Friday, January 28, 2011

What a Week

So it’s been over a week since I posted anything. It isn’t because I haven’t had anything to talk about. Rather, I’ve been silent for a very simple reason: On Thursday, January 20, the Internet connection in our office went down (long story, not worth going into right now). I usually write my posts at lunch. So, without online access I’ve been forced to be silent.

But now my connection is restored, I have a lot to talk about, and I have a mountain of work that piled up during the week when I couldn’t do much (did I mention that our phones weren’t working for a day and a half either?).

Anyway, as a kind of fun mental exercise, just think through your daily routine and then subtract both phones and Internet from the equation. Yikes, right?

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back to blogging next week. I wonder if Egypt will have a new government by then.


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comments on the Tucson Shooting and Violent Rhetoric

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mutual Hypocrisy; Or, Both Sides Can’t Have it Both Ways

In the wake of the tragic assassination attempt in Tucson, there has been quite a lot of discussion as to whether violent rhetoric and imagery either led to the shooting or created an atmosphere that at least indirectly made the shooting possible. For the record, I don’t think that Loughner tried to assassinate Rep. Giffords because Sarah Palin put a crosshair on Rep. Giffords’ district or because Sharron Angle suggested the use of “Second Amendment remedies” or because Tea Partiers showed up at rallies with signs claiming that they’d come “unarmed this time”. But I do believe that the careless, almost gleeful use of violent rhetoric and imagery has had a negative impact on our country as a whole and on political discourse in particular.

Words have meanings and we need to take care of the words that we use lest those who may be influenced by those words act in the ways suggested by the words or images. How many times can people claim that Barack Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States or that he hates America or white people before someone decides to act on the basis of those claims? Rhetoric that suggests violence as an acceptable way of resolving any conflict just may, in fact, lead to the use of violence to resolve that very conflict. And nobody should be surprised by that.

That is what those on the left have been saying since the shootings in Tucson while those on the right work to distance words and images from actions (going so far as to claim that it is a “blood libel” to claim that violent rhetoric or imagery leads to violence or that there is a “pogrom” being waged against “conservative thinkers” or that the left has a “lynch mob” mentality).


Now let’s look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or the broader conflict between Israel and its neighbors and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world). For years, it has been those on the right who point to the violent rhetoric and imagery being used by the Palestinians and their Muslim and Arab brethren. They have complained about Sesame Street-like TV shows that glorify martyrdom, about TV series depicting Jews slaughtering Muslim youths for their blood to make Passover matzah (the Blood Libel), about school books that distort history or claim that the Holocaust never happened, about leaders who tell their people (and the world) that they want to wipe Israel off the map and drive the Jews into the sea or kill them wherever they may be found around the world, and about the governing documents of the Palestinians that call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews. The right has criticized the “Pallywood” industry, that is, the fabrication of news events or the willful disregard for the truth, designed to show the world how evil the Israelis are. And the right has criticized western media for failing to draw proper attention to these matters while placing blame on Israel for … well … for everything, it seems. Those on the left, however, have usually either remained silent, created false equivalences, excused Muslim and Arab violent rhetoric and imagery for such reasons as “culture”, or even supported the use of the violent rhetoric and imagery  apparently under the misguided notion that Israel is the greater evil.

But… Did you notice anything odd about these positions?

To the left, violent rhetoric and imagery is bad and can lead to violence. At least it can in the US. But violent rhetoric and imagery that has led to violence in the Middle East is ignored or excused. That is called hypocrisy.

To the right, violent rhetoric and imagery is bad and can lead to violence. At least it has in the Middle East. But violent rhetoric and imagery in the US is ignored or excused. That is called hypocrisy.

Switch a few words around and look where you are.

The right is being hypocritical to object to violent rhetoric and imagery from the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims while ignoring violent rhetoric and imagery here at home. But the left is equally hypocritical in objecting to violent rhetoric and imagery here at home while ignoring it when used by the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.

Readers of this blog will know that I consider myself to be left of center. And I also consider myself to be a supporter of Israel. Readers of this blog will also recognize, I hope, that I’ve decried the violent rhetoric and imagery both here at home and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here at home it is time for both the left and right to look at the use of violent rhetoric and imagery and decide whether words and images have meaning or not. The criticism (or lack thereof) arising following that self-analysis needs to be consistent and the hypocrisy — from both sides — needs to end. Both sides can’t have it both ways.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Violent Rhetoric? Washington Times Alleges a “Pogrom” Against “Conservative Thinkers”

Bear with me for a moment as I try to make my point. Over the last few years, I, like many others, have written about and bemoaned the lack of civility in our political discourse and I have expressed my fears and concerns about how the use of violent rhetoric could lead to political violence. I have also used this blog as a place to take the right — and the Tea Party in particular — to task for the use of both violent and racist rhetoric. And I have been particularly harsh on the use of Holocaust-related themes (such as the comparison of President Obama to Hitler) or anti-Semitic tropes (such as my criticism earlier this week of Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”).

In doing so, I’ve made an effort to be sure that I could back up the allegations that I made. Thus, when I talk about violent rhetoric from the Tea Party, I’ve included pictures like this:


Or this:

20 [missing]

Or these:

1 [missing]

2 [missing]

IMG_1469 by NineTwelvePhotos.

When I’ve spoken about racism, I’ve included photos like these:



2 [missing]

35 [missing]

And when I take offense at Holocaust or anti-Semitic themes or imagery, I’ve included pictures like these:


IMG_1438 by NineTwelvePhotos.

and unbelievably, this:


I’m not suggesting that every Tea Partier is a racist, anti-Semite, or even violent. But I think that the evidence clearly demonstrates that there is at the very least an undercurrent of racism, anti-Semitism, and violence that runs through some elements of the Tea Party.

Then, in response to the statement on the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords issued by Sarah Palin earlier this week, I was very critical of the use of “blood libel” (Remind Me Again Why Jews Don’t Like Sarah Palin). Some on the right, including a few Jews, have defended Palin’s use of the term. But far more have been critical of the insensitivity of the use of that term, not to mention Palin’s attempt to make the issue about her and her “victimization,” rather than confronting the use of violent rhetoric both by her, her supporters, and others on the right (“Second Amendment remedies” or “armed and dangerous” for example).

What prompted this post, however, was an editorial from right-leaning The Washington Times to defend Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”. In that editorial, the paper said:

This is simply the latest round of an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers. The last two years have seen a proliferation of similar baseless charges of racism, sexism, bigotry, Islamophobia and inciting violence against those on the right who have presented ideas at odds with the establishment's liberal orthodoxy. Columnist Paul Krugman took advantage of the murders to tar conservative icon Rush Limbaugh and Fox News superstar Glenn Beck as "hate-mongers." It's this sort of reflexive and dastardly mudslinging that drowns out reasoned discussion of public-policy alternatives and poisons the well of political debate in America.

Go ahead, pick up your jaw off the floor. Then read it again. Now, keeping in mind some of the images that I’ve reposted above (and note that I didn’t bother with images of sexism or Islamophobia; it didn’t seem worth the effort, but I’m sure I’ve got the goods if pushed), ask yourself if any of those charges are “baseless”. As to Limbaugh and Beck being hate-mongers, I don’t have enough space (let alone mental energy) to go through the voluminous examples of that kind of speech from each of them. Let’s just recall Beck’s recent three-day anti-Semitic hatchet job on George Soros that repeated previously debunked claims or the man imprisoned in California who had planned to attack the Tides foundation following Beck’s repeated charges against that organization. Or take a look at this “Top 10 List” of Beck’s idiotic and hateful quotes from 2010. And just a few days ago, Limbaugh claimed that Democrats support the man who attempted to assassinate Rep. Giffords. And query whether that paragraph is a “reasoned discussion of public-policy alternatives” or whether it’s nothing more than the sort of “reflexive and dastardly mudslinging that … poisons the well of political debate.”

But the phrase that I want to really focus on comes in the first sentence of that paragraph: “an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers”. That the word “pogrom” would be used — in a defense of Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” — is so stunningly stupid and insensitive as to defy comprehension. Let’s go back to the Jewish Virtual Library (the same source that I used previously for a definition of “blood libel”) for a definition of the term “pogrom”:

Pogrom is a Russian word designating an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another. In modern Russian history pogroms have been perpetrated against other nations (Armenians, Tatars) or groups of inhabitants (intelligentsia). However, as an international term, the word "pogrom" is employed in many languages to describe specifically the attacks accompanied by looting and bloodshed against the Jews in Russia. The word designates more particularly the attacks carried out by the Christian population against the Jews between 1881 and 1921 while the civil and military authorities remained neutral and occasionally provided their secret or open support. The pogroms occurred during periods of severe political crisis in the country and were linked to social upheavals and nationalist incitement in Eastern Europe. (Similar events also occurred during that period, though on a more limited scale, in the context of the antisemitic movements in Germany, Austria, Romania, and the Balkan countries, and of nationalist and religious fanaticism in *Morocco, *Algeria, and *Persia.)

The Jews of Russia were the victims of three large-scale waves of pogroms, each of which surpassed the preceding in scope and savagery. These occurred between the years 1881 and 1884, 1903 and 1906, and 1917 and 1921. There were outbreaks in Poland after it regained independence in 1918, and in Romania from 1921.

Or perhaps you’d prefer the definition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

Pogrom is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries. The first such incident to be labeled a pogrom is believed to be anti-Jewish rioting in Odessa in 1821. As a descriptive term, “pogrom” came into common usage with extensive anti-Jewish riots that swept Ukraine and southern Russia in 1881-1884, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. In Germany and eastern Europe during the era of the Holocaust, as in Tsarist Russia, economic, social, and political resentment of Jews reinforced traditional religious antisemitism. This served as a pretext for pogroms.

The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property.

So, in defending the use of the term “blood libel” — the charge that Jews murdered Christian (or today, Muslim) children in order to use their blood to make Passover matzah, — a leading Republican newspaper charges that criticism of Palin or the right for violent or racist rhetoric is a pogrom against “conservative thinkers”. Clearly, whoever chose to use the term “pogrom” is not one of those conservative thinkers, as no thought was evidenced in the choice of that word.

In one paragraph, the editors of The Washington Times manage to use violent rhetoric at the same time that they’re arguing that the allegations of the use of violent rhetoric are baseless. Moreover, they’re managing to create a false equivalence for accusing people of doing something that they have in fact done, with the organized government-sanctioned murder of tens of thousands of people that led, inexorably to the Holocaust.

Let’s be clear: Republicans or “conservative thinkers” or Tea Partiers are not being dragged into the street, beaten, shot, and pushed into mass graves. They’re not be sent to gas chambers or forced into ghettos. They’re not even being accused of killing anyone. Nope. The accusation is simply that their rhetoric is inappropriate and may lead to violence of the sort that we’ve witness in Tucson last Saturday and in other places in our country over the last few years.

Words have meanings. Maybe it’s time for those “conservative thinkers” to learn what words mean. And (though I recognized that this might be a stretch) to think a little bit before using certain words or drawing certain analogies.

Oh, and on behalf of my relatives who lived (and died) in the shtetls of Russia and Poland, I have this to say to Sarah Palin, The Washington Times, and those who believe that the use of violent, racist, or anti-Semitic imagery is acceptable: Fuck you. And to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the new majority leader in the House of Representatives (and the only Republican Jew in Congress): It is time for you to remember who you are and the history of Jews, both in Europe and America. Then grow some balls, show a little chutzpah, and tell your Republican colleagues to start talking issues and ideas and stop the violent, racist, anti-Semitic, and eliminationist rhetoric.


The images above come from a series of posts showcasing images of the Tea Party previously posted on this blog. Here are links to all (I think) of the other posts in the series:

A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News
A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News (update 1)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 2)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 3)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 4)
Tea Party Idiots Are Back ... and Just as Vile
How Do We Respond?
Yet More Tea Party Signs: Racism, Violent Rhetoric, and Idiocy

and just for fun (with a bit of bonus racism):

Teabonics: More Reasons to Fear the Teabaggers.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Remind Me Again Why Jews Don’t Like Sarah Palin

I’m trying to remember why it is that Jews don’t like Sarah Palin. I mean, besides the fact that she’s opposed to abortion (even in the case of rape or incest) or that she thinks that lots of American Jews will be moving to Israel soon or that she has associated with an African witch doctor or that she seems to believe in some of the “Last Days” nonsense or that she can’t even string together a grammatically correct sentence or …

Oh, wait. I remember. It’s because she’s a blathering idiot with no real sense of history or the ramifications and simple meaning of words.

Case in point? After staying silent for several days after the assassination attempt on Rep. Giffords, Sarah Palin finally issued a statement (though her folks did apparently scrub her website of the crosshair targeting map that included Rep. Giffords). And what did she have to say? Well, here’s the key paragraph:

Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

Go read her whole statement if you’ve got nothing better to do and if you think that the opinions of the half-term Governor are really still newsworthy (not just because the media, especially FOX can’t get enough of her). But do read the paragraph that I’ve quoted carefully and think about what she’s really saying (and I’ll get to the best part in a minute).

The way I read that paragraph is that Palin is saying that violent rhetoric (spirited public debate — but let’s not forget that even during the 2008 debate, Palin refused to back down from her “palling around with terrorists” claim and that she was the one who told supporters to “reload”) is just part of our system but criticism of certain forms of political speech — not the speech itself — will incite hatred and violence. One more time, because I think that this is really important: Palin doesn’t believe that violent rhetoric leads to political violence but criticism of violent rhetoric will lead to political violence. Got that?

Or, to say it another way: Words don’t have consequences unless those words are the consequence of other words.

Now for the best part. Did you notice an odd term in Palin’s statement? One has to wonder where (and why) she found and chose the term “blood libel”. I have a hard time believing that it just rolled of her tongue accidentally (like “refudiate”). It’s not the sort of term that is common parlance in political dialogue. But to so carelessly throw out that particular term? Well, that’s an example of why Jews don’t like Sarah Palin very much. What am I talking about, you ask? Here’s how the Jewish Virtual Library describes “blood libel”:

BLOOD LIBEL, the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews, especially Christian children, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals: most blood libels occurred close to Passover, being basically a another form of the belief that Jews had been and still were responsible for the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the divine child; a complex of deliberate lies, trumped-up accusations, and popular beliefs about the murder-lust of the Jews and their bloodthirstiness, based on the conception that Jews hate Christianity and mankind in general. It is combined with the delusion that Jews are in some way not human and must have recourse to special remedies and subterfuges to appear, at least outwardly, like other men. The blood libel led to trials and massacres of Jews in the Middle Ages and early modern times; it was revived by the Nazis. Its origin is rooted in ancient, almost primordial, concepts concerning the potency and energies of *blood.

The blood libel is currently very much in vogue in Muslim countries (both with regard to Jews generally and Israel in particular). For recent examples, look no further than the video that I posted back in November 2010 (start at 4:09 for a dramatization of the blood libel).

Jews have been murdered in Europe for hundreds of years, culminating in the murder of 6,000,000 at the hands of the Nazis. And today Jews and Israel are still accused of horrendous crimes by Muslims who use the blood libel as a justification for terrorism and refusal to negotiate with or recognize Israel.

Yet Sarah Palin believes that this same term merits use to describe the hurt feelings of those who are criticized for using violent rhetoric. The basic premise of her statement is wrong; her use of the term blood libel is at best incredibly stupid and insensitive and, if made knowingly … well, I’m not sure that I have a good term for that kind of rhetoric. But to the extent that Sarah Palin wants to get the support of Jews (other than a few remaining neo-cons), then she’s going to have a lot of explaining to do. And proper grammar and real words will be appreciated.

Update: I almost forgot to mention one other point. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords … is Jewish.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 10, 2011

And So it Begins: Political Violence in America (part 1)

I plan to write in more detail some of my thoughts on the shooting in Tucson this past weekend. I’m sure that regular readers of this blog will recognize as an underlying theme my continually expressed concern that the violent, eliminationist rhetoric that has gripped much of our political discourse (especially on the right) will eventually lead to political violence. Maybe the shooting in Tucson was just such an event; maybe not. So far, we don’t really know what the shooter’s motivations were.

However, as we begin to learn a bit more about Jared Lee Loughner and some of his beliefs, the analysis of his YouTube videos performed by Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center is worth reading: Who Is Jared Lee Loughner?. Is Potok right? I don’t know. But few people understand right-wing hate groups and their conspiracy theories better than Potok and his colleagues at the SPLC. So, when you hear pundits try to guess what Loughner’s motives were or listen to people bicker as to whether he was left-wing, right-wing, or just crazy, keep Potok’s analysis in mind.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 7, 2011

Republicans: “We Love the Constitution”; Me: “Bullshit”

Why do we continue to let Republicans get away with claiming to love the Constitution. Why do we remain silent when they claim that the Constitution is not a “living document” but that it simply means what it says? We let Republicans define their own view of the Constitution without calling them on their utter hypocrisy. Now that they’ve read the Constitution in the House (well, at least a sanitized version of it), it’s time to push back on their occasional fidelity to the principles of that hallowed document.

How many times have you heard a Republican say that the First Amendment doesn’t contain the phrase “separation of church and state”?  Thus, they argue, the wall of separation is not what the Founding Fathers intended. But, by the same token, how many times have you heard a Republican note that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is premised upon the necessity for a well-regulated militia? Isn’t it odd how quick Republicans are to demand a very tight parsing of words sometimes but not others?

Now Republicans are taking aim at the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause arguing that even though the words of the clause are clear (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”), citizenship for someone just because they were born in the United States isn’t what was intended. Hmm. We’re not supposed to look at what the Founding Fathers intended in the First Amendment or Second Amendment, but we are supposed to look at the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment and limited its applicability to former slaves?

Consider this, as well: If Republicans have such an affinity for the Constitution, why are they always so eager to change it? Republicans have proposed repealing the birthright citizenship clause, repealing the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators by citizens instead of by state legislatures), and adding amendments to allow school prayer, ban abortion, and ban same-sex marriage.

One further point to make on this subject: If you read through the amendments to the Constitution, you’ll see that they either restructure procedure (e.g., how Presidential elections and succession work) or grant rights to citizens (e.g., the right to be a citizen, the right of women to vote, the lowering of the voting age, the right to elect senators, and the rights in the Bill of Rights, including the right to freedom of religion, speech, and the press). Only one amendment, the 18th Amendment (prohibition) actually took freedoms away from citizens and that amendment was repealed just fourteen years after it was adopted. Yet Republicans want to amend the Constitution to take away some of those core rights and further amend the Constitution to take away even more rights (or at least create new divisions between classes of people).

Or think of it this way: When you hear about a court case in which one side is arguing that the Constitution protects a particular personal right or argues for the extension of the Constitution to recognize a particular personal right, as a general matter is it usually (of course there are exceptions) Republicans arguing for the expansion of personal rights or against the expansion of personal rights? Here are a few to think about: abortion, interracial marriage, privacy, Miranda rights, searches and seizures, same-sex marriage, voting rights, and discrimination. (Gun control is the one issue where the roles are commonly reversed, but then part of the argument in support of gun control laws is the militia clause in the Second Amendment.)

Alternatively, think of it this way: Which party, Republicans or Democrats, is more often heard complaining about the American Civil Liberties Union? And what exactly is the purpose of the ACLU that so offends so many Republicans: “The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country”. So why, exactly, is the ACLU a four-letter word to Republicans? Shouldn’t defending and preserving individual rights and liberties be supported by all who believe in the Constitution?

And why do Republicans base their opposition to health care reform on the Constitution yet have no problem with warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, and torture? Why do Republicans want to impose their religious viewpoints on others (school prayer and beginning of life, to name just two) but yell and scream when someone else simply wants to exercise their right to practice their own faith (the Park 51 “Ground Zero” mosque, for example)? Why are Republicans so incensed by a bi-racial President born in Hawaii (so much so that they’re willing to believe that he was born in Kenya or Indonesia or the Zoraxian Galaxy) but were completely ambivalent about a President and Vice President from the same state?

Republicans claim to love the Constitution. They tell us that we should read it carefully and that what it says is what it means, not what courts have “interpreted” it to mean or what we modern Americans might now think it means. In fact, Republicans do love the Constitution; at least the parts that … well … that they love. And the rest of it, the other parts? Not so much.

So next time you hear a Republican tell you how devoted he or she is to the Constitution and its principles, just respond with the truth: “Bullshit.”

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Taxation Without Representation – Except for Some

I’m sure that we all remember one of the great slogans that led up to events like the Boston Tea Party and eventually the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War: “No Taxation Without Representation”. I don’t know, but I suspect that if you polled Americans, quite a few would wrongly presume that principle is enshrined in the Constitution. I was reminded that, not only is this concept not in the Constitution, it is, in fact, a real problem in 21st Century America. And I was reminded of this by one of the very first acts of the new Republican-led House which, in adopting its new rules, made to sure to make the House of Representatives just a bit less democratic and take away a symbolic voice of millions of Americans.

First a bit of background. As I’m sure most readers know, the District of Columbia is not represented in Congress. Citizens who reside in Washington, D.C. can vote in Presidential elections and the District of Columbia does have electoral votes, but it does not have Congressional representation because it is not a state. Thus, the approximately 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C. — who pay income taxes and Social Security taxes and all other federal taxes just like the rest of us — have no vote in Congress.

I forgot, however, that the same can be said about Puerto Rico (population 3,725,000). Puerto Ricans are United States citizens. They don’t pay Federal income tax (except in certain cases), but they do pay into Social Security and Medicare and other Federal programs (even though they are not eligible for all of the benefits). Puerto Ricans can vote in Presidential primaries but they have no votes in the Electoral College and no vote in Congress. The United States has several other territories that are treated much like Puerto Rico: Guam (pop. 178,000), Northern Mariana Islands (pop. 86,000), the United States Virgin Islands (pop. 108,000), and American Samoa (65,000).

If we were to rank states based on population, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are all much smaller than any state. But the population of Washington, D.C. is larger than Wyoming and almost as large as Vermont. And Puerto Rico would rank 29th in size (immediately ahead of Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, and Arkansas) and more than three times larger than eight states.

Thus, approximately 4,762,000 Americans — a number roughly equal to the population of Alabama — has no representation in Congress.

I understand that this is a function of the language of the Constitution which speaks to states and not territories. Absent either an amendment to the Constitution or the inclusion of the territories as states, not much can be done. Probably.

However, last year a deal was nearly worked out in Congress that would have increased the size of the House of Representatives (no, the Constitution does not mandate 435 members) by 2. Utah would, on the basis of its population, have been given one of those seats, and the District of Columbia would have received the other. However, the deal fell through when the grant of a voting seat to the District of Columbia was linked to a repeal of Washington, D.C.’s handgun laws.

Each of the territories does send a non-voting member to Congress. They are allowed to serve on committees (and gain seniority just like voting members). And, in recent Democratic-controlled Congresses the delegates from these territories have been given the right to vote as a part of the “Committee of the Whole” on amendments and other procedural matters in the House. They simply could not vote on final adoption a bill (and their votes didn’t count in the Committee of the Whole if those votes alone would have changed the result).

But the new Republican-led Congress, as one of the first things that it did, prohibited the territorial delegates from voting as a part of the Committee of the Whole. Ah, yes, power to the people.

I don’t mean this to be a drawn out discussion of whether Guam and Puerto Rico should become states. That is a very complex issue. Nor do I mean to engage in a Constitutional discussion of the role of Washington, D.C. and the rights of its citizens. Rather this unfortunately lengthy post is meant to highlight two things: (1) the voting rights of 4,762,000 is an issue worth addressing (at least slaves counted as 3/5 of a person…) and (2) the new Republican-led Congress — despite pledges of “listening to the will of the American people” and so forth — wasted no time in taking away what was largely a symbolic representational voting right for American citizens. I don’t suppose that had anything to do with the fact that all but one of those territorial delegates is a Democrat (and the other is an independent)?

It’s just one of those things that makes me say, “why” and “why now”? Allowing the territorial delegates to vote on amendments only and only when those votes don’t change an outcome seems harmless and, at the same time, at least provides those millions of American citizens with a voice in Congress. But, as one of their very first acts, the Republicans have elected to stifle that voice.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fixing the Economy Is Hard; So Let’s Pass New Restrictions on Abortion Instead!

A few weeks ago I suggested (“How Many Jobs…?”) that as new bills were proposed by Indiana’s General Assembly, we keep in mind the state of the economy and ask how those bills would improve the economy or create jobs. Apparently, Sen. Jean Leising (R-Decatur, Fayette, Rush, Shelby and a portion of Franklin county), a retired nurse, didn’t read my blog (or listen to some of the leaders of her party … like, say Gov. Daniels, for example). Rather than introducing legislation aimed at job creation, Sen. Leising has introduced Senate Bill 50 which would amend Indiana Code § 16-34-2-1.1(b) to require a woman who seeks an abortion to view a fetal ultrasound image, hear the fetal heart tone (if audible), receive a copy of the ultrasound image, and pay for the cost of the ultrasound imaging.

I understand that Sen. Leising is opposed to abortions. That’s her right. And like Sarah Palin, she can choose not to have an abortion. But I also know that the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that a state cannot ban abortions or make access to abortions unreasonably impractical. Were SB50 enacted into law, the principal effect of the legislation would be to ensure that only wealthy women could have legal abortions as the poor couldn’t afford the cost of the ultrasound. Thus, poor women who wanted an abortion would be required to go back to the illegal back alley abortions that Roe v. Wade finally put an end to. Are we, as a society, really ready to pay that price in order to try to reduce the number of legal abortions?

In addition, it is worth noting that SB50 does not contain an exception for rape or incest. Thus a woman who is raped by an abusive father or brother would still have to pay for the cost of the ultrasound, not to mention see the ultrasound and walk out the door with a copy of the image. Nothing like punishing the woman for having been impregnated by her rapist, is there? [Sarcasm alert, sarcasm alert; you have been warned!] Perhaps Sen. Leising should experience an incestuous rape so that she can fully understand this particular issue? [This has been a moment of sarcasm. Thank you. The management.] Of course, we have video evidence that many Republicans, including the new Speaker of the House, would require a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term. So I guess the lack of an exception for rape or incest should not be surprising.

I’ve written extensively in the past on my thoughts on the issue of abortion, especially with regard to people like Sen. Leising believing that they can legislate my beliefs on issues such as when life begins, so I won’t rehash those arguments (but feel free to read some of what I’ve written, for example, “Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State’s Laws” or these posts).

But I do want to take a few moments to tease out some of the issues that bills like SB50 highlight. Sen. Leising wants to be sure that women are dissuaded from having abortions. But why do I suspect that Sen. Leising is not terribly interested in making sure that the pregnant woman does everything possible to be sure that the fetus is healthy? Has Sen. Leising introduced legislation that would punish a pregnant woman for drinking alcohol or smoking? Has Sen. Leising introduced legislation that would punish a pregnant woman for failing to exercise properly, eat healthy and nutritious foods, and get appropriate neo-natal care? Has Sen. Leising introduced legislation telling husbands when they must stop having sex with their pregnant wives? Has Sen. Leising introduced legislation to be sure that pregnant women have access to healthy and nutritious food and to appropriate neo-natal care? What do you want to bet that Sen. Leising was opposed to health care reform and to things like the extension of unemployment benefits? And what about after the baby is born? Has Sen. Leising introduced legislation to be sure that each and every child born in Indiana is properly cared for, given healthy food, raised in a loving environment (well, she probably supports this as long as the loving environment doesn’t involve gays), with safe neighborhoods, access to good schools, and adequate shelter and clothing? Of course not. That’s not what people like Sen. Leising care about. Once a child is born, that child and its family are on their own, to succeed or fail. All that abortion opponents like Sen. Leising care about is being sure that a fetus is not aborted; after that? Who cares.

But if we’re going down the path of bills like SB50, then I have a few suggestions for other requirements that we might think about adopting. For example, maybe we should require parents to see videos of malnourished or obese children before they’re allowed to leave the hospital with a newborn infant. Maybe those parents should be required to see videos of the effects of secondhand smoke on the lungs of children. Perhaps parents should be forced to see the ravages of certain diseases before we let them make the decision to withhold vaccinations. Parents could be made to sit through colonoscopies of people who’ve eaten too much fatty foods or not enough vegetables. And maybe parents should be required to go to the morgue to see the bodies of children killed in car crashes when they weren’t in car seats or wearing seat belts. And I suppose that parents should be required to meet children who’ve been badly injured (especially quadriplegics) in school sports, meet the parents of children who have been the accidental victims of a gun left unlocked in a house, and talk to children who have been abused by a priest or by a family member. After all, if we want to be sure that a pregnant woman makes the “right” decision regarding a fetus, then shouldn’t we be sure that once a child is born, parents have the same type of information before making decisions for their children?

And while I’m thinking of it, shouldn’t we be sure that pregnant women who elect to proceed with their pregnancies (or who can’t afford the ultrasound required to get an abortion) are shown detailed information about all of the risks of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting? According to a 2005 World Health Organization study, in the United States there were 11 maternal fatalities for each 100,000 live births. Do we make sure that pregnant women understand that risk? Do we make them watch video of a birth or C-Section? Why not? Ah, I remember now. Sen. Leising and those like her only care about the fetus. The health of the mother and child are essentially irrelevant, so long as no fetus is aborted.

One last thing. In the run up to and the aftermath of November’s election, I heard a lot of people say that they considered themselves to be either social liberals or libertarians but that they were voting for Republicans because of the economy. To those people I ask: Is SB50 what you had in mind when you voted for the Republicans? Are laws like this really worth that extra tax break on the portion of your income above $250,000? Is this what “small government” is all about? Are more restrictions on abortion really what Indiana needs to create jobs and improve our state’s economy?

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Newer›  ‹Older