Saturday, January 9, 2016


If the government of the State of Michigan is anything, it is Republican.  All three of its branches are Republican and have been since 2010.  Today, in 2016, the Governor, Rick Snyder, is Republican.  The 38-seat Senate has 27 Republicans, 11 Democrats.  The 110-seat House has 61 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 3 vacancies.  The 7-member Supreme Court has 5 Republicans, 2 Democrats.  Most branches of government were dominated by Republicans before then.  So Michigan’s legislation and administration are what Republicans have enacted and directed for most of the twenty-first century.

For decades, Michigan’s larger industrial cities have suffered from the decline of heavy manufacturing in the emerging global economy.  Corporations have collapsed or relocated with tax benefits; employees have been left behind with little or no assistance.  Results include declining population, increasing unemployment, declining housing values and state tax revenues, deteriorating public services and schools, and increasing costs of social services to aging and disproportionately minority populations.

Michigan’s Republican politicians have adopted conservative Republican analyses to explain the decline and prescriptions to prevent metropolitan bankruptcies.  Notably, it passed legislation (first PA 4 in 2011, then PA 436 in 2012) empowering the Governor to appoint City Managers to replace local elected officials for all practical purposes, with powers to dismiss elected officials, appoint department officials, set budgets, impose new taxes, abolish labor contracts, privatize services, and sell public assets—all ultimately intended to balance budgets.  Because of their ideological blinders, Republicans do not recognize that balanced budgets do not address the conditions necessary to revive the economies of the cities in dire financial straits prompting this dictatorial legislation.

Given autocratic powers irrelevant to that purpose, Republicans have enacted legislation to plunder already impoverished cities for personal and political benefit.  The results have been predictable: cronyism and corruption, and budgets balanced, urban life eroded, and local economies further deteriorated.  One City Manager gave himself a quarter-million-dollar-a year salary.  Other City Managers have awarded uncompetitive contracts or sold public assets to friends or corporate supporters.  In short, Republican legislation and administration have further impoverished the cities which they pretended to rescue but have enriched appointees and their apparatchiks.

At present, six cities—Allen Park, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ecorse, Flint, and Pontiac—lack democratically elected leadership yet are liable to higher per-unit costs or higher taxes without representation.  Most of them are majority African-American, and all of them encompass a majority of the state’s African-American population.  In short, over half of Michigan’s minority population is disenfranchised in the cities in which they live and work.

The consequences of autocratic Republican rule are clear in the case of Flint, with its population of about 100,000.  The Governor-appointed City Manager decided to save money by shifting from treated water treated purchased from Detroit to water pumped directly—that is, without treatment—from the Flint River.  This raw river water contains toxic contaminants which, when pumped through Flint’s lead pipes, have corroded them, added lead to the other contaminants, and become poisonous water used for drinking, cooking, bathing, and plumbing.  As is well known, lead in elevated levels has many irreversible damaging effects on children, especially those under the age of seven.  Flint has over 25,000 minors, about 9,000 in this younger age group.

The sight and smell of this untreated Flint River water immediately prompted concerns by residents.  State officials assured residents that their concerns were unwarranted and that the water was safe.  Independent scientists tested the water and reported elevated levels of lead two or three times higher that water-quality standards.  State officials dismissed their reports and attempted to discredit scientists.  Months later the state was forced to admit the truth.  For weeks thereafter, the state did nothing.  When the Republican Governor apologized, he did not bother to visit Flint, an hour’s drive away.  Only when the federal government launched a criminal investigation, did he declare a state of emergency.  However, in the week thereafter, the state did almost nothing, did less than it needed to do, and did not ask for help from FEMA.  Michigan still refuses to declare the water now coming from Detroit safe for use by residents.  Whatever his press releases say to the contrary, the Republican governor shows no evidence of caring about inadequate supplies of safe water and the permanent effects of polluted water on residents.

Accountability for endangering the health of an entire city population and damaging the development of hundred or thousands of children by the decisions and conduct of Republican officials and agents remains uncertain.  Government officials usually, but citizens rarely, can escape indictment and prosecution for actions harmful to others.  Any parent who sought to save money on water bills by substituting polluted river water for safe tap water and exposing children to it would likely face a variety of criminal charges for abuse, endangerment, or negligence.  But elected and appointed Republican officials who make and implement comparable decisions, with health-destroying and life-impairing consequences, may get off by pleading good intentions or governmental immunity.  My non-lawyer’s opinion is that Michigan Republicans have engaged in a conspiracy to advance their interests in reckless disregard of dire consequences from using industrially polluted river water.

This disastrous record of health, economic, and political abuse teaches important lessons about the nature of Republican rule in Michigan.  Despite their slogans about small government, freedom, and opportunity, Republicans, given this chance, have operated in disregard of traditional American democratic principles: the consent of the governed and no taxation without representation.  In Flint, they denied citizens the freedom and opportunity to drink safe water; instead, they forced them to drink poisoned water.  They have exercised exclusive power autocratically and irresponsibly, without consulting with or accountability to the people whom they rule.  They have acted out of partisan ideological concerns like a balanced budget, not basic, practical concerns like safe drinking water.  Once again, they have shown a greater interest in property than in people.  Not surprisingly, they have defied the facts which undermine their political decisions and have attacked those who tell the truth.

Federal and state Republican officials know that knowledge is power and that those with truth speak to power.  Accordingly, they hinder or oppose government agencies which, as a requirement of their work, collect information: among federal departments or agencies, EPA, Education, Justice, FBI, and ATF.  The information which such agencies collect tends to support efforts contrary to Republican positions.  They also serve as the basis for and justification of regulations to mitigate or prevent problems of health and safety.  The Republican opposition to these agencies means to prevent informed discussion of their purposes, policies, and regulations; to weaken or eliminate them; and to make their regulations few, unenforceable, or ineffective.  The purpose behind their attacks on “too many regulations” is to enable corporations to operate without legal accountability or economic penalty for any harm done to people’s health or wealth.

Like Michigan Governor Snyder, Republican politicians (in my congressional district, “Freedom Caucus” member Steve Pearce) are indifferent to the deleterious consequences of their ideology except to conceal them with assurances to the contrary or by attacks on critics.  When they speak of “job-killing regulations,” they talk economic nonsense; they also advocate the “people-killing” absence of regulations which minimize the risks of diseases, disorders, disabilities, and deaths to thousands or millions.  Their opposition to regulations promoting clear air, clean water, and clean soil means to encourage or enable profiteering by permitting corporations to put biological and chemical poisons into what we breathe, drink, and eat.  For Republicans, Flint is an embarrassment about which they are silent.  Otherwise, they would be hard to put explain this disaster as anything other than a failure of national Republican ideology, not of “freedom” and “opportunity,” but of fraud and force.

Republican rule in Michigan is a portent of Republican rule in the United States.  For Republicans nationally show the same tendencies to autocratic rule, ideological rigidity, and fact-denial or fiction-creation to advance otherwise untenable positions.  Thus, in states under their monopolistic control, Republicans are impeding voters or restricting the franchise by reliance on fabricated claims of voter fraud.  At the federal level, Republicans are fabricating facts about immigrant invasions when more Hispanics have been leaving the country than entering it; accepting phony documentation and acting on its allegations to defund Planned Parenthood; and denying science and attacking scientists about man-made pollution causing climate change.  Given their ideological commitment to autocratic oligarchy, unfettered capitalism, political and religious intolerance (xenophobia, homophobia), and anti-scientific ideologies, Republicans are a clear and present danger to America’s survival as a democracy.  Michigan’s Republican government is a warning example to Americans everywhere who believe in democracy.

Monday, November 16, 2015


  Today (16 Nov), Obama lectured the press corps in Turkey before leaving for the Philippines.  Once again, he revealed that he is more professorial than presidential in matters of national security.  The president never tires of lecturing us on the virtues of speaking softly and of leaving out the virtues of carrying (and, when necessary, using) a big stick.  He tells us that the issues are complex and resist quick and easy solutions.

Those truths do not imply that the United States cannot take reasonable and proportionate actions to protect the United States and to preserve civil liberties.  My fear is that if he does not order such actions, he will, in the event of a terrorist attack on the United States, enable calls for unreasonable and disproportionate actions by others.

Obama can take actions to assure Americans that he is not a professor of bromides about national identity (“who we are” or are not) but the President acting in the national defense of a country at risk.  He should tell us what the United States has done, is doing, and will do about terrorist groups, whether ISIS, Al Qaeda, or others.  He should send a public message to our intelligence and defense communities: you are screwing up and need to get straight, or face the consequences in the event of another major failure to defend this country.

He can take at least three obvious steps to send a message to everyone about American resolve to deal with terrorism arising in the Middle East:

One, curtail overseas training of American would-be terrorists by legislation authorizing the Department of State (1) to identify countries which train terrorists, to require Americans to have prior permission based on good reason for travel to those countries, and to require special passports or visas for such travel; (2) to prevent re-entry of American violators of those requirements (and to deny entry of non-Americans from those countries without pre-clearance); and (3) to initiate the prosecution of Americans who travel illegally and re-enter this country as well as those who assist them during their illegal travel or after their illegal re-entry into the country.

Two, cease all military assistance—supply, re-supply, maintenance, training—to all Gulf States until they use what they have already received in direct military operations against ISIS and Al Qaeda; commit future support to dissident groups if government support of anti-Western propaganda and schooling does not cease; and prepare to freeze all financial accounts held by all members of the royal family and to divert their holdings to a national trust for a reformist government.

Three, target major ISIS and Al Qaeda command residences and headquarters, and communications, intelligence, military, and logistics facilities, for destruction by fuel-air explosives; and emphasize such targets in urban areas with sustained, including round-the-clock, attacks by such weapons.  The message: no more symbolic assassinations (Jihadi John) and surgical strikes, but systematic destruction of all ISIS and Al Qaeda commanders, combatants, and capabilities anywhere, anytime.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


An old joke has it that the Lone Ranger and Tonto are pursuing a band of Indian horse thieves into a canyon.  They notice that other Indians are pursuing them and that still other Indians are on the tops of the canyon walls.  The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “looks like we’re surrounded, Tonto.”  Tonto responds, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

And so it is in modern America, with “the base” of the Republican Party—a phrase which can mean ignoble and low-class—showing the cultural and racial fears of a majority being dispossessed of predominant power in America by demographic developments.  Obama is the face of their projected fears of the “other,” women of ability entering into and playing increasingly prominent roles in most fields, the alternatively oriented in matters of gender, the variously non-white, the non-religious or downright secular or the non-Jewish, non-Christian believers (Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, among others), non-European-derived.  Republican attacks on women are the most obvious instance of fear of demographic change: tolerance of pay differentials, resistance to an increased minimum wage, attacks on reproductive rights, attacks on social assistance programs disproportionately serving women, and attacks on professions like K-12 teaching and nursing largely staffed by women.  Almost as obvious are efforts by Republican-controlled states to restrict the franchise by creating impediments to voting by minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the young in the name of undefined and unsupported claims of voter fraud.

The opposite of what it fears characterizes most of the base: white, middle-aged or older, lower-middle class, poorly educated, modestly skilled, fundamentalist in religion, and rural (Southern, Southern Extraction, Great Plains, Mountain West).  The people who have the greatest fear are those who have reached the age at which they realize that they have lost out in the race of life.  The only cohort of people in America whose mortality rate is increasing—drug overdose, alcoholism, and suicide—are precisely such males between the ages of 35 and 45 with no more than a high-school education who are having trouble finding or keeping a job, finding or keeping a woman, or winning fantasy football.  Even successful adults can share this fear of the other if they experienced the conditions of the fearful in their childhood experiences (Paula Deen is one example; Ben Carson is another).   

Hostility to “the other” is one expression of fear.  Denial or distortion of reality is another.  The fearful are afraid of facts because they are not their facts.  Theories of cosmology and evolution, though established as facts, the fearful reject as contrary to faith and the comfort which faith can give.  Climate change and abortion they reject as implying or implementing man’s power to assume powers over creation of the world and of life which powers they believe belong only to God.  Their big fear is that the modern world which “the other” embrace or represent is marginalizing God and all that gives meaning and stability and security to their lives.

It is no stretch to see that the recent emphasis on religion in politics is an attempt to subordinate the democracy of the people, including more and more of “the other,” and to protect that “old time religion” and the political, white male supremacist order which goes with it.  It is no surprise to see white policemen doing what they have always done, but now on camera for all to see, trying to enforce that supremacy.

Nor is it a stretch to see those fear-based, fact-free, fundamentalist-oriented political forces mainly in one large, but shrinking, political party trying to overturn democracy.  Even today, with its structures shaky but still intact, politicians serving the base do not serve the country; do not listen to the majority; and do not respect the customary means of arriving at majority positions on political issues.  Politicians serving a base angry at those who compromise mean only one thing: if they gain political power, they will resist compromise, will listen to no one with different views, will rule without the “consent of the governed” and necessarily increasingly coercively, by fraud or force.  They will impose their views even on a majority of the population which disagrees with them, and will do whatever it takes to retain power in the face of dissent—a Reichstag fire?  By submitting to the extremists in the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Party is becoming more authoritarian, more dangerous to democratic rights and values, and more repressive of dissent and diversity.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Modern American opposition to abortion proceeds to parochial extremes, and Associate Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade has aided and abetted its progress.

My argument is straightforward:  First, the Supreme Court ignored the diversity of religious beliefs about abortion which Blackmun acknowledged and which could and should have justified a ruling for the unqualified right of choice respecting abortions under the First Amendment.  Then, the Court converted viability, a medical condition, into a legal standard; used it as a basis of abortion restrictions; and asserted a state interest in protecting the potential for life of the unborn.  Thus, its ruling tacitly incorporated a specific religious belief consonant with the beliefs of some, but not all, Christians and of virtually no Jews.  Perversely, this decision on a matter of conscience made an establishment of religion and prohibited an exercise of religious freedom.  Yet, for the past four decades, arguments about biological conditions have deflected or obscured discussions of religious principles and values.  The continuing controversy has fanned the flames of sectarianism and led to needless and endless litigation.

*       *       *

Throughout history, most societies have discouraged abortions in different ways and to varying degrees.  Some have stated different definitions of life or personhood for legal or religious purposes.  This variety or variability is not, or should not be, surprising; the definitions are part of the cultures which articulate them.  An example: the Navajo definition of the beginning of human life is the moment at which the born child first laughs—laughter once thought a unique human characteristic.  Cultural pluralism is historical fact, and those who gainsay it in the service of their views on abortion do so only as an act of ideological fanaticism.  In this note, I consider abortion only in America, in the context of historical circumstances, cultural values, and civil and religious beliefs.

Today’s heated debate contrasts with a general indifference to abortion, abortion laws, and their enforcement in the early years of this country.  English Common Law on abortions prevailed in the colonies until about 1776, and adaptations continued in the states until the mid 19th century.  Thereafter, state after state enacted new and more rigorous laws against abortion but still enforced them infrequently.

The evolution of the Catholic Church’s views of abortion is an example of the cultural basis of beliefs about abortion and of cultural changes in those beliefs over time.   Traditionally, Christianity makes a crucial distinction between unborns before or after “quickening,” an archaic term (used here) for the first perceived movements of unborns, or, as doctrine calls it, “ensoulment.”  Catholic thinkers in the 16th and 17th centuries argued that no such distinction had theological merit, but it was not until the mid 19th century that the Catholic Church abandoned the distinction and determined that life, as a matter of doctrine, begins at conception.  Nevertheless, although always opposed to abortion, the Church did not become politically active in opposition to it until the mid 20th century.  For most Christians, when (human) life begins—at conception, whether the moment either of fertilization or of implantation, or at quickening—remains a matter of varying legal, religious, and scientific definition and debate.

The Jewish definition of life is radically different.  Its three dominant divisions—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—agree on the increasing value of the potential for life of unborns throughout their development.  However, Judaism defines the beginning of human life as the moment of breach, that is, the emergence from the vaginal canal.

Both Christianity and Judaism agree on one thing: the increasing importance and value of the potential for life of unborns as they develop throughout pregnancy.

Notwithstanding, from time immemorial, women have sought abortions, the physical extraction or chemical elimination of a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus during gestation.  Abortions are performed by pregnant women acting alone or assisted by others, from untrained amateurs to medical personnel.  As a rule, even when societies enact laws to discourage abortion and, failing that purpose, to punish it, they rarely, if ever, punish the pregnant women either acting alone or having others assist them.  Any punishments, unlikely as they are, are imposed, not on women who want an abortion or perform it themselves, but on those who perform it for them.

From a legal perspective, such a practice is strange.  If a wife hires someone to kill her husband’s lover, both the killer and the wife are liable to charges of first-degree murder.  But, if a pregnant woman hires someone to perform an abortion, only the abortionist, not the pregnant woman, is charged with a crime.  In this respect, Roe v. Wade is less about giving women choice than about freeing medical abortion providers from liability.

Socio-economic circumstances once determined where abortions were performed and who performed them.  As a rule, women with means traveled to states or countries where abortions by trained medical personnel were legal and safe.  Women without means did not travel and took the risks of illegal, unsafe abortions without professional help.  No one much cared if rich women obtained safe abortions out of sight or if poor women had damaging or deadly ones, though stories of back-alley butcheries were common enough.  Only as modern medicine has made abortions safer and as abortions have become more accessible and affordable to more women have they and issues of legal rights and public funding become contentious.

*       *       *

These basic facts have important implications for the controversy over abortion rights.  Any discussion of abortion occurs in the context of government responsibilities and individual rights as defined by federal and state laws, case law, and, ultimately, the amended Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.  Legal definitions of, and decisions about, these responsibilities and rights change over time, as reflected in new or revised legislation and adjudication.  Since federal and state governments have passed laws about abortion, and since suits have claimed that some of these laws violate federal or state constitutional rights, the Court has reviewed many of these laws and has decided or refused to decide many of the issues involved.

The fact that decisions of the Supreme Court are the law of the land does not mean, however, that its rulings correctly decide them, as the history of reversals makes clear.  I believe that, in Roe v. Wade, the Court reached the right decision based on good grounds and hedged it with bad restrictions.  Rightly, it restated an established “right to privacy” held to emanate from the Constitution and noted unenumerated rights of citizens under the Ninth Amendment.  Wrongly, it made viability as a dominant consideration and the “potential for life” of unborns the basis for government interest in protecting it.  By making a religion-specific concern with viability legally important and requisite to government involvement, the Court made a decision which necessarily violated First Amendment rights against an establishment of religion and for freedom of religion.

The fundamental questions are simple ones: if a pregnant woman does not have the sole right to choose whether or when to have an abortion, who does have the right and on what basis?  In virtually all other matters of personal health and medical care, the individual has the sole right to choose or refuse treatment or specific treatments, or to delegate those decisions to another person.

However, government has rights to deny individual choice in some circumstances.  It can protect the public by requiring health procedures like vaccination or quarantine to protect the public because carriers of transmittable diseases jeopardize the health of others.  But abortion is not “catching”; one woman’s abortion cannot induce abortions in other pregnant women.  By ordinary standards governing medical decisions, government lacks a public health interest in regulating abortions, and a woman’s choice to have an abortion remains hers at any point in her pregnancy.

Government also has rights to protect patients from unreasonable risks of damaging or deadly medical prescriptions or procedures.  Because abortions are statistically safer than natural or Caesarian births, they require no regulations essentially different from those of other approved medical procedures to protect patients.  Almost all recent state regulations curtailing abortions fail to address any reasonable medical risks to women because abortion procedures involve none.  Again, by ordinary standards, government has no right to limit or deny a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

*       *       *

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision established the current legal framework for abortions, which focuses, not on pregnant women, but on unborns.  It creates three trimesters (weeks 0-12, 13-28, 29-40) reflecting the then-existing understanding of the development of unborns at various stages of gestation and their viability, or ability to survive, outside the uterus.  Then, viability was common on average at 28 weeks; today, viability is common on average at 24 weeks.  Many opponents of abortion want to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks; notably, over 90% of abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks, over 98% in the first 20 weeks, less than 2% thereafter.  These rare abortions in the last 20 weeks are most controversial and involve the greatest risk to pregnant women, yet their deaths from complications are exceeding rare.

The Supreme Court thereby ties decisions about abortion to viability, a medical condition with little history in law or medicine.  The reason is obvious; until the advent of modern medicine in the mid 20th century, viability did not concern theologians or lawyers, not to mention politicians, because unborns delivered or removed from the uterus before full term rarely survived.  However, once modern medicine made viability possible, theologians and lawyers put it in a convenient Christian context of traditional theological discussions determining at what point, conception or quickening, unborns attain the status of human life, merit religious endowments, and deserve legal protection.  By contrast, Judaism disregards conception and admits quickening only as an event distinguishing lesser from greater potential for life of unborns, not as an indication or criterion of human life.

The paramount perversity of Roe v. Wade is the disparity between the Supreme Court’s acknowledging different theological beliefs of different denominations and faiths, and its disregarding that diversity about matters embraced by the First Amendment.

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.  When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer .... [Stoics, almost all Jews, and many Protestants have given] strong support for the view that life does not begun until live birth.

Obviously, the Supreme Court should not speculate about the answer; equally obviously, it should not stipulate one.  But it does.  Thus, another perversity of Roe v. Wade is its filling the vacuum created by its broad dismissal of diverse religious beliefs with a standard tacitly preferring some Christian beliefs to other Christian beliefs, not to mention Jewish ones.  By making viability a dominant consideration, the Court assumes a distinctive, not a shared, Christian belief—and not a Jewish belief—that unborns, when viable, deserve legal protection.  By treating “potential life” as if it were actual life, the Court prefers one Christian definition to other Christian and to Jewish definitions of life.  Not surprisingly, its vagueness about the relationship between viability and the beginning of life has enabled unending, distracting, and irrelevant litigation based on medical science, not religious pluralism.

Using its creative potential-is-actual life equation, the Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed a government “interest in protecting the potentiality of human life,” another dominant consideration in allowing restrictions on women’s abortions.  Roe v. Wade’s repeated statement of this claim does nothing to strengthen it.  First, the claim is superfluous since most people, of faith or not, desire to protect that potentiality.  Second, it lacks specification and substantiation; the Court merely asserts a government interest without defining it or determining whether it outweighs a woman’s interest.

The Supreme Court’s muddled reasoning raises the issue of pre-natal personhood, either from conception or from quickening.  The motive behind the legislative effort to define unborns as persons endowed with their legal rights is to prevent abortions.  Ironically, such status, unless indulged by a departure from standard legal principles, would not necessarily prevent all abortions.  For, if the unborn were to threaten the mother with great emotional or physical harm or death during gestation, the mother would presumably have the right of self-defense by having an abortion.

Under its Roe v. Wade codification of a Christian-based schema, the Supreme Court legitimized an establishment of religion and an infringement of the freedom of religion of those, Christians or Jews, who do not accept it.  All Christians and Jews make every effort to protect unborns out of respect for their potential for life; most Christians and all Jews suspend those efforts under certain circumstances.  Since Christians are not agreed on religious beliefs regarding abortion, none should suffer the imposition of sectarian beliefs contrary to conscience.  Unlike Christians, Jews are agreed; they share a religious definition about the beginning of life at breach, and religious laws about the circumstances or conditions which permit abortion.  Jewish women should have the right to choose an abortion as a free exercise of their religion.  Government restrictions on their choice, restrictions based on a Christian definition of life or its commencement, impose on Jewish women an establishment of Christian religion and infringe upon their freedom of religious expression—two acts violating their First Amendment rights.  Seen in this light, the Court’s Roe v. Wade decision as well as successive decisions contravenes Constitutional rights and articulates an underlying anti-Judaic prejudice.

*       *       *

The opposition to abortion comes from many sources for many different reasons.  One reason is that, as abortions have become safer for all women and more accessible to the poor, thanks to improvements in medicine and the spread of heath services, religion-based opposition to them has spread and intensified.  This intense opposition is part of a spreading anti-science struggle spurred by religious fundamentalists.  Medical science makes it possible for men and women to do what many believed that only God could and should do.  Likewise, many sciences working collaboratively—astronomy, geology, paleontology, biology—substitute evolution for creation by God’s word, as an account of the origins and development of life on earth.  For those with a fundamentalist mindset, whether or not they are Biblical literalists, abortion defies, and evolution diminishes, God’s kingdom, power, and glory.  Arguments which demonstrate different religious beliefs about the definition of life and about abortion or which document greater personal and social benefits than costs of abortion cannot persuade fundamentalists who reject rational arguments the conclusions of which they regard as defying God or diminishing His domain.  Thus, the anti-abortion campaign is less about human life than about eternal life and the threat which medical science—indeed, all science—poses to fundamentalist faith.  The animus fueling this campaign arises from a stark, unspoken fear that science is an ally, if not an agent, of the Anti-Christ.

I began this note with a fundamental question about a woman’s right to choose an abortion.  This question is a political one: who decides—the government or the woman?  Many who oppose government authority over citizens’ lives in general yet support its authority to limit or end abortions in particular distinguish between arguable secular and approved religious government authority.  The struggle over the answer to this question is a small skirmish in the larger conflict between those who prefer theocratic to democratic rule in matters of faith and morals.  To the degree that government decides any aspect of a woman’s choice about abortion, it tips toward theocracy; to the degree that the woman decides, it tips toward democracy.  These are the ultimate stakes in the debate about abortion.

 In American democracy, with a religiously pluralistic society and First Amendment guarantees against an establishment of religion and for freedom of religion, no level of government has a legitimate role in a woman’s decision about abortion.  Since her decision is a matter of moral or religious conscience, no democratic government has a right to restrict an abortion at any stage in her pregnancy, to compel medical tests or procedures, to mandate medical information, or to require doctors to take into account anything other than her particular needs.  The fundamental questions are simple ones; an analysis of the main considerations leads to equally simple answers.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


   “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.  I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness.  And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”  So said Donald Trump in the first “debate” of some Republican Party presidential aspirants.

Trump is the master of hyperbole.  No one else thinks that political correctness is “the big problem this country has” (emphasis mine).  Even he does not think so, for he had not raised the issue before.  His silence is the more surprising because he is not shy about claiming firsts, like his repeated and absurd claim to be the first GOP aspirant to raise the subject of illegal immigrants, apparently ignorant of prolonged debate about, and proposed legislation on, the issue for time out of mind.

No doubt, liberals are already upset with my use of the phrase “illegal immigrants.”  Their preferred, now politically correct, nomenclature is “undocumented immigrants.”  Liberals as well as conservatives recognize that the shift in terms is a shift in substance which smuggles in a new idea as a substitute for an old one.  The old idea is that immigrants who enter the country without following the legal procedures for doing so break the pertinent laws.  In fact, they do.  The new idea is that they enter the country without the paperwork reflecting the end-of-process permission to enter it—a notion implying bureaucratic oversight, the correction of which by enforcement would be an over-scrupulous, excessive, and, worst of all, unfeeling application of legal rigor.

Understandably, this and other instances of contorted verbiage known as political correctness irritate conservatives and comfort liberals.  Their respective emotional responses to such language distract both sides from the issues and divert them to scoring points in any debate.  Issues become inflamed and intractable as each side tries to prevail in its terms.  Conservatives rightly regard the language of political correctness as a coercive rhetoric and resist anything which might suggest a surrender to it.  They insist on building an impenetrable barrier, a true mission impossible, between the United States and Mexico before discussing other immigrant-related issues as their counter to demand respect for the law.  Meanwhile, liberals entirely fail to see that their rhetoric is illiberal and unworthy, and, in trying to skirt or elide the law to serve their humanitarian purposes, counter-productive.  Otherwise, both sides might agree that enforcing the laws and reforming them could be concurrent efforts.  So political correctness has contributed to the continuing impasse in the discussion of immigration policy, though substantial differences about that policy are, as I say, of long standing.

This instance of political correctness—“illegal immigrants” versus “undocumented immigrants”—illustrates the way in which political correctness makes the discussion of real issues more, not less, difficult.  Ironically, liberals, especially academic liberals, viewed political correctness as one way to influence economic, moral, political, religious, and social issues for the better.  They were foremost among those advocating political correctness in colleges and universities, then K-12 schools, nationwide.  Ironically, the resulting campus speech codes are the antithesis of free speech and academic freedom, (and, on public campuses, should be banned by state legislators).

Everyone knows that some words have been coined or have acquired meanings to express deprecation of others because of their religion, race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin.  Some such words—like “kike,” “coon,” “cunt,” “spic,” “Hun”—have had no other function.  Others are more complex, like “nigger,” now allowed only in its politically correct elision, “n-word.”  Some blacks assert, at least to whites, that the word is always offensive, but few of them really believe it; it is a word in common parlance in the black community, in which its meanings run from the pejorative to the honorific.  (Anyone who thinks otherwise should see Pulp Fiction, in which the range of uses is wide and pitch-perfect, especially in one sudden shift to the word “negro.”)  Blacks and whites together may use the word in serious discussions or between close friends, but, even then, they often share an edgy awareness that the word is like a loaded gun which can go off, with disastrous results.

When political correctness intrudes, its coercion prevents the honest discussion of difficult issues.  Its intrusion appears in individual responses of readers or listeners who not only feel uncomfortable or take offense, but also claim a right to be free of anything which produces discomfort or umbrage, whether directed at them or not.  The case of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is notable in this regard.  In school district after school district, adults have waged war over its suitability for youth because of its use of the word “nigger,” as in the name sometimes applied to Huck’s companion “Nigger Jim.”  The ejection of this, perhaps the, American classic novel, as racist from the curriculum means that no one can learn the use of the word in different contexts or see that Twain makes the unconventional case, ironic in its use of this conventional term of moral inferiority, that Jim is morally superior to Huck, Tom Sawyer, and all the other whites in the book.  Of course, the pretense is that high-school students do not know the word and might use it if they did; all do and some do, respectively.  It would be for the best if they read the book and could discuss both it and this one word; imagine: the novel might provide the basis for a learning experience in discussing and dealing with racial issues.

These two examples, one from the world of politics, the other from the world of the humanities, show that the liberal dogma of political correctness impedes the discussion of real issues and prevents their resolution.  One might wonder if political correctness is not the means by which liberals actually perpetuate, while turning from, a problem which they purport to want to solve.

Years ago, when I missed a meeting of my wife’s church’s outreach committee, I was designated the church’s representative to a meeting of representatives from other organizations to discuss diversity in a nearly 95-percent white community.  Many of its most educated members were self-exiles from academia in San Francisco who touted themselves as liberals.  (In fact, most were so only with respect to LGBT issues, but were otherwise racist and anti-Semitic).  After a showing of the movie The Color of Fear, in which a black man explodes in anger at a white man who professes to a family history of good and caring relations with his migrant farm workers, most were greatly troubled.  Knowing my views on such matters, they wanted my opinion, but I deferred until I had heard theirs.  All expressed shock at such anger, could not understand it, and then dismissed it as atypical.  I made no friends by asking them where they had been, what television they had watched, what newspapers and magazines they had read that they knew nothing of the feelings of blacks observable in, and inferable from, the Civil Rights Movement; urban riots in Watts in 1965 and major cities in 1968; public demonstrations, protest marches, and university occupations during and after the Vietnam War; riots after the Rodney King beatings; and publicity given the Black Panthers, the Black Muslims, Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver, among others.  (Looking back, I suppose The Bill Cosby Show or The Jeffersons defined their understanding of the black experience in America.)  Referring to this meeting on diversity and, by implication, on racism, I asked them, what had prevented them from understanding, if not expecting, this explosion of one black man’s anger at what appeared to him to be the usual white blindness to white racism.  Of course, my comment was a conversation-killer, and I knew that some left in discomfort and umbrage at my tacit insinuation of their racism.  Do I trace their blindness to their racism to political correctness?  Yes, in part, because their attention to talking in politically correct terms and to responding to the politically incorrect words of others had distracted them from self-examination for their filters and from honest confrontation with the real issues.  (Reader, you might be asking yourself whether I am smug about myself.  My answer: absolutely not.  I monitor myself and I test myself with those in a position to detect filters in me.  So far, so good, but I do not pretend that I am not susceptible to pernicious influences in American culture.)

I have emphasized liberals in my criticisms of political correctness.  But I do not give conservatives a pass.  Although they are right to deplore political correctness, they, too, have not self-examined themselves or honestly confronted the issues.  Many of them support racist policies and practices, or ignore them, and resent those who draw obvious inferences from the facts and deny the conclusion that they are racist.  (The conservative reaction to the drive to remove the confederate flag from display on pubic grounds insisted that it did not symbolize rebellion and racism.  See more on this issue in my blog “Flying the Flag.”)  Conservatives deprecate political correctness, but their talk about the talk of liberals in effect uses opposition to political correctness as liberals use political correctness: to avoid self-scrutiny and straight talk.  In short, political correctness operates across the political spectrum to the detriment of self-knowledge and self-reform, and informed, intelligent discussion focused on the real issues.

One final point.  Trump and some others use the rejection of political correctness as a justification of rudeness and indecency.  There is nothing correct, politically or not, about insults or other personal attacks on people.  However, it is not a personal insult or attack to label the use of language or the advocacy of ideas as racist or sexist or anti-Semitic if they are such.  Almost no one wants to be associated with such pejorative labels, but, if they are supported by fact or inference from language or ideas, perhaps the writer or speaker should reflect before he or she responds.  (Conversely, claims that the discussion of such issues causes, or may cause, discomfort or gives, or may give, offense are not valid reasons to curtail the discussion or penalize any participants.)  Considering the log in one’s eye before the mote in another’s is pretty good advice.  Reflecting that defilement comes, not from what goes into one, but what comes out of one, is also worth the effort.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


The abortion debate is back with the release of several films secretly made and dishonestly edited.  In response, like others of his ilk, Congressman Steve Pearce, arch-conservative Republican from New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, wants an investigation to lead to the defunding of Planned Parenthood (PP).  But he will first vote to defund it.  In other words: shoot first, and ask (or don’t ask) questions later.  Of course, as a Congressman obsessed by the abortion issue, Pearce knows, or should know, everything about PP, but his opposition to it requires that he toss the truth aside.

Pearce knows that the filmmakers are agents of a notorious anti-abortion organization.  He knows they misrepresented themselves and their purposes, asked leading questions, took the films surreptitiously, and cut-and-pasted the tapes.  He knows that the films were exposed as false and fraudulent the moment when they became public.  He knows that they have been edited to misrepresent talk about abortion procedures, and about storage and shipment costs incurred by the recipient, as allowed by law.  It says much about Pearce that he accepts such scurrilous materials and acts on it.

Pearce knows that PP’s abortion procedures are medically approved and entirely legal.  He knows that PP requires written consent to obtain fetal tissue for medical purposes, as allowed by law.  He knows that PP takes special care during abortions to preserve intact tissue for medical research.  He knows that PP provides fetal tissue to research facilities at negotiated costs of storage and shipment and does not sell body parts.  He knows that 97% of PP’s funding has everything to do with women’s health and nothing to do with abortions, and that the remaining 3% funding for abortions is not paid by any federal funds.  It says much about Pearce that he disregards honesty and decency.

Worse, Pearce perverts his responsibilities to represent his constituents.  He uses these fraudulent films as pretexts to make the distorted, false, or fraudulent statements in his newsletter to support an anti-abortion positions and decisions satisfying personal religious convictions and to serve political purposes.  Instead of informing his constituents so that they can determine and he can represent their interests, he defies the truth to manipulate them and have his way.  In this case, he seeks to defund PP—a show of contempt for constituents, especially women, their health, and the truth.  Not only does he have more concern for the unborn than the born, but he also aggressively opposes good health in women, does nothing to reduce the number of chosen abortions, and increases the number of natural abortions.  For cutting all PP federal funding will not reduce abortions funded by PP's private funds but will increase miscarriages to pregnant women who wish to carry to term.  Ironically, in his blind "pro-life" fury against PP, Pearce promotes fewer, not more, births, and, at the same time, jeopardizes the gynecological health of women.

I suggest a vote cutting off his federally funded partisan propaganda.

From Congressman Steve Pearce’s 26 July newsletter:


In light of the horrific practices revealed in the past week involving Planned Parenthood (PP), it’s time to not only investigate these gruesome transactions for violations of federal law, but ultimately to end the tax-payer funding of PP’s operations.

According to Planned Parenthood’s own annual report, it performed 327,653 abortions in 2013 –while receiving more than $528 million in taxpayer funding. [MISLEADING: no federal funding pays for abortions, all of which are privately funded.]  That’s more than $1.4 million per day in the form of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. And, taxpayer funding accounts for 41% of PP revenue despite the fact that PP reports more than $127 million in excess revenue, and more than $1.4 billion in net assets. [IRRELEVANT: None of these figures matter. But it is interesting and important to note that nearly 60% of PP funds come from non-governmental sources—which means that its services are widely appreciated.] It’s bad enough that many hardworking taxpayers are subsidizing the income of the nation’s largest abortion supplier in violation of their beliefs. [IRRELEVANT: the private beliefs of taxpayers, hardworking or not, do not decide public policy in the public interest.]  Adding insult to injury, they’re now secretly selling their ability to harvest and supply body parts.  [FALSE: PP does not “secretly” do anything, as talking to the imposters, who were acting not only “secretly,” but also deceptively, indicates.]

Two undercover videos circulated by the Center for Medical Progress in the past week point to barbaric practices by abortion suppliers operating under Planned Parenthood: partial birth abortion; altering abortion procedures on women to harvest baby parts, and selling organs and tissue for profit – all implicating serious crimes under federal law and some state codes.?  [FALSE: the abortion practices are approved medical procedures, not “barbaric” at all.  Last week’s video showed Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research (Dr. Deborah Nucatola) telling actors posing as representatives of a biological tissue company how abortions are being conducted by PP to harvest babies’ tissue and organs. Nucatola admits that her federally-funded network of affiliates is deliberately altering standard abortion procedures to extract baby parts as a profit source. [FALSE: the standard abortion procedures are not altered except to maintain organs intact and not shred them during the procedures.]  She says that “reasonable” abortionists will change surgical procedure to get what PP “needs” and suggests a price range of “$30 to $100 per specimen.”  [MISLEADING: the parts are not sold; the fees are for costs of storage and transport to the end-user for medical research.]

A second video released this week shows another Planned Parenthood top official (Dr. Mary Gatter) talking about using a “less crunchy” abortion method to salvage intact body parts. Translation: crushing the unborn child in the womb can lead to damaged goods, hurting profit. She also haggles over the price per specimen, darkly joking she “wants a Lamborghini.” [misleading and false: see above comments on this entire paragraph.]

Legislation to defund Planned Parenthood has been introduced - the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (H.R. 3134), which I strongly support. In addition, the House Judiciary and Energy & Commerce committees have launched investigations – as have several states. Planned Parenthood and every other entity involved in this inhumane practice will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


-->A Sketch of the History of the American, Confederate, and Related Flags

The American Revolution was fought, first under a variety of flags representing different colonial governments or carried by different colonial armies, then under a flag representing the newborn country.  None of those flags became an official flag of colonies in a region or of the colonies as a whole or of the nascent government which emerged during the war.  The Confederacy had a government flag, and separate state or regional Confederate armies had military flags.  After the Civil War, most Confederate government and military flags fell into disuse, but General Robert E. Lee’s fame led Southern states to adopt the battle flag of his Army of Northern Virginia as the symbol of their lost cause.  Post-war, quasi-guerilla groups like the James brothers and the emergent Ku Klux Klan wore or displayed at a sign of their recalcitrance.

As the Civil Rights Movement took shape and gathered strength after the Second World War, Confederate symbols emerged first in the South and later in areas to which large numbers of southerners had migrated (western Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, and northern California and Nevada; and Rust Belt cities like Detroit) to express resistance.  In 1948, the Dixiecrat Party, created in opposition to President Truman’s integration of the armed forces, made use of Confederate symbols but did not fly a Confederate flag.  In 1961, led by South Carolina, the birthplace of the Confederacy 100 years earlier, several Southern state governments, adopting Lee’s battle flag as a symbol of resistance to the drive for racial equality, displayed it on or near state capitols and on license plates.  In 1968, George Wallace’s presidential candidacy signaled the success of the Republican “Southern Strategy,” with Lee’s battle flag appearing at his campaign rallies.  It reflected and reinforced the views and values of the white Southern majority and others who still sympathized with Confederate views and values.  Lee’s battle flag continued to signify both rebelliousness against the federal government and racism.

This historical sketch permits two obvious inferences.  One, its revival as a sign of resistance to federal actions supporting racial equality invests the flag with the same primary values which it originally symbolized: rebellion and racism.  Two, the nearly century-long gap between the use of any official or military Confederate flag and the modern revival of a battle flag discredits the idea that families fly it out of respect for their ancestors, most of whom did not fight in Lee’s army.  After the gap and its revival, Lee’s battle flag became the symbol of diverse groups and individuals like the KKK, the Aryan Nation, bike gangs, and loners.  More than anything else, it is associated with, if it is not an incitement to, violence, usually racist violence.

The Other Meanings of the Confederate Battle Flag

Different people give different meanings to the Confederate flag, but these imputed meanings are euphemisms to evade its original and abiding meanings.  An analysis of these dodges reveals the root meanings of the flag as a symbol of rebellion and racism.

The first and most common euphemism is “the Southern way of life,” a meaning identified only in terms agreeable to whites and unacceptable to blacks.  It smacks of nostalgia for a romanticized vision of the plantation south, of cotton and slaves, of parasols, verandas, bourbon (and branch water) or mint juleps.  It skips the grinding deprivations of white Appalachians, with or without slaves, for many of whom the defense of white racial superiority alone was sufficient reason to support the rebellion.  It skips the brutalities and degradations imposed on slaves: forced labor, forced sex, whippings, lynchings.  It perpetuates itself in the names of athletic teams and cheerleading squads, and songs like “Dixie” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”  It is a code-word phrase for a way of life based on beliefs in a natural order of white political and economic domination and white racial superiority.

The second euphemism is family pride in ancestors claimed to have fought bravely in the front lines of the battles in the Civil War.  For some reason, the implausibility of most of these claims goes unquestioned.  Taken together, they imply that no one’s ancestors paid, fed, or clothed the troops, managed arsenals and supply depots, guarded railroad lines, drove supply wagons, rounded up conscripts, or hunted down deserters.  Yet many families who claim that ancestors fought and perhaps died in the Civil War assert that displaying the Confederate Flag honors their bravery and sacrifice in combat.  Even so, despite my doubts, displaying the flag does not vindicate their cause.  Moreover, it raises questions about honoring those who died in the bad causes of rebellion and racism.

In this context, the comparison with Nazis and the many Germans who supported the Nazi regime is entirely appropriate.  Today’s Germans do not honor the Nazi regime; the Nazi or other German troops who fought in it, especially those who fought the Russians on the Eastern Front; or the Master Race doctrine, which motivated both concentration and death camps, and the invasions of Eastern Europe.  Indeed, honoring anything Nazi and publicly displaying Nazi symbols are outlawed.

The comparison of Nazis and Confederates favors the Nazis.  For Nazis were loyal Germans fighting on behalf of Germany; Confederate soldiers were rebels fighting against the United States.  Whatever their bravery in a treasonous and racist cause deserves no veneration but gets it from those who endorse treason or racism.  Germans do not celebrate Nazi ancestors because they were brave in a bad cause; likewise, Americans should not celebrate Johnny Rebs.

The third euphemism is state rights, a concept historically reflecting one side of a creative tension between federal and state governments.  Constitutional provisions, court interpretations, and the outcome of the Civil War have established the supremacy of the federal government, within limits flexible and variable from time to time.  However, when the battle flag is used to symbolize state rights, it signifies the supremacy, not of state over federal rights on any of a variety of issues, but of state opposition to the civil rights of individuals.  For only in the South or among those tracing descent to the South is the Confederate flag a symbol of state rights.  By contrast, the “Sagebrush Rebellion” in the west-central Great Plains of the 70s and 80s did not use it to symbolize its complaints about federal control of western lands and own-state disregard of underpopulated areas.

Before the Civil War, southern states asserted only two state rights: the right to protect the property interests of the owners of slaves, people regarded, by virtue of their imputed inferiority, as property; and the right to promote the theory and practice of white superiority.  State rights in the South thus defended a system giving white people the property right of possession and exploitation of black people based on a doctrine of racial supremacy.  In the decades during and after the Civil Rights Movement, Lee’s battle flag was a public symbol of states rights now asserted to hinder or prevent racial integration, voting by blacks and other minorities, equal treatment under the law (Jim Crow laws), and inter-racial marriage.  In short, state rights is a phrase, less for state rights vis-a-vis the federal government on public issues, than for state powers to curtail the rights of private citizens in a minority.

The Reason Why Today Is Different from Yesterday

The difference between the murder of nine blacks in a Charleston church by a white supremacist and multiple church murders and other outrageous killings, some in black churches, is that times have changed.  Cultural lag, the difference between lingering societal norms and actual evolving patterns of belief and behavior, has kept many from recognizing the scope and size of the changes.  Until this event, probably a majority of Americans accepted the Confederate flag as a symbol of a glorious history of a gracious South, an idealized vision of plantation life based on King Cotton and built on plantation slavery.  This traditional story succeeded by its appeal to a virtuous agrarianism, all the stronger in conservative areas, where resentment at the federal government simmers, where racism is rife, and where both are abetted by conservative politicians who benefit by stoking white fears of lost power.  Even urbanites had some sympathy for this story because of traditional American anti-government sentiment and their urban discontents.  But the day of such political indulgence is over; the romantic story of an ante-bellum, agrarian South defended by neo-chivalric cavalry and heroic troops ground down by conscripted office workers supplied by a commercial and industrial North is ending.

A population in which aggregated minorities are becoming a majority is replacing a white majority; has little or no experience of, or respect for, rural life; and no longer tolerates racism or its consequences.  Not blinded by the romantic version of Southern history, the majority of minorities and many whites recognize the connection between the Confederate battle flag, and political intransigence and racism.  They repudiate the connection and are leading the widespread demand to remove Confederate flags, images, and statuary—anything attaching honorific meaning to the democratically subversive and the morally repugnant—from the public square.  They do not believe that relegating such mementos to museums will be the end of racism, but they rightly believe that it is a first step.  And they know that those who continue to fly or flaunt Lee’s battle flag identify themselves as traitor-sympathizers and racists.

The North, though it punished the South in Reconstruction, did not treat the losers as the traitors which they were; and it did not attack racism, because most whites, north and south, were racist.  Many north and south still are, though racism is so silently pervasive that they may not know it or recognize it in themselves.  The problem of the larger, more pervasive, and more pernicious legacy of racism everywhere is a legacy of structural discrimination in education, employment, and housing.  Removing honorific symbols removes the symbols which divide us—the end of the beginning.  The beginning of the end is a re-dedication to non-discrimination in education, employment, and housing, and thereby realizing the principles of equality, liberty, and justice for all.  The sooner Americans can dispense with the Confederate story and symbol of un-American rule and race, the sooner they can fly America’s flag in justifiable pride in its democratic government which treats all people fairly under the law and which tries, however fitfully, to serve them all.