Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Being Black is All it Is

I don't think there is anyone who hasn't been affected in some way by Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's death in February at the hands of a neighborhood watchman who thought he saw a threat in the tall black teenager wearing a dark hooded jacket.  The story is almost too terrible for words. 

I am white and my children are white.  At the same time that I'm grieving with Trayvon's family, trying yet again to come to terms with the needless death of an innocent child, I recognize that I can't possibly grasp what it must feel like to know their precious son would likely still be alive if only he hadn't been black.

It wasn't the hoodie he was wearing that made him a target.  Kids all across the country wear hoodies every day.  It was the darkness of the skin underneath that hood that provided the catalyst for the kind of tragedy that is becoming as commonplace as it is unbearable.

We're in a place where the issue of racism opens up old wounds, forcing us to once again pull it out and examine it.  I would say racism is back, but we all know it never really went away.  We see it in the open hatred toward our first black president; in the collateral hatred toward his wife and daughters; in a generalized hatred toward people whose only difference is in the color of their skin.

I was a young mother during the last civil rights movement.  It was impossible to explain the inexplicable to my children--that in our own country, this country that boasts about fairness and equality in story and song--there are white people who hate black people so much they want to do them harm.

But the conversations I had with my kids couldn't even come close to the painful necessity every black parent had--and still has--in explaining the same thing to their black children.  How can it be explained?  It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.

I look at Sybrina Fulton's face as she weeps over this latest insult to her dead son--the gleeful egging on of a story about his suspension from high school over an empty marijuana bag in his backpack; I hear the anguished rage in Tracy Martin's voice as he defends the reputation of his murdered son, and I am back to a time more than a half-century ago, when defenseless black citizens were humiliated and hurt and killed for no other reason than the color of their skin.

September, 1955.  Murdered teenager Emmet Till's mother weeps at his open casket.  Emmet Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by white men for the crime of whistling at a white woman. His face was battered beyond recognition, but Mamie Till-Mobley wanted the world to see what pure hatred could do to another human being--and to society as a whole.  "Civil rights activists used the murder of Emmett Till as a rallying cry for civil rights protest, transforming a heinous crime into a springboard for justice. The Montgomery Bus Boycott followed closely on the heels of the case. Indeed, Rosa Parks is quoted as saying, 'I thought about Emmett Till, and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others, and I felt violated.'"
 We are heading toward a new era of ignorance and poverty and those two ingredients become, historically, irrationally, the fuel for a dangerous firestorm.  It's not a leap to suggest that the vital issue of civil rights needs to be addressed and overhauled before violence becomes the norm again.

The stink of prejudice is everywhere. Hispanics feel it, Muslims feel it, LGBTs feel it, anyone who is "different" feels it.  We can't let hatred win.  We owe some measure of attention to the memories of Trayvon and all other human beings who are punished, often to the point of losing their lives, for no other crime than being who they are.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

About those Ultrasounds: What if Doctors just say no?

I've been wondering--haven't you?--why primary care physicians, and especially OB/GYNs, aren't speaking out about the current creepy Rightward trend toward using ultrasounds as punishment against women who dare to sign up for an abortion.  Turns out some of them are.

They're angry, they're anguished, they're dumbstruck.  (Join the club.)  And they're speaking out anonymously--sadly--because we live in a country where medical doctors can no longer talk freely about abortion, a legal medical procedure, without fear of retribution.

This from a post called "Civil Disobedience" by palMD at his blog, White Coat Underground. (Take a few minutes to read some of his other posts while you're there.  Good stuff.):
"In the case of abortions, where time is essential and providers may not be easy to find, delays in care are unconscionable.  To enforce a waiting period violates the doctor’s ethical duty to provide appropriate, timely care and to avoid causing the patient unnecessary grief.  The law forces us to violate our ethics. To force us to perform ultrasounds, transvaginal or otherwise, is battery.

No procedure can be performed on a patient without their informed consent.  To make another important procedure contingent on an unnecessary one is a clear violation of medical ethics. Abortions can be safely performed without sonography, and should be unless their is compelling medical reason to perform one—with the patient’s consent.  To say that a woman can always refuse the ultrasound as long as they refuse the abortion is an immoral argument, one which removes all autonomy from the patient, and forces a doctor to make unreasonable choices."
 Another caring doctor used John Scalzi's blog, "Whatever", to lay out a plan for civil disobedience.  He says, in part:
"I do not feel that it is reactionary or even inaccurate to describe an unwanted, non-indicated transvaginal ultrasound as “rape”. If I insert ANY object into ANY orifice without informed consent, it is rape. And coercion of any kind negates consent, informed or otherwise.
In all of the discussion and all of the outrage and all of the Doonesbury comics, I find it interesting that we physicians are relatively silent.

After all, it’s our hands that will supposedly be used to insert medical equipment (tools of HEALING, for the sake of all that is good and holy) into the vaginas of coerced women.

Fellow physicians, once again we are being used as tools to screw people over. This time, it’s the politicians who want to use us to implement their morally reprehensible legislation. They want to use our ultrasound machines to invade women’s bodies, and they want our hands to be at the controls. Coerced and invaded women, you have a problem with that? Blame us evil doctors. We are such deliciously silent scapegoats.

It is our responsibility, as always, to protect our patients from things that would harm them. Therefore, as physicians, it is our duty to refuse to perform a medical procedure that is not medically indicated. Any medical procedure. Whatever the pseudo-justification.

It’s time for a little old-fashioned civil disobedience."
 The doctor then offers a five-step plan designed to keep physicians from ever having to perform an unwanted ultrasound on a female patient, starting it off with a bang:
  "1) Just don’t comply. No matter how much our autonomy as physicians has been eroded, we still have control of what our hands do and do not do with a transvaginal ultrasound wand. If this legislation is completely ignored by the people who are supposed to implement it, it will soon be worth less than the paper it is written on." 
And ends it with a bigger bang:
"It comes down to this: When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office…When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s…When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.  Because we are their last line of defense."
Alrighty then. 

The Doc is actually echoing more forcefully the guidelines already set long ago by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists--the very guidelines the state of Virginia so clearly and consciously aims to violate. ( The story here by Rick Unger in Forbes.).

In 2009 ACOG reaffirmed their recommendations on non-medical ultrasounds:
"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has endorsed the following statement from the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) discouraging the use of obstetric ultrasonography for non-medical purposes (eg, solely to create keepsake photographs or videos) (1):

The AIUM advocates the responsible use of diagnostic ultrasound. The AIUM strongly discourages the non-medical use of ultrasound for psychosocial or entertainment purposes. The use of either two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) ultrasound to only view the fetus, obtain a picture of the fetus or determine the fetal gender without a medical indication is inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice. Although there are no confirmed biological effects on patients caused by exposures from present diagnostic ultrasound instruments, the possibility exists that such biological effects may be identified in the future. Thus ultrasound should be used in a prudent manner to provide medical benefit to the patient."
 Of course, the states advocating this unprecedented invasion into women's lives aren't in the least impressed by protestations from anybody not connected with their own Koch-fueled, pseudo-religious circles--not even the medical pros, who are, you know, medical professionals.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of March 1, 2012:
  •  11 states require verbal counseling or written materials to include information on accessing ultrasound services.
  • 20 states regulate the provision of ultrasound by abortion providers.
  •  7 states mandate that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion, and require the provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the image.
  •  9 states require that a woman be provided with the opportunity to view an ultrasound image if her provider performs the procedure as part of the preparation for an abortion.
  •  5 states require that a woman be provided with the opportunity to view an ultrasound image.

There are signs that some state legislatures may be rethinking their actions (Idaho, for instance), but it's a cinch they're only rethinking them in order to get around any detours to their goals.  When they come up with something this nutty in the first place,  the chances that either common sense or common decency will prevail are slim to none.

So how do we get through to them?  We can't shame them; they're shameless.  We can't shun them; they're in charge.  But we can raise our voices in decibels loud enough to be heard above the din of old-testament retribution disguised as modern-day government.

This was never how it was supposed to be.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Red States, White Popes, Blue-bloods: It is to Laugh

In almost every war, there are those moments when soldiers have to sit back and laugh at the absurdity of it all.  Think "Mash", "Stalag 17", "Catch-22", "Slaughterhouse Five".  Like that.  In the war of the Red States against American Women, while the scale may be worlds smaller, and while there's actually been no official declaration, the time has come.  To laugh, I mean.  Honest to God, it is to giggle.

Could even the wildest, zaniest futurist have predicted these hysterical days, when lawmakers in a dozen red states would be falling all over each other to see who could come up with the nuttiest demand to probe into the sex life of Femalus Americanus?

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett capped last week's antics, turning the usual Republican clown show into an Extravaganza de Burlesque with his lame punchline, "I don't know how you can make anyone watch. . .you just have to close your eyes",  after a reporter asked the Governor if state-sanctioned ultrasounds for women seeking abortions "went too far".

This clip from the Rachel Maddow Show shows the madness in a nutshell:   

ThinkProgress Health does another recap, this one with an interactive map showing the states that either are planning or already have hardline, punitive anti-abortion laws in place.  (Okay, this one isn't funny. . .not funny at all.)

But then there's Rick Santorum.  Rick Santorum is running for president, I guess you know.  But is he?   His speeches are sermons and his sweater-vests are the closest he could come to a cassock without drawing attention to his real hope for the presidency.  But listening to him pontificate, don't you just know he's itching to wave at the crowds from his Rickmobile and turn the White House into a papal palace, where he can do what every American president should have been doing all these many years, which is to work tirelessly at saving us sinners from ourselves?

What The Great Santorum doesn't seem to understand is that most of us don't want to go back to the Dark Ages.  Inquisitions are so yesterday.  Self-flagellation hurts.  And women might be ladies but they'll never be chattel again.

So, given that Rick Santorum can't stop showing his inquisitor's hand, in all likelihood Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential candidate.  Mitt Romney can't help that he was born a blue-blood, but somebody needs to tell him his impression of Thurston Howell III is wearing thin.  It was funny at first--even hilariously funny--but verbal pratfalls from haughty billionaires have never a president made.

Blue-blood presidents, from Washington to Jefferson to Roosevelt to Kennedy,  at least pretended to be egalitarians.  Equality is what our constitution is all about.  The president, as leader of the country, is a representative for the people, not a bottom-line, for-profit CEO.  Maybe this Mitt Romney needs to go back to his Massachusetts governor roots. That Mitt Romney could at least, every once in a while, be convincing in his role as public servant.

And Newt Gingrich.  Where is poor Newt?  As hard as he might try to insist otherwise, he's on the outside looking in.  Delusions of intellectual grandiosity failed to impress his peeps. They yawned and moved on.  Color him green.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's Settled then: Women, We're at War

Don't expect me to be going over every single attack on women's rights, just because I'm writing about modern-day, 21st century, 2012, just-in-the-last-month attacks, which, as you might have noticed, are escalating at such a dizzying pace we can no longer ignore the rumblings of war.

It's ugly and it's all out there. Even Rush Limbaugh's scrubbed transcripts of his diatribes against Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student who had the temerity to attempt to testify before certain members of congress about the need for free contraception.  Even Patricia Heaton's deleted tweets about that same student (AKA G-Town Gal).  They're out there.  They're not going away.

No, we're here today to look at the big picture:  How did this latest war of the sexes start?  What was the catalyst?  And what can we do to grind it to a halt now that it's started? 

The obvious answer to question number one is that it's all Obama's fault.  As a part of his health plan (the catalyst), he told insurance companies they would have to offer contraceptive care at no cost to women.  (That would mean, for most, no  co-pay.)  Birth control aids would be free and available everywhere, and since it was mandatory, not to mention laudatory,  not to mention commonsensical and a long time coming, that was supposed to be it.  End of conversation.

Ha!  We wish! .

President Obama's first mistake was that he thought he was taking steps toward helping women more effectively and responsibly manage their reproductive years, when what he was actually doing was antagonizing pissants who have been posing as Manly Men for so long they're not about to be ousted from their comfy zones.

A whole host of Catholic Bishops, pseudo-religious politicians, and paid-to-be-mean pundits jumped on the bandwagon called Control the women by denying birth control, and weren't they surprised when the women they were so itching to suppress wouldn't give in?  A real donnybrook ensued, with everybody weighing in, pro and con, and here we are, in the middle of it all, coming out swinging, and if they want a war, okay, they've got one.

Some highlights:
  • The Susan G. Komen Foundation is taken over by a Right Wing zealot who makes it known from Day One that Planned Parenthood can kiss SGK goodbye.  Susan Komen's sister/founder helps figure out a way to do it.  A huge, unprecedented fuss ensues.  Right Wing zealot goes on to greener pastures.  The sister stays and apologizes -- a Pyrrhic victory that nobody feels good about.
  •   Long probes up the vagina with cameras on the end used not as medical tools but as instruments of shame-- Zap!  Gone!  Battle won!
  • Gooey cold stuff massaged onto a bare belly so a government-issue wand can be waved, not to detect a zygote already determined by other methods to be there, but to establish once and for all that a woman doesn't actually have control over her own body--  Still working on it but we've got them in our sights.
  •  Dozens of state legislatures scrambling to make laws against contraception and abortion so harsh Draco the Greek, if he were still alive, would be crying foul-- This one may take a while.
The legal issues, having some semblance of form and substance, are easier to deal with.  There are wise and learned people on our side ready to take them on.  But there's another, uglier issue and it's one we've faced many times before.  It's our old but formidable nemesis: blind, consuming hatred toward people of our gender.

With the rise of the Tea Party and pressure from the Religious Right-to Life-until-It-Actually-Becomes-a-Child, fortified by resident misogynist Rush Limbaugh and hard line Catholic Men in red robes and black robes and pullover sweater vests, the battle to enforce the reproductive rights we've already fought long and hard for is a battle we can't afford to lose.

 The spotlight is on Rush Limbaugh at the moment, but it's Rick Santorum we need to keep an eye on.  He showed his hand when he talked about his reaction to President Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Baptists, where JFK said he would fight hard for the separation of church and state.

Santorum wanted to throw up when he read that.  Why?  Because it's disgusting and unforgivable that  Kennedy had the chance to pave the way for an American Pope and he didn't take it.  Rick will remedy that when he's president.  And guess who will suffer the most under his reign?

The obvious goal is to make sure Rick Santorum never becomes president, but once that threat is gone we'll still be fighting those others working to take us down.  We thought that war was over, but all we really won, we know now, was d├ętente.

Men (and, incredibly, other women) are fighting against those of us who go on believing our reproductive rights are sacrosanct.  Suddenly they're coming out of the woodwork, no longer pretending that Roe v. Wade is all that's keeping us apart.  Now it's about contraception -- a real puzzler, since birth control is the obvious remedy for unwanted pregnancies.

Only women can incubate babies.  It's a fact. If they get knocked up and it's not a good time, the sex police want us to believe they have no one to blame but themselves.  Really?  What other species on the planet punishes the female for being impregnated by a male?  Birth control is a two-way street.  It's irresponsible and gutless to pretend that women did this to themselves, and yet we're hearing it louder and clearer every day.

And why is that?  Because to the people who are coming at us with the same hoary arguments, it's not about the control of birth, it's about the control of sex. That nutty comment by Santorum backer Foster Friess about birth control being as simple as holding an aspirin between our knees?  The admonishment from Rick Santorum that all birth control should be banished because it can only lead to badness?  Rush Limbaugh's crazed, three-day masturbatory fantasy about the reasons women want free birth control?  Sex, sex, and yet again, sex.

It's the same tiresome struggle, but this time we're going to win.  Why?  Because we have a secret weapon.

It's men.  There are more than just a few good ones out there and they're on our side.  They're men who work with us, talk with us, and see us as equals.  They're men who live with us and see our roles as complementary and not competitive or without merit.  They're men who can love unconditionally and have grown so far beyond the ancient need to keep women bound and tethered, they're willing to fight beside us until this war is ended.  Some of them are already at the front lines.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you dirty old men of yesterday.  A new day dawns and you've been left behind.  It has to be this way.  It's the way human progress works.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, where some of the men I most admire hang out.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

What's so Funny about Rush Limbaugh?

 As I write this my sense of humor is intact and waiting as always for something funny to happen.  I can get tickled at the least little thing--adorable babies and clumsy dogs and tripping on sidewalk cracks--and I can howl at even the worst, god-awful jokes.  I can't explain them and I've never been able to repeat them with any kind of comedic skill, but I know funny when I hear it.

I can say without even having to think about it that I've never laughed at a thing Rush Limbaugh has said or done.  I don't get him.  His performances are like those of a mean, out-of-control drunk who thinks everything coming out of his mouth is either hilarious or golden.  He begins every riff quietly, taking his time, pausing, letting his words sink in, and builds to an awesome, wiggly, crazed crescendo.  Oh, my God.  Electrifying to dittoheads and the uninitiated.  Wow!  But to those of us who have been exposed to his antics for decades, they're nothing more than the usual carefully calculated theatrics.  Ho hum.

That's what makes his latest rantings against a Georgetown University law student fighting her college's policies on insuring birth control aids so mystifying.  His initial comments about this young female student were so breathtaking in their vile putridity, the reactions against them were, at last,  refreshingly awesome and swift.  Hundreds of thousands of people protested his words.  Even his usual defenders could be seen slinking away from the ten-foot pole they wouldn't use to touch them.  Yes!  Limbaugh is a pariah!

So did he finally stop and think about what he had said and realize he'd overstepped?  The woman he so viciously word-raped was a young college student and not a politician or a public figure. She was not fair game and she was not a joke.  But no, he didn't.  He was so sure of his base, so sure of the politicians in his thrall, so sure that his advertisers would be too busy counting their money to notice, he came back the next day and the next and attacked this same young woman again.  This time he demanded videos of her sex acts.

His politicians, true to form, gave out some half-hearted hand smacks, reminding us that he's an entertainer, not a Republican spokesman--as if he's only pretending to be one because he'd slept at a Holiday Inn once.

At last count, seven of Rush's sponsors have dropped him, at least for the moment, until all the fuss dies down.  Dozens of petitions are still making the rounds, working to gain enough signatures to pressure all of his backers to leave him helpless and wiggling on his own.  It took all of that for Rush to give an inch and release an odd written statement that, considering who it is from and how rare those things are coming from him, some might take to be an apology.

A Statement from Rush

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week.  In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?  In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.
My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

"I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke."  Really?  How would you go about attacking someone for three solid days if you DID mean it?

In Rush Limbaugh's 24 years on the air he has apologized six times for the things he's said that backfired.   BuzzFeed has put them all together here.

In 1988 he called Amy Carter "The most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country", and "apologized".

In 1992 he called Chelsea Clinton "the White House dog" and "apologized", blaming his crew for confusing him by mixing up pictures of Chelsea and the Clinton's dog.

In 1996 he made fun of Michael J. Fox, saying he either didn't take his medication on purpose or he was faking it when he appeared in a commercial for Claire McCaskill.  In his "apology" he said, "All I'm saying is I've never seen him as he appears in that commercial. . ."

In 2008 he compared then-Senator Obama to Curious George and in his "apology", threatened to fire the caller who brought it up, ha ha, saying he never knew Curious George was--Gosh!--a monkey.

This is not to say that Rush has never said stupid, hateful, racist, misogynistic things before or since.  Oh, he has, and plenty.  That's apparently part of his appeal, God help us.

So think of it.  One of the wealthiest, most famous entertainers in America right now is a stupid, hateful, racist, misogynistic radio personality who broadcasts a show three hours a day, five days a week highlighting his own peculiar, insulting, disrespectful brand of humor.  Millions of seemingly sane listeners adore him and are honored to align themselves with him.

In many dark parts of our nation he is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver a one-hour speech to friendly packed houses, mirroring the stupid, hateful, racist, misogynistic rantings direct from his incredibly popular radio show.

He is so successful, grown politicians fear him more than they loathe him and cannot bring themselves to denounce a man who, underneath all that bluster, is a weak-kneed coward.

He will not debate or answer to anyone.  His radio callers are screened so no one can ever dispute anything he says.  He won't make public appearances in places where people who disagree with him might be in attendance.  He has never appeared on a program where he might be asked hard questions.  He attacks women and children and the handicapped with impunity and laughs along with his audience at the outraged responses.

He is a monster in the eyes of most normal human beings, and so I ask this question in all seriousness:

What is so goddamned funny about Rush Limbaugh?

(Update, 3/8/12:  Media Matters reports that Limbaugh made disgusting comments about Sandra Fluke 46 times over three days and only apologized for two words.  They're listed here. Over 40 advertisers have retreated from his show. Sen. Carl Levin wants the Armed Forces Network to stop broadcasting Limbaugh's show to the troops.  Rush says it's all good.)