Tag Archives: privacy

Taking Us Back…

I’ve been working with a friend –a former academic colleague–on a book about the causes and consequences of what Americans call the women’s movement. He’s a quantitative guy (I think he sleeps in a bed of data…) while I am rather clearly not, but we are both interested in the history of women’s emancipation–not just questions like “To what extent did the invention and widespread use of the birth control pill allow women to enter the workforce?” or “How did the change from jobs requiring brute strength to those requiring skill benefit women?” but also things like “what changes in social and cultural attitudes were triggered by women’s suffrage, political activity and workforce participation?”

We most definitely aren’t planning an academic/scholarly book. Instead, we hope to provide a journey of sorts, an accessible trip through the last hundred years or so, focusing on the causes and consequences of American women’s change of legal and social status.

The incredibly important question we will not be able to answer is “Is that progress–and we do see it as progress–reversible?”

There are movements in today’s America absolutely committed to that reversal, and the current “abortion wars” are only one aspect of their agenda, which involves a wholesale retreat from numerous aspects of contemporary American life, not just the emergence of us “uppity” women.

Common Dreams recently had an essay by Mike Lofgren, describing the merger of some of the most retrograde of those movements and reporting on the danger posed by the recent “teaming up” of religious extremists with far-right fascist groups.

Here’s his lede:

The Supreme Court’s disastrous rulings on prayer on public school property and abortion rights have finally focused proper attention on the role of religious extremism in undermining democratic self-rule. For decades, not only has it been underestimated, most of the media has misunderstood Christian fundamentalism’s goals.

Make no mistake: the well-funded, well-armed alliance of motivated extremists that I have described constitutes the greatest domestic danger this nation has faced since the Civil War.

Katherine Stewart, who has written on the religious right for many years, has redressed this misunderstanding in a New York Times piece. She straightforwardly says that Christian fundamentalism’s goal is “breaking American democracy,” and that this is not an unintended byproduct of fundamentalism’s political activity. No, it “is the point of the project.”

You might think that church-going Christians, no matter how fundamentalist, have little in common with organizations like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, or with neo-Nazi groups like Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, or the Aryan Nation. Yet Lofgren points out that there is substantial overlap in the membership of those groups. He says they “bury their extreme theological differences to ally against their common enemy: the Enlightenment, a tolerant society, and equal justice under law.”

Among their other motivating issues, these movements share a commitment to misogyny and to a cult of masculine toughness. (Paging Josh Hawley ...)

This is obvious among fundamentalists and white nationalists alike: Southern Baptists and other evangelical sects preach “submission” of women, and every nationalist movement of the past century has diminished women’s rights.

Lofgren notes that Peter Thiel, a billionaire funder of the movement, has expressed his belief that it is was a mistake to “give” women the vote…

Fundamentalists want a universally Christian America that

they insist existed at the time of the nation’s founding, objections from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Mark Twain, or Ambrose Bierce notwithstanding. White nationalists pine for a traditional white America, regardless of the presence from the beginning of racial differences and tensions.

Lofgren quotes Umberto Eco, who described what he termed “ur-fascist” tendencies: a faux-populism coupled with a railing against “elite” straw men; the habit of using a vocabulary similar to Newspeak in that it obscures rather than reveals meaning; contempt for the weak; and more. And he focuses upon the recent Supreme Court decisions undermining the right to personal autonomy and the separation of church and state.

Now that the Supreme Court has seen fit to read theocracy into the Constitution, Americans have begun to wake up to the political threat to their liberties and their way of life. But few have noticed how synergistic the rest of its rulings are with a religious-right campaign to wreck the constitutional order. Past campaign finance and congressional redistricting decisions have been a gift to a party that has given up on competitive electoral democracy in favor of Russian-style elections and public religion enforced by state diktat.

Obviously, women aren’t the only people threatened by this movement. Everyone whose fundamental right to self-determination has led them to live a life disapproved of by White Christian Nationalists is at risk.

Just think of us women as the canaries in the coal mine….


Republicans Are Coming For Your Birth Control

In the wake of Dobbs, spurred by a clear threat best articulated in Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would guarantee continued access to contraception.

Actually, that sentence is somewhat inaccurate: the Democrats in the House passed the measure; they were able to garner exactly eight Republican votes.

Think about that.

The measure passed 228 to 195, meaning that almost all Republicans refused to protect an unrestricted right to the purchase and use of contraception. Those eight votes represented only slightly more Republican support than two bills that the House passed the prior week, which would have guaranteed access to abortion. Almost all Republicans united in opposition to that measure.

Worse still, the linked article from the Times reports that the contraceptive bill is “almost certain to fail in the evenly divided Senate, where most Republicans are also likely to be opposed.”

Again–think about that. Today’s GOP wants government to be able to control one of the most intimate decisions citizens can make–a decision that is fundamentally private, a decision that is absolutely none of government’s business

“An extreme G.O.P., an extreme Supreme Court, they want to take away your freedom and your control over your own lives,” said Representative Angie Craig, Democrat of Minnesota. “We are in an absurd time.”

She said before the vote that “quite frankly, I’m appalled that we have to vote on this damn bill at all. This is not an extremist issue. This is an extremist G.O.P.”..

Half of the eight Republicans who broke with their party to support the measure are retiring from Congress, including Representatives Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Fred Upton of Michigan. The remainder — Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Nancy Mace of South Carolina and María Elvira Salazar of Florida — have sought to appeal to moderates and independent voters to bolster their re-election bids.

In Griswold v. Connecticut–a 1965 case–William O. Douglas’s majority opinion reflected the logic of its conclusion. He wrote “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.” The majority found a right to privacy–the doctrine of substantive due process that was explicitly undermined in Dobbs–in the language of several of the amendments, which Douglas noted would be difficult or impossible to respect without  the implicit recognition of such an underlying right. In a concurrence, Justice Goldberg found that same right in the Ninth Amendment, and Justices White and Harlan argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Wherever it resided–in a “penumbra” or the 14th Amendment–they agreed on its presence and importance.

The bottom line–a line virtually all Americans have come to rely upon–is that there is a limit to decisions that government may legitimately make. The very language of that libertarian premise I often quote indicates where that line is to be drawn: We the People have the right to live our lives in accordance with our own moral, ethical and religious beliefs, free of government restrictions, so long as we are not thereby harming the person or property of others, and so long as we are willing to grant an equal right to others.

Government, in other words, has the right–indeed, the obligation–to intervene when our behaviors are harming people who haven’t consented to that harm. Government must leave us alone–in Justice Brandeis felicitous formulation–otherwise. In my far less felicitous framing, the question is: who decides? If my beliefs or behaviors aren’t hurting anyone else, the decision must rest with me.

There can obviously be debates about the nature of harm. (Does a refusal to wear a seatbelt threaten others and justify seatbelt laws? how?) But that isn’t what today’s social issue debates are about. Today’s GOP is a White Nationalist Christian cult, intent upon breaching any right to self-determination that is inconsistent with its twisted theology–a theology not shared–indeed,rebutted– by many genuine Christians.

To the Americans who have relied on their right to direct their own lives for the past fifty years–who have pooh-poohed warnings about the Christian Taliban, confident that their right to self-determination was secure–Congress has sent a message. It can happen here.

In fact, it is happening. Right now.


The Cost Of Convenience

Every once in a while, I grudgingly agree with a curmudgeonly rant from my husband.

This particular rant is about bank-by-mail–our ability to authorize payments online and have the bank write the check and send it to the payee. It’s enormously convenient; no need to address envelopes, buy stamps, find a mailbox…

In fact, if there is a signal aspect to life in our digital world, it is the convenience that comes with our networked existence. Amazon visits my front door far more than the milkman used to–and thanks to the Amazon Key, the delivery person deposits whatever the package is in my front hall. If I don’t have time to go to the grocery, I can shop online and have Instacart or a similar service deliver what I need. If I don’t want to cook, but I’m not in the mood to go out, Clustertruck will bring me dinner from my favorite restaurant.

If I need information of virtually any kind, Doctor Google provides it; if I am curious about the status (or political opinions) of a friend or family member, there’s Facebook to fill me in. When my children or grandchildren are traveling, emails reassure me of their safety.

It’s a brave new world–but the old saying is right: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Amazon, Facebook and Google have made themselves indispensable to most of us–and in return, we provide them with reams of our personal information. They serve us, and we pay for that service with our privacy. Ditto the other convenient services we use.

It’s slightly different–and much more blatant–with the banks.

When my husband goes online to make a payment, the bank immediately deducts the amount of that payment from his account. The bank then produces and mails a check to the recipient. In the “olden days,” the amount of a check would be deducted from one’s account when it “cleared.” That is, the money would come out of your account when  payees presented the checks and received their money.

Now, in return for the convenience of online bill paying, the bank has the use of the float– the period of time that elapses between your online direction to pay X and the presentation by X of that check.

(This little trick also makes it incredibly difficult to stop payment; since the money has already been deducted from your account, the bank has a convoluted process that wasn’t there before.)

I hear him grouse about this every time my husband pays a bill, and although I’m willing to chalk it up to the cost of convenience, I know he’s right. It’s just one more clever way that one more business has figured out how to “monetize” the processes that have moved online. And I also know that I’m one of the “marks” who enable it all–I am perfectly willing to trade my information for the convenience of shopping from home. I’m addicted to the ease  of accessing any and all information from my laptop.

And I don’t want to hunt for my checkbook and stamps when paying a bill.

I’m the patsy that makes the ripoffs possible.


Reconsidering ID

I’ve always been reflexively opposed to the notion of a national ID card. Call it the civil libertarian in me, but such an identifier raises visions of police states past and privacy intrusions future. That said, I’ll admit this is not an issue I’ve really thought through–my distaste is more visceral than intellectual.

So I was grudgingly persuaded by Bill Keller’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  Keller’s point of departure was the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down most of the Arizona immigration law, but left intact the right of police to demand “papers” from people being detained for other reasons. As he pointedly asked, “What ‘papers’?” What sorts of identification do any of us carry that proves we are citizens? Wouldn’t employers and police officers be better served by the existence of a standard ID?

Keller acknowledges the privacy concerns.

 “The trick, and I won’t pretend it’s always easy, is to distinguish the reasonable and constructive from the invasive and excessive. We want the sales clerk at the Gap to know our credit card is good, but not to have access to our whole credit history. We want our doctors to share our health histories with one another, but probably not with our employers. We may or may not want retailers to know what kind of books we read, what kind of car we drive, where we are thinking of traveling. We may or may not want those who follow us on the Web to know our real-time location, or our real name.”

“This will not satisfy those who fear that any such mandate is potentially “a tool for social control,” as Chris Calabrese of the A.C.L.U. put it. But the only way to completely eliminate the risks of a connected world is to burn your documents, throw away your cellphone, cancel your Internet service and live off the grid.

As it happens, the proposal I described is already on the table. Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham included it in their menu for comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. For obvious reasons, they didn’t call it a national ID. They called it an “enhanced Social Security card.”

Like just about everything else, immigration reform is stuck in the mangle of election-year partisanship. And if Congress ever does revert to the business of solving problems, there should be many parts to a humane, sensible immigration bill — including expanded legal immigration and a path to citizenship for many of those already here. But a fraud-proof, limited-use national identification card is an essential part of the package.

Then the Arizona police can go back to doing their real jobs.”

I won’t say his argument entirely persuades me–but it’s undeniably logical, and worth more consideration than I have previously given the matter. Read the whole column, and see what you think.