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.