Sonia Sotomayor gets my vote

English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court j...
English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am definitely voting for Sotomayor. Oh, wait, she’s not running for anything. That’s a pity.

A little late — since it’s already got 931 reader reviews on Amazon — I just got around to reading My Beloved World. it is a tale told incredibly well, with kindness, humor and self-analysis so clear and so unpretentious it must fill every one of her Jesuit instructors with pride and joy. It certainly fills the reader with joy. Sotomayor makes you proud to be on the same planet.

With almost everyone and every institution in Washington too painful to watch these days, at least the justices of the Supreme Court (with the notable exception of Clarence Thomas) seem to be working. Unfortunately, half of them are working in directions — think Citizens United — that are downright scary, but we have to hope that justice will prevail among the justices.

Anti-choice forces are racking up laws so blatantly unconstitutional there’s no doubt where they want to wind up: back before the Supreme Court in hopes of overturning Roe v Wade. And THAT’s scary. Because they clearly expect to win, and to send American women straight back to the dark ages.

I have a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach about that prospect. I have no idea how any of the justices would vote. But because she radiates warmth and compassion and the brilliance of a gentle intellect, my vote would go to Sotomayor.

Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of My Beloved World.

Social justice & the American Bar Association

In the land of the free, says American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who are today unfree. They include men, women and children forced into labor or sex for the benefit of others, in a multi-million dollar industry that extends into virtually every corner of the U.S. But if Bellows and the ABA task force formed to combat human trafficking have their way, this will change.

Bellows spoke recently to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, outlining two of the top concerns of her current focus. The other, the cyber-war against individuals, business and governments, is hardly brighter: hackers are at work around the clock seeking to play tricks, steal identities, control the electric grid, spread terror or commit an endless variety of criminal acts…”and our own government says we’re not prepared.”

Laurel Bellows, though, believes “in the power of community, the power to change our world or preserve it – and the rule of law.”

Among the potential solutions for which the ABA is advocating are uniform state laws (“There are two people responsible for prostitution: the woman, and the john”), “Safe Harbor” laws and the use of employment manuals in fighting human trafficking. She also cites the Polaris Project, a national non-profit working to combat human trafficking through, among other things, a national hotline, 1-888-373-7888.

In an allotted 65 minutes including the Q&A, covering the territories of her passion was not an easy task. But Bellows, a diminutive (4’11”) blond whose high energy and crackling intellect quickly erase any just-a-pretty-face image notion her audience might have, tossed in one more for good measure: gender equity. On every level, from manual labor to corporate boardrooms, she says, women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

Bellows’coverage of a depressing array of thorny problems carried at least a few reassuring hints of possible solutions. Maybe, among its nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association will find a few problem-solvers; and if so, they will have the support of everyone who’s pulling for social justice in our struggling land of the free.

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This writer votes for Caitlin Borgmann and her Reproductive Rights blog for the ABA Journal – even if Laurel Bellows didn’t get time to dig into that one.

Abortion ‘Industry’? What’s in a word?

Molécule de tenofovir
Molécule de tenofovir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opponents of reproductive rights are doing pretty well with their campaign to imbed a phantom image in the public consciousness: The Abortion Industry.

Excuse me?

Dingy, windowless, cavernous rooms filled with grim-faced workers on assembly lines featuring a never-ending procession of dead babies? Add background images of a horde of grinning men and women counting their money, and you have the overall image that seems to be the goal.

Charmaine Yoest, the attractive and articulate head of Americans United for Life advanced the image considerably with her persistent references to “The Abortion Industry” during a recent appearance on PBS NewsHour. Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America made a lot more sense and stuck a lot closer to facts — a large majority of Americans believe the complex decision about abortion should be made by a woman and her doctor, rather than by politicians; a probably larger majority do not believe that life begins at conception or that fetuses must have across-the-board “protection.”

It’s a catchy phrase, but the “abortion industry” is a myth.  Here’s the reality:

A virtual army of highly trained, compassionate men and women who believe in the constitutionally mandated right of a woman to make her own reproductive choices does indeed exist.

They work, often for very little pay and against daunting odds, to protect that right.

They teach, they offer advice on contraception and family planning, they counsel and console, they work to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, they serve in countless ways to make life better for men and women in need — and yes, occasionally they perform abortions.

Where, in all this, does one come up with “The Abortion Industry”?




Wars and cherry blossoms

Cherry blossom (Photo credit: Yustinus Subiakto)

If St. Patrick’s Day is a good time to be Irish, the Cherry Blossom Festival is definitely a good time to be Japanese, at least in San Francisco. The procession of sparkly-costumed, drum-beating, flag-waving, frenzied-dancing groups of revelers in the Cherry Blossom Parade, combined with the parade watchers, would lead you to believe everybody in town is Japanese at cherry blossom time.

Walking home from church about 20 blocks or so away (walking was the only option; Post Street was closed to traffic) I decided to follow the parade route coming east from Fillmore Street and see the action up close. Bad idea. The sidewalks along the parade route – i.e., Post Street, my new address – were already inhabited by about 14 people per sq ft, six rows deep. Before being totally overwhelmed with panic I managed to extricate myself and detour uphill a few blocks, out of the crowds.

It occurred to me, from a slight safe distance away, that in those crowds were:

People, waving Japanese and American flags in each hand, whose parents and grandparents fought for “the enemy” a few wars back.

People whose parents and grandparents were interned during that war by their own government here – and have managed to forgive.

People whose religions are vastly different – there were more than a few hijabs in the sidewalk crowds, and definitely more Sunday morning beer drinkers than church-goers – all cheering with the sheer joy of it all.

And probably no one who hadn’t spent many hours in the past week bound in a sort of national community of grief by the horror that struck a similarly festive event in Boston.

All of us just enjoying the sunshine and the cherry blossoms.

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.

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?

Plan B and America’s future

Plan-B (Photo credit: grasshopperkm)

Much is being made of a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that Plan B One Step, or Next Choice, be more widely available to teenagers younger than 17.  The recommendation is, specifically, that pediatricians talk to their young patients about the “morning after” pill, and send them home with a prescription. And it is, as New York Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin writes, “the latest salvo in the contentious debate over access to emergency contraception.”

That debate is part of the broader debate about reproductive rights, abortion (though Plan B prevents conception, and is not an abortifacient) and America’s children.

In a perfect world, the theories of abstinence only and efforts of the National Abstinence Education Association would prevail, girls under 17 would not have unintended pregnancies and all babies would be wanted. But for now, we live in an imperfect world. The better we care for teenagers now and ahead, and for the unwanted children already here, the less imperfect it will be.

Bravo for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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, which went live af...