Monday, December 30, 2019

My Actual Favorite Things

Scalding hot showers 
And gin from the bottle 
Good human beings I don’t want to throttle 
Big sturdy vibrators made in Beijing
These are a few of my favorite things
Broiling in sunlight and cookie dough sundaes 
Bong hits and Netflix
And sleeping through Mondays
Wild nights out on the town with drag queens
These are a few of my favorite things
Little black dresses that never get dirty
Instagram filters that make me look 30
Dipshits I dunk on as if I’ve got wings
These are a few of my favorite things
When a troll tweets
When my kids fight
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Place Where Memory Cannot Reach

The Auntie who raised me from birth while both my parents worked full-time spent the first five years of her life in a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Romania. She, her mother, and her two older sisters had been transported there, by train, in the dead of night without notice; the soldiers said they were going somewhere safe.

When, five years later, they returned to the home they’d left behind, they found it had been looted and stripped down to the studs. Their Christian neighbors had bet on Fani, Peppi, Betty, and their mom not returning.

But the family beat the odds and reunited with their dad and husband who had been interned in a Russian labor camp, eventually making their way to Israel and then to New York City.

Rain or shine, Fani believed children should be outside every single day and “valk in ze fresh ahyer.” We would frequently make the several mile trek from my family’s apartment in the Bronx to hers in Northern Manhattan, along the way weaving through the multicolored living monuments to immigrant life in 1980s New York: dim Irish pubs here, bustling corner pizza joints there, falafel carts, synagogues, Puerto Rican car washes, Black hair-braiding salons, aromatic Korean fruit stands, fancy Dominican dress shops. I could always talk her into buying me sweets.

We typically walked hand-in-hand and had developed a special signal for “stranger danger.” A disheveled man talking to himself, the smell of marijuana, or a hostile looking commuter would prompt Fani to squeeze my hand hard, wordlessly telling me to keep my wits about me and be ready to flee.

Speaking in a patois of Yiddish, English, and Romanian, she would tell me, her “pitsulah madeleh” (little girl), apocryphal stories of Romanian girls who were snatched off the street and forced to work in the traveling theater; she would read me clippings from the newspaper about some recent kidnapping in Queens or Staten Island, clucking her tongue at these inevitable tragedies.

Despite the fact that New York was a little sketchier then, I never felt the least bit unsafe. The stories Fani told me and her anxieties seemed silly, preoccupied, and overprotective rather than linked to reality. Only in retrospect, as an adult, did I realize that Fani’s vigilance was an artifact of her trauma and that she was always ready to anticipate a threat and escape it. She always believed the other shoe was about to drop and bristled at the sound of German—surely a reflex buried deep in a place within her mind that not even her own memory could reach.

I think that’s why the experience of having my livelihood, along with that of only one other Jewish woman from my office, illegally taken by the State felt different than an ordinary employment dispute. I knew that we had both done an impeccable job representing our clients. I knew we had been fired for exercising our constitutional rights in expressing dismay and fear at the rise of Trumpian loyalist authoritarianism in our own state. And I knew that divesting Jews of their property and livelihood was a tried and true tactic and a bellwether of much worse to come.

I watched in horror as families were separated and actual concentration camps sprang up on the southern border of the United States, and wondered what I could do about it; but not for one second did I feel immune or apart from these things. I knew I was next. I was resigned to Trump until 2024 and beyond. I made sure my family’s passports were up to date. 

I accepted, with a cold resignation, that of course the chief propagandist for the Dunleavy administration would question my ability to parent and threaten to call state OCS and have my children taken away from me, all while calling me paranoid, crazy, angry, unhinged, accusing me of playing "the Jewish card" and hurling every other venomous invective she could conjure simply for pointing out that which is actually happening.

It is impossible to convey to those who have not carried it the weight of epigenetic trauma; the way its tentacles seep like black mold into the interstitial spaces of your consciousness, to the places memory cannot reach.

Anyone whose family has suffered under white supremacy understands this: Black Americans whose families were irreparably shattered by the slave trade; indigenous peoples whose land, language, and way of life were stolen; Jews who have been stripped of their property, the opportunity to use their intellect, their lives; migrant families who, in fleeing gang violence at home, are torn apart by the sadistic maw of Trump’s Big Beautiful Wall.

It is fruitless to engage those without sympathy or understanding and try to make them grasp this type of trauma. The only thing you can do is simply turn away from bullies, sadists, gas-lighters, and those devoid of empathy and wish them well in the healing of their own pain, which is of course what drives their cruelty.

Fani died of breast cancer a couple of years ago. I was glad she got to meet my children—I brought them to her apartment where she made them waffles and played pick-up-sticks with them. We watched the 1/9 elevated subway train rumble back and forth between the Bronx and South Ferry from her 15th floor window. 

I can still feel her squeezing my hand.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ten Times Alaska Man Kicked Florida Man's Ass

"Florida Man." 

You've probably heard of him. He's the guy who gets arrested at Wal-Mart for punching someone who took too long at the checkout. He's the fella who wears a "fuck the police" shirt to court. And he's the bro who was attacked during a selfie with a squirrel. There are a lot more example of Florida Man doing what Florida Man does, but I won't waste your time with those here because this is an ALAKSA blog--not a FLORIDA blog.

Have you heard of Alaska Man (or woman)? I didn't think so. I'm here to tell you that Alaska Man kicks Florida Man's AAAASSSS. One of my readers called Alaska "Cold Florida," and never has there been a more apt descriptions to describe the shenanigans that transpire up here. Here are at least ten times Alaska Man kicked Florida Man's ass.

1. THE GOAT INTESTINE DRUG MULE: From USA Today: "An Alaska man was arrested last week after allegedly smuggling drugs hidden inside spoiled goat intestines stored in his checked luggage, authorities said. ... He said he packed the goat himself after buying it from a California rancher for $140."

2. THE DENTAL SELF DEFENSE/NOSE BITER: From KFQD News: "An Alaska man used his teeth to defend himself and his property. Anchorage police say the man bit off part of the nose of a suspect who attempted to steal the man’s bicycle . . . Police say he removed a 'large chunk' of the suspects nose."

3. THE HOVERBOARD DENTIST: From Fox News: An Alaska dentist charged with fraud and unnecessarily sedating patients performed a procedure while riding on a hoverboard, authorities said. A former patient testified Wednesday at the trial of Seth Lookhart that an investigator showed her a 2016 video of the dentist riding the motorized, wheeled vehicle while extracting one of her teeth when she was sedated."

4. THE IN-COURT EVIDENCE STEALER: From U.S. News: "An Alaska woman charged with the courthouse theft of a gun that was being used as evidence against her has accepted a plea deal on her original charges . . . Authorities say that during a break in her trial Tuesday she removed the unloaded gun from an evidence box and hid it outside."

5. THE BEAR ASSAULT DEFENSE: From KDOQ News: "A 50-year-old Alaska man suspected of assaulting his mother [because she wanted him to move out of her house] told investigating officers that she had been attacked by a bear . . . Police found no evidence of a bear."

6. THE BB GUN BANDIT: From Fairbanks Daily News Miner: "A 41-year-old Anchorage man faces five felony assault charges for reportedly brandishing a realistic-looking BB gun pistol Wednesday near a west Fairbanks shopping area."

7. EYEBALL TATTOO GUY: From the National Post: "Alaska man with eyeball tattoo pleads guilty to attempted murder, says 'beautiful face' led to crime." Alaska Man's "most striking tattoo is the whites of his right eyeball that have been tattooed black. Eyeball tattooing is a relatively new practice that is done by inserting ink under the surface of the eye. The pigment is then trapped in the sclera, the white of the eye, and the ink then begins to slowly move around to cover the entire eyeball."

8. THE 70K PFD THIEF FROM ALABAMA WITH 149 CHARGES: From Fox News: "A woman suspected of fraudulently applying for $70,000 in Alaska Permanent Fund dividends pleaded not guilty at arraignment. Anchorage television station KTVA reports 44-year-old Sheila McMahon entered the plea Thursday in Anchorage Superior Court. She faces one count of scheming to defraud and 148 counts of unsworn falsification."

9. THE KNOCKOFF ITALIAN FURNITURE SALESMAN: From USDOJ: Alaska Man from Wasilla was sentenced to a year in the federal pen after he "participated in a scheme based on his importation of furniture manufactured in China and then falsely advertising the furniture for sale as having been manufactured in Italy. Specifically, [Alaska Man] purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of wholesale furniture from a manufacturer in China and then re-sold the furniture as “Italian leather furniture” to retail purchasers in Alaska at a significant markup using the internet marketplace. He fraudulently sold hundreds of these sofa sets to individuals in Alaska, including an undercover Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigator."

10. STOLEN "TEDDY'S TASTY MEATS" TRUCK CRASHES INTO "CHURCH OF LOVE": From KTVA News: "A man is in custody after allegedly stealing a delivery truck, [from TEDDY'S TASTY MEATS!?] ramming it through a patrol car and then crashed the truck into the side of the Church of Love building in the 3500 block of Spenard Road and fled on foot."

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

We Need to Be Done Being Cool with Homophobia and Transphobia

This shouldn't be a controversial statement, and yet it is. As a society, we need to actively “cancel” blithely accepting homophobia and transphobia as if these are socially acceptable ways to treat other people; people who are just trying to live their lives and partake in the equal benefits of secular society in a country that separates religion and government. 

As Slate reported yesterday, a newly-filed lawsuit against the State of Alaska has exposed what is--apparently--an institutionalized practice of denying military spouses of same-sex couples their PFD checks. 

What Attorney General Kevin Clarkson initially called a "false lawsuit" (whatever TF that means) and a "non-issue" in a since-deleted tweet appears not to be the outdated and good-faith "clerical error" it was first made out to be. 

To the contrary, sworn testimony and whistle-blowing state employees in the administration allege a current and intentional practice of relying on void, unconstitutional laws as the basis for these denials.

Discovery will bear out the full extent and veracity of these allegations. I defended the State from innumerable constitutional claims under five administrations and 12 plus years at the Department of Law, and I often felt that not all facts were fully known, so again, we will see what discovery unearths. 

But it doesn't look good.

I long ago lost faith in this administration's ability and/or willingness to fulfill their duty to defend and uphold the constitution. After all, the very first thing they did upon taking office a year ago was to demand unconstitutional loyalty pledges of over a thousand state employees, and promptly fired those who refused to take them or whose personal political beliefs did not align with their agenda. 

Now it appears this administration is undermining constitutionally-guaranteed rights of marriage equality, and this should not be surprising. AG Clarkson has made a career and a name for himself using "religious freedom" as a cover to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and the courts to deprive them of the equal benefits of society.

Apparently, the legislature was fine with this when it confirmed him. Would they have been as sanguine had he been doing this openly to Black people? Or Jews? I'd like to think not, but who knows? Religion, after all, was used to justify slavery, segregation, and the murder of six million of my own ancestors.

But I digress, because my point is this: we as a society need to call this out for what it is: wrong. It is just plain wrong. It is wrong to use your law degree and privilege to make other peoples' lives hell when they didn't do shit to deserve it other than exist. 

Imagine being so preoccupied with other people's sex lives and gender expression that you make your life's work a campaign to deprive them of basic rights like marriage and housing. I'm sorry, but if you are a self-identifying cis-gendered man who spends this much time thinking about what other people do with their genitals, you belong in therapy, not public office.

What the State is alleged to have done here is shameful. That it took a lawsuit, national press coverage, and borderline defamatory statements by the homophobic Attorney General against a lesbian lawyer to expose it is even more shameful. 

Not to mention the fact that some of the best lawyers and administrators in the Department of Law are themselves LGBTQ, so I guess Kevin Clarkson is perfectly fine availing himself of their labor (when he's not busy paying DC law firms $600 an hour unsuccessfully trying to bust unions in the name of the First Amendment).

Lots of people are afraid to speak out against this kind of bullshit, and understandably so. The risks of doing so are high. It puts peoples' lives and livelihoods in jeopardy, something I learned the hard way

But LGBTQ lives are at greater risk because people like Kevin Clarkson insist on leveraging their power, privilege and education to make other people miserable and unsafe, when they could just as easily seek private treatment to deal with their own hangups and prejudices. 

I hear state health insurance is pretty good.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Attorney General’s Assault on Alaska Supreme Court Caselaw Imperils Alaskans

As Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks reported last week, a string of defeats suffered by Governor Dunleavy in prominent court cases this year has exposed the limits of his administration's ability to push their agenda through the court system--the last bulwark and a major check and balance against government overreach.

The PFD and oil taxes are kitchen table talk for most Alaskans, but more than anything else, the judiciary--and its interpretation of the Alaska Constitution--is at the heart of the ongoing battle to save American constitutional democracy, both here and at the national level. It's a form of constitutional democracy that, for the most part and ideally, protects and prioritizes individual rights and liberties above corporate interests. 

To understand what is happening, you have to start with Alaska's judicial selection process. The Alaska Court System's website explains:
Alaska’s judges are selected by what is called the Judicial Merit Selection System. The authors of Alaska’s Constitution believed that it was important to have judges who were honest, fair, impartial, intelligent, experienced in applying the law, committed to following the rule of law and serving the interests of justice. Likewise, the authors believed that traditional partisan politics, with its influence of money, political patronage, deal-making and favoritism, posed too great a threat and impediment to achieving the desired goal of having a judiciary composed of such fair and impartial judges. That’s why the authors of the constitution decided that Alaska’s judges should be chosen by the Judicial Merit Selection System.
This system works through a rigorous vetting process. Attorneys who apply to be judges are rated by their colleagues and interviewed by the Alaska Judicial Council. The Council then sends two or more names to the Governor for appointment to the bench, and the Governor chooses from those names. Judges then stand for retention at general elections according to a set schedule.

Governor Dunleavy ran into trouble this year when he hijacked this process by illegally insisting that the Council provide him with different names. This unconstitutional "negotiation" delayed the appointment of a Palmer Superior Court judge and is now a stated legal ground for recalling the governor--one that Dunleavy's appointed Attorney General, Kevin Clarkson, has deemed legally insufficient.

We'll see about that. 

As Attorney General Clarkson himself said, the Alaska Supreme Court will have the final say about this and other positions he has taken, and that is the point.

The Alaska Supreme Court interprets the Alaska Constitution and those opinions become law; law that trial courts are required to follow, and that future justices of the Alaska Supreme Court must generally follow as well. Every government lawyer is accustomed to making arguments for the State that are perhaps losing arguments, or that they disagree with personally. But Attorney General Clarkson has gone a step further by forcing career attorneys at the Department of Law to—at a minimum—embarrass themselves in court by taking positions clearly at odds with judicial precedent.

Why would he do this? 

The answer is bigger than Alaska, although we are a rich laboratory for these constitutional experiments. This is part of a national trend and tactic on the far right to discredit the judicial branch by forcing clearly losing cases to the courts. That way, when they lose, proponents of these positions can blame an "activist judiciary" for following precedent on a document that, for his part, Governor Dunleavy wants to amend to favor corporations over individuals. (Fortunately, amending the constitution is very hard to do).

In short, decades of Alaska Supreme Court precedent have given Alaskans liberty, privacy, education, resource, and property interests unmatched elsewhere in the nation and stronger than those afforded at the federal level. This precedent has helped cement Alaska's reputation as a bastion of rugged individualism, which helps individuals, but arguably harms corporations. Neutering the constitution and hobbling and stacking the judiciary is the Holy Grail of this mode of governing.

It remains to be seen which of Attorney General Clarkson's positions will be overturned or upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court, but if he loses, look for this administration to blame the referees, and loudly. 

That reaction is a key performative move in a long game, the ultimate goal of which is a showdown at the ballot box to unseat judges for doing their jobs and/or open the door to a constitutional convention designed to unravel civil liberties.

It is an axiom of creeping autocracy that "your institutions will not save you." Unfortunately, the Dunleavy administration has put Alaskans in the perilous position of waiting for our judiciary to do exactly that.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dear Haters: Please Refer to This Rap from Now On

With apologies to Eminem & 8 Mile ...

Now, everybody from the 907
Put your motherfucking hands in the air to heaven
Everybody from the 907
Put your motherfucking hands up! Look, look …
Now, while they shit-post
Notice these motherfuckers hide inside they keyboards like they fuckin’ ghosts 

BOO! Oh wut. Did I scare you? 
I got you cryin' to yo mama like boo hoo hoo
Facebook got you gassed up like you the bomb?
Now, who’s 6"9 and scared of a 5”2 mom?
One, two, three, and to the four
One tweet, two tweet, three tweet, four
Four tweet, three tweet, two tweet one
Come out your mom’s basement-- say that shit to my face, son!
You sorry ass trolls think you motherfuckin’ ballers
Sittin’ in your truck reading the Daily Caller

Getting high off your own supply
I know everything you got to say about me, now don't I?
I AM a bitch, I AM a Marxist cunt
I DO get on the internet and flex and stunt
I DID get fired by Dunleavy and I DO keep cursing and frowning
I DO get dragged by Suzanne Downing
I AM a commie leftist libtard with clinical depression
I DO have a million unhealthy obsessions
And no, I AIN’T legit from Alaska
I grew up in an apartment in the Bronx, dumb bastards
Don’t judge me or slide into my DMs, bro
I ain’t ever gonna fuck you, I ain't your 'ho

And I know something you don’t know
You’re all over my feeds taking shots for free
Why you motherfuckers so obsessed with me?
You’re scared to death, you’re scared to look
You know you ten times dumber than your own dog, go read a fucking book
You think I’m blind, that I can’t see?
You can’t even use an apostrophe
So don’t come square up to MY door
Until you can tell me your from you’re
You don’t wanna battle, you're too scared to even use your own name
Hold my earrings, bitch, I'm burning your shit down to the ground with white-hot flames
Using my REAL name
Cause two can play at THIS game
And I got better things to do in REAL life
Than argue with you motherfuckers online like you my fuckin' wife
Fuck a beat, I’ll go acapella
Fuck a tweet, fuck a MAGA, fuck a blog, fuck a lawyer
Fuck you School House Rock mouth-breathers and illegal employers
I’m an SJW I’ll say it proudly
And fuck this battle, I’m gonna win it someday, I’m outtie.
Now tell these people something they don’t know about me. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

What We're Really Talking About When We Talk About Nudes

I'd honestly never heard of California Congresswoman Katie Hill until she resigned from Congress following the unauthorized publication of sexually provocative, intimate pictures (aka "nudes") of her and a staffer and/or a campaign worker (?) a relationship that is prohibited under Congressional ethics rules. 

There are a few different things going on here, and it's interesting to unpack them.

First of all, having a relationship with a subordinate at work is a very bad idea. It is unethical or even illegal, and it is almost always very ill-advised because the power dynamic in the relationship is inherently exploitative. It is not out of the realm of normal, I don't think, for the party in the superior position to resign their job because of such a lapse in judgment.

That is an entirely different question from whether it is a bad idea for women (and also men, although they've been conspicuously absent from this conversation) to exchange nudes with intimate partners as a more general matter. 

Some people argue that women should never, ever let anyone take nude photographs of them or take nude selfies because they can only harm women in the future and serve no other purpose. But I would argue that they do serve a purpose and also are not the problem. 

The unauthorized disclosure of nudes--aka "revenge porn" is the problem, not the pictures themselves. Society needs to punish the vindictive, unauthorized release of nudes, not tell women they should never take them. I went to law school with a woman, Carrie Goldberg, who specializes in this burgeoning area and, a victim of revenge porn herself, has a practice dedicated to protecting women from it.

Although some people perhaps wish it weren't so (at no time in history has there ever been a shortage of pearl-clutching around erotic art) the reality is that nudes are a normal part of intimate modern relationships. That’s a fact and it's not going to change. Scolding and shaming women over nudes because someone might later weaponize them robs women of agency and places the blame for malicious conduct on victims instead of where it belongs: on perpetrators of this type of harassment.

Furthermore, the logic of “don’t take nudes because you assume the risk of their disclosure” also applies to many other situations that the law protects: having a nice car or a house (you might get robbed) wearing a miniskirt (you might get raped) or arguing (you might get assaulted). Yet we don't suggest that people shouldn't have nice cars or stand up for themselves. Life is a series of calculated risks, and we need not cater all of our lawful conduct to criminals.

Nudes also serve the simple, human purpose of pleasure--women's and men's alike. For many people, nudes are a form of expression, art, eroticism, and sexual agency. There is nothing wrong with exchanging nudes with trustworthy intimate partners and consenting adults who have equal power in a relationship.

So what are we *actually* talking about when we talk about nudes, then?

What we are really talking about in this whole Katie Hill nudes scandal is the perpetual shaming of women's sexuality. We are blaming the exposure of--and attacks upon--women's bodies against their will on the victim of the illegal or unauthorized conduct, rather than addressing the perpetrators. We are saying, shame on her, she shouldn't have done that, she deserves it, she assumed the risk, and so on.

And why are we doing that? We are doing that because it's easy. It is much easier to sit in judgment of women's sexual expression than it is to hold men accountable for violating their bodies and their trust. And that's fine, but let's at least be real and honest with ourselves about what we're really talking about when we talk about nudes.

Image: Shriver Report