Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Freedom Isn't Free

There is something about national holidays, these days, that brings out the curmudgeon in me. Memorial Day, especially so.

National holidays have become battlefields themselves. Rather than setting aside days to ponder and honor our national values, we now engage in flag-waving contests. Nationalism is loud, confrontational and in-your-face. Those of us who would subscribe to a quieter, more introspective brand of patriotism are shouted down and shamed. We are tacitly accused of not loving our country enough. With sneers and derision, we are invited to go live somewhere else if the United States—in its current state of upheaval, escalating class war and legislative impotence—is not good enough for us.

Because we can’t allow respectful silent reflection on the freedom we often take for granted and the cost of the campaigns embarked upon in the name of that freedom. If we did, someone might realize that these tear-misted photos of military graves or dirty and bloodied soldiers reverently hoisting the Stars and Stripes on battlefields throughout the ages, tagged with the soppy banner “Freedom Isn’t Free,” do not accurately represent the forces which send our young people to their destruction.

When you think about it, when was the last time the United States fought a war to defend OUR freedom? Seventy years ago, the Greatest Generation sent its sons into battle against Hitler and his allies. Though Hitler’s forces never set foot on the continental US, their dreams of global domination were indeed an imminent threat to our freedom. So though that war was as ugly as any, it was indeed a battle for freedom—ours and others’ across the globe—and needs to be remembered as such. But that was a long time ago, outside the living memory of most Americans.

What about our 21st-century wars? Iraq? Sadaam Hussein in no way threatened the freedom of the American people; even the most ignorant moron on the planet understands that by now. Afghanistan? What, exactly, ARE we doing in Afghanistan? Especially since the elusive Osama Bin Laden, rumored to be sheltered there while he raised up an army of Islamic terrorists, was eventually found and executed in Pakistan (a US ally?!)? What freedom are our young people deployed to those theatres of battle defending? Our freedom to beat up on small countries safely distant from our home shores because those countries share ethnicity with a group of lawless religious sociopaths? Our freedom to go kill Muslims because they pissed us off?

And Korea? Viet Nam? What were our tens of thousands of young people sent to Asia to die in the fifties and sixties defending? Our freedom to name “Communism” the 20th-century bogeyman, and to throw armies of nineteen-year-olds at it wherever it threatened to catch on?

In my heart, I have nothing but respect for the children who have comprised the forces of our military. And nothing but sorrow and regret for their blood poured out on battlefields across the world. Surely, they are paying the price for our freedom. But not in the way the flag-waving, in-your-face armchair patriots believe. They are paying with their lives for our abdication of our personal duty as Americans.

Freedom isn’t easy. It requires pruning and tending. It requires constant review and refinement. It requires searching for and comprehending truth. It requires compassion and empathy. It requires an examination of conscience EVERY DAY—because freedom in the hands of those with suspect moral grounding can be a dangerous, uncontrollable weapon.

But, apparently, the American people have decided that this responsibility—the daily examination, refinement, and gratitude for our freedom—is too much trouble. Instead, they are happy to hand that job over to “leaders” that they only have to think about occasionally. Every two years—or four, or six—the American people line up to hand over their freedom to the Snake Oil Salesman of their choice. They sit in the audience watching hopeful candidates squander obscene amounts of money gambling to appeal to whatever instincts—the baser, the better—will cause the individual members of the faceless mob to place a mark in the desired box, come Election Day.

No…Freedom ISN’T free. There are those who spend a tremendous amount of money getting their hands on our freedom. So that they can invest it where they see fit—usually in some enterprise designed to bring them MORE money. Do you think they care about the human cost, as long as they get what they want?

Freedom isn’t free. But it isn’t paid for by shedding a tear or two once or twice a year, pretending to grieve for the young person who is not YOUR child lying in pieces beside a road in the Middle East. It is paid for with constant vigilance and understanding of the complex issues that threaten or strengthen it. Every single one of us who would exercise this freedom has to put time and effort, thought and work into it, EVERY DAY. If we wimp out and sell that trust into the hands of anyone—ANYONE else—we deserve the consequences. And worse.

It was all put very succinctly in this speech by a fictional president written for a movie script back in 1995.

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.”

(Written by Aaron Sorkin for “The American President”, 1995.)

It’s a stunning commentary on the current state of our nation that no one—right, left, or center—NO ONE in today’s political arena would have the balls to publicly express anything even approaching this sentiment.

Think about it. And ante up. Freedom isn’t free.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The United States: Where Pregnancy is Probationary and Your Body Is a Crime Scene

Sorry guys, this is a long one, but I believe it's worth it.

That's the title of a Reality Check article on the web. The bolded text is the article by Soraya Chemaly. There are links to the story about Bei Bei Shuai and the dipsticks in Mississippi

Prosecuting women based on the outcomes of their pregnancies violates their constitutional rights and is cruel and unusual punishment. And yet, this is what is happening.

Last week, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to drop feticide and murder charges against a woman named Bei Bei Shuai, who has been in jail for 14 months and faces 45 years in prison because, after attempting suicide while pregnant. She was saved by friends and three days after an emergency c-section the newborn died. Her situation is tragic. But, her case is also a very dangerous precedent, ensuring as it does that girls and women will lose their rights and can be put in jail for miscarriage, drug addiction, accidents, attempted suicides, and for “chemically endangering” their fetuses from the moment of conception. Circumstances like hers are sadly, too frequent. She needs public support. Another woman, Christine Taylor was arrested and imprisoned and charged with "attempted feticide" for falling down stairs under what her doctors thought were questionable circumstances.

Of particular note is that in denying Bei Bei Shuai reprieve from charges, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a mid-level appellate court ruling that said that laws established to penalize people who hurt pregnant women can actually be used against pregnant women themselves. Hundreds of women around the country* are currently imprisoned under the aegis of "best intentions" laws. What this means is that feticide and fetal murder laws can now be used to charge, imprison and penalize pregnant women at the discretion of legislators and law enforcement officials.

“It means that women can be charged and imprisoned if they engage in any intentional act that law enforcement believes will threaten the life or health of the fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses they carry,” explains Emma Kettering of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

So, since this is happening, it is only fair to say that once a woman gets pregnant she is a crime scene in waiting. In Arizona, she doesn't even have to be pregnant. How much jail time should she consider when she is expecting?

In the case of Bei Bei Shuai, up to 45 years. What was clearly a sad and gruesome suicide attempt (she took rat poison) resulting from depression and desperate personal circumstances is being turned into murder.

In this environment, and with no confidence that their rights will be respected and protected, pregnant women will continue to be jailed, in ever increasing numbers, in unexpected ways that violate their rights. Fear of imprisonment will result in women compromising their health and the health of their fetuses by avoiding pre-natal care, treatment for addiction and medical help if they fear they are miscarrying. They will have more abortions to avoid penalization.

The creeping expansion of these laws needs to be broadly objected to as a matter of citizenship, rights, law, logic, science and public health. This is particularly true in the case of insidious chemical endangerment laws, which demonstrate as Bei Bei Shua’s case does, the danger of turning health issues into criminal issues.

Chemical endangerment laws in particular ignore actual scientific research regarding fetal development, relying instead on faux moralities, irrational mythologies and deliberate misunderstandings. But, once the laws are established they can be mis-used. And, whereas “chemical endangerment” starts off with illegal substances, like cocaine and meth, among women who need drug treatment programs, not vilification, it is applicable to any chemical threat to a fetus in any woman’s womb. Severe alcohol abuse, although entire legal, can be far more dangerous than illegal drugs, what do we do about that? What about pesticides in your garden? How about BPAs in...everything? What about if a woman works somewhere where she is exposed to toxic substances, say she's a nurse in a hospital? What if she takes medication to regulate an illness? What if she needs chemotherapy? These are all chemically endangering. How long should a woman go to jail? Twelve months for cigarettes? Six for anti-depressants? She has to take them, because if she is depressed enough to attempt suicide and her fetus is lost, she – like Bei Bei Shuai - will go to jail for much longer.

What has come to pass is exactly what anti-abortion activists always denied would happen: namely, that women would lose their rights and be criminalized through pregnancy (*see below). Their strategy has always focused on eliminating abortion and prosecuting abortion providers. But, that strategy is increasingly obsolete. Changing medical technology and options that allow women to bypass doctors in terminating unwanted pregnancies clearly mean that doctors cannot be the target of prosecution and women have to be.

“You pass laws first that say only physicians can perform abortions. Then you pass laws that make it impossible for those physicians to provide abortions. And then women take the steps they need to take as they do all around the world, as they did before Roe," explains Lynn Paltrow, founder of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, one Bei Bei Shua's legal representatives. "And you create a perfect setup for making literally millions of women subject to arrest for having illegal self abortions.”

This is the only way to achieve their goal - stripping women of their right and ability to control their own reproduction safely and legally. That's what happens when wombs are public property and pregnancy loss is considered murder.

Using laws like the ones used against Bei Bei Shuai and creating fetal pain and chemical endangerment laws ensure that women are penalized for exercising their rights, claiming bodily integrity and assuming they have equal protection under the law. They are criminalized. And criminals are punished when they break laws. What the “pro-family,” “pro-life” movement has successfully done is create dangerous precedents and legal frameworks that penalize women who violate state defined breeding rules.

In pursuing anti-choice, fetal protection policies that erroneously pit a woman’s rights against those of her fetus equally from the moment of conception the “pro-life” movement targets unsympathetic women and manipulates public opinion about what makes women “good mothers.” Women who break laws, use drugs, seem careless and unethical are “bad mothers.” They do this strategically and effectively play on the complexity and nuance implicit in research regarding fetal development, societal ideals that glorify motherhood and public opinion. Women like Bei Bei Shua and others are paying the price for their achieving their goal of voiding Roe v. Wade. Persecuting women by any means necessary is just one component of dismantling women's rights and eliminating abortion.

Consider Mississippi which while it has not technically outlawed abortion, in practice it has, especially for women who cannot afford to leave the state to end their pregnancies.

• Murder in Mississippi includes the unborn. A prosecutor in Mississippi is already trying to use the state's murder law to punish Rennie Gibbs, a teenager who suffered a stillbirth and faces life imprisonment. She was a cocaine user, but there is no evidence of a correlation between her drug use and the stillbirth.
• There is one, at-risk, remaining abortion clinic staffed by people who drive from Alabama.
• Women in Mississippi are prohibited by law upon threat of penalty from performing their own abortions, even with perfectly legal drugs. A doctor has to be involved.
• Doctors in Mississippi who want to perform abortions must have admitting privileges in a local hospital, which legislators – dismissing the coat-hanger concerns of “some African Americans” – boast is near impossible.
• Women in Mississippi who cannot travel because they do not have the financial wherewithal or they have children or parents that they care for, will do what women have always done and find dangerous, not medically sound ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This is, of course, illegal.

But, hey…” if women die using hangers and "home remedies" and go to jail for doing it or miscarry trying, so be it. Mississippi is proud to be the first state to enact compulsory pregnancy for women.

Is this really what American’s want? There is no other conclusion. Pregnant women will all be potential criminals, their bodies considered potential crime scenes. They will deny themselves health care, endanger their lives, harm their bodies, have high-risk pregnancies. Many, many will go to jail.

People need compassion, they need to be educated about how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, they need medical attention, pre-natal care and drug treatment if suffering from addiction. They need access to safe abortions. They need their rights to be respected and protected. They do not need to go to jail.

Forty-seven medical and legal advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs describing their objections to this “disturbing trend.” This isn’t a trend. A trend is something organic and possibly unexpected. This is a planned strategic assault on women and their rights.

So what’s next? Mandatory, monthly pregnancy tests for every woman between the ages of sixteen and sixty? And if you text positive you’re forbidden to travel out of state just in case you might try to terminate your pregnancy in a state where it’s still available?

This is the logical, terrifying outcome of the unholy marriage between the fundagelicals and the Republicans consummated under Reagan with his famous “I know you can’t endorse me, but I can endorse you.” The mainline churches have basically stood on the sidelines wringing their hands. OK, nobody I know is comfortable with the idea of abortion. That’s a given. Trouble is these bozos are working to demonize contraception and sex education too.

I honestly don’t know what it was like for women before the Judeo Christian era. Even the old Celts and Irish weren’t fully equal, but the old stories suggest that is was a lot better than this. Bad enough to be threatened with stoning if you couldn’t prove you were a virgin on your wedding night. But, at least Jewish society believed that marriage was a good thing. Men and women weren’t complete unless they were married. It took Christianity and especially Augustine to tie sex to original sin and make even sex between married partners a sin. And those of us with two X chromosomes have been on the shit end of the stick ever since.

That’s it. I’m outa here. I’ll take the best of my old heritage with me but I’m off the reservation for good. I’m not sure where I’m going, but where I’ve been isn’t working for me.