The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 26 2017 2:32 PM

Hillary Clinton’s Commencement Speech Made It Sound Like All of America Was Graduating

One of the many downsides to adulthood is the lack of successful grown-ups assuring us that we show much promise, that our lives have purpose, and that our future is bright. The upside is that we have access to the internet, where we can watch such grown-ups tell younger, smarter people those things and pretend we still have our whole lives ahead of us to set the world on fire, seize every moment, believe in the beauty of our dreams, etc.

I’m talking about commencement speeches, obviously, and the one Hillary Clinton gave at Wellesley College, her alma mater, on Friday is a paragon of the form. She made several crowd-pleasing references to dorms and dynamics specific to Wellesley, but her address was broad enough feel like an encouraging pat on the back for everyone. It was as if all of America was graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and the crushing sense that the world was about to eat us alive, and Clinton stepped in to say, no, you can do it, with all the optimism of Tim Kaine’s encouraging dadditude.

May 26 2017 9:15 AM

Trump’s Database of “Criminal Aliens” Is Dangerous—and Quite Possibly Illegal

Late last month—just before Trump hit his 100-day mark—the Department of Homeland Security launched a new database in which anyone in the country, or indeed anyone in the world, can find the names of immigrants deemed by our government to be “alien offenders.” This term ostensibly refers to people who have committed a crime, and this list will be of putative use to those they have harmed. In reality, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has been open about the political motives behind this project: The victims of the immigrants in question “are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place,” he said in April.

The database—the work of the new DHS Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE—is a poor tool for fighting crime, not least because immigrants offend at far lower rates than native-born Americans. But it appears well-calibrated to help Trump and Kelly achieve their real aims, which are to project an image of immigrants as gun-toting gangsters and to make the case for the president’s pointless border wall.


If only this commitment to a flagrantly false narrative were the worst thing about the new database, called the Victim Information and Notification Exchange, or DHS-VINE. But it’s not. When attorneys at the Falls Church, Virginia–based Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that works with immigrant survivors of violence, first searched VINE several weeks ago, they were alarmed to find the names and information of many of their clients—survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault—posted for all the world to see. Along with a person’s name, VINE publicizes the precise facility where she’s being detained and the day on whch she’ll be released. How this aids crime victims remains opaque; how it assists traffickers and abusers, on the other hand, is clear.

VINE, as the L.A. Times has reported, appears to scoop up any immigrant who ICE has detained: It doesn’t differentiate people whose only offense is their presence in this country without legal status. Nor does the list distinguish between immigrants who’ve been convicted of crimes and those who’ve only been charged—situations that Trump’s executive orders have notably conflated. When it first went live, VINE even included entries for unaccompanied migrant children being held in custody; after an outcry, DHS introduced a filter to shield the information of anyone under 18.

In risking people’s safety for some anti-immigrant P.R., the administration may be breaking the law. On Thursday, Tahirih’s chief of policy and programs, Archi Pyati, wrote to ICE demanding that survivors’ information be scrubbed from VINE. As she points out, the U.S. sets aside a special group of visas and green cards for victims of trafficking and violent crime (the T visa, which is for trafficking victims; the U visa, for victims of other serious crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault; and the VAWA self-petition, for spouses of abusive U.S. citizens or permanent residents). Unlike Trump’s VOICE Office, these serve a real purpose in promoting public safety: They allow victims to testify against violent offenders who might otherwise walk free.

These remedies come with much-needed privacy protections. Not surprisingly, perpetrators often try to silence the only voice that could speak against them in court, either through violence or by having the person deported before a case can get off the ground. An American University study found that abusers or their family members called ICE on undocumented victims in more than a quarter of U visa cases and almost 40 percent of VAWA self-petitions. ICE isn’t supposed to use these tips, since doing so only gives abusers more power—though they’ve been accused of violating that rule. For the same reason, U.S. immigration law prohibits anyone in government—including the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security themselves—from disclosing information about an immigrant who is applying for one of these visas or green cards to someone other than “a sworn officer or employee of the Department…for legitimate Department, bureau, or agency purposes.” VINE, which makes crucial details available to anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection, appears to fail those criteria.

ICE did not respond to direct questions about whether VINE might be in violation of the law, or about what steps could be taken to protect survivors' privacy. "ICE continually strives to ensure that information protected both by policy and law is never divulged," ICE spokesperson Thomas Byrd said in an emailed statement. "When the agency receives evidence suggesting that non-releasable information is unintentionally available, immediate actions are taken to ensure proper mitigation both to correct and to prevent further disclosures."

A previous letter from Tahirih to ICE went unanswered earlier this month. Now, if DHS can’t figure out how to remove these legally protected visa-seekers from VINE, Tahirih is demanding that the whole database come down no later than the end of the week. It remains to be seen if and how the administration will respond. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Trump and Kelly overlooked a pesky statute and were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

May 25 2017 4:59 PM

Phallic Anxiety (Probably!) Drives Male Academics to Execute Lame Hoax About Gender Studies

A new paper in the journal Cogent Social Sciences argues that the penis should not be viewed as an organ but as “a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity.” Sound absurd? Psych! Authors “Peter Boyle” and “Jamie Lindsay” are really Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, and they intended the paper as a righteous burn on the entire field of gender studies. “We suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil,” the authors wrote in confessing the hoax. “On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.”

May 25 2017 3:27 PM

An Open Letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney

Dear Director Mulvaney,

It’s me. A fetus. “How precocious!” you must be thinking. “An unborn child, typing an open letter with its nubby fingertips.” Please, spare me the condescension. Tapping out this note was a challenge for someone with 20/400 vision, but I felt it was necessary after I nearly choked on my amniotic fluid while listening to your astonishing testimony before the House Budget Committee this week.


You seem to consider me one of the Trump administration’s most important constituents, or at least that was the impression I got when you suggested that the draconian budget cuts your administration proposed—$627 billion to Medicaid, $194 billion to food stamps, more than $250 billion to education—were necessary for the sake of future generations.

What about the standard of living for my grandchildren who aren’t here yet? Who will end up inheriting $30 trillion in debt? Fifty trillion dollars in debt? A hundred trillion dollars? What about their standard—who’s going to pay the bill, Congressman? ... Us? Or somebody else? And I suggest to you if it’s important enough to pay, to have, then we need to be paying for it. Because right now, my unborn grandchildren are paying for it, and I think that is morally bankrupt.

While I may lack a fully developed thalamus, I do have a bullshit detector—and it’s blaring thanks to your little oration about fiscal rectitude.

This much is true: Washington is on pace to borrow quite a bit of money in the coming years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal debt held by the public is set to hit 150 percent of gross domestic product by 2047, up from 77 percent today. That would be unprecedented for the U.S.; our debt load never even reached that level during World War II, when we were borrowing to fight the Nazis. But it is also unclear whether that level of debt would be a problem. After all, Japan’s publicly held sovereign debt hit 177 percent of GDP a few years back, and it’s sitting around building the world’s fastest trains and enjoying 2.8 percent unemployment.

But if you insist on worrying about the debt, there are plenty of ways to address it that don’t involve eviscerating health care and food spending for the poor. I found this handy budget interactive from Brookings and the Wilson Center and managed to stabilize our debt at 75 percent of GDP without cutting a single federal program—and I’ve still got billions of neurons to go before my brain is entirely formed. You know how I pulled it off? Hint: I didn’t cut the Children’s Health Insurance Program, like you proposed this week. I just raised taxes, muchacho. It’s not rocket science.

Of course, your administration has other plans. It’s talking about historic tax cuts that will almost certainly be geared toward the rich. Your treasury secretary says the cuts will be paid for with economic growth. Nobody believes that! I can’t even make a born-yesterday joke, because I haven’t shimmied out of the womb yet, and I don’t believe that. You don’t get to play fiscal hawk and then talk about cutting our billionaire president’s own taxes in the same breath. This game doesn’t work that way.

But to be honest, it’s not your sanctimonious spiel about debt that bugs me the most. It’s that the White House is moving toward an official policy that says the government should worry less about what happens to future generations thanks to climate change. By your logic, it’s not OK if I, a fetus, have to pay a higher marginal tax rate, but it is OK if I, a fetus, have to go scuba diving to see the sunken ruins of Manhattan someday.

I’m specifically talking here about a concept known as the Social Cost of Carbon, which plays a crucial role in climate policy. (I realize you know all this, Mr. Mulvaney, but bear with me for my audience of fellow fetuses.) Government agencies are only allowed to issue new regulations if they find the benefits outweigh the costs. When it comes to limiting greenhouse gasses, that means figuring out how much economic damage a pound of carbon burned into the atmosphere today will do to the U.S. years down the line.

Unsurprisingly, people disagree on how to calculate this. When President Trump took office, he signed an executive order scrapping a bunch of work that the Obama administration had done on this count. As the Center for American Progress notes, it’s possible that when the administration does its regulatory math, it will see absolutely no economic benefit in cutting carbon emissions. It will amount to an official stance that says it’s not worth spending a dime to help unborn Americans avert catastrophe.

Now, who oversees the federal regulatory process? Oh, that’s right, your very own Office of Management and Budget. You will be personally involved in telling the next generation to go fend for itself. It’s no coincidence that you can’t spell womb without O-M-B, so as an official representative of the unborn, let me be clear: I’d rather have higher taxes and lower temperatures, thank you very much. I’m sure your grandkids will feel the same.

May 25 2017 1:53 PM

New York State Still Bans Abortions After 24 Weeks. A Proposed Law Could Offer Exceptions.

There is a provision in the New York state penal code that was something close to revolutionary when it was added in 1970. Three years before Roe v. Wade prohibited states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability, the provision modified the section on abortion—a crime in the state—to allow for the procedure in certain circumstances: before 24 weeks’ gestation and/or if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk.

May 24 2017 5:48 PM

A Pregnant Teen’s Graduation Drama Reveals an Uncomfortable Divide Between Pro-Lifers and Social Conservatives

Maddi Runkles is an 18-year-old senior at Heritage Academy, a small, conservative Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland. She is also pregnant, and has admitted to breaking the pledge that all Heritage students sign, vowing to “[protect] my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.” As the New York Times reported a few days ago, the school is punishing her by forbidding her from “walking” on graduation day in June, and removing her from her position on the student council.

May 24 2017 5:46 PM

Betsy DeVos All Smiles as She Endorses States’ Rights to Discriminate Against Children

Betsy DeVos is loving life right now. In a Wednesday hearing with the House Appropriations subcommittee, the Secretary of Education gleefully defended her school-choice philosophy from Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who asked DeVos whether charter schools that refuse to admit students of certain demographics would still get federal funding.

Clark used Bloomington, Indiana’s Lighthouse Christian Academy as an example. The school currently gets more than $665,000 in state funding through a school voucher program, Clark said. It also openly reserves the right to deny admittance to any student in a family where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity” or family members who practice “alternate gender identity.” If Indiana applies for federal funding for schools like these, Clark asked DeVos, would her Department of Education require them to stop discriminating against LGBTQ students and families?


DeVos didn’t say yes or no. She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. “The states set up the rules,” she said. “I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.”

“You are the backstop for students and the right to access a quality education,” Clark continued. “Would you in this case say, ‘we are going to overrule, and you cannot discriminate—whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs in our voucher programs’?” She also asked DeVos whether a school that refused to accept African-American students, for instance, would be eligible for federal funding under the voucher system DeVos endorses.

The U.S. Secretary of Education declined to provide even one example of any kind of discrimination that might preclude a school from receiving federal funding. “I think the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board,” DeVos said, which is quite rich, considering that the Republican Party has made a major stink over what they consider OCR’s overreach in addressing sexual assault and discrimination in schools. “But when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students—”

“This isn’t about parents making choices,” Clark interrupted. “This is about use of federal dollars.”

In the final moments of the exchange, DeVos delivered what she must have imagined to be an inspiring call to arms on behalf of American children. “I go back to the bottom line, is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” she said. “We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus, and states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions and framework on behalf of their students.”

DeVos calls what she’s endorsing “state flexibility.” States, she’s saying, should have the flexibility to exclude marginalized demographics from federally funded public schools if they deem it appropriate for their students. No cookie-cutter integrated school solutions for DeVos, who once praised education under Jim Crow as a pioneering example of school choice! The Secretary of Education wants students to have all of the options, including federally funded options that allow them to avoid learning alongside queer students, students of color, students of faith, or students with disabilities, if their parents prefer it that way.

May 24 2017 2:18 PM

Ivanka and Melania Were Beautiful and Silent in Saudi Arabia—Shining Examples of Empowerment!

The whole world was watching as Melania and Ivanka Trump joined the most important man in their lives and ours in Saudi Arabia this week. The U.S. president thinks a woman’s place is either on the beauty-pageant catwalk or behind a stroller containing his heir. Saudi Arabia forbids women from attending public events where men will be present or getting medical care without a male relative’s permission. How would the women of America’s first family conduct themselves?

May 23 2017 6:11 PM

Bresha Meadows Enters a Plea Deal, Will Spend Two More Months in Detention

Bresha Meadows, a 15-year-old Ohio girl charged with aggravated murder for killing her allegedly abusive father, entered a plea deal on Monday after nearly 10 months in juvenile detention. In return for a plea of “true,” the juvenile version of “guilty,” Meadows got her charges knocked down to involuntary manslaughter and what could have been a multi-year jail sentence reduced to a year and a day in jail, six months in residential treatment, and two years of probation. The sentence includes time served, so Meadows has just two months left in detention before entering treatment.

May 23 2017 5:40 PM

All Billy Bush Really Learned From the Access Hollywood Fiasco Is That He Wants to Be Back on TV

For seven-and-a-half long months, Billy Bush has been lying in wait. It was a period of great soul-searching: He fire-walked with Tony Robbins; he went on a retreat; he took up meditation. And only now, as a “better, fuller man,” is he ready to declare what he has learned: that he would like to be on television again, please.