Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some Random Thoughts....

Ten days ago I posted a blog titled, “What a difference 50 years can make,” in which I quoted John F. Kennedy’s major statement about the necessity for an absolute separation of church and state.  Kennedy was seeking to quiet the fears of conservative Americans who were alarmed at his deeply-held Catholic faith.  Now in a complete reversal, Rick Santorum, in his campaign to win the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks, if he can) of those self-same Republican conservatives, has now admitted that he “almost threw up” when he read Kennedy’s speech.[Here]  
Yes, indeed, what a difference 50 years can make!
Day after day, for the last few months, we’ve been treated to the spectacle of the GOP Presidential hopefuls’ faces on our tv screens.  Their virulent attacks against their fellow GOP opponents and their own dirty linen has been trotted out and hung up to dry on websites and front pages and even dripped on tv talk shows.  In addition, lately, we’ve had to endure antediluvian male cockiness (yes, I think that’s the right noun) about contraception, abortions, women working “outside the home,” vaginal penetration and on and on.  One wonders how much more intrusive these conservative men will be before decorum, good sense or a powerful muzzle descends on their heads.
The latest news is that Mitt Romney has won both the Arizona and Michigan primaries, the former by a comfortable margin and the latter by a squeaker even though many Democrats crossed over to vote for Santorum to upset a Romney win.  (I wonder what Romney will have to do in the coming weeks to get folks to forget his infamous 2008 NYT op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”) [Here]
Even with all the hype about Michigan and Arizona wins, we still have to endure next week’s Super Tuesday with over 400 delegates to be decided.  Among the states, Ohio will be a hotly contested prize with all the boys plotting to show the Tea Party and evangelical base that HE is the true leader and inheritor of the party of Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge.
This long drawn-out GOP primary remains remarkable for many things beyond its boredom.  The Republican-led war against women continues unabated and unashamed.  In addition, in New Hampshire the Republican dominated state legislature is set to undo its marriage equality legislation although polls indicate that 59% of New Hampshire’s citizens are content with the marriage equality law as it now stands. [Here]  It’s as if the Grand Old Party is marching resolutely backwards in its desperate attempt to find its old music--or any music at all.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The GOP and Sex, Sex, Sex...

In Thursday’s NYT Opinionator column [Here], Gail Collins wrote this in her “conversation” with fellow columnist David Brooks:
David, if you had asked me what the big topic of the presidential race was going to be, I’d certainly have said jobs, jobs, jobs. But lately, we seem to be talking about women, women, women.
In Washington they’re fighting about whether it’s a good plan to have all-male panels discussing women’s right to get contraceptives under their health insurance. In Virginia they’re debating abortion and Mississippi is thinking about bringing back the personhood amendment its voters defeated last year. In Indiana this week there was a dust-up in the State Legislature over the Girl Scouts, and whether they promote abortion and homosexuality. 
The sad problem is that Collins isn’t making any of this up and the boys who are beating the drums are dead serious.  And we should add an important fact that Collins didn’t mention, viz. that the boys who are beating those drums are all conservative Republicans.  (I keep wondering if there are any Rockefeller Republicans left or have they all been eaten?)
Also on Thursday, Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student, whom the House Dems had selected to represent women’s views of contraception, finally got to testify before Congress.  It wasn’t because Chairman Darrell Issa relented--he’s not that kind of guy.  No, it was because Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi got mad, stepped up to the plate and arranged a rump committee session--she’s that kind of a leader.
And by the way, you won’t see official videos of Fluke’s testimony before Pelosi’s Committee because House Republicans blocked the televising of any of it.  (See how dangerous women are!)
What Sandra Fluke talked about in front of the blackened cameras was the impact on her fellow students of Georgetown Law School’s lack of contraception coverage in their student insurance plan.  She told of one of her friends in the law school who had used a contraceptive drug to control her ovarian cysts but was forced to stop the meds because of the expense of the drugs.  As a result, one ovary had to be surgically removed; she is now showing signs of an early menopause.  
When asked to comment on her exclusion from testifying and Chairman Issa’s referring to her as an “energized” college student who lacked “qualifications.”  Fluke responded, “Well, I will confirm that I was energized...I’m an American woman who uses contraception...That makes me qualified to talk to my elected officials about my health-care needs.” [Here]
Bingo!  Ms. Fluke nailed Darrell Issa, the House Republicans and the current sexual idée fixe of the GOP with her simplicity, candor and directness.  
As the current GOP’s obsession with all-things sexual grows more and more bizarre, Virginia’s State Legislator David Albo’s recounting on the floor of the Virginia’s House of Delegates--complete with giggles and winks--his wife’s refusal to have sex with him gets my vote for Tasteless Vulgarity Of The Week Award. [Here]  It might also give us some insight into how utterly antediluvian the current GOP is. 
On Friday a group of Democratic women Senators took the Senate floor to protest the exclusion of any female voice in Thursday’s House panel on contraception.  Senator Patty Murray (D, Wash) summed up the episode while looking at a blown-up picture of Chairman Issa’s all-male panel: [Here]
Reading the news this morning was like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years.   It’s a picture that says a thousand words, and it’s one that most women thought was left behind when pictures only came in black and white.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where Are the Women?

Where Are the Women?  
Yes, indeed!  This is a question that we’ve been asking for years, not just this last week.  Where are the women in positions of power?  Where are the Congresswomen?  Where are female Senators, Governors, Presidential Chiefs-of-Staff?  The list goes on and on.  
“Where are the women?” is what Rep. Carolyn Maloney called out to Chairman Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight Committee last Thursday.  His Committee was scheduled to hear testimony about the Administration’s decision to require employers to offer their female employees contraception coverage in their insurance plans.  Chairman Issa, never one to miss a chance to beat a conservative drum, wasn’t asking any questions about contraception.  No.  No.  He and his GOP cohorts were focused on the employers who would have to foot the insurance bill and who believe that contraception runs contrary to God’s will.  (In the current century this means conservative and fundamentalist religious leaders, most particularly, but not exclusively, Roman Catholic.)
Issa had gathered an all-male panel of religious leaders and scholars to testify about their religious beliefs against contraception.  The Democratic Committee members attempted to seat a female law student who wished to testify about the important uses of some contraceptive drugs for women’s health beyond preventing conception.  Issa would not seat her.  
At that point, it was clear to all that no women would be heard in the first round of testimony--and let us remember that it is the first round that gets heavy press coverage--so Maloney, along with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and ranking Minority Democrat Elijah Cummings, walked out in protest, leaving both the floor and the mikes to the group of conservative male religious leaders and professors.  Before leaving, Maloney cried out the famous, “Where are the women?”
Maloney and Norton captured the news cycle for a second and a half.  Maloney’s question was even headlined on some interesting essays in the next two days.  However, the interest quickly blew away.  The sorry fact is that the question still stands unanswered, unheeded and, by now, forgotten by the msm.  
Where are the women’s voices today?  With Conservative GOP Presidential hopefuls elbowing each other aside to be the Top Voice of Sexism, there is now, more than ever, a need for a strong, clear feminist response.  As Eve Ensler reminded us in the on-line Reader Supported News, [Here]  “Today, one out of three women in the world--more than 1 billion women--will be raped or beaten.  As economies collapse and the 99 per cent struggle with less and less, . . . the violence against women and girls increases.  They become targets.  They become commodities, sold in many places for less than a cell phone.”
No, most women in America aren’t being raped or beaten, thank heaven, but we continue to be marginalized, which is a form of spiritual violence.   What is so difficult about this for most men to understand?  How could Darrell Issa even think of excluding all women from his initial panel about religious consciences and contraception?
And where is the ongoing outrage?  We dare not forget Carolyn Maloney’s shout and question.  It still hasn’t been answered . . .

Friday, February 17, 2012

Honoring Anthony Shadid and waiting for Gov. Christie...

Before we talk more about the current war against women that I mentioned in my last post, we must make note of two items. 
First, it saddens me to report that two-time Pulitzer Prize journalist and New York Times reporter, Anthony Shadid, died from a severe asthma attack while slipping into Syria on horseback.  Mr. Shadid’s two Pulitzers were awarded in 2004 and again in 2010 for his reporting of our Iraqi invasion and occupation.  We shall miss his keen, intelligent, empathetic eye and voice.  He was a brave man and lent credit and honor to his profession.  [Here]
Second, we congratulate the New Jersey legislature for passing legislation approving same-sex marriage in their state, but, as the NYT lead says, “Gay Marriage, Passed, Awaits Veto by Christie.” [Here]  Isn’t that nifty?  One man with enormous national political ambitions will stifle the will of a majority of both houses of the New Jersey legislature.  
Christie wants the New Jersey legislature to turn the matter over to a state-wide referendum, thus relieving himself of the responsibility of single-handedly squashing an increasingly popular civil right.  (Given the Governor's considerable girth, I use the word advisedly.)  The Democratic leadership in the New Jersey legislature has vowed to vote against any such referendum.  Instead, the Democrats are waiting for Christie’s veto of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in the hopes of gathering enough votes to override the veto.  New Jersey law gives the legislature a generous two-year period for such an override.
I once happened to see a Governor Christie performance in a Town Hall discussion of teachers’ salaries and New Jersey’s education budget.  Christie shamelessly verbally battered a young teacher who was defending her profession and the school system.  It was a shocking example of a bully who happened to have a mike, a camera crew and a staff on his side.  He sneered, interrupted her, mocked her and finally dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
The last time I saw anything quite so cruel was back in the Fifth Grade when a bully named Charlie beat up my friend Skinny Hunt.  We are all out of the Fifth Grade by now, but let’s see if Gov. Christie is.
It is a shame that the wave of good will and sanity that swept over the New York State legislature six months ago and which led them to extend the right of matrimony to same-sex couples, didn’t immediately sweep into neighboring New Jersey.  New York State, it must be remembered, is led by politically astute Andrew Cuomo; New Jersey has Chris Christie. 
Last July in New York State, as soon as same-sex marriages became legal, any opposition seemed to melt away and decent folks across the political spectrum opened their arms and their hearts in acceptance and welcome.  This is what my partner and I experienced six months ago and have continued to enjoy every day since.  And this is precisely what the current Conservative leadership seems not to know, viz. that this is the way decent folks behave when given the chance.

Addendum: Gov. Christie has vetoed New Jersey's Same-Sex Marriage Bill.  [Here]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What a difference 50 years can make.

Fifty years ago the Democratic Party nominated the young, articulate Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, for President of the United States.   It was only the second time in the Twentieth Century that a Roman Catholic had been selected by a major party for a run at the Presidency.  The first, Al Smith, lost to Herbert Hoover by a landslide in 1928.  He didn’t even carry his home state of New York although he had been its very popular Governor for three terms.  (The loss of New York must have broken his heart.)
When Kennedy was nominated in 1960, the anti-Catholic rumors that had bedeviled Smith began again.  I remember the whispered venom.  “Elect a Catholic as President and you’re putting the Pope in the White House.”  There were even more vile warnings which we need not repeat, but you can imagine what might be spewed out from the mouths of hate-crazed, conservative bigots.
Kennedy, the able politician that he was, decided to confront the rumors head on.  On September 12, 1960 he spoke before the Greater Huston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas: [Here]
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
Kennedy thus drew a line in the sand between church and state--all churches and our government.  It was a powerful statement and we would be well served to remember his message.
What is eerie is that the conservative part of our political and religious spectrum, which was so terrified of Roman Catholic domination fifty years ago, is today accepting, even welcoming, the vocal leadership from that very same group.  It is the Conference of  Catholic Bishops that is most vocal in its opposition to many of the things that women have fought for in our struggle for control over our own bodies and personal sexual preferences, such as contraception and medically-safe abortions.  
Yes, it certainly does feel like war.  
And note: the Conference of Catholic Bishops is the official leadership organization of the Roman Catholic Church in this country.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that the public discussion of the sexual practices and futures of American women--Catholic and otherwise--is being led by a group of celibate males. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Fundamental Woman’s Right...

It is almost impossible to believe that in this 21st century there is any credible public debate over the propriety of sexually-active women using birth control.  Of course, as we know, this is against official Roman Catholic doctrine and the Roman Church is currently ready, organized and eager to do battle over the issue.  (Let us not forget that we are in a Presidential election year in which conservative forces are lining up every conceivable constituency on every issue imaginable to force the Democrats out of the White House and the Congress.)
The NYTimes has given extensive space to this issue.  They’ve thrown their senior columnists into the discussion and, today, the paper even gave the story prominent front page news space [Here] before the President announced at noon today a so-called compromise. [Here]   The Washington Post [Here] and the Los Angeles Times [Here] both reported the Presidential “compromise” that at first glance looks far more like a Catholic Bishop’s triumph than an administration’s accommodation to religious conviction.
Under the “compromise,” women, who are employed in Roman Catholic-affiliated hospitals, will not have to pay out-of-pocket moneys for contraception, but will be offered, free-of-charge, coverage by the institution’s health insurer.  Also, the Catholic institutions will not be mandated to pay for something they have profound religious convictions against.  It’s a win/win situation.  Women will not have to pay extra for birth control protection and the Catholic institutions will not have to pay for something they do not believe in.  
Yes, everyone gets what each wants, but we do not walk away without some lessons learned.  The Conference of Catholic Bishops can slap a triumphant high five--and I’m certain that they did.  It appears that they faced down Obama who blinked.  (This is a particularly big win for them on a week-end when the conservative CPAC-2012 is meeting in D.C.)  The women in Catholic-affiliated institutions should also be very happy because they will be entitled to free birth control coverage, offered to them by their employer’s insurance company.  
Obama, too, should be pleased to be momentarily freed from the controversy.  Women get the contraception that they want (and need), the Catholic Church will not have to pay a dime for coverage for something that their church leaders profess they do not believe in and the insurance companies will pick up the tab. 
It should be asked: why aren't the insurance companies complaining?  As was proven with a similar plan in Hawaii, the insurance companies will actually save money in the long run because contraception will prevent the additional costs of unwanted births and other related medical expenses unprotected women might have incurred.
I must inject a question here: if this fine solution was waiting in the wings, why wasn’t it trotted out long ago?  Why did the WH wait until the political waters were boiling and frothing?  I guess we might get some answers in the next few days, but it sounds like political ineptitude to me. 
By the way, that other noise you hear is from women scrambling to get out from under the bus where they had been briefly tossed. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Welcome, Washington State...

As I write this, I am certain that people are gathered, as they were last night, at the Stonewall Inn, 53 Christopher Street, in New York City, to celebrate the decision of the Ninth Circuit’s court of appeals that declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  Tonight, the celebrants will have an additional reason to cheer: Washington State’s legislature has just passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriages and Governor Christine Gregoire has announced that she will proudly sign the bill into law. [Here
Governor Gregoire’s statement reflects her pride and joy: [Here]
This is truly a historic day in Washington state, and one where I couldn’t be more     proud. With today’s vote, we tell the nation that Washington state will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love. We tell every child of same-sex couples that their family is every bit as equal and important as all other families in our state.  And we take a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

I commend our House members... Our legislators showed courage, respect, and professionalism. I look forward to signing this piece of legislation, and putting into law an end to an era of discrimination.”

Gregoire’s expansive words contrast starkly with the shoddy discriminatory intent of California’s Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriages in California.  (And we must remember that Prop 8 slammed shut the brief window when same-sex marriages were legally performed in California.)  The appeals process, in effect, “froze” any further gay marriages until the issue was decided and the “stay” will remain in force while its defenders decide whether to appeal the recent court’s 3-judge decision.  
If the conservative proponents decide to appeal the decision, there are two possible roads forward for them and they have 14 days to decide how to proceed.  They could petition the whole Ninth Circuit court for a rehearing.  If this appeal is granted, a full eleven-judge panel would be convened to rehear the case.  We are told that this process would take an additional six months to a year.  [Here
The alternative would be to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.  If that is the road taken, 4 of the 9 Supremes would have to agree to hear the case.  Supreme Court watchers are saying that if the Court agrees to take up the case, it is probable that there will be a split decision with the deciding vote most likely to be Justice Anthony Kennedy’s.  Justice Kennedy, while considered a conservative, has taken a position against singling out specific groups for discriminatory rulings.  He did so in Lawrence v. Texas which struck down Texas’s sodomy laws and in a Colorado case which had left homosexuals unprotected against housing and job discrimination. [Here
Most court watchers tell us that the current case is clearly a state of California’s messy history of obvious discrimination--first granting marriage rights and then yanking them away by a state-wide constitutional referendum.  Whether the Prop 8 folks will appeal to the full Ninth Circuit court or to the Supreme Court. we should know within two weeks. 
In the meanwhile, we hope that courageous state legislators in other states will emulate those in Washington and New York who faced down conservative bigots and thus unlocked the doors of marriage for loving, same-sex couples, such as my partner and me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vassar, For Shame!

My sixtieth college reunion is coming up this June.  At least, that’s what all those letters with the fancy embossed Vassar return addresses tell me.  Let me repeat:  my 60th Vassar Reunion.  
When I graduated way back then, I don’t think I ever imagined living long enough to collect Social Security, although I think I knew about such things--I majored in Political Science.  Living more than ten years beyond my 50th reunion would have been beyond my ken.
I don’t know why the reunion has been on my mind, but it has.  I didn’t make it to my 25th, my 35th, or even my 50th.  I did go to my Fifth--or was it my Tenth?  I don’t really remember exactly but I had a rather good time.  I remember talking with women I had never spoken to before because they lived in other halls or, more probably, because they had majored in things like Microbiology or Child Study. 
The only event that I remember from the reunion that I managed to attend was the outdoor gathering of all the reunioning classes.  Of course, the youngest groups paraded in first.  This is a smart move by the alumnae organizers because the younger classes have the largest number of folks who show up and the event thus has the advantage of having an ever-swelling audience to cheer each group as they march in.  As I recall, by the time the members of the older classes arrived, their welcome was thunderous, which was greatly appreciated by those ladies, largely, I’m sure, because it was the first official sounds those elderly ladies were able to hear very clearly. 
As the reunion date has crept closer, a couple of my oldest friends and I began to talk more seriously about attending the June reunion.  As we talked, even my long irritation with Vassar’s decision to admit men began to recede.  It didn’t go away, mind you, but it seemed less unforgivable.
But then, ten days ago Vassar’s Admissions Department made a truly unforgivable error.  It sent acceptance letters to a few Early Decision applicants when they should have been sent rejection letters.  As the NYTimes reported [Here], the college had incorrectly sent letters of acceptance to 122 students, but only 46 of them had actually been offered admissions and 76 had been rejected!  
A few hours later the College explained that 76 of those acceptance letters had been posted on their website “in error” and they tried backtracking.  Thus, suddenly for 76 young people who had pledged to attend Vassar if they were accepted, Friday afternoon, January 27th, would be forever a particularly bitter afternoon.  Some folks in the Admissions Office worked late that Friday to set the record straight.  However, as we all can imagine, no one could ever make the record “right” for those 76 young hopeful students.
There was an immediate flurry of media attention.  The story got its short few minutes of fame and then was lost in the national, crazed, run-up to Sunday’s SuperBowl game.  Dick Cavett, however, in his  NYTimes op-ed on Sunday [Here] remembered and wrote feelingly about the incident.  
Cavett reported Vassar’s monumental hurtful mistake along with other outrageous  events--the soccer game deaths in Egypt, for example.  He reminded us of the heartaches that those young rejected students were experiencing.  I hope that some folks in the Admissions Department share Mr. Cavett’s compassion and that someone in Vassar’s current leadership shares Mr. Cavett’s empathy.
As yet, there has been no appropriate administrative response from the college and I doubt that there will be any in the future.  How shameful!
I want to believe that the college that educated me would have had the integrity and intelligence to address its error with more honesty, directness and, yes, a measure of humanity.   
Meanwhile, I have changed my mind.  I am not planning to attend my 60th Vassar College Reunion.  My dear classmates will have to make that walk into the hordes of applauding alumnae/i without me.  
Salve, 1952!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back, again!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  To any regular readers whom I may have had, I apologize.  My last entry was on April 2nd and, as I look back on the last 10 months, which were filled with a daily medical treatment schedule “down island” for my partner (and recently wedded spouse), I had no time for anything but what was essential.  I shall have some observations in the coming weeks about the current state of medicine from my experience of a caregiver but, for now, what is propelling me back to my computer and website, was the shocking announcement by the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation to stop its funding for Planned Parenthood.
As everyone who has been close to a computer, tv or a newspaper now knows, Komen has reversed its decision--at least for the moment.  Amid  unprecedented outpourings of outrage from women’s groups, women’s health services organizations and ordinary citizens who have been concerned about the yanking of vital health services from women who could not otherwise afford them, the Komen Foundation disavowed its decision and apologized for its original announcement.  The Komen reversal was accompanied by double talk that even in this current election year hit a new high (or should I say a new low?) for obfuscation. 
Amid all the bluster and the blather, we are still not certain that Planned Parenthood’s future funding from Komen will be secure.  It is clear that behind all the words is a rightwing political agenda to defund Planned Parenthood because in addition to mammography, the organization also offers contraception, STD information and abortions.  All of these are anathema to some conservative religious groups.
NOW’s President Terry O’Neill sent out a strong statement after Komen made its reversal announcement.  After congratulating Komen for backing down, O’Neill urged a “watchful waiting” caution.  While waiting to see what Komen would do next, the NOW President called for at least the firing of its new Senior Vice President Karen Handel, whom O’Neill called “ extremist anti-choice politician with a vendetta against Planned Parenthood.” [Here]  
While we wait to see if there will be another chapter to this story, it would be worth a moment to remember Margaret Sanger who founded the first birth control clinic in 1916 which led to her arrest for distributing such information.  
And while our attention is focused on a brave American female leader, why is it that there is not one American woman whose birthday is remembered and celebrated each year although the list of such women is long and distinguished?  Why not start with Margaret Sanger?  (She was born on September 14, 1879.)  [Here]