Saturday, January 26, 2013

A few thoughts

1.  On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there has been a steady drum-beat of states passing laws restricting access or otherwise making it harder and harder for women to get abortions.   Pro-life folks rejoiced when this year, for the first time, a Gallup poll showed that 50% identified themselves as "Pro-Life," with 41% identifying as "Pro-Choice."

    However, that is a misleading statistic when it comes to Roe v. Wade.  According to Katha Pollitt's article in the Nation magazine, a different poll shows that 35% of those who call themselves pro-life also support retaining Roe v. Wade.

    I think the problem, at least in part, is that conservatives have succeeded in demonizing the label "pro-choice" to be synonymous with militantly pro-abortion.   But that's not what it means at all.   It means choice, that decisions about abortion are best left up to a woman and her medical and spiritual/psychological/ethical advisers.    So it seems quite sensible that many people might make the personal choice not to have an abortion but do not want to have a law that makes that decision for everybody.

2.  Remember that New Year's Day fiscal cliff bill that was pushed through Congress to avoid us going over the cliff?    Well, somebody played fast and loose with it.  After it had already been debated, but before the vote, somebody slipped an extra paragraph into Section 632 that delays some Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes a drug made by Amgen pharmaceutical company for dialysis patients.

This surprise inclusion gives Amgen another two years to sell their lucrative drug at high prices before controls set in.   And this comes on top of it having previously received another two-year delay.

It is estimated that this bit of political perfidity will cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period of time.   Are you surprised to learn that Amgen has been especially generous in doling out political contributions to members of the Senate Finance Committee, Democrats and Republicans alike?

3.  We're beginning to wake up to the fact that Republicans have entrenched themselves in state governments -- and one of the advantages they have is redrawing congressional districts to favor themselves.    That's largely why Democrats collectively won a majority of the popular votes cast for members of the House, but Republicans actually won more seats because of district gerrymandering.

And now Virginia is about to compound the trickery.   They've introduced a bill to change how electoral votes for president are awarded, a plan that if carried out throughout the U.S. would have given the presidency to Mitt Romney.  And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is looking at this and calling it "interesting."

Now, many liberals have also been calling for eliminating the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote nationwide.   Because that would require a constitutional amendment, some have advocated the simple change of having each state award its electoral votes according to the proportion of the popular vote in that state.

But this Virginia plan is different.  It would combine gerrymandering of districts and then proportioning the electoral votes according to who wins each district.  By linking the proportional votes to rigged district voting, this would produce a very distorted outcome.

Which, of course, is the point.  Republicans are very clever at coming up with ways to steal elections -- it's their only hope of winning.

The Republicans taking back the U. S. House in 2010 may not have been the worst outcome of that midterm election.   It may have been what happened at the level of state governments -- governors and state legislatures with the power to do things like this.

Bah humbug.   A pox upon them all.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The crazy world of Republican myths about rape

One might say that a major contributor to the defeat of at least two Republican candidates for the Senate was . . . rape.   Or, rather, their crazy ideas about rape.

Todd Akins of Missouri, initially favored to defeat incumbant Claire McCaskill, killed his chances when he opined that pregnancy as a result of rape is very rare, because women's bodies have a way of shutting the process down.

Richard Mourdock lost his senate race in Indiana after claiming that any pregnancy, even including those resulting from rape, was part of God's plan.  This was his explanation for why he opposes including an exception for rape in his anti-abortion stance.   Actually, I think that is a principled stand -- if you really believe abortion is killing a person, this is the logical outcome.

So which is it:   Pregnacy by rape can't happen?    Or it's God's plan?

Well now, another Republican has weighed in on this, making it 2 to 1:   rape can lead to pregnancy.   But hold on, this one is even crazier.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Republican in the New Mexico legislature, has introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a woman to have an abortion following rape.   Here's the wording:
“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime."
You read that right.    If a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she must carry it to term because having an abortion would be destroying the evidence of the rape.

Who is giving the prize for craziest, wild myths about rape and pregnancy?   It sure seems like they're all trying to outdo the last nutty idea.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

NOM promotes a new myth about gay rights

There are some ludicrous reactions to President Obama's strong, progressive inaugural address.   NAR's LaPierre was perhaps the least intelligible, so it's hard even to explain what he was saying . . . something about "absolutism."

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage -- a juvenile-minded group that keeps nutty Maggie Gallagher in a top position -- decried the call for marriage equality and pushed the new myth about gay rights:
"Gay and lesbian people are already treated equally under the law.  They have the same civil rights as anyone else; they have the right to live as they wish and love whom they choose. What they don’t have is the right to redefine marriage for all of society."
In an interview on CNN, a representative of the Family Research Council agreed with Brown's position.

Let's demolish the argument of equal treatment under the law with one simple and very public example, the case of Windsor vs the United State now before the U. S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A lesbian couple, together for 40 years and legally married in Canada, now living in New York where marriage equality is also legal, were treated grossly unequally.   One of them died, and the surviving spouse had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes that would have been zero if her spouse had been a man.   That's because DOMA rules on federal matters (income and estate taxes) even when the state has marriage equality laws and recognizes the marriage as legal.

So much for the myth that we are already equal under the law.   If the right can't hear appeals to heart and humanity and reason, perhaps they can understand dollars.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Republicans react

Republican reactions to President Obama's inaugural address suggest a persistence of the underlying attitude that he has no right to be there, that they are the rightful leaders and that only they have the right plan for the future.

Mitch McConnell lamented that "The era of liberalism is back. . . . obviously it's not designed to bring us together, and certainly not designed to deal with the transcendent issue of our era, which is deficits and debt."

Others called it divisive, without reaching out to them with offers to compromise.

Charles Krauthammer praised it as an "awesome" speech but faulted it for not reaching out to restore the bipartisanship with Republicans.   John McCain seemed to like his promise to address climate change and even applauded his mention of marriage equality, but he too criticized it as divisive.

One of Obama's memorable lines was this:   "The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. . ."   This was a pointed reference to Paul Ryan's budget priorities.  Ryan has often referred to those who are takers and those who are makers.

Ryan responded on FoxNews, saying the president was setting up a straw man to debunk and that he had misconstrued their position on entitlements.   Please explain just how your statements have been misconstrued, Mr. Ryan.  We understand you don't want to be held accountable for what you actually said.

Let them complaim.   They have been beaten -- in spite of trying to rig the election in their favor.   Chris Matthews, never one for under-statement, made the bold claim that the only way Republicans will ever win elections in the future now will be by rigging the election in their favor.   Republican in the Virginia legislature just pulled a surprise vote on redistricting while one Democrat was in D. C. for the inauguration, which gave the evenly-split body a one-vote majority.   That's the sort of thing he means, along with voter ID laws, hours long waits at the polls, etc.

Obama tried so hard to govern by compromise that he gave away far too much and came close to losing his progressive wing.   He has learned his lesson and now seems capable of standing firm and using his power.    In addition he has people power behind him.

It's curious that the Republicans' main claim is that he was going his own (liberal) way and not reaching out to them.   Please tell me how that is different, except in direction, to their clearly stated agenda for the past four years.

He's also not being divisive.  He is in synch with the majority of the peopleIt's the Republicans who are cutting themselves out by their extreme positions that are supported only by the right fringe.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"One Today" inaugural poem

Watching the entire inauguation ceremony yesterday was far more moving than I had expected.  President Obama's speech was important for two reasons, especially:  (1)  It was decidedly liberal, even progressive in the face of such divisiveness in our governing bodies;  so it sent a strong signal of the stance he plans to take;   (2)  It was historic in the  and that weinclusiveness and recognition of both the struggle to gain equal rights and the fact that "our journey is not finished" and that we can, and must, finish it together.

Perfectly matching the president's inclusiveness and togetherness was the poet Richard Blanco.   As a Hispanic immigrant and a gay man, he himself embodied this.  His poem, which I found very moving, provided the heart to accompany the president's rationality.  I hear echoes of Whitman, Sandburg, and Frost.

 "One Today"

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

 One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Richard Blanco

Monday, January 21, 2013

The president's speech

President Obama's Second Inaugural Speech was not a stem-winder, not crafted to bring people out of their seats cheering.  It was quiet, but forceful -- more a speech to be re-read and digested.   And when you do, you realize the broad, quiet power it contains.

He outlined his understanding of who we are as a people and what our government should be and do.   And it is broad in its recognition of and commitment to our diversity and equal rights for all, just as the choices of speakers was today.

The invocation was given by an African-American woman, widow of a slain civil rights leader.  The Vice President's oath was given by the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.  The inaugural poem was written and read by a Hispanic, gay poet.  The benediction was given by a Hispanic, Episcopal priest.

Here are some excerpts from the president's speech:

"What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago [that all men are created equal . . . life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc.]:

"Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing. . . .

"For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. . . .

"The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. . . .

"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. . . .  [W]e are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall [references to women's rights, racial civil rights, gay rights]. . . .

"It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity . . .

"You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

"You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals."

Our oath, as President Obama takes his

Barack Obama took the oath of office four years ago, having come to Washington intending to govern as a "post-partisan" president, calling on his experience as a community organizer to work for consensus more than confrontation.

We all know how well that worked out.   While the Democrats were celebrating the inauguration, the Republicans were plotting -- and declaring, as Mitch McConnell did, that their agenda would be to ensure that Obama is a one-term president.

Now we know how well that worked out for them, too.   But the country suffered and Republicans in Congress wound up with a likeability rating somewhere below cockroaches, colonoscopies, and root canals.   It's true.   There was an actual poll that showed that.

President Obama has already given signals that he will be more aggressive and confrontational in his second term, the first major one being his forthright statement that raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiable decision, nor will he use governing tricks to get around it.   He put the onus squarely back where it belongs:  on Congress.   It's their approved spending;  the bills must be paid.    The Republicans gave in.

But they didn't simply cave because the president beat his chest.   The American people spoke loudly and clearly.  So now we must do our part to back up the president.   He will use the "bully pulpit" and we must be an engaged and responsive congregation that shouts, "AMEN."

FDR invited one of the early African-American civil rights leaders to lunch at the White House.   FDR asked him what he could do for his people.   He listened, said he would like to do some of those, but that he needed the people "to make me do it."   That is, to do controversial things, he needed the political power that only the people could give him by demanding them.

President Obama's team is going to make it easy for us.   They are doing something that's never been done before:   using the vast network of contacts they built up for the campaign as a potent force, called Organizing for Action, [it retains the same acronym OfA as Obama for America] to train a new generation of political activists to work at the local level.

It will also be a powerful force to coordinate citizen lobbying.  In the words of the email I got:  "we pull together at the national level to get President Obama's back on passing major legislation, like reducing gun violence or immigration reform. And we'll all work to help transform Washington from the outside while strengthening our economy and creating jobs."

So that's the oath we need to take this morning:  to "get President Obama's back" and to mobilize public opinion to induce Congress to listen to the people instead of the special interests and the money bags.