Guns and children

Case O' Guns

Case O’ Guns (Photo credit: Gregory Wild-Smith)

There’s a women-for-guns photo floating around Facebook that should get an award for creepy-scary picture of the year. It features a pretty young blond with a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. It praises all the brave women currently bearing arms (there are a lot of them, and we’re not talking military,) touts the second amendment and winds up with “…you could call it a woman’s right to choose.” For those of us already distressed about the growing infringements on women’s reproductive rights (not to mention the co-opting of  the term “pro-life,”) that’s a low blow.

I’m fine with women packing heat if they feel the need. And if they recognize that the simple fact of having a gun around vastly increases the chance of violence to themselves and their loved ones. But baby on one arm and gun in the other?

When we were young, my oldest sister (there were four of us) awoke one night to find a man lying beside her on her bed. After a great deal of shouting and confusion the intruder, who had come in the side door, dashed down the stairs and out the front. Nobody locked their doors in Ashland, Virginia in those days, though I’ll admit that for a while after that we did. The town sheriff was called, but no one was ever arrested.

The next day — after a night that began with six people in five beds but finished with three sisters in one and the frightened oldest in between her parents — my father bought a gun.  It was theoretically locked, and appropriately set far back on a shelf. But we all knew about it. My father talked a lot about his cowboy childhood in dirt-poor rural Texas, about shooting rats down at the barn, even about being briefly in the Army; we were not reassured.

Within a few weeks the presence of the gun became too much. My sisters and I explained that we were not afraid of future intruders, but we were afraid of the potential damage to them, us or innocent others represented in that ugly piece of machinery on the shelf. Finally, my mother chimed in.

“I want my children to be safe,” she said. “That gun simply endangers their safety.” The gun went off to wherever unwanted guns go.

So I wonder about the young woman with the baby on her hip. My sisters and I ranged in age from 8 to 16, and our mother still just wanted us to be safe. I wonder if that gunslinging mother really wants her baby to be safe?

Big, fat (unfortunate) U.S. secret

You mean, in spite of everything we’ve heard, Obama actually DID GOOD? Amazing.

That’s what Michael Grunwald says in his book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. He has meticulous, exhaustive data to back up his contention that the stimulus worked, a whole lot was accomplished, but nobody got the word out… and if he’s a voice crying in the wilderness about it at least his book is on the New York Times bestseller list (and in a recent, interesting editorial.)

Grunwald was at the Commonwealth Club a few nights ago, on a panel moderated by Climate One founder Greg Dalton and also including Managing Partner Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors. (Grunwald, in addition to his book-writing adventures, is Senior National Correspondent for Time Magazine.) The panel, titled the Green New Deal, was all about modernizing the electricity grid, cleaning up nuclear waste, improving energy efficiency here and there and saving clean tech jobs… just a few of the things Grunwald says we can thank the $800 billion stimulus bill for having accomplished.

Calling the stimulus “one of the most important and least understood pieces of legislation in the history of the country,” Grunwald says the bill that almost everyone loved to hate  actually “helped prevent a depression while jump-starting the president’s agenda for lasting change. As ambitious and far-reaching as FDR’s New Deal, the Recovery Act is a down payment on the nation’s economic and environmental future, the purest distillation of change in the Obama era.”

Who knew?

Screenshot of Recovery.gov, which went live af...

Gay rights backers get some good news

Court actions over the past week have given gay rights advocates a few glimmers of hope, though no one is staging victory rallies yet. The long slog toward full rights for gays and lesbians in the military, at the altar and in the pulpit each saw small steps taken. But President Obama, who vowed to promote equality for all, remains caught in such Through the Looking Glass dilemmas as the Justice Department’s mandate to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama would like to see repealed. Same thing with “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Alice would certainly find a trapdoor for falling down the rabbit hole on almost any stage where gay rights battles are being fought today.

San Francisco Chronicle writer Bob Egelko summed up the latest on one stage:

The federal judge overseeing a challenge to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, scheduled for trial in Southern California next week, has ruled in favor of a gay rights group on a crucial issue – how much evidence the government needs to justify the ban on openly homosexual members of the armed forces.

Obama administration lawyers have argued that courts must let “don’t ask, don’t tell” stand if they find that Congress could have reasonably concluded that excluding gays and lesbians would make the military more effective – the standard most favorable to supporters of the 1993 law.

But U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of Riverside, in her final pretrial ruling, said Wednesday that higher court rulings in recent years have raised the bar for the government to justify laws that single out gays and lesbians for harsher treatment. Because “don’t ask, don’t tell” intrudes on “personal and private lives” and “implicates fundamental rights,” Phillips wrote, the Justice Department must show that the ban serves an important public purpose that the military could not achieve some other way.

That principle comes from the 2003 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against private homosexual conduct, and from a 2008 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowing a lesbian officer to challenge her discharge from the Air Force, Phillips said.

Her ruling opens the door for plaintiffs in the case to put gay and lesbian former service members on the witness stand to testify about how being thrown out of the military because of “don’t ask, don’t tell” damaged them. The federal law requires that gays and lesbians who acknowledge their sexual orientation be discharged from the military. Superior officers are barred from asking service members about their orientation.

The plaintiffs, the Log Cabin Republicans gay organization, plan to present researchers who contend the policy harms the military by promoting concealment and divisiveness while excluding qualified personnel. (It is, of course, the Republicans who are threatening a Senate filibuster of a military appropriations bill that includes a repeal measure…)

The Obama administration tried to bar the testimony, arguing that it was irrelevant, and urged Phillips to postpone the trial while Congress considers the president’s proposal to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” President Obama has called the law discriminatory but says he must defend it as long as it is on the books.

On the marriage front, which currently has seen some states legalizing same-sex unions, some banning them and in California a suit to overturn the voter-approved ban, more state/federal convolutions are underway. Associated Press legal affairs writer Denise Lavoie Friday summarized what’s been going on in Massachusetts:

A key part of a law denying married gay couples federal benefits has been thrown out the window in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage. The ball now lies in the White House’s court, which must carefully calculate the next move by an administration that has faced accusations it has not vigorously defended the law of the land.

President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he would like to see the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, repealed. But the Justice Department has defended the constitutionality of the law, which it is required to do.

The administration was silent Friday on whether it would appeal rulings by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro. Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department said officials are still reviewing the rulings.

DOMA defines marriage as between a man and a woman, prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages and allows states to deny recognition of same-sex unions performed elsewhere. Since the law passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, and a handful have allowed the practice.

And over at the annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, meeting in Minneapolis

…delegates again approved ordaining openly gay or lesbian clergy. The measure now goes to the presbyteries, or local jurisdictions, where previous General Assembly resolutions to ordain gays and lesbians have been rejected. The General Assembly also debated but did not pass a resolution that would have changed the definition of marriage from a union between a man and a woman to a union of two people.

This Presbyterian writer can tell you that getting individual presbyteries — that’s the regional groups — to approve what the General Assembly delegates just approved is no simple matter. There are plenty of Christians, not to mention less than tolerant folks of every creed and color, down the rabbit hole.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ foes win legal victory.

Palin, Pelosi & the politics of scorn

Much ado is being made over two lady politicos these days, Sarah Palin for her six-figure fees and Nancy Pelosi for her legislative expertise. Both are commendable — depending on how one chooses to commend — but unfortunately they are continuing to feed the politics of scorn. Which is unlikely to lead to bi-partisanship or collegiality any time soon. Maybe both are dead.

Palin’s usefulness to her party is a matter of dispute. According to two prominent speakers at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor (as reported by Monitor writer Dave Cook), Palin’s rise is great good news for the Democrats.

“Look at this dynamic that is produced with Sarah Palin,” said Stanley Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “You have John McCain having to have Sarah Palin to save him [in a primary election race]…”

In the aftermath of the passage of healthcare reform, the ongoing discussion is “Barack Obama against Sarah Palin on healthcare,” he said.

Mr. Greenberg, who served as President Clinton’s pollster, argued that “The face of the Republican Party to the country is not the ‘tea party,’ it is Sarah Palin.”

James Carville, President Clinton’s campaign manager and the other speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast, suggested a test to the assembled journalists. “Do me favor. Call five Democratic consultants and leave a message and say I am doing a story on Sarah Palin and call five Republicans, and see who returns the phone call. I think we all know the answer to that. The Democrats will be on the phone so fast.”

Much as some of us do not admire Sarah Palin, the sneer factor employed by her detractors can be oppressive. (Come on, if you’re an anti-Palin, think of the slurs you have slung her way.) She is, herself, a master of derision in a by-golly sort of fashion, and it is this that brings loud huzzahs from her audiences when she takes on the Democrats.

Not to be outdone, Speaker Pelosi (whom I appreciate and respect) was heaping scorn upon the Republicans in speeches to California audiences this week,

… saying they “have nothing to sell” to the American people except a crude caricature of her as the midterm elections approach.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was surrounded at the Phillip and Sala Burton Center by ardent advocates of health reform, who cheered when she was cheerful and roared when she was defiant. And she was proudly defiant.

“I couldn’t care less,” she said of GOP efforts to use her as campaign fundraising bait. “I should be thanking them. … It really helps me with my fundraising.”

The issues are real, and occasionally that is made clear:

“This is a bill about the middle class. This is a bill about small businesses. This is a bill about affordability,” Pelosi said.

Still, Pelosi warned Democrats that the fight isn’t over, saying Republicans “are unabashed in wanting to rid us of this … and one way they think they can do it is by making gross misrepresentations to senior citizens” with what she called a “campaign of fear.”

Appearing before a crowd dominated by seniors carrying signs of appreciation – “Thank you, madame speaker” – Pelosi was lauded by a parade of admirers, including Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, doctors and senior advocates who praised her tireless push for the measure.

Admittedly, Pelosi was in friendly territory this week, as Palin has been in recent days herself.

Palin last weekend put Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the center of her campaign-style speech to Tea Partiers attending a rally in Searchlight, Nev., Reid’s hometown. “You’re fired,” she said of the two Democratic standard-bearers.

This may be the way politics works. But wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally, some way could be found for opposing sides at least to be civil in the interest of the common good.

Defiant Pelosi scorns Republicans.

Health reform: a start

Victory finally came, but only for those who were hanging onto the shreds of earlier wishes, and it wasn’t ever pretty. Watching C-SPAN on Sunday, in fact, was a little like watching grass grow, with every other blade sniping at the blade just around the corner. But at least that much is over.

Congress gave final approval on Sunday to legislation that would provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and remake the nation’s health care system along the lines proposed by President Obama.

By a vote of 219 to 212, the House passed the bill after a day of tumultuous debate that echoed the epic struggle of the last year. The action sent the bill to President Obama, whose crusade for such legislation has been a hallmark of his presidency.

“This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform,” Mr. Obama said after the vote. “This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.”

Minutes after thebill was approved, the House passed a package of changes to it and sent it to the Senate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has promised House Democrats that the Senate would quickly take up the reconciliation bill with the changes in it, and that he had secured the votes to pass it.

But while the Senate is bracing for a fierce floor fight over the reconciliation measure, the landscape was permanently altered by passage of the original Senate bill. Should the reconciliation bill, which cannot be filibustered, collapse for any reason, the core components of the Democrats’ health care overhaul would move forward. Indeed, Senate Republicans were quickly faced with a need to recalibrate their message from one aimed at stopping the legislation to one focused on winning back a sufficient number of seats in Congress to repeal it.

It was mean and divisive and ugly, and will surely get more so, but at least it’s a start. We can finally begin to reform what is a cruel and unworkable system. And maybe, just maybe, there will some day be access to health care for all. Does anyone remember when there was no Social Security or Medicare?

House Approves Health Overhaul, Sending Landmark Bill to Obama – NYTimes.com.

Catholic nuns urge passage of health bill

There’s hope. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may be trying to sink health reform because they feel they know best about women, but a few thousand good sisters are raising their own voices. And not just your everyday sisters.

Catholic nuns are urging Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s health care plan, in an unusual public break with bishops who say it would subsidize abortion.

Some 60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns Wednesday sent lawmakers a letter urging them to pass the Senate health care bill. It contains restrictions on abortion funding that the bishops say don’t go far enough.

The letter says that “despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.” The letter says the legislation also will help support pregnant women and “this is the real pro-life stance.”

This space, a space which claims several priests as good friends despite our frequent and vehement disagreements, hereby sides with the sisters. And offers a sincerely respectful three cheers.

Catholic nuns urge passage of Obama’s health bill – Politics – Wire – TheState.com.

Anthem Blue Cross 'doing the right thing'?

In testimony before the California Assembly Health Committee yesterday, Anthem Blue Cross President Leslie Margolin said of her company, “I think we do the right thing, and we try to do the right thing every day.”

What that means is, turn a profit for the company every day. If you are in business to make money, that is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, when Margolin says the company’s goal is to provide “care, comfort and coverage to those in need,” that is simply not true. Physicians and health care professionals provide care and comfort. Anthem provides coverage which sometimes pays for these things and often does not, if they can help it.

Is there no way to connect those dots? Care and comfort for those who need and deserve it — i.e., every human being — are not going to happen until we get the coverage people out of the equation.

OK, not going to happen any time soon. It could happen in California, except for Governor Schwarzenegger‘s probable veto. It should happen in Washington, except for the money and muscle of the coverage people. In lieu of those realities, a health bill that takes a tiny step in the right direction would be welcome.