Monday, January 28, 2013

Recalling Roe vs. Wade

by John Ballard

Beginning of life, like end-of-life decisions are intensely personal and private matters. More people being involved makes painful choices even worse. 

These issues best illustrate the maxim that government which governs best is the one which governs least. Check out this from the Wall Street Journal:

"Seven in 10 Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, according to new data from a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, as the landmark Supreme Court abortion-rights ruling turns 40 on Tuesday.
"That is the highest level of support for the decision, which established a woman's right to an abortion, since polls began tracking it in 1989. The shift is mostly the result of more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—and a slight uptick in support from Republicans.
"But the poll showed a consistent tension in Americans' attitudes toward the decision. Almost seven in 10 respondents say there are at least some circumstances in which they don't support abortion." 
Despite superficial "states rights" and "Tenth Amendment" battle cries, most of the anti-choice crowd wants to federalize this particular issue. Slogans and petitions to "overturn Roe" usually have no idea what was actually written in that decision or how the court basically tossed the whole matter back to the states for further clarification of a multitude of unclear and contradictory laws.

 I can't recall which candidate it was, but one of the GOP finalists (or maybe Romney himself) was asked about their views on privacy when the Roe decision was being discussed. The response clearly indicated they had no idea that privacy, not abortion itself, was the legal foundation for Roe vs. Wade. 

I don't look for this matter to be resolved any time soon, but my guess is that if it ever gets to the federal level there will be no legal restrictions during what is commonly called the First Trimester, but the Roe language used the word "viability" as the legal threshold after which the state has an interest in protecting the interests of a potential future citizen/voter/taxpayer. 

Prior to viability there is no legal reason for government, state or federal, to intervene in what is essentially a personal, private and totally intimate concern. 

Meantime, the chanting continues on all sides as emotion trump reason, religion and the law. 

My own position is that I find abortion morally reprehensible but I remain pro-choice. My reason is based on my conviction that behavior which is mandated, either by law, threats of reprisal, blackmail or any other external force may be unavoidable, but it does not qualify as "moral" unless the decision is made freely and responsibly. 

And no, I am not convinced that "life begins at conception." If that be true, then all forms of contraception are abortifacients. 

Background on the Anti-Choice Position
A recent article by Baptist pastor John Piper... We Know They Are Killing Children ... advances the anti-choice position as well as any. It is a perfect illustration of how science, medicine, morality and legality get tangled into a big unmanageable mess. It is the mission of the law to do as Solomon said, literally in this case, cut the baby in half. The issue is as old as the Hippocratic oath and remains unresolved.

Here's a post I wrote a few years ago, Abortion Cases - Roe vs. Wade - Opinion by BurgerDig through it at your leisure. I did a lot of homework at that time. My conclusions are not arrived at arbitrarily. That's why I arrived at the same threshold the Supreme Court did at the time of the Roe decision--viability. Much has changed since then in the court systems, but none of the changes has resulted in returning the issue to a medical problem (not a legal problem) which was what prompted the original court challenge to the Texas statute. 

Check out these other compelling links on abortion and the anti-choice position:

(John Ballard is a self-described child of the Sixties and unreconstructed Liberal who works in the senior care environment. Since 2002, he's been blogging on politics, health care, and innumerable other current affairs.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Obama's Inaugural Address Lives Up to 2004 Progressive Promise

President Obama's second inaugural address gave perfect expression to my progressive values, which are firmly rooted in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. 

"We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few," orated the newly reelected 44th President of the United States. 

This is the President I hoped Obama would be when I contributed to and voted for him in both 2008 and 2012.  This is the political character and platform of core beliefs hinted at in his inspiring 2004 Democratic Convention keynote speech, in which he famously proclaimed:
"... there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.
"The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too:
"We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.
"There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
"We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?" 
I wanted to present a synopsis here of President Obama's heartfelt second inaugural address, which he delivered with passion punctuated with clear-and-present impatience.  

I wanted to, but after perusing and parsing his historic words, I found that it's too perfect, too succinct to edit into smaller bites. Editing down Obama's second inaugural address would be nonsensically akin to editing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. 

So for your reading pleasure, below is the entirety of President Barack Obama's profoundly patriotic second inaugural address, delivered on January 21, 2013. In the future on this site, I will be analyzing this speech on an issue-by-issue basis. 

President Obama's Second Inaugural Address

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  
 Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than two hundred years, we have.  

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.  
  •  Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. 
  •  Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. 
  •  Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune. 
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

America’s possibilities are limitless

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.  

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.  An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.  My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together. 

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.  

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.  But while the means will change, our purpose endures:  a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.  That is what this moment requires.  That is what will give real meaning to our creed.  

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. 

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.  The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.  

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.  

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise.  That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.  Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  (Applause.)  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends -- and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. 

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe.  And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.  We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.

And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice –- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.  

Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  
  • For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 
  • Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 
  • Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. 
  • Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. 
  • Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.  
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every American 

 That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.  

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall. 

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.  And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.  But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream.  My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. 
They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope.  You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.  You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.   

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright.  With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.  

Thank you.  God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.  

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Identity Politics: Does More Women in Congress Mean More Protections for Women?

Twenty women were elected to the new 113th U.S. Senate, an historic-high representing 20% all of sitting senators.  Previously, only 24 other women have served as U.S. senator... ever. (Eleven of the 24 former women senators were short-term appointments made when male senators, usually their husbands, died. They resigned as soon as male successors were elected.) 

And 78 women will serve in the 113th U.S. House of Representatives, for a record-breaking 18% of all voting House members. 

All well and good, then,  that "... the Senate and House are starting to look a little bit more like the people they represent," as the New York Times phrased it. (Women cast 53% of 2012 presidential election votes, and were 50.8% of the U.S. population in the 2010 census.) 

The cogent question is: does more Congresswomen mean more protections and equal opportunities for women? Can and will more women-friendly legislation be passed because women comprise a higher minority-portion, 18.3%, of Congress?   

With more women in Congress in the 2013-14 term...

Will the "Violence Against Women Act" be reauthorized by Congress  in 2013? The VAWA was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The Senate voted in April 2012 to again renew the act, but the Republican-led House opposed VAWA legislation, and failed to bring the bill to a vote. The "Violence Against Women Act"  provided: 

  • Several billion dollars toward investigation, prosecution of violent crimes against women;
  • Imposed automatic, mandatory restitution on those convicted;
  • Allowed civil charges to be filed in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. 
  • Established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
Will House hearings on birth control and womens' health services include women? Less than a year ago, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa spearheaded a House ten-person panel hearing on Obamacare's mandate that health insurers provide contraception... and failed to include women either on the panel or as hearing witnesses. 

When several organizations pressed for at least one woman to be included in Rep. Issa's Government Reform Committee hearing on birth control, Mr. Issa responded that the women didn't possess the "right credentials" to appear before his panel.

Will the Paycheck Fairness Act, proposed in 2012or other gender-based wage discrimination laws become higher priorities for Congress? Per the National Womens' Law Center:

"The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work.  Yet today, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would update and strengthen the EPA by improving remedies for pay discrimination, prohibiting employer retaliation, and facilitating class action suits in equal pay claims, among other strategies."
Education, college affordability, childcare and early learning, health care access, Social Security and retirement security, housing... the list of issues that uniquely impact womens' opportunities in the United States is lengthy.

Does more women in Congress mean more bills passed, not merely proposed, to provide protections, security, and equal opportunities for women?

Maybe. But not necessarily. 

In past eras when legislation focused on the rights and wrongs of issues... on morality, public safety, national responsibilities... Congress could be counted on to attempt to discern and do the right thing by all American citizens.

But over the past 40 years, and particularly in the 21st century, members of Congress have drifted toward framing their votes far more on their own best interest rather than the overall best interest of the country. Micro over macro. My needs over community needs. 

Reasons for the recent U.S. rise of "It's All About Me" voting over national best interests are unclear. Could be the modern-day flourishing in D.C. of lobbyist influence and massive corporate donations. 

Could also be startling economic disparities between America's wealthiest 1%, the withering of the middle-class, and related growth of the poor and working poor in America. As the portion of pie shared by 99% of Americans shrinks each year, millions more fight for their tiny sliver... simply to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate their families.  

More women in Congress certainly means more official attention to issues important to women. And the increase of women, Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and all other citizens elected to Congress is a healthy step forward in ensuring fair and democratic representation for all Americans.  Obviously, it's positive that the Senate and House are starting to look a little bit more like the people they represent. 

But until women hold 50% of Congressional seats, and not 18.3% as in the new 113th Congress, the presence of a handful more Congresswomen does not portend more bills passed to provide protections, security, and equal opportunities for women. 

As four-term Sen Barbara Boxer of California observed, "I think that until we get to 50, we still have to fight because it's still a problem. I think this class as you look around, Republicans and Democrats. ... I think that because of this new class and the caliber of the people coming and the quality of the people coming, I think that hopefully in my lifetime -- and I really do hope and pray this is the case -- we will see 50 percent. "