Republicans Plan To Use Increased Power After Midterms To Restrict Access To Abortion

Remember how the Republicans talked about down playing social issues going into the midterm elections? Now that they are in office, the party of limited government is returning to its agenda of using big government to impose its views upon others. Politco reports on The coming wave of anti-abortion laws–New GOP state legislatures will make access to abortion harder than ever.

The big Republican gains in the November elections strengthened and enlarged the anti-abortion forces in the House and the Senate. But it’s the GOP victories in the statehouses and governor’s mansions that are priming the ground for another round of legal restrictions on abortion.

Arkansas, for instance, already has strict anti-abortion laws. But with a Republican governor succeeding a Democrat who had vetoed two measures that would have banned most abortions beyond a certain stage of pregnancy, lawmakers plan to seek more restrictions — such as barring doctors from administering abortion drugs through telemedicine. Republican gains in the West Virginia Legislature will redouble pressure on Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to accept a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks, which he has previously deemed unconstitutional. And Tennessee voters approved a ballot initiative that removes a 15-year barrier to legislation limiting abortion legislation in that deeply conservative state.

Abortion rights advocates have had setbacks in the states for several years, with a surge of legislative activity since 2011. Women seeking abortions may face mandatory waiting periods or ultrasound requirements. Clinics may face stricter building codes or hospital admitting privilege rules they can’t satisfy. Dozens of clinics have shut down in multiple states. Texas, for instance, has fewer than 10 abortion clinics now. A year ago, it had 40…

Republican leaders who will control the U.S. Senate come January say they want to take up abortion this year, perhaps on a House-passed bill that would limit the procedure after 20 weeks. But the reality is that Senate Republicans will still fall a few votes shy of the 60 needed for controversial major legislation. It’s the states where Republicans can enact more abortion limits.

“We came out of Nov. 4th with a lot of momentum,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List, which is dedicated to electing candidates who oppose abortion. He expects the number of anti-abortion measures proposed in the states to reflect that. “I think we’re about to get another uptick.”

Thirteen states have passed bans on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — so-called fetal pain bills — and a couple have enacted earlier limits tied to when a fetal heartbeat is first detected, which can be six or seven weeks into a pregnancy. Several of these state laws are being contested in court, and the arguments may eventually end up in the Supreme Court. But that hasn’t deterred more states from eyeing such legislation; in Ohio, a House panel approved a fetal heartbeat bill just a few days ago.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards predicts that 2015 will bring more attempts to enact restrictive state laws. She said she expects “state legislative attacks on women’s health, even though the vast majority of the public wants elected officials to protect and expand access to safe and legal abortion, birth control and preventive health care.”

In some states with Republican control of the legislature there remains hope that any anti-abortion legislation will be vetoed. For example, in Nevada  Republican Governor Brian Sandoval supports keeping abortion legal. The Republican capture of control of both chambers of the state legislature in New Hampshire will be countered by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan who backs abortion rights.

While this article dealt with abortion, based upon recent history it is also likely that Republicans will use their power to restrict access to contraception.

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Republicans Seek To Block Marijuana Law In Washington D.C.

Republicans, members of the party which claims to support small government, individual freedom, and states’ rights, once again shows that it doesn’t mean a word of this.  The Hill reports on one action planned by Republicans:

House Republicans next year will try to block Washington, D.C.’s, newly enacted law legalizing recreational marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris said he “absolutely” intends to launch a push to dismantle the new law when Congress returns with an empowered GOP majority in the 114th Congress.

While technically not a states’ rights issue, the same principle should apply to respecting a law to legalize recreational marijuana which a majority in Washington, D.C. voted for.

Presumably other top matters on the Republican agenda will include attempts to restrict access to abortion and contraception, and prevent same-sex marriage.

Of course this is as expected. When Republicans speak of supporting small government, it is of a government “small” enough to intervene in the private lives of the individual. When they speak of freedom, they will defend the freedom of businessmen to evade necessary regulations. Otherwise to Republicans, freedom means the freedom for conservatives to impose their views upon others. Republican support for states’ rights is limited to states which wish to enact laws to discriminate against minorities or restrict marriage equality.

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A Bad Week Gets Worse: Sixth Circuit Court Upholds Bans On Gay Marriage

As if the news wasn’t bad enough on Tuesday, there was even more bad news this week. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned rulings against bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. More on the decision at SCOTUSblog.

This decision runs counter to decisions in  4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuit courts which struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. This led to neighboring states also eliminating their bans. Having these contradictory decisions means that the Supreme Court, which previously tried to avoid getting involved, will probably be forced to decide the issue.

The news might not be all bad. Doug Mataconis looked at previous decisions of the Supreme Court justices and believes that the court will rule in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. While there is no guarantee of this happening, if it does turn out this way we might actually have legalization of same-sex marriage nation wide during the current court session, speeding up what appears to be an inevitable trend.

If the Democrats had any guts they would speak out on this issue, questioning how the Republicans who claim to be the party of limited government can justify using the power of government to tell people who they may or may not marry. Of course as we were reminded by how they campaigned in the midterm elections, the Democrats do not have such guts. As the saying goes, we have one party with brains but no balls, and one party with no brains but which does have balls.

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Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

Ronald Reagan couldn’t save the Senate for the Republicans in his 6th year. While the closeness of the polls left hope until the end, realistically the Democrats were not in a situation to defy history. There were two tends which the Democrats could not overcome. When people are unhappy, they look at the president regardless of who is actually to blame. Running a campaign based upon negativity was a winning formula for Republicans. Democrats were further hampered by the older and whiter electorate in midterm elections as once again large portions of the Democratic base stayed home for a midterm.

Republicans won by avoiding discussion of what they would do in power, beating something (Obama) with nothing. Americans who vote for Republicans to retake control of the Senate out of concern about current problems are as delusional as Russians who want the return of Stalinsim. It makes no sense to trust the party which created the economic downturn with fixing it, and Americans certainly do not want the Republican social or militarist agenda. The party which opposes most government action (other than imposing the agenda of the religious right, foolish military action, or rigging the system to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy) is hardly likely to propose real solutions to problems.  Polling on issues generally shows a majority favoring Democratic views but that does not help in elections where Republicans concentrate on distorting the views of their opponents and  hiding their own views.

That said, I am disappointed (as usual) in the Democrats as a political party. Yes, all the fundamentals were against them. So they took the cowardly way out, running away from not only Obama but from principles. If they ran a campaign based upon their accomplishments and the problems with GOP principles they very well still might have lost in this atmosphere, but at least their campaign would have meant something. Plus, considering how close the polls were, just maybe they could have won some more seats.

Of course that isn’t something that can be done in the last few months of a campaign. It requires a change in attitude and behavior of the party every year, acting as if it was a perpetual battle of ideas–as Republicans do even though they run on bad ideas. When Democrats run from their own record and fail to speak out on the issues, they leave themselves wide open to being defined by their opponents.

The Republicans were successful in hiding their most extreme views. They did receive some help from a friendly media in this regard as many of the most extreme statements from Republicans such as  Joni Ernst received too little attention. When Mitch McConnell tried to make his desire to repeal Obamacare more popular by claiming the people of Kentucky would still have their popular exchange, the media concentrated far more on the less important refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say whether she voted for Obama. When liberals spoke out on this, the media did begin to pay more attention to McConnell’s gaffe, showing there is benefit to serious discussion of the issues by liberals. If only Democratic candidates had the courage to do this too.

External events helped the Republicans. Widespread opposition to Congressional Republicans over the threat of a government shutdown of October 2013 was forgotten after the initial failed roll out of the exchanges, even if this was quickly fixed. Republicans gained further by promoting exaggerated fears of ISIS and Ebola.

The Republicans avoided saying what they would do while running, but now will be under closer scrutiny. Republicans decided upon a strategy of opposing everything Obama does, including if he promoted policies previously favored by Republicans, from before he took office. Now that they control Congress, this might no longer be their best strategy. Many Republicans will mistakenly see this election result as a mandate and try to move even further to the right. Some must be intelligent enough to realize that Republican victories with the midterm electorate will not translate into victories with the younger and minority voters who turn out in greater numbers for general elections. While it is hard to see the two parties work together on many of the big issues such as climate change, there might be some pragmatic legislation which both McConnell and Obama could agree on, considering Obama’s long-standing willingness to compromise with Republicans.

McConnell is attempting to portray a more moderate image, but even if this is his personal desire he still has to deal with the far right wing of his own party. He might even find that he cannot pass legislation without Democratic cross over support. It remains to be seen whether McConnell will pass legislation which doesn’t beg for a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto, especially if Tea Party Republicans push through amendments to legislation to attempt to repeal Obamacare or restrict access to contraception. The Tea Party wing is least likely to realize that this election does not signify agreement by American voters with their goals. An example of this was seen with the failure of Personhood measures even in red states. Republicans won midterm elections but their policies remain opposed by a majority of Americans.

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Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

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Bruce Bartlett Argues That Obama Is A Republican

Obama is a Republican

There’s nothing really new here, but it will be interesting to see conservative response to Bruce Bartlett’s article in The American Conservative entitled, Obama Is A Republican. The article is a rehash of how Obama’s record is actually quite conservative, clashing with the conservative myth that he is a socialist. He started with mentioning other Republicans who supported Obama’s election, and next discussed foreign policy:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

After further discission of foreign policy, he went on to discuss economic policy and the deficit. The most important point is how the deficit has fallen under Obama and how fiscally conservative Obama has been:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

There is certainly nothing new. Forbes pointed out a couple of years ago how Obama has been the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.It is worth repeating considering how many people have been fooled by the Republican line that Obama and other Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, are responsible for the size of the deficit.

Bartlett next discussed how Obamacare is based upon old Republican policies proposed by the Heritage Foundation and later Mitt Romney. He discussed at length how the individual mandate was originally an idea which was strongly promoted by Republicans. While Bartlett concentrated on Romney, many other Republicans shared this view.

Bartlett then had briefer discussions of several other issues–drugs, national-security leaks, race, gay marriage, and corporate profits. His argument for Obama being a Republican is weaker on social issues. While Obama took “two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so,” there remains a big difference between Obama keeping quiet on the issue and Republicans who actively promoted bans on same-sex marriage and Obama.

Bartlett concluded with:

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

There is considerable truth to what Bartlett wrote, especially if social issues are ignored. However to be less progressive than Cornell West desires is not sufficient to prove someone is a Republican. Anyone who saw Obama as a candidate of the far left, as opposed to being more centrist, just wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Of course there is room for disappointment in some of these areas from the left, especially on drug policy and aspects of his foreign policy.

If Obama is said to be governing like a Republican, the key point which would need to be stressed is he is governing as a moderate Republican from the past–something which no longer exists. Obama certainly would not fit in with the Republican Party of today, which has moved to the extreme right. Bartlett is viewing Republicans from the perspective of his days as an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The reality is that today neither Reagan nor Bush would be sufficiently conservative to survive in the Republican Party. Therefore, while it is ludicrous to consider Obama to be a socialist, or even from the far left, those who share the extreme views of current Republicans are correct in not seeing Obama as one of their own.

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Defending Abortion Rights

The current podcast in the playlist on my phone is an interview with Katha Politt on the Diane Rehm Show from last week. While I have only heard half of it so far, the author has made many good points regarding attitudes towards defending abortion rights, some of which are reflected in my recent post on the culture war. Pollitt defends abortion rights on principle, as opposed to taking a halfhearted position of approving of legalization while still acting like abortion is something shameful, while debunking the conservative framing on the issue. I anticipate hearing more good points in the remainder of the podcast and from reading her book.

I decided to mention this now, before concluding the podcast, as I just noticed that Hanna Rosin has an interview up at Slate reviewing her book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. While I have not read the book, the review does give a good feel for the points I have heard so far in the interview and presumably reflects her book. The review begins:

I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions. Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal.

I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. Because frankly, in 2014, it should be no big deal that in a movie a young woman has an abortion and it’s no big deal. We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.

The reason we’re not, according to Pollitt, is that we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion, but that loud minority has beaten the rest of us into submission with their fetus posters and their absolutism and their infiltration of American politics. They have landed us in the era of the “awfulization” of abortion, Pollitt writes, where even pro-choicers are “falling all over themselves” to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult” instead of doing what they should be doing, which is saying out loud that abortion is a positive social good.

Pollitt aims her book at the “muddled middle” who have been infected by the awfulization without thinking about it that much. To win them back she’s crafted a lengthy Socratic response dissecting the contradictions on the pro-life side. If you know Pollitt’s writing at all, it’s no surprise what she believes. But by the end of the book, it’s a surprise to realize that while the fight over abortion has been going on for more than 40 years, we’ve all forgotten what’s at stake. The left especially has lost sight of its original animating purpose.

Later in the review:

Pollitt spends significant energy dissecting the pro-life side’s contradictions. This largely involves explaining how the concept of personhood, when applied to a fetus, makes very little sense. She cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as “bad as killing a person already born.” But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart. The pro-life position, she concludes, involves a reflexive moralism but doesn’t really reflect what people know to be true, which is that the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship, unlike any other.

More at The American Prospect, Cosmopolitan, and  Elle.

I know it might not necessarily be right to recommend a book based upon listening to half a podcast and only reading the reviews of others, but this book certainly does appear worth reading. I just placed my order for a copy.

Update: In related news, the Supreme Court has blocked portions of the restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas.

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Is The Culture War Really Over?

Bill Scher has an article at Politico on How Republicans Lost The Culture War. While it might be premature to say they lost and the war is over, a subject I’ll get into later, he does have some good points as to what went wrong for the Republicans.

Scher makes three main points. First, Republicans stopped being savvy on abortion. Rather than taking the purist position which they actually favor, legislatively the Republicans had concentrated on more narrow victories. Although late term abortions are rare, they made a lot of noise about “partial-birth abortions.”

While Scher sees this as no longer being savvy, I think that the change in Republican tactics was inevitable. They were never satisfied with stopping the rare late term abortions and were bound to ultimately push for what they really want–a complete ban on abortions.

They might have been more open in pursuing this partially due to a misreading of the polls which show Americans to be more ambivalent on Row v. Wade. The problems is that many people in this country don’t really know what Roe v. Wade means, but that doesn’t stop them from saying yes or no to a pollster. However, when the real question is posed, Americans do not want to make abortion illegal, and a majority agrees that women should  have the right to first trimester abortions.  Americans do not want to ban abortions, and imprison either women or the doctors involved.

Misreading the polls might have been a problem for Republicans, and this was compounded by moderate Republicans being forced from the party. The far right wing ideologues who now dominate the GOP would push for their position regardless of how unpopular, just as they push for restrictions on birth control, the second item on Scher’s list–Republicans got weird about birth control. If Americans would not go for Republican opposition to legalized first trimester pregnancies, they certainly did not accept their opposition to forms of birth control which prevent implantation, along with wider attempts to reduce access to contraception.

Hysterical Republican cries of “baby killers” are even more absurd when applied to a fertilized egg which lacks a central nervous system and consciousness. The Republican position here makes no more sense scientifically than Republican attitudes which deny science regarding evolution and climate change.  This also helps debunk the false Republican frame of making the pertinent question be when life begins. Certainly a fertilized egg is alive, but it also is not deserving of rights which trump the rights of a woman to control her own body. The Republican attitude on contraception only acted to expose their fallacious views regarding abortion, not to mention destroy any false claims they might make for being the supporters of limited government and greater freedom. This seems especially absurd to thinking people as providing easier access to contraception is one obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

His final point is that Republicans bet wrong on gay marriage. Attitudes in this country certainly have changed rapidly. As James Joyner put it, “As we’ve become more educated, appeal to tradition and cries of “We’ve always done it this way!” are simply less persuasive. Ultimately, the arguments for excluding people from marrying others of the same sex were revealed to be provincial at best and simple bigotry at worst.”

However, while liberal Democratic voters might have supported legalization of same-sex marriage, many Democratic leaders were also behind the country on this one. Still, it is Republicans who made a major issue of trying to again intervene in the private lives of individuals, while Democratic leaders were at least ready to get out of the way as the country changed. While Republican have lost on this issue, Democrats also lost the opportunity to win respect by clearly standing for liberal principles before becoming politically safe.

While the country has been becoming more liberal on social issues, and I see this as a gradual process, not a sudden victory, this does not necessarily mean the culture wars are over. This country still consists of those of us who live in the modern world, and a sizable number who continue to reject science and reason and follow conservative ideas.

Fortunately such ideas are diminishing as fewer young support such conservative attitudes, but they are not disappearing entirely. Young people are far more likely to be influenced by the fake news of Jon Stewart than the fake news coming from Fox. Republicans now will have a hard time winning a presidential election if they do not change their views, but with a two party system we cannot exclude the possibility of another conservative Republican president. Democrats have a significant edge in the electoral college, but not a lock.

The presidency is only one branch of government. The Republicans still have the Supreme Court, although they have decided it best to stay out of the marriage issue now that conservatives are clearly on the wrong side of history. Republicans will continue to have an influence in Congress due to structural issues which keep it from being a truly representative democratic institution. Republicans have a tremendous edge in the Senate as the small states receive the same two Senators as the much more populous blue states. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned such a vast difference in population between the large and small states.

Part of the Republican edge in the House comes from gerrymandering, but even without gerrymandering the Republicans benefit from the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, unless districts are made to account for this. Republicans also benefit from a higher turn out by their voters in midterm elections, and they attempt to increase this edge with laws directed towards making it more difficult for minorities and young college students to vote. The right to vote itself might be the next big division between the parties as Republicans continue to pursue voter suppression as a tactic.

Republicans also dominate in a significant portion of the country, primarily but not limited to the deep south. The culture war is bound to continue there, with Republican candidates also seeking to promote their views elsewhere. As Eleanor Clift wrote, the Republican War on Women continues, just more quietly. We might not be hearing comments such as Tod Akin on women’s bodies shutting down in case of legitimate rape, but  have heard plenty of other outrageous statements this year.  Republicans might be trying to be more quiet on social issues, but they are failing, and this certainly isn’t coinciding with a change in their views.  It is also hard to say that the culture war is entirely over when Republicans have been successful in multiple state legislatures to make abortion more difficult, even if the most draconian Republican proposals have failed.

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SciFi Weekend: The Flash; Arrow; Gotham; Sleepy Hollow; Agents of SHIELD; Person of Interest; Doctor Who; Selfie; 12 Monkeys; Renewed Shows; Utopia; Gracechurch; Red States & Pornography

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 The Flash was off to an excellent start last week. It looks like it will be a lighter version of Arrow but has started to set up an interesting back story. There’s the death of Barry’s mother in the past and the episode ended with a look into the future which raises the question if they plan their own version of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. We don’t know for certain that the future will play out as suggested:

“Time travel is going to play a big part in the overall series, but one of the things that we will discover is that time is mutable,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg says. “As the good Doctor says, time can be rewritten, so not everything you see on the show is necessarily what’s going to come to pass and not necessarily everything that’s happened is fixed.” In other words, that newspaper’s headline could change.

Presumably their version will not include the death of Barry Allen. The final scene also revealed that Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) can walk, contrary to what was previously suggested. Is his name supposed to bring H.G. Wells and time travel to mind? With Tom Cavanagh’s character able to walk, this also leaves open the possibility of returning to his bowling alley (Ed).

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Returning genre shows such as Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Person of Interest have all returned to strong starts. Arrow returned with a very brief romance between Oliver and Felicity along with  (major spoiler ahead)  an unexpected death, which I bet will ultimately lead to Laurel taking over as Black Canary. Thanks to flashbacks, this won’t be the last we see of Sara. The episode also introduced Ray Palmer, who has now taken control of Queen Consolidated. While Gotham has premiered, Arrow remains by far the best television adaption of Batman ever aired.

While still early, Gotham does look  promising. It essentially feels like a comic book world without the superhero. Jim Gordon serves as the superhero, even if lacking either superpowers of the special abilities of characters such as Batman or Green Arrow. In a city where virtually everyone else appears corrupt, just fighting for justice and being the rare good guy is enough. Hopefully the can continue to work in a storyline with young Bruce Wayne without it appearing too contrived.

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What makes Sleepy Hollow so much fun is how theye can have both a conspiracy linking Judas, Benedict Arnold, and events in the current episode, mixed with such humorous scenes as last week with Ichabod learning about how our banks work and getting confused about men wearing hats indoors (but not gays).

Ichabod : Is that considered acceptable now?
Abbie : Oh, lots of attitudes have changed since your days, not everyone’s but supreme court has upheld the constitutional right of same sex couples, and more and more states are even legalizing gay marriage
Ichabod : I meant gentleman wearing hats indoors, I know about homosexuals thank you, I trained under Baron von Steuben. His affections for his own sex were well known. Also, I watches the finale of Glee.

Even when in the midst of the big conspiracy they still don’t take things too seriously, such as with Nick Hawley not getting too worried about the apocalypse they were trying to prevent. After all, every civilization has their own apocalypse story.

Last week had another strong episode of Agents of SHIELD with a new role for Simmons. They are making far better use of both Fitz and Simmons than last year. Presumably the real Simmons, as opposed to the one in Fitz’s head, will appear intermittently while undercover at HYDRA. It would probably appear too contrived if they run into her every episode.

Person of Interest is also off to a great start after a semi-reboot, placing the major characters in new situations. I am hoping they do more with the big issues of surveillance and artificial intelligence as the season progresses, rather than number of the week shows.  There is the danger that the reboot won’t matter as they have quickly made things similar to before with the establishment of a means to communicate, a new base, and a new source of money.

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Steven Moffat had a line in The Big Bang with a call about an escaped Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express in space. With the substitution of a mummy for the Egyptian goddess, this premise turned into this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Mummy On The Orient Express. Perhaps some of the plot holes and unanswered questions from Moffat’s stories will ultimately be answered if we wait long enough.

We don’t know who Gus, who masterminded the situation, really is, but perhaps this will be answered at a later date. I also wonder if there is more to Perkins, and if he will be seen again. I am also curious as to whether this episode was planned at the time of The Big Bang. I suspect that it might have just been an idea in Moffat’s mind, which he later altered because he could not resist the line, “Are you my Mummy?”

The episode also included themes from previous episodes, including jelly bellies and the Doctor talking to his previous regenerations. In keeping with themes from this season, the mummy was a soldier. There was progression in the Capaldi Doctor’s attitude. He still had no qualms about watching people he considered to already be doomed die in order to gain information, (“Old ladies die all the time.It’s practically in their job description.”). However, he also substituted himself for a potential victim. In the end, he used the TARDIS to save everyone.

The Clara storyline was handled in a strange manner. Last week it looked like she was done with the Doctor, leading to speculation that this might have been done to set up a solo adventure. Instead Clara was present, yet they teased that this might be their last trip together. If Clara was planning to leave the Doctor, why did she go with him on the Orient Express? After so much teasing that she would no longer travel with the Doctor, she changed her mind quite quickly at the end. I also continue to wonder what type of cell service the Doctor and his companions have which allows them to communicate not only with each other regardless of where they are, but back with earth in the present. Personally I can lose cell service if I wander too far from the cell extender I found necessary to purchase to set up a cellular hot spot in my own house.

The Doctor Who Extra is below:

I had mixed opinions from the pilot of Selfie but obviously I was going to give any show staring Karen Gillian and John Cho a second chance. I’m glad I did as the second episode was much better. Pilots can be a poor way to judge a series as the pilot has the burden of setting up the situations. In addition, changes for the better are sometimes made in shows between the time a pilot is shot and the show goes into regular production.

While there are some excellent genre shows in the fall, summer was weaker on broadcast television. CBS has shown a commitment to mediocre summer science fiction, renewing both Under the Dome and Extant.

Still no word from Showcase regarding Continuum.

ABC has given a full season pick up to two of their better new shows of the season, How to Get Away With Murder and Blackish.

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IO9 reports that Syfy’s television version of 12 Monkeys, which begins in January, will be different from the movie, taking the aspects they like and changing others, like their previous reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It sounds like it might be an intelligent time travel series based upon their review of the pilot:

What the pilot really proved was that this is a show not afraid of the complications of time travel. It does not slow down and explain to the audience its fractured timeline, save for a few title cards in the beginning. Ivanek gives a speech at the end of the episode that wholly relies on the audience being quicker on the uptake about time travel tropes than the characters.

The pilot also builds in a lot of space in the characters’ backstories to fill in later. And you actually want to know about them. you want to know how Stanford got to be in a position where he was picked for his mission. You wonder endlessly about how Railly can get from where we meet her to where she ends up. There’s more than enough to carry more episodes.

An old CBS science fiction series us returning. Legendary TV is working on a rebooted series of Lost in Space. Hopefully they can improve upon the original with the reboot as Battlestar Galactica did.

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Channel 4 has canceled Utopia after its second season, which was one of the better genre shows over the past summer. HBO is planning a remake with David Fincher directing. He is again working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), who has written the scripts for the new series. While I often question making US remakes of recently aired British shows, such as with Broadchurch,I am curious to see Flynn’s take on this story.

As a consequence of lacking the time for all the genre and quality television shows now on (a welcome problem and change from the past), I have not watched Gracepoint, having already seen Broadchurch. For the benefit of others in this situation who are debating whether to watch, I have found that most reviewers are saying that the early episodes of Gracepoint are very similar to Broadchurch, and where they differed Broadchurch did it much better. Both version star David Tennant. Reviewers are also saying Gracepoint begins to diverge from Broadchurch in the seventh episode. The producers have teased that the ending might be different, so at this point the reviewers I have read (who have not seen beyond this point) do not know how significant the difference from the seventh episode will be.

And, finally, yet another study shows that people in red states are more likely to search for porn:

A new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, produced by researchers from Canadian Universities, found American states that identify as more religious and conservative are also more apt to search for sex online. Of course, the study makes a point of separating the religiously conservative from the politically conservative. The latter is more likely to look for sex specific terms, such as “gay sex, free porn and xxx,” whereas those that consider themselves religious were looking for generalized sex terms that could’ve theoretically fallen under the “health and wellness” category.

In heavily religious states, abstinence is often pushed as the only safe sex, with very little to offer in the way of sexual education. Unfortunately, that leaves a growing number of people with questions about sex but no answers. Enter Google: the best way to find an answer to personal, possibly embarrassing questions without calling attention to yourself. So of course the study finds that religious communities have a higher percentage of sex-related searches. That’s what happens when you can’t find it elsewhere.

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By Not Acting, Supreme Court Puts United States On A Path Towards Marriage Equality

By deciding to allow appeals court rulings in five states stand, the Supreme Court has essentially put the United States on a path to make this legal in most, if not all, of the United States. While same-sex marriage only directly affects a small percentage of the country, it has become a litmus test to distinguish left from right, and demonstrate the emptiness of Republican claims of supporting smaller government and more freedom.

For liberals, same-sex marriage is a fundamental matter of individual liberty. Conservatives, who often fail to understand liberal concepts of liberty and equal treatment under the law, limit their support for freedom to behaviors they approve of. Often to conservatives, freedom of religion means the freedom to impose their religious views upon others.

This affects far more than those in the five states where federal appeals courts have already ruled that bans on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. From FiveThirtyEight:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline hearing a series of appeals cases on same-sex marriage will have the effect of immediately legalizing gay marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. When combined with the 19 states (and the District of Columbia) that had previously legalized same-sex marriage, these states have a collective population of roughly 165 million, according to 2013 census figures.

That means for the first time, same-sex marriage is legal for the majority of the U.S. population. The 26 states where the practice is not legal have a total population of about 151 million.

The Supreme Court’s decision may also lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those states have an additional 25 million people combined. If they follow suit, 30 states and the District, totaling about 60 percent of the U.S. population, would allow same-sex marriage.

SCOTUSblog also states that this will extend legalization of same-sex marriage to thirty states and  “there are four other federal appeals courts that are currently considering challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.” One implication of this is that, “A ruling by at least one of them that states can prohibit same-sex marriage would create the kind of disagreement among the lower courts that might spur the Court to grant review.”

The New York Times thinks that the result of today’s ruling will  ultimately be expanding legalization of same-sex marriage nation-wide in a matter comparable to elimination of laws prohibiting interracial marriage, with the Supreme Court unlikely to rule against this in the future.

Should the court then take up a same-sex marriage case next year or in another term, the justices may be reluctant to overturn what has become law in the majority of American states, said Walter E. Dellinger III, who was an acting United States solicitor general in the Clinton administration.

“The more liberal justices have been reluctant to press this issue to an up-or-down vote until more of the country experiences gay marriage,” Mr. Dellinger said. “Once a substantial part of the country has experienced gay marriage, then the court will be more willing to finish the job.”

There is precedent for such an approach: The court waited to strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967, when the number of states allowing such unions had grown to 34, even though interracial marriage was still opposed by a significant majority of Americans. But popular opinion has moved much faster than the courts on same-sex marriage, with many Americans and large majorities of young people supporting it.

Buzzfeed has a listing of the legal status of same-sex marriage in each state.

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