It’s easy to assume that a person who behaves in a particular way might be on the spectrum or developmentally disabled in some way, especially these days. It has become more common for people to be diagnosed with things like ADHD, Aspergers, and other differences, even well into adulthood. We know more, socially, about autism, than we did 10 or 15 years ago; We’re more aware; But not as aware as some people would like to think.
Having a disability (or any specific category of life-experience ) certainly affects the lens through which someone is seeing the world and it always offers a different insight. However, having a disability does not give someone the right to label or “out” others that they perceive as having the same disability. Pro tip, this rule applies to most other things — we all remember the rule about assumptions, don’t we?
I just read a piece in Insider Magazine — ‘Elf’ makes fun of disabled adults through Buddy — whether purposefully or not. To say that this piece is problematic is not a big enough term, so lets unpack this unexpected Christmas present together!
Here’s problem one. The writer of this piece suggests that Buddy The Elf has a cognitive disability because of his behavior.
What Is Wrong With Outing A Fictional Character?
In the Insider article, Buddy the Elf — as played by Will Ferrell, is “outed” as having a cognitive disability. But who cares, because he’s just a fictional character, right? Wrong.
So, here’s the scoop- it’s actually quite important that we do not mislabel fictional characters. Suppose this piece I’m responding to was well received; suppose five million people were like “Yeah, right on. Elf was inappropriate!” And then those five million people might each tell two friends about that point of view.
Fictional characters are just one of many cultural tools we use to interpret the world, so today we need to talk about Buddy the Elf and why he is one hundred percent not on the spectrum or otherwise cognitively different.
Not only do I feel this is a misstep on the part of the writer, the bigger issue is that this was posted (even as an “opinion piece”) by such a big-name publication.
The completely unanimous rage in the comments on the Insider’s Facebook page tells me I’m not the only one who might hold this point of view!
I was born with a disability, so I thought for a moment about why this article brought me such immediate rage. I mean, what’s the harm of a little critical thought about something, even if it’s not accurate. I had to ask myself whether I can really feel disgruntled over an opinion piece- because, after all, who cares- just an opinion.
But that’s exactly what the problem is- this wasn’t presented as an opinion- it was presented as a blanket judgement that affects a lot of people. It’s not someone addressing a suspicion and toying with an idea- it’s an admonition of a beloved movie.
It’s not a well-thought out criticism or a critical thought piece- it’s an accusatory outing of a character with a claim that a beloved film is “making fun of disabled people” when it is not doing that at all.
This key problem in the surface analysis of why Elf is allegedly problematic shows us a bigger overarching problem —
Context Is Everything
This piece is problematic because it makes a large and harmful assumption and fails to look at where things are actually coming from. The writer claims that because Buddy the Elf eats cotton balls and believes in Santa Claus (as an adult) he’s exhibiting signs of disability. Out of context, that could make sense, but not if you’ve actually watched the film and thought critically about it.
Stepping apart from this as a piece of art and one of the BEST Christmas movies of all time, I can take into account where that sentiment is coming from and how a disabled person can see similarities to those they’ve been in community with. But these aren’t just silly speculations, they are problematic.
Calling out specific characteristics as “this is something disabled people do” is actually harmful and judgemental. A better choice would be to look very deep before making this accusation of a movie or worse, a person in the real world.
This is a very simple analogy, but it makes me think of the fidget toys that are all the rage these days. I was looking at one earlier- a fidget ring. I don’t have any “need” for a fidget toy, though I think they’re fun!
But if you see me with a fidget ring, that doesn’t give you a “clue” about me. That’s just not how it works, friends! If someone saw me fidgeting with a fidget ring and they used that as evidence in their armchair analysis of a perceived disability, that’s super problematic, and that’s basically what this article did.
Let’s just talk film plot and clear up who Buddy is and debunk this accusation so it never ever surfaces again — I mean, we’re still in a pandemic — haven’t we all been through enough? There are actual, offensive things all around us, but Buddy the Elf (as played by Will Ferrell) is not one of them.
Why Is Buddy The Elf The Way He Is?
Buddy the Elf is a human who was raised among elves. He’s not disabled or cognitively different. When people use Buddy and use the word special, they’re not talking about a disability, they’re talking about how he is different- he’s more of a different species. I mean, are elves even technically human? In most Christmas movies, elves live indefinitely, and obviously, logic tells us they have superhuman powers to make things at factory speed.
Buddy the Elf doesn’t only make a handful of toys while his peers make hundreds because of a disability- he makes a measly handful of etch a sketches because he’s a human. He’s an average human with big man-hands- and this is a toy that’s probably made by a machine? That’s a guess. Honestly, I don’t know how Etch A Sketches are made…
Buddy is not hyper-fixating (and exhibiting signs of autism) when he does an overnight makeover of the department store for Santa’s arrival- he does it because that’s what he learned at the North Pole.
Now if the movie had gone in a different direction to make Buddy actually disabled, that would be incredibly offensive. But no, the writers and production team didn’t “fail to commit” to the idea- they didn’t have the idea.
According to the article in question, “Buddy is a hero… his implied disability is an afterthought in the film, which is perhaps a sad metaphor for how disabled people are often treated as an afterthought by society.”
This accusatory statement about Buddy having an “implied disability” is misinformed, and it’s problematic. It’s problematic to decide that someone has an “implied disability” without backing it up, and even with evidence, to really make that kind of argument denouncing something this way in regards to mistreating a potential issue like this, there should be a healthcare professional involved.
The statement about the implied disability being an “afterthought” is where this article really becomes hurtful. The thing is- if it was just an exploration about whether there is anything implied, that would be slightly less tone deaf, but turning it into a metaphor about society dismissing disabled people is why this type of discourse should be backed up very carefully.
No, Friends. Buddy is NOT Autistic.
However, here is something you probably missed if you were busy judging this fictional character or the delightful actor and production team who brought him to life.
Not only is Elf not problematic or tone deaf, it actually does something skillful and fantastic. It normalizes excitement as something adults can have without it being attributed to have cognitive differences.
Yes, I understand the straws you’re grasping for. Buddy is particular- he’s ridiculous. He’s LITERAL. As an adult woman with no disabilities, I relate really heavily to Buddy’s ridiculous personality- his joy. And on the opposite side, he also runs the full gamut, showing us his ignorance — the scene where he calls a little person an “Elf” actually should have been enough for people to avoid picking on this film. The jokes in that scene were not at the expense of anyone, nor was it a sign of mental illness- it’s about a person who has experienced one reality and has no reason (yet) to relate to NYC as so different from his upbringing at The North Pole.
While Buddy is decidedly not on the spectrum, I don’t believe he does any disservice to people who have been disenfranchised for behaviors they might see in Buddy. If anything, Buddy’s exuberance and confusing behavior normalizes different personality types. It challenges people to look at others and stop judging them.
This Insider piece was not the first to bring up the theory that Buddy is Autistic. Huffpost addressed it in 2016, and many Autism Blogs have taken a ride on this mini-train as well. But what is really egregious about this new hot take is that it so deeply misses the point, and turns an assumption into a major judgement. But then again, isn’t that what always comes of assumptions?
Friday marked the beginning of one of the darkest periods in American history. The end of Roe v Wade, which is the decision that legalized women’s reproductive healthcare rights in America, aka “abortion.”
A Supreme Court made up of fanatics and lunatics, whose vision is a fascist theocracy, has, in one fell swoop, eviscerated American democracy. Five people have taken the most basic of rights away from 330 million. 70%, by some counts, 80%, of Americans don’t want this. This is how democracy ends.
Let me put in context just how incredibly dark this period really is. It’s one of the darkest in modern history, period. I can’t think of another example, certainly not in the developed world, where such fundamental rights, and so many of them, have been lost, for so many, in one fell swoop.
America went half a century backwards today — and more. That is an incredibly grim thing to see. It has almost never happened before in modern history, outside perhaps the Weimar Republic or the Soviet Union. This is how serious the stakes are.
What are those stakes? Let us all understand them with crystal clarity. This isn’t just “the end of abortion” — though that itself is huge. It is something much, much more grotesque than that. This is the end of a modern, free society for women in America. Yes, really. How so?
Anticipating this, Red State after Red State passed laws that were almost ludicrously Gilead-like. Women were to be informed on. Citizen-vigilantes were to be empowered to arrest them, sue them, and deputize themselves as agents of a theocratic state. Women were to be policed by everyone. “Aiding and abetting” them was criminalized. The Morality Police of Iran or Saudi Arabia had arrived in America. That sounds bad enough until you think about it, and then you understand what bad really is.
What does all that mean? Well, it means, for example, that if you’re a woman, sitting at a cafe, talking to a friend. The guy at the next table — a self-proclaimed “Patriot,” now carrying a gun in public, thanks to the very same Supreme Court, overhears you. And he decides that you’ve crossed the line. But he’s a deputy, because, well, anyone and everyone is. He turns you in. Or maybe he arrests you. For what? For a thoughtcrime. Wanting not to have a child. Are you even pregnant? Maybe, maybe not. Now the burden of proof is on you. And the friend you were speaking to? He’s arrested, too.
Grim enough for you? Then consider the next step. In some Red States, women were to be prevented from leaving the state. But how was anyone to know why a woman was leaving the state? Knowing would entail building a whole infrastructure to surveil a policewoman. Ma’am, pull over. Can you show us your phone, please? We need to inspect all your social media, emails, and correspondence. You need to prove it to us. We’re the Stasi — and we’re here to check up on…
Your purity. Your faith.
This is how a democracy dies.
This is the end of abortion. It’s also the end of democracy. How so? Well, think about the examples above. They are about to become true. But what is really happening in them? Basic rights no longer exist. Privacy. Expression. Association. Movement. The most basic rights of all — poof, gone. Not just for women. For everyone, because, well, anyone can “aid and abet” a woman.
This is actually how a democracy dies.
I want you to stop and think about that. Because Americans have been making fools of themselves for a while now. The process goes like this. Pundits tell them it can’t happen here. Intelligent observers like me, Sarah Kendzior, take your pick, say it is and it will. Denial prevails in the end. Nobody thinks it through. And it happens here.
This is really the beginning of end of democracy. Let me say it again. This is really the beginning of the end of democracy. 26 states already have trigger laws on the books criminalizing women’s rights. Many, in ways like the above. But those laws are hardly benign — sorry, you can’t go to an abortion clinic. They go much, much further than that. They are attacks on the fundamental fabric of democracy itself, the fabric of basic rights. They eviscerate freedoms of everything from privacy to expression to association. Now, you have to watch what you say. Who you say it to you. Whom you meet. What you write down.
America? Or the Soviet Union? Or Nazi Germany? Certainly, in free societies, you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to prove your morality, faith, rectitude, piety, and purity, to anyone. Because it’s nobody’s business but yours, and maybe you don’t think of it much at all. But now? In more than half of America? You do.
That isn’t democracy. Nor is it democracy when five unelected people who are lunatics and fanatics can take the most basic rights away from 80% of people — against their wishes. Stop and think about that, too. Five unelected people are taking the most basic rights away from society — far from just “abortion,” but right down to what you can say where you can go, what you can think, express, write, and want — against 80% of their wishes.
This is the beginning of the end of democracy. I’m not exaggerating or kidding. This is it. And you cannot be in denial about it anymore.
Why not? Well, how did it happen? Let’s think about it. The Republicans turned into a fanatical, neo-fascist machine. And they began to appoint genuine, bona fide lunatics to the Supreme Court. An alleged sexual predator, who cried and whined and shouted at his confirmation, sneering. A woman who’s a member of a religious sect which demands women who used to literally be called Handmaids, until it was bad press, be literally “submissive” to men. This is who is on America’s Supreme Court.
What were such people obviously going to do? You don’t appoint lunatics like this if you want, I don’t know, a Canadian healthcare system. You appoint them when you want a fascist theocracy. But something strange happened. When those of us who had survived and studied collapse before warned of this, our own side attacked us. Hey, give them the benefit of the doubt! You don’t know that woman is going to take everyone’s right away in the name of God — there’s no evidence of that! LOL — how much more do you need?
We are on the same side. We alarmists, and the sober ones who dismiss us as fantasists. We want the same things. But there is a big difference between us. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and we do. We have gotten everything right — all of it — from fascist collapse to theocracy, to authoritarianism, to the coup, to how this terrible giant leap backward would play out.
We have got to come together. They need to recognize that we have been right — you, me, etcetera — and we need to be able to counsel them to use their power in wiser ways. Or else the bad guys keep winning. What does that look like?
Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see what happens next, because one of those lunatic Justices already drew an outline. Next to fall? All the cases alongside Roe, guaranteed rights for anyone in any way outside theocratic-fascist lines. Gay rights, rights to gay marriage, equality, representation. Rights to contraception. And then, of course, “interracial” rights — the return of segregation.
The lunatics talk about this openly. They slaver over it. The hard right is ecstatic that Justice Thomas laid out an outline for America to become a theocratic-fascist state. But where is the center-left?
The vision the lunatics have for America is clear now. And it will not do to spend even one more second in denial about it. That vision culminates in taking every modern right away from everyone. In Clarence Thomas’s opinion, he writes: “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, & Obergefell.” That’s contraception, same-sex relationships, and gay marriage, respectively. They are not even being subtle about their plans. This is plain to see.
No more gay rights. No more interracial marriage, or even relationships. No more teaching kids what a modern, free society is. Forced birthing for women. No more privacy in the bedroom, the living room, the cafe, anywhere. No more, no more, no more. All these things are to be criminalized, in the same that women’s rights have been criminalized.
Did your kid do something gay? Time to turn him in. Wait, was he reading the wrong book? I’m going to turn your whole family in. Was that man wearing something that could be gay? Wait, did you see those two — they’re not even the same race! Hold on — we need to check. Are you dating outside your race? Is your kid exhibiting homosexual tendencies? Is that song talking about being gay? Does that book say women should have rights? Did you use contraception? You’re a criminal. You can’t say that, express that, meet people who say that, talk about that, want that, think that. We’ll check. Want to ever leave the state? How about a random stop to check your phone for evidence of being gay, having sex outside marriage, using contraceptives, or having a relationship outside your race?
This is where it’s going. Stop the denial. Stop it. Jesus, for the love of all that’s holy, stop it. I know what a lot of you thought reading that last paragraph. Scary, but it can’t happen here. That’s also what you thought about Roe vs Wade, five, ten years ago. And now here we are. Stop the denial. The first thing that scholars and survivors of social collapse have to teach you is that it happens in a blitzkrieg — faster, harder, swifter than you think. Like an avalanche.
Stop the denial and understand that this is real, and no, they won’t stop at this. Their vision is totalitarian. They want a totalized society, where they have total control of bodies, thoughts, actions, interactions, relationships, and possibilities. They will not stop until they have that, because that is what fascism and theocracy both are — totalized visions of moral order. They won’t stop at this. They will go all the way.
You want to know how to fight them. There are so, so many ways. A party that genuinely wanted to fight for democracy? It’d lead a general strike, right now. It would bring the nation to a standstill, and demand that these rogue institutions be reformed. It would keep that strike going as long as necessary.
It would impeach and remove justices for lying under oath. That’s an obvious step to take. When public officials lie under oath, they are derelict in their most fundamental duty. Steps must be taken to remove them from the office. Not should, but must — because otherwise, anyone can say anything, contest any office, and nothing means anything anymore. It’s the basic, primary responsibility of a party to remove public officials who lie under oath — especially Supreme Court Justice. That should be happening, too.
And such a party would reform these broken institutions. It’d expand — aka “stack” — the court. Why should five people have that much power in a democracy — forever? It’d end lifetime tenure. It’d put in mechanisms of recourse for obviously undemocratic decisions. It would codify basic rights into law, and then go even further than that — it would draft a whole new constitutional amendment, to redouble just how inalienable basic rights like speech, freedom, association, expression, and movement really are.
It would spark a grassroots movement, because, remember, 80% of Americans don’t want this. It would unify people and lead them to organize themselves to challenge these corrupt, horrific, malign institutions, and restore optimism and faith in self-governance.
My point isn’t that the Democrats will do that. Quite the opposite. My point is to teach you that, yes, even in social collapse, it’s possible to fight for democracy. Countries do it all the time. But it takes more than what Americans know. It’s not about trending on Twitter or escaping into Marvel-Movie land. It’s about getting real. And demanding better. Should there be a general strike? Should justice who lie under oath be impeached and removed from office? Should broken institutions which are fundamentally undemocratic be reformed? Of course.
But Americans need to begin genuinely demanding all that. Not acting like it’s impossible, and then retreating into apathy, doom, gloom, and despair. They need to barrage their representative with messages, arrive at their offices, and demand it. The right-wing does it, don’t they? They do it so much and so well that they literally have little kits to organize pressure campaigns.
This is the development of an institution known as “the silent majority.” When that’s 80% of people, and they’ve grown so fatalistic, so hopeless, that they accept five people taking their most basic rights away — something is terribly wrong. It tells us that the party whose job it is to defend democracy has failed to galvanize them, teach them, to lead them.
And so the people must lead themselves. This is not a game. It’s not a drill, a joke, or some kind of childish fantasy. This is it.
This is the beginning of the end of democracy. It’s the endgame, and it’s almost checkmate. There’s still time for a few moves left. But Americans have to learn to make them, instead of sitting there, helpless, in despair. We are Americans, goddammit. We went to the moon and defeated the Nazis. Don’t tell me we can’t. That’s not who we are. We do it because we can. We had better begin remembering that, now — or else all really is lost.
(SideNote: I want to say something, as a woman. We knew this was going to happen. The draft was leaked. This wasn’t a surprise. And yet, the Dems did nothing. We went through the cycle of outrage, the Dems did some handwringing, and then… nothing. No strike, no action, no organizing, no mobilizing to prevent this from happening. If you want things to change, you have to be prepared to be relentless. I no longer see that spirit in Americans, except for the far right. They keep taking and taking from you — your rights, your livelihoods, your kids’ lives — and nothing ever changes. When will enough be enough? Will it ever? If not now, when half the population has had their rights taken away, when? Are we just going to sleepwalk into Gilead?
I don’t think men understand how it feels. To know that the government is inside your body. To know that your body is a political battleground, that is no longer your own. It is a violation. It is violent. And that is the point. To punish women for the “sin” of being sexually active. To put women in their place, to remind us that our bodies aren’t ours. They belong to men. To externalize costs to women, because that is what patriarchy is built on. So to me, I see the inaction that came after Roe, the way both left and right use us as pawns in a political game, as proof of just how much patriarchy hates women. And that’s how I really feel. I feel hated right now.
And I am furious. I am white hot with rage. I am furious at the far right, who dehumanize us and hate us. I am furious at the Dems, who did not care enough about us to codify Roe when they had the chance. I am furious at the inaction. To me, it says: that women weren’t worth the fight. I am furious that I have to explain to people that they won’t stop at abortion, that contraception is next, that America is going to become a country, save for a few liberal havens, where women are forced to become pregnant, and give birth. Like chattel. That’s what we are now. Again.
I am furious that I have to be furious. But that is a fact of life being a woman in patriarchy. We’ve fought and won the right to vote, to own property, to have our own bank accounts, to be seen as people, to be full members of society. But to do those things, we were relentless. We have to be again.
On this day, remember Gerri Santoro, bear witness to what happened to her. See the reality of it. Don’t hide from it. And say, “we won’t go back.”)
Ever since that fateful day in November of 2016, as the results were coming in and the numbers kept going up and up for the Republican candidate that had his whole life handed to him, never having to work hard or break a sweat (okay, maybe walking up the stairs) won the presidency, I felt a sick feeling growing in my stomach. I was at a friend’s apartment at an election party, I had to excuse myself because as the results became apparent I became physically ill and went outside into that cool, crisp November night hoping that it would help, I was suddenly overtaken by the need to water a bush and was shortly reintroduced to my dinner that I had eaten not that long before.
I dreaded the direction of this country, and I have been right to be afraid, for myself and for my fellow women. Fortunately, I live in a state with some common sense, to protect the women, but ever since that November and even before that I feared such a thing was going to happen, I believe that if any male doesn’t want to fight for this should be forced to have to experience what a woman goes through every month – a period or as I like to name it so aptly – Shark Week – you are welcome to use it, and then following that experience what its like to go through all nine months of pregnancy including labor and childbirth, guess what would happen real quick – Roe v Wade would be signed into law– immediately.
Reading the leaked draft of a majority opinion authored by Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito strongly suggests that the court will rule to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. These two landmark cases have upheld the right to an abortion nationwide for the last half century. If the final ruling largely follows what is sketched out in the leaked draft, abortion services will be drastically curtailed, if not outright banned, in over half the country.
Abortion is often framed as a “culture war” issue, distinct from material “bread and butter” economic issues. In reality, abortion rights and economic progress are deeply interconnected, and the imminent loss of abortion rights means the loss of economic security, independence, and mobility for millions of women. The fall of Roe will be an additional economic blow, as women in the 26 states likely to ban abortion already face an economic landscape of lower wages, worker power, and access to health care.
Women’s economic lives, livelihoods, and mobility are at the heart of the reasoning to overrule Roe.
In the draft majority opinion, Justice Alito dismissed the argument in Casey that women had organized their lives, relationships, and careers with the availability of abortions services, writing “that form of reliance depends on an empirical question that is hard for anyone—and in particular, for a court—to assess, namely the effect of the abortion right on society and in particular on the lives of women.” In fact, this empirical question has been definitively assessed and answered. A rich and rigorous social science literature has examined both the detrimental effect of a denied abortion on women’s lives, as well as the individual and societal economic benefits of abortion legalization, as detailed in the thorough amicus brief filed in Dobbs on behalf of over 100 economists.
Some of the economic consequences of being denied an abortion include a higher chance of being in poverty even four years after; a lower likelihood of being employed full time; and an increase in unpaid debts and financial distress lasting years. Laws that restrict abortion providers, so-called “TRAP” laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), have led to women in those states being less likely to move into higher-paying occupations.
On the flip side, environments in which abortion is legal and accessible have lower rates of teen first births and marriages. Abortion legalization has also been associated with reduced maternal mortality for Black women. The ability to delay having a child has been found to translate to significantly increased wages and labor earnings, especially among Black women, as well as an increased likelihood of educational attainment. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen concluded that “eliminating the rights of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”
The draft opinion of this overtly partisan Supreme Court ignores the rigorous data and empirical studies demonstrating the significant economic consequences of this decision. In doing so, it lays bare the cruel and misogynistic politics that motivate it. Justice Alito’s dismissal of claims that forcing women to bear an unwanted pregnancy imposes a heavy burden is shockingly glib, as he simply asserts “that federal and state laws ban discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, that leave for pregnancy and childbirth are now guaranteed by law in many cases, that the costs of medical care associated with pregnancy are covered by insurance or government assistance….”
Every statement in this casual litany is wildly misleading. Women are still routinely fired for being pregnant, close to 9 in 10 workers lackedpaid leave in 2020, the costs of maternity care with insurance have risen sharply and constitute a serious economic burden for even middle-income families. And many of the states certain or likely to ban abortion after the fall of Roe have not expanded Medicaid, leaving women without insurance facing much steeper costs—particularly in the immediate post-partum period. And, of course, our failed health care system often imposes the ultimate cost of all on pregnant women: The U.S. rate of maternal mortality, especially for Black women, ranks last among similarly wealthy countries. In short, the potential costs of bearing a child are high indeed, and it is women who should decide if and when they wish to shoulder them.
Recognizing that abortion is an economic issue is an important step in building support for protecting women’s right of access. But this recognition also allows us to see the potential fall of Roe v. Wade as a key piece in a broader politics and economics of control. Twenty-six states currently have laws or constitutional amendments on their books that ban abortion. If Roe is declared overruled, these bans will go into effect. Low- and middle-income women, especially Black and Brown women, will bear the brunt of the impact. Many of the states with preexisting abortion bans held at bay by Roe are also states that have created an economic policy architecture of low wages, barely functional or funded public services, at-will employment, and no paid leave or parental support. In these states, the denial of abortion services is one more piece in a sustained project of economic subjugation and disempowerment.
26 states have “trigger bans” that will set in immediately after the SCOTUS decision, pre-Roe bans or extreme limits, and likely bans. If a state is a so-called “right-to-work” state that makes it harder for workers to collectively bargain and unionize, whether the state has expanded Medicaid and the rate of incarceration per 100,000 people in that state. While wages and access to health care (through Medicaid) are relatively obvious measures of well-being, so-called “right-to-work” laws are also useful to look at as worker power and unionization also have strong connections to economic, social, and physical health. Mass incarceration and the criminal justice system are also deeply intertwined with racial and economic inequality, from the impact of a criminal record on employment and earnings to the intergenerational effects on families and communities.
It is no coincidence that the states that will ban abortion first are also largely the states with the lowest minimum wages, states less likely to have expanded Medicaid, states more likely to be anti-union “Right-to-Work” states, and states with higher-than-average incarceration rates. For example, among the states which will ban abortion, the average minimum wage is $8.39, compared with $11.48 in the states that have abortion access. Similarly, 10 of the 26 anti-abortion states have not expanded Medicaid, and all but two of the states are anti-union “right-to-work” states. While the nationwide rate of incarceration is 419 per 100,000 people, in the 26 anti-abortion states the average incarceration rate is 439 per 100,000 people, compared with 272 for the states without abortion restrictions. The consequences of low wages and lack of access to health care, including abortion services, falls especially hard on Black women in many of these states. There is a long history of racism motivating political organization, like the rise of “right-to-work” legislation in the Jim Crow south, or the complicated combination of anti-abortion politics and backlash against desegregation efforts during the political realignment of the 1970s.
Policymakers and advocates must recognize that the fall of Roe is an economic issue and would be one more victory for the economics of control and disempowerment—low wages, little worker power, and rising disinvestment. Reproductive justice is key to economic justice and protects women’s humanity, dignity, and the right to exert freedom over their own choices in the economy.
From the NY Times:
The United States now joins a very small group of countries that have tightened abortion laws in recent years, as opposed to loosening them. Three countries have done so since 1994: Poland, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. In that period, 59 countries have expanded access, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Under Roe, the United States has been unusual in allowing abortion for any reason until around 23 weeks. Yet in many countries with earlier cutoffs, abortion is allowed for a wide variety of reasons.
From The Guardian:
The supreme court just overturned the landmark Roe v Wade case, which granted women in the US the right to terminate a pregnancy. A reversal of this magnitude is almost unprecedented, particularly on a case decided nearly 50 years ago.
The extraordinarily rare move will allow more than half of states to ban abortion, with an immediate and enduring impact on tens of millions of Americans.
The court decided there is no constitutional right to abortion in a case called Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In reaching that decision, the conservative-majority court overturned Roe v Wade, from 1973.
Historically, the court has overturned cases to grant more rights. The court has done the opposite here, and its decision will restrict a constitutional right generations of Americans have grown up taking for granted.
As a result of the reversal, states will again be permitted to ban or severely restrict abortion, changes that will indelibly alter the national understanding of liberty, self-determination, and personal autonomy.
Twenty-six states are expected to do so immediately, or as soon as practicable. This will make abortion illegal across most of the south and midwest.
In these states, women and other people who can become pregnant will need to either travel hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider or self-manage abortions at home through medication or other means.
However, anti-abortion laws are not national. The US will have a patchwork of laws, including restrictions and protections, because some Democratic-led states such as California and New York expanded reproductive rights in the run-up to the decision.
Even so, new abortion bans will make the US one of just four nations to roll back abortion rights since 1994, and by far the wealthiest and most influential nation to do so. The other three nations to curtail abortion rights are Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. More than half (58%) of all US women of reproductive age – or 40 million people – live in states hostile to abortion.
Across most states, this will happen quickly. Thirteen states have abortion bans “triggered” by a reversal of Roe v Wade, though the laws vary in their enforcement dates. Louisiana, for example, has a trigger law that is supposed to take effect immediately. Idaho has a trigger ban that goes into effect in 30 days.
Other states have abortion bans that pre-date the Roe decision, but have been unenforceable in the last five decades. Michigan has a pre-Roe ban that is currently the subject of a court challenge.
A final group of states intends to ban abortion very early in pregnancy, often before women know they are pregnant. One such state is Georgia, where abortion will be banned at six weeks. Several states, such as Texas, have multiple bans in place.
In many cases, court challenges under state constitutions are likely, and experts believe there will be chaos for days or weeks as states implement bans.
Can the federal government stop this?
The most effective protection against state abortion bans is a federal law, which would precede the states. Public opinion favors such statute – 85% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances.
Such a law would need the majority support of the House of Representatives, a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and a signature from Joe Biden to pass. A majority of members of the House of Representatives support an abortion rights statute, as does the White House.
However, Republicans are almost certain to block abortion rights laws in the Senate, which is evenly split with Democrats. One Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has repeatedly crossed party lines to vote against abortion rights. That leaves just 49 Democrats, far short of the support needed to pass such a measure.
To overcome the evenly split Senate, Democrats would need to win landslide victories in the upcoming midterm elections. However, despite the fact that popular opinion favors abortion rights, it is unclear how the midterms could be swayed by the issue.
And, regardless of the outcome of the next election, Dobbs will forever change life in the US. The lives of individuals will be irrevocably altered as people are denied reproductive healthcare, face long journeys or are forced to give birth.
Not Just A Social Issue But An Economic One, As Well
No matter which side of the Roe v. Wade debate you lean towards, it’s clear from the data that abortion access is not only a social issue but also an economic issue.
Women in the workforce are essential to our economy. Caregivers are essential to our economy. Overturning Roe v. Wadecan impact women’s ability to take care of themselves and the children they have now or in the future. Approximately 60% of women in the U.S. who have abortions are already mothers, and approximately one-third of women seeking an abortion say their reason for wanting to terminate the pregnancy is to care for children they already have, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“This is an issue that affects women’s own decision-making about their lives and their families,” says Diana Greene Foster, PhD, professor at the University of California San Francisco and lead author of the landmark Turnaway Study, which examines the effects of unwanted pregnancies on women’s lives. “It’s not irresponsible people who are in this situation; it is people who are trying to make a responsible decision to take care of themselves and their kids. When we take that decision away from people and instead let the government decide when they have a baby, their outcomes are worse. The ramifications are just humongous not only for that individual, but for her family. We’re talking about overriding people’s own life course and family decisions.”
The leaked draft opinion states, “Americans who believe abortion should be restricted press countervailing arguments about modern developments. They note that attitudes about the pregnancy of unmarried women have changed drastically; that federal and state laws ban discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, that leave for pregnancy and childbirth are now guaranteed by law in many cases, and that the costs of medical care associated with pregnancy are covered by insurance or government assistance…”
Caitlin Myers, professor of economics at Middlebury College and who, along with more than 150 other economists, filed an amicus brief to highlight the impacts of abortion legalization in the U.S. and model what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned, says, “There is a mountain of rigorous evidence on these questions, so it is completely unsupportable for the court to say, ‘We don’t have any way to know if this is going to impact anybody.’ Mississippi in their argument is basically telling us we have all these policy advances that now make it possible for people to balance parenthood and work with little sacrifice. I don’t even know why you need an economist to tell you that argument is wrong. If you know any working parents, you know they struggle with that balance. There shouldn’t be any disagreement that the American economy is especially challenging for working mothers. We should be able to acknowledge that as a fact.”
Here are some ways that the research illustrates how overturning Roe v. Wade could impact the economy, and society at large.
Decreased workforce participation. When a larger number of the population are employed, their paychecks mean more money to spend on food, clothing, entertainment, and goods that in turn increase demand and help fuel the GDP. It’s clear that parental status has an impact on women’s labor force participation. For example, the fact that women continue to shoulder the majority of caregiving duties may be a contributing factor prompting 43% of highly-qualified working mothers to leave their careers at some point, according to the Harvard Business Review. The financial implications are big: Women lose an average of 18% of their earning power when they take an off-ramp and 37% of their earning power when they spend three or more years out of the workforce.
There is also research showing the specific impact of abortion access for women in the workforce: The amicus brief filed by economists found abortion had a bigger impact on women’s labor force participation than birth control, leading to increased wages, especially for Black women. Women who were unable to get an abortion were three times more likely to be unemployed after six months as compared with women who were able to get an abortion, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
“For people who are denied abortions, we see an immediate drop in full-time employment. Yes, public assistance goes up, but it’s not enough to mitigate the loss of employment income, because public assistance isn’t enough to support a family,” says Dr. Foster. “Some people aren’t eligible because of the number of kids they’ve already had or they time out. You can see higher levels of food stamps for people who are denied abortions. Another metric we ask people is whether they have enough money for basic living needs. We see that people who are denied abortions are more likely to report they don’t have enough money, and it lasts for the whole five years that we studied people.”
The Turnaway Study from the University of California San Francisco was a research project following 1,000 women for five years with unwanted pregnancies, some who were able to have abortions and others who were turned away from the procedure. A 24-year old woman quoted in the Turnaway Study shared, “Pregnancy definitely has a negative impact on people’s financial well-being. Because it is very, very difficult to find a job when you’re pregnant, to keep a job when you’re pregnant, and to find or maintain a job with a baby, especially if your partner is a [explicit] and doesn’t want to help. So, I think that on that end, the incidence of domestic violence skyrockets, because you’re financially dependent on your partner because you have to be home with the kid.”
If state-wide abortion restrictions were eliminated, an estimated 505,000 more women aged 15 to 44 would be in the labor force who would earn over $3 billion dollars annually, and already-employed women would earn $101.8 billion more—helping to fuel the state’s economy, according to an Institute For Women’s Policy Research report.
Decreased earning potential. While younger women may be closing the wage gap in some major cities, any gains made diminish once they have children when women’s wages drop due in part to bias, discrimination, and lack of support infrastructure. The most recent data from the National Women’s Law Center shows mothers working full-time, year-round outside the home are paid 75 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. The gap widens based on race and ethnicity: Latina mothers are paid 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers; Native American mothers are paid 50 cents; Black mothers are paid 52 cents; and white, non-Hispanic mothers are paid 71 cents.
“What we see right now, just like in the 70s, is that childbearing is the single biggest explanatory factor for gender gaps in economic outcomes,” says Myers. “If you look at data on men and women’s earnings, for instance, they tend to be pretty similar up until the point that they become parents. That’s when men’s earnings are not impacted or even increase slightly, but for women, it falls off a cliff and it is a permanent shock.”
Moreover, safe and affordable childcare is key for enabling women to stay in the workforce, but childcare costs have increased 41% during the pandemic. Parents now spend an average of $14,117 annually on center-based childcare providers, finds a LendingTree report.
The Turnaway Study research found that women denied an abortion who had to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term had four times greater odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level. It also found that being denied an abortion lowered a woman’s credit score, increased a woman’s amount of debt and increased the number of their negative public financial records, such as bankruptcies and evictions. New research from SSNR finds that abortion restrictions could further push women out of the workforce or impact them in terms of taking lower-paying jobs.
Negative impact on children’s financial wellbeing. A lack of abortion access can not only impact women, but also the financial wellbeing of their children. The Turnaway Study found children born as a result of women’s being denied abortion procedures are more likely to live below the federal poverty level than children born from a subsequent pregnancy to women who received the abortion.
“The research on women unable to get an abortion shows that existing kids are more likely to be living in poverty, more likely to be living in a home without enough money for basic living needs and are also less likely to achieve developmental gross motor, fine motor, language and social emotional milestones,” says Dr. Foster.
Negative impact on equality. Access to abortion can impact gender and racial equality by enabling women to choose when to become parents, and therefore have greater control over their education, careers, and economic security. The amicus brief reported that legalized abortion reduced teen motherhood by 34% and reduced teen marriage by 20%. For Black women, who have a higher rate of maternal mortality, the estimated reduction in the birth rate was two to three times greater than that for white women, and Black women also experienced a 28 to 40% decline in maternal mortality due to the legalization. In addition, the brief reports a 22 to 24% increase in the probability that Black teenage women graduated high school and a 23 to 27% increase in their probability of attending college.
“People who seek abortions are disproportionately people of color, so it’s already hitting a population that tends to be systemically disadvantaged,” says Dr. Foster. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the most economically privileged among people who become pregnant will be able to get abortions, and the least privileged will not. It will exacerbate these health disparities, these economic disparities, and these racial disparities.”
Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, women seeking abortions in states without access will have to travel to states where it is legal—requiring money, time off of work, and childcare for existing children. “If we’re talking about a scenario in which half the states ban abortion and half the states don’t, we are returning to a world where women with means will continue to get abortions and poor women will be prevented from doing so,” says Myers. “The women who will be most affected are young women, women of color, poor women, and particularly those living in urban areas in the deep South and the Midwest.”
In the U.S., caregiving has been treated as an individual responsibility, largely falling on women to provide paid and unpaid care, with a shortage of affordable childcare options and lack of a national paid parental leave that have served as barriers for women staying in the workforce, rising up into top leadership positions, and achieving economic equality. “If people were sincere about being pro-life and pro-child, they would start with fixing all the social safety nets for low-income families and families with disabled kids. They would not start by making people have kids that they can’t afford and can’t support,” says Dr. Foster
What Happens Next???
Newsweek spoke with Doron Kalir, a clinical professor of law at Cleveland State University whose scholarship has focused on topics such as statutory interpretation and federal courts, to answer some of those questions.
I think there are three steps that we’re about to see gradually. The first is that 28 states already have trigger laws in the making or already on the books, just awaiting the day in which the court will indeed confirm that this draft opinion is the majority opinion of the Supreme Court. On that day, 28 state laws will spring into action and we’ll have different levels of restrictions, but basically, it will eliminate the right to abortion across those states.
The second stage will be the fight for personhood. That will be the notion that the unborn life is a person under the Constitution and therefore should receive all the protections under the 14th amendment and otherwise. That will turn the act of abortion actually into active murder, and that will criminalize abortion. So, from a Constitutional affirmative right, the act of abortion will turn into a negative criminal activity.
Finally, I think that the final goal would be a federal ban on abortion. So, instead of what we’re talking about now, which is a federal acknowledgment or reaffirming of Roe v. Wade, the third stage of overruling Roe v. Wade after acknowledging personhood would be a federal ban on abortions across all 50 states, which is the opposite of what we have now.
Presumably, under a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president. Not now of course, but in years to come. That will be one of the major policy and talking points that are already in the making if you’re reading or listening to that kind of talk radio.
So, we will have a federal prohibition across all 50 states, which, again, would negate even this opinion by the Supreme Court, which is extremely, extremely unusual in that it allows most of the states to restrict abortion. Some states actually have confronted that with countermeasures, affirming the right to abortion and welcoming people from other states to do so. But a federal ban on abortion, if it arrives, and I hope it won’t, will prohibit that as well. We’re really looking at a series of steps that only begins with the decision of today.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, do you expect more states to move to restrict abortion rights?
I think that it’s a great talking point and it seems to be a good selling point for many nominees in red states. I think that, very interestingly, the next issue on the ballot or on the agenda is to restrict not only the right to an abortion in their own states but to attempt to dissuade people from traveling to other states to gain an abortion.
The restriction in Texas is temporary in that it is enforced by vigilantes because they knew that the state officials cannot enforce that ban simply because, on the books, there was a constitutional right for an abortion. So, once a state official would have enforced that ban, you could have gone to court and issued an injunction against them. This whole scheme that they built — that people would tell on each other — was designed to bypass this restriction on state officials to enforce an abortion. No such restriction will happen the day the Supreme Court will affirm this [draft] opinion, and therefore I really expect that Texas will have a complete ban on abortion.
In terms of whether it will be a nuanced ban starting at 15 weeks like the Mississippi law at issue or an outright restriction, including no exception for rape and incest — which I must stress is horrific — I think that the states will start to do what is called a race to the bottom where each governor from a conservative state will claim that he is the one that restricts the most. Very soon, that race to the bottom will end with a complete restriction in almost every red state on the entirety of abortion from the beginning with no exceptions, which, of course, is almost dystopian. I mean, we’re talking about it as if that’s what’s going to happen, but as we are standing today in 2022, the United States is literally looking at going backward 50 years in terms of women’s rights, in terms of human rights, in terms of equality, in terms of progress. But if you’re asking me what the states will do, they will race to the bottom. Each conservative [state] House and governor will declare that they are the ones that are more restrictive than others, and so they will have to compete. Very quickly, it will devolve into a complete restriction in every red state.
The way this Supreme Court opinion is written currently, and Justice Alito referred to that, the federal test in order to validate those restrictions would be a rational basis test, which is literal speak to “anything goes.” When you have a rational test, that means that the state can declare almost any rationale at once. As long as that rational basis can stand the smell test, it’s fine. Women’s health, interstate commerce, anything that the state comes up with, unless proven to be wrong and that it’s almost an impossibility legally, the court will allow such legitimate state interests to survive. Therefore, there will be really no recourse.
There are talks right now about a current reaffirmation of Roe via Congress. That’s a pie in the sky. Not even all the Democrats are united in terms of abolishing the procedural means that will prevent them from doing that. So, since Congress is not going to enact the right to an abortion federally, state laws will be free to enact their own, and then there’s really no recourse legally, to do so. Maybe in 10 years, in 15 years, maybe in 30 years, the Supreme Court personnel will again be replaced and new justices will think that it wasn’t such a bad idea to protect women’s rights. Maybe then we will restore Roe v. Wade, and then all those state laws again will be put on the shelf until a conservative majority again takes control of the court.
I wanted to suggest that the right to travel is a right that exists on the book, but for many women in this country — those who can’t leave their job or two jobs for the few days that they would require in order to travel and don’t have the means to do it, and maybe would have to leave a kid at home —it’s simply an impossibility even under the best circumstances. Think of traveling from a state like Texas, which is huge, even to neighboring states. This is truly unfortunate that even under the best circumstances, many women in this country would not be able to travel to the nearest abortion clinic, which may not be near at all. But even that, Missouri and other states say, is not good enough because they may sue you if you are going to go to another state. Their rationale, just to explain it, is that: “We wouldn’t allow you to go to another state to steal or to murder someone. Therefore, we would not allow you to go and commit that crime.” But it’s absolutely not a crime to have an abortion. In fact, as we speak here today, it’s still a constitutional right.
If it goes to the states, it means that it is allowed in certain states. Therefore, I really cannot understand the rationale of those who would say: “If you move across state lines, we will sue you.” The means to enforce [travel restrictions] is both statewide and in terms of vigilantes, meaning people will tell on other people, on their neighbors. “I know she went to the next state over and returned after having an abortion.” And they will be allowed to sue them in court. If you’re asking me how courts would decide in those cases, it’s anyone’s guess. I would suggest that the lower courts would protect women’s rights to travel across state lines because this is the controlling United States Supreme Court precedent and common sense. But if you’re asking me what would happen when this case eventually arrives again at the hands of Justice Alito, I cannot say. I would probably say that he would write: “When we said that there was a right to travel, we never intended that that would be the right to travel in order to commit something that we just declared so wrong.”
Some have voiced concerns that the overturning of Roe v. Wade could put other landmark decisions or precedents like same-sex marriage and contraception on the line as well. What do you think is the likelihood that overturning Roe could lead to other freedoms like these being imperiled?
I think the answer to that, and my hair stands as I’m saying it, is absolute yes. Perhaps the most frightening thing about this opinion, and there are many, is the ease with which Justice Alito waives his magic wand and strikes out 50 years of established jurisprudence. Many a justice on the Supreme Court did not feel religious, or perhaps even morally, that abortion is the right thing to do. Yet they knew well to separate their moral convictions and religious beliefs from the law of the land. This is no longer the case. We have a majority on the Supreme Court that is exceptionally religious. Five out of the six are Catholic, and they believe that their religious beliefs and their moral convictions should dictate the law of the land. With a stroke of a pen, they can reverse 50 years of jurisprudence that suggests that women have the right of autonomy over their own bodies.
We’ll have to see if this is the Supreme Court majority opinion, but I think that that strikes a blow at the heart of the entire edifice of progress in this country and may lead us back decades, if not centuries.
I feel that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach again after writing this. Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment if you have any suggestions on what you would like to see please let me know in the comments.
Every Friday. I will attempt to rank things that have some sort of connection to the news of that week, but I can’t guarantee anything. Want me to rank something? Put it in the responses.
Decades For Elvis
He still had some moments in the ’70s, I’ll give him that.
Baz Luhrmann movies
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Wait … Baz Lurhmann has only made six movies? (Counting Elvis?) Did you realize that he had so few movies?
It is worth noting that I am a bit of a Barry skeptic? It certainly has its moments — and it’s a terrific showcase for Bill Hader’s talents both in front of and behind the camera — but I’ll confess that, when it comes to juggling its comedy and its tension, sometimes I find its eyes are a little bigger than its stomach.
Severance Characters, Ranked by How Much I’d Enjoy Hanging Out With Them
Now this show, however … Just please don’t let me be trapped in a room with Ricken.
I write you this letter on your birthday. I hope you’re enjoying it up in heaven. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss you. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about you and miss you.
I miss hearing your voice on the other end of the phone when you and Nana would call on my birthday. I miss hearing you say “how are you doing squirt?” or when I would come to visit with my family you saying “where’s my squirt? Come give me a hug.” I especiallymiss you saying “did you get me anything,” when Nana and I would go out grocery shopping knowing full well we always did.
I miss walking into your house and the first thing we would see is you rising out of your chair to see who came through the door. You sitting in your chair was my fondest memory. You also yelling at the Yankees as if you were their coach when they made a bad play or didn’t do something right.
Holidays just aren’t the same without you and Nana making the rounds to visit all of us. Those were the days I could tell how much you loved all of us, how much– family meant to you. Your face would always light up every time you looked at your family. I could tell that you were so proud of the family you raised. You’d joke with everyone, and make everyone feel like they were the center of attention, you would give each of us your undivided attention and that meant so much to me.
The annual family camping trip just isn’t the same without you and Nana driving up around mid morning with fresh bread and oysters for our big cookout that afternoon that would usually go until 10 or 11 o’clock at night.
Most of all I miss the sleepovers and the stories of the old Troy days, I miss your perfect bear hugs, that were tight but not too tight, so warm, and perfect… I could seriously go for a few right now. I seriously miss sitting on your lap because I knew I had the best seat in the house.
There are so many things I wish you were still here for, like my brother’s upcoming wedding. My wedding (whenever that may be) I had planned to have a dance with you as well as my dad because you both have raised the bar so high for any man who comes along. I wish you were here to meet my kids (whenever I have them).
Even now that we are approaching the two year anniversary of your passing it is still hard to believe you are gone just like that. But someday I will proudly tell my children all about how amazing their great-grandpa is, and was.
You were so kind, caring, loving, and supportive. You were also so gentle. You were a giant teddy bear.
Every single day I wish I could call you and hear your voice call me squirt, or get one more bear hug from you but I know that will never be enough, I wish I could tell you about what has been going on in my life, but I know that you are looking down on all of us and you already know what is going on and keeping us safe. You are and were one of the strongest and toughest men I knew, because you fought all the way to the end. The love you had for Nana and the rest of the family was awe-inspiring. I hope to one day have a family of my own, filled with the love you had for Nana.
Thank your for being such an amazing grandpa. I can and will never replace you or forget the memories we have shared, or the stories you have told, I will treasure them forever. Thank you for being such an amazing role model. I love you and miss you every day, my guardian angel.
Welp, it’s on, folks — the Russia-Ukraine crisis is keeping scary close to the trajectory I’ve been expecting.
Putin appears to be putting elements of all eight stages I outline below into effect at once. Strikes are falling across the breadth of Ukraine and an airborne attack has secured a major airport outside of Kyiv.
It’s always difficult to assess what’s happening on the ground through public media sources, but it appears Russia is hitting Ukraine from all points of the compass yet less intensively than a shock and awe campaign designed to obliterate the entire Ukraine military in one blow would fall.
My suspicion is that the attacks on Odessa and Kyiv are meant to distract from the focus of the Russian attack in the east. By launching probing strikes from any angles Russia can tie down Ukrainian forces everywhere. Firepower can be directed at major points of resistance.
Russian forces could try a massive full-scale invasion on all fronts, but this would be much riskier than threatening an all-out thrust while picking apart Ukraine’s forces which have to deploy to meet all these attacks, leaving cover and becoming vulnerable.
All that can be said with absolute certainty now is that the Russian attacks will eventually run out of steam. But whether any of Ukraine is free after is an open question.
Biden and the West have failed utterly. The Postwar and post Cold War orders are dead and done. America has failed to deter Russia, and is no longer a superpower. Europe stands alone.
But it, once American influence is put in its proper place, can still win
Vladimir Putin’s aggressive speech more or less denying Ukraine’s right to exist has codified Russia’s policy towards both Ukraine and NATO for the foreseeable future.
And the so-called “West” is letting him get away with it.
Sanctions — pah. They never work.
All that craven Anglo-American politicians like Joe Biden and Boris Johnson are after now is a way through the crisis that won’t further harm their already dismal political futures.
Deterrence is their favorite slogan, but this has clearly failed. Russia is willing to pay whatever costs for acting as it likes that the West tries to impose through sanctions. Putin knows that absent real military aid to Ukraine the Russian Armed Forces can pick apart Ukraine piece by piece.
Ukraine’s military is simply outmatched thanks to the failure of America or NATO to offer meaningful support. Stingers and Javelins, cool as they might be, are no match for the weight of firepower Russia has positioned around Ukraine right now.
Iskander tactical ballistic missiles, hundreds of capable combat aircraft, and around two thirds of Russia’s ground forces are just too much for Ukraine’s smaller, less sophisticated military to withstand with short-range missiles, however effective. Ukrainian soldiers and half-trained civilians are being told it’s up to them to shield the West from the Russian horde, but a blood sacrifice to the old gods will achieve nothing but send good people to Valhalla and Folkvangr.
Putin and his people have planned this crisis all too well. The recognition of the Donetsk and Lukhansk republics as independent was done to provide Russia a pseudo-legal justification to intervene.
America’s leaders have been insisting that Putin is about 48 hours from an all-out invasion for weeks now. This has aided Russia’s efforts immensely, damaging Ukraine’s economy and distracting the world from the fact an assault on Kyiv is probably the very last stage of Putin’s plan.
He has a much better way to take it without direct use of force after forcing Ukraine to crumble. And the so-called West will let him, happy to have an enemy to distract us from climate change and Covid and inflation.
As ever in power politics, millions of lives are in jeopardy because the elites who run most countries have different interests than the rest of us. NATO and America are desperately trying to maintain relevant in a world that has moved on, while Putin stays in power by play-acting the role of Russia’s Big Papa, a paternalistic national father figure.
Nobody in the English-speaking world wants to admit this out loud, but Russia has always been and will always bepart of the so-called West.
Western Civilization is a euphemism for Christian Europe and the places it conquered. It is an inherently bigoted concept that has always been designed to separate a mythical East from the rest of humanity to justify military actions and social repression.
Russia is an Orthodox Christian country — part of the reason why American Evangelical Christians tend to like Putin is the fact his power derives from replacing Communism with Christianity.
That’s why Russia hates the idea of LGBTQ+ rights and suppresses Muslim minorities —these similarities are why American Evangelicals use much the same rhetoric as he does anymore, and many actively seek to make America the same kind of country as the one he’s built out of post-Soviet Russia.
It also explains why he’s so obsessed with Ukraine, as Kyiv is seen as the birthplace of modern Russia and a semi-holy place in Russian Orthodox Christianity. What Putin’s Russia-centric view of history — no less inherently bigoted than America’s own self-narratives — fails to admit is the inconvenient fact that Russia is an artificial construct too.
All countries are to some extent, and the bigger they get the more imperialist they tend to become. Russia and Ukraine’s deep origins lie in the same Indo-European migrations that defined all of Europe, and their more recent past was defined by the interaction between Vikings from Scandinavia and the Slavic peoples who emerged in Eastern Europe.
Rus was a tribe led by Viking chieftains, and Kyiv as a city started out as a kind of way station for Norse traders utilizing the rivers of Eastern Europe to reach the Middle East. The city-states of Novgorod and Kyiv later merged to form what Putin recognizes as early Russia, but then as now Russia and Ukraine have always been more like composite city-states than defined monolithic cultures with clear national boundaries.
Russia never used to have borders reaching the Pacific — this was purely a product of Russian imperialism. Nothing east of the Ural Mountains was historically Russian — Russia’s Far East became Moscow’s mirror of the American West, which some Russian explorers even reached back in the heyday of Russian expansion across Asia and into North America.
Putin play-acts the role of the Orthodox Christian emperor of Russia, a stern father figure who protects his nation — the people in it loyal to him, anyway — and defines its history and values. Paternalism at a national level of the sort Republicans in Texas dream of, so long as they are interfering with womens bodies and not gun ownership.
The irony is that Russians and Ukrainians aren’t that different — or at least, they weren’t until Putin made them that way through eight years of invasion and threats.
But he is investing in this conflict because it’s one that Russia can control and therefore win. By doing so he humiliates NATO, threatens the European Union, and takes advantage of America’s foreign policy myopia and Joe Biden’s comically inept leadership.
Russia’s new close ally China is cool with this because it distracts Washington D.C. from its racist pivot to Asia obsession while proving how little America can actually do to protect Taiwan in the face of modern military weaponry. American fossil fuel executives are cool with the situation because they are drooling at the thought of selling dirty fracked natural gas to Germany at exorbitant rates, as are America’s arms dealers, dreaming of a new burst of NATO military spending.
So the stage is set for continued escalations and a drawn-out conflict that kills tens of thousands of people so leaders can keep acting tough while the world burns. The same stupid scam that has afflicted humanity for its entire history and is in fact far more likely to destroy us in the end than climate change.
Americans are trained to think war consists of a series of big battles won or lost by the skill of the commanders involved, but the strange truth is that war is nothing more than politics carried on through violent means.
American politicians and pundits hate this fact, much preferring to pretend morality matters in politics, but cry all they like the simple fact is that the powerful eventually do whatever they can get away with. And they often can’t be deterred from acting, because they don’t perceive the costs and benefits the same way less powerful people do.
Power is the primary evil in human affairs. Power disparities self-generate new conflicts no matter how moral, ethical, or right a powerful party claims to be.
Putin is teaching the world a cruel lesson in hard power right now. He’s deliberately shredding the entire artifice of the liberal international system tenured PhDs at major universities — like Berkeley, where I earned my first degree focusing on International Relations — have spent decades teaching as the only global system imaginable.
This doesn’t mean he’s unpredictable — the opposite is true. Real military operations are always exercises in creating asymmetries that your forces can exploit in order to win a fight with few or no casualties. Grey warfare, hybrid warfare — it’s all the same.
Logistics and terrain control the conduct of military operations because they are the bones and sinews of the military effort, which is ultimately policy made real, given life. Armies have a physical presence on a landscape, they must occupy space and so are vulnerable to detection and destruction once spotted.
Ukraine’s military forces are indeed stronger than they were eight years ago — but so are Russia’s. It has adopted small independent tactical formationsequipped with drones and information technology, linking ground units to massed artillery and air support.
Russia has, like Germany did after the First World War, learned how to fight using modern arms after watching America’s military mishaps around the world and testing key lessons in Syria.
As a result the Ukraine-Russia military matchup resembles the one between Iraq and America in 2003. Russia has superior intelligence-gathering abilities, GPS satellites, and precision guided stand-off weapons that make it almost impossible for Ukrainian soldiers armed with short-range missiles to even fight back.
There remains a narrow window where a conflict could be averted, but at this point it appears nothing less than Ukraine giving up Donbas will stop a bloody fight.
Long term Putin would like to control all of Ukraine, but a direct invasion that seizes Kyiv is incredibly risky. So much could go wrong that this option makes the most sense held in Putin’s pocket as an ultimate threat, a bluff that could easily transform into something more in the right circumstances.
But Ukraine stands alone in all the ways that matter, and Putin has effectively declared war on the very idea of Ukraine. So he’d definitely like the country under Russian control, and his military power allows him to set the pace of any attack, moving faster or slower depending on Ukraine’s reactions.
I see this playing out in a series of stages, each serving as a decision point where Putin can evaluate his gains and press on or declare victory. What he decides will likely be most strongly influenced not by Biden’s threats, but by whether he meets any surprises as he proceeds.
Stage 1 is underway now — a movement of Russian forces positioned around Rostov into separatist controlled Donbas at the same time major forces deploy along the Ukrainian defenders’ flanks. This brings Russian personnel right up to the edge of the bombardments and lets them pick out targets and plan further moves.
Stage 2 will likely begin after any Russian military casualties, as was the case in Georgia in 2008. That will likely be the trigger for a focused shock and awe style bombardment of Ukrainian military positions in the separatist territories, but probably not the rest of the country — at least at first.
Stage 3 I expect to be a major flanking assault by forces deployed along the Russia-Ukraine border near Kharkiv. These might encircle that city or, as I suspect, flow just to the east to come down hard on the Ukrainian Army’s left flank. Russian air and missile strikes will expand in scope to isolate Ukraine’s east from Kyiv, but shouldn’t heavily target the capitol region.
Stage 4 is the breakout from Crimea to the Dnieper River accompanied by focused naval landings on the Azov coast. These will have to be accompanied by massive bombardments to cover the vulnerable helicopters and landing ships, and the port of Odessa will likely come under some degree of blockade though it being assaulted directly at this stage is unlikely.
Stage 5 will see Russian forces push to surround and annihilate Ukraine’s army in the east, comprising about half of its forces — and its best trained. This could mark the culmination of the first phase of the war, with Russian forces pausing to resupply and allow for renewed diplomacy. Or Putin’s efforts could proceed apace, with air strikes hitting the entire country, skipping past Stage 6.
Stage 6 under the baseline scenario would see the conflict turn inward as Russia consolidates gains and more or less dares the West to do something meaningful about it. A major military defeat could put Zelensky’s government in danger of a coup, and Putin will likely foment as much internal strife as he can before considering further actions in hopes Ukraine will collapse of its own accord.
Stage 7 would be the feared march to Kyiv from multiple lines of advance. It is doubtful that Putin would commit forces to seizing the city itself, but by splitting Ukraine’s major cities apart in an all-out invasion after Ukraine was badly weakened he could effectively break the country up into chunks, demonstrating the Zelensky government’s inability to rule and keeping open options for bringing regions into Russian control by force.
Stage 8 is the hardest to define, as it depends on how quickly and completely the prior stages are accomplished. If Zelensky’s government falls to a coup or decamps to Lviv near the Polish border, whatever regime rises in Kyiv will request that Russian “peacekeepers” proceed west. If an actual guerilla struggle begins, it will likely turn into a Syria-like situation develop where Russian forces conquer and pacify one portion of Ukraine at a time, inflicting horrific casualties.
My belief is that a settlement will be reached or Ukraine will collapse long before, but rational calculations have a way of going horribly wrong at this level of detail.
What I know for sure is this: America and NATO have all but set Ukraine up to be destroyed.
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d be hard pressed to avoid drawing the conclusion this whole conflict was drawn up by America and Russia to re-start the Cold War. A bit of theater designed to shore up Washington and Moscow, both of whom have handled Covid poorly.
But sadly, this moment, I fear, marks a great turning of the wheel.
America’s unipolar moment, such as it was, is over. There will be no true Cold War, as this is the multipolar moment back in my undergrad days I predicted was coming sooner or later.
Ukraine’s fate now stands at a knife’s edge. Moscow has brutalized the region time and again through history, and in a world where countries are mostly fragmenting, not growing, Ukraine’s persistence is inevitable: there is now, thanks to Putin, a Ukrainian identity that will never fade.
The best course for the Zelensky government now is to recognize the hard truth: Ukraine stands alone, and the east cannot be defended.
There is no point in sacrificing thousands of lives on the principle of borders being fixed and permanent. Ukraine stands no chance of holding Donbas and it would be absolutely criminal to expect Ukrainian soldiers to hold the line there, outflanked and far from Kyiv as they are.
Successfully defending against a Russian attack depends on avoiding the initial blow by retreating to a new defensive line. Ukraine must not allow its army to be outflanked, surrounded, and battered to pieces. Russian forces will stand off at range, perhaps using separatists as cannon fodder to draw fire so that Ukrainian positions, infantry and artillery, can be picked off one at a time.
Kyiv must be ready to conduct a fighting retreat to a more defensible line, wrong-footing the Russian attack and letting its weight fall on abandoned ground. The Dnieper in the south and a defensive line stretching from Kharkiv to Dnipro should be possible to defend unless or until Russian forces attack from the north. At that point they have to pull back behind the Dnieper and hold what they can.
That, sadly, is all that can be done to avoid the worst of what’s coming. If Ukraine is successful, Putin will be forced to recalculate.
This might buy time for a settlement. If the east is taken by Russia the full spectrum of sanctions will likely fall. Ukraine can count on more direct military aid — possibly the kind that might matter, like truly effective anti-aircraft defenses.
Then begins the long fight to prepare Europe for what comes next. Ukraine isEurope’s bulwark, and we have to assume that Putin won’t stop with Ukraine if his plan succeeds.
Not now. Not after Biden has shown his belly so often Putin knows a few years of constant pressure will split Europe from America and break NATO apart.
Cracks are already apparent, if you know where to look. NATO has offered lots of big talk, but little action — and this is unlikely to change.
And by 2024 America will be so focused on its domestic collapse Putin will have a free hand to support his ally Trump by further demonstrating America’s weakness. Estonia, Lithuania, or Latvia can expect low-level provocations because Ukraine, as important as it is to Putin, is only a pawn in his broader fight against NATO.
And once America is completely broken, Europe will stand alone.
The important thing now is to recognize where this is all heading and start taking the necessary actions to maintain Europe’s security. Ukraine must avoid its army being annihilated, and the European Union has to begin building a dedicated defense force with Ukraine as an integral partner.
As someone who deals with anxiety and panic attacks often, I compiled all of the information and wrote this blog
Everything happening in your body is good; you’re prepared to survive this tiger encounter. There’s just one small problem. It wasn’t a tiger. It was a tiny prehistoric weasel. Now your body is primed for fight-or-flight, your heart is racing, you’re totally jacked up on adrenaline… but there is no danger.
This is your body on anxiety. Replace the (nonexistent) tiger in the bushes with social media, traffic, politics, Covid-19, money, childcare, climate change, work stress, family drama, etc. and you can quickly see why anxiety is the most common mental illness in America, affecting nearly 20% of the population. Modern-day humans are basically a bunch of freaked-out Neanderthals in fight-or-flight mode 24/7.
“Anxiety is an impulse in our body that says, ‘I’m not safe right now,’” says Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, the author of Widen The Window: Training Your Body and Brain to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma. “It’s automatic, really fast and unconscious.”
Your survival brain vs. your thinking brain
In her work, Stanley makes the distinction between the thinking brain, our neocortex, responsible for decision-making, reasoning, ethics, conscious memory, learning, and the survival brain — the limbic system, brain stem, and cerebellum — which handles our basic survival, emotions, implicit memory, and stress arousal.
One of the survival brain’s most important functions, according to Stanley, is neuroception, an unconscious process of rapidly scanning the internal and external environment for safety and danger. When danger is spotted, your survival brain sends an instantaneous stress arousal message to your body by turning on the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in the release of specific hormones that lead to certain physical sensations related to our heart, breathing, and digestion. “Whatever’s happening in the survival brain has these tremendous ripple effects through our body,” Stanley says.
As Stephen Porges, PhD, a psychologist and the creator of the Polyvagal Theory, explains in an interview with PsychAlive, “These responses are not voluntary. Our nervous system is picking up information in the environment, not on a cognitive level, but on a neurobiological level.”
Importantly, when we’re caught in a defensive response, the thinking brain is the last to be aware that something is wrong.“The thinking brain isn’t what decides whether we’re stressed, whether we’re feeling threatened or challenged, whether we’re going to turn stress on, whether we’re going to turn emotions on,” Stanley says. “Stress arousal and emotions belong to the survival brain.”
So if you want to track your anxiety, your body, not your thoughts, will be your most accurate map.
The talk therapy trap
Unlike our prehistoric ancestors (who might have dealt with anxiety by running, panting, or shaking like a dog and letting the cortisol work through their system, according to Stanley), modern anxiety sufferers turn to their trustworthy friend, their thinking brain. “Most people identify anxiety by their thoughts because most people identify with their thinking brain,” she explains.
The problem is that when it comes to regulating our nervous system after a stress response (read: anxiety), our thinking brain is the absolute worst tool for the job. That’s because, according to Porges, even after becoming aware of the physical response, we often don’t know what has triggered that response. For Stanley, a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, this realization was a huge turning point. “Recovery from stress and anxiety is a survival brain job.”
We are a cerebral culture, which makes us very equipped to deal with problems that require reason and logic — think moral dilemmas — and less equipped to deal with problems where cognitive reasoning can just make them worse. Having a “fight or flight” response to running late to brunch may seem like an overreaction, but sitting in traffic, you are physiologically experiencing it all the same. We use our thinking brain to try and decide if the issue is “worth” being anxious about, and then we try to force our nervous system to comply. “Our consciousness gets disconnected from our body in those moments,” says Stanley. Your thinking brain decides that you have nothing to feel anxious about, so you spend your days walking around telling yourself that everything is fine while still feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety throughout your body. Even worse, your thinking brain may start to criticize and shame you for still being anxious even after it’s told you that everything is fine.
If you, like me, have spent many years in talk therapy analyzing all the reasons you’re anxious, this is probably a hard pill to swallow. Not only did all that talking not do much to alleviate anxiety, but it could also even have made it more acute. “Our survival brain wants to keep us safe, but when we disregard our body and its signals because we’re so caught up in our thinking brain’s stories and thoughts, the survival brain actually perceives that as even more threatening,” says Stanley. “Like a toddler, it’s going to tantrum louder until its message gets through. And that’s why it becomes such a vicious cycle.”
Take, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most common forms of talk therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” Sounds great, right? While this kind of analysis could be profoundly helpful when dealing with family issues or working out an ethical question, when it comes to anxiety, which doesn’t take place in your thinking brain, it places the focus on the thought (“I thought there was a tiger!”) and not the physical response which preceded, and even caused, the thought (“my heart is racing and I’m full of adrenaline and I need tools to calm down”).
“We don’t necessarily want to be aware of and feel the discomfort in our bodies because anxiety in our bodies is uncomfortable. Instead, we want to try and fixate it and give it this external object,” explains Stanley. But if the external object didn’t cause the anxiety, then fixing it won’t alleviate the anxious feeling.
A bottom-up solution for anxiety
While talk therapy and medication are still the mainstream solutions offered for chronic anxiety, other modalities exist that offer a body-first approach. And while these modalities are still considered “alternative,” an increased interest in “brain science” and neurobiology along with continued research on mindfulness and mind-body connections are shifting our psychological understanding from focusing only on the mind to seeing the brain and body as a cohesive unit.
Part of the challenge, according to Pat Ogden, PhD, the creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, is that you need to close the loop that was started when your body first went into a stress response. Ogden uses the example of a client who is Black and frequently stopped by the police without cause. When this happened, the man understandably felt himself getting angry and his body tightening up: a “fight” response. As part of their work together, Ogden helped him identify and act out the physical de-escalation his body needed in order to return to a regulated state, in this case getting to strike out and defend himself within the safety of a therapy session. “We want to complete that impulse in mindfulness so that his brain is integrated and it’s not held in his body anymore,” says Ogden
Ogden points out that part of the limitation of talk therapy is that anxiety is often related to a dysregulated response connected to an implicit memory, which then gets incorrectly pinned on a current experience or thought. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the current content,” says Ogden.
Stanley, who offers a mind fitness training course to help people build resilience, focuses on mindfulness techniques. And while at this point it’s a cliché to tell anybody with anxiety to take 10 deep breaths, her course has helped thousands of people, including active-duty military. “The military is very experienced in stressful situations, and they’ve trained themselves to turn on the survival brain but don’t always know how to turn it off,” says Stanley. Studies funded by the Department of Defense showed that Stanley’s method significantly helped improve cognitive performance during stress, lower perceived stress levels, increase regulation, and foster a faster return to baseline after stress arousal.
When your body is having a stress response, the first thing is to become aware of objects that help the survival brain feel safe, like what you can see and hear. “One of the best ways to help the survival brain feel grounded is to bring attention to where our body is in contact with our environment,” Stanley says. She suggests focusing on the contact between your feet with the floor, or your body in your chair. As soon as the survival brain perceives groundedness and safety, it automatically starts the recovery process.
Obviously, when you’re caught in a moment of severe anxiety, trying to breathe deeply or be mindful can feel almost impossible. In those situations, what you need is to get the adrenaline and cortisol out of your system. Stanley suggests jumping rope or running up and down stairs. After 10 minutes, try a mindfulness exercise again.
Is there any role for talk therapy, or trying to think logically about your anxiety? Absolutely. But only once your body is regulated, Stanley says: “After we have helped our survival brain feel safe and stable, then we can work on our thoughts. Otherwise, our cognitive response continues to be biased by our stress and emotions.”
Yesterday, was a very difficult day for me as I said goodbye to my grandfather, my Poppa, John Tracey. He lived 84 beautiful years and raised 6 incredible children, including my own father. His nicknames for me were Carrot Top- I was his first redheaded grandchild, or Squirt- because I was short as child.
We developed a bond that is really hard to explain, as a child when I would sit on his lap I would just trace his panther/jaguar tattoo – and I did the same as I said I love you to him for the last time I saw him I chose not to say goodbye to him because it was too hard for me. He has always called me Squirt– all the way to the end I will always be his Squirt.
I remember him telling me stories of his days growing up, we shared a love of westerns– African Queen, we loved doing the crossword puzzle together, and when attending family parties- inside or in the backyard I always kept my eyes out for Poppa because I loved his hugs they were always warm, tight (not too tight), and full of love; he always gave the perfect hug. I could go for one of those right now.
He loved family, fishing, golfing, New York Yankees, and talking about his Troy days. I loved watching him tinker, every summer he and Nana would come visit us during the Tracey Family Camporee, our annual 3 day camping trip on Saturday they would bring fresh bread and the clams for our big cookout that evening, and when I moved into the place I live now he brought over some stuff to seal up my driveway its still sitting in my basement. Poppa always loved to help out.
Seeing him at my college graduation in 2013 with a smile on his face I could tell that he was proud that through my disability I succeeded – he always had a smile on his face, that is what I loved about him is even when he was hurting or not feeling well – he was smiling.
He was a soldier for the US Army, in the Korean War came home and married my beautiful grandma, and raised 6 incredible children and 13 grandchildren.
It is the hardest to lose those who loved and nurtured us, and who we loved and cared for most. I have a treasure trove of memories that I will hold on to forever, that will make me laugh and smile. I will miss him so much but I will never forget his beautiful smile. I keep hearing his voice. I miss him terribly, I miss his hugs and will love him and miss him for a long time.