October 2012

I See Republicans . . .

Recall the 1999 Bruce Willis movie titled The Sixth Sense. Out of that quite good little drama came the now famous line, “I See Dead People. And They Don’t Like You.” That catchy expression morfed into many variations but my t-shirt favorite went, “I Hear Voices . . . And They Don’t Like You.”

I’ve been trying to understand what is going on in the Republican Party when it comes to women, their bodies, sex and fertility. It’s essentially a male run concern, the Republican Party, although you have a predictable number of Republican women serving as faithful acolytes. Outliers, if you will, at odds, in their solidarity with their American sisters at large.

American women who willingly participate in their own subjugation remind me of those unfortunate women who perform the barbaric female genital mutilations in Sudan and Somalia. No woman, free of male domination (thinking), would voluntarily oppress other women in such ways.

It is as if Republican men are ignorant of history. For past 8,000 years, the male boot has been firmly placed on the neck of females. I do not know if we’ll ever understand the historical origins of why men came to consider women as “less” than men, but it is undeniable that that is/was the case. Bigger, more ferocious, men like to dominate.

Religions, too, historically, have played a tragic role in the marginalization of women. Although, interestingly enough, it was Martin Luther who, during the 16th century Reformation, jump-started the change in the status of women. He advocated that women be taught to read (imagine that!) and he married (radical idea: a married clergy). Educating women (reading) was the game-changer, however.

Go back and examine the status of Western women even during our more enlightened times. They were hardly enlightened for women. Plato’s Greece, The Renaissance, The Age of Reason were all unquestionably oppressive for women. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft issued her now seminal A Vindication Of The Rights of Woman and the case for female equality was formally up for public discussion.

It took until the mid-19th century before British women could make any claim to personal property or even to her own wages. Reflect one second on this fact: the United States gave the right to vote to emancipated male slaves—SLAVES—decades before America’s daughters were afforded that right. That is how little women were considered.

There was a time in my grandmother’s adult life when she could not vote. Less than 100 years ago, American women could not vote. That is a nano-second ago, historically speaking.

The Republican Party is the party of female oppression. It revolves around who will control a woman’s sexuality and fertility. The Republican Party Platform (Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan) would have the government, for all intents and purposes, regulating and managing a woman’s uterus. Will our daughters someday—upon the onset of menses—be required to register their uteruses to ensure their compliance with state fertility laws?

Abortion, birth control, fertility, reproductive prerogatives are individual, fundamental female (human) rights. To interject the state into this dynamic is totalitarian and unacceptable.

Republicans would deny female autonomy, would continue to place the historical boot heel of oppression upon the necks of our daughters. Expect each American woman to think and act for herself.

I See Republicans . . . And They Don’t Respect Women.

Vote accordingly.

Putting the E in Human

Much has been made this election season over which candidate is telling the truth. Or, presenting “the” facts. I am not sure of the relevance of truth but I do believe uncertainty is critical in a democracy such as ours. Certainty cuts off dialog, limits conversation and is anathema to developing imaginative solutions to societal issues.

My favorite book of the past 20 years begins with, “About two hundred years ago, the idea that truth was made rather than found began to take hold of the imagination of Europe.” I highly recommend Richard Rorty’s “Contingency, irony, and solidarity.” His observation about truth being made rather than found crystallized for me a way of thinking about myself and my place in society at large.

I consider myself, philosophically, a pragmatist. Pragmatism was an early 20th century American philosophy that can, perhaps, be best summarized by “whatever works, is likely true.” As reality changes, so too, “whatever works.” Truth varies. Truth is changeable. No one possesses the ultimate truth. We should avoid seeking anything metaphysical, the truth of an idea is in its observable results.

Rorty was a pragmatist. He wrote, “Modern, literate, secular societies depend on the existence of reasonably concrete, optimistic and plausible scenarios, as opposed to scenarios about redemption beyond the grave.” Too much of our national conversation today is overly concerned with matters of faith and truth. Rather our conversation be a discussion of developing workable ideas to alleviate the suffering and humiliation of our fellow citizens.

Poverty, for example, confronts us all daily. Regardless of whether we are impoverished ourselves, it is hard to ignore the exit ramp veteran, hand out, dirty and demoralized. Or, the ubiquitous near toothless vagrant from public housing interviewed on TV about the recent mayhem besetting his neighborhood. Poverty is a factor of the human condition. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will always be poor people in the lands.” That observation is as accurate today as it was when written thousands of years ago. But because poverty and despair are part and parcel of the human condition does not absolve our nation—you and I, America collectively—from pursuing solutions.

We once, too many decades ago, had a “War on Poverty.” Many argue it failed. It didn’t accomplish its goals. Poverty persisted. It was too expensive. The results were ambiguous. Besides, the Bible says, “There will always be poor people.” As if that is an argument for doing less.

So many clichés that do not really reflect the reality of being impoverished in America. “The poor need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Or, “Being broke is a temporary situation. Being poor is a state of mind.” Or, “Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” What a crock. All of it.

The measure of a culture is how well it takes care of its least capable citizens (its children in particular). Because we once waged war on poverty—yet the poor remain—does not mean we do not pursue pragmatic approaches to alleviating the suffering in America. There are no certain remedies. But we must be relentless in our attempts.

To be truly human is to be humane. Make that truth, you.

I Am A Liberal.

I am a liberal. Probably not your typical liberal as I genuinely do believe, “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” That’s an unattributed observation describing American pioneers who walked alongside their Conestoga wagons to Oregon in the 1840s.

I am a liberal who does not want to support other men’s children. I don’t. Do not have children you cannot afford or are unwilling to parent. That goes for the women associated with such men. Do not breed unless you have the wherewithal to support your progeny. Have the decency and self-respect to take care of you and yours.

That said I am a liberal who believes everyone who is here today is part of the Home Team. Everyone. Addled homeless war vets, too.

Children, however, do not ask to be born to mindless, irresponsible, impoverished (fiscally, emotionally, intellectually) parents. They arrive and as such it behooves us (America) as a culture to make sure that their parent’s “shortcomings” are not visited upon their progeny. To break the circle of poverty, we must invest in America’s mothers and in prenatal care. We must provide (encourage) safe, accessible and affordable birth control to limit the number born to impoverished Americans. Nutrition, housing, healthcare and education for all our children are societal obligations. Half measures, as are readily apparent, produce stunted children, ensuring that the cycle of poverty is perpetuated.

I am a liberal who does not believe “jobs” is the answer to “all” our problems. Our environment is crumbling (melting if you will) before our eyes. The coming havoc that is on our horizon—once thought to be a century away—may yet arrive fully realized in my lifetime. Half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is dead or dying from acidification and rising oceanic temperatures. The Northwest Passage we all learned about in grade school will soon be a reality. Imagine the day—that will arrive—when the waters from the Himalayan glaciers no longer flow into India and China. Imagine when the Colorado watershed cannot sustain the populations of America’s West?

I am a liberal and I do not care one iota what religious beliefs you embrace in order to make sense of our world of sorrow. I laugh out loud at Christians who say Mormonism is nothing more than a bizarre sect. That getting your own planet upon death is just too far out, yet God sending Himself to be tortured, to die on a cross for our sins, only to be literally resurrected is somehow more believable.

I am a liberal who does care, however, if your religious beliefs impair the national conversation by limiting the discussion of how we rationally, reasonably address issues of climate change, environmental desecration, population control and women’s rights.

I am a liberal who feels too much humanity, too many hungry mouths at the trough is not some divine plan but a catastrophe building upon itself. Why, if America has so many impoverished—even in the best of economic times—why is another 200 million citizens acceptable population growth?

I am a liberal who believes “humans” are shortly out-of-the-trees (so to speak) and that we are quite nasty little monkeys still learning how to live harmoniously together as a species.
If we worship anything, it should be in our ability to rationally construct a better future. For all Americans.

I am a liberal and that just may not be in our cards (future).

The Newly Reminted Moderate Mitt

Lady Astor: My God sir! You’re drunk!
Winston Churchill: Why yes madam, I am. But when you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be ugly.

Relax. I want all my liberal Democratic friends to just breathe in and relax. It’s going to be just fine. Take a deep breath. It’s will be all right. Barack Obama is going to be re-elected President. He is.

Yes, Obama had an off night in the first debate and Romney, well, Romney was himself.
By that I mean, Mercurial Mitt was in full makeover mode. Taxcuts for the wealthy? What? Mitt ain’t for that. Shut The Front Door! No way. $5 trillion in tax cuts. Mitt never implied that (except, of course, he did). Cut education funding? What? And hurt our kids! Not ol’ moderate Mitt!

Yes, the Mittster did recently state, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what . . . and my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” But guess what? Mitt didn’t mean it! Really. He now likes 100% of Americans. Even smelly unwashed impoverished Americans on commie food stamps. Mitt likes’us all. Really.

Don’t worry about the newly reminted moderate Mitt who was rolled-out last week during the Denver debate. You remember Moderate Mitt. Once upon a time he supported abortion rights. Yes, he did! Really! Not only that but wifey-Ann gave Planned Parenthood a $150 contribution at a fundraiser. She did! Honestly! So when Mitt found “Life” so, too, wifey-Ann. Imagine that! Mitt claimed in 1994 that, “I don’t line up with the NRA,” and then he actually enacted a measure of gun reform. See Massachusetts Mitt have a backbone. Really.

Oh, my! Mitt, in another life, said that humans cause climate change. Noooo, you say? Yes, really! And previous Mitt, not so many years ago, advocated an individual insurance mandate. Really. Yes, something Republicans supported before Obama advocated as much.

Two phrases come to mind when I think of the newly reminted Moderate Mitt. The first is “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and the second is “hoisted on your petard.” Ol’ silk stocking Moderate Mitt slummed too long with the Tea Party/Sow’s Ear wing of the Republican Party for any miraculous “moderate” transformation to be even remotely believable. What Mitt says this week—this moment—is no guarantee what he’ll believe tomorrow or next year.

I’m surprised Republicans support Mitt’s dissembling. Most Americans consider it an unappealing quality in a man. Mitt Romney is essentially a coward when you get down to it. He does not have the courage of his own convictions. Because he has few. For any longer than a week or year. Ultimately he will be hoisted on his own petard. He tossed out the moderation “bomb” and public blowback will inevitably sink his candidacy. There is no “there” to Romney. He’s an apparition, a ghost, a man with neither compass nor backbone.

I’m reminded of that exchange between Astor and Churchill.

However Romney might characterize Obama, the President might respond, “Why yes Mitt, perhaps I am. But when you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be Mitt Romney.”

A thin shell of a man. A Republican without conviction or principle. A tawdry, shape-shifting business oligarch, a shameless opportunist and presidential loser.

The Message Versus The Messenger

A gentleman provided a letter to Monday’s (10/01) Orlando Sentinel that read in part, “If it’s God’s word . . . there needs to be no discussion – end of story.” He closes with, “God’s word is final and supreme in the United States of America.”

This is “red meat” rhetoric of a Bible literalist. I sometimes fanaticize about publically debating such an individual (Possible topic: “Is a belief in a personal god necessary for living an ethical life?), but then realize what would be the point? I’d stand-up and give what I believe in and why (something along the lines of the Crash Davis, “I Believe In. . .” speech from the movie Bull Durham). The opposition would stand and say, in essence, “Cuz the Bible says it’s so.” I’d offer some facts (science/logic/history). He’d respond with dogma/scripture/faith. And, as is said, “never the twain shall meet.”

He’d leave the debate thinking me a “damned” apostate and I considering him little better than the village simpleton.

One of the real joys in living in 21st century America (the West) is we can experience our individual lives (generally speaking) without fear of censorship or repression by the state. Believe what you will but mind your own business – that’s the ticket to a free society. Unfortunately, my conviction of “Believe what you will and MYOB” bumps into the prescriptive dogma of the religiously certain. You see this when it comes to such issues as stem cell research, abortion rights, birth control, Gay rights, Gay marriage, women’s rights, censorship, climate change, population control, stewardship of the Earth, etc. And, unbelievably, facts are irrelevant.

Facts are irrelevant? If I were to characterize one of the most troubling changes in America during my lifetime it would be the diminution of fact as the basis of discussion and public discourse. I believe as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Here’s the crux of the challenge facing America. We’ve substantive problems needing to be addressed. We know what they are. Poverty. Opportunity. Racism. Education. Economic viability. Sustainability. Infrastructure. Environment. Imperialism. Healthcare. And on and on. The polarization we see in America has a number of explanations but one of the primary reasons is, again, as Senator Moynihan pointed out, “You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Oh, I can hear the objections now, “Jepson, who died and made you Pope? Such that “YOU” get to determine what is fact?” I don’t. But I will rely on learned, scholarly minds, scientifically-based research and reason to make a decision or formulate public policy. And here’s the rub, whether you are conservative or liberal in perspective, who “gives” you the facts is often as important (sadly so) as the facts themselves.

In other words, the messenger is as important as the message. Imagine if Billy Graham’s last words to the faithful were, “God wants you to cherish Mother Earth as fervently as you love God Himself. The environmental desecration of the planet must stop today. It is sinful not to.”

Or, if Bill Clinton said, “We need to means-test Medicare.”

Opinions—even ones we don’t like—should stand on their own merits (Just the facts, Ma’am.). Sometimes, however, they are more palatable when they “stand” on the shoulders of those we already believe.