Incessant Self-Righteous Ignorance

Thursday afternoon I got a phone call. I had forgotten it was the day before the anniversary of Roe v Wade, immersed as I was in my current writing project. Usually I hang up as soon as the pause-click-click tells me it’s a solicitor.

The woman said her name was Grace. This time I said “Hi, Grace.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m calling on behalf of the Right to Life. We need to stop the killing of unborn babies.”

“Oh,” I said, instantly furious. “Well, you can stop right there. I’m Pro-Choice.”

I hung up.

Then I spent the rest of the evening thinking of what I should have said.

  • Oh really, Grace? Are you referring to an embryo or a fetus? Do know what an embryo looks like or that 67% of abortions occur before eight weeks? So in this image of a human embryo, is this the chicken or egg phase? When you have eggs for breakfast, are you eating a chicken?
  • So are you in favor of government forcing women to have children? Is that part of your ‘smaller government’ plan? Smaller except the part where the Fetus Police want to control what’s going on INSIDE YOUR BODY?
  • Gee, Grace, how exactly would you suggest the government keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies—should they require them to check in monthly for a pregnancy test? Then if they’re pregnant, the government can keep them in a Safe-For-The-Unborn-Baby Compound until the baby is born, thereby preventing any ‘home remedy’ abortions. Women wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so taking care of other children in the home or providing meals/laundry service for their husbands would have to stop, not to mention finishing school or keeping a job.
  • So you’re in favor of forcing women to produce children they don’t want? Tell me, Grace—do you think those women will be good mothers to those children? Did you know that 70% of abortions are performed on women making 200% or less than the federal poverty line of $11,670? Did you know that this same group of women, without health insurance, are far less likely to have access to birth control? Did you know that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose income exceeded $30,000? Did you know these children were almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured? Did you know that childhood poverty is closely related to the later incidence of crime? Think of prisons, Grace, more and more prisons built to hide away children forced on poor families by the lack of access to birth control.
  • So Grace, since I’ve got you on the phone, maybe you can explain to me how you plan to stop abortion. Ending unwanted pregnancies has been going on for thousands of years. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you thought that it was only after the passage of Roe v Wade that women started having abortions. Maybe you didn’t know that throughout the ages, women have decided who will be born—not men, not governments, not churches. Women are the ones responsible for selecting future generations. I bet everyone alive today came from a woman sometime in the past who terminated other pregnancies. Even you, Grace, probably have a grandmother back in the mists of time who decided to limit the number of children so she could take proper care of the ones she already had.

I’ve got some abortion statistics for you, Grace, showing women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    • 74% felt “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (which includes interrupting education, interfering with job and career, and/or concern over other children or dependents)
    • 73% felt they “can’t afford a baby now” (due to various reasons such as being unmarried, being a student, inability to afford childcare or basic needs of life, etc.)
    • 48% “don’t want to be a single mother or [were] having relationship problem[s]”
    • 38% “have completed [their] childbearing”
    • 32% were “not ready for a(nother) child”
    • 25% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
    • 22% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child”
    • 14% felt their “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
    • 13% said there were “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
    • 12% said there were “physical problems with my health”
    • 6% felt their “parents want me to have an abortion”
    • 1% said they were “a victim of rape”
    • <0.5% “became pregnant as a result of incest”[1]

Shall we discuss some of this data? You’ll notice that almost all the reasons for abortion have to do with lack of birth control. What is your position regarding birth control? Do you agree that birth control and all related information regarding human reproduction should be taught by middle school level? Do you agree that birth control should be freely dispensed at middle school level to any student who requests it? How about churches dispensing free birth control so there aren’t so many precious Unborn Children being aborted?

Did you know that only 1.3% of pregnancies are aborted after 21 weeks and generally only for medical reasons?

≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
37.2% 16.9% 12.8% 8.3% 5.5% 4.5% 3.5% 2.7% 3.3% 2.0% 1.9% 1.3%

Grace, did you know that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated that all employers were required to provide 100% coverage for all birth control methods? The only exception came after religious groups refused to provide such coverage and took their argument to court where they won the right not to provide coverage.

Maybe you can explain that for me, Grace. If the horror is abortion, why is there such outrage about preventing unwanted pregnancies? Because that really doesn’t make sense.

I mean, yeah, I get it. I know the unspoken thought. People aren’t supposed to have sex unless they want a child because sex isn’t for enjoyment. Sex is a duty to produce another generation—period. Because the only reason we’re on earth is make more of us. So if you’re having sex for fun, to feel good, then you’re doing it wrong and God will smite you.

It’s true that in all this, it’s the woman who suffers. I’m guessing that has to do with eating a forbidden apple. That’s on Eve. So she’s the one who has to suffer, all part of God’s loving plan to make people do what He wants them to do, which is, evidently, to keep having babies.

By the way, Grace, I don’t know how old you are, but if you were around in 1987, that’s the year the world population reached five billion. Now picture where you were and what you were doing in 1987 and imagine twice as many people. Because that’s where we’ll be in another thirty years. Twice as many cars, twice as many houses or twice as many people living in one house, twice as many big cities. Twice as many people grabbing that last loaf of bread.

It’s true that much of that population growth won’t be in the U.S. or Europe. The growth will mostly occur in Africa, you know, that “shithole” place where people already born are starving and killing each other. And Asia, of course. Those are the places where humanitarian agencies bring in food and provide medical care, including birth control. So the moral stance of this ‘Christian’ administration is to cut off financial support for any humanitarian health care group that offers abortion counseling along with birth control. So if a woman wants to obtain birth control, she can’t get it because someone in that same facility is answering questions about or providing an abortion.

That’s so perfect. So genius. So in keeping with the goal of stopping abortion.

~~~

[1] Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitiative Perspectives.”Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Guttmacher.org, September 2005.
White, Angela. “Cost of Giving Birth at the Hospital or at Home.” Blisstree.com, 21 September 2008.
“Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education.” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

 

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A Sword Cuts Both Ways

swordFor decades, the religious right has gained access to tax dollars by filling a niche in the education system. In addressing an ‘at risk’ population among children, these religious activists have made great strides toward the use of tax dollars for religious instruction.

It’s a clever end-run around the law. In Arkansas until 2012, a quietly growing swarm of such preschools illegally utilized millions of tax dollars for programs that began each day with prayer and Bible study. (Which they have never been required to pay back.) Classroom activities included coloring images of Biblical scenes, singing hymns, and the occasional time-out at the principal’s office where the recalcitrant child might be prayed over to cast out the demons causing his/her unruly behavior.

Tipped off by thoughtful journalists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) threatened a lawsuit against the state. Specifically cited in the complaint was the Growing God’s Kingdom preschool at West Fork. The Arkansas Times, arguably the state’s only non-rightwing media, reported that “According to the school’s handbook, parents are assured that staff members will ‘strive too [sic] ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.’ The preschoolers, it continues, will be taught ‘the word of God’ so that they can ‘spread the word of God to others.’”

Outrageous not only because the preschool blatantly advertised its religious intent in its name and literature without the state blinking an eye before handing over tax dollars, its owner/operator Justin Harris also served as an elected representative in the state’s legislature. And he wasn’t the only elected official sworn to uphold the Constitution who grabbed illegal tax dollars hand over fist. Similar preschools operated under the leadership of Johnny Key, also a legislator and – incredibly – in 2015 designated by the Republican governor Asa Hutchinson as head of the Department of Education, even though Hutchinson had to massage the state’s rules about qualifications for the department head because Key didn’t meet them.

Specifically targeted by religious preschools in order to boost their standing for ever greater grant funding, potential ‘students’ are rounded up from problematic environments.

  • The ABC Program serves educationally deprived children, ages birth through 5 years, excluding a kindergarten program. The Arkansas Better Chance for School Success Program serves children ages 3 and 4 years from families with gross income not exceeding 200% of the federal poverty level.
  • Eligible children for the ABC program shall have at least one of the following characteristics: § Family with gross income not exceeding exceeding 200% of FPL  § Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening  § Parents without a high school diploma or GED  § Eligible for services under IDEA  § Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces)  § Income eligible for Title I programs  § Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth  § Limited English Proficiency  § Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction  § Parent has history of abuse of neglect Or is a victim of abuse or neglect
  • An age-eligible child who falls into one of the following categories shall be exempt from family income requirements: § Foster child § Child with an incarcerated parent § Child in the custody of/living with a family member other than mother or father § Child with immediate family member arrested for or convicted of drug-related offenses § Child with a parent activated for overseas military duty

Further enticement for struggling parents is that ABC funded programs provide free child care and pick-up/delivery services for children. What low income parent would not rush to place their child in such a program whether or not they want their child indoctrinated in fundamentalist Christian religion?

State employees at the Department of Human Services, which oversees this particular realm of education and tax dollars and in charge of the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program, could not account for how the money was spent by these schools, citing chaotic bookkeeping methods. The state did not require any particular accounting method. The state then or now does not know whether tax dollars granted to preschools and other educational programs serving ‘at risk’ children actually are used for that purpose, only requiring that grants be kept in a separate bank account.

Despite the wimpy crackdown in 2012, random yet infrequent inspections by state enforcement personnel lack the ability to determine whether prayers, hymn singing, and exorcising of demons might yet continue, stopping only the moment an inspector walks through the door.

In the aftermath of unwanted scrutiny by AU, the state allowed these powerful religious entities to fabricate an imaginary line between religious instruction and the so-called ‘ABC Day,’ a block of seven hours where secular education supposedly occurs without any religious indoctrination. While delineating these requirements in a new section of is program codes (see Section 23 at the DHS website), the restrictions on how tax dollars might be used fail to include rent, insurance, utilities, and other overhead expenses of the overall operation. Children bused to the school before the ABC day begins or who remain after are immersed in religious instruction, a convenient sleight of hand since parents’ work hours rarely coincide with ABC instruction hours.

As specifically stated in Section 23.04.4 of ABC Rules:

  • No religious activity may occur during any ABC day and no ABC funds may be used to support religious services, instruction or programming at any time.

Without a viability test by which religious preschools must prove their religious instruction could continue without tax dollars, there is no method to determine if ABC funds are used to support religion. Such a viability test would have to show that without tax dollar grants, these schools generate enough income from other sources to keep the rent paid and the lights on. The state has made no effort to devise such a test.

Now let’s take a sharp turn to a similar situation on the other side of the coin. As the newly installed majority Republican Congress rubs its hands in glee over its sudden ascension to total control over the nation’s lawmaking, no issue is more eagerly addressed than the longstanding thorn in the abortion debate—Planned Parenthood. Early calls for defunding this nonprofit organization cite exactly the same argument as those opposed to tax dollars for religious education.

Recently questioned by CNN’s reporter Jake Tapper, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan explained the need to stop tax dollars from supporting Planned Parenthood.

Well, there is a long-standing principle that we’ve all believed in. And—by the way, this is for pro-choice, pro-life people—that we don’t want to commit taxpayer funding for abortion. And, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider.

So, we don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions. But, we want to make sure that people get their coverage. That’s why there’s no conflict by making sure that these dollars go to federal community health centers, which provide these services and have a vast larger network than these Planned Parenthood clinics, which—which are surrounded by a lot of controversy.

And, we don’t want to commit people’s taxpayer dollars to effectively funding something that they believe is morally unconscionable. Not everybody believes that and I understand that. But, that’s a long-standing principle that we’ve had in this country that we want to maintain.

Tapper countered Ryan’s remarks by citing the Hyde Amendment which ensures that federal funding isn’t paying for abortion, Tapper asked “of course, taxpayers don’t fund abortions, right now, right?”

“Right,” Ryan fumbled. “But, they get a lot of money and—and you know, money is fungible and it effectively floats these organizations which then use other money. You know, money is fungible.”

Ah. Money is fungible.

Of course it’s beyond Ryan’s comprehension that anyone would consider early childhood religious indoctrination to be “morally unconscionable.”

If Ryan and his cabal of rightwing religionists pursue their effort to kill Planned Parenthood (and thereby leave millions of women without reproductive health care), their argument goes against them in the wholesale religious perversion of our nation’s youth.

Religionists cite the helpless condition of a fetus and the ruthless medical procedures which may be used to terminate its life all while they discount the agonized decision-making women engage in before choosing such a path. Yet what is more helpless than a barely verbal child relinquished to a daily dose of brainwashing?

More to the point central to any federal legislation, what has longer and more consequential ramifications for the nation? While those terminated in the womb are removed from the overall population, the clear agenda for youthful brainwashing is to “Grow God’s Kingdom.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. The Religious Right will not stop until they have forced the United States of America to fit their definition of a Christian nation.

Compare the two programs: one provides financial assistance for medical care to women old enough to bear children and therefore old enough for reasoned decision-making. The other takes children not old enough to reason or speak for themselves and forces them to undergo religious indoctrination.

Imagine, if you will, religious tax-funded preschools which teach Islam.

~~~

Note: The red herring in Ryan’s argument centers on his theory that community clinics could provide adequate replacement services for those now available through Planned Parenthood. It would take significant expansion and investment for such clinics to equal the services offered by PP to over five million people per year.

Make America Great Again – What Does It Mean?

way, sign, signal, symbol, self, conflict, disagreement, clash, quarrel, difference, warning, notice, sky, blue, white, black, words, my, your, self-centered, self-interest, self-seeking, egotistical, outside, outdoors, day, arrougant, proud, pull, tug, war, argue, fight,

Depends on who you ask.

If you ask a self-identified conservative, by definition that person will value the preservation of long-established traditions. The valuation of what was supersedes valuation of change, even in the face of problems that require change for resolution. Within this crowd, you’d likely find a few who don’t believe anyone has been to the moon.

The success of Trump in his presidential bid relied on his ability to push hot buttons on various conservative issues. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” claimed America was no longer great due to changes wrought against the wishes of conservatives. He alone could fix it.

Still waiting for the how.

Progressives, on the other hand, see the slogan and his subsequent win as a threat to hard won changes that have addressed many of the nation’s problems over the last fifty years. Included in the hard won changes has been the end of the Cold War, which if Trump’s ham-fisted approach fails to lighten, could easily reignite.

None of which worries a majority of conservatives who see the threat of Armageddon as fulfillment of God’s promise. Bring it, they whisper in their prayers.

Meanwhile, it’s the mundane stuff keeping the conservatives foaming at the mouth. Take, for example, the issue of welfare. Conservatives would prefer to eliminate aid for parents with dependent children, food stamps, and other support programs for the poor. Except for their Uncle Bob who only has one eye and is dying of Hepatitis C. Uncle Bob needs a government handout because without it, the Christian shame of a kinsman dying on the street means Bob would have to move into the back bedroom.

Bob’s not the only one who can’t take care of himself. Government provides food, shelter stipends, and medical care (until the Affordable Care Act gets blasted into last year) for handicapped, terminally ill, and mentally ill citizens as well as parents of minor children earning less than poverty wage. All those slackers need to get a job!

Progressives have tried to deal with the real problems faced by their fellow man. For example, before 1960, persons with mental illness lived in institutional settings. Patients with depression or autism lived alongside persons with various psychoses, truly a ‘snake pit’ environment. Aided by the advent of new psychoactive drugs and outpatient counseling, sanitariums were closed and most patients were released to the general population.

The mentally ill weren’t the only ones who triggered massive welfare efforts. The aged had gained Social Security decades earlier, but it was the late 1960s before Medicare came into existence. Then there were the rest who’d previously been left to die in unheated shanties.

The ‘needy’ had always been among us. But from the late 19th century to World War II, the industrialization of agriculture caused more people to move from the countryside to cities. Previous support networks of families and neighbors and local churches were disconnected from those who needed their help. That along with a tremendous increase in population resulted in the present welfare system.

It’s not like progressives saw a vision of ever higher taxes to support an ever increasing horde of needy. Their solution has been to spend more money in addressing the roots of poverty and ignorance: better schools, one-on-one casework to determine needs, more job training programs, more and better preschool options, higher teacher salaries, and health care for every person.

It should go without saying that a person who is mentally or physically ill can’t work. But one of the fondest dreams of conservatives is to kill Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act.

There’s no apparent effort to connect the dots.

The conservative ‘great again’ solution is to cut programs. They envision a pastoral scene where neighbors care for neighbors and local churches hand out food baskets. They cling to their fantasy because it’s simple. It worked a hundred years ago, so it should work now. Of course they’re not eager to revert to outdoor toilets, kerosene lamps, and horse and buggy.

Nothing about the modern world and its problems is as simple as conservatives want to make it.

If you ask evangelical Christians, ‘great again’ means turning back the clock to a time when a woman could not terminate a pregnancy without risking her life. Evangelicals do not accept that women have the Constitutional and moral right to determine what happens inside their own bodies. For many conservatives, a woman’s use of any form of birth control is questionable. Women belong in the home, not in the workplace competing with men, coming home with perhaps a larger paycheck and the ability to pack up and leave if he doesn’t treat her right, and pregnancy helped keep her there.

In the conservative Christian view, granting women these rights did not solve problems but created them. The fact that over 5000 women died annually from illegal abortion doesn’t faze them—it’s the fetus that matters.

Progressives sought solutions to the outrage suffered by atheists, Jews, Muslims, and followers of other faiths forced to hear Christian prayers announced over the intercom as a resonant baritone voice intoned the supplication. Whether in government meetings or public buildings, Christian beliefs and imagery dominated. The solution seemed simple enough—allow no advocacy or public recognition of any specific religion in commonly shared venues. Nothing of this restrained an individual from praying silently or at home or places of worship.

This small step toward consideration for others infuriates those who want to force Christian beliefs upon the entire population and declare the United States a “Christian nation.” Never mind what it says in the Constitution. As Vice-President Elect Pence says, God comes before country.

Allahu Akbar, ya’ll!

For men and women who desire and love those of their own sex, progress means allowing them the same rights under the law as enjoyed by all American citizens. Legal challenges affirmed the right to privacy in matters involving with whom and how sexual relations might occur. They affirmed the legal rights of marriage, of employment and housing and commerce.

To the evangelical right, ‘great again’ means reclaiming a time when nobody talked about homosexuality and if they did, they whispered. To legitimize such perceived deviation by granting rights to homosexuals is a moral outrage. And now transgender? Bathrooms? For this segment of voters, blocking such ‘progress’ is a dictate from God Himself.

For many conservatives, making American great again means going back at least to the 1950s if not the 1850s when African Americans knew their place. And that place wasn’t at the lunch counter beside respectable whites. It wasn’t at school mixing with white children. It wasn’t in interracial marriages.

Make America Great Again! Go back to a time before we knew so much, before incomprehensible terms like ‘climate change’ didn’t haunt the daily news. This topic alone creates great unease among the segment of the nation’s voters who never understood—or in many cases never accepted—basic scientific principles.

Because government has been the vehicle by which social progress has been required of everyone, conservative hatred centers on government. Government, not the need to care for the poor, not the need for fair and equal education, not the rights to liberty and justice for all, is the reason they have to sit next to a Muslim on the airplane.

Enshrining ignorance as a value is yet another gift of the religious right. Blind faith in God working magic and sufficient prayer time means no personal responsibility to think or learn or take action. Just keep having babies and ignoring evidence that much of the world’s current ills derive from overpopulation.

Real life-threatening problems face the people of the world. Tearing up treaties and trade agreements doesn’t solve them. Ignoring science doesn’t solve them. Removing environmental regulations doesn’t solve them. But at no time in the campaign or now in his appointments has Trump described a single solution to a single problem. He has so little intellectual grasp of his newly-acquired responsibilities that he plans to spend weekends at his penthouse. Because in his world of delegating to underlings, being president is a 9-5, M-F occupation.

If that.

In this dark hour, progressives cling to a promise that has gained momentum since this nation was founded, that we as Americans value and strive for equal rights, welcome the downtrodden to our shores, and treat all humanity as our brothers and sisters.

It’s the Golden Rule conservatives have forgotten.

Progressive: making use of new ideas, findings, or opportunities. Liberal: given in a generous and openhanded way; broadminded, not bound by authoritarianism, embracing ideals of economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and institutional, political and administrative reforms.

Progress is forward—unless the future remains in the hands of conservatives.