Monday, March 21, 2016

Freedom, Cigarettes and Abortion

You may have seen an anti-smoking commercial recently, as I did, which portrayed an extremely saddened mother who had smoked during her pregnancy, and whose child was born premature with various health issues.  While it is possible that some of the child's maladies could be blamed on other sources, it was clear in the commercial that the mother believed that her smoking while pregnant caused much of the damage, and it has certainly been proven by science that smoking is ill-advised for pregnant women.

The commercial spurred a number of thoughts in my mind.

First, it was clear that the baby was a victim of its mother's poor choices, and while smoking while pregnant is not against the law, many (including the mother) might blame her in part for the baby's poor start in life.  I would expect that most people would certainly not blame the baby for having poor health as a result of its mother's decision to smoke.  Yet I also imagined that many of those who would look upon the child with pity, are the same people who prefer to blame some children for their parents' crimes, when it comes to the illegal immigration issue.  Proposed laws such as the DREAM Act, that would provide a path to citizenship for children whose only crime was to be brought to America illegally, have failed in Congress due to the efforts of those in the GOP who prefer to lump all illegal immigrants into one category; criminals.  Punishing children for the sins of the parents is not reflective of the American spirit of compassion and caring, and certainly not a trait of a Christian country. 

One wonders if, as some would like, a fetus were to be granted the rights of an individual, and therefore protected against abortion by the same laws which make murder illegal, would mothers who choose to smoke also be subject to prosecution for cruelty to their unborn children?  Would they be put in jail?  Lose their rights to the child, once born?  Is the father subject to conspiracy charges since he likely knew the mother to be was smoking?  How about the smoker's mother, or siblings, doctor,  friends or co-workers, all who knew the smoker was torturing her unborn baby?

And, since a woman might be pregnant yet not be "showing" for a while, or not even know it for 6,  perhaps 8 weeks if her cycle is not normally regular, perhaps all women who smoke of child bearing years should be "watched", just in case they are harming a potential child.  Perhaps be marked, maybe a "P" for potentially pregnant ala The Scarlet Letter?  And, if we are going to hold mothers accountable for potential damage to a fetus, certainly anything done to a pregnant mother that is detrimental to her (and the baby's health), say by a business that dumps refuse into a local river, or excess pollution into the air, must also result in action against that business.  I would imagine that, once laws protecting the rights of a fetus were enacted, then the EPA would have to be infused with  new money and power to protect the health and well being of the fetus against industries that spew pollution into our environment.  What strange bedfellows that would make, the anti-abortion movement and the environmental movement joining forces to protect the right of the fetus!

From there, one could imagine that drinking and drug use would be next on the list of activities not appropriate for women of child bearing age.  Perhaps even over exercising.  Marathon running.  How about dieting? 

Men controlling what women could and couldn't do, just like the olden, golden days.  It would certainly bridge the gap between our contempt for how women are treated in the Muslim religion, subject to the control of men who are only protecting them (and our future children) from harm. 

I know, you are thinking that I exaggerate.  Certainly, no one wants to take away the freedom of women to make their own choices.  It is only in the case of life and death. But isn't that like giving carte blanche to those that engage in activities that result in damaged babies, whether that activity is personal (the mother) or industrial (a polluting business)?  If aborting a fetus is immoral, how close on the scale of immorality is destroying a local environment?  Or moving a business off shore which results in the unemployment of hundreds of families, which results in less money for food, shelter and education?  

Freedom, real freedom, is not an easy thing to have and maintain.  It means more than just parading with a flag that says don't tread on me.  More than wearing a pretty pin on one's lapel.  Freedom is a huge responsibility, because it includes, not exempts us from considering how exercising our freedom effects others.  Driving through red lights, playing one's music at high decibels late into the night, bombing the citizens of another country to kill a terrorist, is not excusable because it expresses an individual or national freedom.  It is merely a selfish act by someone or group of people who are less free than self-centered.

Freedom, the rights of the individual, the power of the government to curtail some rights in the name of security or protection, all BIG concepts that need serious discussion.  Please remember that when you hear simplistic answers offered by radio pundits and politicians.  And, especially remember it when the founders are invoked because they struggled with these same concepts as well, did not always agree, compromised to move the needle forward, but still had reservations even when creating those wonderful documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Candidates: Establishment VS Change

It has probably been said by someone already, but I felt it worth repeating how interesting and unusual the race for president has become from the standpoint of the candidates being labeled as establishment versus change.

In the Democratic party, the race quickly became a Clinton vs Sanders affair.  What is odd is that Hillary Clinton, a woman, is the establishment candidate.  She is favored by the party chiefs as is clear by her overwhelming lead in "super" delegates, a fact which doubles her lead over Sanders. 

Without getting into a discussion of the origin and purpose of the super delegate in the Democratic party (there is no such thing in the GOP), suffice it to say that it is a concept not foreign to the founders belief that direct election of the president by the people may not be desirable.  At the time, it was thought by some that a regional candidate might overwhelmingly win a minority of the states, and should those states make up a majority percentage of the population, then such a candidate could win the presidency even though a majority of the people in the remainder of the states were to vote against him or her, thus spawning the creation of the electoral college.  Similarly, the super delegate was fashioned with the idea that party officials, elected Democratic candidates and other long term party supporters should have a say in the nominee, in addition to their actual vote.  Sounds a bit undemocratic, on the face of it.  In real terms, it conveys the idea of a safety net, just in case the democratic electorate seems bent on picking a candidate that may be popular but not viable as the presidential nominee. 

In the meantime, Bernie Sanders, an old white male who is a career politician, is the candidate for change.  One might argue that someone who has held elected office in some capacity for over 30 years might not qualify as a change candidate, yet Sanders has done a great job of stating and defending his voting record while maintaining limited ties to the financial industry, probably something more easily done when you are a Senator from Vermont as opposed to being the wife of an ex-president and ex-Senator from New York where some of your constituents are those very same behemoths of the banking and financial world.

As for the GOP, their establishment candidate appears to be Ted Cruz, a man without a United States birth certificate (take that all you birthers from 2008), while the "change" candidate is a billionaire who has spent his life using his identification with the status quo of power and riches, his white maleness, while at the same time, using his money and influence to bend the rules of our democracy to fit his needs.  Of course he supported some Democratic candidates in the past as claimed by his Republican detractors, his support was all about greenbacks, not party affiliations. 

The real question is, when all the wrangling is over, which party will be able to rally its members to vote for the candidate that has been chosen. 

If Sanders is the nominee, will the Democratic establishment be loyal enough to the message that we need a Democratic President to counter the GOP dominated House, and to successfully nominate and appoint a liberal leaning Supreme Court justice so that the gains of the recent past (marriage equality, health care insurance expansion) are maintained, while attacks on abortion and voting rights are repelled?

If Clinton is the nominee, and with the same big picture goals, can the Democratic party ignite the base to vote for a more centrist, but perhaps more electable candidate, while adjusting the party platform to include some of Sanders more popular ideas?

If Trump is the nominee, will the GOP establishment turn its attacks on Clinton and away from Trump's more obnoxious talking points effectively enough to turn the voters, the young, the female, and the minority, who they need to win the White House.  Additionally, can they sell Trump to their base with just the thought that he will be better than Clinton or Sanders, considering Trump's limited past support of making abortion illegal and turning back the clock on marriage equality?

If Cruz is the nominee, the base may be happier, but Trump's popularity with the voters (he has won most of the primaries where actual voting has taken place, as opposed to caucuses), means that barring a complete turnaround, he will go into the convention with more delegates than Cruz.  A brokered convention, perhaps the only way for Cruz to win, may not sit well with the GOP voters, and certainly, as I mentioned in a previous post, will not sit will with the bully Trump.

Oddly, is seems that the GOP would benefit from the super delegate system that the Dems have, in this case, perhaps demonstrating the need for such a system, as undemocratic as it seems. 

Whatever the outcome, we are certainly in for an interesting 4 months before the conventions in July.

Buckle up!!


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Recent Debates

I watched about 45 minutes of a replay of the Republican Presidential Debate a few nights ago, then followed that up with about an hour of the live Democratic Presidential Debate.  Some thoughts.

I know I am biased, but the GOP event was less presidential and more a street rumble.  Penis size talk?  Wow!  I tired hard to suspend my biases, and listened for actual substance and potential policy.  Build a wall, of course, was clearly stated by Trump, and while not agreed to by Rubio and Cruz, they did emphasize their desire to remove all illegals, and heaven forbid, admit to creating a path to citizenship for children brought to America illegally by their parents.  Children paying for the sins of their fathers and mother, what a disgrace, and certainly not very Christian.  And Mexico will pay for it, by the way.  Why, because Trump says so.

Of course, the entire immigration discussion reeks of hypocrisy when one considers that Cruz and Rubio are first generation Americans, both, along with Kasich, pulling at heartstrings with tales of their poor, barely English speaking ancestors who attained work as maids and dishwashers, all the while seeming to blot out the reality that the very immigrants they are so eager to dismiss and blame for America's problems, are mirror images of their own parents and grandparents.  But legal, you say.  True, except that we must remember that the quotas for immigration from Cuba were non-existent due to our hatred for Castro, so one might wonder if there had been real quotas would Cruz and Rubio even be Americans at this point.  And, of course, Cruz was not even born in America, yet is betting on a more progressive interpretation of the Constitution when it comes to eligibility to be president.  Odd, when one considers his no nonsense, literal interpretation of history when it comes to understanding our founders thoughts.

Both Cruz and Trump would eliminate the IRS due to their flat tax plans.  Certainly, streamlining the tax code is an admirable goal, but I have yet to see an economic analysis that doesn't suggest that flat tax plans generally reduce taxes for the rich, while shifting more burden on the middle class.  And, of course, if  less money is collected, then what benefits are they willing to eliminate.  I heard talk of eliminating the Dept of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, but no debate about how much those departments actually spend, where the money that is distributed by the Education Dept would now come from (higher state and local taxes?), and who precisely was going to protect our water and air once the EPA was no longer.  Trust business seemed to be the answer not stated.  After all, no business would possibly resort to cutting waste disposal corners, or air pollution standards in the name of profit!  Kasich, who is generally the adult on the stage, is no better on this account.  All the candidates willingness to sacrifice education and the environment for a balanced budget, when those 2 departments account for a relatively small percentage of the budget, smack of the worst rhetoric when knowledge of the huge sum of money spent on the military is known. 

Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was also good fodder.  Policy changes that will increase the number of Americans who have health insurance is welcome.  And, perhaps now that the health insurance industry knows that Americans are on to their tricks of capping lifetime benefits, denying insurance for pre-existing conditions, and granting discounts for large "buyers", while hiking premiums for small businesses and people who work for companies who do not provide the benefit, the first steps provided for by the Affordable Care Act can be revisited.  But I find it more likely that any replacement program will rely on private insurers with no incentive to insure the sick, only to limit exposure to expense.  After all, the GOP has resisted the call to provide more Americans access to affordable health care for quite some time.  Even when programs like those that exist in Massachusetts were successful, the GOP backpedaled from taking credit.

In contrast, the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was boring.  They actually discussed, in detail, some bills that they voted on while serving in the Senate.  At one point, Sanders was asked about comments that he made in conjunction with a bill passed in the mid 1990's.  I thought this fascinating, first because it showed how involved the two were in their jobs that they recalled the legislation, and 2nd that in discussing that particular bill (and a few others) they both made it clear that no bill is perfect, and that sometimes, even when speaking passionately about an aspect of a bill that you oppose as Sanders did that day, you might still vote for it because the good outweighed the bad.  True governing in action, sort of like a mini-civics lesson for those who think that compromise is a dirty word.  When Rubio was questioned about his participation in the Gang of 8, a committed that actually had created a framework for immigration reform, he was attacked for including an aspect that Cruz did not like.  Consequently, that reform framework was rejected by the ideologues in the House and Cruz in the Senate, resulting in no movement on the issue.  Whether it be because of our first black president or just because the GOP were sore losers, working across the aisle was the last thing on their agenda.

I assume that Trump will compromise in a manner as he describes; ask for more than you want and settle for what you want.  It is strange to think that the GOP base, people who point to Obama and derisively call him King, don't see the irony in supporting someone who is clearly running for King.  Or, for that matter, why they don't understand that Washington doesn't work, cannot work, unless both sides are willing to give and take when negotiating, and, since the tea party reps whom they have elected are neither interested in compromising or for that matter governing, they themselves are part of the reason why Washington is dysfunctional. 

What is sad is that the GOP which has a proud history of political accomplishments that have served America well, is looking down the barrel of a no win situation.  Either Trump is the candidate, which means the GOP establishment will have to reverse their recent attacks on him, or a brokered convention nominates a different candidate, most likely Cruz, which means they will have to face a pissed off bully.  Will Trump immediately sue to challenge Cruz's right to run for president (show us your birth certificate!), or just simply tell his followers to stay home.  If he is half the negotiator he claims to be, I imagine his support will come at great cost to the GOP.

Still, even should Clinton or Sanders win, Washington will continue in its present morass of inaction, if compromise continues to be considered a sign of weakness.  While it is true that sometimes no deal is better than a bad deal, no deals at all do not move the needle forward.  This is where we, the electorate, need to slip off our own mantle of noninvolvement, and become informed about the issues, and the big problems that need solutions.  Know how your reps vote in Washington through organizations like MegaVote.  Evaluate based on multiple issues, not just on a single viewpoint.  And, please, whatever you do, vote for the candidate, local, state or national, who expresses compassion for others, for all Americans.  Remember, those who support candidates who seek only to point fingers and isolate a segment of the population for blame, may someday point in your direction.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gender games

Interesting article in the February edition of National Geographic about women in Saudi Arabia.  The article was written by a woman who has had numerous contacts with the women of this country, especially in recent years.

Of course, and despite our decades long relationship with this oil rich country, there is occasional media coverage of the cultural and religious forces that restrict the rights and freedom of women in this country.  A few years ago the shocking news that Saudi women were not allowed to drive made headlines, and this article touches on that issue.  While providing good paying jobs to male immigrants who are specifically imported for this function, the "tradition" limits women's movements, thereby their freedom.  And, while the article portrayed the upper class Saudi women who generally accepted the restriction while also believing that it will be faded out, gradually, in the coming decade, the author did not interview or spend time with Saudi women who can not afford, or whose husbands will not pay, for a driver. 

What this article did bring to light, however, was the incredible progress women have made in this country in the past 10 years, despite the fact that "Saudi Arabia is the most gender segregated nation".  In just 35 years, from 1979 to 2014, the percentage of girls enrolled in primary schools rose from 30 to 99 percent.  In the area of higher education, in 1973, only 15 Saudi women were enrolled per 100 men (in the United States it was 78), but by 1993, the number of Saudi women per 100 men enrolled had risen to 72 (up to 93 in the US), and in 2013 there were over 100 Saudi women per 100 men enrolled (over 135 in the US). 

Also, the presence of women in the work force has changed.  Yes, restrictions abound in that physical walls separating single men from women are the still the norm in all phases of employment, yet the percentage of young Saudi women who are employed is far greater than even the generation preceding them, let alone those of 2 or 3 generations ago.  No longer are women consigned to jobs in the more traditional fields (such as education), but are now finding opportunities in areas such as manufacturing, and even politics.

It is easy to take the high road when it comes to equality for the sexes when we compare ourselves to countries like Saudi Arabia.  Clearly, it is completely male dominated, ruled by both a patriarchal religion and government.  Often, especially on certain right leaning TV and radio shows, the Saudis are portrayed as the worst kind of men in terms of their treatment of women. 

Yet, it is frequently these same men in America who fight against equal pay for equal work legislation, who love depicting welfare queens as abusing our system of assistance to the needy but never exhibit the same fervor against corporate welfare that costs ten times more money to the United States taxpayer.  It is this same gender bias, albeit a lesser degree, that has limited access to the upper echelons of American business and politics.  And, when a women does attain those rarified positions, she is often depicted as an ice queen or royal bitch when she performs the job as a man, or genetically unable to handle the pressures of such responsibilities when she fails, even though men fail at the highest levels of business and politics all the time without the toughness of their gender being maligned or questioned.

One might even say the battles over the Affordable Care Act, contraception as paid for by one's employer, Planned Parenthood funding, etc, are all gender bias based.  Would men be so resistant to health coverage for all people if they had to bear children, advise fellow men to place an aspirin between their legs to avoid pregnancy, or wish to restrict women's health services (including abortion) in law after law enacted to "protect women's health" if it was their health they were allegedly protecting?  (Don't see a lot of laws restricting access to Viagra, prostate exams, penile implants or male pattern baldness cures, do you?)

Compared to Saudi Arabia, we seem advanced, yet how about compared to Germany, England, Norway, or most other "western" countries.  How many of those countries have never had a women president?  How many allow employers to tell their women employees what forms of contraception they can take? 

I wrote a story once in which overnight, many people awoke with a different skin color or different gender.  Suddenly, laws and policies which were now controlled by those who had been the most negatively effected, began to change.  People were forced into the shoes of others, and did not like the fit.  It is easy to imagine the Saudi men lobbying to alter the interpretations of the Quran, if they suddenly became female, just as we might see some new understandings of the Bible should certain religious leaders find themselves in female form.

Like race, perhaps we should embrace the differences that exist between male and female without the added calculations concerning which is superior or inferior.  We are different, thank you very much!  Perhaps not exactly equal in all our traits but when brought together, we make something better than the sum of our parts.  Which means that by limiting the opportunities of one half of the union, we limit the strength and future accomplishments of the whole. 

Which also means we have underestimated and misunderstood the real truths of our holy books, if we assume they were inspired by the Creator, because I am sure She would expect us to discard our gender biases to truly honor and glorify the life and lives we have been granted.