Archive for September, 2009


19 September 2009

I was so irritated at Randall Terry.  My disgust at his technique and his use of James Pouillon’s death for his own propaganda campaign spurred me to write and post on Terry’s actions, before setting down my thoughts on the murder itself.

When I heard about the murder (or most probably read it somewhere online), I stopped in my tracks, teared up, went digging for information with a very heavy heart.  Murder is tragic, regardless of politics or passions surrounding the victim.

Searching for information on an event which is both remote and striking did help me process my sorrow.  It also deepened the sorrow and painted a limited picture of the situation.

I imagine Pouillon was the type of elderly, hard line anti-abortion protester I’ve seen many times on the sidewalks outside clinics, and not a person I would want to discuss abortion with in any form.  Usually nice folks, just not folks I agree with. I sincerely wish he and others wouldn’t hold up gruesome signs and draw such deep lines in the sand.  But this is no justification for murder.  His killer is rightly being held and presumably will be incarcerated for the murder.

Without knowing why Pouillon was targeted by Harlan Drake, it is hard to know where Pouillon’s anti-abortion stance figures into the reasons for the murder.  But it gets me thinking, following tangents that don’t specifically have to do with this particular murder, but spin off the speculation around it.

I asked myself whether someone on the pro-choice side had finally reacted in kind to the murder of abortion providers, arson, intimidation and violent rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement.  And that thought scared me.  All of the years I’ve been following or involved in women’s reproductive rights (a much broader field than just abortion), the left has never struck back in kind.  Pro-choice activists, however extreme, haven’t stalked and killed people in the anti-abortion movement, haven’t fire-bombed their offices, or harassed their co-workers, friends and family with pictures of women dead from botched, illegal abortions, in an effort to get anti-choicers to stop their activism.

I believe it’s the responsibility of (dare I say it) good citizens to engage in civil debate, and not solve their problems by, oh, for example, killing people they disagree with.  Of course, there are folks on the extremes of both right and left who can’t quite wrap their minds around that concept, but I’ve seen a lot less of it on the left.  Not none, but considerably less. 

The extreme left is not at war with society in the same way that the extreme right is.  That, again, goes back to the Frank Schaeffer post I wrote about the other day.  The aim of the left, even the extreme left, is to create a harmonious society which works to the benefit of all citizens.  It gets crazy when you look at totalitarian systems on the left (think Mao), but most of the left is not interested in tyranny, but rather pluralism, a flexible society.  The presumption is on bringing together the diverse strains, not eliminating them.  The aim of the right is… well, it takes various forms, but getting everybody on the same page – religiously, politically – looks to be at the heart of it.  The extreme right-wing, the religious far-right, proudly states their aim to remake the United States as a “Christian Nation” and not just any ol’ Christian nation either.  The adherents of this view promote a very specific type of Christianity, one in which most progressive Christians and often Catholics, have no place and are actually considered agents of Satan.

Suffice it to say that in my view the left permits a larger diversity of opinion within its vision of a good strong America, and the right prefers to see a closing of the ranks.  In the middle, the more moderate left and right simply pushes and pulls at each other, progressive America pulling us forward in response to changes in our society, conservative America pulling back in worry that changes will come too fast, too hard, too recklessly.  If politics is a spectrum, good sane policy is founded in the middle (moderates, centrists), the factions just left and right of center do their jobs of promoting change and urging caution, and the fringes on either end yammer away, usually ineffectually but occasionally stirring either critical thinking (yeah!) or crazy hysteria (boo!).

These days, to the extent the fringes of the spectrum are pretty extreme, it is much more extreme on the right hand side.

The extreme left has targeted the physical, the properties of what it doesn’t like: buildings, logging equipment, SUVs.  People have been harmed in the process, but haven’t generally been the actual target, and the extreme left generally doesn’t promote or condone murder of its opposition.  The extreme right has also targeted buildings and equipment, but have specifically advocated and sometimes practiced violence against particular people, targeting clinic doctors and escorts, and ultimately killing some of them.  Rhetoric condoning the killing of abortion doctors is an example of how this violence is sanctioned on the extreme right.  The left and right approaches (property vs. property and people) seem to me to be two different versions of reprehensible and terrible actions – but the degree to which the differ speaks to something really disturbing.  I don’t sanction the violence of the extreme left, but the violence on the extreme right scares me even more.

And back to Mr. Pouillon, a victim of his murderer. 

I don’t know if Drake killed Pouillon because he disagreed with him about abortion, or didn’t think he should hold signs up, or because Mr. Pouillon just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What I do know is that someone is dead because his killer couldn’t figure out a better way to deal with his anger or frustration or whatever it was that drove him to pick up a gun and start firing.  And, I don’t know which is scarier – that Pouillon died because of his beliefs, or that Pouillon died as a random target of a raging man with a weapon in his hands.

I’d like to think that this kind of violence will someday be a thing of the past.  But I doubt very much that will ever be true, and certainly not in my lifetime.

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16 September 2009

Seems to be a theme today…

Right Wing Watch today reports on this lovely press release on the Christian News Wire site.  Randall Terry comes up with another bizarre protest tactic:

On Thursday, 9/17 and Friday 9/18, Various Pro-Life Groups Will Stage Protests at High Schools From Noon to 1:00 P.M., Showing Pictures of Aborted and Healthy Babies — the Same Pictures Jim Pouillon Was Showing When He Was Gunned Down

[…]“We will not be intimidated into silence. We will continue to show images of aborted babies at high schools, no matter what the cost.

[…]

“President Obama condemned Jim Pouillon’s murder – which is good – but he said nothing about protecting pro-lifers. At least by going to Sidwell Friends School, we know we will have police protection. ” Randall Terry, Director, Operation Rescue Insurrecta Nex.

Protests will be held on Thursday from Noon to 1:00 in DC and Baltimore, and the following Schools….

Sidwell Friends School is, of course, where the Obama girls attend school.  Why the other schools were picked I do not know.

This upcoming event offends my sensibilities.  To protest at schools seems really slimy, and I’ve thought for three decades now that showing pictures of supposedly aborted fetuses is over the top sensationalism.  My thoughts spin off in a few directions.

First:  I would certainly not approve of anti-war protesters showing off pictures of mangled soldiers at protests, in front of a school or otherwise.  Pro-choice activists don’t hold up pictures of women who died of botched, illegal abortions (and those pictures, too, can be gruesome).  It’s a sensibility not restricted to the abortion issue.  I haven’t liked seeing pictures of prisoners undergoing torture either at rallies to pressure an investigation of US torture of prisoners.  I support anti-war efforts in general, and also ending torture of prisoners (or anyone), so my perspective isn’t skewed by being unsupportive of the folks who would be sporting such signs.  My objection is to the… well, objectification.

Second: the posters featuring the bodies of supposedly aborted fetuses (and I obviously have my doubts) depict older, more developed bodies, suggested that these are late-term abortions.  What a violation of the privacy of families who’ve no doubt undergone a great deal of trauma in electing to abort in the face of dire medical consequences.  That’s why women have late term abortions, and damned few women (fortunately) are faced with that choice.  The posters play to the most reactionary of our senses.

Third: The martyr attitude plays off the “see, we’re targets of violence from you lefty heathens!” muttering that’s been going on since Pouillon’s murder.  After numerous targets on abortion providers which have resulted in several murders, maimings, and wholesale destruction of legal health clinics, I don’t think this particular killing merits martyr status.  We don’t even know what the shooter’s stance on abortion was, just that he didn’t like Pouillon’s signage.  It’s not a pattern.  I have great sorrow over the killing of this protester – no one should be killed for speaking their mind, no matter how offensively – but I don’t see the martyr connections.

Fourth: High school students?  Really?  Come on, it’s just a bald-faced, jerky thing to do, a slimy sensationalistic tactic to draw the eye and work off of fear and gross-out gut reactions from teenagers.

Randall Terry, this is low, even for you.

16 September 2009

Representative Joe Wilson (SC) is quite the household word this week, at least in political households.  His cry of “You Lie!” during Obama’s health care speech to a joint Congressional audience has sparked furor on both sides, as well as what is, these days, a sizeable middle:  He’s Out of Line! vs. He’s a Hero! vs. He’s kind of a schmuck, but whatever, can we turn the page now?

As I see it, the facts of the situation lay out like this:  Obama made what I interpret as an accurate depiction of the health bill not paying for services for illegal immigrants, Wilson yelled “You Lie!” amid a rather noisy group of grumbling Republicans, imageNancy Pelosi delivered a most excellent death stare,  the bulk of our Senators and Representatives vented their displeasure via more loud grumbling, Wilson started doing HealthReformSpeech-9Sep2009-Obama,Pelosi,Biden-YouLieMoment-800x537something with his Blackberry (or whatever), and the speech moved on.  Later, Obama accepted an apology from Wilson, Pelosi agreed that this was sufficient, other members of Congress pressured Wilson to apologize to Congress, the Republicans rose to Wilson’s defense (both of his point of view, and of his right to vent his spleen during a speech by his President), and then the House of Representatives voted 240 to 179 to formally reprimand Mr. Wilson, in the following form (this is from Thomas, Library of Congress):

 

H. Res. 744

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,
September 15, 2009.

 

Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and

Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

Now, there is a flurry of upset on the right wing, protesting that Mr. Wilson was just speaking the truth, that after all, he was just calling a spade a spade, as my dad used to say.  Except for the FACT that Wilson is calling a heart a spade… but I digress.  The flurry is all about how the supposed rightness of Wilson’s accusation excuses his lousy behavior.  Or that he was criticized by members of congress and the press because they don’t like what he said.

Myself, I don’t like how he said it.  I think Wilson is wrong – the bill does prohibit funding health care for illegal aliens – but I defend his right to spout whatever nonsense he likes.  He has to put up with the likes of journalists telling him he has the facts wrong, but he has every right to say what he thinks.

But I don’t support his right to spout nonsense just anywhere.  For instance, during a gathering of both houses of Congress, in attendance at a formal presentation by the President of the United States.  I’m all for dissent, and free speech, and voicing one’s mind, but honestly, there are some situations in which it’s just bad form.

I don’t support, for instance, loud noisy protests about gay marriage or abortion in or around anti-gay or anti-abortion churches.  I don’t think screaming at minimum-wage employees is a valid way to attack corporate greed.  I don’t support the wisdom, however it may fall under free speech rules, of the Westboro Baptists who protest at funerals of fallen soldiers because they think God is angry at the US for being so warm and fuzzy toward gay people.

All of these kinds of protests may or may not be legal, but they are certainly rude and inappropriate.   And so I support the House in their on-record displeasure with Representative Wilson’s out-of-line behavior, because the House has every right to maintain somewhat harmonious debates within its walls.

After all, with all of the brouhaha this past summer during the Town Hall health care meetings, often rising to minor physical violence and some extreme verbal sparring, it’s no wonder the House wants to set the boundary:  that went too far, back it off, settle down, and start behaving like grownups instead of school yard bullies.

Mr. Wilson should be ashamed, not of his point of view, but his incredibly rude display of it.  I suspect his self-righteousness will prevent him from ever truly understanding what he did wrong.

16 September 2009

Is there a literary equivalent for having your jaw drop?  Do my fingers fall to the ground mid-typing?  Is it a screen-freeze on my monitor?

I haven’t posted for days on end, and certainly not because there hasn’t been anything to write about.  No, it’s some kind of jaw-drop reaction to the right wing craziness on their hot-button issues:  health care… or taxes… or big government… or government at all… or something?  As the protests over the last few weeks have ramped up, it’s been more and more difficult to get a fix on exactly what the “tea party” folks are aiming to achieve.

It been pretty bizarre.  My last post on the town hall/health reform/evil government contingent was when Barney Frank used his “dining room table” comparison.  I think he was having a jaw-dropping moment, but manage to pick his up off the floor and respond, sort of in-kind.  Since that post, things have moved along alarmingly.  Just off the top of my head

* A finger was bitten off in another heated Town Hall exchange

* Light was shed on The Family and the C-street house

* Glenn Beck, Glenn Beck, Glenn Beck

* Orly Taitz-isms continue to provide background noise

* The latest Texas secession rally actually gets attention

* A big ol’ flurry over Obama’s speech to school kids: indoctrination? or….

* Joe Wilson yells “You Lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress

* The Nine-Twelvers held a healthy but over-rated rally in DC

And all though this mess, of course, like an annoying squeaky wheel (say a small one, on a child’s red wagon) the hysterical extreme right continues to blather on about their fears: socialist/ communist/Muslim/ foreigner/ fascist/ death panels/ internment camps and coffins for tea partiers/ etc etc etc, on and on, a never-ending whine of crap based on nothing but paranoid fantasies about the communists, and/or heathens, and/or darkies taking over, pardon my french. 

Gawd.  It makes me tired just re-living it.

As if this endless stream of dangerous fantasy wasn’t paralyzing in and of itself, a few days back, Frank Schaeffer posted a great piece on the extreme religious right, how the decades of growth of the politicized religious right led to the Nine-Twelvers.  He shares what he believes these folks really want in American politics, how it shapes the bizarre thinking that sparks cries of “socialism” and considers the bulk of American society as agents of Satan.  Literally.  I value Schaeffer’s perspective, as an religious right insider from childhood, who late in life left the flock after realizing how crazy his isolated world view had become.

But it scares me – knowing what’s going on down deep in the thinking of the Christian extremists – and Schaeffer’s piece on the Nine-Twelvers ramped up my immobilization, my writers block, if you will. 

I guess the Joe Wilson thing broke the gridlock for me.  I moved from jaw-drop to thinking again, in actual words and sentences  instead of the white noise of my cacophony of outrage.  Because it is outrage – outrage that people are so far gone in how they think about our society, casting the events around them in a light which has nothing to do with facts, and everything to do with fear.  Fear, I think, of change, and of the Other.  Add the adrenaline rush of Being Part of a Movement!!! … I guess some people just can’t resist the cocktail of fear and adrenaline and a sense of Doing Something, anything, to gain an illusion of control.

One thing I know:  I have to resist the immobilizing jaw-drop experience, or I’ll cave to despair.  Venting – here or elsewhere – is just the medicine I need.

Art: So Moved

7 September 2009

I highly recommend this painting-and-commentary entry over at the New York Times website.  Artistically and linguistically simple, it’s a moving overview of how the response of leaders to public dissent has progressed over the last few centuries.

Maira Kalman: So Moved

1 September 2009

Related to the effects of rationing are the effects of high-cost medical care. After discussing the impact on family finances and stability when a member becomes severely ill, Steve Benen notes:

No other industrialized democracy on earth allows its citizens to endure such nightmares. […] an American Journal of Medicine study that found 62% of all American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills — and more than three out of four of those bankruptcies occurred among those with insurance. Again, every citizen of every other industrialized democracy on the planet need not worry about such a scenario. [emphasis mine]

He offers this as a suggested appeal to the Republican sense of cost consciousness.  You’d think this would work.  It probably won’t.

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