end of two massive wars, greater focus needs to be placed on the needs of our military personnel and veterans.

To be frank, I cannot believe that Senator Hagel is likely to even consider many of the pressing needs of our military and veterans a priority, let alone take proactive steps to address our problems.  Hagel, while he has shown a willingness to challenge unnecessary waste of lives and spending, nevertheless has a history indicating a great deal of negative baggage toward some of those whose lives and futures would be in his hands as Secretary of Defense.

We have only been without a total ban of gay, lesbian and bisexual service-members for just over two years.  And although they’re no longer forced to either lie or be kicked out of the military, we still deny equal benefits and compensation to same-sex families under DOMA.  Local support groups for military spouses still work to deny support to the loved ones of LGB military waiting while their spouses, parents and partners are deployed. The Pentagon has recently been blocking a whole host of LGBT related websites (while failing to filter their anti-gay counterparts) and responding to questions with bizarre obfuscation about “operational security.”

Yet the same Democratic president that removed the injustice of DADT did not see a history of anti-gay bigotry by Senator Hagel to be a problem.  Because, well, that ambassador he attacked publicly for being “openly, aggressively gay” Hagel totally apologized. To a television camera. I might give Hagel more credit if he’d had the guts to contact James Hormel personally and apologize (something Hormel himself observed when he refused to accept a public show-apology).

I have not received an apology. I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part… made only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.
If [his original comment] were made today, it would be clearly disqualifying.

In making his apology a matter of public comment with no indication he wanted to make personal amends, I don’t believe Senator Hagel has even begun to shed his bigoted ideas about gay people. Certainly not when his description of the 1998 attack was to call his words “insensitive.” The mere fact that he thought that his vicious attack was merely insensitive and not indicative of serious prejudice shows he hasn’t moved on at all.  No amount of lip service is going to count; I expect to see real action to show his convictions have changed.

Senator Hagel voted multiple times against adding sexual orientation protections to hate crimes legislation. This combined with the fact that three separate times he earned a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign* on his voting record on LGBT issues including hate crimes legislation and employment protections, means I regard his newfound public thoughtfulness about gay military families with extraordinary suspicion.

We have a military with pervasive and systemic sexual harm toward women.  A terrifying percentage of women deployed in combat zones reported sexual assault and rape. Reporting in December of a Veterans Affairs study indicated that in war zone deployment nearly 23% of women reported being sexually assaulted or raped; almost 49% reported being sexually harassed. It also found that 47% of those surveyed reported the individual who attacked or harassed them was a superior officer, leaving them very little recourse. Read More…