Rachel Maddow – An Exercise in Fertility

(Having difficulty with the video embed today, please click the link for video)

Currently all four Republican presidential candidates have taken an extreme stance on birth control. Birth control? Are we really arguing about women’s ability to plan their families in 2012? Yes. As Rachel Maddow points out in the spot on segment above, they are taking a stance on this issue that is even too extreme for the electorate in Mississippi.

Why has birth control become such an issue all of a sudden? I think Rachel hits the nail on the head that the beltway pundits are really missing the point on this one.

I realize that a lot of 60-something male pundits look at this and think it’s bad politics for the Democrats on the Catholic side. There is another way to look it.

That other way to look at it is as a woman. Novel concept! Except that it shouldn’t be, considering women have elected every president since JFK. Or another way to look at it could be as a Catholic woman, 98% of whom have used birth control.

In this economy, Rachel breaks it down to the bottom line.

Hey, women of America! Under a democratic president your birth control pills will be covered by health insurance, and if you don’t have health insurance you can go to a clinic and get subsidized birth control there. If a republican is elected your insurance won’t cover birth control, and if your insurance doesn’t cover it there are no clinics to go to any more to get birth control pills. Planned Parenthood defunded. Title 10 gone altogether. So you can’t get it from insurance, and you can’t get it from a clinic. You are paying cash, out of pocket, retail cost for birth control…$600 to $1200 a year. That’s if you’re lucky. Because if you’re not lucky, you live in a state where birth control has just been declared illegal. Do you want a democratic or republican president women of America?

Scary times:

Psalms 109:8, An Ugly Prayer for President Obama

Any time the citizens of a state, particularly a democracy, invoke their faith to pray for the demise of those they oppose politically, we should be concerned. When the call for such prayers becomes one of the most popular Google searches in the country, we should shake, especially those of us who believe in God, prayer and the Bible. Psalm 109, verse 8, went viral this morning in just that way.

Among the world’s top Google searches today are phrases that contain the words “Psalms 109 8″, and “Psalm 109 8 prayer for Obama”. For those of you who may not know that particular verse, it reads “May his days be few, may another take over his position.” And before anyone excuses this toxic use of scripture as nothing more than the wish that President Obama not be re-elected to a second term of office, the next verse in the psalm reads, “May his children be orphans and his wife a widow”.

In fact, the entire chapter is about the prayed for death of an evil person. Not to mention that anyone who knows enough Bible to have thought about this verse in particular, surely knows the entire chapter and appreciates its message. Pretty scary stuff.

All this is especially upsetting in light of the last weeks’ events at Fort Hood. Exactly how long is it going to take us to figure out the danger of linking faith claims and violent fantasies? How is it that the very same people who would have wanted to curtail access, and rightly so, to the hate-filled, violence-inducing, sermons to which Major Hasan listened, do not cry out against these prayers and those praying them?

The issue is not the scripture quoted or the name by which God is called by those doing the praying. The issue is invoking the God in whom any of us believe, to act as executioner of those with whom we disagree.

From Yigal Amir, who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to Major Hassan who murdered 13 and wounded 30 more, to whomever might step in on behalf of a “Christian nation” to make the words of the Psalm 109 a reality, each was inspired by prayers and scriptural readings not unlike those of the millions who made verse 8 a top Google search this morning. There is no place for such prayers in any of our faiths and until we all stand up and say so, at least a little blood will be on all of our hands.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield

Salon reports that secret recordings have been released in which one Army psychologist admits that he is under a lot of pressure not to diagnose returning service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can listen to the recording and read the details here.

But what Sgt. X wants to tell a reporter about is one doctor’s appointment at Fort Carson that his wife did not witness. When she couldn’t accompany him to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch last June, Sgt. X tucked a recording device into his pocket and set it on voice-activation so it would capture what the doctor said. Sgt. X had no idea that the little machine in his pocket was about to capture recorded evidence of something wounded soldiers and their advocates have long suspected — that the military does not want Iraq veterans to be diagnosed with PTSD, a condition that obligates the military to provide expensive, intensive long-term care, including the possibility of lifetime disability payments. And, as Salon will explore in a second article Thursday, after the Army became aware of the tape, the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate its implications, despite prodding from a senator who is not on the committee. The Army then conducted its own internal investigation — and cleared itself of any wrongdoing. (emphasis mine)

Just days ago, Ann Jones asked “How can we stop the epidemic of killing women and children by returning soldiers?” She notes that the young men we send to war are not the same ones returning home. She doesn’t blame them (several excerpts below, but read the entire post here).

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Men sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for two, three, or four tours of duty return to wives who find them “changed” and children they barely know. Tens of thousands return to inadequate, underfunded veterans’ services with appalling physical injuries, crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suck-it-up sergeants who hold to the belief that no good soldier seeks help. That, by the way, is a mighty convenient belief for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which have been notoriously slow to offer much of that help.

All too often, the war wounds turn into violence against the servicemen’s family members.

Even in the best of times, the incidence of violence against women is much higher in the military than among civilians. After war, it’s naturally worse — as with those combat team members at Fort Carson. In 2005, one of them, Pfc. Stephen Sherwood, returned from Iraq and fatally shot his wife, then himself. In September 2008, Pvt. John Needham, who received a medical discharge after a failed suicide attempt, beat his girlfriend to death. In October 2008, Spc. Robert H. Marko raped and murdered Judilianna Lawrence, a developmentally disabled teenager he met online.

When a New York Times reporter asked a master sergeant in the Special Forces to comment on these events, he responded: “S.F.’s [Special Forces members] don’t like to talk about emotional stuff. We are Type A people who just blow things like that off…”

As it turns out, the military is not only creating the problem but covering it up.

What the task force discovered was that soldiers rarely faced any consequences for beating or raping their wives. (Girlfriends didn’t even count.) In fact, soldiers were regularly sheltered on military bases from civilian orders of protection and criminal arrest warrants. The military, in short, did a much better job of protecting servicemen from punishment than protecting their wives from harm.

It is perhaps the same flawed medical evaluation process described above that prevents the cycle of violence from being addressed.

The military does evaluate the mental health of soldiers. Three times it evaluated the mental health of Robert H. Marko (the Fort Carson infantryman who raped and murdered a girl), and each time declared him fit for combat, even though his record noted his belief that, on his twenty-first birthday, he would be transformed into the “Black Raptor,” half-man, half-dinosaur.

As the current administration talks of military escalation in Afghanistan in this time of recession, the conversation must address the military personnel coming home. Will they have jobs? Will they be given psychological support and the necessary medical attention to transition home? Or will they be left alone, brain injuries and all, to make sense of their new lives?

No society that sends its men abroad to do violence can expect them to come home and be at peace. To let world peace begin at home, you have to stop making war. (Europe has largely done it.) Short of that, you have to take better care of your soldiers and the people they once knew how to love. (Ann Jones)

Why is it that when it’s time to find places to tighten our belts, the first programs to go are those that benefit women and children? Who decided that education, health care and the Violence Against Women Act were pork? ThinkProgress notes that the proposed cuts to make the bill more “stimulative” (which of course leave tax cuts untouched, contrary to Economics 101), disproportionately affect women and children.

These cuts would include:

$150 million cut to the Violence Against Women Act

$50 million to the Victims of Crime Act

$25 million to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces

$1.1 billion to Head Start

$50 million to Teacher Quality Partnership Grants

$5.2 billion for Prevention And Wellness (including diabetes screening and HIV testing)

$13.9 billion for Pell Grants

$2 billion for Child Care Development Block Grants (ThinkProgress)

Basically, the conservatives have decided that anything that isn’t tax cuts is “pork.” So, like President Obama, when you hear their criticisms just ask yourself, “Are these folks serious?” What I want to know is, how are they planning to face their constituents after voting against programs like Headstart and Pell Grants in these tough times?

This morning we get news of yet another administration official with tax problems.

Nancy Killefer, appointed by the president last month to a new position to scrutinize government spending, told the administration on Monday that she intended to step down from the position at the Office of Management and Budget. An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not finalized, confirmed that Ms. Killefer’s withdrawal came because of questions with her taxes. (NYTimes)

The arguments will be that if we are to restore people’s confidence in government, there cannot be any question about the integrity of these appointed officials. Unless, of course you’re Tom Daschle, or Tim Geitner, or…

It’s not clear if Killefer’s issues are significant in a vacuum or whether she’s a victim of the “Rule of Three” — i.e., being lumped in with Geithner and Daschle. Then again, Killefer was involved with the IRS in a significant way, so there may be a zero tolerance on the tax front for her, specifically.  (MSNBC)

Of course, only one of the three is withdrawing.  Yesterday, administration big wigs, including President Obama and Senator Edward Kennedy, rushed to Daschle’s defense. It’s difficult not to notice that the men are surviving while the woman pays the price.

Now, with Geithner having survived what was largely a party-line confirmation vote and Daschle battling to keep his nomination alive, White House officials seemed to have decided that they could not have a third prominent official in the administration who failed to pay taxes.

Daschle admitted failing to pay $100,000 in back taxes on a free limo service provided by a Democratic donor. Geithner also paid $42,000 in back taxes and penalties.

“She has nanny tax problems that may not have been insurmountable on their own, but given the Geithner and Daschle cumulative effect, she had to withdraw” said a Senate source informed of the withdrawal. (Politico)

Nanny problems…why does that sound familiar? Oh, that’s right. Caroline Kennedy recently withdrew from consideration over a similar issue. Now, I’m not making excuses for their dishonesty. What I am doing is noticing that these indiscretions seem to have a much great impact on the women involved than they do on the men. The reaction of the public, the administration, and the press is also disproportionate.

Is it any wonder that young girls already recognize that women in politics have to work harder to gain positions of leadership?

Political strategist Donna Brazile noted the contrast between the excitement surrounding Obama’s inauguration this week and the general public attitude toward women in office, one that she said helped drive Kennedy out of the running.

“Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents,” she said.

Noting that women still make up less than 20 percent of both houses of Congress, Brazile said: “The elevator to our future growth in the Congress is still stuck in the lobby. It’s time we hurry history.”(WaPo)

Today President Obama signed his first piece of major legislation

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act!

He reminds us that we’re all created equal, and each of us deserves a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.

Thank you, Mr. President. This is long overdue. And it is not lost on the world of feminism that this was the first (major) bill you have chosen to sign.

Yesterday was so clearly a day for the history books. It was evident in all the exchanges I had with people yesterday. There was an underlying understanding that we were living through a great “where were you when…” moment.

Some of my hopefulness is dashed as I read headline after headline about yesterday’s events in which the only mention of Michelle Obama deals with her outfits. Really? As the headline over at Feministing so accurately summed up my frustration,

Historic Moment! Michelle Obama Wears a Dress

The historical significance of yesterday’s events somehow exaggerates the offensiveness of reducing this woman to her clothing. Reports could have asked her how it feels to be First Lady, what her plan is for how she will fill this role, or even what she thought of the inauguration events. Instead, we get this:

Who Made Michelle Obama’s Dresses? (ChicagoTribune)

Michelle Obama Wears it Well (BostonGlobe)

First Lady Passes Fashionista Test (ABC)

Michelle Obama Makes Important Statement with Fashion Choice (Bloomberg)

The First Lady Tells a Story with Fashion (NYTimes)

So on a day in which reporters gushed about how we can now tell our children that they can truly be anything they want to be, the message to little girls continues to be: what matters most is how you look.

Marie Cocco (Alternet) argues that unlike California’s governator, women “will never burst into high political office without a lick of experience.” She also notes that experienced women don’t do much better.

The glass ceiling remains firmly in place — not cracked, as Hillary Clinton insisted as she tried to claim rhetorical victory after her defeat in the Democratic nominating contest. It wasn’t even scratched with the candidacy of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee — unless you consider becoming an object of national ridicule to be a symbol of advancement. As divergent as these two women are ideologically and temperamentally, as different as are their resumes, they both banged their heads — hard — against the ceiling. Both were bruised. So was the goal of advancing women in political leadership.

Continue reading here.

Women make up seventeen percent of our Congress. 17. That’s not even halfway to half way.

Marie Cocco concludes:

Yet American women are a majority of the population and a majority of the electorate. They earn more than half the bachelor’s and master’s degrees, a level of educational achievement far exceeding that of women in developing countries. There must be some reason we don’t do any better than women in impoverished, rural regions of the world where cultural norms oppress women.

Maybe it is because our culture isn’t so different after all.

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