Judge Janice R. Brown on family planning

Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In her words, it is “a repugnant belief.” That would be family planning.

Excuse me?

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has an interesting opinion about birth control: Thou Shalt Not. It is fine with me if Judge Brown chooses not to plan her family (she had one child by her first husband) but not so fine to impose that personal belief on the rest of us.

But that’s where we are headed. Judge Brown recently ruled that the government should not require Freshway Foods to cover birth control for their employees because that would have Freshway affirming “a repugnant belief,” and force them to be “complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

Some of us do not see family planning as morally wrong. By and large we tend to believe that strong families with children who are loved, wanted and cared for make sense. By and large we also believe that adult women are competent to make decisions about their eggs. But once that egg is fertilized, Judge Brown believes, along with many others including the Freshway founders, that it becomes something sacred and that’s where our beliefs diverge.

All of this increasingly matters. New York Times writer Jeremy W. Peters explains it in a thorough and thoughtful piece about how abortion cases in courts such as Judge Brown’s served as the tipping point for recent action by Senate Democrats to call an end to the filibuster. It’s hard to blame them. Democrats joined with Republicans to put Janice Brown — who was highly distasteful to liberals and moderates — on the bench, assuming Republicans would later join Democrats to put mildly distasteful others on the bench. Wrong. Republicans simply dug in and refused to confirm any Obama nominee.

Which puts us in a situation of majority rule without much minority right… but then, we have been for some time in a situation of minority rule without much majority power.

Democracy is a mess when extremists take over. Extremists have taken over reproductive rights: no contraception, no abortion, no choice, no access, no rights for countless women across the country. Extremists leave no room for dialog, mutual respect or compromise; it’s simply My Way or the Highway.

When a federal judge holds extremist opinions there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Is bifurcation good for our health?

Blank map of the United States
Blank map of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York Times Columnist Charles Blow posted a column titled “Carving up the Country” not long ago that paints a sad picture of how this country is, in his words, “drifting back toward bifurcation.” He outlines the deep division of our not-so-United States into one group of states, primarily coastal, multi-ethnic , urban, liberal and leaning Democrat: and another group, mostly Southern and Western, rural, conservative and Republican.

Most of Blow’s focus is on how legislators in the latter group are rushing to enact laws that will strengthen Republican control following the Supreme Court’s essential voiding of the Voting Rights Act. It cannot feel good to be a citizen of one of those states and watch your right to vote disappear. It’s all about “sanctity of the vote,” the Republicans say; anybody with a brain knows it’s really about suppressing any votes that might go to the Democrats.

The other root of bifurcated America is deep in reproductive rights.  Blow cites a recent Guttmacher Institute report that in the first six months of 2013 a total of 106 laws restricting reproductive rights were enacted, the great majority of them in Republican-controlled states. Twelve in Kansas alone, for example. Six in North Dakota, five in Oklahoma. It’s all about “protecting (fetal) life,” and “women’s health,” proponents say; anybody with a brain knows it’s simply about making abortion inaccessible. Only women without money or resources face suffering and danger from these restrictive measures — but then, they are less likely to vote anyway.

My question is: couldn’t some better solution be found than just to condemn millions of poor women to desperation and danger? Even the staunchest among pro-choice advocates (among which I strongly stand) would like to see fewer abortions. So common ground actually exists there. Not even the staunchest of anti-choice advocates really wants women to wind up maimed or dead: more common ground. Nobody wants more children who are unwanted and uncared for. Nobody can say when exactly life begins, unless their religion tells them so — but we still have remnants of common-ground belief in the separation of church and state.

Couldn’t we talk? Rather than expending every ounce of energy in making abortion impossible to increasing numbers of mostly poor women, couldn’t we talk about sex education, contraception, compromise? Many of us would give a little on, say, gestational limits if we could gain a little in protection for women whose reproductive rights are denied as clinics are forced to close because they don’t have enough parking spaces.

That good word “compromise” may have disappeared from the American scene. But all this win-at-any-cost, or my-way-or-no-way isn’t making us a better country.

Women lose in Texas

texas our texas
texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Does it surprise anyone that Texas legislators have succeeded in making abortion virtually impossible for Texas women? Probably not. It saddens me. I know how it feels to be unintentionally pregnant — in my case it followed a workplace rape — and desperate. You tend not to be thinking about that collection of cells that might possibly, eventually, develop into something viable; you are thinking about the rest of your life.

If  you are without money or resources (many women of means in Texas will manage to go elsewhere for a safe, legal abortion) you are likely to do desperate things.

Before 1973, those desperate things included attempting to self-abort with  knitting needles and coathangers, or by ingesting or douching with potentially deadly  solutions. Women traded stories, myths and reputed recipes for becoming un-pregnant again. In some cases these led to a successfully ended pregnancy; no one knows how often they ended in sterility or injury or death. When you see your life unraveling, you will take a lot of risks to keep it together.

Certainly this punitive legislation may reduce the number of abortions in Texas. The bill in toto could be a cause for jubilation or rage, depending on where one stands. But one can only feel sad for the increase in the number of unwanted children whom the great state of Texas cares little about, or the desperate women who now will take dangerous risks.

Coming together: a nice idea…

About this vision thing. The Obamas and the Bidens attended a prayer service at the National Cathedral before the inauguration, at which there were mostly good wishes for national unity and progress.

But on PBS NewsHour that night one of the participants, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas had this to say:

“I wish he had done more to reach out. In fact, that was the point of my message today at the National Cathedral was to say, you know, we need a new American vision that’s not just Democratic or not just Republican.

“It has to be a new vision that brings people together. And if we had a vision with a couple of goals, key strategic goals that Republicans and Democrats have crafted together and say this is what we’re going to work together on over the next 10 years, even though we might disagree on a whole host of other things, it would have a huge impact on bringing Americans together.”

With all due respect to Rev. Hamilton, excuse me? Four years ago, following one of the most conciliatory inaugural addresses of all time, Mr. Obama’s repeated overtures were met with the stone wall of “Our #1 goal is to see that you are a one-term president.” Which translated into unyielding opposition and previously unmatched polarization.

It would be hard to find anyone in the U.S. who doesn’t want us to come together, or wouldn’t welcome a few “key strategic goals that Republicans and Democrats have crafted together.” But our President didn’t get a lot of help the first time around (remember Bowles-Simpson?)

So now reality has set in, expectations are lower and strategies a little less conciliatory — but Obama’s vision is still there.

A 3x2 stitched and HDR tone mapped image of th...
A 3×2 stitched and HDR tone mapped image of the sanctuary at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where there’s vision, there’s hope.

The power of stories

Do stories really hold the key to the future?

For a storyteller, this is heady stuff. For Jonah Sachs, author of the newly released Winning the Story Wars, it’s serious stuff. The book’s subtitle is Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future and Sachs appeared recently as part of a Commonwealth Club panel, to explain why this is true. The panel was specifically considering environmental stories, part of the Club’s ongoing Climate One program. (The time series below, based on satellite data, shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum since 1979. More about the Arctic below…)

This time series, based on satellite data, sho...

The panel, moderated by Climate One Founder/Director Greg Dalton, also featured documentary film maker and University of CA, Berkeley journalism professor Jon Else, and Stanford University research associate Carrie Armel

As a power-of-stories example, Sachs cited those of presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush a few years ago. Kerry’s story (you can read a little more about it in Story Wars) managed to come across with a focus on Kerry as a good guy plus some unfortunately dry-sounding proposed programs. Bush and the Republicans managed to project a loftier story about saving the world. Whether you think the world was saved – or endangered – by the Bush presidency, we know whose story won. Sachs quotes James Carville, in Story Wars, as saying the Republicans had a narrative, the Democrats a litany. Litanies don’t seem destined to rule the future.

Moving into the evening’s topic, Sachs spoke about the long and difficult struggle of scientist James Hansen, who spent decades developing data – an impressive list of irrefutable facts – on climate change. Beginning in the early 1980s, Hansen published and promoted his data, certain that people would hear the facts and understand the need for change. Instead, there was mass denial. Hansen has since moved from scientific data to activism – and to the telling of stories in every public arena he can use.

Panel moderator Dalton brought up the story (image) of the polar bear on disappearing ice floes that came to represent climate change. Because not many Americans connect with polar bears; like litanies, the story was easy to ignore.

Is the globe warming? Will switching back to Republican policies save the world? This might be a good time to start telling stories that illuminate truth.

American rage: We the People, and our legislative leaders, are out of control

On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), angered by Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich) support of the health reform, called the bill a “baby-killer.” Protesters screamed racial epithets at Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Andre Carson (D-Ind) and yelled anti-gay slurs at Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) This comes not that long after Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You lie!” at the President of the United States during a speech to Congress.

Just in case anyone is inclined toward civility, the Rush Limbaughs (“we must defeat these bastards”) and the Glenn Becks (only “losers” need help…) of the world are fanning every little flame around. The rants and rages are not limited to right-wingers, it’s just that those are the most prominent these days, what with congressmen standing on the balcony whipping up the crowd — while anti-anti-reformers shout their own epithets.

All this rage may not be healthy. A recent ‘Personal Journal’ piece in the Wall Street Journal explored the idea that anger is, in many cases, an illness unto itself.

Scream at the boss? Snap at a colleague? Throw your cell phone into your @#$%%&* computer monitor? If so, you may find yourself headed to anger-management classes, which have become an all-purpose antidote for fit-throwing celebrities, chair-throwing coaches, vandals, road ragers, delinquent teens, disruptive airline passengers, and obstreperous employees.

Demand for such programs is coming from courts seeking alternatives to jail sentences and companies hoping to avoid lawsuits and office blowups. Aware that high-pressure jobs can make for hot tempers, some professions offer pre-emptive anger management. A few state bar associations now require “civility” training for lawyers renewing their licenses. And as of last year, hospitals must have programs for “disruptive” physicians as a condition of accreditation.

Programs run the gamut from $300-an-hour private therapists to one-day intensive seminars, weekly group sessions or online courses with no human interaction. Many advertise that they satisfy court requirements—even if all they offer is six CDs and a certificate of completion.

It’s not clear if the programs work, as few studies have analyzed their effectiveness. There are no licensing requirements for anger-management trainers—anyone can open a business. And since participants don’t usually sign up voluntarily, trainers say it’s possible to complete a program without actually changing one’s behavior.

Part of the problem is that professionals can’t agree whether a pattern of angry outbursts signals a mental illness or simply a behavior issue. As a result, people who need psychiatric help may instead get shunted into a short-term anger-management course. Employers and courts may not adequately evaluate people before sending them for anger interventions, nor provide sufficient follow-up.

There have been some notable failures—the Columbine shooters, for example, attended anger-management classes before their 1999 killing spree. Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama biologist who allegedly killed three colleagues and wounded three more last month, had been advised by prosecutors to take anger-management classes after an earlier incident in 2002. Her lawyer says he doesn’t know if she did.

It is hardly the same, but the rage that exploded into these tragedies is still akin to the shouted obscenities of recent political scenes. Maybe all those shouters aren’t mentally ill, just badly behaved. Maybe they are protected by the First Amendment. Maybe the anger and ugliness is, as more than a few defenders maintain, perfectly excusable in response to “totalitarian tactics” or other perceived wrongs. But does that make it right? Or worth the loss of civility?

Maybe a little anger management — and civility — would be a good idea.

Demand for Anger -Management Grows. But Does It Work? – WSJ.com.

Single-payer healthcare in California: Not Dead Yet

“Is there any hope for health care on the national level,” he was asked? “No.”

But Don Bechler, Chair of the California activist group Single Payer Now, was on northern California’s KZYX yesterday affirming that there is still hope for health care “if we get the insurance companies out.” California voters have twice passed single-payer health plans, both times seeing them vetoed by Governor Scwarzenegger. State Senator Mark Leno has a universal-coverage bill in the current legislature to try once more. It’s a bill anybody would love — unless you’re a body working in the insurance business.

As to the national battle, Bechler says HR 676 (sometimes known as the John Conyers bill) is the best current hope. “We haven’t really given up.” Strategies? “Talk to your congressmen, ask them to co-author HR 676. There are 87 co-sponsors so far. It’s health care for everyone, dental coverage, long-term care.” What’s not to love?

Bechler contends that Massachusetts voters who put Scott Brown did not do so out of anti-health care sentiments as has been speculated in media reports. “That’s the corporate media doing their corporate spin for their corporate buddies in the insurance industry.” Lest there be any doubt, Bechler is not much more enthusiastic about the media than about the insurance business.

As to the threat of filibuster of the current bill, which is at least more likely to pass than HR 676, Bechler suggests the Republican bluff be called. “Put it on the floor. Let the Republicans get up and talk for two months.”

Such a prospect is mind-numbing all by itself. But the national outrage might keep everyone awake.