Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Zika Virus and Microcephaly: A Republican Opportunity To Work Against Abortions!

Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) are two politicians who act like religious patriarchs.  They see their special flocks as consisting of all those wayward women who just don't make the right choices about abortion:

Pregnant women in South and Latin America who contract Zika, a rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and deformities in babies, should not have access to abortion, Republican House leaders said Wednesday.
"This push for more abortion access is heartbreaking, especially since there are different degrees of microcephaly," Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said at a hearing about the virus.

House Republicans running the Zika virus hearing avoided the issue of contraception and family planning access for women in endemic countries and instead urged women to welcome babies born with microcephaly. Duncan acknowledged that "many women do not have the luxury of simply choosing to wait" to get pregnant, but added that abortion access is not the answer, because many babies born with microcephaly "go on to lead very normal lives."
"Each child is made in the image of God and has inherent worth," he said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the U.S. needs to work harder to "ensure that any child born with with disabilities from this or any other infection is welcomed, loved and gets the care that he or she needs." To back up his point, he highlighted the headline of a BBC article published earlier this month: "Microcephaly: 'It's not the end of the world.'"

Talk is cheap, and at rock-bottom prices when it is about something neither of these gentlemen will ever have to contemplate facing.  They cannot get pregnant, and neither are they poor women probably living in a country where getting the care a child with severe microcephaly needs is very unlikely.

That lack of care is not the case with the woman who wrote the BBC article Chris Smith (R-Forced-Birth) mentions.

There are varying extremes of the condition - Laney is towards the end where her brain has a lot more problems, but doesn't make her value any less.
She doesn't walk or talk, and she can't feed herself.
She has a g-button or gastrostomy button directed into her stomach. She is nourished through a feeding machine or a pump we use by hand and she gets all her medications that way too.

Laney's mother has found spiritual rewards and lessons in the care of her  very-much-loved daughter, and that is wonderful.  But Rep. Smith appears to use the case as a general ethics lesson, equally applicable to all women, wherever they live and whatever resources they might be able to harness.

This smacks a lot of the stories the Catholic Church uses to praise women who it deems sufficiently saintly, women who refuse a life-saving abortion for the sake of the fetus and then die, leaving their other children motherless and possibly taking the fetus with them to the land of death.  But at least they were saintly.

I always found those stories frightening, because they seemed to tell me what that church expected of "good women."  Connect those images with the ban on women in any position of power  in the Catholic Church, and it's hard to avoid thinking that all this is based on an ulterior motive not that far removed from misogyny.  Or at least the complete control of women's fertility.

I smell something similar in the statements of those two Republican gentlemen.  It may well be that many babies with microcephaly go on to lead fairly normal lives, but many will not.  And the people whose own lives will drastically change with the birth of a child with microcephaly are the women who give birth to them, not Mr. Duncan or Mr. Smith.

Primary Screams

Know what is very funny?  The personality changes which happen in some of the most avid supporters  during the US Democratic presidential primaries.

I recall the same phenomenon from 2008: 

Suddenly usually thoughtful people who enjoy debating stuff become intolerant of anyone who is not of the body.  Suddenly, only evidence tilting one way is packed into the debating bags.  Suddenly, previously politically agnostic individuals develop that red-hot religious fervor, that intolerance to anyone thinking differently or even suggesting nuances or complications in the tale of the Hero's Ascension.  Disagreement becomes impossible, because it is interpreted as proof that one is not of the body, as proof that one is (gasp!) the enemy.

So does any of that matter?   After all, it's just people advocating for their chosen candidate.

I believe it does, because non-stop advocacy introduces bias into the conversations and because advocacy makes planning for the general elections and the possible responses from the Republicans that much harder. 

For an advocate the goal is that missionary one: to convert others. For an "analyst"* the goal is to understand both the positives and negatives of the candidates and to try to predict what might happen in the general elections.  The latter includes being prepared for the potential Republican attacks.  Advocacy hinders that preparation.
*An "analyst" here is not some objective entity, of course, but someone who would prefer a Democratic victory in November.  I couldn't come up with a better term.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The New Koch Plan

The New Koch Plan!  It's a re-branded, better-tasting version of the Old Koch Plan which included the following goals:

To shrink the government to its  three pro-billionaire functions: 

a) to protect the billionaires against foreign invaders (allow the military to exist),

b) to  protect the billionaires against domestic robbers and thieves (allow the police to exist)

c) to protect the billionaires against legal attempts to get at their money (allow the courts to exist).

To kill all other government functions
a) because they must be financed by taxes and the Kochs do not want to pay those, and/or

b) because they hamper the wild and lawless ("free") pursuit of ever greater profits (so kill  environmental protection, health inspections, worker safety rules and so on),  and/or
c) because they are unnecessary for billionaires.  Billionaires don't need mass public transportation, public schools, old age pensions, unemployment benefits or government subsidized health care, what with being billionaires.

The problem with that old plan is its poor "optics."  It's hard to get non-billionaires to support these billionaire-class identity politics.  So the New Koch Plan has added extra nutrients:  Empathy!  Fighting for a fairer criminal sentencing system!  Keeping poor teenagers from gangs!  Offering translation services and help to Latinos who wish to pull themselves up by their bootlaces by starting enterprises!

Jane Mayer writes about the new flavors of Koch. I recommend that you read the whole piece.  Here's a taste to get you interested:

The Kochs received equally positive press that fall, when, in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, they began speaking publicly about the need for criminal-justice reform. In February, 2015, when Koch Industries joined a bipartisan umbrella group for sentencing reform, the Coalition for Public Safety, the news made the Times. The Kochs were coming together with such avowedly liberal groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. Among the most surprising of the Kochs’ new allies was Van Jones, a former senior fellow at the think tank, and the head of a criminal-justice-reform group called #cut50. Only months earlier, he had criticized the United Negro College Fund for accepting Koch money, arguing that “few people still alive have done more to promote policies that hurt African-Americans than the Koch brothers.”
It is true that, at least as far back as 1980, when Charles Koch enlisted David, then a company executive, to run for Vice-President of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket, the brothers have publicly supported radical reform of America’s criminal-justice system. The platform of the Libertarian Party in 1980 called for an end to all prosecutions of tax evaders and the abolition of a number of federal agencies whose regulations Koch Industries and other businesses have chafed at, including the E.P.A., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Federal Election Commission, whose campaign-spending limits the brothers opposed. But the Kochs, as hard-line libertarians, have had goals quite different from those of many of their liberal allies. Their distaste for the American criminal-justice system is bound up in distrust of government and a preference for private enterprise. Until recently, the criminal-justice victims the Kochs focussed on were businessmen who had run afoul of the modern regulatory state—that is, people like them.

The bolds are mine.

Get it?  The new plan builds bridges all the way across the political spectrum, finds partners in the most unexpected places (after funding their praiseworthy activities with what for billionaires would be pocket money),  and creates new shared goals so that the Koch goals (get rid of punishments for rich white-collar criminals) seem to coincide with certain progressive goals (get rid of racism in the sentencing system and the police).

I love it!  I especially love the idea that the Koch Plan needs to be "re-branded," the corporate thinking behind all this ruthlessness, such as this:

Fink was brutally honest about how unpopular the views of his wealthy audience were. “When we focus on decreasing government spending,” he said, and on “over-criminalization and decreasing taxes, it doesn’t do it, O.K.? . . . They’re not responding, and don’t like it.”
But he pointed out that if anyone in America knew how to sell something it should be the successful business leaders in the Koch network. “We get business,” he told the audience. “What do we do? We want to find out what the customer wants, right? Not what we want them to buy!”
It's like putting a picture of a happy cow on the wrapper of a block of margarine when people suddenly want to buy more organic products.

The Koch Plan is gaining power because of the Citizens United decision of the US Supreme Court, the first step towards one-dollar-one-vote in this country.  If you are interested in learning more about dark money in the US politics, get Mayer's bookAn excerpt can be found here.  Do read it to the very end.