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Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs,Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217(the Pence Amendment).

 

Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning  is reading The New York Times. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again!

 

The Politics of Union Envy 

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions

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Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya

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Politics

 

 

Saturday
Apr162011

Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning is reading The New York Times. I like to browse through the Real Estate section and look at the featured residences slide-shows. Then I move over to the Style section to chuckle at the Vows feature story. I finally settle in to enjoy Gail Collins’s twice weekly op-ed column. Collins is so smart and witty; I love how she exposes the follies of the old boys’ club. A recent column, “Let There Be Light Bulbs,” examined the political theater on display when Congress debated whether government should regulate light bulb efficiency. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again! It’s too early, and I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee yet.

I’m sure you have heard of Michelle Bachmann; it has been Bachmann Theater ever since she was elected to Congress in 2006 and then founded the Tea Party Caucus in the summer of 2010. She was on Hardball with Chris Matthews back in 2008 to express her concern that Barack Obama might have anti-American views. She certainly has a way of fueling the fires of socialist hysteria with her campaign to repeal ObamaCare, blatantly accusing President Obama of running a “gangster government.” I don’t know about you, but I was oddly frightened during her rebuttal to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address; what was she staring at? Had she caught a glimpse into the psychedelic ether of Victoria Jackson?

People might think she is as zany as, if  not  more than, her Arctic sister, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. They are both brunettes, have each raised five children, and are devoutly religious with strongly conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriages. But no one should dismiss Bachmann as many political pundits have done with Palin. I too believe that Palin is more in love with the pageantry of being a political commentator and performing at speaking engagements across the country for her base, the Tea Party movement, than seriously running for the presidency. And if by chance Palin would ever be elected, those turn of events would seriously put a cramp into her personal bank account.

Bachmann on the other hand is quite cunning. She has been testing the waters for a place on the GOP ballot. Unlike Palin, who bowed out of her governorship in Alaska, Bachmann has served three terms in Congress; her political capital is so strong that even after an unsuccessful bid for the House Republican Conference Chair, she was selected by Speaker John Boehner for a position on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This committee oversees the CIA, the National Security Agency, Department of Defense and the U.S. military. To me, this shows Bachmann’s real political pull, in contrast to Palin, who might be the poster girl for the Tea Party movement but, nevertheless, doesn’t have the reputation or the relationships in Washington D.C. to tilt the scales.

This Tea Party movement has really baffled me. Apparently after the government bailed out Wall Street with TARP money, like-minded conservatives (let’s throw in some libertarians to spice it up) banded together to protest against increased taxation, to call for a reduction in government spending, and to demand that we finally get around to doing something about the national debt. Tea Party members will tell you they are grassroots political activists inspired by the acts of colonists over 230 years ago to do away with British imperialism and to make sure that in no way shape or form will that kind of crap happen on American soil again.

Listen, I understand how thousands of frustrated, angry Americans who are unemployed, saddled with credit card debt and mounting medical bills, and underwater on their homes, can identify with this movement. But I also suspect hiding amongst them is a more Machiavellian subgroup of elitists who quite frankly are not comfortable having a brown-skinned president with an African name who is the product of progressive idealism. 

Some voters who supported John McCain in the 2008 election belong to an affluent sector of society who want to maintain the status quo of the Bush administration by keeping the Bush tax cuts and continuing the deregulation of financial institutions. These voters reaped the rewards of the largest tax cuts in U.S history. Their disregard for the effect those tax cuts would have on the national debt has resulted in a debt that has increased by 100 percent in 2007, causing the U.S. to experience the longest recession since WWII.

So I think we need to ask Michelle Bachmann about which “average American” she truly represents? Is it the embittered libertarian or the frightened blue-collar worker? Or those in the one percent who have been enriched by Bush economic policy? I believe every single American desperately wants a more fiscally sound government; no one wants to pay unreasonably high taxes. And who really wants a country that is bankrupt? I sure don’t.

I do want us to take a deep breath, have the courage to look into the mirror, and embrace our situation. I am willing to meet you halfway in finding some real tangible solutions to our fiscal predicament. Cutting federal funding from Planned Parenthood is not going to balance the budget. Stripping a union’s collective bargaining rights is not going to make a dent either. Proposing to abolish Medicare is not the way to go.

Aside from establishing a domestic policy, a president must lead in foreign policy; she must also possess a temperament  willing to engage with the many multicultural nations who are a part of this global community we all inhabit. If Michelle Bachmann is the face for the conservative collective, should she be the face for our country? Only time will tell; but frankly, I have no desire to drink any of her tea.

 

Friday
Apr082011

The Politics of Union Envy

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions provided: a pension upon retirement; a defined number of paid vacations and sick days; an affordable health care plan for themselves and our family; and protections against arbitrary dismissal, unlike many workers today.

With little exception since 1983, union membership as a whole has been on the decline. Disgracefully, right-wing Republicans and so-called citizen activist groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are pushing for federal and state legislation that would not only further diminish union membership but also restrain, and in some cases destroy, the collective bargaining power of the unions.

At a time when many working people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and paying more for health care, among other rising costs, Republicans have been ramping up their efforts to stoke resentment toward union workers in order to win support for their union-busting policies—insinuating that union workers are not feeling any pain. Many non-union working people have accepted the bait. They have bought into the notion that union workers—in both the public and private sectors—are spoiled and have not sacrificed enough.

There is one conversation, in particular that I remember from 2009. I was talking to someone who is a progressive about the concessions autoworkers were going to be forced to make as a prerequisite for the Obama administration’s bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. This person believed the autoworkers should be forced to make these concessions and that they were foolish to hold on to the belief that the auto companies should abide by their contracts. My mouth nearly hit the floor—this was someone who takes the liberal/progressive position on almost every other subject. I was stunned. I calmly pointed out that autoworkers had been making concessions for a number of years up to that point in an effort to help save their employers, while CEOs took home millions in salaries and other forms of compensation. Putting aside the question of whether workers should make additional concessions, how are workers wrong to expect their employers to meet the terms of a negotiated contract?

Unions have had positive effects for all workers; when the average working Jane or Joe American fails to recognize the forces behind the anti-union fervor, they are complicit in their own economic downfall. Because you don’t have a benefit that another working person has, that benefit should be taken away from that other working person? Why don’t you work to unionize your workplace and fight for that benefit for yourself?

Harvard economist, Richard Freeman, points to anti-union sentiment among non-union working people as evidence of a sense of hopelessness pervading in our society. The “if I can’t have it, you can’t either” theme in anti-union responses from other working people is a depressing indicator of the success of the Republicans’ and corporations’ cynical strategy of pitting working people against each other. Meanwhile, despite the budget crises in their states that supposedly warrant obliterating workers’ ability to stand up for themselves, Republican governors have continued to dole out tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations.

The protests taking place throughout the country in answer to the union-busting legislation are a heartening response to what is nothing more than an overt attack on working people—both union and non-union—in this country.

In his New York Times op-ed on the importance of organizing, Bob Herbert wrote:

"It’s not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades."

The workers’ presence in the streets is a demonstration of collective self-respect—a necessary sentiment in the fight against what is, in my view, fundamentally an effort to negate the importance of working people within our society.

I believe in the power of unions to do good for working people and their families. I have witnessed it in my own life. Perhaps the protests throughout the country are harbingers of hope-reborn. I sure will be keeping my fingers crossed.

 

Tuesday
Mar292011

Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya was at the behest of three female members of his staff. Two somewhat divergent strands of thought have emerged from the noise: Obama is not man enough to make the tough decisions without a push from women on his staff, and three wild-eyed war-mongering women are riding roughshod within the administration. Either way you slice it, the result is a picture of Obama as a weak and incompetent president.

Lydia: I'm dumbfounded by the whole discussion. It turns me into a stuffy old man, actually. I keep thinking, this is total poppycock! Codswollop! I guess my inner old man is British today. This is so out of the blue but not unexpected, I suppose. We're closing in on 2012 so it's all hands on deck to make President Obama as unappealing as possible.

Nichole: I take your point Lydia that the focus is developing critiques of Obama in preparation for the 2012 presidential field--note Newt Gingrich's own flip-flop on Libya--now we have former Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney arguing that Obama is, as she characterizes it, attacking an exemplar of direct democracy and government responsibility. At what point do we get politics out of politics?  At what point do we break ranks with people who are obviously being disingenuous in their critiques of those who are situated differently in their politics?  I may not be clear on what the issue is, but it seems that if a country's leader is using the full force of the military to bomb and shoot citizens who are peacefully protesting, then something needs to be done.  Some collective action to protect unarmed citizens needs to be taken.  I mean, seriously--children were being killed trying to escape Gadhafi's forces.

Lydia: I think a more appropriate question pundits and critics should have been asking, which Ted Koppel has, is why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast where millions of innocents have been killed? What determines where we put in our armed two-cents, as it were? Is our involvement in other countries' civil wars ultimately proven to be aid or a detriment to the very people we were seeking to help? I don't know that there is a right answer to any of these questions. It seems to prove, more than anything, the truism, you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't.  

Nichole: Lydia, I agree with you; McKinney raised that argument in her polemic as did Louis Farakhan over the weekend at a conference on Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Although both McKinney and Farakahn seem completely out of it in terms of what Gadhafi represents at this moment in time.  Wack-a-doodle is very appropriate in their context.  One of the other points that caught our attention though regarding this construction of Obama as hounded by the harpies, is the very troubling gender dynamics at play.  How do we talk seriously about human rights and political engagement without creating these misogynist and sexist straw men?

Lydia: I fear that as long as women are under-represented in politics and positions of power, it will continue, unabashedly.

Sheryl: I am behind in the discussion and I have quite a bit to say. Please bear with me…

Both of you are right to say that this is in preparation for 2012. I would add the thing about this instance is that the right-wing is now choosing to come at Obama using misogynistic stereotypes as their weapon. “Obama as more woman than females on his staff” is a new tack in their never-ending attempt to delegitimize him. During the campaign and to this day, right-wingers have used “Obama as the undercover scary Muslim” to question his legitimacy. They really have been up to this since before Obama was even elected. Now that he is president and they want to prevent him from being re-elected, it has been an almost nonstop endeavor. They really can’t help themselves. They know that turning him into the other has some potential political benefit.

Aside from the clearly misogynistic and sexist nature of the meme that is being presented, one of the other  absurdities is that this question is being debated in the national media. Jeanne Cummings’ analysis of the media coverage hits the nail on the head:

“…What bothers me about the reporting on this particular story is that, really, what you had was the secretary of state going up against the secretary of defense, and the U.N ambassador going up against Homeland Security. Basically, these are women, yes, but these are women with titles that matter…And it‘s in that capacity that they were making their cases.”

On to why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast: I heard someone asking the same question on the radio today. I think to try to answer that question highlights the conflict between our security interests (oil, Al Qaeda, stability in the Middle East, etc.) and the importance of respect for the human rights of all people. As has been the case with a number of other Obama administration actions, I am ambivalent about the decision to involve the U.S. in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya; however, I agree that Obama would have been criticized no matter what he decided to do.

As for the comments from Cynthia McKinney and Louis Farrakhan, I have heard others make similar comments. When does it become absurd for someone to make such statements in support of Gadhafi? Some really, really awful things have been done all over the world in the name of the American people, but does that justify the actions of a Gadhafi? I think McKinney and Farrakhan greatly diminish any credibility they may have on any other issue when they continue to try to prop up someone who is clearly doing wrong. 

Now the politics of it all: it is interesting that Republican opponents of President Obama and his administration find it necessary to attack not only his policy decisions but also to attack him personally; I wonder if they realize the negative political implications for the large number of voters who do not identify with or as a wealthy, white, Christian male.

Monday
Mar142011

Stupidity

By Karima E. Rustin
For the past few weeks, I’ve found it truly amazing to see the people of other nations take a stand for their civil rights, overthrowing tyrannical regimes, and coming together with one voice to establish a movement for change. But I also start every day with an ache in my heart—and a little indigestion—after reading or hearing news reports about certain acts being done right here in my own backyard.
 
So I decided to establish a movement—yes, my very own revolt. I too must speak out against the outlandish measures certain elected officials are trying to impose on us. These special individuals (don’t worry I will name them)  seem hell bent on pissing me off in regards to women’s reproductive rights.
I revolt against stupidity!!!!!
 
Right now as I type this there are people in the  United States who are trying to drown out, subvert and sabotage well-meaning discussions about reproductive rights...wait let me make this clear, women’s reproductive rights. Now I would like to call out a few candidates for this week’s gallery.

The Prime Suspects:
 
South Dakota State Senator Phil Jensen (R) introduced a bill (HB1171) a few weeks ago (which fortunately was shelved) that would have allowed the use of the “justifiable homicide” defense for people accused of killing with the intent to prevent harm to a fetus.  This “justifiable homicide” defense requires there only be  a pregnant woman. I don’t understand—can you also kill  her husband, her parents, or her children to commit "justifiable homicide" in defense of her fetus?  Now…..is it just me or does this sound like chicken shit? Senator Jensen stated he did not intend for “anti-abortion vigilantes” (his words) to use such a defense when drafting this bill but only to protect the life of the fetus. So if an 18-year-old girl (let’s call her Sandra) comes home and tells her father she is with child, and Sandra’s father decides he has every right to beat his daughter, then I guess she is fully within her right to defend herself and her unborn child by blowing her father’s head off. Gee, thanks, Senator Jensen!!
 
Then we have Nebraska State Senator Mark Christensen (R) who wrote a nearly identical bill to the one in South Dakota.  However, the difference is that the bill expands the defense to a third party. Why the hell not? Let’s have everyone join in on the fun of a potential killing spree! Senator Christensen is another pro-lifer who doesn’t believe abortions should be legal in the event of rape and can’t wait for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Now here are some things Mr. Christensen really believes in: the right to carry concealed unregistered guns and… the death penalty. So Mr. Christensen will not be there for you when you get pregnant, are sexually assaulted, need affordable health care for your child or when you get gunned down by that irate public school teacher (who just lost his or her pension) on your way to drop off your child at school. But if by chance that teacher gets convicted of murder, you can count on Christensen to be there to strap his or her ass to the electric chair!

Georgia State Senator Bobby Franklin (R) is a real prize fighter. Senator Franklin introduced a bill, HB 1, that would distinguish an abortion as “pre-natal murder” and punishable under the law. He believes that abortions have had a negative impact on the people of Georgia in many ways: including economically, psychologically, emotionally, and in terms of overall health and  medical well-being (that was a mouthful). At no point should an abortion be legal in the state of Georgia, according to Mr. Franklin. Okay. I also found something very interesting about Senator Franklin. He believes that if a woman was raped, stalked, or abused by a family member (which usually results in rape or murder), this woman is deemed just an “accuser” and not a “victim” during court procedures. Rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes in America. Georgia is ranked 11th in the nation for incidences of “forcible rape” (also see The Daily Show’s take); this suggests there is a fundamental issue in how crimes against women are perceived in Georgia. So Senator Franklin, are you saying that sexual assault does not have a negative impact on rape victims, their families, and their livelihood? What message are you trying to send Mr. Franklin to women who are sexually assaulted when you want to accuse them of murder if they want to terminate pregnancies that result from such acts?

You would think women were the sexual predators; the majority of the birth control that is produced is aimed at controlling women’s fertility. All that is asked of a man is to place a protective barrier on his sexual organ while women are asked to insert, ingest and implant various items and devices into their person. Why is there this belief that the sperm is more important than the egg?
 
Why are men entitled to explore their sexuality and promote their fertility while women’s reproductive rights need to be so strictly governed?

A century ago a registered nurse started a column for the New York Call titled “What Every Girl Should Know.” She wanted to educate women, especially impoverished women about birth control after seeing countless women suffer from self-induced abortions and health issues resulting from frequent childbirths. She believed a woman should be “the absolute mistress of her body.” She opened up the first family planning and birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. Her name was Margaret Sanger and now her hard work and the work of thousands of women (and men) for the past century is unraveling because of the folly of people who come to us with distorted intentions to balance the budget.

We cannot let this happen. We must be the mistresses of our bodies. We must be warriors for our girls and educators to our boys. Women make up 51 percent of the population in the United States so why are there elected officials who don’t represent our voice?

Senator Jensen, Christensen and Franklin and other like-minded congressmen must understand they do not have sovereignty over our bodies and they  need to keep their hands out of our uteruses!

 

Tuesday
Mar082011

Standing With Planned Parenthood

By Sheryl Wright

 Photography by Chris La Putt ©2011 at Brooklyn Vegan

“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” is my favorite chant from the rally I attended on Saturday in support of Planned Parenthood. Walking to the Planned Parenthood rally with hundreds of fellow rally goers who had also come out in support of the ongoing Wisconsin labor protests, I felt an enormous release in having an opportunity to physically demonstrate what I believe in. Along with at least 5,000 other like-minded men and women, I stood in Foley Square in Manhattan to express my vehement opposition to the Congressional amendment passed on February 18th to cut off federal funding for organization. The Republican-controlled House agenda is to turn back the clock to a time of “back alley” abortions and seven day work weeks. The vote to defund Planned Parenthood is just another shot in their attempt to circumvent Roe V. Wade by eliminating women’s access to abortion services. Anti-abortioners claim to be concerned about the lives of the unborn, and whether that is true or not, state control of women’s’ reproductive choices strips women of their ability to control their own lives. I tend to believe that leaving women to their own devices causes great anxiety for many right-wing conservatives.

I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose, but Planned Parenthood provides much more than abortions. It is the nation’s leading provider of women’s health services. Millions of middle- and low-income women turn to Planned Parenthood for their STD, HIV and cancer screenings as well as for their contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and counseling. One speaker spoke of how she went to Planned Parenthood for a Pap smear when she did not have health insurance,

As I was leaving the rally and putting away my NOW “Stop the war on women” placard, I passed four anti-abortioners being led by a man. Each held on to a banner. I can’t recall what it said, but I immediately turned to face them with my sign in front of me and thought, What idiots! The effort to defund Planned Parenthood is outrageous, and I am ready to get out in the streets as many times as it takes to ensure that it is stopped.

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