Day: December 13, 2010

The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate

Perhaps because I am not a lawyer, I found the section of Judge Hudson’s ruling dealing with taxation powers difficult to make sense of. Hudson argues that Congress did not intend to use its taxation powers, because (1) it removed the word “tax” from many points in the document and (2) it invoked commerce-clause powers in its preface to Section 1501.

I don’t entirely understand how this is relevant to the constitutionality of the “mandate.” If the act requires that individuals pay a penalty on their income-tax returns for failure to purchase health insurance, then isn’t the question simply whether this is within the scope of its power or not?

Even here the reasoning seems strained, insofar as the quoted text itself reads “[T]here is hereby imposed on the taxpayer a penalty….” The question of the political resonance of “tax” versus “penalty” does not, in my mind, justify a “logical inference” that the penalty is not a tax penalty.

What really gives the game away, though, is Hudson’s footnote 13 (see page 36).

There is, of course, no logical or functional difference between giving someone a tax break for purchasing a product and slapping tax penalty on someone else for not purchasing that product.

  • My mortgage-interest deduction is someone else’s renting (or cash-only home purchase) penalty.
  • My graduate-loan interest deduction is someone else’s couldn’t-afford (or could-easily-afford, or got-a-full-scholarship) graduate school penalty.

And let’s not even get started on the not-have-a-kid penalty, or what everyone actually calls the “marriage penalty.” If I recall correctly, conservatives have been the most vocal about this last “penalty,” which involves–among other inadvertent effects of the tax code–a married couple’s inability to take advantage of certain deductions available to singles.

Hudson’s opinion rests on the confusion of a political slogan with a legal argument. The ritualistic invocation of the idea that HCR is unique because it “requires individuals to buy a product” does not render it logically–or, if you’ll allow me the temerity to say so, legally compelling.


‘Tis the season

This year began with a human tragedy of horrific proportions — the earthquake in Haiti. We may never know precisely how many people died, but the government in Port-Au-Prince estimated 230,000 in February.

The news did not improve as the year progressed. Consider this ANI news report from Saturday about flooding in Pakistan — and keep in mind that floodwaters have not yet receded in some areas even though the worst flooding occurred months ago:

It is estimated that the floods affected up to 20 million people, while over 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The UN had rated it as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, saying that the number of people suffering from the crisis exceeded the combined total in three recent mega disasters – the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In 2011, experts predict that thanks to La Niña, Kenya may well experience a humanitarian emergency. Zimbabwe is on the brink of disaster because of cholera, measles, and flu outbreaks.

Haiti itself is ending the year with a cholera epidemic that has infected 100,000 people and killed nearly 2200 already.

And yet, despite these truly heart-wrenching emergencies, the number of people harmed and killed in them is dwarfed by the ravages of day-to-day poverty of the type described in Paul Collier’s work on the world’s “bottom billion.” A billion people live in abject poverty on $1 a day and roughly another billion live on $2 per day.

In the November/December Washington Monthly, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, explains that “complex humanitarian emergencies” like the Haitian earthquake and Pakistani floods are not, in fact, the primary source of human suffering worldwide:

[F]ocusing on war, flood, famine, and earthquakes is in itself a selection mechanism. Humanitarian emergencies are thankfully rare, concentrated, and usually short-lived events. Take Africa—often seen as the home stable for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Less than three-tenths of a percent of the population was affected by famine in the average year between 1990 and 2005. And in 2005, only one-half of 1 percent of the population were refugees.

If tens of millions of people are in need of urgent assistance every year, this still suggests that, however telegenic are humanitarian crises, they don’t represent the biggest challenges of global poverty. More than 16 percent of children born in Africa die before their fifth birthday, for example. Around a billion people worldwide are malnourished….The considerable majority of extreme human suffering occurs outside of what is commonly recognized as a crisis situation.

Kenny explains in that article that humanitarian emergencies are often rightly followed by new emergency assistance — even as development aid to address the endemic problem of global poverty languishes. Thanks partly to the Great Recession, government development assistance is certainly down from peak levels earlier this decade.

Americans like to consider themselves a charitable people — particularly at this time of year. Indeed, Giving USA Foundation reports that Americans give away over $300 billion annually, which is over 2% of GDP. And it amounts to a lot of cash. Jeffrey Sachs has been saying for years that global poverty could be eradicated for about $200 to $250 billion per year.

However, close scrutiny reveals that individual charitable giving by Americans does not typically go to causes that help the global poor — or national poor, for that matter. In the December 6 issue of The Nation, CUNY Graduate Center History Professor David Nasaw asks, “Where does this money go?”

Some to disaster relief or to feed, clothe and shelter the poor—but not very much. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich claims that only about 10 percent of charitable giving goes to the poor and needy. A third goes to religious organizations; 13 percent to education; 7 percent to hospitals, healthcare organizations and research; 4 percent to arts and culture; 3 percent to international peace and relief efforts; 2 percent to environmental and animal-related causes.

Although it is never easy to quantify giving, closer scrutiny of individual, as opposed to foundation, funding indicates that much of it goes to causes that directly or indirectly benefit the donors. Individual donors are more likely to give to the church or synagogue they or members of their families attend, to their alma maters, their children’s private schools and the museums and cultural institutions they patronize.

I am not sure of the precise NGO or IO targets for charitable giving to alleviate global poverty, but I am certain that this issue should be a higher priority for individual donors like you and me — though Nasaw points out that the 3.1% of Americans earning $200,000 or more annually (or who hold assets above $1 million) give about 70% of the $300 billion US total.

I guess that means we need to convince affluent people to be less selfish in their annual giving.

One last note. Nasaw points out that thanks to the US tax code, “every $100 donated to charity by a high-income person means $35 less to the Treasury.” He is not trying to sound like a Grinch (or perhaps a Scrooge), but if affluent people could not deduct their private donations, the US Treasury would have nearly $75 billion potentially to use in the public interest.


7/7 five years on: Conflicting memories make an official record difficult

Aldgate station plan, London underground

A month into the official inquest into the ‘7/7’ London bombings of July 2005, it is clear that the governmental imperative to arrive at a clear, authoritative and final account of what happened on the day might prove impossible because of the unreliability of human memory. This was an event in which cameraphone footage from the scene was reaching the BBC within 20 minutes of the first of four explosions, and iconic images and memorial rituals were in place within days and weeks. Yet it took police four months to take witness statements and now five years for witnesses to testify in court. It is no wonder that discrepancies emerge. Not unlike 9/11, there are significant differences between sweeping media- and politically-driven narratives of national mourning and the local, particular perspectives of those involved.

An official record would offer some certainty to survivors, grieving relatives, and allow for objective assessment of how well emergency services performed. The inquest must be comprehensive and include as many voices as can offer salient information, it must be precise, and it must offer consensus and closure.  At a symposium, ‘Conflicts of Memory’ at the University of Nottingham last week, my regular co-author Andrew Hoskins, who has been following the inquest, talked about the inconsistencies emerging between individuals’ testimonies and even within individuals’ own accounts. One ambulance worker said he had drawn a diagram of where bodies were in a carriage on the day of 7/7; he now can’t remember where he drew the diagram or even whether it was someone else who drew it for him.
We can see this for ourselves; witnesses’ transcripts and the evidence in court are available online, the kind of transparency our new media ecology makes so easy. For instance, we can compare witness testimonies with visual representations of what they had seen. Survivors must now try to reconcile what they thought had happened with all of the conflicting verbal and pictorial versions being put before the court now.
For Hoskins, it is only by following how, over a long period, events become stretched and extended through complex relations and layers of objects, people and rituals that we can see how consensual memories may be formed. This is not dissimilar to Latour’s argument that law (and science) are merely a set of mediations which enough people can agree to go along with for pragmatic reasons. The result, as with the 7/7 inquest so far, is imperfect. Would it be better for the inquest to settle on a definitive set of technical drawings and edit out inconsistent testimonies in order to reach an official record? This might upset survivors who feel the memory they genuinely hold, and which they have lived with for over five years, has been crossed out as a mistake.
Alternatively, the British state could allow for a loose plurality of often-ambiguous accounts to stand together. There would be costs. But with the testimonies, diagrams and other evidence archived and publicly available online, they could decide to turn it over to the public to make connections and draw conclusions themselves. Inclusive but never definitive: judgement 2.0?
Cross posted from: 

Feminist IR 101, Post #4: Common Myths about Feminist IR (and the ‘truth’)

Here are some common misperceptions of feminist IR; the “truth” is below the “fold” …

1. Feminist IR is a paradigmatic alternative to other IR paradigms – there’s realism, liberalism, constructivism, poststructuralism, and then … feminism. It is its own “ism,” and therefore should be a chapter in each textbook proposed as a dialogue with and/or critique of International Relations.
2. Feminists are whiners – either the field of IR see, e.g., this debate nor global politics (see, e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich’s discussion of Abu Ghraib) are sites of rampant gender subordination.
3. Women are feminists, and feminists have to be women; feminist research in IR is about women (see, e.g., some of the conceptual errors in Adam Jones’ most recent book).
4. Adding gender as a variable to existing analysis satisfies feminist research concerns. Feminism can fit comfortably within the traditional boundaries of IR (see, e.g., Ann Tickner’s discussion of this issue).
5. Adding a “gender week” on the syllabus of classes on IR theory, IPE, security, and the like does pedagogical and theoretical justice to feminist concerns (see discussion in International Studies Perspectives special section “Mainstreaming Gender into the IR Curriculum,” edited by fellow Duck blogger Charli Carpenter).
6. Hiring more women addresses feminist critiques of IR as a discipline. Feminists think there should be hiring discrimination against men.
7. There is one “IR feminism” to which all IR feminists subscribe.
8. Feminism in IR is particularly relevant to things that “concern” women (like wartime rape), and things that women are (perceived to be) good at (like peace, and negotiation).
9. Feminism in IR assumes that women are/should be equal to men, and treated that way, but valorizes women and femininity, picturing women as without men’s flaws and femininity as by definition better than masculinity.
10. Feminism is irrelevant to the traditional concerns of IR (like nuclear war, trade imbalances, levels of analysis, and the like), but can have its niche studying the things it is relevant to.
11. Feminists are humorless (see blog discussion with Dan Drezner)

All of these are misguided. I will discuss each in turn.

At the outset, it is important to note – my views are not others; and this is a blog post and not a journal article, so it hasn’t been vetted and peer reviewed. Since it is being written late at night on an airplane, there may be some errors. If you have questions, I’m glad to answer them.

Now, onto the myth-busting …

1. Feminist IR is not a paradigmatic alternative to other approaches, nor is it a critique of (all) other approaches. Instead, it is a way of looking at IR’s many concerns “through gendered lenses” (in the words of Spike Peterson and Anne Runyan). Therefore, you’re not an “IR scholar” or a “feminist critic,” or a “feminist,” instead of a “realist,” or a “liberal,” or a “constructivist.” Likewise, though feminist theorists outside of IR sometimes divide feminist theorizing into “standpoint,” “liberal,” “empiricist,” and “postmodern,” IR feminism doesn’t map neatly onto those divides. Instead, there are “feminists” of all IR stripes – liberal IR feminists (interested in women’s formal/legal equality and rights), constructivist IR feminists (understanding gender as a social construct and its impact on/being impacted by global politics), critical IR feminists (interested in the ways that gender hierarchies could be reversed in emancipatory ways), poststructuralist feminists (interested in the discursive/performative aspects of gender subordination in global politics), postcolonial IR feminists (interested in the intersections between gender/race/ethnicity/colonialism and gender subordination in global politics), and (I argue) realist IR feminists (interested in gender as a global structure/power relation). There are also feminists in IR whose works traverses (and transforms) IR’s boxes. Either way, it cannot be seen as a paradigmatic alternative (because it by definition interacts with the other paradigms) or just a critique of IR’s paradigms (because it works to not only critique but revision and reconstruct.

2. The field of IR and global politics are both sites of rampant gender subordination. In IR (see discussion between the TRIP survey administrators and Brooke Ackerly, Jacqui True, Mary Ann Tetrault, and myself in Politics and Gender), women remain underrepresented at almost every level of the field, even proportional to the Ph.D.s they receive and the subject matters they choose to study. This underrepresentation gets worse, not better, at the senior levels of the field – that is, women leave the profession at greater rates than men; women lose out on tenure more than men; women get less jobs out of grad school than men; and women are less likely to finish Ph.D. programs than men. Women are less likely to publish in major journals and rank lower than men on a number of indicators of professional success. This is more exacerbated in IR than in other subfields in political science. In global politics, women remain 70% of those below poverty levels globally; they remain the primary civilian victims of war and conflict; sexual violence and domestic violence remain rampant throughout the world; many countries still have incredibly high rates of denied access to birth control, maternal mortality, and adolescent birth; and characteristics and people associated with femininity remain undervalued compared to characteristics and people associated with masculinity almost everywhere in the world.

3. Not all women are feminists. Not all people who study gender are feminists. Some people study “gender” without recognizing gender hierarchy. Not only is this bad research, it is by most definitions not feminist. Some people study how to suppress women more. They are not feminists. Feminists are not only interested in women. IR feminists are interested in gender(s), including masculinity (see the great IR feminist work on masculinities by people like Charlotte Hooper, Marysia Zalewski, Jane Parpart, and Terrell Carver). There are some men who do great IR feminist work. They don’t get bit or scowled at when they come to meetings. In fact, there are male officers of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of ISA. Feminist researchers in IR recognize that gender tropes do not just hurt “women,” but also “men,” as well as people who do not fit comfortably into either category.

4. Let’s say we’re trying to figure out what causes war. We’ve got regime type, economic status, ethnic differences, past wars, and all sorts of other variables that people who are interested in figuring out what causes war count in their regressions. Some people would just add “level of gender inequality” to their regression and see if it is a significant variable. This may be interesting to some (putting aside briefly issues of countability, and if gender inequality is linear), but it isn’t the point. First, “level of gender inequality” in a state is not an indicator of “gendered relations among states” – that is, states don’t assume their relative position on the international gender hierarchy from the relative level of gender subordination within each state. Second, gender relations among states have many dimensions – material, performative, perceptual, etc.; which can’t be captured on one axis. Third, gender relations within and among states influences all those other variables people who are interested in what causes war count in their regressions. Fourth, the traditional places that we look at for the causes of war are themselves subject to feminist critiques and reformulations about where global politics takes place. Fifth, “level of gender inequality” usually measures what happens to women as compared to what happens to men – how unequal women are on some axis. This is an incomplete (and one-directional) understanding of sex subordination; and it accounts for sex but cannot account for gender … I could go on, but this question will doubtless be the subject of a full post.

5. Adding “gender week” to an IR, IPE, or security syllabus perpetuates a number of myths about the place of feminisms in the discipline of IR. It perpetuates the myth that gender is a paradigmatic alternative (see #1), that it is irrelevant to the traditional concerns of IR (see #10), and that it doesn’t fundamentally transform how IR does what it does. Most “gender weeks” treat feminism(s) as critique(s) of IR, or afterthoughts – like, after you learned about the “real” IR, here’s some extra stuff you might want to know. My syllabi try to integrate gender concerns each week – feminist engagements with each substantive topic (in security class) or paradigmatic approach (in IR theory class).

6. Hiring more women doesn’t address feminist critiques of IR. First (see #4), not all women are feminists. In fact, some women kind of stink at feminism, and some women are anti-feminist. Hiring women is a good thing, because the profession should be sex-equal regardless of its gender content.  But  epistemological and ontological openness to feminist work, and methodological acceptance of it, is necessary as well – hiring feminists, engaging feminisms, and rethinking IR’s masculinism is as important as (if not more important than) hiring women, engaging sex, and adding “gender” as a variable.

7. There are many IR feminisms (see #1) that engage feminist theory and IR differently – in addition to falling within or across different paradigmatic “boxes,” feminisms are interested in different sectors of global politics – international/global security, international/global political economy, international/global migration, international/global law, international/global human rights, and the like. In the International Studies Compendium, there are 54 different essays on different areas within and approaches to feminist IR in the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section alone, and several more in other sections’ collections.

8. Certainly, it is easy to see gender in things which “concern” women, like wartime rape. Feminists are (intensely) interested in these things – in the example of wartime rape, the way that gendered nationalism(s) play(s) into motivations for mass rapes, the gendered assumptions that are necessary to make rape an (accepted) part of the making and fighting of wars, the gendered stereotypes in the prosecution of wartime rapists, the difficult road for women victims of forced impregnation (and the resulting war babies), the way that men inscribe dominance on other men through women’s bodies, and the like. That said, feminist scholarship is as interested in and as relevant to the choice of weapons or artillery (which initially appears gender neutral) as it is in wartime rape (see #10). This interest, though, is not about women’s special abilities in particular areas. For example, Robert Keohane, in 1989, suggested that feminisms should pair up with neoliberal institutionalist approaches to IR basically because women are better at negotiation and compromise, and therefore could teach us to be better institutionalists. As Ann Tickner and Cynthia Weber noted, this is so not the point (see also #9). Feminisms in IR are not about capitalizing on gender subordination for policy efficiency.

9.  I won’t argue that no feminisms in IR assume that women are/should be equal to men, and treated that way, while picturing women as without men’s flaws and femininity as by definition better than masculinity – some of it does, blaming “masculine violence” on “men,” and not thinking/talking about feminizing violence, or about women who behave as masculinists, or the like. That said, feminisms in IR are at their best, I believe, when they recognize that “women” are not “beautiful souls” (in Elshtain’s words originally) always innocent of and victims of the terrible things in the world. At the same time, women’s flaws, their complicity in gender subordination, their reproduction of gender-subordinating tropes and ideas, do not mean that women are not subordinated on the basis of gender, or that masculinities do not generally trump femininities along gender hierarchies. Women can subordinate women on the basis of gender (I am, in fact, writing a book about this very phenomena in wartime sexual violence). That doesn’t make it not gender subordination. Men can also subordinate men on the basis of gender. Again, still gender subordination. For me, the “problem” with gender hierarchies is the consistent valorization of masculinities and devalorization of femininities. Would I like to see what the world would be like if it valorized femininities? Sure. But is that the point? Not so much. The point is to question and reform the naturalness of masculinities and femininities as categories and descriptors, and the naturalness of choosing masculinities when we choose among traits, characteristics, ideas, people, states, or nations.

10. A discipline shaped by men (with and for masculine values) about a global political arena where only men were visible with interest in the subjects that men thought were important at levels of analysis men saw and formulated hasn’t changed much since those formative times. Feminism critiques the process of evolution of the traditional concerns of IR, and argues that those concerns are partial, short-sighted, and masculinist. But it also has something to say about each of those concerns and ideas. While feminists don’t think IR should be (exclusively) about nuclear war, terrorism, trade imbalances, and regime types, they have had something to say about all of those things. Those observations, theoretical reformulations, and case studies are not niches or irrelevant to how others think about those same issues. Instead, they interrogate the ways IR theorists have thought about them, reformulate traditional approaches, and reveal dynamics that were previously unseen. I’d go on, but, again, this is likely to be the subject of another post.

11. Feminists aren’t humorless. I may be proving the point by bringing up a long-dead and initially half-joking assertion that Dan Drezner made, but I’m going to take that risk. Some people can blog about their work, and have their work made fun of, secure in the position that it is taken seriously in the discipline of IR and in global politics more generally. That’s fine, and more power to them. Feminist work, however, is consistently marginalized, trivialized, and not taken seriously. Jokes about feminist IR work are sometimes “funny haha” sort of jokes, but more often they are jokes that betray a belief that feminist IR specifically (and sometimes women and gender studies in IR generally) belongs in IR’s galleys, in its punchlines, and in its innuendoes. While, usually, I have a thick enough skin to deal with that extra layer of crap one gets for doing what I do, sometimes I don’t, and I shouldn’t have to. If feminisms were comfortably “in” IR – joke all you want. Until then … take it seriously first, joke second.

More soon … requested future posts include “feminism in political economy,” “feminism in security studies,” and “the transformative power of feminisms in IR.” More requests are welcome.


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