Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Truth of Industrial Agriculture

Matt's post about raising pigs reminds me of this scene from This American Life's first season TV show on Showtime:

A Private Affair?

People sure have strong feelings about John and Elizabeth Edwards' marriage, and it's all getting stirred up again with the release of Elizabeth's new memoir, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities, due out May 12. (Does anyone know why the cover looks like a romance novel? That seems in poor taste.)

My general feelings about this are that firstly, it seems clear that John Edwards should not be president of the United States, and probably shouldn't have run in the first place. Secondly, now that he's out of the public sphere, this is all really not anybody's business but their own. I know it's a little different when they're high-profile people like the Edwards. I also know that a lot of people who supported John in the primaries feel betrayed. Those all really understandable reactions, but it still doesn't justify things like some of the comments here.

Cheating is really bad. It can destroy relationships and devastate people. But passing judgment on how Elizabeth Edwards has dealt with her husband's extramarital affair reminds me of the town gossips. Such a thing can only be understood when you're inside the situation. Instead, I'd prefer we focus on the fact that she has mad cool things to say about health care reform.

Shady Stuff Going Down in South Carolina

Ben Miller has uncovered some pretty shady stuff that's going on in the student loan industry in South Carolina. It all has to do with something called a guaranty agency, a state-run agency that serves as a government-subsidized backup for federal loans. Miller has the goods here:
The federal lender-of-last-resort program is administered by the designated guaranty agency in each state to provide government-backed loans to students whose applications have been denied by other lenders. Since the agency must give qualified borrowers a loan-of-last-resort, the federal government agrees to take on all the risk associated with the debt. This means that holders of these loans are reimbursed for 100 percent (page 8) of any losses sustained due to borrower default, as opposed to ordinary loans made through the Federal Family Education Loans program (FFEL) that are reimbursed at only a 97 percent rate.

As its name suggests, this program is supposed to be used only in rare cases. But the documents, which we obtained from the Department of Education through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show that over at least the past six years, South Carolina's guaranty agency has provided loans to students through this program with unusual frequency. The rate at which the agency used this program to request reimbursement from the Department was at least 100 times greater than any of the other nine agencies whose documents we obtained -- a sampling that included the largest guarantors in the country. All told, South Carolina's lender-of-last-resort claims were three times greater than those for the other nine agencies combined. (See chart below or the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post for additional information on the guaranty agency claims.)

In an e-mail to Higher Ed Watch a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the Department "is aware of the situation and the Federal Student Aid office is conducting a program review." The spokesperson, however, declined to comment further until that process is completed.

Miller has a lot more details here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days in Women's Lives Under Obama

President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pair Act from White House on Vimeo.

The following timeline is thanks to Ms. Magazine, who tracked the things President Obama has done for women in his first 100 days.

JAN 23 Overturned "global gag rule," which will help re-fund international family-planning groups

JAN 29 Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring women's ability to sue for pay discrimination

FEB 4 Expanded government health insurance to cover 11 million children

FEB 17 Saved and created jobs in traditionally women-heavy fields-health care, child care and education-in
$787 billion economic stimulus package; also increased Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits

FEB 27 Moved to rescind the Bush administration's "conscience" clause-which could have let health-care workers deny patients abortion and contraception

MAR 2 With the choice of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, appointed a total of seven women to Cabinet-level positions

MAR 6 Instituted a new ambassador-at-large for global women's issues

MAR 9 Lifted restrictions on stem cell research

MAR 11 Established the White House Council on Women and Girls

Restarted U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund

Reinstated low-cost birth control availability at college health centers and at some 400 clinics serving low-income women

MAR 19 Pledged to sign U.N. declaration to decriminalize homosexuality, which Bush refused to sign

MAR 20 Obama appointee Elena Kagan is confirmed as the first woman Solicitor General

APR 3 Obama calls Afghanistan's proposed Shia Family Law "abhorrent"

APR 23 To date, Obama's appointments to posts needing Senate confirmation were 32% women with a substantial portion women of color

Nancy Keenan from NARAL Pro-Choice America also has some great analysis up on HuffPo.
It seems like Obama has done a lot to further not only reproductive health and rights but pay equity as well. Still, no one is perfect and there's a lot of work to be done.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beyond Lilly Ledbetter

Over at Campus Progress, I have a piece that tries to respond to all the justifications for pay disparity, and why the Lilly Ledbetter Act just isn't enough:

Today is Fair Pay Day. Again. It’s yet another reminder that women make, on average, about three-quarters of what men make. For women of color, that gap gets even bigger. The American Association of University Women created an interactive map where you can see exactly how bad the pay gap is in your state. The reality is that the gender pay gap has barely budged in the decades the AAUW has began studying this problem.

Every time we open up the debate about equal pay, the response is that this issue is complicated. Pundits put forth reasons explaining away why women make less than men. They scratch their heads and think about all of the reasons women are paid less. In the end, they help justify the pay gap rather than finding solutions.
Go ahead and read the whole thing here.

An Update on That Whole Early Marriage Thing

Mark Regnerus' column on how people should get married earlier caused quite a stir. It looks like today the Washington Post got someone to respond -- someone who, you know, has actual knowledge about the issue of marriage of society today (sadly, it wasn't my favorite marriage historian, Stephanie Coontz). The column by Andrew Cherlin today is a bit shorter but deals with the issues of modern marriage well:
Cut to the 21st century. Children are costly to educate and contribute little to the family economy. I don't know about your children, but I haven't received many checks from mine recently. People still want to have children, but one or two will do. Infant deaths are blessedly rare. So a woman who marries at 26, the average age in 2008, has plenty of time for the two pregnancies that are typically required to produce the size of family that most couples want.
Plain and simple. People get married later in life because they don't need to get married early. Cherlin also actually notes people with a high school education alone, a group that Regnerus seems to have forgotten actually existed.

I'm glad they actually got someone with interesting ideas to respond to the piece, but it's regrettable they didn't just go with someone with interesting things to say in the first place.

Weekend TV: Grey Gardens

This weekend I had the chance to watch HBO's version of Grey Gardens, a film adaptation of a play adapted from a documentary with a similar titile. It sounds like a premise for disaster, but it was actually a really well-executed film, with stellar acting by both Drew Berrymore and Jessica Lange. I was also stoked to see Big Love's Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jackie Kennedy Onassis. (Spoilers to follow.)

The story is about eccentric relatives of Jackie O's, both named Edith Bouvier Beale. Jackie's aunt and cousin were living on a decrepit estate in Long Island. Because they were entirely dependent on the mother's ex-husband, who left most of his money to his second wife. Eventually the trust runs out, and they live in poverty, never leaving the manor known as Grey Gardens. Eventually a documentary crew comes to record them, which is how the story has lived on.

It was great to see two female actresses take the lead, playing characters that actually age. Still, they're characters with their own problems. Complicated, yes, but also entirely dependent on others. First they were dependent on Big Edith's ex-husband. When the trust ran out, they were dependent on the kindness of Jackie O for the basic necessities of trash removal and food. There are also pitiful moments where Big Edith affects an accent when answering the phone to give the impression servants are still around. Little Edith, or Edie, despite constant pressure to marry, refused to do so, instead engaging in an affair with a married man, played one of the Baldwins. Her hair began to fall out, according to an account in New York magazine thanks to a stress-related illness, in her early twenties. Even after losing her hair, and after her mother died when she was well into her middle age, she still performed in nightclubs, although she always wears scarves as head coverings.

The strength of this film had more to do with the relationship between mother and daughter than anything else. To some degree, they each blame one another for their lot in life. But they are fiercely devoted to each other, remaining by one another's side even as health inspectors threaten to condemn the house. Seeing this adaptation makes me want to see the original documenatary.

(Almost) Daily FRC Bashing

Now the Family Research Council, like many other social conservatives, seem to believe that Democrats are going to use the swine flu to ram through the Sebelius nomination to secretary of HHS.

This is actually something closer to wishful thinking, since, as I wrote earlier this week, there isn't any real opposition to Sebelius based on abortion (or any other factors for that matter). The Republicans in the Senate are far more worried about the upcoming health care reform battle and there are only a few of the Repbulicans that are doing their due dilligance to the religious right by putting up a stink about Sebelius.

It's true Sen. Sam Brownback is waffling toward voting "no" now, since his base is mostly religious conservatives, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) endorsed her as did former Sen. Bob Dole.

Sebelius' confirmation will be open to a vote today, so we'll see how strong the anti-choice right's message really is by the end of the day.

The Refined Thoughts of Nobel-Prize Laureate Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is pissed. That seems pretty clear. While business media outlets are noting growth and cautious optimism at slowly rising stocks, Krugman is furious that Wall Street is back to usual:
First, there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks.
That certainly sounds like someone who is pissed. It's somewhat justifiable, since most of the things that promise to give our economy long-term growth, like health care reform and investing in clean and renewable energy, have ground to a halt while the president "deals" with the financial crisis. Since the crisis is so complicated, it's hard to make it a rallying cry. But Krugman sure is trying.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Feminst Weddings

There seems to be a lot of talk about weddings and marriage lately. Over the weekend Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Valenti, and Kate Harding all had thoughts about weddings. They all had some interesting things to say, but what I found most interesting was how personal their thoughts were on this subject. None of them said it exactly, but the implication is that precisely because these women spend a great deal of their time thinking about gender inequalities, they're expected to deal with the patriarchy perfectly in their everyday lives. It turns out the at the personal, when it comes to marriage, really is political.

What I find so frustrating about this whole thing is that these women are somehow held to a different standard than other women. Professional feminists, if such a thing exists, are somehow expected to be more "feminist" in their personal relationships than your typical woman. This seems like an absurd standard, especially when we spend a great deal of our days talking about how difficult it is to make feminism translate into everyday life.

I get the battles of Amanda, Jessica, and Kate. Although I'm not really near the age where I'm thinking about getting married, I've seen enough family members and relatives to realize it's really hard. And hortense noted on Jezebel this weekend, "the thing that annoys me even more than traditional wedding culture is the 'offbeat bride' phenomenon, which celebrates couples who choose to avoid your standard wedding fare for something a bit more unique and personal. But does it really? I mean, really?"

On some level, she's right. There are always going to be inequalities in the heterosexual relationships we're in (and probably in the same-sex relationships as well). It's the frustrating part of human life. Sometimes you're giving more than your taking, and sometimes the partnership can be wonderful. These are individual battles. It's up to each of these feminists to deal with their partnerships the way that she feels appropriate; each of these women is dealing with her relationship in a way that feels feminist for her. There isn't one big message for anyone.

I know that that sounds kind off message and the message can get twisted around to say that Bristol Palin's engagement might be feminist for her. But there is not feminist playbook for weddings and marriages just yet. It's something that women and men are experimenting with in their individual lives. By giving women permission to try things -- and to fail -- we're really doing a favor for all of us.

New Study: Women In Academia Behind in Promotions

Today the Modern Language Association of America released a report that examines the gender disparities in academic careers. This is something I wrote about a couple years ago for Campus Progress (in a three-part series). Like any kind of advancement and pay equity situation, the reasons for this are complicated. The good thing about this study, though, is it actually examines some of the reasons why women advance in academia more slowly than their male counterparts do.
  • Women spend two fewer hours per week on research and writing. In many institutions, the quality and volume of papers published is one of the key factors considered for advancement. Those hours add up over time, and it's no wonder that women are struggling to keep up the publishing rate with their male peers.
  • Women spend more time with feedback (grading or comments) and course preparation than their male peers. If you're wondering where that extra time for research comes from, this is it. In other words, women in academia are spending more time on the teaching element of their jobs while men tend to weight toward the research element of their jobs.
Both are important components to academic institutions, but by placing an emphasis on research alone when it comes to promotion, that leaves female professors behind.

The good news is that parenting has an impact of only a few months' delay in promotion, both for men and women, but the bad news is that men report greater overall job satisfaction. MLA's report also comes with some recommendations for institutions, so it's worth reading the key findings (PDF).

Remembering Bea Aruthur

I was really sad to learn that Bea Arthur died. I used to watch Golden Girls as a kid with my sister, and Dorothy was easily my favorite characters on the show. I loved how confident, sarcastic, and hilarious she was. Her excellent comedic timing made me want to be her when I got to be her age.

Although her hayday was in the 1970s and '80s, she and the other women on Golden Girls really shaped my ideas about women as senior citizens. The show could be silly at times, but ultimately it really showed that post-menopausal women are three-dimensional. They have wishes, goals, and even sexual desires. Most of us don't really like to think about that since when we think of older women, we think of our grandmothers. But having these women on television was a great way to have role models that weren't your typical grandmother (or, maybe for some of you, these women were a lot closer to your grandmother).

Fundamentally it was a really feminist show. These women depended on each other rather than on men for emotional and financial support. Their lives were fulfilling and they had ways of sharing their lives with their new friends, rather than just waiting for their relatives to check in with them every once in a while.

I'll miss you, Bea Arthur, but I also learned a lot from you.

Hitched By 22?

Mark Regnerus notes two things, that the average age of marriage is increasing and that the age gap between couples getting married is decreasing. These things are, apparently, something we should be very worried about. Regnerus seems to think that people are pressured to delay marriage and that they are hamstrung from tying the knot for fear of the label 'Mrs. degree seeker.' Perhaps most interestingly, while he says things like,
But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women's "market value" declines steadily as they age, while men's tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies -- and endless anecdotes -- reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women's fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s -- their most fertile years -- only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.
In other words, women are a commodity to be bought and sold, based solely on their fertility. I love consulting the Washington Post's wingnut columnists for my sense of self worth. Don't you? He continues to maintain that:
This is not just an economic problem. It's also a biological and emotional one. I realize that it's not cool to say that, but my job is to map trends, not to affirm them.
Sure, sure. He seems to think that the only value women bring to a marriage is their fertility, despite the fact that women make up a full half of the workforce and millions of families depend on women's wages as primary means of supporting the family. To say that Regnerus has a distorted sense of gender roles is an understatement.

He also seems to think that while women should hurry up and get hitched, men don't have to stress out about this:
Marriage will be there for men when they're ready.
Although he does note the caviat of recent research that shows men who wait to have children after their 40 put their children at risk for developmental disorders.

Regnerus' solution is a simple one: everyone should get married by 22. Seriously. After all, it worked for him:
My wife and I married at 22 with nothing to our name but a pair of degrees and some dreams. We enjoy recounting those days of austerity, and we're still fiscal conservatives because of it, better poised to weather the current crisis than many, because marriage is an unbelievably efficient arrangement and the best wealth-creating institution there is. Married people earn more, save more and build more wealth compared with people who are single or cohabiting.
Look, it's really fun to mock Regnerus' arguments that everyone would just be happier if everyone paired off by 22, leaving neat little family arrangements. But there's a real problem with his argument -- it is more or less the argument echoed through the years about women's worth equal to her fertility and that men control the game when it comes to marriage. His argument is basically the same one that's been used to make 30-year-old single women feel bad for decades.

Regnerus also doesn't even address gay couples. His notion that everyone should be married by age 22 seems to leave out many same-sex couples that don't live in Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, or Iowa. By leaving out so many couples, his argument seems even weaker.

Even though getting married early works well for some people, it's important to remember that it's not the thing that works out well for everyone. While Regnerus maintains that, "age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume." But that's a pretty broad statement. Some people may well be mature enough to marry by 22, but I was nowhere near ready to make such a financial, emotional, and legal commitment to someone at that age. I was still trying to figure my own life out.

If all Regnerus were doing were presenting trends, he wouldn't have brought such judgment to it. After all, I actually think it's a good thing that men and women are waiting longer to marry. It's also probably a good thing that the age gap is shrinking (although I know plenty of happy couples where the age gap is greater than two years); you tend to be able to meet challenges together as you age together. There's also something to be said for being young and single, experiencing life on your own and learning to be self-sufficient. In the end, that may make you a better partner in the long run.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Confirming Sebelius?

Over at RH Reality Check I have a new post that sums up what's going on (or rather, isn't) with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' HHS confirmation.

The Senate Republicans are behind the delay, with Senate Minority Mitch McConnell leading the fight. They are making a last-minute attempt to block Sebelius' confirmation, raising objections because of her stance on abortion. This makes her the last member of Obama's Cabinet yet to be confirmed.

Last week, the Family Research Council, an anti-choice lobbying group, raised a stink about Sebelius's purported "ties" to Dr. George Tiller, one of Kansas' few late-term abortion providers. Last month, Tiller was acquitted of 19 counts of misdemeanors brought against him. But FRC, and now Senate Republicans, are objecting to Sebelius based on donations Tiller made to a 2002 political PAC that supported Sebelius in the primary for governor.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

9 to 5

Matt points out, via our mutual colleague Heather Boushey, that women are susceptible to pay discrimination for many reasons, but one of them is that family and household responsibilities fall disproportionately on women. But Boushey argues that the recession, in a very weird way, may be actually good for women:
The recession is amplifying a long-run trend of women’s earnings becoming more and more important to their family’s economic well-being. Between 1980 and 2006, the share of total family income brought home by a working wife has risen from 26.7 to 35.6 percent. Indeed, among married couples, only those with two earners have seen their inflation-adjusted family income grow since the 1970s.


Back in reality, families have needed mom’s earnings for quite some time. We didn’t want to admit it because in doing so, we’d have to finally address how we were going to deal with all the things she used to do for us—for free—before she had a day job. And we’d need to make sure that she was paid fairly on the job.

But now, this recession may allow our economic structures to catch up to the reality that families face every day. While there’s nothing good about higher unemployment, it is giving million of families someone with the time to turn that “second shift” into a first shift and assist the breadwinning wives. That’s the silver lining that may help families survive these difficult times.

But even if women's incomes are becoming more important to families, they are still earning less than their male counterparts, earning somewhere arounda three-quarters of their male counterparts in the same jobs. Legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act is designed to redress some of these inequalies.

The (Not So) Secret Garden

Today over at TAPPED Phoebe Connelly professes her love for vegetable gardening. Liberals like gardens for obvious reasons: you don't have to burn carbon transporting the vegetables from your garden to your kitchen, they're more natural, and they encourage you to eat better.

But here's the problem. I live in a city. I live in a narrow row house with no yard. Instead, the area behind my house is covered in cement. By another tenant of liberalism, I'm doing the right thing by living in a city. I can commute to work by walking, biking, or taking public transportation. I don't have to own a car. I'm reducing my carbon footprint just by living where I live. But where I live doesn't let me grow a garden. Here comes the paradox.

How can we promote both cities (good) and gardens (also good!). The answer might not be that each individual grows a garden. It would be difficult to grow enough variety for yourself anyway. Instead something that's gaining more popularity are community lots that are maintained by a group of people who volunteer a little time each week or month. These garden co-ops might be the solution to the paradigm of living in a city and wanting to be pro-garden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blogger = Elite, Wealthy

Oh dear. The Wall Street Journal conflates blogging with bloviating again (although Alan Murray has resonable things to say about charging for online content). It's a common mistake. A lot of old-school journalists make it. Russell Crowe's character did it in State of Play. I hear a New York Times reporter or other likewise presumed prestigious journalist make this mistake probably at least once a month.

It's okay. The Internet can be scary and confusing for some people. Here, let me explain. Blogging is a medium, not a genre. You can have a reported blog. TPM does it every day. You can have a blog that consists of paid adveritisng, much like infomercials on television or those junk glossies you can pick up for free at a coffee shop. You can also have an opinionated blog (mine is pretty much that), but the thing that links them together is not necessarily screeching about this or that, it is simply that they are all websites with dated entries.

It's interesting that the WSJ shows that there's some professionalization of the medium:
The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That's almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click -- whether on their site or someone else's. And that's nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: "It's my work he'd say, I do it for pay."
But it also shows that there's some replication of the old media paradigm:
Demographically, bloggers are extremely well educated: three out of every four are college graduates. Most are white males reporting above-average incomes. One out of three young people reports blogging, but bloggers who do it for a living successfully are 2% of bloggers overall. It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year.
Hm, that seems an awful lot like the Village Voice contributors of yore.

Look, media has always been dominated by a wealthy, white, male elite. For the most part, it still is today. Women are consistently about a third of bylines and minority reporters in the newspaper industry are on the decline. It's not exactly a represenative industry. It's true that many of the old paradigms are getting replicated in a new medium when you're talking about top-tier bloggers.

That said, there are plenty of people that blog that don't fall under the category of the WWME. That's why sites like Racialicious and Feministing have grown increasingly popular in recent years. At least these are sites that are devoted to a niche audience that has historically been neglected by more mainstream publications. I hope that blogging won't remain the stereotype of grizzled white dude reporter. Maybe these numbers will shift as the medium itself changes.

Lessons From Illinois

Today I have a post up at RH Reality Check about some pro-active, pro-choice legislation that was proposed in Illinois. The legislation never made it to a vote, but perhaps what's most important is what the coalition learned from advocating for it:
Early members of the coalition, which has been spearheaded by Planned Parenthood Illinois and Illinois ACLU, began their work with meetings in Chicago and Springfield in the fall of 2007, where they debated what the legislation should cover, how it should be phrased, and how to get it passed. Following the 2008 election, they conducted focus groups and polls into early January. "It was that broad-ranging access that got early polling in the 60-70 percent across the board," said Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Rights Project in Illinois. "It was really the whole continuum of choices that people supported very strongly."
Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Taking Your Child to a Work-Life Balance

Today is "Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work" Day. I honestly can't remember if I ever participated in the April 23rd holiday because for me, I often visited my mother's place of employment. She owned it. Like many small businesses in a small town, my sister and I were the kind of kids that would help out on holidays, weekends, and after school. In fact, we started a tradition of working the Christmas Eve Day shift together before ensuing with our holiday festivities.

The holiday started as a campaign to get fathers to care about their daughters, to get them to envision a future for them that wasn't just typing or getting married. Later on, they amended it to include mothers and sons. It's sort of amazing to me how the focus has changed over time. It's no longer about showing your children that they can work -- that's a given -- today the focus is much more about integrating work and family life. Rather than dropping your kid off at day care or school, the challenge is to integrate him or her into your work life. It's a luxury that not everyone has access to. After all, you can hardly bring your son or daughter to work if you're putting in less-than full time at a fast food counter. Instead of being about the option of working, it's about parenting.

It would be easy to balance the roles of working and parenting if there were more family-friendly policies. It's legal to fire someone for leaving work early to pick up a child. Right now the balance is shifted totally in favor of the employer and less in favor of the working parent. It could start with seven days of paid family leave. But that would be just the beginning.

Palin's Choice

Last week Sarah Palin admitted at a Right to Life that she momentarily considered having an abortion when she discovered her son, Trig, would likely be born with developmental problems, that ultimately became Down's syndrome:
Then when my amniocentesis results came back, showing what they called abnormalities. Oh, dear God, I knew, I had instantly an understanding for that fleeting moment why someone would believe it could seem possible to change those circumstances. Just make it all go away and get some normalcy back in life. Just take care of it. Because at the time only my doctor knew the results, Todd didn't even know. No one would know. But I would know.
Today, Ruth Marcus astutely points out that Plain's admission is one of a support of the right to choose:

I respect Palin's decision not to "make it all go away." She describes her doubts about whether she had the fortitude and patience to cope with a child with Down syndrome, and, with the force of a mother's fierce love, the special blessing that Trig has brought to her life. She speaks as someone who is confident that she made the correct choice.

For her. In fact, the overwhelming majority of couples choose to terminate pregnancies when prenatal testing shows severe abnormalities. In cases of Down syndrome, the abortion rate is as high as 90 percent.

For the crowd listening to her at last week's dinner, Palin's disclosure served the comfortable role of moral reinforcement: She wavered in her faith, was tempted to sin, regained her strength and emerged better for it.

As for those us less certain that we know, or are equipped to instruct others, when life begins and when it is permissible to terminate a pregnancy, Palin's speech offered a different lesson: Abortion is a personal issue and a personal choice. The government has no business taking that difficult decision away from those who must live with the consequences.

On one level, Plain's "choice" and the language she uses at a banquet supporting the work of those that want to outlaw abortion altogether is a testament to how ingrained the option of terminating a pregnancy is in our culture. Even those that are "pro-life" encounter circumstances that make them consider terminating the pregnancy.

But Palin was lucky. She was in a position of power. She wasn't in an abusive relationship. She had health care and a supportive family. She had means of transportation to a hospital or clinic. Even if she had chosen to have an abortion, her obstacles to the choice were fairly minor. Although ultimately I agree with Marcus and highly respect her decision to do so since raising a child with such a disability is by no means easy, the message at the end of Marcus' column seems to be "thank goodness we still have the right to choose."

For many women today, who aren't in Palin's position of power and privelidge, the choice may not be so easy. In fact, it might not be a choice at all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Almost Daily FRC Bashing

From the latest Washington Update:
My friends, you have been panting for good news from Washington. For long weeks throughout this winter of our discontent, I have been sending you daily reports of the issuance of a host of lethal decrees. A cold cohort has come to power that has no regard for innocent human life. It has been my solemn duty to report these grim tidings to you accurately, without sugar-coating them. This is the first Easter since our beloved nation lurched alarmingly toward a Culture of Death.

Yes, finally, this Easter Monday, I can report Good News. It is the best of news. Jesus Christ lives. Because he lives, we shall inherit eternal life. We, our families, our circle of friends, all those who love the Lord, shall be raised to immortality.
Ah the Culture of Death. I forgot that I was part of it. What's funny is the subtle implication here is that Barack Obama is leading the "cold cohort" and that this is the first time FRC has seen such horrible things happen. Yes, ladies and gentleman, that means that Bush was all about the Culture of Life.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fish on Reproductive Rights

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd see Stanley Fish blog about reproductive rights. And I really never thought that I'd agree with him. This Sunday on the New York Times, Stanley Fish wrote about what is known as the HHS Conscience Clause, something that reproductive rights groups have been organizing to repeal since final days of the Bush administration. Fish points out that when you're talking about an individual's right, you have to look at the whole picture:

But while these freedoms may be enshrined in the constitution, they have not fared so well when they have come in conflict with laws passed with an eye toward maintaining order and predictability. In a series of cases stretching from Reynolds v. United States (1878) to Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the Supreme Court has ruled that when the personal imperatives of one’s religion or morality lead to actions in violation of generally applicable laws — laws not promulgated with the intention of affronting anyone’s conscience — the violations will not be allowed and will certainly not be celebrated; for, says the court in Reynolds, “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

It could be said that such language is too melodramatic for the current dispute, which does not involve disrupting the machinery of government, just the granting of exemptions from some professional obligations. What’s the big deal, for after all, “If a procedure is legal, a patient will still have the ability to access that service from a medical professional or institution that does not assert a conflict of conscience” (HHS News Release, August 21, 2008).

But should patients be asked to add to the problems they already have the problem of having to figure out (if they have the time) which providers will be willing to treat them? When a professional hangs out his shingle doesn’t he offer his services and skills to the public and not just to members of it who share his morality? Isn’t it a matter of conscience (in Hobbes’s sense) to abide by the rules that define the profession you’ve signed up for?
Indeed. Doctors may think of themselves as private citizens, but the services they provide are part of a public service. By elevating the right of the doctor above that of the patient, someone who is less likely to be in a position of access to information or services, you're beginning to replace the rights of one individual for the other.

The important thing to remember, though, is that even though it looks likely that HHS will rescind the so-called conscience rule on the federal level, other states have already codified such conscience rules into their state laws. Illinois is just one of many.

Almost Daily FRC Bashing

Today Family Research Council Action sent out an email calling its readership to protest Jay Leno:
On April 29th Jay Leno and his wife are hosting a fundraiser for the Feminist Majority Foundation, a radical pro-abortion group that not only advocates for abortion on demand, but also for the closing of pro-life pregnancy centers.

This month the Feminist Majority Foundation sent an e-mail to its 400 campus affiliates planning a nationwide protest against facilities that dare to offer women alternatives to abortion and the support they need to choose life.
To tell you the truth I didn't realize that Leno was such a women's right advocate. I'd generally thought of his as probably a Democrat (since most people in Hollywood are) but definitely more on the moderate to conservative side.

The email calls for its readers to contact NBC CEO Jeff Zucker to tell his star to get less activisty, fast. It's hard for me to see how the NBC CEO would be persuaded to tell his employees what causes they can and cannot advocate for, especially when they're stars as big as Leno. Still, the right has proven themselves easily mobilized, so we'll have to see what effect, if any, they have on the event.

'Media Insiders' Demographics

Last week The Atlantic published a very informal "poll" where they talked to various media "insiders" were asked if the Internet had a positive or negative effect on journalism. About 65 percent agreed that journalism was suffering during the age of the Internet.

But here's the thing. The sample size was pretty small. In fact, it included 45 people. The demographics also came across as a little screwy. The average person that answered the poll was white, male, and 53-years-old. Just for fun, I decided to do a graphic representation of the people (who are listed at the bottom of The Atlantic article) who were included in the survey.

First, gender:

Next, age (you'll notice that the 18-24 age group, one that is the most "online) of any adult population according to the Pew poll in 2009 of generations online) aren't represented at all:

It's also important to note that the oldest people polled were television journalists Sam Donaldson and Jim Lehrer, who are 75 and 74 respectively. The youngest was Frank Foer, editor of The New Republic, who is somewhere around 34 (I got his age from a three-year-old New York Times article and added the appropriate years).

Now, I don't mean to be ageist. Obviously just because someone is a little older doesn't mean they can't use the Internet, but there are significant differences between how different generations view modern media. Increasingly young people (and the rest of the population) are turning to the Internet to get their information rather than to printed newspapers or magazines. Having a generation of media "insiders" that isn't representative of the population as a whole could be a bigger part of the problem than the Internet.

Finally, race and ethnicity:

The respondents were also heavily biased by their primary medium; more than half of respondents came from a print background:

Some the people polled by The Atlantic were also employed by the National Journal Group, the company that owns The Atlantic: Four of respondents, or about 8 percent, were employed by either Government Executive or by The Atlantic itself. The Atlantic, to be fair, has done a lot to embrace media changes, employing full-time bloggers and creating online "channels" for those with special interests like food or politics. But it's also important to disclose the fact that you are including some of your employees or colleagues in the poll that you publish.

Granted, I know that mostly The Atlantic decided to do this poll to gain some quick hits and generate discussion about the future of journalism. It is, after all, something that is weighing heavily on media professionals' minds these days. But a poll like this doesn't really tell us much except that a few of the old guard of media elites are distrustful of a medium that has been around for more than a decade. The Internet certainly isn't going away as means of distributing information. It's more than a little frightening that so many "insiders" think that a research tool like the Internet is doing harm to journalism.

Granted, I don't think that the Internet is a substitute for reporting. Nothing will ever substitute talking to experts and people that are deeply immersed in an issue. But I don't think the Internet is a "harm" to journalism. Maybe if they would've asked a few people under 30 they would have gotten some very different results.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Second Coming

Pew likes to do research on topical things. I know there are tons of super-religious people out there, but I was still a little taken aback when I saw this poll of American Christians.

Apparently a full 79 percent believe in Christ's second coming (okay, okay, I know it's part of the actual text of the Bible, but I think it's still interesting that people believe in a literal second coming of Christ). Furthermore, 20 percent, that's one in five American Christians actually believe that the second coming will happen during their lifetimes. The whole thing is sort of bizarre, given that presumably these people believe that things are so bad that we are nearing the end of humankind's time on Earth. Anyway, it's food for thought.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Kind of Capitalism?

This poll that Marc Ambinder points to is a little misleading. He says Americans are "split" on whether they prefer socialism or capitalism, but the breakdown goes more like this:
53 percent of Americans prefer capitalism, 20 percent prefer socialism, and 27 percent say they're not sure.
That doesn't sound very divided to me. True supporters of "free market" are down from 70 percent last year, but it's still a decided majority that favor a kind of capitalism. Americans obviously love the kind of economy that gave them iPods and, but it's also the same economy that got them sub-prime mortgages.

Still, it's important to remember that there isn't exactly a total "free market" and there isn't really "socialism." The differences were talking about are a matter of degrees. Americans like to throw around socialism as a smear but probably wouldn't turn down a lot of the benefits found in social democratic countries like high-quality government-subsidized child care and lengthy paid maternity and paternity leave.

By posing this question as free market v. socialism, it's missing the point. No economy today is totally unregulated. You need to have some kind of regulation to make it function. Likewise, no economy today is totally socialist. The differences we're talking about are how much and what kind. Probably if you tweaked the questions to ask more in-depth questions about what the economy should actually look like, you'd get a very different picture than asking Americans to set up camp in one or another kind of political rhetoric. Until we're really willing to ask real questions about in what ways we want our economy regulated and what kinds of socialized institutions we want, polls like this are useless.

North Dakota's Failed Personhood Legislation

Today I have a new post up at RH Reality Check, where I talk about the defeat of the North Dakota legislation that attempted to define a fertilized egg as a person:
It was a win for the pro-choice movement, but perhaps what was most surprising was not that the legislation was defeated - the personhood movement is considered extreme even within the anti-choice movement - but how it was defeated.
Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Anti-Gay Marriage Ad

The really weird thing about this full-of-lies video that the National Organization for Marriage ad does is it tries to paint gay marriage as somehow having anything to do with the people other than those who are getting married. It's trying to say that it makes victims out of straight Americans. Gee, I bet GLBT people can't relate relate at all to the whole persecution thing.

What's great, though is that the Human Rights Campaign took the video and put it on their YouTube page. That way, the label is "Lies from the 'National Organization for Marriage.'" Very savvy. I hope HRC puts together a response ad that actually points out who the victim is in these debates over marriage -- the people who are told their parterships are immoral and wrong.

Sarah Haskins Is Awesome, Continued

Over at Campus Progress, I have a piece up that I'm really excited about. I got to interview Sarah Haskins about her role as a feminist comedian. (Note: If you don't know who she is, you should first immediately go here to check out her funny videos and secondly admit that you don't read nearly enough feminist blogs.) She also breaks the news to me that she has sold a screenplay:

Haskins has found some small success with her “Target Women” segment on Infomania, but she, like others in Los Angeles, is hoping to make it big. “I just sold a screenplay with my writing partner, a friend I knew from college. That’s very exciting. The protagonists are two girls,” she said. “That’s been awesome and hopefully it’ll get made. That’s sort of the Hollywood thing and where you don’t know if any of that will ever happen.”

Hollywood is known for being a tough town for women writers. As I pointed out in a recent article, only 12 percent of screenwriters in the top-grossing films last year were women. Haskins also noted that in her own experience with peddling a screenplay she felt women in the industry were more receptive to her work. “I feel like female producers maybe on the next level like TV or film are inclined to look at a female-oriented project or pitch and be a little kinder to it. You know, maybe take a second look at it because people are looking for young female writers,” she said. “I definitely have met with more women since I’ve been out here in Hollywood.”

I cannot wait for the possibility to see a film co-written by Sarah Haskins. That film will definitely make $10.75 from this feminist. Additionally, it's important to point out that Haskins has a lot in common with bloggers and eats Cheetos.

Will the Star Tribune Print a Correction?

Michelle Bachmann is starting to remind me of George Will. They both recently have published wild inaccuracies on the op-ed pages of their respective hometown papers (of course, Will is a regular columnist while Bachmann is not) relating to global warming. Aaron Weiner at the Windy has the details, but this raises a question for me about the accuracies of op-ed pages. If newspapers expect to maintain their standards of journalism, then they should at least fact check the people they publish even (or especially) if they are on the op-ed pages.

I don't know if anyone has asked the Star Tribune to publish a correction for Bachmann's misreprentation of the facts, but someone should. After all, if newspapers like the Star Tribune hope to be relevant at all, they could at least be held accountable to the facts rather than letting new media point out their errors. That's not to say that the words aren't Bachmann's fault. She should be held responsible for what she wrote. But so should the venue in which she published it. This is embarrassing for them.
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