Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Archive for September, 2010

Have him put a ring on it

No Wedding No Womb (NWNW): Another exhortation to African Americans to change their behaviour in order transform the rate of out of wedlock birth, and thus create better economic conditions for black women and children.

I normally avoid engaging with these sort of endeavours because discussions about out of wedlock birth in the African American community tend to come with a healthy dose of anti-feminism and moralising that puts me right off. After seeing the movement mentioned at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place and at Postbourgie I decided to take a look for myself, and saw much to gnash my teeth about, for example the presence of Mitch Albom’s fumduckery on the media page. Yes, I’m a real masochist.

What bothers me most is that NWNW does not do anything new. Christelyn Karazin, the movement’s founder, claimed that she is bringing together top bloggers, artists, and journalists who believe that out of wedlock birth is a key factor in the “emotional and economic enslavement that black women and their children continue to experience”. And therein lies the rub.

It should be noted that there is at least one study in a 1995 report on out of wedlock birth, which points out that 75 percent of African American Women were poor before they became single mothers:

Single motherhood is associated with higher poverty rates and higher rates of welfare receipt among women. It also is associated with higher rates of depression, unhappiness, low self-esteem and poor health (McLanahan and Booth 1989; Seltzer 1994; Brown and Eisenberg 1995). However, it is important to note that while the official poverty rate is 4 to 5 times as high in single mother families as in married-couple families, 45.7 versus 8.4 in 1992 (U.S. Census 1993), these differences greatly exaggerate the consequences of single motherhood per se. Women who become single mothers, either through divorce or a nonmarital birth, have less education and lower earnings capacity to begin with than women who marry and remain married. Their partners are also disadvantaged relative to other men. Mary Jo Bane found that about 25 percent of white women and about 75 percent of African American women were poor prior to becoming single mothers, suggesting that single motherhood accounts for no more than half of the higher poverty rates of single mothers as compared with married-couple families (Bane 1986).
Furthermore the birth rate for unmarried black women has been on a downwards trend for a long while now, and as I’ve mentioned before, the “astronomical” 72% out of wedlock birth rate Karazin cites is attributable to a decline in marital birth rates for black women.
The aim of the movement, as I understand it, is to search for solutions to improve the prospects for development of the African American community, yet all I see in articles like this, this, this, and this are the same old assertions of moral decline, and slut/poor/sex-shaming that are incongruent with a nuanced understanding of the available data.
The emphasis on personal choices that the appeals of endeavours like NWNW typically entail is misplaced because as G.D notes:
You have to actually change the conditions that inform the calculus by which people make the decisions they make. It’s annoying to have to even say this, but keeping black men out of jail or bringing up high school graduation rates or whatever might actually require more complex solutions than getting enough people to wag their fingers really, really hard.
Exactly. I would that rather than marriage and women’s sexuality NWNW emphasised expanding access to things like education, health care, family planning, affordable child care; the things that shape the choices people make.

Only evil-doers would object

I don’t quite know how to express just how disappointed I am with the Obama administration on civil liberties. I didn’t expect them to be saints, I mean the Bush years really did a number on the US zeitgeist with regards to executive power and the security/liberty question; and powers gained by a new administration are rarely given up voluntarily. I understood all that, so I kept my expectations low.

I thought my man Obama was really bothering the dog when he claimed the authority to order the extrajudicial execution of American citizens (because shut up that’s why!), but now the administration is preparing to propose a new law that would mandate government access to all online communications.

The same administration that criticised the UAE’s ban on blackberrys, wants the same ability to eavesdrop on all communications that they criticised the UAE for seeking. The chutzpah! Glenn Greenwald puts in the gom jabbar:

Amazingly, the administration had the temerity to condemn the UAE’s ban on Blackberries on the ground that it impedes “the free flow of information,” but in response, the UAE correctly pointed out how hypocritical that condemnation was:

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, said [State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley’s comments were disappointing and contradict the U.S. government’s own approach to telecommunication regulation.

“In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance — and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight — that Blackberry grants the U.S. and other governments and nothing more,” Otaiba said.

“Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement.” (Greenwald’s emphasis)

Right, of course. Who wouldn’t want to protect national security and assist law enforcement?

Slow-motion suicide

I shall call this act of political fumduckery the Democratic Party’s use of “second amendment remedies” on their own foot.

I actually think extending the tax cuts, even as a middle class only cut,  is a bad idea. I think the extra money will be saved or used to pay down debt rather than spent, which would be much more stimulative. Instead I think policy should get funds to people who are more likely to spend, i.e. the poor and unemployed.

Speaking politically however, a fight over tax cuts on the highest earners is chock full of opportunities to attack the GOP and show that the Democratic party is trying to stand up for the “middle class”, or actually has principles or something. Of course, that’s too much like right.

Count the coins in my strongbox

Ever since Will Saletan’s dalliance with White supremacy, I’ve kind of gone off of Slate Magazine. This however, from Tom Scocca (h/t Balloon Juice), is worth a look:

Now that America’s finance sector has recovered its health and the wealthiest class feels more secure about its ability to stay wealthy, economist Lawrence Summers announced yesterday that he will resign as head of the National Economy Council later this year. Having successfully guided the nation into a state of jobless recovery, President Obama’s lead economic advisor is turning his attention to job protection–namely, holding on to his own tenured Harvard professorship.


The new bottom billion

Caught a good discussion over at the Guardian last week on this thought provoking paper by Andy Sumner of the Institute of Development Studies.

Sumner presents data that points to a shift in the distribution of the world’s poor as the states in which they live have transformed from low to middle-income countries.

This shift -and fact that some of these countries have substantial resources at hand- points to a need for a rethink of aid strategies. As Jonathan Glennie writes:

… if Sumner is right (which he is), that means fundamentally changing the way we give aid and encourage poverty reduction. It is one thing transferring money to very poor countries – there is a logical argument for filling a savings gap, although one that I have criticised. But to transfer cash to countries like China and India that not only have nuclear power and space programmes, but also have their own multi-billion dollar aid programmes, is quite another. Aid money is irrelevant to them – should the traditional donors therefore just leave them to it?

The paper, and the whole discussion at the Guardian Data Blog, are well worth reading. Do check them out.

Time for a brown ribbon campaign?

Caught a story on a cholera outbreak in Nigeria that has spread to Chad and Cameroon (along with the requisite Africa-bashing/anti-black comments – my species never fails to disappoint me.) It made me think of this story I found in the Guardian on the relative lack of attention that is given to basic sanitation even though diarrhoea – a symptom of diseases like dysentery, typhoid, rotavirus and cholera – is a serious killer of children. It kills more children than AIDS and tuberculosis combined.

Sanitation opens the door to a whole load of development goals. People can work if they’re not sick with preventable diseases, it means more bums on seats in schools, less pressure on hospitals, and money is saved when governments in lower income countries do not have to spend their already scarce resources on containing outbreaks.

There’s also money to be made: human waste can be composted, or turned into bio-fuel. There are opportunities here for entrepreneurs to get involved in transport, manufacturing, and sales. Though in some contexts there may be taboos against handling waste – encouraging the creation of a new underclass like the Burakumin is a no-no.

Composting toilets are one possible solution, they’re more workable than sewage systems in countries with severe infrastructure challenges, you can avoid using large quantities of precious water to flush the waste away, and from anywhere between a couple of months to a couple of years you can produce fertiliser.

The main issue for advocates like Rose George is getting sanitation higher on the aid agenda. The brown stuff is just not sexy enough, not right now anyway. It’s hard to imagine many politicians gleefully posing for pictures in front of newly completed latrines.


Afghanistan is now more dangerous than it has ever been since the US invasion. The New York Times reports on the deteriorating security situation:

“We do not support the perspective that this constitutes ‘things getting worse before they get better,’ ” said Nic Lee, director of the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, “but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse.”

Just depressing.