Tag Archives: planned parenthood

This week’s tea leaves

From the globe’s climate to the particularities of abortion access in Missouri, this past week has seen a number of bold but understated announcements. Digging through the implications of what’s been revealed, here’s a few things to keep on your mind.

Global warming is accelerating

NASA released a report on temperature data they collected in March of this year, showing it to be the second most anomalously warm month in all of their modern climate observations. The infamous “hockey stick” is now observable in month-level or similarly more short term graphs, not just in centuries-long looks at global temperatures, implying that global climate change has reached a new velocity.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 1(March 2016 is circled in red, from here.)

One assessment of the data suggests that a strong El Niño, which is associated with higher temperatures in much of the northern hemisphere, might be part of what’s making rapid warming suddenly more noticeable. Mapping the temperature anomalies to different parts of the earth lends that theory some credence as the most unusually warm parts of the planet in March were almost all in northern temperate or polar areas.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 2(From here.)

GOP Senators see the writing on the wall

A number of Republican Senators have long been discussed as uniquely vulnerable in the upcoming elections this fall. Often brought into office in the atypically conservative-driven elections of 2010, they will likely face a different electorate this year, partially because of the presidential election.

A recent report from Politico, however, suggests that this wariness isn’t just being felt among newly-elected Senators. John McCain (R-AZ), who is more or less tied with his likely general election Democratic competitor, has stated he won’t be attending the Republican convention this summer, so as to focus on his own election. A similar announcement was made by Richard Burr (R-NC), who was reelected for the first time in 2010. Even Senators with longer histories in DC appear to want to play it safe this time around.

Stopping Planned Parenthood becomes leaking patient information

Months after the brouhaha stirred up by widely discredited allegations of criminal activity, Planned Parenthood operations in some states are still facing investigations. Although already cleared by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, one Missouri state senator is continuing to press the issue with a subpoena of large amounts of information on abortion from the organization. So far the state’s Planned Parenthood has stated they will comply but only if patient confidentiality is assured – which apparently has yet to be done.

A contention of wrongdoing has already mutated into a cavalier approach towards the safety and privacy of former patients. Imagine what it could become next.

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Reproductive freedom is economic stability

Trigger warning: abortion, sexual assault / rape, sexism, cissexism

Against the backdrop of the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood, that and other abortion-providing organizations have seen not only intimidating violence but institutional attempts to shutter their doors of the past few years.

Concentrated in Republican-controlled states, one of the strictest provisions on abortion providers is set to advance to the Supreme Court for review with a decision expected in late Spring of next year. That ruling will affect the legality and further room available to legislatures in at least a score of states which if current trends continue would likely restrict abortion further if given the option.

Former Texan state Senator Wendy Davis appeared on national news recently to discuss the potential ramifications of that ruling. As part of a changing voice within the debates surrounding abortions and other reproductive healthcare, she explained that to her and others like her abortion access is not only a means of physical, bodily autonomy, but also a lifeline to basic control over personal financial planning. In her own words, “when women’s reproductive autonomy is controlled, their economic opportunity is controlled.”

Wendy Davis during her Texas Senate filibuster

Former state Senator Davis, while filibustering a new set of restrictions on abortion in 2013, from here.

With her limited time, Davis couldn’t expand on her point about the economics of reproductive healthcare to those seeking abortion or similar services. Others have made it clear how the people most in need of an option other than pregnancy, let alone parenthood, typically have the fewest resources to devote to simply accessing an abortion. With a dwindling number of providers in many of these states, someone finding themselves in that sort of situation would have to spend more money to travel further and most likely take off time from work to avoid the huge economic costs of pregnancy or parenthood.

This is typically where the moralizing starts. The unnecessarily incurred costs to access an abortion under these increasingly difficult restrictions are, supposedly, just the price paid for failing to abstain from sex or to use birth control. The people most likely to seek out abortions for economic reasons, however, are also the people with most inconsistent and mistaken sex education and the fewest resources to commit to a birth control regimen.

Running through that understanding of how they became pregnant, there’s a presumption that the pregnant person necessarily consented to have sex. In addition to sexual assault, there’s also the (not at all hoped for) failure of birth control plans, which is more likely the less consistent and less accurate the sex education on receives. There’s a number of factors at play here, but it’s clear that people with fewer resources to draw on are more likely to end up stuck in this type of situation.

Likewise, overwhelmingly the opponents of access to abortion want to similarly restrict sex education and access to contraceptives, offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood far more often than abortion services. The intent doesn’t appear to be preventing abortion, so much as making it a shameful and shame-able activity. The political goal isn’t to end abortion, but to hide it within a nightmarish corner of the world that the broader society doesn’t have to consider.

The moralizing isn’t just another conversation intruding into others’ personal reasons for preferring to have an abortion, for those with that perspective, it is the conversation. The desire to be a parent, filled with a kind of urgency that accepts the financial and other costs of that, is either treated as universal or is evangelized – without hearing that other people, directly living the effects of that decision, have different priorities.

Even as abortion in popular conversation is increasingly a part of an economic plank – argued for in combination with improved education, greater access to other healthcare, and better personal financial standing in general – there’s ways in which it is left out of a broader economic argument. It’s still often thought of as a separate issue, even if one increasingly harmonious with a broader view of how to structure the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, excluded it from their recently released twelve-point Women’s Economic Agenda. Aspects of their policy plank address the underlying economic issues by calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, asking for policies to encourage labor organization, and specifically for an end to wage theft and wage discrimination. All of those are key financial factors that weigh heavily in the decisions of many to have an abortion.

Some policy prescriptions even more directly confront the economic situation that many pregnant people find themselves in. The agenda also called for greater access to childcare, as well as paid family and sick leave. Those are often specific economic realities that motivate people unsure if they can become parents to decide that they aren’t in a place where they can have children. In short, the policies here are designed to give people the resources to become parents, if they so choose.

What’s more, some of those policies useful to parents are also useful to those who for other reasons aren’t interested in having children at this time. The call for longer term scheduling, to ease planning, is vital for parents to be able to best interact with their children. It also is one of the key ways for someone who needs an abortion to plan ahead and not face the prospect of forgoing a potentially significant amount of pay to avoid the even larger costs of pregnancy and parenthood.

In short, this emerging set of policies, which has deep ties to a progressive vision of how to improve the current economy,  is rather compatible with the increasingly economic argument for retaining or even improving access to abortion. Still, abortion remains another issue for now, and has yet to be specifically invoked in the broader policy plank.

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In the aftermath

Trigger warning: terrorism, abortion, sexism, war, racism, police violence, violence against protesters

In the past couple of months, almost every region in the world has been rocked by a shocking and violent event. When writing about those, it feels like an easy trap to fall into where almost all coverage is about the immediate happenings, and the wake they have left behind is swept under the rug. Here’s a Friday Let-Me-Link-You rundown of some shocking and interesting observations that might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Making abortion a visible part of life

Following the Black Friday shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, many have asked how that might affect the public discussions on abortion and the on-going debates about various new restrictions on access to abortion and other reproductive health services. On Tuesday’s episode of Podcast for America, Rebecca Traister appeared as a guest, and highlighted recent and more long term coverage she has done on how the changing types of participants in public office has begun to alter the way these medical procedures are talked about.

At its core, she noted that not only are more (cisgender) women in prominent political positions, but that they are increasingly women of color and women from more difficult economic backgrounds. Able to raise their personal experiences in debates, they have helped transform abortion in public consciousness from a “dirty” thing “those people” do into a messy thing that many do.

Assad: the greatest threat in Syria?

Just as that shooting in Colorado has brought abortion rights and anti-abortion violence to the fore in the US, the attacks in Paris reignited predominantly Western interests in resolving Syria, as a hypothetical means of preventing further attacks in their part of the world. In light of that, President Obama’s staunchly anti-Assad policy has come under criticism, with a number of political powers all but declaring that they prefer Assad’s dictatorial regime to the violent start-up of Da’esh.

An image put together by the anti-Da’esh and anti-Assad Syria Campaign and shared on Facebook this week by the German activist group Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (ZPS) clarifies that anti-Assad policies’ roots. As it shows, a vast majority of deaths in Syria have been from Assad’s forces:

deaths assad daesh(From here.)

Like many Obama administration policies, there is a very logical political and moral calculus behind the choice. In this case, all lost lives – Syrian and Western – are understood as tragic, and when tallied up it’s recognized that one of the greatest threats to life in general isn’t necessarily the flashiest or even the ones terrorists deliberately designed to shock.

South Africa Internet Availability: closing the floodgates

Meanwhile, international and local media in South Africa continue to pick apart what exactly happened at an October student protest in Cape Town that caught a lot of attention for its White participants’ attempt to shield protesters of color from the police. The underlying motivations behind the protest highlight familiar problems in higher education throughout the world – that tuition hikes are particularly affecting the poor and Black and particularly poor and Black, that the children of non-academic university staff are no longer guaranteed certain tuition benefits reinforcing class inequalities, and that the campus and curriculum valorize a colonial past.

That said, the history of Apartheid weighs heavily, and gravely concerns the many protesters who were born after the overtly legally-sanctioned racial hierarchy in South Africa was dismantled.

The Washington Post noted recently that this student protest was particularly innovative for South Africa in how it used modern social media to create discussion spaces, organize, and articulate activist goals. More than simply an importation of a global protest model, that also showed a reversal in terms of which parts of South African society could most easily use an online medium in political activity:

Social media has been a growing influence in South African politics for a while: think of how former opposition party leader Helen Zille (of the opposition party Democratic Alliance, or DA) has become known for tweeting from the hip, and landed her in trouble for unguarded remarks. Zille’s twitter dominance of course reflected racial disparities (then still largely skewed to the small white minority) in Internet access and use in South Africa. Not for long, though. Zille and the DA were gradually deposed by the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) Twitter smarts (especially that of its young MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and its leader Julius Malema) and what passes for#BlackTwitter in South Africa.

The government of South Africa appears to be rallying against these changes, according to an assessment of proposed legal changes published by Access Now earlier this week. The increasingly diverse twitter landscape in South Africa has motivated the creation of a “a series of new crimes for unlawful activity online” which just on the heels of this major protest would “pose a risk to freedom of expression”.

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Broader skepticism

With the surprisingly emergence of a bipartisan budget agreement in the House of Representatives and the on-going flashy presidential race, it seems that the familiar retread of anti-abortion activists fight against Planned Parenthood has fallen off of most people’s radar. Somewhat shockingly, this has happened while violent rhetoric coalesced into attacks at various Planned Parenthood locations – most recently, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Washington. According to many, those incidents have largely been treated as low-priority local stories by national print and television journalists. The little coverage that has happened on that scale has also missed the forest for the trees, discussing one or only a few of the incidents as totally encapsulated, independent events. The primary exception has been Rachel Maddow, who has a history of focusing on patterns of violence, particularly against vulnerable groups.

The implicit set of priorities revealed by this coverage – that violence oriented towards particularly low-income women and transgender people and denial of their medical needs are more local, less of a cause of nationwide concern – doesn’t seem unique to major media. The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood at the (largely Republican-controlled) state level led to several states quickly passing new budgets and legal standards that pulled funding for Planned Parenthood. Texas, however, has not quite yet joined them, although sitting Governor Greg Abbott has announced his intent to defund the organization. Amid that, a representative for the Texas Office of Inspector General appeared at the Dallas Planned Parenthood with subpoenas for five years of medical records for ten different facilities scattered across Texas. The requests have all the hallmarks of the purposefully burdensome regulatory regime long hoisted on Planned Parenthood facilities in many parts of the United States.

texas protest abortionA woman holding a sign saying “Rural Texas women deserve choices” in Austin, Texas, 2013, from here.

The timing is obscured by the lack of coverage, but it still seems jarringly illogical. In the middle of a wave of anti-abortion violence, thankfully non-lethal so far, Texas officials have made it clear that their scrutiny will remain tightly fixed on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, rather than the various groups threatening them. That not only speaks volumes about what many people “count” as violence or as threatening, but also warns that public awareness of the issue and political policy are being profoundly informed by a skewed understanding of the situation. Hopefully, any regular reader of this blog is by no means a stranger to the unrealness of political ideas in the United States, but this demonstrates how an entire social and political system has built up around that Potemkin village of imagined dangers and dismissed threats.

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What good does it do?

Rhetorically, there were a number of moments in last night’s debate that seem to have captured parts of the liberal imagination. Hillary Clinton appealed to a basic right to bodily autonomy and to make that right accessible with support for Planned Parenthood and related medical providers. Bernie Sanders unequivocally declared that Black Lives Matter. Martin O’Malley almost captured something similar by stating that bigotry had no room in the Democratic Party, but Jim Webb’s own comments throughout the night called that belief in such a categorical progressiveness into question. Even in that case, Webb’s presence highlighted his out-of-place status in the broader Democratic Party. As Jamelle Bouie put it:

In short, Webb being there only underscored the stated commitments to addressing racial, gendered, and other inequalities. There aren’t really any Dixiecrats anymore. This is what the Democratic Party has become.

So with a tight field of candidates largely competing to be a presidential nominee who could advance that sort of US self image at the highest level in the country, what’s not to love? The Democratic Party has won the popular vote five out of six times in the most recent elections (which translated into four uncontested wins). The Reagan Revolution seems to have been more of a momentary happenstance of White Flight from the Democratic Party that could make the White House an insurmountable Republican fortress.

While White people continue to be a majority of residents of the US, and disproportionately represented in electoral registration and participation, enough didn’t flee the Democratic Party that they and a growing number of voters of color can be a surprisingly effective electoral coalition. It’s tempered by all of the problems inherent in national coalitions – it’s slow-moving, continually renegotiated, and subject to limited radical action – yet it can at least promise to get a lot done and seemingly mean it.

Part of the implied problem there is that there are limits to what any political party can do. Almost by definition, they operate within a standard political process. The closest thing to an alternative are parties like Sinn Féin or historically India’s Congress Party, which are political branches of counter-state forces. The Democratic Party’s origins are rather different from that sort of an organization, and the type of imperial conditions that encourage those types of political parties haven’t existed in the US for several centuries. In the absence of that, a mainstream, gradualist policy-tinkering has become the order of the day.

Even that however is difficult for Democrats to enact on a national scale as the brief window in 2009-2011 showed. As a Party, they held the presidency and majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Healthcare reform debates choked out almost every other reform issue, leaving us with the current situation in which many hallmarks of the Bush era linger – most obviously widespread warfare, indefinite detention centers, and mass surveillance. Deportation actions increased, Guantánamo remains open, and we’re using drones more than ever. Weren’t the Democrats interested in ending all of that? Weren’t there great flowery statements in debates and elsewhere on the campaign trail against those exact things?

There’s a number of other, less intractable factors that could be blamed for that, from fickle Blue Dogs to Filibuster-enabling Joe Lieberman. As much as the Democrats can’t deliver on everything because of the political and electoral system they must work within, there’s also a question of what they can do with a presidency dependent on how well they do in Congress and the states. Tomorrow and later this week I’ll take a look at the prospects of the Democratic Party in down ticket races and what they could potentially make of 2016.

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Render unto the constitution that which is the constitution’s

Trigger warning: abortion, racism, xenophobia

To anyone familiar with the video game Bioshock Infinite, the strange nexus between American iconography and local versions of Christianity is familiar territory. The game leads the player through a cultish, pseudo-separatist society within a 1912 steampunk United States, which allows it the game to take familiar archetypes of American art and culture and particularly religion, remix them in new ways, and reintroduce American viewers to those motifs in a new light. One of the themes most clearly highlighted is the quasi-godlike status of the “founding fathers,” particularly George Washington, whose images live on as icons the powerful can use to validate their ideas.

To some players, the idea seemed a bit odd or even laughable. And then a Tea Party group apparently found an uncredited screenshot from the game and used it in precisely that same way depicted in the game.

tea party bioshock posterThe image in question.

That could maybe be laughed off as a funny happenstance – actual nationalistic imagery and fictional nationalistic imagery are surprisingly easy for people to confuse. Certain responses to today’s hearing on Planned Parenthood, however, suggest that that deeper confusion, between prophets and framers or sin and illegality, is perhaps something real that Bioshock Infinite reflected rather than invented.

Unfortunately the original tweet has been deleted, but you can see some of the larger context here, as one anti-abortion activists asked supporters of Planned Parenthood to show him where the constitution grants the right to an abortion:

Since then the same person tried an almost identical argument with a slightly modified point:

Naturally, the constitution in and of itself doesn’t do either of those things. The constitution barely lays out much in the way of day-to-day laws, regulating what is personal autonomy and what is interpersonal responsibility on virtually any issue. The vast majority of those issues are regulated by a thick bedrock of common law built upon by centuries of jurisprudence and legislation – processes carried out by authorities given that power under the constitution, but the results of which are only loosely described by the constitution itself.

Asking for “constitutional proof” of much of anything leads to very broad interpretations of seemingly innocuous phrases. Its preamble’s call to “create a more perfect union” has been used to argue against a right to secede. Almost every legal right or limitation you encounter in your daily life in the US is informed by something beyond the constitution itself.

But that is a view of the constitution rooted in not only reading it as a constitution rather than codex, but also as a legal document rather than quasi-religious one. Particularly in the US, there are many versions of Christianity where the Bible is understood as effectively containing all moral lessons and to some even all knowledge in existence. While arguably rooted in a historical effort to hone Christians’ focus back onto the original stories within the Bible, that popular religious belief inflates all arguments into a struggle to find specifically biblical justification. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar?

Of course, few people have read the constitution fully and fewer have read the Bible cover to cover (and even fewer still with all the apocrypha and related “optional” parts). These convictions that the right to an abortion or marriage equality or any number of other policies are in part rooted in a conviction that these texts say what you want them to say. There’s even a small dollop of fear in the zealousness, that perhaps they are getting it wrong and these truth-telling texts don’t say exactly what they would like.

I suspect that that might be part of what motivates them to not bother with reading them. It’s Schrödinger’s faith – if you don’t read the wording you can imagine it backs up exactly what you want it to. That’s how there can be so many glossing over the constitution’s first section’s call for the country’s people to “establish justice” and “promote the general welfare,” as much as the Bible’s demand for justice to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” and for “you who is without sin” to be the first to condemn another.

Someone check the skies – maybe Bioshock Infinite was right about the floating city too.

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The Five Most Crucial Moments in Last Night’s Debate

Trigger warning: anti-immigrant rhetoric, racism, linguistic imperialism, slavery, abortion, colonialism, islamophobia

Last night, fifteen candidates in the Republican Presidential Primary appeared on CNN over the course of two debates lasting five hours. Almost every word said by their entire group will cast longer shadows than I think most realize, not only through the primary, but into the general election. In such a crowded and raucous field, these individual statements are going to define how many people think about the Republican Party and will play a key role regardless of whether the candidate who said them is necessarily nominated. Here are the five that stood out to me as most emphatically defining the party and its eventual nominee to the general public.

Lindsey Graham didn’t dogwhistle quietly enough

In the lower tier debate round, a number of candidates were asked to speak at greater length on immigration policy than those in the upper tier. For many, the trick was to both avoid alienating statements about immigration that could harm their favorability with many ethnic communities or that would mark them as opposed to the heavy-handed approach to immigration that appears to have built Donald Trump a base of support overnight.

Lindsey Graham intriguingly attempted to not only triangulate between those two diametrically opposed constituencies but also stress the policy desires of business interests within the Republican coalition with the argument that immigration is necessary to maintain economic efficiency. That third consideration may have been too many balls in the air for him to juggle properly, and led to him speaking a bit less indirectly to the racial and ethnic dimensions of anti-immigration sentiments within the Republican Party. As Graham himself put it-

I have a little different take on where the country is going on this issue. Number one, in 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. How many are there today? There’s three. In 20 years, there’s going to be two, and you’re going to have 80 million baby boomers like me retiree in mass wanting a Social Security check, and their Medicare bills paid. We’re going to need more legal immigration. Let’s just make it logical. Let’s pick people from all over the world on our terms, not just somebody from Mexico. […] We’re not going to deport 11 million people here illegally, but we’ll start with felons, and off they go. And, as to the rest, you can stay, but you got to learn our language. I don’t speak it very well, well, look how far I’ve come? Speaking English is a good thing. […] I never met an illegal Canadian.

Part of what this reveals is that the comparatively pro-immigration business wing of the Republican Party is quite comfortable with racially and ethnically charged devaluing of specifically Latin@ immigrants, but more broadly immigrants of color in general. That isn’t precisely groundbreaking, but potentially Graham made that obvious to people who hadn’t seen or realized it before. Their alternative to a total restriction on immigration is a restitution of sorts of the historical immigration policies the US has had, which encouraged the “right kind” of immigrants. Whether that will as neatly translate into racially and ethnically “desirable” immigrants as it historically has remains to be seen, but the emphasis on racial and ethnic contrasts between Canada and Mexico that Graham relies on seem to suggest that that’s the case.

With Graham failing to subtly reassure the anti-immigrant parts of the Republican base without telegraphing the racially and ethnically-charged nature of his immigration platform, you would think his dodge and miss would have led to an outcry. According to the google analytics, however, he captured most of the attention over the course of the lower tier debate. He failed to come off as being motivated by legality rather than race and ethnicity in animus towards immigrants, but he managed to appeal to two other typically Republican constituencies: White nativists and the business community. If that benefits him, that will confirm for many hesitant voters what the Republican Party stands for and what policies it as a cultural force wants to advance.

Did Carson just say he wants to reintroduce slavery?

Speaking of the ultimate fate of the millions of undocumented people in the country, Ben Carson touted his plan for them in more extemporaneous detail that he previously has. On the face of it, it’s quite garden variety Republican policy. The currently undocumented people in the US can’t receive citizenship directly without penalty because that would be “jumping the line” or something similar in the eyes of anti-immigrant groups. Carson takes a page from both the compassionate conservative and business community however, and rejected at least the official language of deportation or the immediate hostility towards a guest worker program. The policy carved out by those separate rejections is that immigrants will be offered a guest working program with potentially the eventual ability to apply for citizenship, but with a number of restrictions placed on that to make it as inaccessible for them as possible.

What Carson added last night to that was the florid image that this workforce bereft of the benefits of citizenship would be toiling, specifically, in the fields. The tone of it calls into question whether those guest worker statuses would permit them much latitude in choosing the nature of their work, their employer, and other basic rights taken for granted by many. In effect, they would constitute a legally captive labor force with slim chances dependent on others’ mercy to be granted protections and liberties purported for all but actually reserved for a few.

slaves in fieldUnnamed slaves in a field by an uncredited photographer. From here.

Does that strike anyone else as sounding familiar?

Unlike Graham, Carson isn’t auditioning to make it out of the lower tier of candidates but is rather attempting to maintain his upper-to-middle-of-the-pack status. What’s more, he has to do this as a Black man in a primary election defined by voicing anger, something he may not be able to do without facing negative repercussions others wouldn’t. From those two facts spring a selection of uncomfortable possibilities.

However these statements affect his rank will speak loudly about what exactly it means to be a Republican and more generally vote or support for any of them. Beyond that, they are also a reflection of the historical amnesia and detachment from present realities to be a plausible Black Republican candidate. Simultaneously, this is showcasing to the broader public the policies desired within Republican circles and reflecting the limitations and requirements put upon Black people within those spaces.

Fiorina tried tapping into Trump’s base’s anger

Just before the first debate I tweeted a couple of questions that I wanted anyone reading to keep in mind while watching. One of the most important in retrospect was-

With Carly Fiorina rising from the lower tier and Carson’s surge to second place in many polls, those two candidates seemed both best poised to use their momentum to capitalize on any weakness by Trump. The actual answer to this appears to have been, intriguingly: both.

Carson focused on being an affable contrast to Trump, down to a very even-tempered and counter-conflict personality. He was careful to appear to be that directly towards Trump as well, potentially shaving support off of Trump’s by being policy-wise similar but potentially more palatable from a social standpoint.

Fiorina, alternatively, wasn’t interested in playing the good cop to Trump’s bad cop. She worked to outdo Trump himself in channeling the anger that catapulted him to the front of the polls. She used that far more strategically, building to a fiery crescendo that drew some of the biggest applause of the night:

While Carson may have made some small in roads with a careful play, Fiorina took a big risk in trying to bottle Trump’s base’s anger and redirect it, largely not towards Latin@ immigrants but towards comprehensive healthcare and Iranians. The hostility towards those seen as less important and less socially valuable is maintained, but put to work in ways that safely advance Republican policies more directly in line with the party’s economic elite, in terms of dismantling the health provisions for low income women and boldly insisting on absolute fidelity towards US interests by other countries.

Part of Trump’s whole appeal is that he is breaking the establishment’s mold, so it’s unclear that Fiorina’s play won’t backfire. Keep your eyes peeled to see if the party’s core can camouflage itself with the periphery’s fiery emotions.

The first casualty is the truth

For many this is unsurprising. Everyone expects politicians to fudge the truth in their favor. What’s more, to be fair it can be pretty difficult to be on-call to speak with complete accuracy on all sorts of topics the way they must. That said, the stretched truths in this debate reflect a growing problem within Republican politics, however, where the entire basis for a set of policy decisions is a complete fabrication. The problem is no longer a lie that’s convenient but that’s the entire foundation of a political stance. Immediately after Fiorina’s denouncement of a Planned Parenthood video a whole slew of tweets like this one went out:

The supposed torture of a not only viable fetus, but one that was living after being aborted should, in a reasonable world, tip people off that what’s being stated isn’t true. Not only did that false anecdote prompt invective and applause, however, but it’s the emotional crux at the heart of the fierce demands for absolute defunding of Planned Parenthood.

My own personal version of this was the insistence that not only do most countries not have “birthright citizenship” but that, according to Trump, Mexico is one of them. In a word, that’s wrong.

More generally, while most of the world does indeed have its citizenship system based in jus sanguinis (family background) rather than jus soli (location of birth), the normal state of things in mainland countries in the Americas is to have a basis in jus soli – only Colombia is an exception to that. So, while there is a technical global rejection of that, the hemisphere-wide norm is one that the US fits. The idea of us being strange in terms of that and specifically different from Mexico is, however, the basis of an argument for undoing our legal standards for how citizenship is passed down to specifically target communities of recent immigrants.

One both issues, major candidates are not only stretching the truth, but creating an idea of what is true to validate a political stance that has made them wildly popular. I’ve written before about the unrealness of politics in the US and an emerging post-truth politics, but this is a jolting resurrection of those attitudes after they proved rather useless in the 2012 elections.

Rand Paul endorses secular dicatorships

For those who have been reading this blog for many years, you might remember my misgivings with the libertarian counter to standard Republican security policy. In a nutshell, the criticisms don’t seem to be motivated by much concern for the people most likely to experience violence justified in the name of “national security” so much as fear that that violence is likely to eventually be used against other groups or otherwise is poorly supervised. Rand Paul has long been the most visible example of those types of pseudo-dovish politics on a national stage. He didn’t disappoint on that last night when he explained-

[S]ometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East. Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.

The possible concern for how US military interventions negatively affect people in the targeted countries is papered over with the fear that they jeopardize if not undermine other US policy objectives. Out of the mouth of the libertarian candidate, supposed speaker for liberty in the room, comes a defense of secular dictatorships in the Middle East, which outside of Syria have by and large operated with significant US support. This is the alternative within the GOP’s major candidates to a neoconservative crypto-colonial approach towards the Middle East: a selective mix of that and a more historied colonial attitude that democracy is a privilege we can deny other nations. That not only limits the debate in that room but speaks to what the limits of the Republican Party’s policies are.

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A transcript of the main round of the debate can be found here, and a transcript of the initial round here.

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The “it” issue

Trigger warning: abortion

It’s back. Abortion, the thorny intersection of bodily autonomy and medical care, is rising to prominence again as a defining political issue in US politics and specifically in the coming 2016 elections. Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a court case with the US Supreme Court to strike down a Texan law, designed to make operating a medical center that provides abortions legally all but impossible. One potential outcome of the case, if taken up by the Supreme Court, is an end to the widespread use of these laws in many states to reduce the number of centers offering abortion. This wasn’t merely a routine legal conflict, however, but a deliberate and public first shot in the coming political and legal fight over rights and access to abortion and related medical services. After all, the Center for Reproductive Rights drew up an image (presumably ahead of the filing) which asks people to share the news and image on Facebook:

center for reprorights image 9-3From here.

It’s not just those in favor of maintaining or expanding reproductive rights and their accessibility that are spoiling for a fight. Also today, the Family Research Council sent out their semi-daily “Insider’s Guide to Pro-Family News” which highlighted a post they had published on their blog yesterday. It continues the anti-abortion argument that ending federal support for Planned Parenthood’s broader organization wouldn’t necessarily affect access to medical care by noting the prevalence of Federally Qualified Health Centers and other locations where non-abortion parts of health care are available in many areas largely neglected by the US’s broader health system. It notes one fact however: that these clinics can more or less match Planned Parenthood in access to all but one federally-guaranteed medical procedure – abortion. The implicit message is clear, that that’s not a medical procedure that needs to be accessible.

Unlike other recent versions of this fight, the ability to access and the right to have an abortion are inescapably central to the current political debate. While prior discussions have been derailed from arguments over the use of birth control to defenses of the other uses of that for hormonal regulation and other medical needs, what is being zeroed in on by both sides in the on-going discussion is how directly threatened access to abortion is. This is the byproduct of a curious dualism in US politics. The right to an abortion is indisputably provided for, yet the details of accessibility of that medical procedure are hardly an afterthought. Anti-abortion activism has exploited that discrepancy for years – from demanding that no federal funds be used to directly finance abortion to the setting up of countless “crisis pregnancy centers” and picket lines. There is an organized movement in the US to make abortion financially, physically, and now legally difficult to access. In fact, the increasing inclusion of specifically anti-abortion clinics among federally-funded clinics is a key part of that effort, as a recent Vice documentary showed:

That is part and parcel with the Family Research Council’s response, down to the potential inclusion of those types of clinics among alternative medical providers to Planned Parenthood. What has been constructed over the years is an incredibly well distributed medical care system, within which it’s entirely possible to ask for an abortion but nightmarishly Kafkaesque to actually find a provider. With that continuing abuse of the split hairs between “theoretical right” and “accessible right”, the implicit argument – about whether there is a right to abortion being accessible – is now advancing to a highly visible court battle. What’s more, that’s coming to the fore just as a congress looking for a contentious issue to use in the looming government shutdown, and following that a federal election. Get ready to talk about abortion because it’s going to be inescapable while the US is forced to consider whether that division between the right to an abortion and the right to access an abortion can stand the test of time.

The featured image for this article is Debra Sweet’s image of an unnamed pro-choice protester in 2012, viewable here.

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Planned Parenthood: the medical provider we need, not the one we want?

Trigger Warning: eugenics, abortion, racism, sexism, cissexism

The US Senate is scheduled to vote on Planned Parenthood’s funding today. In light of the recent videos released by David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists, what that vote has focused on are some of the outcomes for services that only account for three percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget. In cases of abortion where adequate fetal stem cells (which medical researchers can use to treat and understand certain illnesses and disabilities) can be taken from aborted fetuses, Planned Parenthood asks if patients are comfortable donating those tissues that would otherwise be disposed of as either medical waste, mourned and buried, or otherwise not used for medical purposes.

In the grand scheme of modern medicine, this isn’t a radical break from much of anything. Organ donor stamps have become an unremarkable sight to see on driver’s licenses, and one of the places those tissues and organs end up is ultimately in the hands of researchers – whose own websites make it quite clear they will reimburse the people doing the difficult work of removing and safely transporting various organs and tissues. The payment involved in Planned Parenthood’s “sale” of fetal tissues is more or less the same, a coverage for the work involved, to maintain a system that makes sure the donated tissues are, well, actually usable to the researchers who receive them.

The moral outrage and demand for reform seems tied to the actual specifics of what tissue is being taken and which organization is doing it. From that oddly unique criticism of Planned Parenthood, a whole host of shifting, chimeric complaints has emerged in the past few weeks. Chief among those are the implications that Planned Parenthood is essentially a eugenic enterprise, seeking to curb if not undermine the reproductive freedoms of people of color and particularly Black people. Sarah Palin has been among the most vocal advocates of that line of criticism, which she has in her classic style muddied into the also on-going debate over confederate imagery. Last Sunday, she put up an image on Facebook contrasting the Confederate Battle Flag and Planned Parenthood’s logo, which asked “Which symbol killed 90,000 Black babies last year?”

Among the problems with that question is the fact that you could argue Planned Parenthood is drastically underserving Black communities and other communities of color in the United States. How many deaths in those communities has Planned Parenthood prevented, and how many more could it be preventing? The majority of its budget and services go to providing help in ways other than providing abortions, and while a large chunk of that is contraceptive in nature a large amount involves perinatal care. As a key source of medical care for low income people, there’s a valid question to be asked if Planned Parenthood and medical centers capable of offering an abortion if needed are inadequately available in majority Black neighborhoods. Only six percent of them nationally are in those types of areas.

There is a worrisome discussion to be had about those types of medical providers admittedly, given that more abortion-heavy clinics (which provide 400 or more abortions in a given year) are slightly less unusual to see in majority Black and Latin@ neighborhoods. Black academics in particular have been promoting an open analysis of that for decades now, with one of the most topical being Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. She lays out quite explicitly the needs of cisgender Black women in the US when it comes to reproductive freedom in the introduction, saying

“The story I tell about reproductive rights differs dramatically from the standard one. In contrast to the account of American women’s increasing control over their reproductive decisions, centered on the right to an abortion, this book describes a long experience of dehumanizing attempts to control Black women’s reproductive lives. The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America. Considering this history – from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers – paints a powerful picture of the link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

From there, she immediately transitions into discussing how underserved Black cisgender women were by the denial of access to abortion in public hospitals following Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The Black community, to say nothing of the various communities of color in the United States, is not a monolith, but when describing the intersections of race and reproductive freedom, their tendency has been to emphasize the need for freedom from coercion, for bodily autonomy, and for economic security. Those goals then underpin what policies should be pursued. In light of that, Planned Parenthood and similar organizations – capable of providing abortion but focused on more generally giving low cost high quality medical care – are perhaps exactly what those communities need, as an alternative to the current alternatives of inconsistent, low quality, overly abortion-focused types of care or worse no care at all.

planned parenthood health care happens hereProtesters in Oregon on July 28, 2015, from here.

That’s possibly the key misunderstanding that continues to crop up in these discussions. Planned Parenthood is a medical provider. Like other medical providers in similar contexts, they pay people to transport donated tissues and organs. Like other medical providers in our privatized medical care system, they generally do not provide enough care or the right kind of care in low income neighborhoods and to communities of color. Almost all of these criticisms of Planned Parenthood ultimately lead back to a criticism of medical care in general, and the need for it to be administered more carefully and compassionately. From a reformist mindset, Planned Parenthood is hardly perfect, but seems committed to improving itself and improving the world.

But that’s quite clearly not where the current complaints are coming from. The desperate search for a problem to have with Planned Parenthood shows that there are issues with all medical services that can induce discomfort and concern for many if not most people. The use of that, however, is just against Planned Parenthood, or perhaps abortion providers in general. What’s developing here is yet another way of codedly confronting the issues that abortion stirs up in a way that won’t openly process where those come from and what drives them, and what’s more will obscure the concerns and problems around other issues dragged into it as justification fodder. We’re having a national anti-conversation on abortion, in which everyone walks away from it more unclear over what’s at stake.

But that’s the anti-conversation the US Senate would like to have, going by the eighteen Senators now threatening a government shutdown unless and until Planned Parenthood is defunded in full. The Center for Reproductive Rights has begun circulating a petition to convince them that not only is this unproductive, but also wildly unpopular, which might be the only way of convincing them to stop.

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