March 29, 2012

Dear GOP--I am working on not caring

As a new conservative I am trying to adjust to not caring about others--you know, those without insurance, or immigrants, or women who need contraceptives, etc?  I get part of it.  After all, if you were stupid enough to be born poor or female, you kind of asked for this, right?  And it isn't my fault, so why are you asking me to spend my hard-earned dollars to help you? (how is that?)

But my problem is then making that pivot back to caring about a fertilized egg.  That is a hard one. After all, if I don't care about the egg's future healthcare needs, or that egg's future family's healthcare or nutritional needs, why do I care about the egg again?

I am sure there is some trick here--some way of forcing cognitive dissonance that I am missing.  I hope you will advise.


PS, once I have turned off the caring about my neighbors and friends, can I ever turn it back on?

Being Republican means not caring what happens to other people

Well, that obviously isn't completely true.  As a Republican I am supposed to care deeply about a fertilized egg, and actually care more about that egg than the woman carrying it.  But once that egg is born and in the open air, I am not actually responsible for helping him or her.  That little infant is on their own. If their family is poor, or abusive, that, politically, is not my problem.

As you can tell, I have been having a rough time of things lately.  The news that the ACA might be overturned which would make the Republican happy, has pushed me into a bit of a funk.  I am once again reminded that Republicans found it offensive that we get everyone into some kind of insurance plan.  That act offended them.

Torturing Muslim suspects didn't offend them, but making sure that everyone could purchase insurance, not be denied based on a pre-existing condition, and not be kicked off if they got too expensive?  Conservatives found that to be offensive.

I have no idea how to operate in that moral world.  It makes absolutely no sense to me.  It scares me greatly, I have to say, at a personal level because I know that we are one layoff away from losing healthcare, and one major illness away from bankruptcy.  It is that simple.  And if Republicans get their way, that insecurity will continue well into retirement, because they don't want me or SOF to be guaranteed coverage.  At any level.  And, while the condition is not threatening or dangerous, a pre-existing condition makes us uninsurable outside a group plan.

And Republicans want us to be insecure about that.  They are cheering news that the ACA might be overturned and that hated "mandate" be struck down.  They want to go back to the environment where we are all one major illness away from bankruptcy, and one layoff away from being uninsured.

All, by the way, as the Republicans push their budget bill before Congress.  It won't pass--thank the Lord--but it reveals their priorities pretty clearly.  Turn Medicare into a voucher system so that I, as an 80 year old, will need to negotiate and shop for health insurance--and hope--fucking hope--that we have enough retirement to account for rising costs.  Because if we don't, then we are done.  And, of course, the same budget proposal wants states the option of handling Medicaid completely as they want.  If we stay in Oklahoma, I predict that means the bare minimum.

All while they absolutely and stridently insist that no rich people be even troubled by this sacrifice.  No tax increase for them.  No problem for their retirement.  No, the sacrifice has to be for those who are at the bottom of the heap.  And, of course, those low-information voters who don't realize that their middle class won't protect them from ruin and illness.

But that's the beauty of being Republican.  If I choose to go that route, I don't have to care about what happens to the poor and needy.  That is their responsibility, not mine.  My responsibility is to get as much as I can, because I am the only one who matters.

Yeah, I know.  I need to really think about a news fast.  But just because I don't read my twitter feed, blogs, or the news doesn't mean this reality will go away.  Nor will the fact that not caring is the hallmark of modern conservatism.

March 27, 2012

Guest Post: Does the Frontier explain our political incivility?

CIL left a very thoughtful comment on the previous post, and I thought it was worth reposting for a wider reading.  My first title was, "This is all the fault of Frederick Jackson Turner" but thought that was a bit much.


You have raised similar issues on this blog, but the question I have is why? Why has the level of political civility apparently declined? Why is there such an attack on women's rights, people of color, etc. as we have seen in places like Arizona?

I wonder if it is not two issues. First, and I think you have disagreed with me about this before, I think that the United States is more of a conservative-leaning nation. That when pressed, the nation has not pushed social reform issues further than it could have because of inherent conservative tendencies. I think of Gordon Wood's discussion of the Constitution, Eric Foner's work on Recontruction, historians who assess the impact of the Progressive movement and the Great Depression.

Second, I wonder how the frontier mythology on which the nation is contracted is partly at play here as well. In other words, I trace much of the current retrenchment, xenophobia and the like to 9/11. Turner argued that the "consolidating agent" on the frontier was the fear of Indian attack. So, in this way, 9/11 resembles the colonists' and nation's response to things like the Pequot War or Pearl Harbor. Rather than bringing out the best in people, there is a backlash - sending Pequots into slavery in the Caribbean, interning Japanese American citizens, endorsing torture. 

For those who may not know, Gordon Wood is one of the preeminent scholars of the American Revolution, and he argued, among other things, that the constitution represented a fundamentally conservative retrenchment against the excesses of direct democracy and the rather flippant ideas of the Declaration of Independence.  For Wood, some of the freedoms that Americans realize after 1787 are almost accidental--in that the founders really didn't intend for those terms and ideas to apply to the "common man."

FJ Turner wrote a very influential article called "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," that redefined American history at the time.  He argued that the frontier, or availability of "free land" defined America and encouraged the creation of American ideas like individualism, egalitarianism, and even our form of democracy.   And, as CIL notes, the identification of the Indian as "other" is critical to that American development.


March 25, 2012

Obama and Oklahoma

We all know that Oklahoma is the reddest of the red states.  Not one county voted for Obama in 2008, and that is unlikely to change in this election.

So this past week, Obama visited the state to speak for improving our oil distribution.  But not one of the State's Republican leaders was there to welcome him.  Not one.  And here is the sad part.  They won't suffer politically.  In fact, one could argue that the demonization of Obama and liberals is so fierce here in Oklahoma, that Mary Fallin or other Republicans would have been politically harmed had they done as much as greet the President with a cordial handshake.

What does that say about our political discourse?  I am not sure.  I don't recall the opposite happening with Bush and our former Democratic Governor, Brad Henry, either with a snub, nor with a political cost to the governor for being seen with Bush.

This is another example of how things are worse on the right than on the left.  The Tea Party and talk radio have pushed a degree of incivility that has become accepted by people who, as this editorial suggests, were "raised better than that."

March 24, 2012

On Trayvon Martin

I was out of town this past week on a short vacation, and realized on the road that I left the last post on misogyny in disarray.  Blame part of that on my fatigue, and part on the new Blogger interface.  Anyway, I have fixed it.

I come back to the world reminded again that the Republican party seems hell bent on alienating everyone other than white males--which puzzles the hell out of me.  But I also thought of the GOP's "southern strategy" when reading about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.  When Newt and others play that race card in the South, they play to this kind of environment where whites fear blacks in a false way, and don't even recognize the extent at which blacks live with genuine and very real fear that whites will use the power of the state or the gun against them.  That idea of white privilege is something I wish more white Americans would consider.  Yesterday, I watched ESPN's Michael Wilbon discuss the story about Lebron and the Heat donning hoodies to show solidarity with Martin, Wilbon just casually remarked that he had been stopped "driving while black" in his own neighborhood.  Or this from a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  Some of these stories are historical, but others are current.  

The furor over Martin is growing, and that is a good thing.  We should have a discussion about armed civilians taking the law into their own hands.  I know the trend (certainly here in OK) is to loosen and loosen gun laws and encourage more open carry, and in Florida, the trend has been to add easy justification for shooting if you are in fear.  Maybe this will change.  But, as Sharifa notes:  
"What nauseates and scares me is the deafening silence from the masses concerning Trayvon Martin, our neighbor. It’s curious to me how easily 100 million people could see the Kony video, buying t-shirts and forwarding videos, and yet remain silent about the neighborhood watchman in their own backyard who shot an unarmed boy for carrying Skittles."
This speaks to the same sentiment where people are deeply concerned with poverty in Africa, see the poor here as unworthy and lazy.  Our racism is deeply encoded and most of us don't even see it.  I see my own, and it bothers me greatly.  Or, let me say, I see some of mine.  I suspect some of mine is out of sight for me too.  But what I see bothers me, and I struggle to fight those voices.

As is very usual, Leighton has some wisdom to add to this conversation.  In comment from last week, he noted this problem of a world-view that doesn't include other people.

There is large subset of the population that has trouble with abstract thought, and tends to view the world in simple, black-and-white terms. It's been my experience that people like this will have moral universes that include only people they personally know, and strangers who are seen as simply good: fellow believers, their countrymen (so long as they aren't liberal), starving children in Africa (usually just the children), etc. Everyone else whose circumstances might require analysis or difficult consideration is rejected out of hand. To my mind, this explains why people who clearly care deeply about the people physically around them can be so vicious toward strangers, because it really isn't about people at all for them.
There is still much to learn about the Martin shooting, but there is some sense that the shooter saw Trayvon as a stranger and sub-human (in some sense, anyway) because he was young, and black in a white neighborhood.  He simply didn't fit.  Perhaps we will learn that the shooter's fears were real and legitimate, I don't know.  But the broader issue remains, and remains for all of us.  What limits do we put on those we care about, or will protect?

March 16, 2012

Republicans, conservatives and misogyny

This entire contraceptives battle has revealed an underlying misogyny that I didn't anticipate. Abortion, I understood, even as I disagreed with many. There has always been this deep discomfort with abortion in the American populace--a broad and shared sense that abortion is tragic and should be avoided if possible, but also a belief that it should be an option.

But there have always been those who were on the anti-abortion side, so it didn't surprise me that the pendulum swing against abortion sided to the conservative under Republican led states. I wasn't surprised at that. I was surprised, however, that the anti-abortion side started going so far as the "personhood" bills, but not that they went after abortion.

But the contraception angle is different. And reveals an underlying misogyny that I find deeply troubling. The defense is "religious liberty," but it dawned on me today that I don't find that convincing in the least. First of all, those crying "religious freedom" the loudest are the Catholics (makes sense) and the conservative evangelical base of the Republican party (makes less sense). That last group doesn't actually believe in religious liberty--not for others, at least. They are the heirs to the Puritan mentality where religious freedom was about their own approach, and was not for Quakers or Catholics or Baptists.

Historically, this group has never cared about Catholic freedoms, and has, in fact, often argued that Catholicism is either a cult or simply not truly Christian. Their adoration of Mary, the fixation on the cross, and, even, their opposition to contraception--Protestants have opposed (vocally) all of these aspects of Catholicism. And protestants have not historically opposed contraception. Abortion? Maybe. Depends. But not contraception.

And let's not forget that this group is part of the vocal and angry opposition to the supposed mosque in New York, as well as opposing the construction of mosques throughout the country. Their chant then was not "religious freedom," but "don't build that here."

Yet, they are now claiming religious freedom for a belief they don't hold. There are two possible explanations. One, is that they just instinctively oppose anything that Obama supports. That is part of this, I don't deny. But the other part, and the more shameful one, is that they have always been a little anti-women. This is the group pushing "submission" and decrying women clergy. This is the group that has opposed feminism and called female employment a "sickness" and an effort to undermine the family. And this is part of a larger group that referred to sexually active young men as "boys will be boys," but saw sexually active young women as "harlots," if not "sluts."

At some point many in this group will realize that this attack on women harms their own interests--and harms their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. But until then, they will continue the lie that they are standing on some religious freedom principle. But that is a lie.

March 15, 2012

Gospel reading: Jesus rebukes an unclean slut

Fred once again posts a brilliant satire on the whole "slut shaming" from the religious right. And in doing so, reminds me of what has drawn me to the idea of Jesus. I lose sight, to be honest, listening to my religious conservative friends talk about the poor or in these discussions about women.

I continue to be amazed, frankly, at the lack of compassion or love for anyone who doesn't look like a middle-class evangelical Christian. I shouldn't be surprised, and am sure that Leighton will read this wondering just how long it will take me to figure this out. But it still stuns me that people who claim to follow Jesus have such little compassion for the poor, or for "difference" or for the "other" all while reading passages (or reading past) where Jesus demonstrates great love for those very people.

Here in Oklahoma, Republicans are trying very hard to do a couple of things in our legislature. One is to cut the income tax, and the other is the "personhood" bill that transforms a fertilized egg into a legal person. Meanwhile, our health is among the worst in the nation, and we also lead in abuse of prescription drugs.

The conflict between these two trends is very clear to me. Not so much to Republicans, or perhaps they just don't care. One of my FB friends defended the personhood bill as "biblical" (?) but about cuts in services shrugged and said something about there is "need everywhere."  When a poor or sick woman struggles with her pregnancy, they will say "God doesn't make mistakes," and "that is a human life that is sacred," and, of course, "your morals may not be the best."  If she needs pre-natal care, she may or may not get it.  If the child is born, they may or may not have food, or vaccinations.

She will absolutely have to give birth--even if it kills her.  But if that child dies during the first year (and we are on the bad list for children in poverty, and infant mortality), my Republican friends will shrug and blame the mother.  Or lack of a father.  Or both.  It just won't be their fault.

The people who talk about Jesus the most, are passing legislation that shames women, ignores the poor, and celebrates wealth and power.  Whatever this is, it isn't Christianity.  Or, to be more accurate, their policy doesn't, in the least, reflect the teachings of Jesus.

But according to my FB friend, the problem is my lack of faith.


March 9, 2012

Small government/failed state

Grover Norquist is most famous for wanting to make government small enough to "drown in a bathtub," an image that haunted many of us as we watched NOLA drown during Katrina. But we are seeing the impact of Norquist's small government-no taxes, ever policy across the country. In Ohio, at least one town is simply going to go out of business if they can't raise taxes. Norquist was asked if he would support raising taxes in the case of a natural disaster. He replied, so a tornado takes your house, how does raising your taxes help you? Yeah, that tells us a lot. No concern for the others who lost their homes. Just how does this effect you?

But the best example is Colorado Springs, Colorado--otherwise known as the home of Focus on the Family, the Air Force Academy, and many other right wing organizations. It is a very conservative town. They are so conservative, they really started the whole "tax payer bill of rights" nonsense. This American Life had a segment the other day, and it is really one you should hear. Turns out Colorado Springs is run primarily through sales taxes--taxes that are very vulnerable to economic changes.

When the recession hit, tourism dropped, and their operating budget sank. It dropped so low they actually stopped mowing city parks, and turned off streetlights. The city floated a tax increase which failed miserably, so the local leaders started pushing solutions such as lowering wages for city workers and cutting benefits. They also privatized many city services. And when the budget was at its lowest, the city actually privatized parks and streetlights. If you wanted your lights on, or trash cans in your city park, you could pay for it.

 Couple of lessons here. One, privatization is really suspicious--at least when the purpose is supposedly to save money. I have never understood that argument. I understand that a private company can pay lower wages, or benefits, perhaps, but the profit margin usually makes up for any difference. And in some cases, our privatized services are more expensive (Xe or Blackwater comes to mind). Using outside firms for expertise? That makes sense. But not if the justification is to save money. That was fairly clear in Colorado Springs. The best example was the landscaping company that took over mowing the parks. The workers made less in wages (though not tremendously so), and had to pay more for fewer benefits. But there was no evidence that it saved the city money. And that was the point, remember? Oh, and they are doing less too. Fewer maintenance projects on older parks. But no evidence it is saving money.

Second, and the part that just struck me to the core, was a conversation between a city leader and a taxpayer on the failed tax increase v. paying for your own streetlights. This guy thanked her for that program and said he had gladly paid $300 for his own streetlights. She pointed out that the tax increase would have meant only $200 out of his pocket, and that would have allowed for all the services to work. Everyone's streetlights working, and all the parks mowed and cleaned up. The guy said he would never vote for a tax increase for government.

 That is the sickness of this anti-government bullshit. This guy was willing to pay more to have less, all because he hates government more than he cares about his fellow man. When those lights were out, it was the more affluent neighborhoods who could afford to pay. The poorer ones were dark, and their parks were brown and dirty. He didn't care about that. All he cared about was himself. This is the "I've got mine, you can fuck off" mentality of the anti-government Republican party. And it makes me a little sick. This is the breakdown of community, at its very basic sense--some kind of shared experience and shared services.

March 7, 2012

Stupid people saying stupid stuff and enacting stupid and racist laws

The Tea Party Republicans have sure made their mark.  Their stupidity is only matched by their outrage and willingness to completely ignore facts or evidence.  Good god!  I thought George Bush was stupid, but he is getting smarter by the day.

Where to start, where to start?  How about Utah? Where their Senate just passed a law banning schools from talking about contraception.  Or homosexuality.  Or "erotic behavior."

Or, in the other wacky state, how about the fact that Florida's racist anti-Sharia law may result in interfering with Jewish divorce proceedings and other --you know, outside religious traditions.

Oh, but there is more.  Even Ron Paul had to note that the Republican criticism of Obama's apology for the Koran burning was over the top.  That didn't stop former half-time governor, (but full-time idiot) Sarah Palin from calling Obama naive and calling the people we are supposed to be helping, you remember, the people of Afhanistan, "savages."  Nothing says Christian like "we don't apologize to lesser beings."  And speaking of vocal Christian idiots, nothing says stupid like Michele Bachmann saying that the contraception order is just steps away from our government limiting family size.

Oh, and contraception, and the Republican obsession with women's sex lives.  As I read today that state legislatures have passed some 430 limits on abortion rights, I am reminded of how little those people seem to care about actual women's health.  Same people cut funding for Planned Parenthood in Texas (we will show them!) but you can't actually just pick and choose the legal services.  So Texas prefers that some 130,000 women go without healthcare.

Impressive. But the best, of course, goes to the Republican response to Sandra Fluke.  And no, I am not talking about Jabba Limbaugh's "slut" comment.  I am talking about all the people who either don't know how birth control works, don't care, or are just too stupid to be on TV (I vote for all three).  Amazing how many of them said that Fluke wanted us, the taxpayers, to pay for her birth control to have sex.  A), she didn't actually talk about sex, but about the non-sexual uses of contraception, and B) it isn't the taxpayers who have to pick up the bill.

Why do people still talk as if healthcare reform in this country is about giving it away for free?  These women under discussion, pay (along with their employer) for the insurance.  That is where that comes from.  Not from Bill O'Reilly's "hard earned" money.

As usual, Jon does it better.

Oh, and Fred, as usual, has a great take on some of the stupidity surrounding contraception.  I especially love the Republican arguing that something is an abortifacent because it is his religious belief that it is.

March 5, 2012

Cost of healthcare--or the world before the safety net

I am struck by the conservatives who seem to long for the world before the social safety net.  Several people I know just routinely talk about the fact that we used to "take care of" people at the community and church level.  But all of that misses two key points.  One, that the reason for Social Security and then Medicaid and Medicare was that churches and communities weren't able to help everyone.  Two, they are remembering a time when healthcare costs were much, much, much lower.

Here are some numbers, though as I start this process, I realize how hard it is to find good numbers and consistent numbers.  Bear with me.

Prior to 1920, medical technology wasn't much, so there wasn't that much doctors could do that was that expensive.
 In fact, the chief cost associated with illness was not the cost of medical care, but rather the fact that sick people couldn't work and didn't get paid. A 1919 State of Illinois study reported that lost wages due to sickness were four times larger than the medical expenditures associated with treating the illness
In 1929, one study has the average family paying medical expenses of $108 per year.  One estimate I saw had the average income around $1,400 per year, so medical expenses were less than 10% of income.  This was without insurance, mind you, as most didn't purchase insurance, and a small percentage of this was hospital stays.  So this is paying for the cost of healthcare, not healthcare insurance.  Hospital care starts to get more expensive as we move through the century.  Almost nothing in 1900, by 1965 a day in the hospital cost $128 but was up to $1,289 in 2002.

That alone demonstrates one huge leap in healthcare costs.  I will keep working on this, but I think comparing a world before 1930 with today is comparing apples with computers.  I read the other day that Rick Santorum had incurred some $100,000 out of pocket expenses taking care of his disabled daughter.  Those are costs that the uninsured simply can't do.

Imagine taking away that safety net all together, and then imagine the elderly without prescription coverage, assisted living, or access to expensive treatments.  Imagine the poor disabled and their costs.  We are not taking care of them now, but imagine that with a gutted Medicaid?

Anyway.  This is an early take.  I welcome your thoughts.

March 2, 2012

Why Does Rush Limbaugh Get Away With Calling a Young Woman a 'Slut'?

Because he is an asshole--is the short answer. But, as Friedersdorf notes, this says more about conservatism than this one misogynistic idiot. Conservatives celebrate this man, no matter what he says. Former Veep Dick Cheney joked about waterboarding with Limbaugh, and conservative organizations give him awards.

Obama called the young woman and told her that her parents should be proud of her. I can only imagine what that meant to her. By contrast, Mitt Romney hasn't said anything, and Santorum dismissed it as Limbaugh being an entertainer.


Adult males, supposedly reared in a religiously moral context can't just call this what it is. I am embarrassed for every conservative who votes for this party--a party so cowed that they can't stand up to this man.

Christian Nation: Love it or Leave it

Leaving school this afternoon, I headed through a drive-through for some greasy protein.  While waiting for my food, I noticed a SUV parked ahead with a bumper sticker that showed the outline of America, with the letters around the top:  "don't love it?  LEAVE IT!"

The stupidity of the bumper sticker struck me.  I am 99% confident that they were conservatives, and 100% sure that as conservatives, they spend more than a little time "bitching" about things American.  I am guessing that they don't like their black President, and they don't like the laws that their black President has signed into law.  I am guessing they don't like the programs their government does to help poor people (especially the black ones), nor the programs that back science and technology.

But they don't see their dislike of country as "disliking America."  Why?  Why could Jerry Falwell blame liberals and gays for 9-11, yet not be accused of "blaming America first."

The answer is why I hate the idea of a Christian nation, because those two in the SUV and Jerry Falwell believe that the country is theirs, and theirs alone.  They don't think America belongs to liberals, or to Obama, or to people like us.

There is such an odd and bizarre quality to it too.  "This is a Christian nation, and if you don't like it, you should just leave."  Can't quite connect that to the Jesus of the Bible, can you?  Reminds me of our extended relatives who bragged of going to Town Hall meetings with their Tea Party members.  Those, we can all remember, who liked to shout at their representatives.  You know, for Jesus.

Two thoughts.  One, this image I have posted before, and one that really needs no words.

Second, this great story from Fred at slactivist about a young girl in Rhode Island who protested the posting of a sectarian poster in her school.  Leave aside the debate over whether or not she should have protested, or whether or not the school should have allowed it in the first place.  Fred addresses that better than I.  

The young woman received threats--as you might have anticipated.
That’s a tribal response. It shows that, for these angry Cranston residents, this “school prayer” was no longer a prayer at all, but a tribal symbol, a tribal battle flag.
A prayer that included an appeal for divine help “to be kind” ceased to have anything to do with either kindness or prayer once it became an established, state-sanctioned symbol of privilege for a particular sect. Whatever that sect may have been about originally, its establishment as the official, privileged sect of Cranston turned it into something else — into the same thing that every privileged sect becomes.
This is what happens when religion is established and made official. This is what always happens when religion is established and made official. The privileges that arise from being the official, established sect become the entire substance of that sect. The defense of that privilege replaces every other purpose, meaning or reason for existence until it is all that is left.
My friend Anglican has often wryly asked those who claim us as a Christian nation, "so how Christian have we acted." It is a good question.  But one that is lost, I think, on people who believe in the "love it or leave it" America.