Booting Jews From A Parade: Is Intersectionality The Enemy Of Inclusion?

This week, the Chicago Dyke March, a precursor to the Chicago Pride Parade, ejected participants who were waving a rainbow flag with a Star of David emblazoned on it because it was “triggering” and some participants “felt unsafe” when they saw it.  In response to accusations of anti-Semitism, the organizers admitted they had asked the Jewish participants to leave, stating that the march was explicitly anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian, and asserting that a Star of David on a Pride flag represents the flag of Israel. The historical ignorance required to claim that the Star of David is exclusively associated with Israel is staggering – after all, millions of Jews were forced to wear it during the greatest genocide in human history, whether they were Zionists or not.  However, that is not the subject of this blog post. The question I want to ask is how on earth did we reach a point where gay Jews are ejected from a Pride parade for celebrating that they are gay and Jewish? While I think there is a hefty helping of anti-Semitism involved in the organizers’ actions (as Chris Rock says, that train is never late) the broader trend that produced this ridiculous result is the left’s disavowal of inclusiveness in favor of intersectionality.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” While it is important to understand how intersecting identities can place a greater burden of oppression on some groups and individuals than on others, introducing intersectionality as a test for participation in political activism seems destined to minimize the number of people who will rally around a given cause.  If I support gay rights, but I disagree with abortion rights, can I participate in an event for the gay community? What about if I support same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, but I advocate stricter immigration laws? Every person has a variety of reasons for reaching his or her political opinions. Almost no one will be persuaded to look at every single political issue and, abjuring all self-interest, use the avoidance of potential oppression as the sole metric for deciding how to vote. This incident is probably the best example I have seen of how intersectionality is destroying left wing activism by introducing the notion that movements supporting the rights of minorities and women should not only join together, but should be focused only on the interests of the individuals who can produce the longest list of oppressed identities.

Intersectionality or inclusion?

In previous eras, successful activists have picked a cause, invited  everyone who believes in that cause to join in their activism (whether they have disagreements around other issues or not), and worked to achieve their goal. Intersectionality in activism has replaced uniting disparate people behind goals with amalgamating oppressed identities, and that has replaced inclusion with exclusion. The Chicago Dyke March touts itself as an inclusive celebration of “dyke, trans, and queer solidarity,” but is it? It prioritizes its advocacy of other issues, including anti-Zionism, over its inclusion of the entire queer community. As a result, it tossed out participants waving a Jewish Pride flag while accepting a woman with a Pride flag sporting a crescent that resembled the flags of Turkey and Pakistan, both of which have human rights records worse than that of Israel. This result isn’t just stupid, it’s unproductive. If left-wing grassroots activists try to run their movement by compiling a list of every marginalized identity, and only include people who can sign on to support every single issue affecting each identity on that list, the movement will fail. This behavior is the opposite of inclusive. It is exclusive.

Stop the friendly fire

I’m sure plenty on the left may tell me I should not be saying any of this because I am a straight, cisgendered WASP, and my role is therefore to be supportive of others’ activism. I am supportive, and I will continue to vote in favor of the rights of my fellow LGBTQ, Black, Hispanic, and other disadvantaged Americans, whether I think a given activist’s tactics work or not. I am the converted. However, being supportive does not mean being silent. A good friend and ally tells you the truth, and the truth is this: excluding bases of support in order to avoid “triggering” people is the wrong road to walk down. Doing so is particularly foolish if you are excluding the Jewish members of your community. Whatever you might think of the State of Israel, Jewish Americans have stood up and been counted in support of their fellow Americans’ civil rights. Jewish lawyers worked for Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when that wasn’t popular. Jewish Justices like Louis Brandeis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have been liberal voices on the Supreme Court. Rabbis marched in support of the Civil Rights movement. If you are throwing Jews out of your civil rights demonstration for identifying themselves with a Star of David, there is something wrong with your philosophy. Sometimes things really are that simple.


Healthcare in France: Doctors Tell Us The Public And Private Sectors Can Work Together

Today we heard the disappointing news that key Senate moderates,like Rob Portman of Ohio, are gradually getting on board with the travesty that is the American Healthcare Act. One of the most concerning concessions they appear prepared to make is the end of the Medicaid expansion introduced by Obamacare. They are buying into the Republican narrative (shared, though for different reasons, by some in the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party) that Obamacare’s problems somehow prove that a mixture of public and private coverage cannot work together. The Republican solution is to make healthcare entirely private; many on the left want to make it entirely public. I think instead, we should take a look at the great work France has done to cover its people through a mix of public and private healthcare sources.

The French government has two roles in the healthcare system: it has a health ministry that sets a national healthcare strategy and imposes cost control regulations, and it provides a National Health Insurance program, or SHI. The SHI is financed by a variety of taxes, including employer and employee payroll taxes, income tax, tobacco and alcohol taxes, and taxes on insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  SHI covers French residents who are employed, recently unemployed, students, or retired persons. The state pays for insurance for long term unemployed residents and refugees. In addition to SHI, French residents can add voluntary health insurance, which, like in Germany, mainly covers additional benefits and the costs not covered by SHI. All employed French persons are entitled to some level of VHI. While the French do pay coinsurance for their medical care, these rates are generally extremely low. On the whole, the French system is incredibly effective, and what we can learn from it is that it has slowly evolved over time to cover more and more French people because French leaders were committed to covering everyone and limiting cost, while working with healthcare professionals to help them ensure they are adequately compensated. I asked Pomme Tarte, a translator who has lived in St. Germain en Laye, a suburb of Paris, for almost 40 years, to tell us about a conversation she had with a couple of French doctors about what it’s like to work in the French system, and how they feel about it. Here is her report, (edited for flow):

Are you a specialist or a general practitioner?

Guillaume is a retired family doctor (GP).

Marielle is a retired specialist (specialties: endocrinology, nutrition, diabetes mellitus)

Do you feel that you are able to provide care to your patients in a timely fashion?

Patients can get an appointment within the week. A patient can call if urgent and the secretary can determine if it really is urgent. If so, the doctor takes the call and decides what to do. It used to be that doctors made house calls. While they still do, they do so much less. There are fewer doctors setting up their own town practices, apparently. The administrative side and overhead are a disincentive. There exist health centers where staff is on the payroll. The patient can’t expect to see their particular doctor, so it’s not the same relationship.  (Note from Pomme Tarte: This may be a trend, but it is not very visible in Saint Germain en Laye).

To get an appointment with Marielle, or most specialists, one needs to wait three months or so. She spends half an hour with the patient. If an urgent call comes in, she takes the call or gets back to them and evaluates the situation.

She used to have a secretary with all the problems of an employer. Then she got a call service to handle her bookings and phone needs, which helped with costs.

What about Patients who fall ill on a night or weekend?

They go to the ER or call SOS Médecins to see a doctor.  Ours is:  There is an office of “SOS Medecins” (A French emergency service that serves as a sort of urgent care center/urgent house call provider) in a nearby town where you can see a doctor during the daytime hours on a weekend.  Otherwise, SOS Médecins will put you on their list and drive to you. It takes awhile, because they have to drive all over the place, but you can stay home and wait. You get charged more, but it is an option to avoid going to the ER.

Too many people go to the ER when it is not a real emergency (Note from Pie Face: apparently this is not just an American phenomenon!).

How do people get to see specialists in France?


Guillaume says his patients choose him to be their “médecin traitant” (primary physician). He is then the gatekeeper to the specialists. A patient has to go through the médecin traitant in order to see a specialist. Marielle noted that this saves the health system money. It used to be that a patient would decide on their own to go see a specialist, but see the wrong one, etc., or see several wrong ones.  The SHI pays its share of  23 euros for the GP instead of 150€ for a specialist.

There are kinds of specialists that a patient can see without going through the médecin traitant: GYN, opthamologist, psychiatrist, stomatologist.

If you have an emergency, you dial 15 and they decide what your course of action should be and send you emergency care or ambulance, if necessary.

The price of seeing your médecin traitant is 23 euros. That is the price reimbursed by the SHI. The reimbursement rate is 70%. You pay your doctor, the doctor files the paperwork with the SHI, the SHI covers 70% and your VHI  covers the 30% not reimbursed by the SHI.

Are advanced new drugs available to patients in your system?

Drugs are approved by the French authorities (like the US FDA). Once a drug is approved, it is theoretically available. A doctor might prefer to prescribe an existing medication that works perfectly well rather than a expensive new one.

For some types of drugs, the patient has to get them prescribed at a hospital. There is a framework regulating the prescription of certain types of drugs (anxyolitics, etc.) For instance, the drug for Hep B chronic is expensive and specialized, must be prescribed by a specialist. At a hospital, there is no limit on what a doctor can prescribe for HIV or cancer or whatever.

The French system sends out a rep to remind doctors about “best practices” from time to time. If a doctor in private practice has a question about, say, antibiotics, s/he can call the Service des Maladies Infectieuses at the hospital for information.

Does your system lead to any kind of rationing? What kind of compromises do you think the system has made in terms of patient care to make it more affordable?

It organizes, but does not ration. The obligation to go through the médecin traitant is an example. No compromises are imposed. Very old people are given care (operations etc.). Their age is taken into account for treating them. The doctor gives care to benefit the patient. I’m sure they consider cost/benefit, but cost/benefit is not imposed on them.

Do you feel able to provide the same care to patients on the social system as you do to those with private insurance?

Everybody can get health care through the system, even hobos on the street with the State coverage for the indigent and refugees (CSU). The SHI pays 100% for a “CSU” doctor’s appointment.

Doctors are organized in Sectors: (Sector 1: they charge the SHI rate.  There is an advantage somehow on the retirement end for these doctors. Sector 2 doctors charge more. The VHI has more to pay.

A doctor is not legally obliged to take on a patient with CSU. Marielle and Guillaume said the doctor has a moral obligation, but not a legal one. Both Marielle and Guillaume had CSU patients. But, at the end of the day, if the doctor has had too many CSU patients, s/he is not going to be happy.

  1. When you look at the rest of the world, what is the best part of being a doctor in France? What is the worst?

The best: Marielle and Guillaume said the average price in Europe for a consultation is 50 euros  v. 23 euros in France. They had the impression that in the UK doctors earned more and worked less (Note from Pie Face: English doctors DEFINITELY do not make more money. They are in real trouble at the moment due to funding cuts.). Also, a doctor can set up business where they want (there are rules about distance from another specialist, but basically it’s up to the doctor where s/he wants to practice). Pleasant places are full of doctors!

The most modern MRI in this area is ten minutes from St Germain, in Poissy. The hospital in St Germain has been partnered with Poissy for resource sharing purposes. We no longer have an ER at night. The maternity ward used to deliver 2000 babies a year, now it’s all Poissy’s excellent maternity ward or else you go to the local clinic (which has set up shop right next to the hospital). Apparently the opthalmology and endocrinology and infectious diseases people at St Germain are great, it depends on the department.

The worst: The hospital system is cumbersome, administrative, not flexible. In France, things could be improved, but they basically think it is a system to be proud of.








Your Comey Cheat Sheet: When Does An Abuse Of Power Become An Obstruction Of Justice?

I’m sure that, like me, many of you are dangling on tenterhooks in anticipation of James Comey’s testimony before Congress tomorrow. The internet has been all atwitter about the possibility that Trump committed obstruction of justice by asking Comey to drop the Russia Investigation, and then firing him, presumably because he would not do so. Although many experts agree there is a heavy aroma of obstruction in the air, most also agree that we haven’t quite found the smoking gun. So here’s my take on what we know, what the law says, and which issues you should be looking out for when your eyes are glued to Comey’s testimony tomorrow.

The deeds we know the Donald has done

James Comey has a reputation for meticulous recordkeeping and an excellent memory, and the man of the hour has helpfully provided us with a pre-interrogation factual background of his interactions with Donald Trump (his full statement can be found in the above link). Here’s what we know so far:

  1. January 6, 2017 briefing: Comey briefed Trump alone on the “personal” elements of “salacious” and “unverified” Intelligence Community review of elements of the Russia investigation. This appears to refer to the Steele Dossier.
  2. January 27, 2017 dinner: Trump asked Comey, who had already agreed to stay on as FBI Director, whether he would like to keep his job, noting many people would be eager to take it on. Shortly thereafter he said “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Trump repeated his demand for loyalty, and when Comey promised honesty, Trump settled on “honesty loyalty,” and Comey agreed.
  3. February 14, 2017 meeting: Trump discussed at length his concerns with intelligence leaks and suggested he hoped Comey could drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
  4. March 20, 2017: Comey testified before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election tampering.
  5. March 30, 2017 phone call: Trump told Comey the entire Russia investigation is a “cloud” hanging over his Presidency and asked if Comey could act to “lift the cloud.” He also raised concerns that Deputy FBI Director McCabe was too associated with the Clintons, and wondered again about the “cloud.” Trump asked Comey to “get out” (to the public) that Trump himself was not under investigation. Comey reported Trump’s request to end the investigation to the Deputy Attorney General for the Russia investigation.
  6. April 11, 2017 phone call: Trump calls Comey and says “the cloud” is still hanging over him. Comey said he had referred the issue to the Deputy Attorney General, and that would be the proper channel for Trump’s request.
  7. May 2, 2017: Trump says Comey is the best thing that happened to Hillary Clinton, because he “gave her a pass” for her “many bad deeds.”
  8. May 8, 2017: Trump tweets that the Trump-Russia is a “hoax” and asks when the “taxpayer-funded charade” will end.
  9. May 9, 2017: Trump fires Comey, and claims he did so because the Justice Department recommended it based on Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy.
  10. May 11, 2017: Trump tells Lester Holt of NBC that he was going to fire Comey no matter what, because of his handling of the Russia investigation.

These are the known facts relevant to Trump’s interactions with James Comey. The question is, what do they prove?

The requirements for an obstruction of justice claim

Every crime on the books has specific elements or requirements that a prosecutor must prove in order to convict a defendant. Obstruction of justice is no different.  In order to prove obstruction of justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Manual requires that “(1) there was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States; (2) the defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending; and (3) the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.” Now, we can’t be certain Trump would be convictable were he not President – the court cases disagree about whether the relevant statute applies to the FBI (if you are interested in the details, please click the link above to read a great analysis on the Lawfare blog). Fortunately, Donald Trump isn’t in danger of getting prosecuted, he is in danger of getting impeached (pending the outcome of the 2018 elections), and the “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment need not refer to a line item in the US Code. They are whatever the House of Representatives says they are (a terrifying standard at any time). Since we don’t have a House definition of obstruction for Presidents, the best we can do is analyze Trump’s behavior in light of the statute Congress created to apply to everyone else.

Which elements have been met, and which haven’t?

Element #1: “There was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States.” If we treat FBI investigations as a “proceeding,” there are two “proceedings” that could be implicated here.  The first is the larger Trump-Russia investigation being conducted by the FBI’s counterintelligence division. The second is the widely reported grand jury investigation into Michael Flynn. Interference with the Flynn grand jury would fall under a different statute, and since we are not positive about the nature of that investigation or whether Trump could have known about it at the time he asked Comey not to investigate Flynn, I’ll leave that out of my analysis.

Element #2: “The defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending.” Trump knew Comey was investigating Russia’s interference in the election on January 6, at the very latest.  He became aware that his campaign’s connections to Russia were being investigated when Comey testified before Congress on March 20, at the very latest.

Element #3: “The defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.” This prong is the key. There is already some indication that Trump intended to obstruct Comey’s investigation. After Comey’s March 20 testimony, Trump called him twice, on March 30 and April 11, to try to get him to end the investigation. Trump’s tweet on May 8 also evidences frustration with the investigation, and Trump’s admission in an interview that the Russia investigation inspired him to fire Comey adds yet more fuel to the fire. However, firing Comey because he didn’t like the Russia investigation doesn’t necessarily prove Trump obstructed justice.  The problem with that reasoning is Andrew McCabe, the Deputy FBI Director who has known Clinton ties. Trump clearly knew that Comey’s #2 was associated with Democrats; he raised that concern with Comey on their March 30th phone call. It’s difficult to call the firing itself an obstruction of justice if Trump knew ahead of time that the Acting Director wasn’t going to stop the investigation and it was going to be a while until he could get a new Director through the Senate. The question is whether Trump did anything before the firing designed to push Comey to personally change the outcome of the investigation.

Was there coercion, or wasn’t there?

So our task for tomorrow’s hearing is to look for clues to whether there was an implicit or explicit if/then threat from Trump to Comey. Did Trump make it clear to Comey that if he did not “lift the cloud” then Trump would fire him? If so,that is an unquestionable attempt to obstruct the investigation. If not, it’s too easy  for a good lawyer to characterize Trump’s talk about a “cloud” hanging over his head as toothless whining (though his personality and past conduct would suggest it was not). It’s easy to see an implied threat; after Comey confirmed an investigation into the Trump campaign, Trump called him and asked him to end the investigation and began talking vaguely about Comey’s Deputy Director. Much of the distinction will involve Comey’s impressions and state of mind. If Comey didn’t perceive a threat in Trump’s statements, it’s hard to prove obstruction, unless Trump tells us he was threatening Comey, which is never out of the realm of possibility with this guy. Hopefully Trump had Comey quaking in his boots. Happy hunting folks – let’s see if that smoking gun turns up tomorrow.

Blue States’ Rights: How California And Other Blue States Can Hold America To The Paris Accords

This week, Donald Trump decided (or by the tone of his speech, Steve Bannon decided) to withdraw the United States from the strictly voluntary Paris Accords.  This decision was a tragic abdication of American leadership, and it is entirely possible that it marks the end of the American era. Why would any country ever enter a long term agreement with us again if our word is worthless? It was one of the most ridiculous self-inflicted wounds I have ever seen, and Trump’s prediction that the world would end up laughing at us has already become a reality. However, Trump’s destruction of American’ leadership may not actually destroy the planet. California, New York, and Washington have created the United States Climate Alliance, and intend to work with other countries, regions, and provinces to meet the Paris Accords. If they play it right, these states, and others that will hopefully join them, can use their constitutionally protected right to tell Trump to eat coal and enact laws that will keep the US to its Paris commitments.

States’ Rights Aren’t Just For Living Confederate Monuments Like Jeff Sessions

Those of us who take a dim view of America’s history of slavery and segregation tend to recoil at the term “States’ Rights,” because the concept has most often been invoked to promote institutionalized white supremacy. However, the Tenth Amendment, which says all powers not granted to the Federal Government belong to the States, is an essential check on federal power. It is there to protect California’s right to control carbon emissions just as much as it was ever there to help South Carolina persecute its black citizens. California already has a cap and trade system in place as well as other progressive environmental regulations. A State’s right to regulate internal  carbon commerce has already been established.

The United States Climate Alliance may not be able to control all carbon emissions in the US, but they may just be able to offset the transgressions of the Koch brothers and other polluters in states they cannot reach, and curb some big polluters in the bargain. Most carbon emissions don’t come from the federal government (although the Tennessee Valley Authority accounts for quite a few); they come from people and corporations. Just imagine that Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, and Maryland join the Climate Alliance. About 100 million consumers live in those and existing Climate Alliance states. No business wants to voluntarily give up that many domestic customers over a few environmental regulations. A third of the American population uses a lot of power and a lot of cars and a lot of plastic, all of which come from fossil fuels (at least for the moment). Any business wanting to sell to consumers or do business in those states will have to adhere to whatever regulations the alliance may impose. The great news is that most big polluters are big companies, and big companies’ policies can be manipulated by a minority of states thanks to the power of capitalism.

Large Corporations have to set policies based on all states in which they do business

Big companies tend to develop internally consistent policies based on the most restrictive state law they have to obey. Let me give you an example: If 1/3 of American states pass a law mandating that all small SUVs must have 35 mpg as of 2020, American car manufacturers are not going to make a Ford Escape that gets 25 mpg for Alabama and one that gets 35 mpg for California.  They are going to create a product (given the technology already exists) that they can sell in all states.  Streamlining their products and policies to comply with all applicable regulations is a better and cheaper way for them to do business. There are also non-product related examples. Before marriage equality was decided by the Supreme Court, many large companies offered health benefits to same sex domestic partners.  This was often because some states required it.  It is easier for HR departments (or any other departments) in large organizations to have 1 policy to apply to all of its operations than different policies for every jurisdiction. Exxon, BP, and every other major oil company sell gas in California and every blue state. After all, that’s where most of the people are. Seems like a fair bet to me that they will be unwilling to forgo 100 million consumers – more than the entire population of Germany – just to avoid a little carbon cutting.

It’s time to use the tools we have to achieve the ends we want

With a petulant toddler at the head of the Federal Government, we need to look for alternative means to achieve our goals, and California has the right idea. For a hundred years, the South used their state laws to achieve the horribly discriminatory policies they wanted, and they succeeded, despite the existence of a constitutional amendment designed to prevent those policies. We have no such impediment! There’s no reason we can’t use our state laws to try to save the planet, or anyone else who needs saving, for that matter. One excellent aspect of federalism is that people in other states generally don’t kick up a fuss about what the state next door is up to, as long as it does not fundamentally offend human dignity, and it took almost two hundred years to nip that one in the bud. It’s time for us to support the United States Climate Alliance and any other state-level initiatives that can move our country forward. The more states sign on, the more consumers fall under a climate-protective umbrella, and the more polluters have to listen to us. Let the era of Blue States’ Rights begin.