Friday, June 22, 2012

Natasha Trethewey, our Poet Laureate....

Our country has a new Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, a talented, forty-six year old, bi-racial Emory University professor with deep roots in her native South. [Here]  Ms. Trethewey gained national recognition when she received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for Native Guard, a collection of poems focused on one of the first black regiments formed in the Civil War.  Woven into that poetic narrative are other personal themes, such as the murder of her mother, the illegal interracial marriage of her parents, and the pain of her childhood. [Here
Trethewey’s parents were married before Loving v. Virginia banned all miscegenation laws.[Here]  Their daughter Natasha was born a year before Loving became the law of the land.  She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day (April 26), a date which became a constant reminder to the young girl of the tragic themes of her native land.  
While still a child, her parents divorced and her mother remarried a man who gradually became physically abusive.  Natasha was nineteen and in college, when her mother was murdered by him.  These early violent shocks would have been sufficient to freeze most young sensibilities but instead Trethewey found a healing response in her poetic voice.
Trethewey has published 3 poetry volumes: Domestic Work, published in 2000; Bellocq’s Ophelia, published in 2002; and Native Guard, published in 2006.  She has also published a non-fiction book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 2010. 
Since the present selection system began in 1986, there have been 19 Poet Laureates, who were officially titled The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library Of Congress.” The Librarian of the United States Congress decides each nomination.  Of the 19 chosen since 1986, five (26 per cent) have been women: Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Rita Dove (1993-5); Louise Glück (2003-4); Kay Ryan (2009-10); and now Natasha Trethewey.  The previous laureate system, called Consultants in Poetry, was begun in 1937, ending in 1986.  Of the 30 poets selected during those almost 50 years, only six were women: Louise Bogan (1945-6); Léonie Adams (1948-9); Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Josephine Jacobsen (1971-3); Maxine Kumin (1981-2); and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-6).  [Here
Perhaps we should be pleased that the percentage of women chosen for this literary honor is increasing; however, notable, distinguished and talented female poets--Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Audre Lorde to name just a few--were never thus honored.  Furthermore, the present percentage of 26% women to men who were chosen is far from what we must demand, viz. complete equality.  If women do not demand equality of recognition, our work will never be equally honored.
As Bella reminded us years ago, parity must continue to be our beacon and our goal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The war against women continues....

Yes, unfortunately, the attacks continue.  Didn’t we think that we had won most of these battles long ago or were those simply skirmishes in the larger battle for gender equality?  I guess we just have to keep battling.  I’m sure that Margaret Sanger was forced to learn the same lesson when she had opened her first birth control clinic in 1916 in New York City.  
The liberal journalist, Naomi Wolf, in a Guardian article, [Here] wrote that the legislative attacks in states all across the country have been well-coordinated and well-funded.   Wolf also pointed out that Planned Parenthood appears to be the primary target of these assaults.  Eight states--Maine, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas--have actually passed laws defunding Planned Parenthood or have had bills introduced in their legislatures which will begin the process.
The other target is abortion rights.  In the last year and a half, 92 new anti-abortions laws have been passed in eleven states.  Some laws shrink the time that abortions are allowed and legal, while others make women wait a number of days, the so-called “thinking it over” period, after a woman first seeks medical advice and before she undergoes the medical procedure.  
These latter laws are particularly irksome to me because they treat women with disdain and assume that a woman who wishes to abort her fetus has not already agonized over the decision.  This is a glittering example of the male establishment’s assumption that women are ninnies and must be told what to do, what to think, and how to think.
We see this dynamic written large in the current open conflict between the Vatican’s all-male hierarchy and the Roman Church’s nuns.  Five weeks ago we wrote about this in detail [Here] and reported then that the Catholic Church’s highest doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had issued an eight-page report directed against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which accused them, among other things, of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  The Leadership Conference represents a majority of working Roman Catholic nuns in this country, the women who do the hands-on, gritty and often irksome charitable work of their church. 
Last week the LCWR met in Washington to address the charges and released this courageous statement: [Here]
Board members concluded that the [Vatican’s] assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
In addition, the LCWR is sending two of its members--the President and the Executive Director--to Rome to discuss the findings of the CDF and to raise objections with its conclusions.  

Amy Davidson in the New Yorker quotes an interview with Sister Christine Schenk, an executive of a “church reform group.” [Here]  Sister Schenk sums up the problem:
Here you see women, very competent, highly educated, doctorates in theology, masters in ministry, C.E.O.’s of hospitals, heads of school systems, being treated as if they were children... That in itself goes to the issue of where are the women in the decision-making structures in Rome.
Where indeed are the women?  We should ask this same question of our Congress, our White House, and our courts.  In fact, we must ask this question of every power structure in this country and throughout the world.
In the meanwhile, we shall watch and listen as two brave and devout women confront a centuries-old, male-only religious power structure in Rome.  This will indeed be the epitome of speaking truth to power.  

God speed, good Sisters...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

“Completely, absolutely, and permanently married...”

Those were the ringing words that retired New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye chose on a recent Saturday evening, May 19th, as she said the final, magical words in the wedding of Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council, and her partner, Attorney Kim Catullo.  
You may remember the famous withering dissent that Judge Kaye wrote in the early summer of 2006.  In an omnibus appeal in which the majority ruled that the NYState’s constitution “does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex,” Judge Kaye had scolded her court, reminding them that New York State had an honorable tradition of upholding equal rights.  She added this line: “... the court today retreats from that proud tradition.” [Here]
When Judge Kaye pronounced that Christine Quinn and Kim Catullo were married--”completely, absolutely and permanently”--, the entire audience leapt to their feet and cheered. [Here]  They cheered the newlyweds, they cheered Judge Kaye for her prophetic warning, and they cheered because they were witnesses to another step in the expansion of equal rights.  Many who were there--Governor Cuomo and New York State legislators--were also applauding their own efforts that had made same-sex marriage possible and legal in the state. 
Who is Christine Quinn, the courageous, City Council Speaker?  It certainly is time that we got to know this lady who is the odds-on favorite to become New York City’s next mayor, the city’s first female mayor and first openly gay chief executive of the city.
The Quinn/Catullo wedding guest list read like a Who’s Who of New York State Democratic leadership.  The Governor, both New York U.S. Senators and a sizable portion of the city’s and suburb’s Congressional delegations were there. 
Christine Quinn has represented Manhattan’s West Side on the City Council since 1999 and has been Speaker of the City Council since 2008. [Here]  As Speaker, she has locked horns with Mayor Bloomberg, but only rarely.  The most notable conflict was when she led the City Council’s opposition to Bloomberg’s cockeyed proposal to build a West Side Stadium, which most sane folks who know Manhattan’s traffic problems and housing patterns also opposed.
She has boycotted the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the parade’s organizers have not allowed openly gay organizations to march or allowed anyone to display any gay signs, pins or banners.  (This has seemed strange to many of my Irish friends who tell me that gay organizations have for years been included in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Parade.)  Quinn has stuck by her principles in support of the gay community.  One wonders how long the Ancient Order of Hibernians will continue to discriminate against the LGBT community. 
Quinn is smart and forthright about her life and her life’s choices.  In her role as Speaker in the City Council she has shown a level head and the ability to reach compromises without the loss of principle.  
2013 should shape up to be an interesting year for Quinn’s career and for our political life.
Congratulations, Christine and Kim!  Also, congratulations to Judge Kaye, who was given the perfect moment to remind folks how right she had been six years before. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Parity of another kind...

Last Thursday President Obama announced that he “personally” felt that same-sex couples should be able to marry.  The statement electrified the media and much of the country.  The presumptive GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately jumped on the !NO! wagon, the one that runs backwards.  
All the sound and fury did nothing to change anything, except to position the President on this issue in the mainstream of his own Party.  No federal law was proposed.  No executive order was signed.  The decision about whether same sex couples could legally marry would continue to be left for individual states to decide, just as the question of whether inter-racial couples could marry had been left up to the judgments of individual states until the Supreme Court’s 1967 landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia
Remembering the extent and viciousness of national racial discrimination in the 1960‘s is chilling. [Here]  Equally chilling, but finally inspiring, is reviewing the specific facts in the Loving case. [Here]  Mildred Jeter Loving (1939-2008), of African-American and Indian descent, and Richard Loving, a white male (1933-1975), were residents of Virginia when they fell in love.  They moved to Washington, D.C. to marry and to escape Virginia’s laws banning any mixed racial marriage.  They moved back to their home village after their wedding where they were arrested by a group of police officers who caught the couple sleeping in their bed although they had hoped to find the interracial couple having sex (yet another crime in Virginia.)  
The couple was found guilty under Virginia law which forbade an interracial couple leaving the state to marry and then returning to live.  The Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison with the sentence suspended for 25 years under the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.  
The trial judge, Leon Bazile, made a kind of racist history when he declared from the bench: [Here]
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.   
(Doesn’t this religious rhetoric sound familiar?  Can’t you hear Rick Santorum’s voice echoing, “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”)
The Lovings obeyed the judge’s sentence and moved out of Virginia and into the District of Columbia.  Four year later the American Civil Liberties Union picked up their cause and carried it to the Supreme Court.  Along the way, the Presbyterian Church and the Universalist Church declared their support for the Lovings and interracial marriages.  It’s also good to note that shortly before the Supreme Court took up the case, the Roman Catholic Church joined these mainstream Protestant churches in support of interracial marriages. [Here]
The Lovings were extremely fortunate that their case was heard by the intelligent and liberal Warren Court with associate justices Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, William Brennan, William C. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Bryon White, John Marshall Harlan and Potter Stewart, who also wrote a concurring opinion.  (Warren, Black, Brennan, Douglas, and Harlan had also sat on the court in the 1954 landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Bd. of Education, in which Marshall had argued for the plaintiff.)
The Lovings won their case in a unanimous decision which declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation act unconstitutional and which ended throughout the country all race-based laws that barred marriages.  The court’s decision was based on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The language of Loving still reverberates.  Here is the decision in part... [Here
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
Tom and Mildred Loving moved back to their home in Central Point, Virginia, where they had grown up, met, fallen in love and married.  They raised their three children in the same quiet, modest rural community.  Unfortunately, Tom died in 1975 from injuries incurred in a car accident.  Mildred continued to live in that small Virginia village, sustained by the memory of her love for Tom and surrounded by her children and grandchildren.  She died quietly of pneumonia in 2008.
The year before she died, Mildred Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia.  It said in part: [Here]   
...I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life.  I support the freedom to marry for all.  That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Amen.  Mildred and Tom Loving, rest in peace.  We thank you...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama finally got it--sort of....

President Obama’s position on same sex marriage has finally “evolved” into a belated, unenthusiastic, tepid acceptance.  This week was clearly not the moment he would have chosen to make his announcement, but Joe Biden forced the President’s political hand with his statement on Sunday that he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage. [Here]  Most analysts that I have read agree that this was no pre-planned event to allow Obama to glide easily into the hot button issue but was rather our dear Joe being Joe, the guy who speaks truthfully from his heart.  
The President explained Biden’s actions in a dismissive way, “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit.” [Here]  Obama’s statement said more about his own position than it did about Biden’s. 
Here’s what our silver-tongued President had to say about his recently ”evolved” position on same-sex marriage.
At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. 
What has been surprising is the enthusiastic response that this barely coherent statement has gotten from gay-rights activists and all but the far-right media.  It has set off a round of optimistic fund-raising and inspired some pleasant editorials, but I doubt it will propel anyone to the altar or make anyone in North Carolina regret that he or she just voted to slam the door on gay civil rights.  I know that the President wrote that he was “disappointed” with the result of that state’s vote [Here] but so what?  It’s easy to shrug one’s shoulders after the fact, but it is much harder and more important to speak out before the vote.  Would it have changed the final count?  I do not know, but neither does the President.  (And I have heard no noise from the Democratic Party’s leadership or from the White House that Charlotte, North Carolina will be reconsidered as the site of the Democratic National Convention next summer.)
The Washington Post reported [Here] that shortly after Obama made his same-sex marriage statement on ABC, he called one of his spiritual advisors, the Rev. Joel Hunter, to inform him what he had just announced.  Obviously, Hunter was not pleased.  Rev. Hunter, a leading evangelical minister, is the senior pastor of a congregation in central Florida.[Here] He told the Post that he was afraid that civil rights laws would now be passed forcing churches to marry gay couples.  Obama assured him that would not happen.  (?!?)  This gives one another perspective about Obama’s insistence about leaving legalization of same sex marriage up to individual states.  Isn’t it strange that our first Afro-American President carries within himself so few reverberating echoes of the 20th century’s civil rights struggle?
As readers of this blog already know, last July my partner of 33 years and I were the first female couple to be legally married in our township.  The ceremony was beautifully and sensitively officiated by the GOP/Conservative Town Clerk.  We were surrounded and supported by neighbors and friends, all of whom worship in different churches, vote for different candidates, believe in different political goals but who all honored us and have continued to shower us with affection.  This was made possible by the political vision of Democratic New York State legislators and a few courageous Republicans, but mostly it was due to the political leadership and acumen of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
This is an issue that is deserving of determined political leadership and conviction, not one sentence lines.  We yearn to hear the eloquence of Martin Luther King, the clarion voice of John F. Kennedy, the political savvy of Lyndon Johnson, the empathetic heart of Joe Biden and, yes, the clarity and vision of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More from Sandra Fluke...

When do you suppose the right wing media will learn not to mess with Sandra Fluke?  Every time one of them projects their stereotypic sexist images on her, they get burned.  At the same time, the more we  learn about this young woman, the more impressive she becomes.
First, there was Rush Limbaugh.  We all remember what happened when Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on his radio show and then babbled on about birth control, demonstrating that he knew absolutely nothing about female physiology.  His ignorance surprised us all in view of his four marriages.  (On second thought, that may explain why he had to have four marriages.)  Rush lost sponsors, but not enough to shut down his program.  
His tepid pro forma apology was forthcoming only after he had blustered and blathered for three days after his initial “slut” remark and after a tsunami of negative feedback threatened his advertisers and entire propaganda mill. [Here]  Rush’s apology was lame and will win him no converts--or new advertisers.  It did, however, gain Rush a new wave of disdain, which is certain to have permanent sticking power.
The next we heard of Sandra Fluke was the formal announcement of her engagement to her long-term boyfriend.  Of course, the conservative media was drawn to the story as ants are drawn to a honey pot.  The pundit that got into the most trouble was Fox News commentator Monica Crowley who tweeted a snide question: “To a man?” [Here]
Sandra Fluke responded immediately.  On MSNBC’s The Ed Show she called the tweeted remark “blatant homophobia” and then went on to add this comment: [Here]
I don’t want an apology from anyone personally.  I think it is possible she [Crowley] owes an apology to the LGBTQ community, because I am not offended to be asked whether or not I’m with a woman.  It’s not offensive to me to be gay, but it was clearly meant as an insult. 
What a marvelous response!  I wonder how many people in public life have the self-possession, poise, sound values and maturity to answer in these terms?
Crowley immediately fell over herself to apologize [Here] and perhaps she meant it.   We hope so but, as we all know, once said, an insult still vibrates, poisoning the air, no matter how many apologies attempt to dispel it.
Let us hope that Sandra Fluke will now be given some space and privacy to complete her Georgetown Law School studies and to focus on the next phase of her life with her new fiancé, Adam Mutterperl.  Sandra and Adam issued this marvelous statement in an exclusive interview with the Daily Beast [Here]:
Having dated for over eight years, we're just excited that our friends and family were kind enough to pretend to be surprised at our engagement. We're really looking forward to spending the next eight years planning our wedding.
We hope that Sandra Fluke does not disappear from our national political life.  She’s an intelligent, strong, clear-visioned, young woman who has much to offer our country’s future.  Let’s hope that their recent drubbings have taught the rightwing media to treat her with respect.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another War Against Women....

There is a new war being waged against women, but this time it’s not being fought by the usual misogynists.  The arena is not the bedroom or the courthouse or even the halls of our legislatures, although the women are accused of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  Can you believe that the bellows of outrage are coming from the Vatican in Rome and are directed not at pedophiles but at the good nuns who teach the young and care for the poor, the infirm, the ill and the dying--the ones that Jesus talked about.
Last week the Church’s doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), issued an eight-page report, [Here] directed at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).[Here]  (We should recall that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, interprets Catholic doctrine and was headed by the current pope before his election to the papacy.)  The CDF report charges that those good sisters have turned aside from fundamental Catholic teachings and are in need of correction and change.  The Church has taken umbrage with the LCWR’s position on homosexuality, male-only priesthood and a “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” [Here]  
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an organization of the heads of most of the groups of nuns in the United States.  Wikipedia tells us that it has 1500 members and represents about 56,000 women religious in this country.[Here]  It is thus fair to say, that the men in charge have told the women religious that they have acted too rashly and too independently.  An Archbishop from Seattle, has been dispatched to meet with the leadership of the LCWR and is empowered to rewrite the organization’s bylaws.
Before I go further, I should warn the reader that I am not a Roman Catholic but have profound respect for most of the Catholic nuns whom I have met over my lifetime.  I also confess to being a lifelong feminist, even a radical one, (whatever that means.)  To add further brimstone on my head, I happen to be living blissfully and happily with my same-sex spouse, whom I recently married after 33 years of co-habitation.
So what did the good sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious do to incur the wrath of their Church’s hierarchy?  The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has some thoughts. [Here]  Davidson points to the Vatican statement which mentions that the LCWR has made public statements that disagree with the American bishops’ positions.  Notable among them has been the support that the Women Religious has given to Obama’s Affordable health Care Act.  Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association with its 600 hospitals, had been honored by the LCWR last year and had been very publicly supportive of the bill as it worked its way through Congress.
Last winter, when the controversy about the federal mandate to have employers’ insurance plans offer coverage for contraception, both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  and the LCWR objected.  When Obama offered a compromise, however, Sister Carol agreed but the Catholic bishops did not.  Moreover, the bishops went public with their disagreement with the nuns.  As Davidson pointed out, the Vatican was not so much concerned that the nuns were speaking out, but that they were not parroting what the bishops wanted them to say. [Here]  In other words, they were saying what they believed and what 98% of sexually-active Roman Catholic woman, who use birth control, would most certainly agree with.
The Roman CDF also despatched Archbishop Peter Sertain of Seattle to oversee the “wayward” LCWR and to review and revise its policies.  [Here]  Sertain will have two bishops and five years to help him put everything to rights within the women’s group.  
Do you suppose the good Archbishop is going to start with Eve and work his way forward?  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The War On Women...

It’s about time we addressed the GOP’s so-called War On Women.  
Of course, now that the Republican leadership has seen the poll numbers with women under fifty in swing states overwhelmingly favoring Democrats, there are some isolated and feeble attempts at backtracking but how can anyone walk back the assaults that Republican-led state legislatures have recently made on women’s reproductive rights?  
Ann Romney, whose husband has shoved her into the spotlight to help with the women’s vote, has recently had her twenty minutes of fame when a Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, said on CNN’s AC360) that Ann Romney couldn’t help her husband’s campaign too much with women’s economic issues because she “hadn’t worked a day in her life.”  [Here]  Well!!!  The response was extraordinary.  Even the President got into it by mumbling something about his wife’s hard work and his own mother’s work raising his half-sister and him.  (He never mentioned that his mother was doing a few other things as well, such as earning her doctorate and pioneering microfinancing in Indonesia.)
We all know what Hilary Rosen was trying to say.  She was pointing to the fact that Ann Romney’s life, raising five boys with domestic help and a husband with a millionaire’s checkbook, was far different from most single women’s lives, raising children alone with the responsibility of paying all the bills.  
But why does anyone have to explain this?  Doesn’t even President Obama get it?
I’m certain that the Republican strategists are jumping for joy to have the media spotlight turned away from what has been happening in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country where a staggering number of anti-abortion bills have been introduced and passed.  Rachel Maddow claims that over 4oo such bills have been introduced in state houses across the country.  [Here]  Many of those bills involve extremely intrusive physical tests and examinations of the women who are seeking to end unwanted pregnancies.  
My nomination for the most bizarre of the cruelly-intended group of anti-abortion bills that various state capitals have churned out is the recently-passed Arizona law that is based on a wild theory that life begins two-weeks before conception.  (I am not making this up.)  [Here]  Let me repeat: the Arizona law posits that life begins before sperm meets egg.  (In some cases, it would mean that a new life would begin before mother even met the father, before either knew each other’s names or, most particularly, shared the same bed.)
The bill was one part of a three-bill group of anti-abortion measures that were considered by the Arizona legislature.  One bill protects doctors from future lawsuits if the doctor intentionally withholds medical information from a mother about a pregnancy if the information (in the doctor’s opinion) might lead her to abort the fetus.  A second bill involves mandating Arizona’s school curriculum to state that birth and adoption are the “most acceptable outcomes for an unwanted pregnancy.” [Here]

The third bill, mentioned above, prohibits all abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy and provides little leeway to protect a woman’s health.  By asserting that conception occurs at least two weeks earlier than it would be possible for sperm to meet egg (at the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period), the Arizona pro-life forces have given their state the earliest cut-off date for late-term abortions in the country.  (Most states use 20-weeks as a limit which meets the Supreme Court-ordered standard of fetal viability.)
As expected, Governor Jan Brewer signed the bills into law last Thursday. [Here]
I suppose the pro-life folks are counting this as another victory.  But who is the winner? Is it the child who is born into poverty in a situation in which his/her birth was neither planned nor welcomed?  Or was it a mother whose own doctor did not tell her that her fetus was deformed until it was too late in the pregnancy for her to make a decision about the quality of her baby’s life or her own life?  No, the winner is the state legislator who is simply picking up GOP Brownie points for his/her next election.
And we all know who the losers are in Arizona, don’t we?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders...

On Monday, April 2nd, the Supreme Court quietly handed down its decision in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders in another close 5/4 decision, split along ideological lines.  All media attention on the Supreme Court last week, if people thought of the Court at all, was focused on oral arguments surrounding the challenges to Obama’s Affordable Health Care Law.  Florence slipped quietly by everyone, almost unnoticed.  The issues that are involved in this decision should not slip past anyone.
The question raised in Florence involves fundamental human dignity and personal privacy.  Does invasive strip searching of detained citizens violate their constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments even when the offenders have been arrested for minor offenses?  What is at stake here is fundamental human dignity versus police coercion.
Here are the facts in the case:  
In March 2005, Albert Florence, an attractive, mature, Afro-American male, was riding with his wife, April, who was driving, and their small child in the family’s BMW SUV.  They were headed for his mother-in-law’s home for a festive dinner when the car was pulled over by a N. J. State trooper.  Florence identified himself as the owner of the car.  When the officer checked the vehicle’s records, he found that Florence had an outstanding bill for an unpaid warrant.  
This was old news for Albert Florence.  Although the warrant had been paid, he had been stopped before by police so he carried a letter in his glove compartment, stating that the warrant had been paid in full.  This didn’t satisfy the trooper who cuffed Florence and, to the horror of his pregnant wife and 4 1/2 year old son, took him into custody. 
It was then that Florence's humiliation began.  In the course of the next two weeks, Mr. Florence was held in two separate facilities in two different New Jersey counties until the authorities were satisfied that the warrant had indeed been paid and finally released him.  (In other words, the cops realized that he was innocent and had been unjustly arrested!)
In the meantime he had been strip-searched twice.  In both instances, he was ordered to stand naked in front of a guard and be visually searched.  He next was ordered to move his genitals.  He was also ordered to squat, cough and to spread his buttocks.  
Mr. Florence said in an interview quoted by the NYTimes, [Here]    
I consider myself a man’s man...Six-three.  Big Guy.  It was humiliating.  It made me feel less than a man.
Of course, Mr. Florence sued.  The case took seven years to work its way up through the court system until it reached the highest Court where it was argued six months ago as Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders.  We are left to wonder why there was the unusually long six-month period between oral arguments and the handing down of the final decision.  Linda Greenhouse, the NY Times Supreme Court Op-Ed columnist, believes that there was a reason for the delay.  As she wrote in Thursday’s paper, “I don’t know what the back story is, but I’ve parsed enough Supreme Court opinions over the years to know that there is one.”  [Here]  She hints that the reason may lie with Justice Thomas who did not signal his agreement with part of Kennedy’s majority opinion.) 
The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy with Roberts and Alito writing concurrent opinions, held that such strip searches were not a violation of a person’s constitutional rights but both Roberts and Alito seemed also very eager to add that strip searches were not a mandatory procedure for the police authorities to use.  Greenhouse pointed out that the Chief Justice’s and Alito’s limiting caveats are perhaps what Justice Thomas objected to when he specifically declined to concur with this section of the majority opinion.  We know from past cases, Justice Thomas has supported excessive force by police.   His unusual silence in this instance was without any explanation.  (Ahem!) [Here]
Justice Breyer, with Ginsberg, Sotomeyer and Kagan concurring, wrote a sharp dissent in which he spelled out his disdain for this invasive police procedure:[Here]
Even when carried out in a respectful manner, and even absent any physical touching, ... such searches are inherently harmful, humiliating, and degrading. 
It is in Breyer’s listing of the particulars in the amicus briefs that we begin to learn of the full disgrace--even horror-- of strip searching. There was the strip searching of Sister Bernie Galvin, a nun, whose offense was to participate in an anti-war demonstration (she was accused of trespassing) or women who were lactating, or menstruating or --hold your breath--had just been victims of sexual abuse!
One does not need to know more about Sister Bernie Galvin [Here] to realize that it would be very unlikely that this nun or any nun would carry, in her body cavities, drugs or weapons or that she would have identifying gang tattoos on her body.
It is sad that Justices Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan were not joined by one more judge from the majority so that Breyer’s ringing words would have stood as the voice of the court, but such did not happen.  We are also saddened that Justice Breyer’s outrage was not joined by a concurrence from at least one of the court’s female justices.  
Naomi Wolf, the feminist activist, has already joined battle with a commentary just sent around the internet by the Readersupportednews. [Here]  Her voice should and must be joined by others.  This sorry tale deserves a huge chorus of women’s outraged voices.  

What say you?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ave Atque Vale, Olympia Snowe...

Olympia Snowe, Republican Senator of Maine, recently announced that she will not seek re-election in November.  This is very sad news for us all, regardless of party.  We shall miss her.
I have been immeasurably honored to serve the people of Maine for nearly 40 years in public office and for the past 17 years in the United States Senate.  It was incredibly difficult to decide that I would not seek a fourth term in the Senate. [Here]
In her press statement she reminded us that she has “served the people of Maine for nearly 40 years in public office and for the past 17 years in the United States Senate.” [Here]  In itself that record is remarkable, but it is the quality of her service to the people of Maine and to each of us throughout the country that distinguish those years.  
Frank Bruni in the NYTimes admitted to having “a kind of crush” on her, adding that “she moved, dressed, and treated people--even reporters, and even when we hounded her through the hallways of the Capitol--with an unforced, uncommon graciousness.“ [Here]
Bruni added that he liked her most for her “disobedience.”   He was putting his finger on why she will be so deeply missed by all of us.  I admit that when the Senate is locked in some bitter, partisan debate, I keep my ears cocked to hear what Snowe has to say and what positions she has taken.  I never automatically agree with her--she is, after all, a moderate Republican-- but I know that her opinions are honest, hers alone and should be listened to.
Snowe’s uncommon natural graciousness that Frank Bruni mentioned, is even more remarkable when one remembers the tragedies that she experienced early in her life and which would embitter and harden most people.  Snowe was orphaned in childhood when first her mother died of breast cancer and a year later her father died of heart disease.  She was then moved to her aunt’s home in another town and, from there. sent to boarding school.  Her uncle also died a few years later.
The next terrible blow came when early in her marriage to Maine State Legislator Peter Snowe, her husband was killed in a car accident.  Instead of collapsing, she listened to the urging of friends and colleagues and ran for her husband’s seat and won, thus beginning her long legislative career in Maine and in our nation’s capital.  She first served in Maine’s House, then its Senate and next, in 1978, the U.S. House of Representatives.
While serving in our nation’s House, she met and married fellow Maine Congressman John McKernan who was later elected the Governor of Maine.  She thus became First Lady of Maine from 1989 to 1995.  Snowe was holding that honorary position in 1995 when she was sworn in as Maine’s U.S. Senator. 
When Olympia Snowe wrote that she had “serve[d] the people of Maine for nearly 40  years in public office,” she was referring to her legislative service in four different bodies, two in Maine and two in Washington.  She is a seasoned, intelligent, experienced, skilled and highly respected Senator.  To forego that role means that the political pressures and perhaps disappointments for Olympia Snowe must have been overwhelming.

This is what she has told us about making her decision: [Here]
Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term... So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate.
How tragic for Snowe and for the country.  If debate is no longer meaningful, the Senate is no longer a deliberative body.  When that happens, our democracy ceases.  
What comes next?  Corporate governance?  Dictatorship?  Theocracy? 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some Reasons Why...

It’s difficult to know where to begin to attempt to understand the current right-wing’s bizarre attacks on women’s reproductive rights.  As Margaret Talbot wrote in the New Yorker’s (March 19th),  “The Talk of the Town,” [Here]
It would be hard to imagine a more unlikely historical moment than this for birth control to become a matter of outraged political controversy.
We certainly agree.  Talbot went on to offer an interesting and very convincing thesis for “why now.”  
She began with a widely quoted Guttmacher Institute analysis that 99% of American women who have been sexually active have used contraceptives.  Guttmacher added that 98% of Roman Catholic women have used contraceptives.   In the current argument with the Catholic bishops about birth control coverage in employees’ insurance policies, Talbot wisely quips: [Here]
...the Catholic hierarchy was basically asking the federal government to do what its own teachings apparently could not: to remind Catholic women of the evils of contraceptives in such a way that they would actually stop using them.
Talbot also quotes from a recent book, The Richer Sex, by WaPo reporter Liza Mundy, which provides us with some powerful clues as to what might have stirred up some angry male egos, not to  mention their ever-ready testosterone pumps.  Did you know that 40% of working wives now earn more than their husbands and that, by 2030, it is projected that the percentage will be 50%?  (Can’t you hear Rick Santorum yelling in the background about how women shouldn’t be working outside the home?)
Moreover, today half of college and university undergraduates are female but, by 2019, it is estimated that the percentage will rise to 59% and 61% of graduate students will be women!!  (Can’t you imagine Santorum and his pals still complaining that Obama is a snob for wanting high school graduates to go to college?)
All of the above are arguments for rightwing males to keep “their” women at home.  (Let’s add, and pregnant.)  To that sentiment we’ll also include the voice of Santorum, still yelling in the background about contraceptives, “...It’s not O.K. because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” [Here]
Talbot also pointed to other recent social trends that should stir concerns in us all, but there is nary a word of worry from the politically conservative right.  For example, the fact that over half of the births occurring to women under thirty are occurring to unmarried women has not occasioned a Republican peep or a tweet.  The irony is that one of the largest group of folks who are loudly advocating for marriage are same-sex couples and you know the right wing’s attitude about them!
Another battle is brewing with the Republicans in the Senate over renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.  GOP Senators are concerned about special provisions in the act about Native Americans and immigrants.  They also do not believe the bill goes far enough to exclude LGBT victims. [Here]  This landmark Act was originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 to largely bipartisan support [Here] but not this year.  I guess the GOP thinks that beating immigrant women and lesbians is perfectly acceptable.
None of this fully explains why conservatives have thought that it is fair game to attack women’s reproductive systems.  The 2012 Obama Presidential reelection campaign has given them the when and Citizens United has opened  corporate coffers, providing the wherewithal. Margaret Talbot and other feminists have given us some partial why’s, but questions remain.
Perhaps we didn’t make ourselves clear forty and fifty years ago when we marched and yelled and organized.  It is clear that we need another larger, louder and even more strident Women’s Movement.  We need today’s young women to take up the cause and take to the streets.  Sandra Fluke can help hold our banner high.  Let the first stop for us be gaining female majorities in the Senate and the House.  
And this time, let’s make sure our candidate becomes President.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Obama to speak at Barnard’s graduation...

Have you heard that President Obama will deliver Barnard College's Commencement Address this year?  
Since the announcement ten days ago, it seems that the Barnard/ Columbia campuses have not received the news with the calm detachment one would expect from two of the country’s leading undergraduate institutions--far from it.  As Ravenna Koenig, a Barnard student has written [Here], in just days after the announcement, there were at least 864 comments--"many lewd, hateful”--posted on the university’s blog, called “bwog.”
Many of the Columbia students were irate because Obama had chosen to speak at Barnard and not at Columbia, the college from which he had graduated.  The choice opened a Pandora’s box of resentment and jealousy that obviously exists between the two institutions but lies hidden, though simmering, just below the surface.   
Columbia College and Barnard live in a separate but equal world in their New York’s Morningside Heights campus on the Upper West Side.  Both are independent undergraduate institutions with their own admissions processes, separate faculties, administrations, and presidents, but students may cross-register in courses.  Barnard students receive their diplomas from Columbia University which are signed by the Presidents of both institutions.
Strange, eh?  Separate but equal, but nothing that is separate is ever equal, as the Columbian undergraduate comments illustrate.  Some reflect resentments about the strange legal relationship between the two undergraduate colleges but others reflect the gender biases that exist in our society and which have been front and center in our recent national political consiousness and angry debates.
What is also interesting about this fracas is that Obama and his political advisors only recently decided to be Barnard’s commencement speaker.  With the GOP’s current war against women in this election year, I guess they looked around to see what women’s colleges they could sidle up to and use as a timely election year speech.  They came up with Barnard.  After all, Barack graduated from Columbia and his half-sister attended Barnard.
The tragedy is that Jill Abramson, the recently appointed executive editor of the New York Times, had been scheduled to speak at that same Barnard graduation.  Abramson, the first female editor of the paper in its 160-year history, has already put her refreshingly new and interesting stamp on the paper.  
We are left to wonder what she would have said to that community of women in these troubled times when our gender is so under attack from religious conservatives.   Abramson has been smilingly gracious when asked about being bumped by the President.[Here]  She promises to speak at the college at a later date.

It will be most interesting to compare their speeches... 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Women v. Neanderthals...

The right wing--the Neanderthal part--of the Republican Party continues its war against women.  The latest focus of this attack has been women’s reproductive rights and, very specifically, women’s rights to contraception and to abortions. 

There are currently eight states whose legislatures require an abdominal ultrasound procedure before any abortion.  The list isn’t pretty: Alabama; Arizona; Florida; Kansas; Louisiana; Mississippi, Texas and Virginia.  Virginia is the latest state to join the Men-controlling-Women Club.  The Virginia legislature has moved away from the more invasive transvaginal ultrasound after an aghast media spread the word about what was about to be passed.  Virginia’s politically ambitious Governor Bob McDonnell saw the horrid, graphic, nationwide attention the bill was getting and quickly helped to fashion a new bill with only the external abdominal procedure.
Two additional states, North Carolina and Oklahoma, have passed similar bills which are currently unenforceable because the laws are being challenged in court.  Thus, ten of our fifty states (20%) have gone down this anti-women road with some adding little flavors of their own.  For example, Texas now mandates that the ultrasound technician display the ultrasound screen to the female patient and he/she describe the fetus to her before the abortion can be performed.[Here]
(I have a question: who invents these torturous steps?  You can’t tell me that busy state male legislators spend their time sitting around in committees, figuring how to torture women who wish to abort a pregnancy.  Most men have never heard of ultrasound and if they ever actually saw such a picture, most would faint or throw up.)
And where did all this focus on ultra-sound come from?  According to the Guttmacher Institute, “since routine ultra-sound is not considered medically necessary as a component of first-trimester abortion, the requirement appears to be a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion.” [Here]  Guttmacher adds another chilling fact that ultrasound can add significantly to the cost of the entire medical procedure, thus adding another discouraging burden to poor women.
And how does Roe v. Wade(1973) figure in all of this?  Yes, the Supreme Court has decided that a woman’s right to privacy includes the right to have an abortion.  However, the anti-abortion folks have been chipping away at Roe with cases such as City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health(1983), in which the Court has allowed states to pass mild restrictions on abortions if they are not “undue.” [Here]  
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate's GOP has blocked President Obama’s judicial nominees.  They have managed to jam up the lower courts with one out of every ten lower courts throughout the country standing empty.  The Senate Democratic leadership is currently attempting to push the waiting 18 nominations to a vote.  These include 7 women and 8 people of color.  [Here]    
(By the way, if Roe can be picked at and eroded, why not Citizens United?)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ignorance is not bliss...

Before we move away from Limbaugh’s misogynistic rants, we have a few more things to say. 
The most important lesson that we all learned from this disgusting episode is that American women are now poised and organized to react quickly and in vast numbers to such outrageous attacks.  It’s also true that women are seeing such slander for what it is, viz. not a single personal assault, but rather an attack against all women.  Hours after we first heard or read Limbaugh’s explosive words, we all reacted as one, probably because we have all experienced similar maliciousness.  Unfortunately, his sneering tone was all too familiar to us all.
Something else that we learned (and it took women to point it out) is that Limbaugh has no idea how female contraception works but was eager to pontificate about it.  Here are two illustrative excerpts from his radio remarks last week:
 Can you imagine if you were her parents how would be?...Your daughter ... testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she wants President Obama to provide them, or the Pope.
...She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the  contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. 
Notice that Limbaugh believes that the more sexual encounters a woman has, the more pills she must pop.  That is why he talks about the frequency of sex and the number of pills a woman must pay for.  
Does he not know that a woman takes one pill a day regardless of how often or how rarely she has sexual intercourse?   How can a man who has had 4 wives in the last 35 years be so ignorant?  Is he stupid or is he just not paying attention?  
Rachel Maddow pointed out Rush’s ignorance in her show last Friday evening [Here] and Maureen Dowd, crediting Mother Jones for the heads up, mentioned the same Limbaugh lapse in her last Sunday’s column. [Here]  These two women are the only journalists to my knowledge who have written about Limbaugh's glaring error.
What is most appalling is that this man with his yawning lack of knowledge, glib tongue and overweening egotism is the de facto voice of the right wing of the Republican Party.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Where are the young women?...

What does it say about the college co-ed [Sandra] Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. [. . .]
 If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.   Rush Limbaugh
If your email inbox looks anything like mine, it is jammed with statements of outrage against Rush Limbaugh’s latest slanderous rant against Sandra Fluke, a young Georgetown law student.  Ms. Fluke had the courage to testify before a House Committee that Nancy Pelosi called after Fluke had been denied appearing before Darrell Issa’s Committee which had impaneled an all-male group of middle-aged clergy and professors.  (We’ve already discussed  this last week in our February 25th blog, titled “The GOP and Sex, Sex, Sex...”)
It wasn’t enough for Rush Limbaugh to let this botched GOP incident die.  Rush isn’t one to let a chance to grab a headline get by him.  But this time, it seems that he stepped over the line into slanderous territory.  Limbaugh called  Sandra Fluke a “slut” and it wasn’t a slip of the tongue.  He meant to insult her and he did it with his little boy, smart-alecky lip.  
Unfortunately, we have no video of Ms. Fluke’s testimony before Pelosi’s Committee because the GOP voted to blacken all cameras, but her simple words speak clearly and plainly.  WaPo columnist Dana Milbank gave us this brief snippet of Fluke’s testimony:[Here
Well, I will confirm that I was energized,” Fluke said.  “...I am an American woman who uses contraception...That makes me qualified to talk to my elected officials about my health-care  needs.  
Fluke’s simple statement summed up her position and her legal rights.  Obviously, the use of contraception does not automatically invite the term of “slut” to be hurled her way.  The statistics of the number of sexually active women who use contraception, even Roman Catholic women (about 98%), suggest that Mr. Limbaugh is stuck back in a time bubble.  But we already knew that, didn’t we?
It was gratifying to read [Here] that President Obama phoned Ms. Fluke on Friday to thank her for supporting employer-mandated contraception coverage in emplyees’ insurance plans.  He added that she should tell her parents that they should be proud of her.   (We can be certain that they most certainly are!)  Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney called Limbaugh’s remarks “reprehensible.”  Even some Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Limbaugh.  House Majority Leader Boehner called Rush’s words “inappropriate.”  Santorum said that Limbaugh was “being absurd” but then added that “even an entertainer can be absurd.”  (I guess it isn’t too wise for a Republican with serious ambitions to take issue with old Rush.)
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia also made a public statement, titled “On Civility and Public Discourse” which he posted on the liberal website, Huffpost. [Here]  He praised Fluke's demeanor before Pelosi’s Committee and wrote that she “was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction.  She provided a model of civil discourse.”  
DeGioia went on to argue for more politeness and respect in the public forum and added that Ms. Fluke had a “right to respectful free expression,”  but had been treated to “behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.” 
Sandra Fluke is the center of what must be a confusing firestorm right now, but I’m sure that such strong support from her university’s President will be a particular comfort to her. 
As Rep. Carolyn Maloney called out the other day, “Where are the Women?,” I have been yelling and adding my own question, ”Where are the Young Women?”  
I now have my answer.