Bristol and Levi, Together Forever?

Sarah Seltzer

For those of us on the blue side of the divide, theoretically if not geographically, the Palin family saga reminds us that we’re not just fighting an abortion war, but we’re up against an entire way of life built on a deep foundation of contradiction.

Teen mom and abstinence spokeswoman Bristol Palin has risked the disapproval of two feuding families to romantically reunite with Levi Johnston, the repentant, formerly spurned (and spurning) father-of-her-child. Ironically, the glee that this clandestine second betrothal causes among Palin detractors (her mom must be so pissed!) contrasts with the fact that once again, the pair have embraced one of the cornerstones of conservative family values: the shotgun marriage, or in this case, the really, really long rifle marriage.

It’s hard to resist the saga of the Palin clan. Rivalries, teen pregnancies, breakups and makeups, rumors of meth-dealing relatives, tabloid gut-spilling and facebook name-calling. A young couple who embrace abstinence, reject it, then embrace it again. For the liberal media elite, the pursuit of this Alaska-to-Washington soap-opera has been intense and unyielding, encompassing both scorn for the clan’s seemingly-lowbrow ways and absolute fascination with same. That attraction-repulsion far eclipses any reaction to other conservative political foes who might pose a more substantial threat at the ballot box (Tim Pawlenty… eh).

As we debate whether the young Alaskan parents’ brand-new return to affianced bliss is for real or for reality TV, whether it’s an act of rebellion or Sarah Palin herself is its scheming puppet-master, what we’re actually left once again facing is the cultural threat that the Palins and their proud way of life seem to pose. This, in my opinion, is the true reason they get under our skin. It’s not so much that Sarah Palin will be president–she probably won’t–but we’ve now learned that are millions of people who embrace the Palin method, melodrama, accidental babies and all. It’s a way of life that, like anti-choice policies and hatred of government programs, rejects reason and evidence for dogma, even when confronted with the failure of that dogma in everyday life. Hot-button political disagreements like birth control, abortion, even the nature of marriage have real life consequences for the health and wealth of families–and the Palins and their ilk don’t seem to care.

Bristol and Levi, detours aside, represent a life-path that’s far from foreign or alien to conservative Americans–in fact it’s intimately familiar. This is why, when Bristol’s pregnancy was discovered, no eruption of fury or cry of “hypocrite” from within the conservative movement materialized–it was to be expected, and even applauded for not ending at the abortion clinic. This is how the Palin way generally proceeds:

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1-Grow up without sex-ed, with abstinence touted and contraception only marginally available.

2-Initiate sexual activity at a hormonally-appropriate time, without consistent or proper protection.

3-Get pregnant, but don’t consider abortion because of religious values, lack of access, or parental notification laws.

4-Attempt to do “the right thing” by getting married or engaged.

5-Nevertheless experience a higher poverty, divorce, and single parenting rate, and lower educational achievement and health index as a result.

6-Rinse, repeat.

This cheeky little rundown of mine is actually borne out by the numbers. In  Red Families vs. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, (Oxford University Press) the authors tease out the way our vast cultural differences translate, statistically. In an excerpt for Alternet, they write (emphasis mine):

Driven by religious teachings about sin and guilt and based in communities whose social life centers around married couples with children, the red family paradigm continues to celebrate the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation… Yet, red regions of the country have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages, and lower average ages at marriage and first birth.

Cahn and Carbone point out the “paradox” in the heart of so-called family values territory: family stories often include sins like divorce and out-of-wedlock births. The other side of the paradox? Rhetorically open-minded, pro-sex, love-makes-a-family blue state clans  model stable, two parent (gay or straight) homes with parents who have waited until adulthood and the arrival of financial stability, rather than the onset of sexuality in the late teen years, to begin having babies. These two factors–more than one caretaker and slightly older parents– of course, are proven by the numbers to be strong indicators of the emotional, financial, physical and education health of families. (The authors stress, and I repeat, that this is statistically-based generalization, and in no way negates the many real stories we’ve all seen of triumphant teen and successful single parents and two-parent, financially stable households that wreak havoc on their kids’ well-being.)

This paradox ultimately, is what provides the frustration for Palin-watchers–and conversely, the fad of Palin-mania and the success of shows like “16 and Pregnant,” which show the workings of the red-state family up close, uncensored, and personal.  But our way works, we think. Why do people keep choosing the other way? With our abundance of sexual freedom and contraception and abortion and gay-friendly policies, we actually have more solid family structures than you do, and yet somehow you still see us as sinful!

Carbone and Cahn believe that our ideological differences can’t be smoothed away. So they posit that more important than differences over sexuality and abortion should be the common goal of delaying marriage and childbirth. They suggest practical (and for the most part, feminist-friendly) solutions which they believe are more likely to help people on both sides of the gap than sparring does. For that reason, they support government and social programs focusing attention on contraception instead of abortion, promoting family-friendly workplaces instead of arguing over the ideal family, and expanding relationship and marriage education instead of arguing over sex vs. abstinence education.  They note that:

New efforts at marriage promotion suggest that delayed marriage, financial planning, more-effective communication, mutual respect and commitment, shared interests, and recognizing the warning signs of domestic violence (both in oneself and in potential mates) all enhance relationship stability.

Levi and Bristol have actually achieved some of the desired results here: they’re older, more financially stable thanks to their careers as celebrities and spokespeople, their shared experience as teens thrust into the spotlight is uniquely theirs, and they’ve now weathered a few life-experience storms that they wouldn’t have encountered even a few years back. Now that their red-state values have merged with media savvy and exposure to the wider world, they have a little more blue state flavor in their union. Whether or not they will buck trends and forge a successful family on either paradigm, is obviously a complete mystery–but we’ll all be watching. As Salon’s Amy Benfer writes, “their private choices will eventually be served back to us as political parable.”

For those of us on the blue side of the divide, theoretically if not geographically, the Palin family saga reminds us that we’re not just fighting an abortion war, but we’re up against an entire way of life built on a deep foundation of contradiction.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.