Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bill Maher Is Wrong (and He's not the Only One)

Yeah, I haven't posted here nearly as often as I'd planned, and I'm sorry, and my excuses are (fill in the blank).  Moving on.  

By now, you've probably heard about the Rush Limbaugh birth control debacle.  If not, come out from under your rock and let me sum it up.  The Republicans, who won a majority in the US House (as well as winning several state legislatures and governorships) in 2010 after running on a platform of creating jobs, improving the economy, and reducing the deficit, instead set out to pass hundreds of anti-abortion laws, including laws that define personhood as beginning at fertilization (which could not only ban abortions but hormonal birth control, and could potentially mean a woman whose fertilized egg doesn't implant in the wall of her uterus could be guilty of involuntary manslaughter), and transvaginal ultrasound laws, in which a woman who wants an abortion is forced by the state to have an ultrasound wand shoved into her vagina by a doctor.  Even if the woman became pregnant due to rape.  Neat, eh?

And for any of those who think this is not about subjugating women but protecting "life," think again.  The supporters of these bills almost invariably are pro-war and pro-death penalty.  Even if you somehow believe brown people in the Middle East and criminals don't have the same right to life as embryos, the Republicans have decided to go after birth control.  Yes, birth control.  In 2012.

Look, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that birth control reduces unwanted pregnancies, and that less unwanted pregnancies means less abortions.  But that doesn't seem to matter.  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum essentially said that only married people should have sex, that sex should be for procreation only, and that it's perfectly reasonable for a US presidential candidate to even take a position on the sex lives of other adults.  In 2012.

Keep in mind, this is not some wacky third-party candidate.  This is a guy who at the time of this writing is in second place in the running for one of the two major parties, who has won his primary outright in eight states so far, and who still has an outside shot to win the whole thing despite the first place guy raising ten times as much money.  He's a guy whose position has won him a significant amount of support among one of the two main parties.  The only difference between him and the other candidates is that he's just more open and honest about his positions.

Of course, there's a certain inherent irony of a party whose platform claims to be "small government," yet thinks the government's role is to regulate what goes on in your bedroom, and of a party that says the government should not be involved in health care, yet wants the government to make reproductive health care decisions for women nationwide.  But then it's silly to expect consistency in a politician or political party, especially at the national level.

So all this recently came to a head in the US House, where Republicans decided to convene a panel of "experts" on birth control in response to a provision in Obama's health insurance program that required health insurance companies to cover birth control.  Religious organizations such as the Catholic church wanted to be able to prevent the insurance companies from paying for birth control, claiming their religious rights were somehow being taken away.

So we've gotten to the point where not being able to impose your religious beliefs on your employees on their own time (given that they're probably not having too much sex at work) is now considered "trampling on religious beliefs."  The usual bunch of right-wing pundits on Fox News and the other outlets used this incident to once again claim to be victims of a nonexistent war on religion.  I wonder how strongly they'd be calling for religious freedom if News Corp. was bought out by Muslims, and they ordered their pundits to lead the Muslim call to prayer on the air every day, or if they were bought out by Mormons who prohibited them from spending their paychecks on alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine?  Religious freedom apparently means it's okay for their religion to impose its belief on others, but when other religions do the same, that's somehow an attack on religious freedom.  Hypocrites.  

But I digress.  Back in DC, the panel of "experts" were trotted out, and the first group was composed entirely of men (including men who took vows of celibacy).  The second batch included two token women who spoke against the birth control mandate.  In fact, no one who spoke supported the mandate.  There were several people who showed up in support the mandate, but they were not allowed to speak. 

This prompted walkouts by some Democrats, and they held their own hearing a few days later.  One of the speakers included a woman who was denied the opportunity to speak at the earlier hearing, a Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke.

Enter Rush Limbaugh.  On his show he claimed that Fluke wants people like him to pay for her birth control.  Of course, the issue was a private university paying for a private health insurance policy as part of its employee compensation.  How that means he or anyone else is paying for her birth control is beyond me.  But this is Rush Limbaugh, and facts don't matter to him.  Anyone who has been paying attention should know this.

He also made an incredible leap in logic by saying this nonexistent payment for her birth control meant she wanted people to pay her to have sex, and that made her a "slut" and "prostitute."  He also insinuated she's been having sex since junior high., and said a whole bunch of other nasty things.

Lots of people were shocked by this, but this is what this guy has made a career out of doing.  He's a piece of shit who gets paid to say awful things about other people.  He's been doing this for twenty years, and this latest incident is nothing new.  What's more, he's a guy who uses his position of power to pick on people with less power.  That makes him the worst form of scum.

What else?  Well, there's this
Fluke explained that her friend, a lesbian, could not afford the oral contraception she needed to prevent ovarian cysts from forming because her university refused to pay for them on religious grounds.

“After months of paying over $100 out-of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore, and she had to stop taking it,” Fluke testified. “Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result.”

Hmm.  I don't think too many lesbians are on the pill to prevent pregnancies from all the lesbian sex they're having.  Maybe some women actually need it for medical reasons, not for slutting around town.  I'll give Limbaugh the benefit of the doubt and assume he's just plain ignorant of this fact, especially since he seemed to think the more sex a woman has, the more pills she has to take

Oh, and why didn't Fluke's friend herself testify?  I don't know, but maybe it's because she didn't want to be called a slut or a prostitute on nationwide airwaves. 

Enough people were pissed off at his comments that they started organizing a boycott of his show's sponsors.  When sponsors started dropping his show, Limbaugh issued a half-assed apology.

So far almost 100 sponsors have pulled their ads from his show.  He might very well end up off the air because of this.

Which brings me to Bill Maher.  A few days ago he defended Limbaugh on Twitter, and then he discussed this issue on his show.  He talked at length about free speech and read a quote from the ACLU.  And it was all crap, because the Limbaugh issue is not a free speech issue.

I love free speech.  I encourage free speech.  But I think Maher is confused about what free speech means.  Free speech means the government can't restrict your speech.  If Congress or a state or local government passed a law banning Limbaugh, or anyone else, or banning certain words or phrases, I'd be the first to stand up and call bullshit.

But free speech doesn't mean everyone gets a TV or radio show with a million dollar contract.  While free speech (in theory) means you pretty much get to say whatever you want, it doesn't mean no one else is allowed to criticize it.  And free speech definitely doesn't mean I or anyone else has to pay to give you a platform for it.

Which is what this is all about.  If a group of people decides they don't want to continue spending money on a company that supports a particular show, that's their right.  Maher talked about freedom of speech, but what about the freedom to say, "I don't want my money going to a company that supports that piece of crap, Rush Limbaugh," and organizing a boycott?

If it's question of capitalism and corporatism's influence on what we see and hear, then that's a good question to ask.  But that's not the case here.  This isn't an issue of corporate influence on speech.  It's people using their numbers to help stop the flow of money from going straight to a hateful, lying, bullying piece of shit.  It's a beautiful thing.

Besides, there are much more pressing threats to free speech than a boycott of Rush Limbaugh's sponsors. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Labels, Schmabels

Well, I'd planned on updating this blog more often.  The problem is, life happens.  Is it too late to add another New Year's resolution?  If not, I resolve to make no more promises about how soon I'll do another blog posting, and instead just post as often as I can.  That will just have to suffice.


I received a message concerning my last post.  This was from an old friend of mine who's a self-described anarchist.  He basically said that my score on the political compass puts me square in the anarchist camp, and he shared the Wikipedia link for "anarchism without adjectives".

I don't dispute the anarchism label, mostly because I've read a few writings by anarchists, and I tend to agree with their sentiments and have even posted a few links to their articles in past blogs.  But there's a reason I don't embrace the anarchist label, and it's mostly because of the stigma of angry anarchist kids breaking windows of Starbucks and starting fires.  I realize that the stigma is bullshit, like pretty much any stigma.  It's incredibly unfair to label all anarchists as violent just because of the actions of a few (Jeffrey Dahmer was from Wisconsin, so does that mean everyone from Wisconsin is a child molesting, serial killing, necrophiliac cannibal?), and there's nothing inherently violent about an anti-state ideology (indeed, anarchists tend to see the state itself, with its military forces and police departments and prisons, as inherently violent).

But that doesn't change the fact that the "anarchism = violence" stigma is still there, and I'm about as non-violent as you can get.

Pretty much any label has a stigma attached to it, and this is why I try to avoid all labels.  I'm a writer, and while using labels can sometimes be useful, usually it's just a sign of lazy writing.  Also, as a writer I strive to reach the largest audience possible, while trying to stay true to my convictions, because I think I have a viewpoint worth sharing with others.  If I were to call myself an anarchist right off the bat--or most other labels, for that matter--I might alienate a big chunk of my potential audience.  So I just try to share my conclusions and how I reached them, and if those resemble anarchist ideas, so be it.

To a lesser extent, another reason I don't call myself an anarchist is because there's a whole anarchist community that I know very little about.  My anarchist friend is the only anarchist that I know personally, as far as I can tell.  So I'd feel like a bit of a poseur if I suddenly started referring to myself one.

I settled on identifying myself as "anti-authoritarian" because the root of all my viewpoints stem from the idea that I think no one should have power over someone else, and because I think it's a good starting point for dialog as it's something most people can agree with.  Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to live.  I realize that "anti-authoritarian" is a label, too, but I think it says more than "anarchist," and without so much of a stigma.

Of course, anyone who can't get past the anarchist stigma has probably made up their minds about me by the third paragraph and hasn't made it this far, so there you go.  And I'm probably now on some Department of Homeland Security list, if I wasn't already, even though I'm about as much of a security threat as a bowl of oatmeal.

Ah, jeez.  I've spent this whole blog so far talking about myself, and that wasn't supposed to be the point of this blog.  Let's see what others have to say...

Reading Assignments:
Check back soon for more Rob Talks Politics goodness.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting (Re)Started

Considering this is my first post at my new political blog, Rob Talks Politics, I figure some introductions are in order.  Some of you may know me from my personal blog, where I've been posting off and on for the last five years or so about politics, personal interests such as craft beer and music, and updates on happenings in my personal life to keep friends and family in the loop.

I generally strive to keep the my political viewpoints confined to my blog (or up until recently, my Facebook account) and try not go around sharing them with others unless they bring it up first.  But because there are lots of non-political topics I want to share on my personal blog (I know everything is political, but I'm talking about the difference between things I experience in my personal life and things I read about), I've begun to feel lately there are two sides of my writing: political and otherwise.  I tried to split the two into sections within one blog, but the result just seemed a bit schizophrenic to me.  So I decided to create a separate blog dedicated all things political, and that's what you're reading right now.

So, about me: 

I can make things simple.  Here's where I score on the Political Compass test (which I highly recommend if you haven't taken it). 

But that doesn't make for much of a blog posting. 

So how would I describe myself?  First off, I hate political labels.  I think the corporate media has turned the way we view our political system into a joke.  Every issue is sensationalized and turned into meaningless soundbites, and we think in terms of a false right-left, liberal-conservative, Republican-Democrat dichotomy.  As a result, we end up with countless examples of absurdity throughout our political system, such as liberal political groups supporting Obama and conservative pundits reviling him, despite the fact that Obama governs probably to the right of Reagan, policy-wise.  Jon Stewart and other comedians have made a career out of doing little more than pointing out these absurdities.

Public policy debates now resemble a sporting event, where people's loyalties lie often with their party/ideology, and they cheer on their "side" as if it's their favorite sports team.  I've found myself falling for this line of thinking many times, and how could I not?  We're immersed in it.  So if both "teams" fail you, then what?  That's where I find myself.  Lately, I've been trying to think of my family, friends, community, planet, and fellow human beings as the only "team" worth rooting for.  It's pretty liberating, actually.

While I'm not a fan of labels, I do think it's important to have some sort of starting-point, something to give you the idea of where I'm coming from.  I'd have to say the basis for all my viewpoints is that I'm anti-authoritarian.  I'm vehemently against any person or institution, whether the government or corporations or some other institution, having power over an individual.  It all boils down to power.

One of the results of the false left-right dichotomy is that conservatives tend to argue the government has too much power, and liberals say corporations have too much power.  They're both right.  Corporations dump millions of dollars into lobbying and political campaigns, allowing corporate-friendly politicians to win elections, and in return these politicians pass laws that allow corporations even more power.  This gives both the government and corporations more power, and in return regular people like us end up with less power.  It's a corporatocracy, and it's strongly authoritarian in nature. 

I'm also very much anti-hierarchy, as hierarchies and authoritarianism go hand-in-hand.  All the failed systems in history (feudalism, fascism, Soviet-style communism, Maoism, etc.) have been hierarchical in nature, with one guy at the top (let's face it, it's almost always a man) and everyone else underneath.  This gives too much power to the one(s) at the top, and not enough to everyone else, and that's its fatal flaw.  Oppressed people tend to eventually rise up.  Our current corporate system is modeled the same way, with one CEO or small group of executives at the top, and everyone else underneath.  This is why it's doomed to eventually fail, as well. 

On social issues, again I'm anti-authoritarian.  I'm in favor of marriage equality, not because I want to marry another man, but because it's not my place to tell consenting adults they can't marry each other, and it certainly isn't the government's place to do so.  I support legalizing drugs, not because I think people should do drugs, but because I don't think the government has any right to tell adults what they can and cannot put into their bodies, and because prohibition has caused more damage than the drugs themselves.  I'm pro-choice, not because I think abortion is a good thing, but because the government has no right to force a woman to go through with a pregnancy if she doesn't want to.  For this reason, anyone who supports banning abortion has no place to call him or herself an advocate of "small government."  On a related note, anyone who wants to ban abortion but supports the death penalty or our aggressive militaristic foreign policy has no right to call him or herself "pro-life."

On fiscal issues, once again I'm anti-authoritarian.  I think people have an inherent right to things that are necessary for survival, such as food, shelter, health care, etc.  If a hospital tells a patient he will die unless he can cough up $75,000 to pay for a surgery, it's hard for me to see how that's any different than extortion.  I think if you're starving and I have extra food but refuse to share, I'm essentially committing a criminal act.  And yet, I don't think the government should force me to give the extra to you, mainly because the politicians who write the laws and make policy decisions have their own agenda.  I'm not sure what the answer is, but perhaps benefit societies are better alternatives.

I'm either pro-capitalism or anti-capitalism, depending on who's defining the term, "capitalism."  I support a society where people can exchange a good or service for compensation, at least in principle.  But I think the people who take in billions by gambling on Wall Street, trading currencies, getting loans at 0% interest from the Fed and then turning around and loaning the same money to others at 3%, or otherwise manipulating numbers are absolute scumbags.  Likewise, the large corporations that use their size advantage to put their smaller competitors out of business by undercutting them, then raising their prices when they're the only game in town need to go.   

I hear lots of people say we need more jobs.  I disagree.  I think we need need a reevaluation of the whole system.  When I was growing up, all I heard was how technology was going to make our lives easier and better in the future.  Now it's almost 2012, and people are working harder than ever, at least the ones who can find work.  We should be focusing on how our resources are allocated, not working on creating easily-sold-and-consumed products.  Sure, it's really cool that I can store 500 albums worth of music on a gadget the size of a condom wrapper, but meanwhile people are starving even though we have the technology to feed the entire world, and people are dying from diseases we have the technology to cure and/or prevent.  Our priorities are insane.

I definitely tend to focus on what's wrong with our current system, and not so much on what I think we need to do.  This is in part because I'm cynical, but also because I think you have to identify the problem before you can come up with solutions.  And as someone who's anti-hierarchy, it would be hypocritical for me to claim I have the answers for everyone.  Whatever solutions we come up with, we need to come up with them as a group.

I think a big reason people are largely unhappy with our current system but can't seem to agree on any solutions is because misinformation and disinformation are in abundant supply, and a very narrow corporatist viewpoint dominates the debate throughout our corporate media.  The powers that run this country are incredibly skilled at controlling the message and blaming all our problems on the ones with the least amount of power to actually cause them.

I support the Occupy movement.  I don't always agree with the tactics used by people in the movement, but that's how it works in any horizontal, people's movement.  The corporate media has done a thorough job at highlighting all the least-desirable traits among people in the movement, or ascribing non-existent ones to the entire movement, while simultaneously ignoring the reasons for the movement.

Seriously, if you go on TV and shrug your shoulders and ask, "What do these occupiers want?" or "Why are they protesting?", you have no right to call yourself a journalist.  A Google search would thoroughly answer those questions within 30 seconds. 

The establishment media does what it's supposed to do, and that's to protect the establishment.  Once the movement started gaining traction, the pundits inevitably went into smear mode, and the vast majority of people who have too much going on in their lives to research the issues themselves had no choice but to believe the nonsense.  They were told the protesters were lazy (if they were lazy, they would've stayed home like the critics), uninformed (a great deal of them were college grads, and if you read their first release, it's clear they get it), wanted a handout (no, they want a future), were dirty (that's what happens when you go camping, not that it has anything to do with anything), etc., etc.

The movement seems to be in disarray these days.  Don't believe it.  People are still pissed.  And I don't see things getting any better any time soon.  When all is said and done, the movement may have a different name or use different tactics, but it isn't going anywhere.  Not until things change.
A bunch of kids, most of whom had little or no organizing experience, managed to create a movement that has spread across the nation and lasted so far for months.  Good on them.

There's a lot more I want to say about a lot of different things, but I'll save it for future Rob Talks Politics postings.  Stay tuned. 

Reading Assignments:

On my personal blog, I got into the habit of sharing what I've been reading, and I thought I'd do the same here, focusing on political links.  I haven't posted there in almost a month, so my list is pretty big.  Feel free to pick and choose what to read.  Then again, knowledge is power:

I'm hoping to update this blog every few days or so, so check back often.  And please feel free to leave a comment or two.