Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bizarro biology and women’s bodies

   As Isaac headed into the gulf, the Republicans were talking up a storm. Not about elixirs for the economy their policies helped wreck, but about a subject that is a certain loser in November:

   How best for government to dictate the result of a woman's unwanted pregnancy.

    Mitt Romney says he would allow an abortion exception for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Paul Ryan echoes the GOP national platform: no abortion; none; never.

     Meanwhile, Congressman Todd Akin soldiers on despite Romney-Ryan pleas that he vacate the Missouri U.S. Senate race. His offense: saying what his right-wing constituency believes to be true about rape and impregnation.

   At the same time, Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee Tom Smith pooh-poohs the whole pregnant-by-rape matter by comparing it to —  oh, ah — having a child out of wedlock.

    Keep talking, boys.

   As you do, you diminish your electability, and the nation gets a useful opportunity to discuss what abortion rights truly are about and why most Americans support them.

    This is a special moment — when the ban-abortion minority (check any poll you desire) is on the defensive, not in its supposed perch on the moral high ground.

   The moral authoritarians get a pass too often when they tout empty phrases like "culture of life." Meanwhile women face the realities of life that accompany unwanted pregnancies.

    Poor  Todd Akin. His head is spinning. He parrots a claim embraced by his core constituency — bizarro biology about how a rape victim's body supposedly fends off pregnancy — and suddenly is getting muscled out of the race.

      But, you see, the anti-choice players can cite you a study to back up this claim even if  it is rejected almost universally by the scientific community. They can do the same linking abortion and breast cancer, and classifying homosexuality as a choice and psychosis.

     To fit their agenda, they could find a study confirming that the moon is made of Roquefort.

      As I say, soldier on,  Todd Akin. The more Republicans like you talk about abortion without understanding, the more people in the middle understand the stakes involved, and the ramifications.

    While Romney's position of allowing exceptions for rape, incest and medical necessity may seem centrist and pragmatist, it is time to ask him:

    How, within an atmosphere where abortion is otherwise prohibited, would government determine whether a pregnancy were caused by any of the situations under which you'd allow it to be terminated?

     Would these matters be up to a judge? An arbitrator? How many months would this procedure entail as the woman's abdomen swells? Three months? Six? Nine?

       Every time anyone calls himself or herself "pro-life," two questions should emanate. One: Would you require the victim of a rapist to bear the assailant's child? Two: If not, if you would allow exceptions, how would government ensure that those exceptions weren't just words on paper?

     Regarding these matters, particularly poor, tongue-tied  Todd Akin, USA Today writes, "GOP trying to keep focus on economy, not abortion."

   In due respect to the headline writer, this is not true in the slightest.

   The very first Republican bill filed in this GOP-controlled House would have cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its vast array of health care services. The pretext? Abortion, of course — its authors disregarding the fact that no agency in the country does more to help low-income women avoid the abortion dilemma through contraception and education.

  So, why the headlines? Why the surprise that Republicans like Akin, Smith, Ryan and Romney want to interfere with women's reproductive choices? Of course they do. That's how they got nominated by the party of the anti-choice minority.

   It's the perfect storm, and one of their choosing.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Their fervent desire: government by taboo

    When a Russian court sentenced lyrical outrage mavens Pussy Riot last week to two years in prison for "hooliganism," American indignation swelled, and not just among punk rockers.

   The crime: In protest against Vladimir Putin and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, the group performed a disrespectful publicity stunt in a Moscow cathedral.

    Grounds to show the girls the door? Oh, yeah. But the Russian court said the act was fit for a cellblock, the defendants hearing their fate in a glass cubicle.

    Reaction in the land of the free? Bipartisan outrage. The Obama administration denounced the "disproportionate" sentence. Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire tweeted, "Shame on Putin."

    Yes, shame on Putin. Shame on any country — whether Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, or Texas (once a republic unto itself) — that puts religion in such a position that church sensibilities trump human rights.

     That's what Texas did as late as 1998 when it prosecuted two men for consensual sex under its so-called sodomy law, ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

     Today it just seems prehistoric: gay sex a crime. Rest assured, an army of umbrage in the Lone Star State today wishes it remained so, in part because such a law allowed politicians to rationalize broad-based discrimination against "practicing" homosexuals. After all, under the sodomy law they were criminals, and you don't hire criminals.

    Two of the three justices who dissented when the Supreme Court overturned Texas' abominable law, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (joined at the time by Chief Justice William Rehnquist) remain to be venerated by the religious right. They stand ready to do its bidding — for instance, to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

    So, Russia isn't the only land that would allow the church to impose its taboos and mores under the weight of law. Ours does and has.

    If one looks at the battles the religious right has lost in the last few decades and those it would willingly fight, generally with Republican lawmakers as proxies, one imagines a far different land than the one we have.

    It would be a land where states still banned contraception.

    It would be a land where the option of taking someone of a differing race to the movies would depend on the state or town where the outing occurred.

    It would be a land where sex education is forbidden.

    It would be a land where government monitored the Internet, news stands and books stores for obscenity and heresy.

    It would be a land where policymakers and judges preened in front of religious symbols and commandments, even as they violated them.

    It would be a land where certain marginalized religions —  say, Islam — were demonized.

    It would be a land where government policy consistently bent to the whims of clerics. Policymakers would ask them, for instance, what health insurance should cover.

    It would be a land where the right of privacy is no such thing.

    It would be a land where those who exploit religion for political gain go around asserting that the majority religion, the one they wish to be the state religion, is in fact oppressed.

    It is fascinating to see theocratically authoritarian policy promoted by those for whom "freedom" is one of the first words out of their mouths. That would include most of the candidates supported by the "freedom"-loving tea party, who aggressively seek to prevent women from controlling their own reproductive destinies, either by contraception or by abortion.

   Then there's the matter of homosexuality, of course.

   The Defense of Marriage Act in addition to being political grandstanding, is a grand bow to religious mores and taboos. When it comes to privileges and protections associated with the religious rite of marriage, equal protection of the law is deemed immaterial. 

    If, as some insist, this is in fact a Christian nation, in no way could it be one of freedom. After all, that's not the way most churches work, and not how policies work when churches call the shots. Right, Mr. Putin?

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mittnomics: comfort for comfortable

   Points to Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan, unlike the last Republican nominee for vice president, is not a toy surprise from the bottom of a cereal box.
    What we have in Ryan is the box — the package — for the flakes Romney sells. Now to see if America is buying.
    Unlike his heartbeat-away predecessor, Ryan is a serious player. The seriousness of his plays should cause voters discomfort unless they are in the upper echelons of the tax strata. In the latter case, they now know they truly have a horse in the race, not just the standard-bearer many tea party types beheld as a show pony.
     We'll not focus here on concerns about Medicare — Ryan's call to chop it into vouchers and put fixed-income seniors on a starvation diet. Everyone knows that somehow Medicare must be reined in, as with Social Security. (The question: How dramatically? Ryan's is the stuff of Hitchcock.)
     No, let's focus on taxes, which is what Ryan's designs are really about.
     As Matt Miller of the Washington Post points out, to call Paul Ryan a deficit hawk is to call Lindsey Lohan a police cadet.
     Ryan is a spawn of decades of Republican deficit-by-design dogma and trickle-down brew. He is Grover Norquist's every wish — a guy who talks fiscal responsibility while acting irresponsibly.
     If Ryan — and Romney, who has embraced Ryan's plan in Congress — truly were concerned about the deficitt, they would not propose tax cuts that would decrease taxes by an average of $250,000 on those making $1 million or more, according to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice.
   If Ryan and Romney really cared about the debt being left in the laps of today's children and grandchildren they would make sure that billionaires and millionaires felt the pains associated with what needs to be done.
    As an Associated Press analysis explains, the Ryan-authored budget cuts, while going easy on the Pentagon, would dramatically impede virtually every form of domestic spending: "highways, farm programs, NASA, weather forecasts, medical research and college aid."
     Factor in tax policy, and what Ryan proposes regarding discretionary spending is the fiscal sorcery that got us in the very mess in which we find ourselves.
    I second Matt Miller's swipe that Ryan is no fiscal conservative: "A fiscal conservative pays for the government he wants." Ryan's House-approved spending bill "wouldn't reach balance until the 2030s while adding $14 trillion in debt."
   Why? One, because he would take defense off the table. Two: Of course, he would cut taxes.
   Ryan wants to lower tax rates by compressing the current six brackets into two: 10 percent and 25 percent. The current top rate for the Mitt set is 35 percent. Ryan's plan also would cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
     Yes, it's that old voodoo. With Ryan aboard, Romney shows his desire for a redo.
     Did we say deficit by design? Indeed, for three decades, when in power, while talking "fiscal conservatism," his party applied massive doses of rationalization about the deficit as it grew, first under Reagan, then under H. Bush, then under H.W. Bush. The deficit was no problem when considered as a percentage of GNP, said Ryan's party. Whoopee. Let's wage war. Let's cut taxes.
    What these Republicans were doing, of course, was looking forward to the day when the deficit would be so untenable that they could thrash the domestic programs they detested.
    So, let's award points to Mitt Romney for informing voters exactly where he wishes the nation to head from here.
    One other significant thing about Romney's choosing Ryan, mega-darling of tea party obstructionists. This comes with points for our president:
    Now Obama gets to run against the institution that polls find in lower public repute than any other public institution this century: the 113th Congress.
     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stunning feats in false economy

   Don't you hate freeloaders?

   Those who won't carry their weight?

   Those who cost others because they don't use common sense and available resources to best possible uses?

    Me, too. That's why I was bothered recently to hear from people incensed by the prospect of having to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

    Stinking freeloaders. They think it's a horrific affront to have to pay for cut-rate health insurance. But when they have a bad break  — a broken arm, a splinter that festers — they think it's fine that others pay for their health care. That's the way it's been for generations, of course. For, as then-President George W. Bush pointed out, uninsured have access to health care. "They just go to an emergency room."

    Recently an analysis showed that hospital care for the uninsured cost an average privately insured family in Bush's home state $1,800 per year in higher premiums.

    The sad thing: Texas policy makers, as with others in this nation's red-state resistance bloc, are just fine with that.

    Texas leads the developed world in uninsured people, and wants to expand its margin. It is refusing — no way, no how, can't make me — to expand Medicaid as is incentivized by the Affordable Care Act. It is refusing to create health-care exchanges under the act to make health insurance affordable.

    The fact is that the federal government can't make Texas, or Florida, or Arizona, or Georgia, or any of the Republican-controlled states expand Medicaid, pursuant to Chief Justice John Roberts' decision upholding the act's individual mandates.

    They don't have to, even if doing so is in their best interests, which it is.

    What these states are doing in resisting Medicaid expansion is, in fact, a stunning piece of false economy, something at which Republican legislatures tend to be masterful.

   The phrase "penny-wise, pound foolish" has never been more apropos.

    How foolish? Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of the expanded coverage for the first three years, and overall, states will never pay more than 10 percent of the costs for the extra people served.

     How many people? The Center for Public Policy Priorities projects coverage for 1.5 million to 2 million Texans.

     Ann O'Leary of California's Center for the Next Generation writes in the Huffington Post how the nation is about to get a stark demonstration in the false economy of red states holding their breaths in protests while blue states take advantage of this new program.

    As O'Leary points out, California has gone all in on taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act since 2010, already extending coverage to 400,000 individuals.

    The benefits? What might inure with preventive health care for people shy of keeping the lights on at George Bush's friendly ER?

    The obvious result is healthier people who require fewer catastrophic procedures, healthier children who miss less class, healthier parents who miss less work. Not only that, but a study by the Bay Area Council in California projects that full expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will create jobs and boost the state's gross state output, as was seen in Massachusetts when then-Gov. Mitt Romney did for that state what he says is so bad for America.

    One other thing, says O'Leary: "On every single health-care measure, California outperforms Texas": blood pressure, smoking, better diets, more physical activity, most important, better access to preventive care.

    All of these lower general costs and pressures on the private insurance market we all hold so dear (wink, wink).

    But let's face it. Some states would rather save a penny than bend toward a dime's worth of common sense when it comes to health care.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Louie Gohmert explains it all

   Congressman Louie Gohmert has it figured out. A mass murder in Colorado. Mass suicides by Iraqi and Afghan veterans. Blame them on one thing:


   "What really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place," he told an interviewer when asked about the Aurora midnight massacre.

     Before the interview was over, Gohmert also explained that atheism was a key factor behind a preponderance of suicides for recent war veterans.

     The problem, explains the Texas Republican and tea party favorite: We've told God "we don't want him around."

      That settles it. The Aurora massacre couldn't possibly be because a mentally ill man amassed enough arms and ammo for a SWAT team. The tidal wave of suicides couldn't possibly be because of marathon hitches and stop-loss atrocities, of a mix of monotony interrupted by friends and innocents dying before one's eyes, of policy makers sending men and women to war on calculated lies.

     Godlessness, Gohmert explains. That's what this is about.

     This, he explains, is about graduation-day speakers being told they can't evangelize to a captive audience, of school teachers told they can't be prayer leaders. This, Gohmert says, is evidence of influences "at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country."

     This evil influence might also, since the Engel vs. Vitale case in 1962 and rulings by court after court, be called the Bill of Rights.

      We all know what happened after that ruling, of course: The United States went to hell. That's because the courts "took God out of the classroom."

       Before 1962 America had no violence, except for the lynchings so common in the South, no hatred, except for that which made Jim Crow so invincible and night riders so intimidating. It had no despair except if one's skin were black or brown, or one lived in a clapboard shack without electricity, running water or any way of ever paying the doctor bill. It had no fear, except what the Red Scare could drum up.

      It was all perfect, and it was because teachers could be preachers.

      In his interview post-Aurora, Gohmert quoted John Adams as saying our Constitution was "only for moral and religious people." These are words that certainly soothed those delivered in chains from Africa.

       Gohmert is one to preach brotherhood and unity, except when it comes to forms of diversity he can't hack.

       Speaking of the Red Scare and days when Joe McCarthy ran roughshod over people's rights, in recent days several Republicans including John McCain summoned the specter of McCarthyism to denounce — guess who — Louie Gohmert and a small band including Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for seeking an investigation into Hillary Clinton aide Huma Mahmood Abedin.

     They want to know what her ties are to the Muslim Brotherhood. Actually, all they want to direct extremists' attention to the secretary of state's employing a Muslim. And aren't you concerned?

      By the way, the pesky and destructive U.S. Constitution — the one that continually wages war on Christianity — protects Abedin's right to be Muslim.

      It's worth observing that though they may inveigh the creator's name, and that of Jesus Christ, most of today's politically inspired believers observe lifestyles and promote policies that bear no resemblance to Christ's priorities: forsaking material pursuits, lifting up the poor, being neighborly to strangers, and of course swearing off violence. Mark Twain called man "the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight."

      Therefore, we seek God's guidance in our wars, in stockpiling and venerating our weapons, in rationalizing our fear of people who call the lord by other names. We do all that in Jesus' name.

      Louie Gohmert has it figured out. In November it will yield for him one more term in office, his fifth. Count on it.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.