If Obamacare goes, women lose

Lots of us were disappointed with the healthcare bill: I wanted single payer (but never held my breath about that,) the “death panel” fiasco cost us a critical piece of coverage… but here we are. At least we got a bill.

And “Obamacare” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has been a boon to women. It’ll be even more so, if the Supreme Court doesn’t send us back to square one. Jessica Arons outlines just a few of the ways the act has benefited women in a recent article for the Center for American Progress.

“Thanks to Obamacare,” Arons writes, “more than 45 million women have already taken advantage of recommended preventive services, including mammograms, pap smears, prenatal care, well-baby care, and well-child care with no cost sharing such as co-pays and deductibles. Starting this August, millions more will be able to obtain contraception,
annual well-woman care (a visit with a gynecologist), screening for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding counseling and supplies, and screening for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and the Human papillomavirus—again at no extra cost.”

Add to these the millions of women now (or soon to be)  avoiding discrimination over things like pre-existing conditions, including the condition of having been born female.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t strike it down, Republicans swear they’ll do it. The war on women is no illusion.

Handguns, the second amendment and the public safety

One young man with a suitcase, one with a hand...
Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Two sides of the gun control debate squared off in San Francisco this week, focus of a mini-battle over the fully loaded question: Does your right to walk around with a loaded gun in public override my right to feel safe when I don’t know if you might go off your rocker? This writer discovered, thanks to a show of hands at the Commonwealth Club sponsored panel, that I was the only unarmed person within a back-of-the-house three-row section. This revelation guarantees discomfort but keeps you alert.

California is among the majority of U.S. states which allow anyone to carry unloaded guns in plain sight, or licensed individuals to carry loaded guns concealed. Variations of gun laws — can you have a few in the car? how about in a restaurant? suppose your taste is for machine guns? — are complex and mind-boggling. Gun proponents fall back on the second amendment; gun-control advocates tend to cite public safety and privacy rights. Reasoned debate is pretty much out of the question.

The tempest in the California teapot arose over gun folks’ dislike of the “may issue” state business. California is a “may issue” state, meaning a permit may be issued to a law-abiding applicant; as opposed to a “shall issue” state, meaning you (law-abiding citizen) will darned well get that permit once you apply. In protest over the “may issue” situation, California gun buffs recently took to the streets — or to the local Starbucks, as the case happened — with prominently displayed weaponry. Some latte drinkers were not amused. Gun buffs were defiant. Starbucks reportedly wishes they had picked Peets. Meanwhile, CA Assemblymember Lori Saldana introduced a bill, AB 1934, to ban “Open Carry,” and the battle was joined.

At the recent panel, Emeryville CA Police Chief Ken James, University of CA Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring and Executive Director Sam Paredes of Gun Owners of California restated most of the familiar arguments. Throughout, James was expressionless, Zimring frowned, and Paredes wore an expression that can generously be described as a not-too-friendly smile. There were assertions (thousands of lives are saved every year by people armed and defending themselves or their neighbors; police don’t need to be stopping people all over the place asking if that gun is loaded; police can’t do their crime-stoppers job without the help of law-abiding, armed citizens; it’s not easy to know when an armed citizen will misuse his arms…) that all have elements of truth and elements of fantasy.

Two details are worth noting, though. Zimring pointed out that in the 2007  Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v Heller), Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority, took things a little farther than they had been by specifically mentioning handguns, which had not been invented when the second amendment was written. It’s handguns in public places that tend to rile up both sides. Therefore the hoopla over open carry, Zimring said, is not where the discussion should be. Eventually, the right to bear handgun v right to public safety will need to be settled. In other words, when does your right to pack a gun interfere with my right not to be around you when you do?

At the end of the discussion, moderator John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, asked a question about whether panelists were packing heat during this event. Off-duty Police Chief James was not, because he feels guns invite problems. Professor Zimring was not, because he said if he tried to hit a target everyone around would be in trouble. Citizen Paredes was. A concealed weapon, because you never know if another citizen might need you to leap into action. Was it loaded? Yes.

Somehow, this did not make me feel safer.

Abortion wars: pro-choice forces question accuracy of new poll

However the “pro-life” tag for all those anti-women’s-rights people came to be co-opted, it was a stroke of genius. It is, of course, more devious than truthful. Anti-abortion forces, as this space has raged about from time to time, piously support the life of a fertilized egg, while ignoring the lives of mature women. But the loaded label is firmly set.

Most recently, a Gallup poll has brought it to the forefront once more. That poll, released early this month, showed that slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” (47%) than “pro-choice” (45%.) The figures are about the same as shown in a similar poll last July, though the pro-life leanings are actually weaker than the percentages a year ago (51% to 42%.) Writer Amanda Marcotte, blogging at RH Reality Check, argues that the poll numbers don’t reflect the political strength of pro-choice Americans. Rather, she says,

the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.  This becomes only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.

Marcotte interviewed Jessica Grose, whose article on Slate.com about the poll also questioned whether the pro-life numbers reflect a trend against women’s choice, or might be attributable to other factors. Republicans not wanting to be counted as pro-choice because it might align them with Democrats, or Obama; the general movement of Gen Y away from pro-choice. Grose does not, in the long run, see the poll numbers as a voice of doom.

The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers. But what does it really mean to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do the labels actually track people’s views about the legality of abortion? The answer may be yes, but not in a simple or neat way. Though more people are calling themselves pro-life, the percentage of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong is down six points from last year. But at the same time, a Pew poll from last August showed that slightly more people are also saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, though the gain is only 1 percent from the previous September.

The upcoming Supreme Court nomination process could potentially shift things back to the pro-choice label. It’s not about Elena Kagan per se, but Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad says that when the abortion issue is raised in relation to the Supreme Court, the issue tends to help the pro-choice side—because, in the end, most people don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent data back up the second part—according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from April says that 58 percent of Americans still believe that Roe v. Wade was a good thing.

A hopeless optimist to the core, I wish I could join these wise observers in finding any glimmer of hope in the whole scene. From where I sit and what I know — and I am among the steadily dwindling few who know first hand the horrors that women faced pre-Roe v Wade — the hard core anti-abortionists are pulling every trick in the book to gain ground, and it’s working. If they ultimately do win, women will suffer an unfathomable loss.

Abortion foes winning with fear tactics

This is the way abortion rights end (apologies to T.S. Eliot): not with a bang, but with something worse than a whimper. The steady, relentless chipping away of those rights, state by state. And where a straightforward denial of women’s rights might face opposition, abortion foes are stooping to emotion-twisting, privacy-invading, fear-inducing tactics the likes of which have not been seen in a half century.

The “pro-lifers” (which is to say, the people who worry about some potential, unwanted life but don’t give a tinker’s dam for the lives of grown — often just barely grown — women) want abortion absolutely banned in this country. They are pushing closer to that goal every day. They like to talk about “protecting the unborn,” but the big losers in this dangerous game will be those who most need protection: poor, disadvantaged, un-empowered women.

New York Times editorial writer Dorothy Samuels offered a sharp overview of the dangerous times ahead for women’s rights, after reporting on a recent lunch celebrating the 40th anniversary of New York’s becoming the first state to fully legalize abortion. That law, Samuels notes, “began to reduce the death and injury toll from back-alley abortions and set the stage for the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide and recognized a constitutional right to privacy.

But abortion-rights groups are newly anxious about new assaults on women’s reproductive rights, including a fight over abortion that snarled the last days of the health care reform debate. Anti-abortion groups are newly emboldened.

The health care reform law contains advances for women’s reproductive health care, including enlarged access to insurance coverage for maternity care, contraception and other services. But President Obama and pro-choice Congressional lawmakers made abortion coverage vulnerable as part of the effort to secure the measure’s passage.

Kelli Conlin, head of Naral Pro-Choice New York, told guests at the lunch that “anti-choice forces are mobilizing in every single state to limit a woman’s access to abortion in more insidious ways than we can imagine.”

As Ms. Conlin was speaking, members of the Oklahoma House were getting ready to override vetoes of two punishing abortion measures. The state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, rightly viewed these intrusions into women’s lives and decision-making as unconstitutional.

One of the measures, which seems destined to spawn copycat bills in other states, requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and further mandates that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and hear a detailed description of the fetus.

The other law grants protection from lawsuits to doctors who deliberately withhold fetal testing results that might affect a woman’s decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term.

Several states have either passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through the state exchanges established by the federal health care law.

A new Utah law criminalizes certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. Embarking on a road that could lead to the Supreme Court, Nebraska last month banned most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a questionable theory of fetal pain.

About two dozen states are looking at bills to increase counseling requirements or waiting periods prior to abortions. About 20 states are considering new ultrasound requirements. This is on top of an already onerous regimen of state restrictions that has drastically cut down on abortion providers and curtailed a woman’s ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right.

Draconian laws will not stop unintended pregnancies. Once abortion foes succeed in eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and ability to make her own, often difficult, choices the lucrative business of back-alley abortions will once again thrive. And women will die.

Editorial Observer – A Spreading Peril for Women’s Privacy and Freedom – NYTimes.com.

SCOTUS animal cruelty ruling draws human ire

Film producers Chris Palmer and Peter Kimball take issue with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of animal cruelty film seller Robert Stevens a few days ago. In an op ed piece appearing in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, the two decidedly more respected and respectable members of the human community (Palmer heads the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University; Kimball is writer/director of the wildlife film Badger Insurance: The Plight of the North American Badger) argue that “videos of dog-fighting and animal mutilation — created not to educate or inform but merely to titillate — have no constitutional protection.”

The Court, Palmer and Kimball say, “has gone too far in protecting the free speech of those who would profit from films depicting wanton and malicious cruelty to animals solely for customers’ entertainment. We believe that these types of videos deserve no legal protection whatsoever.”

The case in question, United States vs. Stevens, centered on Robert Stevens, a purveyor of the video series “Dogs of Velvet and Steel.” Stevens produced and sold videos of pit bulls engaging in dogfights and viciously attacking other animals. These videos include graphic depictions of torture and brutality, including a pit bull mutilating the lower jaw of a live pig. In January 2005, Stevens was convicted of violating the Animal Cruelty Act (1999), which criminalized the trafficking of depictions of animal cruelty, except those with “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.” A federal appeals court overturned Stevens’ conviction and ruled that the animal cruelty law violated his First Amendment right to free speech. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling.

The fundamental question is this: Does the Animal Cruelty Act violate the First Amendment right of freedom of speech? Certainly, the right to free speech is one of the paramount freedoms in our society. Our country was founded on the principle that people should not be persecuted for voicing unpopular opinions. Naturally, in order to be effective, this freedom protects disturbing and offensive speech.

However, there are very specific types of speech that we, as a society, have deemed so despicable and so lacking in merit that they do not deserve protection, among them child pornography, obscenity, threats and incitement of violence. Animal cruelty should be one of these unprotected categories. As Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote, “We wouldn’t allow the sale of videos of actual child abuse or murder staged for the express purpose of selling videos of such criminal acts.” There is no reason to ignore depictions of animal cruelty while rightfully criminalizing parallel depictions of child abuse.

The Supreme Court is not in the habit of overturning itself, but in decisions such as Tuesday’s ruling one hopes for quick reversal of fortunes of the animal kingdom. As long as there are depraved people getting some sort of kicks out of the suffering of others, there will be shameless people like Robert Stevens ready to benefit.

True/Slant Contributor Rick Ungar makes a good point that First Amendment rights must be carefully protected. In a post immediately following the ruling he wrote:

While I am as disgusted by these videos as most, the majority does have a point. The law, as drafted, could result in unintended consequences – going so far as to ban the depiction of bullfights as graphically painted in Ernest Hemingway novels. When we’re talking about first amendment rights, Congress is obligated to be careful in constructing laws that can produce an unintended chilling effect on so important of a right.

Though I’m a Hemingway fan and occasional Spain-o-phile, I’d have as hard a time arguing for bullfights as for dog-fights. Went to one a few years back, had to leave before they dragged the bull out. Ungar and others suggest that the answer to this human rights v animal rights issue will lie in enactment of narrow laws banning specific cruelties such as the “crush videos” (women in high heels stomping small animals) cited by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting opinion.

This space hopes for a fast track on such legislation. One way or another, barbaric acts need to be banned. For my part, a ban on Robert Stevens wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Supreme Court gets it wrong with animal cruelty ruling.

Marriage: made/un-made in California

In the marriage equality case now being heard in San Francisco, and presumably headed for the Supreme Court, it’s worth looking at the points being made and the people being heard. One person being heard this week was the pro-Proposition 8 (i.e. the defendants, who want to keep the ban on same-sex marriage) star witness David Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn, touted as scholar and expert authority for reasons I don’t fully understand, is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. His values aren’t exactly my values, but never mind. We are each American, and a case could be made for institutionalizing us both.

If you visit the IAV website, which seems initially designed to sell books (Blankenhorn and his fellows are industrious authors) because books get front-page billing, you are then invited to “Jump directly into the think tank!” — IAV being, as noted, a scholarly operation. This is what you will learn about IAV if you float to the top of the tank:

The Institute for American Values, founded in 1987, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to study and strengthen key American values. The Institute brings together leading scholars from across the human sciences and across the political spectrum for interdisciplinary deliberation, collaborative research, and to issue joint public statements.

We ask: What are the cultural values most closely associated, especially in the American context, with human flourishing? That is, what are those ideas and practices that tend to produce competence, character, citizenship, thriving families, and a vibrant civil society?

What are the main challenges to those values? And how can those values be encouraged and strengthened?

In operational terms, our mission can be stated concisely: Through groundbreaking research and analysis focusing on fundamental American values, and in forging strong and diverse partnerships, the Institute seeks to strengthen families and civil society globally.

Blankenhorn testified that extending marriage rights to those unable to conceive and bear children — this would have ruled out my final union, since we were 58 and 62 at the time — would change it from “a child-based public institution to an adult-centered private institution” and lead to all manner of horrors, polygamy, that sort of thing. As San Francisco Chronicle writer Bob Egelko reported, in what is ongoing, thorough coverage of the trial,

Blankenhorn, the trial’s last scheduled witness, said he believes “leading scholars” share his view that same-sex marriage would weaken heterosexuals’ respect for the institution and accelerate a half-century-old trend of increased cohabitation and rising divorce rates.

But under cross-examination by a lawyer for two same-sex couples, Blankenhorn was unable to cite any supporting statements or evidence for that conclusion from the scholars he relied on for his testimony, though he said he was sure some of them would agree with him.

Blankenhorn did get tangled up a bit in his testimony, leaving one to wonder how thoroughly the Prop 8 folks read his research. Or how solid is the thinking in the IAV tank.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer David Boies also pointed to a passage in Blankenhorn’s 2007 book, “The Future of Marriage,” that appeared to contradict his entire position.

“We would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before,” Blankenhorn wrote.

He said Tuesday he still holds that view, and also believes that allowing gays and lesbians to marry would probably be good for the couples and their children.

Go figure. Some of us watching this unfold are old enough to remember when my native state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, decided it would be all right for Mr. and Mrs. Loving to live there as husband and wife, even though they were of different racial backgrounds. Until that day, in 1967, the arguments had been that allowing people of different ethnicities to wed was bad for everyone. It may seem ridiculous now, but it was the law of the land in more than one state then.

The Bible is going to come in here somewhere before this is all over, since same-sex marriage opponents believe it is wrong because their Bible tells them so. Biblical invocation could be speculation on this writer’s part, but the Mormon Church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pretty well got Prop 8 passed, so I think it unlikely they will stay out of any Supreme Court battle. Their Bible isn’t my Bible. Uh, oh; yes it is. Interestingly though, my Jesus taught love and compassion while their Jesus teaches that some of His children are less equal than others.

At the beginning of this trial (in which two same-sex couples are the plaintiffs) Chief U.S District Judge Vaughn Walker posed this question: How does a ban on same-sex weddings protect marriage, the stated goal of Proposition 8? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Whatever the verdict, it is expected that it will be appealed to the Supreme Court. So this may be about marriages made — or un-made — in California right now, but it will be a question of equal rights for all Americans tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Prop. 8 witness warns of societal upheaval.

A sucker born every minute: the link between casinos & the Supreme Court

Getting something for nothing is tough these days. But that, obviously, doesn’t stop millions of Americans from throwing money away trying, every day. And there’s a lot of money to be made off of those suckers. Witness the current hoopla between two bands of Pomo Indians, the Manchester-Point Arena Band v the Guidiville Band, over the latter’s push to develop a new “gaming” facility in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gaming is the new gambling, gambling having gotten a bad name for some reason, but certainly not the obvious reason that millions of people throw their money away on it and some of them suffer a lot thereafter.

If you don’t want to throw your money away on the slots, however, an anonymous gentleman (Joe Prosflow?) in Daly City, CA, invites you to toss it his way. (I Googled it, but you don’t want to go there; it’s pretty much defunct.) In a bright-yellow-background 2-column ad in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, a 76-year-old male who avows “I believe I have discovered a solution which has eliminated all of my symptoms” — i.e. waking up 3 or 4 times a night for bathroom calls — says he will send you “specific information” for $20 check or money order. Plus a self-addressed stamped envelope. Even though there are those near and dear to me who are known to arise multiple times during the night, I am resisting the temptation to respond to Mr. Prosflow.

But back to the slots. In a former life I had reason to attend occasional conventions in Las Vegas, which required walking through airports and hotel lobbies ad infinitum, all filled largely with little old ladies holding containers of coins and relentlessly feeding them into machines. Being now a little old lady myself, the remembrance of that sight makes me even sadder than ever. This is fun and games? I do not recall seeing anyone smiling. (Forgive me, Las Vegas, I’m sure you have good, smiling citizens there somewhere.)

But casinos cry at the top of their neon lungs about what a fun time you’ll have there! Glamour! Excitement! Not to mention all that money you’ll win! Just as lotteries tout the last gazillion dollar winner. Win big! Jackpot now over a gazillion! Hello? Have you met many gazillion dollar winners?

What brings this to mind, in addition to the interesting just-send-your-money ad, is the fact that casinos and lotteries and other nifty ways to abuse the poor — who are a large percentage of lottery ticket buyers if a smaller percentage of casino-goers — all get your votes. Because they advertise how their profits will make schools better (have you noticed schools getting better on casino taxes?) Or other wonderful benefits they will bring to the ‘hood. They somehow neglect to mention the increased costs they will bring in human miseries and public services required.

They get your votes, or your legislators’ votes, because they have a gazillion dollars to spend in order to get them.

Exactly as multinational corporations will now have a gazillion dollars to dominate every election in the country, large or small, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling that they can spend all the gazillions they want. Leaving us one-person-one-vote suckers still free to send our money to Daly City. But otherwise with not much of a voice.