Excuse me, but your model needs to be hospitalized.

So I have to go to a cocktail party. I’d rather be beaten with sticks, but it’s not an option. My wardrobe choices are limited; I’m either dressing to work in the yard or go to court. So I browsed through some department store websites, just to see what was out there. Good grief, what a shock.

Isn’t anorexia understood to be a problem? I thought advertisers had agreed to be more responsible and not use models that encouraged teenagers to think their bones should protrude through the skin. Look at this poor thing! Click to enlarge, and check her elbows in case you missed it.

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I’ve represented women who looked like this; they were usually charged with prostitution and possession of heroin or cocaine. I always offered to take them to the hospital. Like, before they died in the elevator.

The picture below was taken in 2006.  This is backstage at an actual runway event– the model being made up died soon afterward. I assume she wasn’t modeling the underwear, but even if she was about to put on an overcoat, the people in charge should have been shot for allowing her to work.

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If the art directors at Bloomingdale’s think there’s nothing wrong with the girl in the pink dress, I’ve got to shop somewhere else.  Does LL Bean make cocktail dresses?

Who Will Be West Virginia’s First Female Senator?

Two women will likely square off for West Virginia’s Senate seat

Women have made substantial progress over the past 20 years in securing seats in the U.S. Senate. However, progress has been wildly uneven across the country. California, Washington and New Hampshire have all-female Senate representation, and Maine did as well until Olympia Snowe’s recent retirement. But other states have never elected a women to the upper house. One of the holdouts is my home state of West Virginia, but that will almost certainly change in 2014.

On the Republican side, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito is well-placed to capture the nomination, though she may have to overcome a Tea Party challenger. On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the early favorite.

Based on my amateur reporting around the state capitol the past few days, this should be a race to watch. Capito has two advantages. First, her father was the governor and West Virginians tend to look warmly on political dynasties (Randolphs, Manchins, Moores etc.). Second, West Virginia is becoming more friendly to Republicans: The GOP holds more seats in the State House of Delegates than they have since 1928. On the other hand, Tennant has run for statewide office and won, whereas this will be Capito’s first effort to appeal to voters outside of her district.

Both women are widely regarded as intelligent and personable. A Tennant-Capito matchup could thus be a (gasp) civil campaign that focuses on real issues. In any case, the end result will be West Virginia sending a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time in its 150-year history.

Poverty, Meet Cash Transfers

In my guise as The Nonprofiteer, I suggest that the solution to poverty might be money.

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Alert the media.  No, really.

Senior Voters as Women

Women’s issues may be an increasingly important factor in determining which politicians appeal to senior citizens

My maternal grandmother was the pluperfect Pittsburgh Republican. She believed in God (quietly), small government, thrift, self-sufficiency and Mellon Bank, where she worked for 35 years. If further GOP cred were needed, she had it from her cousin being Senator John Heinz. But then J. Danforth Quayle came unbidden into her political life.

When Quayle asserted that a pregnant little girl who was raped by her father should not be allowed to have an abortion, my grandmother didn’t exactly “go apes**t”, because the strongest curse word that gentle and dignified woman ever uttered was “pshaw”. But the incident had a profound effect, leading her to turn her back on George H.W. Bush even though he nearly perfectly mirrored her political views. President Bush had chosen “that horrible man” to be the vice-president of her country and that was not in her eyes forgivable.

My grandmother would not have used the term but she was a feminist of her generation, believing that there should be no infringements on women’s decisions about career, marriage, divorce, sex and childbearing. Such sentiments only become more prevalent in subsequent generations of American women.

I suspect that changes in attitudes among and about women are not being weighed sufficiently in analyses of senior citizens’ voting patterns, which tend to lump all seniors together, for example by assuming that the elderly’s only political interests are Social Security and Medicare. Senior citizens comprise a higher proportion of women than any other age group, and female senior citizens vote at higher rates than any other demographic group. It therefore seems plausible that as feminist attitudes have become broadly accepted among older women (even if they do not call themselves feminists) this may introduce new dynamics into voting patterns among the elderly, particularly as a number of male politicians seem to have a hard time shutting up about “legitimate rape”, divinely intended pregnancy from rape and mandatory vaginal ultrasounds.

New York Nasty and Los Angeles Nice: A Structural Explanation

Tomorrow, Los Angeles voters go to the polls to elect a new Mayor.  (At least a few of them, anyway: current estimates predict onyl 25% turnout, about which more later).  In September, New Yorkers will do the same.  And depending upon the way things turn out, political and cultural reporters could have a field day.

If Christine Quinn and Wendy Greuel win in their respective cities, we will have female mayors of both cities for the first time.  And the press will have a lot of fun with it, because the two women seem to epitomize their cities’ personalities.  Quinn is famously nasty and vicious, character traits she is now trying to ameliorate at least publicly.  Much less famously, but just as truly, Greuel is quite nice: I’ve known her for nearly 20 years, and you can’t deny that she is personally a very nice person.

And if you think about it, that is true more broadly.  If Anthony Weiner runs for NYC mayor, we’ll get another jerk trying to get to Gracie Mansion.  Greuel’s rival, Eric Garcetti, whom I’ve also known for a long time, is likewise very friendly and nice.  Even the campaign by realistic standards has been pretty tame.

If you think about New York mayors, they are hardly aiming for Mr. Congeniality: Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and even Michael Bloomberg aren’t necessarily the sort of person you’d want to hang out with.  But on the left coast, Tom Bradley almost epitomized mellow moderation; Antonio Villaraigosa is probably too personally charming for his own good; Jim Hahn might not have been the sharpest pencil in the cup but is a genuiunely nice guy; even Richard Riordan is pretty friendly and cordial.  David Dinkins, of course, was notably polite and courtly — and seemed out of his element because of it.

Why is this?  Is it just New York Nasty and Los Angeles Nice?  Maybe, but perhaps this is something bigger going on here.

New York mayors wield vast power.  They control huge departments, manage an enormous budget, and dominate the city politically.  New York City comprises five different county governments and thus contains the counties’ power.  The New York mayor’s problem is keeping control over the whole thing, not to mention corralling a notoriously-fractious urban political party (and sometimes more than that if they have the Liberal or Conservative endorsement).  The Mayor also plays a major role in appointing the Board of Education.  Hizzoner has to knock heads to get anything done.

In Los Angeles, on the other hand, the Mayor is relatively weak.  Los Angeles city government is dominated by civil service personnel, whom the Mayor can’t just order around.  Before 1992, this was even the case with the Police Department: I distinctly remember my east coast friends saying to me, “If Tom Bradley hates Daryl Gates so much, why doesn’t he just fire him?”  Answer: he couldn’t.  And he still can’t: the police chief has a five-year term.  Even with other departments, the Mayor can’t appoint dozens and dozens of officials: instead, he appoints usually five-member volunteer commissioners, who, because they are volunteers, are usually dominated by professional civil service staff.  That is not a recipe for strong executive leadership.

The Los Angeles mayor has no control over the school district or the Board of Education.  The Los Angeles City Council only has 15 members, making each councilmember the monarch of his or her district; in New York, there are so many councilmembers that they comparatively little power, although not negligible.  The City of Los Angeles has no control over the vastly bigger County of Los Angeles.  The Mayor of New York can call up the Brooklyn borough President to berate and threaten him: in Los Angeles, the only way the City get the County to what it wants is through a lawsuit.

Or persuasion.  The Mayor of Los Angeles has to persuade all these other constituencies to do what he or she wants: they can’t bully or force them.  Los Angeles elections are nonpartisan, and so the Mayor doesn’t even have a political organization to use.  The only way a Los Angeles Mayor will be effective will be through the patient and often-maddening business of assembling political coalitions, community groups, public sector unions, developers, etc.  A screamer in Los Angeles City Hall is someone who literally has no chance of success.

No wonder, then, that voters seem so uninterested: it’s not abundantly clear what precisely the Mayor is supposed to do, a condition that the early 20th century Progressives who framed the Los Angeles charter wanted.

The political scientist Kenneth Waltz, who died last week at the age of 88, made a similar point about the personalities of Presidents and Prime Ministers.  A President has to try to use the power of the bully pulpit and his dominance over the executive branch to get things done.  A Prime Minister, on the other hand, has to use persuasion to maintain his party coalition — if he doesn’t, he’ll get kicked out by his own caucus.  I think that that works here.

Whether Garcetti or Greuel wins tomorrow, the next Los Angeles mayor will be a pretty nice person.  Whether Quinn or Weiner or someone else wins in New York, the next New York mayor will probably be something of a jerk.  But the political structure will have as much to do with this as any tired cultural stereotypes.

My second campaign ad: Too close for comfort, Reproductive rights, unintended pregnancy, and the 2012 election

The right to choose is more than a slogan. It’s the right to be treated with dignity as people face some of the most intimate and difficult moments in life.

This is my second political commercial, I wrote and produced it, with the help of my friend Frey Hoffman @freydesign. Incidentally, the Planned Parenthood building behind me housed an adoption organization called the Cradle. It seems to be a very worthy organization.

The script is below. We couldn’t use all of it, because of the time constraints of a two-minute video.

Hello, I’m Harold Pollack. I don’t have a superpac. No one approved this message. It’s just me.

You know, I’ve been a public health researcher for 20 years now. Every single challenge I’ve worked on is made so much more difficult by the problem of unintended pregnancy. These issues would be so much easier to address if women had supports that they need to care for themselves and for their children, and if young women had the tools and the information they need to control their sexual lives, and to have healthy, intended pregnancies when they are ready.

I’m standing in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic. It’s right over there.  Governor Romney has pledged to defund these because of the abortion issue. Abortion is a tough issue. Especially as the caregiver for an intellectually disabled person, I don’t think we should we scream at each other over abortion. I get that.

But I think Governor Romney is making a mistake. Facilities like this provide primary care for many people. They provide women with effective contraception that reduce rates of teen pregnancy and abortion, too. They are important community institutions.

He’s also making a mistake in his pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He supports banning abortion, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and cases in which pregnancy poses a serious threat to the life or the health of the mother.

Let’s think about the implications of that. Suppose that your daughter, your sister, your friend was dealing with an unintended pregnancy. Right now, she now has the constitutional right to consult with whomever she sees fit, and to make her own choice.

But what would happen if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, and the Supreme Court allowed states to outlaw abortions–with the exceptions that Governor Romney supports? First, ninety percent of women would lose the right to choose. And what about the remaining ten percent? They would need to ask permission strangers—maybe a judge, maybe a panel of medical experts—to explain why the circumstances of their pregnancies deserve some specific exemption. Do we really want to humiliate people like that?

 The right to choose is more than a slogan. It’s the right to be treated with dignity as people face some of the most intimate and difficult moments in life. We’re one presidential election away, one 79-year-old Supreme Court justice away, from seeing that right to choose overturned. And that’s too close for comfort.  

It’s not just wisdom that comes with age

When I was a brand new baby lawyer in my twenties, I could not fathom sexual harassment.  I got the point that a law school diploma and an admission to the bar were meaningless in the face of my complete lack of knowledge about how the real work of lawyering was done.   I understood that the gladiatorial nature of litigation meant I was bound to take some body blows from seasoned lawyers.  Nonetheless, I could not for the life of me understand why the hostilities so often had a sexualized overtone.  What could be causing these men to remark on my appearance in between barbs and snark while standing in a filthy courthouse corridor arguing about discovery obligations in a surety case?  It made no sense.  A clerk once called into chambers to tell the judge that I had arrived, and said, “It’s either Ms. Heussler or a young Maureen O’Hara.”  What?  And who was this Maureen person anyway?

So, okay, I turned 50 last year and I now I get it.  Continue reading “It’s not just wisdom that comes with age”

An open letter to Xenia Sobchak

Five suggestions for the future to the new starlet of the Russian opposition.

Following my long-shot praise of the Russian playgirl and reformer Xenia Sobchak (surely the better transliteration), I thought I would offer her and the movement of which she is a part some unsolicited advice on what to do next. I’ve emailed it to opposition parties picked with a pin, hoping it will reach her eventually.

Commenters are invited to add their takes.

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Dear Ms. Sobchak:

Like many other casual and less casual observers of Russia, I have been struck by your surprising emergence as a prominent activist in the protest movement against ballot-rigging in Russia and more generally the corrupt authoritarianism of the Putin government. I have written about you favourably on the current affairs group blog to which I contribute, The Reality-Based Community. This letter is an open one and will be posted on the same blog. The comments there from our regular readers will I’m sure be worth your time.

You are of course one among many leaders of the protests, and others like Boris Nemtsov have been active in opposition politics much longer than you. At present your value is symbolic and mediatic. This has its importance, and your service to the movement -is in part as a lightning-rod to attract attention such as this letter. I make no apology for making you a channel to address the wider movement. At the end I will offer some thoughts which are specifically for you.

My last visit to Russia was in 2007 as a tourist on the Trans-Siberian, and my last working one a few years before that. I am out of touch, and would be delighted to be proved wrong in my pessimistic assessments from a distance. Besides, I have no expertise to offer you on political organisation, campaigning, or media: and therefore cannot help you and your colleagues navigate the immediate crisis. What I do know a little about is policy. In your reported speech you rightly said that the opposition must decide what it for as well as against; and this letter is a response to your challenge. To succeed in wresting power from Putin’s machine, the opposition needs a diagnosis of what’s wrong with Russia today; and workable programmes of reform that will attract ordinary Russian citizens. “Programmes” in the plural because the democratic alternative naturally includes a range of viewpoints on a left-right and other ideological axes.

“Democracy” is I hear not very popular in Russia; it’s associated with the chaos, looting and sleaze of the Yeltsin era. The opposition must offer a credible “Democracy 2.0”, advancing tangible reforms through robust and transparent democratic procedures. Democrats must not rely on a starry-eyed trust that such procedures guarantee sensible outcomes. They don’t; see Israel’s fully democratic blunders since 1967. An attractive alternative must offer both practical solutions to everyday problems of the life of Russian citizens and communities, and a coherent vision or story – consistent with the practical programme – of Russia’s future as a nation.

It’s a huge agenda. All I can or should do is provoke you and your colleagues into a discussion on a few aspects. I will comment on four: the diagnosis; the policy ecosystem; inequality; and energy. Finally, some lines directed at you personally on (with no apology) sex and drugs.

(Warning: long wonkish post below the jump, before the fun stuff at the end)
I. What’s the matter with Russia?
II: An alternative policy ecosystem
III: Inequality
IV: Energy
V: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll
Continue reading “An open letter to Xenia Sobchak”

Crucial distinction

There’s a difference between voting for a vicious law and being a vicious person.

The Republican majority in the Texas Legislature, which passed the law imposing pointless suffering on a woman whose pregnancy went wrong, isn’t actually a bunch of ignorant, sadistic morons.

They just play them on the campaign trail, and in Austin.

Seriously. Very few of them would really have been willing, in real life, to subject this utterly innocent victim to what she went through. Had they been forced to sit with her and her husband through the grotesquely unnecessary 24-hour waiting period, almost all of they would have begged to be let out. But under the influence of factional passion and Teahadi/theocon political pressure, they voted for something utterly meaningless and vicious.

Invitation to Red commenters here, and Red bloggers: come up with a justification of this law as applied this case. I defy you.