I’m a pretty well-informed person.  I read news stories, blogs, op-eds, and get friends’ thoughts on the issues in America (and the world) in 2013 and beyond.  So I’m pretty well able to form my own opinions and articulate them relatively clearly.

What I don’t know is what the hell to do about them that will actually make a difference.

You know the problems as well as I do.  Here’s a partial list:

  • We have 25 people –including 20 young school children — killed by gun violence while in school and we still can’t do anything about it, because the NRA owns Congress.  So now the NRA, feeling its oats, is proposing placing armed guards in schools, and arming teachers.  The city council in Nelson, Georgia — and I swear I’m not making this up — voted 5-0 to make gun ownership mandatory.  Unless the members of the family opt out.  The level of idiocy in this is simply breathtaking.  How does any of this remotely make sense?
  • The manufactured deficit crisis, leading to the sequester:  This is directly related to the fact that most of our leaders (and I blame both Democrats and Republicans on this, but the Republicans are much, much worse on this) take really good care of the rich in this country.  After all, that’s where the campaign cash comes from, and those are the people who can afford the lobbyists.  Meanwhile, the little guy keeps getting the shaft.  The Republicans claim victory on the sequester, too, which is absolutely crazy.  At the same time they’re saying that the cuts are bad, bad, bad.  No wonder they’re so out of touch.  The latest news on this: Cancer clinics are turning away Medicare patients because of the sequester.  Can someone explain to me how this is good policy, or how it’s even humane?  Because I don’t see how it could be.  I can’t see how it’s moral or right, either, but that’s another story.
  • Women’s health and the right to choose: States continue to pare back a woman’s right to control her body.  I wrote a post on this last August.  I don’t want to re-litigate it here.
  • Republicans in North Carolina wants to declare a state religion.  Obviously, this is unconstitutional, but that people would actually try this in 2013 just boggles my mind.
  • The Obama Administration is considering a trade agreement with the European Union that would give corporations just what they need — more power (yes, I’m being sarcastic).  This is another one of those policy ideas that I just can’t understand.  Corporations have too much power in this world; they certainly don’t need more.
  • The heartbreaking struggle (If you haven’t seen the film that I’m linking to here, you should; it’s a documentary that aired on HBO … I was in tears watching it) that so many people are going through in  this country with long-term unemployment (while corporations sit on an unprecedented amount of cash, don’t hire enough people, and only manage to the bottom line).  The only mobility in this country is downward, unless you’re incredibly rich.  The middle class is being decimated.  It’s pretty plain that a strong middle class, and the poor actually being able to improve their situation, is vital to a strong economy.  All the growth is being concentrated with the rich.  None of it is “trickling down.”  Did we learn nothing from the last 30 years?  Did we learn nothing from the last Gilded Age?
  • The gerrymandered to death congressional districts that pretty well rigged elections for the next decade.
  • The voting rights act that is under review in the Supreme Court that could turn back the gains made there over the past 45 or 50 years.
  • Taxpayer-subsidized banks and oil companies.

I’ve left out all kinds of things in this list, I know — everything from gay rights, to protection for women against being raped and mandating that rape kits are actually processed, to equal pay for equal work, to the crumbling infrastructure, to the crippling student debt that so many are buried under … the list could go on and on.  America is in sorry shape.  (And I want to blast Republicans in general for their general wing-nuttery, but that’s another post.)

So my question is this:  What the hell do we do about it?  What would actually make a difference?  Because I really don’t know.

We saw the Occupy movement fall apart and fade away after some serious police brutality and the weather changing.  Newspapers are failing and being consolidated.  (I can’t find a citation right now, but I read that there’s something like four or five corporations that control nearly all of the media in this country.)

I’m really concerned about my son’s future.  How is he going to get ahead in this country when it’s on this path?

So can someone tell me something to do that will actually make a difference?

Update 4/12/13 — I had dinner with a friend last night.  She said that to change it, you have to run for office.  I pretty much dismissed that out of hand; I don’t really have much interest in running for office.  I don’t want to join to politician class and become part of the problem.  Smarter people than I am have tried and got sucked in.  I’m watching people like Elizabeth Warren pretty closely.  I hope she and others like her can make a difference.

How many more times is this going to happen?  How many more times are we going to allow this to happen?  How many more times are we going to pick up a newspaper or turn on a television and see images like we saw today?  Or in Denver?  Or in Portland last weekend?  Or Columbine?  Or Tuscon?  Or any of the other examples of our too violent society with much too easy access to guns?

We lost 20 kids and 7 adults today in Connecticut.  Their lives ended before they even began.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking.  A man wearing body armor and armed to the teeth with an assault rifle and semi-automatic pistols walked into an elementary school and shot 26 people (he killed his mother as well as himself).  Not only did he kill all those people, he traumatized so many more, like in the picture on the right.  It is a terrible tragedy on so many levels.

So I’ll come back to my original question.  How many more times is this going to happen?  How many more times is this going to happen before either we enact some sensible gun control in this country?  Or take Chris Rock’s idea of making each bullet cost $5,000.  Either one is fine with me.

President Obama tentatively stuck his toe in the water today as he reacted to this tragedy.  He is being much too timid.  We need immediate, comprehensive action to control guns.

Our leaders in Washington and in the state houses have an obligation to protect the people from this kind of harm.  Kids shouldn’t go to school and not come home because some idiot walks onto the campus and starts shooting.  What the hell is wrong with this country, that this can keep happening?  That’s a rhetorical question.  Everyone is afraid of the NRA.

Well, it’s time to get over that.  We have the power to do something about this.    It is way, way past time to stand up to the gun lobby in America.  The Second Amendment was not meant to give people the means to kill other people like this.  We’re not living in the frontier time, when guns were genuinely needed for protection.  This is a modern, supposedly civilized society.  There is no way ordinary citizens should be able to access an arsenal like so many have lately.

I’ve only scratched the surface of gun control here.  I haven’t talked about the mental health component, and the fact that Reagan gutted the mental health system in this country when he was president.  Or how offended I am that Mike Huckabee blames the removal of the lord from the schools for the massacres.  Please spare us.

America needs to grow up and join the civilized world.  It’s time to disarm our citizens.

I’ve been reading the liberal memes on Facebook about abortion.  I’m sure you’ve seen them.  Memes like “Republican Platform Calls for Constitutional Amendment Banning Abortion with No Exception for Rape or Incest.”  They excoriate the conservative position for not having the exceptions, and they’re right to do so although they don’t go far enough.

The problem is that they’re giving away half the game to conservatives.  Exceptions for rape or incest should be a given.  Only a cruel person would force a woman who has been raped to carry a rapist’s baby to term, then give birth, and then allow the rapist to have parental rights (in some states).  That is cruel — cruel and unusual punishment —  for a woman who has already been violated once by the rapist.

This whole issue of abortion boils down to one word: choice.  It’s about freedom — freedom for a woman to make decisions about her body.  It’s really that simple.

But as framed by Democrats and the President, the current debate about abortion — centered as it is around rape victims and the health exception — put women in the position of supplicants, seeking permission to end their pregnancies. Most people, fortunately, think there are circumstances where that permission should be granted. But true freedom is not freedom to ask permission—it’s freedom to make a decision. That’s what pro-choice really means, and it would be healthy for abortion-rights supporters to say so clearly and often.

Republicans want to eliminate a woman’s right to choose what happens in her body.  They want to take away a woman’s freedom to make decisions, a major theme in “The Handmaid’s Tale“.  (I’m rereading this now, and there are quite a few parallels to America today.  Give it a read if you haven’t read it or if it’s been awhile; it’s worth your time.)  Liberals are allowing the anti-abortion groups to stake out the moral high ground when it isn’t there’s to stake out.  They need to stop giving away the store.

No one likes abortion.  No one.  Everyone is pro-life.  Some are pro-choice (I am pro-choice); some are anti-choice.  Those are the accurate labels.  So why do those who are pro-choice allow those who are anti-choice to frame the argument that way?  (This problem — allowing conservatives to frame the debate in their terms — isn’t unique to the abortion debate.)

Instead of curtailing a woman’s freedom, we need to take pragmatic steps to reduce abortion.  I think nearly everyone wants fewer abortions.  We should provide realistic, good sex education in schools.  We also need to provide access and training for contraception.

People honestly need to grow up in this country.  Teenagers and adults are going to have sex.  Pregnancies might occur.  Teaching people how to prevent pregnancy will have a desired effect — fewer abortions.

People who are pro-choice should frame the argument as it really is.  It’s about choice.  It’s about freedom.  And only down the line is it about abortion.

I read an article today on Wonkblog and again I’m astounded by how much government aid the red states consume, yet still keep voting with the conservatives who want no to extremely small government.  This doesn’t quite compute for me.

The story that got me thinking today is one talking about the fantastic deal the Medicaid expansion portion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is that so many red state governors want to, in effect, shaft their own citizens by turning down the sweet deal the federal government is offering.  This, because anything Obama does is bad.

Over the coming weeks and months, there’s going to be a new event in the Republican Party’s ongoing “No, I’m the most anti-Obamacare!” contest: refusing to participate in the law’s proposed Medicaid expansion. So far, the governors of FloridaSouth Carolina and Louisiana have already promised to do exactly that.

Ignore them. The deal the federal government is offering states on Medicaid is too good to refuse. And that’s particularly true for the red states. If Mitt Romney loses the election and Republicans lose their chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to end up participating in the law. They can’t afford not to.

Medicaid is jointly administered between states and the federal government, and the states are given considerable leeway to set eligibility rules. Texas covers only working adults up to 26 percent of the poverty line. The poverty line for an individual is $11,170. So, you could be a single person making $3,000 a year and you’re still not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. That’s part of the reason Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Massachusetts, by contrast, covers working adults up to 133 percent of the poverty line — partly due to a former governor whose name rhymes with Schmitt Schmomney. It’s a big reason it has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation.

I realize that Ezra Klein says to ignore the promises to refuse federal Medicaid money, but it’s hard to ignore those promises without wondering why those governors feel secure enough politically to say those kinds of things without fearing the loss of a lot of votes.

Why do the red states keep voting against their clear economic interest?  And why are they so happy to keep taking the blue states’ tax dollars that are paid into the government they say they hate?  The blue states are happy (ish) to pay those tax dollars, though, and are happy to help those less fortunate than themselves.  Why are the blue states reviled?

Some of it, no doubt, is the Fox News Effect.  People who are rightly angry at the status quo are told what to be angry about.  Over and over and over.  And they end up believing it.

By the end of my stint as a hired Fox News–watcher, my takeaway was, first, that the Democrats invented corruption.

Second, regardless of different formats or different anchors, whatever else was going on in the world of news, each show featured the same big story. When I watched, it was the growing controversy about Solyndra.

How do the news people at Fox know what the big story of the day is? you might ask. They just look at the earlier Fox News shows. If they flag it, it must be important. Anyway, by the time the night is finished, it will be the big story. In fact, by the next day, or sooner, it goes viral, showing up on other networks and in the newspapers. Opinion-makers elsewhere are reluctant not to use it for fear of being judged “out of touch.”

How does Fox get its big story of the day? Several ways. I remember one coup regarding the Department of Agriculture official who gave a speech that made her seem racist. A video excerpt had fallen into Fox’s hands over the transom, as they say, and by the end of the day of repetition on Fox and elsewhere the official had been fired. That was enterprising investigative journalism at its finest.

When the whole speech was played, however, it turned out that the fired official actually had been making a strong civil rights statement. Somebody had performed a contextectomy. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention on TV Journalism, which calls for telling the whole truth, not just half or a quarter.

How could that story have gotten legs? It wasn’t true. Yes, but the more you repeat something on TV, the truer it becomes.

Third, I learned how people are Foxified: it comes from watching too much Fox News over a period of time. They fall asleep watching reruns of O’Reilly and Hannity, starting at 11 or midnight. Instead of turning into a cockroach like the guy in the Kafka story, they wake up as a right-wing ideologue, or as we progressives call them, nuts.

Now I understand what Ailes and his diabolical mind-benders are up to. At the Fox News Channel, they treat the news as a script. A more apt slogan than “Fair & Balanced” would be “Fox News—Based on a True Story.”

The BBC says that people in red states resent having solutions force-fed to them.  This sounds plausible to me.

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

But that would be a mistake.

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing.

It’s clear that health care reform is the right thing for the country.  It’s also true that trying to help the poor is the proper thing to do.  I — and other liberals — think that this is a role for government.  I think we all agree that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but so many people don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

The red states keep getting redder — that’s where the bulk of the tea party is coming from. Fox News keeps on going on with its version of the facts and people keep buying it.

I don’t know how the Democrats get around that.  It’s obviously a messaging problem, one that the Democrats are going to have to solve.  I would suggest that Democrats make the Republicans feel like it’s their idea, but with healthcare reform, the Democrats used a Republican idea!  So how is this solved?

Republicans are waging a war on women on multiple fronts all over the country.  It’s happening in Congress, it’s happening in state legislatures all over the nation, and it’s happening in conservative media.  Yes, there are some liberals who are chauvinistic in their comments.  But on the left, there isn’t the concerted war on women the way there is on the right.

Let’s start with the legislative war.  This takes the form of defunding Planned Parenthood in the name of reducing or eliminating abortions.  This is happening in Congress, and in several of the states.  And it happened by a major charity.  It’s an open attack on abortion rights, and a woman’s right to choose.  It also takes the form of truly horrid and regressive laws, like the one Virginia tried to pass earlier this year.  It doesn’t matter that some of these laws aren’t passing.  It’s like fighting a forest fire — attacks are coming from all over the place.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the laws defunding Planned Parenthood are counterintuitive, or that the laws will actually do a lot of harm.  Planned Parenthood provides quite a lot of women’s health services, such as routine pap smears or breast exams.  (They also provide contraception.)  No, they provide abortions, so they’re bad.  All bad.

Look, if you really want to reduce or eliminate abortions, educate people (especially teenagers and preteens) on what sex really is, and the possible consequences of not doing it safely.  People are going to have sex, no matter how much Republicans try to deny that fact.  So why not give them the tools to do it safely, and to prevent the pregnancies from happening in the first place?

Today in Michigan, two female Democratic legislators were silenced on the House floor for daring to oppose the heinous abortion bill that passed there today.  They wanted to apply the same law to vasectomies.  Turn about is fair play, after all.

Probably worst of all, Republicans are seeking to redefine the definition of rape.  And then they want to prevent the use of any tax money to pay for abortion.  Yesterday, a story was published about House Republicans blocking abortion access for soldiers who have been raped.

These policies are misogynistic and misguided.  Actually, misguided isn’t strong enough.  They’re simply wrong.   The New York Times editorialized about this on May 19.  (It’s too long to post here, but I recommend reading it all.)  Frank Rich also wrote a long New York Magazine piece on this that points out what’s happening.

Stop having sex with us, gentlemen, and I ask women to boycott men ...

The question, really, is what do we do about it?  There have been some suggestions about having a sex strike.  That’s not really a bad idea.  But it’s not all that practical.  The only way to get their attention is to have people flood their phones and email boxes and snail mail boxes.  And then to start making their approval ratings go down by answering polls when called.

Ultimately, women and people who actually like women have to vote this fall.These ultra-religious right-wing Republicans need to lose their seats this fall.  That means that people will have to actually vote their interests, unlike what many red state residents do.

Conservative women absolutely need to stand up and remind these legislators that they all have mothers and wives and daughters and sisters and maybe mistresses.  Republicans have to be loudly reminded that their women are not going to stand for this.  They need to be reminded that if they want to pursue these misogynistic policies, there will be consequences.  Maybe those won’t come today, but they will come.  Women make up more than 50% of the population.  Women will become more and more alienated.  Republicans will not continue to win elections except in the most extreme places without the support of women.  Without the support of women, the Republican Party — the Grand Old Party — will die.

Life will get a lot tougher for women if the Republican Party gets its way.  The party seems to want to drag women and their health back to the dark ages.  I’m personally so disgusted with the troglodytes in the Republican Party that I can hardly believe it.  They’ve ticked me off in the past, but they’re so far overboard now that I think they’re trying to drag us back to the 13th century.

This is the same Republican Party that proclaims itself the party of small government.  Government is bad, according to them, and has too much power over citizens’ (and corporations, because corporations are people) lives.  So government must be made smaller so that it intrudes less than it currently does.  Regulate less!  Obama is bad!  (No matter what he does.)  This is simply  Republicans playing Machiavellian games in the name of religion, damn whoever gets hurt.

Here’s how Republicans are waging war on women in the past few weeks (they’re also waging war on gays, but that’s another story and another post):

  • The current conflagration pretty much started — this time — with the Susan G. Komen Foundation flap over Planned Parenthood.
  • Republicans promptly went ballistic over the whole contraception coverage requirement issue.  They said (and continue to say) that it goes too far, that religious organizations should be exempted.  Of course, this is a fallacious argument; the Obama Administration isn’t requiring that churches pay for contraception, only their health care arms.  (I’m explaining this badly.  But the point remains.)  They’re going all in and gearing up for a huge fight to deny women contraceptive coverage, coverage that insurance companies want to provide.  (Insurance companies do nothing out of the goodness of their heart.  They’re doing it because it’s cheaper than paying for pregnancy and childbirth.)  This is about religion for the Republicans.  Mitch McConnell admitted as much.
  • Rick Santorum’s main financial backer suggested that birth control is actually quite cheap, that “gals” could achieve that by putting an aspirin between their knees.
  • The Virginia House of Delegates passed a law requiring women who want to have an abortion to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound before those women are allowed to have their abortion.  Forcing something into a woman without her consent — even if she has to sign a consent form to have the ultrasound — is rape.  State-sanctioned rape.
  • Republicans on the House Oversight Committee held a hearing today on birth control.  Not one woman was allowed to testify, despite showing up for the hearing.  Nearly all Democratic women on the panel walked out in protest.
  • Not one Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994.  This kind of law should pass easily.  But it may not even be able to break a certain Republican filibuster.
  • Oklahoma’s senate passed a personhood act, which states that life begins at conception.  This would effectively ban all abortions.

(All this, and I didn’t even mention Rick Santorum and that Fox News commentator whose name escapes at the moment me talking about women serving on the front lines in the military.  Santorum talked about women’s feelings — and men’s feelings that they will have to protect those women.  The Fox News commentator said that women should expect to be raped.  No, that’s only if they go to Virginia and need an abortion.)

Polls show that women — including Catholic women — use birth control.  They want the choice, and they want insurance to pay for it.  I — and about half of Americans — think that a woman should have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy without onerous requirements imposed by the government.  I don’t want an abortion, but I also would not restrict another woman’s right to make that choice.  Who am I to choose for her?  Who are conservatives to impose what they want on everyone else?

This is an all-out Republican war on women.  There’s no other way to read this.  None.  It’s about nothing other than religion.  We’re supposed to live in a free country.  We have freedom of religion, which also means freedom from religion.  That means that no group is supposed to be allowed to impose its religion on another group.  Imposing religion on the rest of the country seems to be what Republicans are trying to do.  If people like Rick Santorum get their way, we’ll be living in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

What I don’t get is that the conservatives’ war on women and women’s health is not only bad policy, it’s really bad politics.  I mean, think this through.  The population is a little more than 50% female.  How does alienating a large percentage of women further Republican electoral goals in the future?  They might win today, but women are not stupid and will remember this.

It’s way past time for women, and people who love women, to stand up and call a halt to this.  It’s time to vote the Republicans persecuting women out of office.  If there aren’t acceptable alternative candidates, it’s time to run for office instead.  Women need to stand up and be counted.  It’s time to call a halt to this disgusting misogyny of which conservatives are guilty.

The Susan G. Komen foundation has been under fire the past few days.  That pressure is well deserved; it’s coming after Komen — an organization that professes to care about women’s health — pulled its funding for Planned Parenthood.  (Komen has since reversed that decision because of a furious outcry online.  Maybe.)

Komen said over and over that their decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood was not about politics.  That simply can’t be true.  It was a pathetic attempt to pander to right-wing, anti-abortion groups who have had knives out for Planned Parenthood for years.  More evidence that the decision was about abortion: Mother Jones is reporting on another of Komen’s grants that appears to violate its new policy.

The Planned Parenthood decision has put Komen under a good deal of scrutiny.  The more we find out about them, the more questions arise about their activities.  A look at their financials (2010 is available on their website in a PDF) is educational.

  • For their fiscal year 2009-10, Komen brought in $310 million in revenue, goods, and services.  They had an additional $80 million in other income (interest, investment income, restricted funds becoming unrestricted.  That’s about $390 million in revenue.  Not bad.
  • They spent about $360 million.  This is how that breaks down: Research – $75 million (about 21%).  Public Awareness (advertising and other public outreach, in other words) – $141 million (39%).  Health Screenings $41 million (11%).  Treatment – $20 million (0.5%).  Fundraising – $36 million (10%).  Administrative costs – $41 million (11%).
  • Let me spell this out (this was pointed out by Chris Broom on Facebook, who adapted it from a post on DailyKos).  They spent $77 million in overhead costs.  Compare that to the $76 million they spent on research, which probably has its own grant overhead costs.

So their priorities don’t really seem to be curing breast cancer, just by looking at the numbers.  The DailyKos post says that this makes sense because there really isn’t any economic benefit to curing breast cancer.  But there certainly is great economic benefit in treating breast cancer and working to find a cure.  There’s a human benefit to both.

Pink Walther P22

File photo of the Walther P-22 Hope Edition 3.4″ to be sold for breast cancer awareness. (Credit: Discount Gun Sales, LLC)

Then there are some other activities that are questionable.  They created a partnership with a Seattle gun distributor to sell pink handguns.  Apparently this fits in with the pink spatulas and pink ribbons for awareness that Komen is so well known for.  What’s the next deadly promotional item to be made pink?

Can someone explain to me exactly how selling handguns contributes to women’s health?  It seems to me that it does exactly the opposite.  Guns kill people, you see.  Is the new Komen motto “Save a life by taking a life”?  It seems apt, although it’s intellectually dishonest when taken in light with the Planned Parenthood decision (about abortion no matter what Komen says).  It’s a common disease in the Republican Party these days.  But that’s another post.

I’m not going to soft-pedal how I feel about the handgun thing.  It’s disgusting.  It’s another sop to the right wing, just the same way the Planned Parenthood decision was.  It’s wrong.

I think the Komen foundation needs to remember what its true mission is.  It’s supposed to be about women’s health and finding a cure for breast cancer, which is a worthy cause.  That’s what all those people giving all that money expect.  Somehow, it seems to me, Komen has lost its way.  Until it finds its way back, I won’t be supporting them (I was thinking about walking in 2013).  Any donation dollars I was going to give them will be going to Planned Parenthood (and maybe anti-gun causes too) instead.

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