Change 2.0

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the President’s speech last night- and tweeted, along with thousands of others. Mostly about my philosophical agreement- and about the facts that seem so distorted by the other side.

I’m buying in to the man and his vision. Because it most agrees with my vision of social justice, economic fairness and the need to lay a firm foundation for continued growth in education, science and technology. Yeah, I’m still buying in to the hope, but I think that’s what the American Dream, the American Vision calls for. Plus, it goes along with every bit of my Christian faith perspective.

From today’s NYT:

Mr. Obama explicitly shifted from his 2008 appeal of hope and change to talk of tough choices and tough paths. “You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear,” he said. “You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Mr. Obama went into this convention with an actual record at governing — not just the Republican posture of saying “No” to everything. He has far better ideas about how to create jobs, make Americans’ tax burdens more equitable and improve ordinary Americans’ economic prospects than the tired, failed trickle-down fantasies served up by Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

He ended the war in Iraq, tried to rescue the Afghan war that Mr. Bush bungled, stepped up the offensive on terrorists far beyond Mr. Bush’s vision and rallied the world to ratchet up pressure on Iran.

He blunted the extreme message of the Tea Party by offering an alternative vision of government’s obligation to help the neediest, provide everyone with the basic structures of society and the economy and end unconscionable discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. He has protected women’s constitutional rights and liberties, despite his own misgivings about abortion. He ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden — an act that was mentioned repeatedly on the last night of the convention.

Not that the killing of bin Laden would have been sanctioned by Jesus, but the protection of the people by the elected government is nothing to pooh-pooh.

The Republicans Missed A Chance For Inclusivity- On Purpose

Frank Bruni in today’s New York Times articulates beautifully the guilt and shame purveyed by the Republican party:

America

America (Photo credit: acb)

WHAT the Republicans painstakingly constructed here was meant to look like the biggest of tents. And still they couldn’t spare so much as a sleeping bag’s worth of space for the likes of me.

Women were welcomed. During the prime evening television hours, the convention stage was festooned with them, and when they weren’t at the microphone, they were front and center in men’s remarks. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney both gushed about their moms in tributes as tactical as they were teary.

Latinos were plentiful and flexed their Spanish — “En América, todo es posible,” said Susana Martinez, the New Mexico governor — despite an “English First” plank in the party’s regressive platform.

And while one preconvention poll suggested that roughly zero percent of African-Americans support Romney, Republicans found several prominent black leaders to testify for him. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, delivered what will surely be remembered as the convention’s most stirring and substantive remarks, purged of catcalls and devoid of slickly rendered fibs.

But you certainly didn’t see anyone openly gay on the stage in Tampa. More to the point, you didn’t hear mention of gays and lesbians. Scratch that: Mike Huckabee, who has completed a ratings-minded transformation from genial pol to dyspeptic pundit, made a derisive reference to President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. We were thus allowed a fleeting moment inside the tent, only to be flogged and sent back out into the cold.

Read the whole article here.

Red Ribbons And Mosquitos

Yesterday, a friend sent me the following:

“Today I saw this headline:

West Nile Outbreak Largest Ever, 41 dead

and it made me think of this:

Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals

…and wondering about what makes a disease a crisis versus a judgment. The number of victims was the same.”

Indeed.

And to further the irony, the famous speech given by Mary Fisher to the Republican National Convention in 1992- 11 years after the rise of “gay cancer” was highlighted in a feature by the New York Times today:

TWENTY years ago this month, Mary Fisher took the stage of the Republican National Convention at the Houston Astrodome and delivered a 13-minute prime-time speech that was seen by many as a sharp rebuke of her party’s negligence in the face of the growing AIDS epidemic.

Mary Fisher in 1992 made what is considered one of the best American speeches of the 20th century.

Ms. Fisher, a mother of two young children who had worked in Gerald Ford’s White House, addressed the delegates as someone who was H.I.V. positive herself. “Tonight, I represent an AIDS community whose members have been reluctantly drafted from every segment of American society,” she said. “I am one with a black infant struggling with tubes in a Philadelphia hospital.” She added, “I am one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family’s rejection.”

It was a speech that was both surprising and poignant. Few, including Ms. Fisher herself, expected that she would survive a disease that had already killed more than 150,000 Americans by the summer of 1992.

But Mary Fisher is still alive — and still taking issue with her political party.

As she should. The discrimination and loathing that prevented government intervention is still with us. It’s made itself known in issues of women’s health, gender inequity, transgender rights and the House defense of DOMA.

However, West Nile will probably not become the epidemic that AIDS did. Because mosquitos don’t discriminate.

They bite everyone.

 

Medicaid Expansion Likely To Lower Deaths

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is contentious- mostly because Republicans don’t want to give President Obama any credit- for anything. But if this study, reported today by the New York Times, is any indication, not going forward could be deadly.

Senate Passes Insurance Industry Aid Bill

Senate Passes Insurance Industry Aid Bill (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

Into the maelstrom of debate over whether Medicaid should cover more people comes a new study by Harvard researchers who found that when states expanded their Medicaid programs and gave more poor people health insurance, fewer people died.

The study, published online Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, comes as states are deciding whether to expand Medicaid by 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care law. The Supreme Court ruling on the law last month effectively gave states the option of accepting or rejecting an expansion of Medicaid that had been expected to add 17 million people to the program’s rolls.

Seems fairly reasonable. So why would anyone reject the expansion?

Medicaid expansions are controversial, not just because they cost states money, but also because some critics, primarily conservatives, contend the program does not improve the health of recipients and may even be associated with worse health. Attempts to research that issue have encountered the vexing problem of how to compare people who sign up for Medicaid with those who are eligible but remain uninsured. People who choose to enroll may be sicker, or they may be healthier and simply be more motivated to see doctors.

The New England Journal study reflects a recent effort by researchers to get around that problem and allow policy makers to make “evidence-based decisions,” said Katherine Baicker, an investigator on the study who served on former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

“I think it’s a very significant study in part because of the paucity of studies that have really looked at health outcomes of insurance coverage,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan research foundation. “Actual mortality studies are few and far between. This is a well-done study: timely, adds to the evidence base, and certainly should raise concern about the failure to expand Medicaid coverage to people most at risk of not getting the care that they need.”

A Republican-appointed official calling this “evidence based”- will it be enough? Probably not. But the evidence is still there:

“So often you hear, ‘Oh well, poor people just shoot each other, and that’s why they have higher mortality rates,’ ” said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group. “In the midst of many claims about what Medicaid does and doesn’t do, it actually shows that it cannot only be beneficial for health, but in preventing some of the premature deaths of the uninsured.”

Janet M. Currie, director of the Center for Health and Well-Being at Princeton, said the new study, combined with the Oregon research, should help transform the Medicaid debate into one about dollars, rather than over whether covering poor people improves health.

“This says, well there is benefit to giving people insurance,” Dr. Currie said. “Maybe you don’t want to pay the cost, but you can’t say there’s no benefit.”

The Right To Kill 2

After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, I wrote a piece called The Right To Kill.

I basically said that the insanity of “rights” over the safety of human life has come home to roost. The events in Aurora, preceded by shootings in Tulsa, Seattle, Oakland, Chardon, have brought a little attention to the deadliest shooting crimes in U.S. history- and the world ranking of the United States in terms of gun-related murders (4th highest). Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s probably just getting worse. Joe the Plumber blamed the holocaust on gun control. The American Family Association blames the murders on “liberal churches“- I know- I couldn’t believe it either. Except that I do. Any tragedy to bring the collection money rolling in is fair game for crazy pastors.

And that’s the problem. Crazy people who act out in public seem to give permission to crazy people in charge of congregations and political positions permission to act out, too. To act out with ideology front and center. Not compassion, ideology. And fear. Like I said, crazy. And people believe them. Instead of statistics. Instead of science. Instead of facts.

Roger Ebert, writing for the New York Times, has one of the most eloquent summaries of the Aurora shooting that I’ve read so far. From We’ve Seen This Movie Before:

That James Holmes is insane, few may doubt. Our gun laws are also insane, but many refuse to make the connection. The United States is one of few developed nations that accepts the notion of firearms in public hands. In theory, the citizenry needs to defend itself. Not a single person at the Aurora, Colo., theater shot back, but the theory will still be defended.

I was sitting in a Chicago bar one night with my friend McHugh when a guy from down the street came in and let us see that he was packing heat.

“Why do you need to carry a gun?” McHugh asked him.

“I live in a dangerous neighborhood.”

“It would be safer if you moved.”

This would be an excellent time for our political parties to join together in calling for restrictions on the sale and possession of deadly weapons. That is unlikely, because the issue has become so closely linked to paranoid fantasies about a federal takeover of personal liberties that many politicians feel they cannot afford to advocate gun control.

I’ve no doubt that posturing will constipate any real discussion of this issue- but Ebert adds a final, jarring note to his piece:

Immediately after a shooting last month in the food court of the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto, a young woman named Jessica Ghawi posted a blog entry. Three minutes before a gunman opened fire, she had been seated at the exact place he fired from.

“I was shown how fragile life was,” she wrote. “I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”

This same woman was one of the fatalities at the midnight screening in Aurora. The circle of madness is closing.

Indeed. And it’s closing in on all of us.

~

Study: That Queer-bashing Bully Could Be Gay

A fascinating study, discussed in the New York Times this morning, reveals that, at least in a clinical setting, “very straight” persons often struggle with same-sex feelings:

No Homophobia logo

No Homophobia logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled. Even Mr. Haggard seemed to endorse this idea when, apologizing after his scandal for his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”

It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we and our fellow researchers provide empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire.

Well, as anybody whose been following Glee knows, the bully can often turn out to be the would-be boyfriend. I remember a few of them from my own life- who were the most vehement haters of the gays- and later turned out to be, as one of them told me later “a relieved homosexual.” The authors conclude:

It’s important to stress the obvious: Not all those who campaign against gay men and lesbians secretly feel same-sex attractions. But at least some who oppose homosexuality are likely to be individuals struggling against parts of themselves, having themselves been victims of oppression and lack of acceptance. The costs are great, not only for the targets of anti-gay efforts but also often for the perpetrators. We would do well to remember that all involved deserve our compassion.

Read the full article here.

Religion And Sex

…it’s never simple. And when you add celibate men to the mix…. Well, you know.

An excellent analysis and commentary that everyone should read. From New Ways Ministry:

New Ways Ministry and many Catholic theologians, leaders, organizations, and individuals have long called on the church’s hierarchy to listen to the experiences of LGBT people as a way to develop doctrine and positions. The importance of consulting the scripture of experience–how God speaks through people’s lives–is nowhere more needed than in the development of doctrine about sexual relationships and expression.

The necessity of such consultation was brought home to me again when I read Jo McGowan’s article, “Simplifying Sex: What Some Priests Don’t Understand About Contraception,” in Commonweal magazine. Though writing specifically about the recent debate about insurance funding for contraception, McGowan’s piece rings true for hierarchical statements about sexuality generally.The thesis of her argument should be a mantra repeated by church leaders everywhere:

“Sex is never simple.”

McGowan’s article responds primarily to a New York Times article which contained an interview with a priest. She writes:

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“. . .it is unsettling when men who may never have experienced sex feel qualified not just to speak about it but to pronounce on it with certainty. In an article in the New York Times (February 18), Fr. Roger Landry, a priest in my old diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, is quoted as saying, ‘What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.’ ”

“Well, no, Fr. Landry, we don’t. We don’t reject it. We make a decision about it. We recognize that pregnancy is a possibility, and we decide whether this is the right time for us to have a baby. We acknowledge that we are more than just potential (or actual) parents. One of the surest signs of youth—in any profession—is an unswerving adherence to literal interpretations. New teachers cling to the curriculum, whether or not the class is getting it. Young doctors focus on the clear x-ray, unable to see the patient in front of them writhing in pain. Parish priests preach the letter of the law, while their parishioners refuse to follow rules created without reference to the reality they know. But the rules aren’t just unrealistic. They are often irrelevant, based on incorrect or incomplete information.”

McGowan’s analogy to the penchant that young doctors and young priests have for relying on outside, abstract information makes the point vividly. Sexuality is not something that can be described or discussed from an outsider’s perspective in abstract terms. Accurate information and perspectives on it must come from people’s lived experiences. I would like to add another analogy to her already excellent one: Not consulting people’s experience of sexuality in order to develop doctrine is like an atheist trying to describe and define spirituality and religion without consulting the people who practice faith. Both spirituality and sexuality are intensely personal experiences that can only be understood fully from the inside out.

McGowan illustrates this idea best when she refutes Fr. Landry’s ideas about pleasure in sex:

“Fr. Landry goes on to say, ‘Contraception…make[s] pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.’ At one level, this is insightful and nuanced. When he laments how frequently such objectification happens to women in sexual relationships, Fr. Landry sounds almost feminist. And he is right that a relationship that’s only about the pursuit of pleasure is demeaning and ultimately hurtful.

“He is wrong, though, to assume that using contraception automatically makes ‘pleasure the point of the act.’ This is how adolescents think. Teenagers dream of constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy. That priests would talk the same way about sex between a husband and wife who have chosen to use contraception reflects inexperience and adolescent projection.

“Adults understand that good sex, with or without contraception, goes deeper than pleasure. It is complex and demanding. And pleasure isn’t necessarily a part of it. Any human encounter requiring honesty and surrender has the potential for both revelation and pain. The communication, healing, and strengthening that good sex ensures is foundational to a marriage. Pure pleasure the point of the act? What is Fr. Landry talking about?”

McGowan shows here that an outsider’s perspective is actually a distorted perspective which focuses on one potential aspect of the sexual situation. Since sexuality is so much more than physical acts, an outsider can not understand the deeply emotional dimension that is involved in the physical activity of sex. To theorize about sexuality based only on physical acts is to look only at the evidence that is able to be seen, and not to take the perspective of faith, which St. Paul tells us involves the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Sexual license is not McGowan’s goal; responsible sexuality is. She makes the important observation that strict adherence to abstract rules about sexuality can actually lead to irresponsible sex:

“But every human activity has the potential to become unbalanced. Having children mindlessly, year after year, as former generations of Catholics did, is just as harmful to the social good as the refusal to connect sex with pregnancy. Visit India, Fr. Landry. Talk with the women here who are treated purely as producers of sons.

“To defend contraception within marriage is not to defend sexual license. Married couples who have pledged a lifetime of commitment to each other and their families have the right and the duty to make their own decisions about contraception. The church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that is right for their lives. It is not to dictate one-size-fits-all rules that have no foundation in practical experience.”

I don’t think that I’ve ever read a defense of consulting sexual practitioners for their experience which was as honestly and matter-of-factly stated as McGowan’s is. Clearly, the principles that she states here can be equally and easily applied to the experience of lesbian and gay people, as they are to heterosexual people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Cebull Resignation/Impeachment Petitions Update

When I first looked at the internets regarding public discontent regarding Richard Cebull’s lack of professional judgment, (Cebull Petitions Pepper The Internet- And They Should) there were 5 petitions circulating in the informational ether.

Now, the number is up. On Change.org alone there are 10.

Will anything happen? Will the complaint by the Montana GOP (against Senators Baucus and Tester for filing an investigation request with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to take a look) get any traction? Will the story just fade away?

Nope.

Not as long as I have a computer and internet access….

The Myth Of Obama And Gas Prices

English: BP service station in Zanesville, Ohio.

Image via Wikipedia

Pursuant to a conversation I had yesterday, it is ridiculous that one man has the power to raise and lower prices at the pump- unless it’s the chairman of BP, etc.

Yet the myth lives on that the President has that power- and is, ridiculously in an election year- not using it. From Robert Semple, jr in The New York Times:

The issue of gas prices has not only been misunderstood but thoroughly distorted by relentless ideological spin from industry and its political allies, mainly Republican. Hardly a day goes by that some industry cheerleader somewhere — be it Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma — does not flay President Obama for driving up oil prices by denying the industry access to oil and gas deposits and imposing ruinous environmental rules. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said last week that Mr. Obama should be held “fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline.”

If only the president had the power to give us $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, as Newt Gingrich promised to do if he got to the White House. It is ridiculous to think that a president can.

 The reality is much more complex and nuanced than the “Obama’s making us suffer” meme. And yet, the flames of this meme are fanned by populists and Republicans running for re-election. Why? Because it’s popular. And it’s easy. It preys on a simple fear, like the myth of the creature in the dark under the stairs.
Which basically amounts to a cheap shot.
So, if you want to fill yourself in on the full story behind gas prices, read the full article here.
If not, enjoy listening to the myth in your head. Just don’t confuse it with the facts.