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.