Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 2010 Wish List

I wish that by some shift in solar winds or magnetic fields, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson could have their hormones scrambled and change into women. It’s not that I’m eager to join into sisterhood with these two but it would be instructive for them to feel in their feminized gut what it’s like to have a pair of men using their legislative clout to restrict women’s reproductive health services. It’s difficult to understand what motivates men like Stupak and Nelson. Maybe they’re so angry nature didn’t give them the biological equipment to become pregnant and give birth that they’re out to get revenge by efforts to control women’s bodies. Maybe they just hate women. There’s surely a lot of that sentiment among men throughout the world. The Taliban, radical Islamists, fundamentalist Christians—they’re all the same in their anti-woman attitudes. Whatever their twisted motivation, Stupak and Nelson are among a cadre of fanatical men who lead the anti-choice brigade. If these men are enabled by a spineless Congress to succeed in their ultimate goal of banning abortion under the ruse of “health reform,” American women’s health will be pushed back to the era of coat-hanger abortions. Since I don’t believe in magic, I know there’s not even the freakiest chance that Stupak and Nelson will change into women. So my back-up wish is that they change into frogs. Forever. With no chance of becoming princes!

My second wish is for more members of Congress who will serve the people who elected them rather than the lobbyists that dump bribe money into their campaign coffers. We have some terrific Congresspersons who do stand up for the American people and who passionately care for our Constitution rather than the corporations but we need more. So I wish that in the upcoming 2010 elections, all the corporate fascists and cultural Neanderthals will be kicked out of office and more enlightened candidates elected.

I wish for a Republican party that is a true opposition party rather than a demolition party. Since Barack Obama was elected, Republicans seem to have only one item on their agenda – destroying his Presidency. There was a time when overt efforts to bring down a Presidency would have been considered treason. Today it’s just business as usual for a Republican party dominated by white right-wing fanatics and led by a venomous ex-vice-president and hate-mongering spokespersons like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Democracy needs an intelligent opposition party; right now, we don’t have one. The “party of no” is just that. All negatives, lies and fear manipulation. Nothing positive or coherent or intelligent.

On the cusp of a new decade, I wish for an end to war. I wish leaders of the world’s nations would recognize the terrible waste of war – the killings, raping, ecological destruction – so much needless suffering and misery. With commitment and leadership, economies could be profitably based on efforts that nourish life rather than on technologies that hasten death and philosophies that turn human beings into weapons of mass destruction. The human lifespan is pitifully short but it’s all we have – less than nine decades to discover and fulfill our potential, realize our hopes and dreams, raise families, and leave the planet a better place than the one we inherited. Subjugating that precious lifespan to death and destruction is the most obscene crime against nature imaginable.

Finally I wish for a powerful global movement of citizen activists that will work on all fronts – the arts, science, education, technology, politics, religion – to transform societies from death promoters to life supporters. Each individual in her/his own way CAN help to make a difference. We CAN empower each other.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Party of Pinocchio

Remember the wooden puppet Pinocchio? Every time he lied, his nose grew longer. Pinocchio’s lie-driven nose growth is a more appropriate image for the current Republican party than the traditional elephant’s trunk. The party now seems a cartoon of itself, its body politic squeezed to death by its boa-constrictor nose.

Lies and disregard for evidence have marked Republican strategy for decades. It was lies about WMD that led to the Iraq war, lies about torture that condoned those practices of so-called “enhanced interrogation,” lies about Guantanamo, lies about rendition, lies about Bush/Cheney’s surveillance policy. The Bush/Cheney years demonstrated that lies repeated often enough are taken for truth. It’s a script from Karl Rove and Nazi chief Hermann Goering’s playbook.

“Of course the people don’t want war,” Goering said at the Nuremberg Trials, April 1946. “But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger.” Sound familiar?

Of course, there’s a major difference between Pinocchio and current Republican leadership. Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy but Republicans don’t seem to want to be a mature party. Reality is inconvenient. They’ve gotten away with lies for so long, why change? Now the Pinocchio Republicans are in high gear spreading lies about Presdent Obama’s birth – he’s not a natural born citizen; and about a public option in health care reform -- it will kill old people, the government will take away your freedom to choose your doctors.

One could laugh. How could anybody believe such nonsensical claims? But the lies are dangerous because if believed, they will damage the nation even more and negatively affect every American for many years to come.

Media, with a few notable exceptions like Bill Moyers, Keith Olberman, and Rachel Maddow, only aid and abet the lies by spinning them as “news.”

During the Congressional recess, we can expect to be bombarded with more lies from Republicans and their pals in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The party of Pinocchio doesn’t seem to give a damn for evidence or accuracy. They’re out to stall, distract, subvert, and damage Obama’s presidency at any cost and they’re out to prevent any meaningful healthcare reform.

The consistent stream of “no’s” from the party has morphed into its grotesquely deformed proboscis. What’s needed in the 2010 election is a big nose job for the Republican Pinocchios! The millions of supporters who said "No" to Republicans last November have their voting scalpels poised.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Hypocritic Oath

Accept the fact – life is a pre-existing condition. Any health insurance that denies this fact is not health insurance; it’s death insurance. Sad to say, that’s what the United States’ so-called health care has become. Except for the rich, of course. The poor don’t count. The middle class don’t count. They’re going to die anyway. May as well be sooner as later.

The opposition to healthcare reform comes mainly from Republicans but also from a small group of “blue dog” Democrats, and it’s gotten ugly. These politicians, elected to serve the American people are, instead, serving health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists. Once again, the power of money trumps the health of a nation.

Forget single-payer – the plan some 72 percent of polled Americans want. It’s socialism, cry the corporate flunkies. But the two government programs that really help people – Medicare and Social Security – are both socialism. Without those programs, millions of Americans would be suffering more than they are. They’re the only two programs the United States has that return benefit to citizens who have worked and paid taxes all their lives. Why not solve the health crisis by extending Medicare to everyone?

It’s striking that the same crowd of public citizens who oppose single-payer health insurance didn’t mind socializing debt through the bank bailouts. Okay for the government to be the single payer in those transactions. Mercy! What would happen if we really had universal health care in the United States like most other civilized Western countries? If we cherished and nourished that pre-existing condition we call life instead of denying it coverage? The big bad wolf of socialism would eat up some of those inflated profits of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Oh mercy, health care just might become affordable for our citizens if we had a single-payer system. People might go for check-ups more often. Maybe our citizens would be healthier and wouldn’t have to wait until they are so ill, they have to use hospital emergency rooms as their family physician. Sickness is costly. Untreated diseases that reach advanced stages when diagnosed require the most expensive treatment. Fostering health is a lot more cost-effective than the current neglect and denial built into our wretched healthcare system. It’s no accident our health care is the most expensive in the world but our outcomes are among the worse. In our current system, only the lives of the rich seem worth saving. Do they think they aren’t going to die?

In their zeal to “kill” healthcare reform, Republicans have declared war against President Obama, predicting a defeat will be the President’s “Waterloo” and will “break” him. Isn’t there something a bit unpatriotic about trying to bring down a President who is heroically working to repair the severe damage inflicted on the United States by the previous Republican administration? The gang that for eight years self-righteously promoted itself as the party of family values and country now turns its back on both and acts as if it wishes nothing other than revenge against the American people for electing President Obama.

As the President said in his press conference about healthcare last week, this isn’t about him. It’s about the health of the American people and the future of our economy. But nobody gets rich looking out for the poor and middle class in this country. Only the corporate rich deserve tax breaks, health care, and bonuses.

The party that racked up the largest deficit in American history – more than that of all previous Presidents combined – now complains about the cost of healthcare reform. Do they really think Americans are too stupid to see through the hypocrisy?

What a sorry bunch of human specimens that would rather, through their cynical inaction and sudden onset of fiscal conservatism, kill a healthcare bill that could prevent so much suffering and save people’s lives. Life is cheap. It’s health industry dollars that line politicians’ pockets.

As for the blue dog Democrats, their opposition to healthcare reform places them in the same alternate universe as the right-wing Republicans who have sold their souls to lobbyists and turned their backs on the only condition that afflicts any of us -- life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Will Congress Sell Out Americans’ Health Care to Insurance Companies Again?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Benjamin Franklin

The assault on a public option for health care is a mounting obscenity as Republicans, insurance lobbyists, and some Democrats roll out a propaganda campaign designed to scare Americans – and Congress – into turning their backs once again on the American people in favor of corporate greed.

Contrary to industry propaganda, the system we have does not work. High costs are bankrupting families and businesses and our quality of care is abominable. The United States is the richest country in the world but it provides the poorest health care among Western industrialized countries. According to the World Health Organization, The United States ranks 37th – lower than all the Western European countries. We rank lower than Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Israel, and Canada. (France is ranked #1, Italy #2, and Japan #3.) What a miserable shame we can’t – or won’t – do as well

Ranked by “Health System Attainment and Performance,” the U.S. was 72nd, between Argentina and Bhutan!

Nor is the U.S. any better than some Third World countries in average life expectancy. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s rankings for 2009, the U.S. ranks 50th, (78.11 years), between Wallis and Futuna (You aren’t alone if you never heard of these two tiny islands in the South Pacific.) and Albania. In comparison, Japan’s average life expectancy is 82.12 years, Canada’s 81.23 years, and France’s 80.98 years.

With respect to infant mortality, the U.S. has the worst rate in the Western world, ranking 37th with 6.37 deaths per 1,000 live births, between South Korea and Croatia. In comparison, Sweden’s infant mortality rate is 2.76 deaths per 1,000 live births. Keep in mind that these are average rates. In America’s inner cities, the rates are much worse. In 2007, Washington, D.C., had the highest rate: 12.22 deaths per 1,000 live births. In New York City, the infant mortality rate for black babies was 9.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births compared with 3.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births among white babies. Minnesota had the lowest infant mortality rate in the U.S.: 4.78 per 1,000 live births.

The U.S. maternal mortality rate is scandalous, ranking 41st among 171 countries surveyed by the United Nations. Even South Korea has a lower maternal mortality rate than the U.S. Based on the United Nations’ 2005 estimates, one in 4,800 American women carry a lifetime risk of death from pregnancy, something the anti-choice crowd doesn’t bother to mention. In contrast, among the ten top-ranked industrialized countries, fewer than one woman in 16,400 carry such a risk. The most probable reason is that many European countries and Japan guarantee women high-quality health care and family planning services.

For those who tout the U.S. health system as “the best in the world,” there’s an important qualification – IF YOU’RE RICH. Anyone in the top one percent of wealthiest Americans can buy the best health care in the world no matter where they have to go to get it. But the majority of American citizens have to fight their way through a maze of bureaucratic fine print to obtain health care that, in far too may cases, is no better than that in the Third World. Families have the triple financial whammy of foreclosures, lost jobs, and mounting healthcare costs while insurance executives and pharmaceutical companies rake in huge profits. Paying for health care is the major reason for personal bankruptcies, a situation that analysts say will continue unless Congress passes meaningful health reform.

Our current healthcare system is not only a burden for citizens, it also burdens physicians. By enabling insurance companies to run our healthcare system, Congress usurps physicians’ medical expertise and burdens them with voluminous paperwork and restrictions. The nation’s doctors want to be healers not secretarial assistants to health insurance companies. Doctors – not insurance companies – are the experts in providing medical services, yet in too many cases, insurers dictate medical decisions to doctors and hospitals. Sometimes patients die because an insurer has delayed or denied needed medical care. Yet those who support corporate profits rather than public health don’t seem to give a damn.

President Obama calls for a public option. The message of the last election is that the people support a public option. Now is the best opportunity since Clinton’s failure on health care for Congress to pass a real health reform bill. If our elected officials turn their backs on we-the-people this time, such an opportunity may not come again in our lifetime.

NOTE: Since publishing this post, economist Dean Baker has published an excellent commentary on Truthout. See ""Spreading the Wealth Around to the Insurance Industry and Friends," Truthout, June 22, 2009.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Terrorists In Our Midst

So a woman-hating, American terrorist has struck again. Murdering Dr. George Tiller, a healer, in his Wichita, Kansas, church. The alleged murderer, Scott Roeder, a so-called “pro-life” advocate, has taken a life. Some anti-choice spokespersons quickly rushed to condemn Dr. Tiller’s murder, express their “shock” and attempt to disassociate themselves from this heinous crime. But they drool hypocrisy. Over the years, the antiabortionists’ inflammatory rhetoric has incited the most extremist, perverse, and maniacal among them to break the law and commit crimes.

Linking abortion to murder, genocide, and the holocaust, the anti-choice movement has done more to incite domestic terrorism against women and the medical profession than any other home-grown group. “Pro-life” has always been a misnomer. These groups are not pro-life of the mother. Many endorse the death penalty. They are pro-defamation of character, pro-misinformation, pro-harassment, pro-extremist, pro-anti-woman, right-wing propaganda. Media that buy into the “pro-life” label should step back and look at the anti-life positions these groups support.

Yes, there are many well-meaning, nonviolent people who oppose abortion. Although I disagree with their position, they have a right to their opinion. But they do not have the right to impose their views on everybody else. They do not have the right to harass women seeking medical services. They do not have the right to bomb clinics and murder doctors. While calling for “peaceful protests,” many of the movement’s leaders speak with forked tongues. Even as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry issued a statement of shock and grief, he implied that Dr. Tiller’s murder was justified. After all, Terry said, Tiller was a “mass murderer.” It was Operation Rescue that coined the term “Tiller the killer,” which was taken up like a mantra and endlessly repeated as “Tiller the baby killer” by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, cheerleader for violence.

One group, calling themselves the Army of God, are celebrating Scott Roeder as an “American hero” on their toxic website. With a variety of Biblical quotations and a ribbon of animated “hell fire,” this website condones murder and has links to several articles, such as “Why Shoot an Abortionist,” by Paul Hill, who was executed September 3, 2003, for murdering Dr. David Gunn and his bodyguard outside a women’s clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Hill is also portrayed as a hero on the Army of God’s website.

But Dr. Tiller was no killer. For three decades, he was a compassionate physician, a practitioner of family medicine, a protector of women’s legal right to control their reproductive biology.

Terrorist attacks on women and their doctors have been waged for decades in the United States. According to the National Abortion Federation, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been 10 murders, including that of Dr. Tiller, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 619 bomb threats, and 1264 incidents of vandalism. In addition, there have been 383 death threats and 655 bioterror threats. Dr. Tiller survived an assassination attempt in 1993 and his personal information, including his address and names of family members, was posted on antiabortion websites. Such invasion of privacy, even to the extent of going through people's garbage, is a favorite tactic of some anti-choice groups. In Kansas, at least one clinic employee was harassed by parking a trailer with loudspeakers across from her home. The intent of such tactics is to frighten employees into leaving their jobs.

This terrorism must stop. Congress must take the antiabortion terrorists as seriously as it takes Al Queda for they are no less dangerous. Like other religious extremists, the antiabortion terrorists claim they are carrying out “God’s will,” that they are on “holy” missions. George W. Bush made the same claim in leading this nation into a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq. One should always be wary of any movement or politician that justifies violence as the will of any god. The founding fathers, fresh from the terrors of Europe’s theocracies, provided for the separation of church and state in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Of course, the ultimate goal of the anti-choice zealots is to take away a woman’s freedom and her right to control her own body. By murdering, intimidating, and assaulting doctors, these extremists aim to terrorize doctors into closing their clinics, making abortion inaccessible. These modern-day terrorists are in line with centuries-old male-dominated efforts to control women. Incredibly, some women also support these efforts that go against their best interests.

As I have written in the new update to my book,
Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, “Although we now live in the 21st century, superstitions, practices, and attitudes from a prescientific era are still with us. Even in technologically sophisticated countries like the United States, women’s reproductive autonomy is threatened by fanatical groups that would turn back the clock on contraception, ban abortion and, in effect, make women’s bodies property of the state. . . . In line with male subversion strategies in other species, the antiabortion movement is driven largely by fundamentalist religious groups led predominantly by men.”

Unfortunately the terror tactics are working. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, the number of abortion providers has declined almost 40 percent since the peak of 1982. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider and some women are forced to travel long distances to obtain an abortion. Yet Americans support reproductive choice. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 76 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or certain circumstances.

Right now, we have a minority of hoodlums waging a terror campaign against a vital legal health service for women. It can be stopped if we the people bombard our members of Congress with calls to protect reproductive choice and treat domestic antiabortion terrorists with the same vigilance and vigor that our government exercises against foreign terrorists.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


It happens every minute of every day. Women and girls somewhere in the world are humiliated, raped, beaten, sold into sex slavery, genitally mutilated, blinded, set on fire, and murdered. They are victims of the most vicious animals on planet Earth – not the four-legged kind but men -- male specimens of our species Homo sapiens. But neither Homo nor sapiens applies to such men. Police know about these crimes. Government officials know about these crimes but the criminals are rarely arrested or prosecuted. All too often, assaults on women are not taken seriously. They are excused as “family matters” or “honor killings”. But what kind of honor resides in killing a woman?

Atrocities committed against women seem to be cropping up more frequently on the news these days. Just today, a Muslim man in Buffalo, New York, confessed to beheading his wife in what is apparently an “honor killing.” She had filed for divorce and had an order of protection that removed him from their home as of February 6, 2009. This past Sunday (February 15, 2009), the CBS television program, 60 MINUTES, aired a report on Pakistan that mentioned the Taliban recently blew up five girls’ schools. On Saturday night, February 14th -- ironically Valentine’s Day -- ABC World News featured a story about young women in Pakistan whose faces are disfigured by acid thrown by men – spurned suitors, husbands, or other disgruntled males. The scarred faces of these once beautiful women are haunting reminders that the most pervasive, destructive, yet undeclared world war is that waged against women. Yet no country raises an army to combat the terrorism that women have endured for centuries. There is no “coalition of the willing” to protect women. The question is, Why not? Why no international force to protect mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, grandmothers, children? Why?

The ugly fact is that no other species treats its females with such cruelty. In her 1981 book, The Woman That Never Evolved, anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy wrote: “ . . . women in so many human societies occupy a position that is far worse than that of females in all but a few species of non-human primates.” What is going on? Why do some human males have such a feeble sense of masculinity that they believe their manhood depends on raping or beating up women? Why do young women in some countries bear the burden of a concept of family honor based on their chastity? It’s a fragile sense of honor that resides in an intact hymen!

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I have to say right now that this is not a tract against men in general. I do not hate men. There are intelligent, tender, compassionate, creative, liberated, wonderful, supportive men who treat each other and women as full human beings. I am married to one such man and my son and son-in-law are among many others. The men who mistreat women also mistreat each other and the planet. The only foreign policy they understand is war. They construct economies based on weapons and violence. They seem beset by a madness that hates all life, including their own. In their suicidal frenzy, they act to destroy life for everyone and everything around them. Even the basic animal survival instinct seems to have left them.

I suspect that the worldwide battle to control women rages as a sub-text of all other wars. This is not the proverbial “battle of the sexes”. It is a savage war, powered by attitudes that females are less than human and deserve mistreatment. A Pakistani woman interviewed on the ABC News report was asked whether women are considered second-class citizens in her country. She replied, “We are not even citizens. We are commodities.”

In some countries, women are treated worse than farm animals. Recently I was reading about The Carter Center's “latrine revolution” in Ethiopia. The goal of this project is to fight trachoma, a crippling disease spread by flies that breed in human waste. But the project has an unexpected benefit for women. Without a latrine, people are forced to use the fields and woods as toilets. However, custom requires that women hold in their natural urge to relieve themselves until night so no one can see them. Latrines give women freedom to carry out basic bodily functions. Not surprisingly, women are now activist leaders of the latrine project and a latrine has become a status symbol in Ethiopia.

In many countries, groups of courageous women are protesting and speaking out, demanding justice, sometimes at great risk to their lives. But this is not just a women’s issue. Violence against women diminishes all of us. Everyone who cares for our common humanity needs to speak out and demand international action because the war against women is the most long-lasting and destructive ever waged in human history.

Rape has long been an instrument of war. A GOOGLE search for “rape + war” turns up 5,160,000 hits. One need only read recent accounts of the tens of thousands of women raped by soldiers in Bosnia, Congo, Darfur, East Timor, Haiti, and Rwanda. In Congo and Darfur, rape by soldiers has increased to the point where it is considered the “norm” and nothing is done to stop it.

Rape, genital mutilation, burning, and murder are the most extreme forms of gender terrorism. But there are other daily humiliations and restrictions that women, particularly those living under religious fundamentalist regimes, endure.

I am reading Iranian author Azar Nafisi's 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, about the literature group for women that she held in her home so they could take off their veils and freely discuss books forbidden by the Islamic fundamentalist regime. The intellectual deprivation was just one of the government’s attempts to subjugate women. Expelled from her university post in Tehran in 1997 for refusing to wear the veil, Nafisi, who is now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, describes the separate entrance women university students in Tehran were forced to use and the “morality police” patrolling the streets on the lookout for the least exposure of female skin.

Throughout the world, the restrictions and humiliations forced on women take many forms: denial of education, laws against owning property, job discrimination, punishment for listening to music, wearing Western clothes, driving, or going outside the home unless covered from head to foot and accompanied by a male family member.

Nor are such anti-woman actions confined to developing countries or Islamic regimes. Under Communist rule, Romania banned birth control and abortion. The result was unwanted children, many of whom were abandoned or sold by desperate parents overburdened by more children than they could afford. In the United States today, Christian fundamentalist groups are trying to outlaw reproductive choice and make women’s bodies property of the state. They even try to prevent pharmacists from filling doctors’ prescriptions for birth control. It’s as if birth should be punishment for having sex. Notably there are no organized protests against Viagra or other erection-promoting drugs. Male potency drugs are advertised on prime time television but there are no such advertisements for condoms or birth-control pills! “If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” said an anonymous taxi driver, quoted years ago by author Gloria Steinem.

It’s easy to forget that it was only in 1920 – less than a century ago – that the U.S. constitution was amended to allow women to vote. It was only on January 27, 2009, that President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act granting equal pay for equal work. Oh yes, we’ve come a long way, but the operative term is “long”. From the time this case was first filed, it took ten years to end this particular form of job discrimination against women.

Yes, Western women are much better off and enjoy many more liberties than our sisters in Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and a score of other countries. But one can never let down her guard. There is still a lot of work to do in extending human rights to women throughout the world. In the United States, maintaining the rights women have achieved continues to require vigilance because there are too many reactionary forces that would return women to the Middle Ages. Thankfully, we now have a President who respects and supports full equality for women.

Educated women and supportive men are the best -- and only -- hope for improving living conditions for all people and prosecuting the mad animals that wage the most brutal gender war in all of nature.