Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Turning Points and Right-wing Harassment

When Turning Points USA launched its Professors Watchlist, I raised the alarm. A lot of folks did. But others mocked, saying that it was just some website and not worth fussing about. I wrote for The Establishment about it, saying that it was a sign of worse attacks to come.

Those attacks have, indeed, come. Read Maximillian Alvarez in The Baffler on Turning Points and their culture of harassment and threats:
It’s high time that we start being honest with ourselves about what TPUSA really is. Far from being a samizdat preserve of heroic dissent in the face of “political correctness,” the group is the organizational equivalent of a bait and switch. While some colleges and universities are wising up to the group’s game, most have largely continued to treat TPUSA in accordance with the warped story it tells about itself: that it is, at base, a nonprofit organization celebrating the sturdy American civic verities of small-government conservatism and laissez-faire economics.
Within the bounds of this narrative, there’s really just one way to rationalize the regular stream of confrontations between TPUSA and its many opponents that, wherever possible, result in tireless campaigns to silence, expel, or fire the latter. TPUSA would have a credulous media believe—and an opportunistic conservative political class reiterate—that such campaigns are, at worst, an unfortunate byproduct of the group’s righteous efforts to carry out its stated mission; that they are a defense of last resort spearheaded by an organization that only wants to ensure that colleges and universities remain open to “ideological diversity.” But the evidence gives a much clearer picture: silencing, expelling, or firing opponents is the mission—and has always been.
I'm trying to figure out what my next formal piece on academic freedom is. The attacks just keep coming.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reason never Defeats Hate

Steve Bannon is coming to University of Chicago to perform "reasoned debate." John Warner writes:
Zingales says, “Hate cannot be defeated by hate, but only by reason.”
Huh? Perhaps hate cannot defeat hate, but does this mean our only alternative is “reason?”
I’m trying to think of a single instance in recorded history where hate was defeated by reason and I’m coming up short. Did the reason of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation end the Civil War?
Did Martin Luther King Jr. reason the cattle prod out of Selma sheriff Jim Clark’s hands?
The faith Zingales puts in the power of “reasoned debate” is essentially magical, an all-powerful remedy for whatever ails you.
That's a good point. 
I believe in this case, the University of Chicago’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas is more symbolic and performative than substantive. Inviting Steve Bannon is an attention-grabbing symbol that says, “Hey, open-minded people over here!” but it’s an inch-deep commitment to the values they claim to hold dear. Meanwhile, they've got some academic messy academic freedom issues where they seem less reverent of full and free reasoned debate.
As a second example, Bannon’s invite also led to the ultimate resignation of Samantha Eyler-Driscoll as a member of the University of Chicago Stigler Center publication ProMarket. After her objections to the Bannon invitation were overruled by the board and her request to be personally recused from promoting the event was not fully respected, she was informed by human resources that as staff, unlike Zingales and Bannon, she was not “protected under the University’s stated principles of freedom of expression…and perceived insubordination could be grounds for termination of my employment.”

In her resignation from the board, Eyler-Driscoll observes, “My situation is only the latest example of the ubiquitous reality in this country whereby the de jure notion of an absolute right to freedom of expression conceals a de facto reality in which the right to free expression of the powerful is enforced at the expense of that of their subordinates.”
This is a point I'm interested in -  staff don't have academic freedom, even when they operate in intellectual capacities.

Watching carefully.

- An academic staffer.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Murder and Disability

Two pieces:

- Murder in Australia, with the killer treated sympathetically because the victims were disabled children.

- A Jewish disabled person writes about Aktion T4, when the Nazis killed disabled people before they got around to killing others. This struck me especially hard:
A reading of Hoche and Binding’s “Permitting the Destruction of Unworthy Life” shows the similarity between what they said and what exponents of practical ethics, such as Peter Singer, say about the disabled today. As recently as 2015, Singer, talking with the radio host Aaron Klein on his show, said, “I don’t want my health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who can experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

On The Shape of Water

Two good pieces criticizing The Shape of Water from disability perspectives.

From Kim Sauder:
Her character—like all of the characters in the film—is one-dimensional. She is a mishmash of disability stereotypes. She is a social outsider who is largely perceived to be “other”. She clearly longs for more inclusion but is unable to get it. She experiences only simplistic emotions that seem more appropriate to a toddler than they do to a grown woman who has not one but two gratuitous masturbation scenes (so you can throw in creepy sexualization of innocence as well).
The lack of emotional range for the character is really down to the performance given by Sally Hawkins. I have seen many people applaud the silence of her performance but silence isn’t a performance, it is a narrative choice. A performance would be everything that the character does outside of that silence. Which in this case is predominantly very simplistic facial expressions and a very little amount of sign language. What that amounts to is that Elisa’s character has less to do with her character or the performance given by Hawkins than it does with the storytelling around it.
Silence is a narrative choice.

Sauder continues:
The Shape of Water could so easily be a different kind of horror film about the dangers of social denial of the sexuality of disabled people and how that makes them easy targets for abusers. Instead, it does exactly that story but ignores the inherent dangers of becoming infatuated with the first man who pays you any attention because the world has spent decades telling you that you are undesirable. It takes what should be a cautionary tale and turns it into a bittersweet romance. In so doing it absolves the bigoted world that rejected Elisa and ends on the message that if the world doesn’t work for you, even if it’s clearly the result of discrimination that the best option is to leave.

At its core, The Shape of Water asks us to consider what a freak is. Is a monster a god? Is a disabled woman a freak? An outsider? Can she be loved or understood by her own kind, or are the monsters the only ones who can truly understand her?
Unfortunately, the answer to this movie was that no, she cannot be loved by her own kind, and yes, she is an outsider. A monster. A freak. She belongs under the water with her beloved Aquatic Monster. We don’t know this for certain, that she lives—in fact all signs point to the idea that she is dying or dead at the movie’s end. But if I accept that she is dead, then the film ends as all disabled films do: in ultimate, inevitable tragedy. So I choose to imagine the slightly less angering of two evils.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Death Penalty and Disability: Ethnic Adjustments

My latest for Pacific Standard:
As a concept, IQ is terrible. The idea that we can reduce intelligence to a simple number, quantifiable in a test, exacerbates inequality in numerous racist, classist, sexist, and ableist ways. Not only do people have worth beyond their measurable cognitive ability, but IQ also routinely awards higher numbers to abled middle- and upper-class white males, reinforcing pre-existing ideologies in the name of "science." Over the last many decades, scholars and activists have pushed backagainst the regime of IQ testing in all contexts, often successfully.
Now, prosecutors in at least eight states have been hiring experts to testify about the racist nature of IQ, in order to kill more black and brown men.


Here's where "ethnic adjustments" come in. The practice, as documented by attorney Robert Sanger in a 2015 article in the American University Law Review, adjusts IQ scores upward for people of color convicted of capital crimes. According to Sanger, prosecutors in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have all used ethnic adjustments to successfully impose the death penalty on people who otherwise might have been deemed exempt. In his article, Sanger works methodically through case after case, noting in particular the role played by expert witnesses for the prosecution, who testify to the racial biases of IQ testing. In most cases, these experts have never met the person convicted of the capital crime or assessed that person for disability, even as their testimony clears the way for execution.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Annals of Criminalization: Distracted Walking and Cult of Compliance

The things we criminalize reveal a lot about risk and value much more than actual dangers. Here's a fascinating piece from The Baffler on "distracted walking." The issue isn't safety but enforcement of car culture.
“Distracted pedestrian” laws aren’t really about the evidence, though. They are about maintaining the privileges of car culture as that culture is about to confront an enormous shift in the balance of civic and technological power—one that threatens to permanently upend the relationship between drivers and pedestrians.
There's a history to the invention of jaywalking that Jordan Fraade builds into the piece, well documented with links to the growth of car culture. In my beat, jaywalking often functions as amcrimes that marginalized folks are more likely to be charged with, including disabled people of color. I've seen numerous cases of folks in mental health crisis arrested with force, or even killed, due to unsafe walking. It's a tool for the criminalization of homelessness and other forms of poverty. And it's now got a "cell phone" panic component.

The author writes:
The phantom menace of the “distracted pedestrian” is just an updated version of the same tactic. In bringing it to pass, local and state lawmakers are once again getting an assist from one of the world’s most storied car companies. The 2017 Ford Fusion included a new feature called Pre-Collision Assist, which uses a combination of radar and cameras to scan the roadway and identify objects blocking it. Fair enough—except that Ford is advertising Pre-Collision Assist as a way to defend the driveragainst “petextrians.” The company website states, “By identifying the problem that petextrians pose to drivers and creating a new technology to combat and prevent this issue, we have reaffirmed our commitment to making the roads safer for everyone.” A company engineer helpfully added, “We were startled to see how oblivious people could be of a 4,000-pound car coming toward them.” In a battle between one person wearing clothing and shoe-leather and another wearing a speeding, combustible two-ton metal machine, Ford wants us to believe that the former is the real threat.
When we criminalize an activity, the people who actually get criminalized are the most vulnerable. Anti-texting-while-driving laws (probably an actual threat to safety) then become the new excuse for pulling over folks for driving while black and brown. "I saw you on your phone," the officer says, when choosing who among the 50 drivers on their phones to pull over. Distracted walking will work the same way.

Criminalization of quotidian activities is a tool of the  cult of compliance.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cover Reveal: SEXISM ED, by Kelly J. Baker

Sexism Isn't New

Guest Post by Kelly J. Baker

Editor's Note: I am honored to host the cover reveal for Sexism Ed, coming out this April from Raven Books. Check here for pre-order status. I met Baker through Facebook when she was looking for older academic women to interview about sexism in the academy, and put her in touch with my mother. Here, Baker situates her new book in that history of sexism.


I started writing the column, Sexism Ed, for Chronicle Vitae in 2014. I pitched the series at the end of 2013, after realizing that the barriers I faced in academia were very similar to the barriers other women academics encountered. My story was not unique, but one of the many stories about gender inequality in the ivory tower. I listened to so many women recount the bias, misogyny, and harassment they faced, but collecting stories wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to see the shape of the narrative on a large scale. I wanted to find what data we had on sexism in academia and wade through the studies that had already tackled the problem in one way or another. I wanted to figure out whether sexism was a systemic problem, like I imagined it to be, or whether I was putting too much emphasis on the harrowing stories that women scholars shared with me over coffee, in emails, and in rushed whispers at annual conferences. (I wasn’t.)

Image description: The cover of Sexism Ed, showing
a classroom with the book title on a blackboard
in pink letters.
When the column launched, I momentarily believed that I would run out of topics to cover. That sexism in academia was a topic that had limits. That there was only so much I could say. That my interest, or maybe the reader’s interest, would wane.

What I found instead was that I would write about sexism, and later contingent labor, in the academy for the rest of my life. The limits that I thought I would encounter were not there. The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new. This shouldn’t have surprised me. We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it. I had hoped that academia lived up to the progressive talk of academics. It also shouldn’t have surprised me because I’m a trained historian. The historian’s standard response, or maybe lament, is “This is not new.” Historians show us again and again that the social problems that we encounter have longer lives that we expect and contexts that we’ve forgotten about.

When I interviewed David’s mother, Elisabeth I. Perry, about the two-body problem for a column, I realized that while certain facets of academic sexism might be new to me that they were not new to previous generations of women scholars. I realized how many women lived with the same problem that I had been facing, but more than that, I could finally see how intractable these assumptions about women and careers are in higher ed.

As I pulled together the collection of essays that make up Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia, I looked over the dates that each essay was originally published. And I got angry. These essays, some written almost four years ago, could still be published today. The conversations on gender and higher ed haven’t progressed as much as I would have hoped. Writing this book made me feel like I had been shouting into the void for the last few years. So, what I hope for is that Sexism Ed forces some conversations that academics have been overlooking or avoiding about equality and exploitation. I hope that we can recognize how structural sexism is in the academy and work toward dismantling it. I hope that we can stop history from repeating itself for women scholars now and for future generations of women who are pursuing the life of the mind.

Sexism in academia isn’t new, but it’s not inevitable either.

Image Description: A smiling white woman
in a grey shirt wearing glasses. She's leaning
on a brick wall and wearing a necklace.
Kelly J. Baker is the author of the award-winning Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas, 2011); The Zombies Are Coming!: The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture (Bondfire Books, 2013); Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces (Raven Books, 2017); and Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia (Raven Books, 2018). She's also the editor of Women in Higher Education.

Monday, January 22, 2018

ADAPT: Effective Activism takes Practice

I interviewed Anita Cameron for Pacific Standard about the WORK that goes into ADAPT actions.


So you stage mock actions to practice? What are those like?
It can be anything! It's usually taking over something: An office, a bathroom, whatever, to simulate, as close as possible, what you do [in a real protest]—the adrenaline, the chaos, to give people a feel what to expect.
On Sundays [before actions] we have our legal meeting; it goes into into the history of ADAPT, civil disobedience, and why we use that. And we have published an activist guide. I wrote the part about intersectionality. I'm black. I'm disabled. I'm a lesbian. And I worked in the LGBT community before I joined ADAPT. Once I joined ADAPT, I spoke out pretty much about disability discrimination for 25 years. But when Michael Brown got killed, I really decided that, look, I can't separate my identities and my intersections of oppression from disability.
Also, we [must] pay attention to our walking folks who may be helping to open doors. The police sometimes will grab the folks who are walking. Just because you're walking doesn't mean you're non-disabled, but they'll assume the walking folks are non-disabled. They assume that if they grab the walking people, the folks in wheelchairs or mobility devices will somehow run away.
That has never happened.
No! Not in the 35 years of ADAPT has that ever happened.
We know what we're getting into. Especially us veterans who've been around a few years, a few decades.

Friday, January 19, 2018

School to Prison: Disability

The Center for American Progress has put out an analysis of the role disability plays in suspensions. It confirms what we broadly know, but makes the data case strongly and usefully:
Too many young children with disabilities and social or behavioral difficulties are currently living a version of Isaiah’s harrowing early learning experience. According to new data, children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities and or emotional and social challenges, while comprising just 12 percent of early childhood program populations, represent 75 percent of suspensions and expulsions. The odds of being suspended or expelled are more than 14.5 times higher for children with disabilities and emotional challenges than for their typically developing peers. (see Appendix)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Western Civilization and Immigration

A Pakistani man who renounced his Muslim faith and became a humanist has had his application for asylum in the UK rejected after failing to correctly answer questions about ancient Greek philosophers.
The Home Office said Hamza bin Walayat’s failure to identify Plato and Aristotle as humanist philosophers indicated his knowledge of humanism was “rudimentary at best”.

The Home Office also said Walayat did not face persecution for his beliefs. In a letter rejecting his asylum claim, seen by the Guardian, it said his assertion that he would be at risk in Pakistan, and could be killed by his family because of his beliefs and his renunciation of Islam, was unfounded.
Apostates are subject to discrimination, persecution and violence in Pakistan. In March last year, a student who had stated he was a humanist on his Facebook page was murdered at his university.
Rudimentary at best.

Rudimentary at best.

I keep coming back to those lines as they condemn this man to persecution (in the best case scenario). 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

When Red States Attack: Medicaid in Iowa

This is a brilliantly executed feature on how hard it is to actually get services from Medicaid in Iowa even if everyone agrees you are owed those services.
A Des Moines Register investigation into those 200 cases found an appeal process that presents a thicket of administrative and legal roadblocks to patients and their families, who must clear hurdle after hurdle to secure care.
Specifically, the Register investigation found:
• Due process violations: In at least four cases, administrative law judges concluded or the Medicaid recipient alleges in ongoing district court appeals that the companies failed to properly notify recipients about health care reductions and their appeal rights.
• Denials of in-home care: Medicaid expenses for in-home care that had been routinely approved when the state ran the program are now being rejected by managed-care providers as unnecessary and outside the scope of what the program authorizes. Families say they are left struggling to care for their loved ones, who are losing their independence and autonomy.
• Endless appeals: Even when Medicaid patients win their cases in administrative hearings, the managed-care companies routinely "re-evaluate" their health needs, again denying their care in as little as 60 days. That forces patients to embark on yet another round of appeals.
What's more, as I reported in November, the situation in Iowa is going to get worse.

I'm struck by the way that disability systems are built, funded, and run on the assumption that people mostly won't get full access to the services they are due.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Medievalism and Racism: The Pendragons

A bunch of London racists tried to arrest the Mayor of London. The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is Muslim. The racists brought a noose and accused him of treachery under the "Magna Carta." Here's the story from WaPo:
But the Pendragons didn’t want to wait outside.
A small, mostly curious crowd formed around the men as they lingered by the auditorium wall, accusing Khan of subverting British law, without ever explaining how. When a reporter asked under what authority they planned to arrest the mayor, one of the Pendragons cited the Magna Carta.
Police had still not arrived after 10 minutes or so. One of the Pendragons walked up to Khan’s table and showed him an American flag, which he was holding backward.

“Mr. Khan,” the man said, “there’s millions of British people supporting Donald Trump.”
Two interesting points:

1) The idea that the Magna Carta as the sole great document of liberty empowering the people to overthrow tyrants is an American idea, not typically a British one (see the work of Peter Linebaugh).

2)  Note, of course, that the whole dispute is framed around Trump's welcome/status in the UK. He's a force for global fracture.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Disability and Immigration Rights

NEW PIECE at Pacific Standard 
"As ICE has intensified operations under the regime of President Donald Trump, disability-related cases and causes have routinely gotten public attention. In part, this has to do with the way that disability commands sympathy and can sometimes generate generous media coverage. It's easier for immigrant rights groups to command national attention when there's a disabled six-year-old at risk. But it's also because ICE has turned rapacious, sweeping aside long traditions protecting medical facilities such as hospitals from enforcement actions."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Against Banning Laptops: Take good notes, trust students

Ruth Colker in the Cardozo Law Review argues that evidence for banning laptops, at most, suggests limited internet access during classroom times requiring content acquisition. Colker writes:
Those studies [promoting bans] represent a careful presentation of three artificial experiments where students are assigned their note-taking style— longhand or computer—and in which students have little incentive to learn the material from the lecture. They are paid to participate irrespective of how well they do on the exercise. The material is not assigned in any course at a university. And the material is conveyed entirely through a brief TED Talk or lecture.
And then Colker talks about her law school students in which laptops were a choice:
My students were not listening to a thirty-minute TED Talk and then being asked to apply limited, discrete information. My students were trying to absorb information over a fourteen-week period for a final, summative, twenty-eight hour take-home examination. For the purpose of taking the final examination, some of my students wanted to have typed notes that they could cut and paste to create an outline. Some students told me that there was inefficiency to handwriting notes because they then needed to type them into an outline. The kinds of benefits that may transpire from taking handwritten notes on short lectures may not correspond to note-taking in a class that consists of considerable discussion and dialogue in preparation for a twenty-eight hour take-home exam. On the other hand, other students told me that they found it beneficial to transfer the handwritten notes to typed notes. The additional step of typing notes was a learning experience for them. They therefore made an informed decision not to bring a computer into the classroom because they preferred to handwrite notes. But, interestingly, all students reported to me that they eventually created typed notes—unlike the students in the experiments.
One conclusion - Trust students:
I have been especially interested in comments from students who have self-identified to me that they have a disability. When laptops are allowed without restriction, these students report that students often do surf the Internet during class in a way that is very distracting to those sitting around them. But these students also report that the Internet surfing ends when the professor has a clear policy banning such conduct in the classroom. For example, during the year of this study, my first-year students had the same classmates during the fall and spring semesters. I taught them in the spring. They reported to me that their classmates who surfed the Internet during the fall were not Internet surfing in the spring in my class because of my clear Internet policy.
In the end, it's about note-taking:
The research for both typical students and students with disabilities strongly suggests that students do not necessarily take effective notes, irrespective of whether they use a laptop. A simplistic statement that laptop users should not take verbatim notes appears to be an insufficient way to help students take more effective notes. Some students may take effective notes using handwriting. Other students may take effective notes with computers. The technology itself does not dictate the outcome. The student’s note-taking effectiveness affects the outcome.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

My Son's Birth

It's my son's 11th birthday. Read this!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bad Historical Metaphors - #MeToo and Witch Hunts

New piece in Pacific Standard on historical language and victimization claims:
As a historian and journalist, the use of these loose metaphors to protect the powerful has concerned me for years. This latest push against serial sexual harassment in media and entertainment, as noted by BuzzFeed journalist (and Pacific Standard contributor) Anne Helen Petersen, has driven the bad historical metaphors to new heights (or depths). In a recent New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear about Hollywood following the Weinstein revelations, various industry sources compared the practice of re-shooting scenes that featured sexual predators to "Soviet Union-style erasure," as if losing screen time were equivalent to being consigned to a gulag. It's not "blacklisting" when someone chooses not to hire an accused sexual predator. It's certainly not a sign of incipient Holocaust or gender-based despotism. Nevertheless, a male comedy producer calls Hollywood a "reverse Handmaid's Talesociety." One industry insider told Goodyear, "Men are living as Jews in Germany."

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Teaching Non-Compliance

On NPR, Joe Shapiro has a powerful new series on sexual abuse and intellectual disability. I'll have more to say about that later in the week. Here's one reaction though from a fellow parent that's incredibly important.

The author thinks about all the ways that we train folks with Intellectual and developmental disabilities to be compliant, rather than to promote autonomy and agency. But it doesn't have to be that way. She writes:
Here are some of my initial ideas to ensure that we (as parents, as caregivers, as teachers, etc.) are not encouraging compliancy in kids with intellectual disabilities, but are rather encouraging autonomy and agency:
  • 4. We can play practice games where we do something mildly irritating to our child–tickling, blowing in their ear, a small silly thing–and they communicate their “stop” to us, and we stop immediately, and we high-five them. Again, we’re teaching healthy non-compliance here.
  • 7. We can applaud when our kids assert their wills. We can champion their defiance, knowing it will serve them well.
I do number 4 a lot. I tickle my son, then we talk about whether we'd like more tickles or not.

Of course, teaching non-compliance raises risks when interacting with law enforcement, as I've written so often about under the #CultOfCompliance rubric. It's a challenge.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Powell: Parents with Disabilities Fight to Keep Kids

For Pacific Standard, Robyn Powell writes about the rights of parents with disabilities. Around the country, parents are routinely placed at risk of losing their children due only to the fact that they (the parents) are disabled. She writes:
Nearly one in 10 children in the United States are at risk of being removed from their home by a child welfare agency simply because their parent has a disability.
In October, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of five parents with disabilities who had their children removed by New York's Administration for Children's Services, alleging widespread discrimination. What happened to these families is not unique or uncommon; rather, their tragic experiences are part of a national phenomenon: Parents with disabilities are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system and once involved are more likely than non-disabled parents to have their parental rights terminated.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Diagnosing Trump

Yesterday, as news about the Wolff book rolled through the net, I had an accidentally well-timed piece on the complexities of talking about Trump's age and his brain. I acknowledge that in fact age-related cognitive change might be an issue in a president (or other forms of cognitive change), but continue to believe that outside of very judicious high-quality reporting, we've got to stop this wild gossiping. I open with Reagan and write:
I've been thinking a lot about Stahl lately, thanks to the latest round of speculation about President Donald Trump's mental health. For 18 months, I've joined many other disability justice activists in decrying such speculation as based in ableist ideas that associate Trump's cruelty, incompetence, and deception with some kind of easily diagnosable pathology. These armchair diagnoses have provoked tense and angry discussions, driving wedges between diverse segments of the progressive community. I’ve taken a hard line against this speculation. I don’t think it will unseat Trump. I do think it will make people with mental-health needs more likely to stay closeted. With the alleged deception and silence surrounding Reagan's Alzheimer's on my mind, though, I’ve had to admit that there might be some occasions where reporting on presidential mental fitness could be appropriate. Still, we can distinguish between ableist gossip and good, reliable, journalism. Let's set the bar high.
I also tweeted:
So it's not that I don't agree that it's possible that there's an issue, as any of us at any time could experience change that might make being president impossible even with reasonable accommodations, but that our cultural ability to talk about mental health is so limited by deeply embedded cultural ableism that it's not going to hurt Trump and it is going to hurt lots of other people. It will emerge when Trump falls anyway (when/if), but it won't be causal. It'll just be a tool of the GOP pretending it's not their fault.

Yesterday The Atlantic published James Hamblin's long and very thoughtful commentary on Trump's mental state. He write, in the key paragraph:
After more than a year of considering Trump’s behavior through the lens of the cognitive sciences, I don’t think that labeling him with a mental illness from afar is wise. A diagnosis like narcissistic personality disorder is too easily played off as a value judgment by an administration that is pushing the narrative that scientists are enemies of the state. Labeling is also counterproductive to the field in that it presents risks to all the people who deal with the stigma of psychiatric diagnoses. To attribute Trump’s behavior to mental illness risks devaluing mental illness.
This is good. A thoughtful paragraph. Glad to see it in such high stakes writing. He goes from there to suggest:
The idea that the president should not be diagnosed from afar only underscores the point that the president needs to be evaluated up close.
A presidential-fitness committee—of the sort that Carter and others propose, consisting of nonpartisan medical and psychological experts—could exist in a capacity similar to the Congressional Budget Office. It could regularly assess the president’s neurologic status and give a battery of cognitive tests to assess judgment, recall, decision-making, attention—the sorts of tests that might help a school system assess whether a child is suited to a particular grade level or classroom—and make the results available.
I, of course, find the idea of a presidential-fitness committee frightening. I know how intelligence assessments are used to reinforce ableist concepts, institutionalization, segregration, and stigmatization of intellectually disabled folks.

I have no solutions, only reactions. It's a tough moment. The problem is ableism and the way it infuses our society, making non-ableist reactions to situations like Trump's brain that nevertheless assess his ability to do his job impossible.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Reproductive Rights and Disability Rights - The new wedge

New at The Nation:
Anti-choice activists have found what they think is a winning wedge issue: Down syndrome and other “sympathetic” disabilities. The latest attack was in Ohio, where, in late December, GOP Governor John Kasich signed a bill that bans abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Ten states have either passed similar bills or have presented them before legislatures. The function, and I suspect the goal, of these laws is not to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome or even to stop abortions based on prenatal diagnoses. Instead, the anti-choice movement is trying to use the public’s positive feelings about cute kids with Down syndrome, like my son, to undermine reproductive rights.
In response to these threats to reproductive freedom, I’ve had to start saying something new and difficult: If individuals want to terminate an otherwise wanted pregnancy due to a prenatal diagnosis, I support their decision.

I’ve spent many years now asserting the need to re-order how we ascribe value to diverse human lives. My son may not participate in the capitalist economy, live independently, or speak (he might also do all of these things!), but his value as a human is intrinsic. I’d like others to see it that way too. Selective abortion, as I’ve written for The Nation, reveals our attitudes about disability and other forms of difference. Still it’s time to affirmatively support the right to eugenic abortion, even as we fight the need for it. The struggle for disability rights begins with the affirmation that no one gets to tell anyone else what to do with their body. That includes abortion.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Attack on Olmstead

New at Pacific Standard:

Right before Christmas, Jeff Sessions rolled back key disability rights protections. More is likely coming:
What seems to be happening, according to Eve Hill and numerous other disability rights advocates to whom I spoke, is that the Sessions Department of Justice is siding with sheltered workshops. Sessions has a well-known general antipathy to federal enforcement of disability rights, so he's the perfect figure to use in rolling back this Olmstead guidance. Here, we merely have to follow the money. As Hill notes, "People who pay people with disabilities below the minimum wage get contracts that pay the regular fair market value even though they pay below minimum wage." Many sheltered workshops are extremely profitable enterprises, grossing considerable income from the work itself, while presenting themselves to the public as educational or charitable enterprises.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Police Violence in 2017

Well, it's the new year. Here's a report (excluding disability) on police violence in 2017. Here's the Washington Post on police killings in 2017 including mental illness.

Reading through these cases, I feel we're making no progress. Still 25% known mental illness, still reasonable estimate of a third to a half involving disabled people in some capacity, still vastly disproportionately people multiply marginalized by disability, race, class, gender identity, etc.

And the killings are just the worst outcomes, overlooking all the violent and threatening confrontations experienced by marginalized peoples that do not result in fatalities.

So many good programs out there, well-intentioned folks thinking hard, but the numbers stay about the same.

Back to work.