Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Forced Pregnancy Is Not Okay

I struggle with questions about life and death and the subject of abortion is central to those questions. I was raised Catholic, and my experiences as a human being have made me differ greatly from my Church's teachings on some matters while maintaining my belief that I am within the spirit and conscience of my faith. I know there are many Catholics who feel the way I do.

In my life, I have come down on the pro-choice side of the ledger for personal and community reasons. I cannot see my way to telling another person how to make that intensely personal decision without being a paternalistic asshole. (Indeed, the "abortion is bad for women" argument is horribly paternalistic.) I believe that forcing women to bear children they do not want is wrong. We don't force people to be kidney, liver and lung donors, but we would force equally traumatic and debilitating medical procedures on women?

I believe that our community is a better place when both men and woman have equal rights and authority over their own bodies.

I write this today because a recently-published study has shown an alarming relationship between abuse and forced pregnancy.
Young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage birth control or coerce pregnancy -- including damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives -- and these efforts, defined as "reproductive coercion," frequently are associated with physical or sexual violence, a study by a team of researchers led by UC Davis has found.
"This study highlights an under-recognized phenomenon where male partners actively attempt to promote pregnancy against the will of their female partners," said lead study author Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine and a practitioner at UC Davis Children's Hospital. "Not only is reproductive coercion associated with violence from male partners, but when women report experiencing both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk for unintended pregnancy increases significantly." - ScienceDaily
While "rape and incest" are generally accepted as reasonable reasons for an abortion, coercion and abuse are not. This is a problem because coercion is a bigger problem, and doubtless under-reported. It is those women who are most likely to feel helpless and alone who are most susceptible to coercion, and are thus most in need of the protection of the community from such coercions. A coerced act is not a decision, and people should not be forced by the state to bear the consequences of things they were coerced into doing.

Imagine you were coerced by a sexual partner into donating them a kidney. Would that be okay? No. And the state makes sure no one can force you to do so.

The obvious retort is "a child is not a kidney!" To which I reply, a blastocyst is not a child. We can have a debate about where the line is, but there is a line. And before that line, it's not a child, it is a choice.

I have wondered if the debate over abortion and choice would benefit from more people "coming out" about their experiences. If it was more widely known that 10-25% of all pregnancies ended in spontaneous abortions (miscarriages), would our idea of when life begins be different? If all the women who had had abortions or miscarriages "came out" and forced their friends and families to deal with the issue on a personal, rather than abstract level, would opinions change the way they have with gay marriage? It is one thing to hold the opinion that "abortion is always evil." It is another thing to tell your sister that, to her face, when she has shared with you the most traumatic moments of her life.

I believe this discussion should begin, and end, with the people for whom it has the most significance: our mothers, sisters and daughters. Ultimately, that is why I have come down on the side of choice, because I cannot and will not presume - as a man - to tell the women in my life what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

(Note: Since I know this subject is going to be very sensitive and likely to stir virulent response from many, I have turned comments off. I am sharing my opinion on my blog and not attempting to start a wider debate here.)

[Update] Here is a link to a great philosophical discussion of the question: On Abortion.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Message of Massachusetts

For what it's worth, I grew up in New Hampshire and some of my earliest political education was the '88 election. All that being said, I think that Nate Silver nails it when it comes to what Democrats should be understanding from the past week.
There's more than one way for democracy to become dysfunctional. One way is if the Congress consistently adopts policies that the American people don't support. Another is if one of the major political parties routinely misleads the public to manipulate public opinion, and the other party aids and abets them by behaving like a bunch of gutless wonders who can't see farther than the next midterm. Neither outcome is desirable -- but Iraq ought to be a reminder that the latter is every bit as much a threat to our democracy as the former. - FiveThirtyEight
In this manner, "you lie" was the most hypocritical moment of political projection in the history of the Republic.

It is long past time for good Democrats to stand up and say "no more." We are on the right side of history, and the right side of informed public opinion. The time to do health care reform is now. And damn the teaparty-pedos.

Nate gets the last word.
Well, you know what, what Massachusetts tells us is that we haven't done a very good job of explaining our values to them. Maybe we need to take a step back and have that conversation with them. And some of our opponents have been made that job more difficult by telling them things that just aren't true. But we believe that, when people learn what's really in the health care bill, they're going to realize how much good it does for our country. And that's what we were elected to do -- to get our country back on track after eight years of a government that misled the American people and produced the worst crises since the Second World War. We understand that people are scared and upset about the tumultuous times that we face and they have every right to be. But we have to continue pressing forward.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Koffee With Kelly"

Supervisor Burk is having a coffee on Saturday for her neighbors in Leesburg.
Supervisor Kelly Burk invites you to join her for Koffee with Kelly this Saturday. Stop by for coffee, donuts, and an opportunity to ask questions, voice your opinion, and informally chat about the budget and other local issues.

Date: January 23rd

Time: 10 am to 12 pm

Location: Ritenour Paice & Mougin-Boal, 20 West Market Street in downtown Leesburg (The Laurel Brigade Inn)

Call us at 703.777.0203 for more information.
Come out and speak your mind to your Supervisor, there's a lot going on.

Keep Fighting, Democrats

I want to call your attention to a great guest post on Blue Virginia today, "Wringing Hands and Complaining, How About Another Approach." This post captures well my own thoughts and opinions over the past few weeks of politics-watching.
We can’t control the American voter. (We wouldn’t want to.) We can’t control Republicans or their message. We can’t control anyone but ourselves. So here are a few very basic suggestions about how we Democrats might stop worrying about political bombs going off and start remembering what we love about politics in the first place. - BlueVirginia
I encourage everyone to go read it.

The fight never ends, there is always another election. Yes, it can seem exhausting, but the America we believe in is worth it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On A Progressive Echo Chamber

In a time when Democrats control Congress and the White House, many debates in the progressive blogosphere have tended towards questions of what it means to be a progressive Democrat in a time of governance. Should we be focusing on supporting the President's agenda? Should we be focused on pressuring the President and Senate to enact more progressive legislation? Many observe Democratic complacency, and warn us to be ever-vigilant.

All of these are good questions, questions that are not mutually exclusive. The debate over what it means to be progressive, liberal and a Democrat is not a zero-sum discussion. I'm glad we are having the debate. I am concerned, however, about the manner in which we are having that debate. I worry about an emerging progressive echo chamber.

In the past five years, an incredible progressive infrastructure has grown up. From DailyKos and OpenLeft, to Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, liberal voices and ideas have found fora acceptance in the national discussion that they have not had in a generation. The presence of these voices, however, means that progressives can get their news and analysis from people who inherently agree with them and, potentially, avoid listening to voices we disagree with.

This is, of course, one of the cardinal sins that progressives accuse conservatives of. It is wise to consider whether we, too, are becoming guilty of it. Chris Bowers has asked this question, but with a different spin, considering the question of whether the Obama administation sees the blogosphere as simply a megaphone for the administration's policies and PR. I would like us to consider whether we are avoiding difficult questions and uncomfortable ideas by only listening to each other and nodding in vigorous agreement.

I ask this question because of the changes I have observed in the progressive blogosphere in the past year. When I first started blogging, posts that I admired on progressive blogs were targeted, full of evidence and compelled action. Perhaps most importantly for me, they were filled with evidence to support the ideas expressed. That evidence was provided in blockquotes, and/or links to primary supporting materials. It was this dedication to rational, evidence-based discourse that allowed the progressive blogosphere to assert its superiority over the conservative one.

Today, however, I continue to read excellently-written posts that ring true to my heart. But after reading them, I am forced to consider the fact that in many of these posts, not a single link to primary source evidence is provided. Indeed, such posts, while ringing true and holding together internally, are entirely assertion when considered in the wider context.

Take, for example, the excellent post by Devilstower: "The Anchor."
Just as an example of the edge held by conservatism, the Sierra Club has an annual budget in the neighborhood of $100 million in 2008 (we can argue about whether the Sierra Club is actually liberal, but I don't think any would argue that's a pretty good neighborhood). As the largest and oldest environmental organization in the country, the Club carries a, um, big stick. On the other hand, Exxon Mobil made that much by the end of the first week in January -- that much in straight profit, not revenue. Which one do you think is more capable of spreading it's message to the public? More capable of using the media to its advantage?

You can get millions of people in this country to join into a chant of "drill, baby, drill" because they've become convinced that more oil drilling in America will be beneficial -- even though the US passed peak production in 1972 and there is no doubt domestic production will continue to fall even if every inch of nation parks and wildlife reserves were opened for oil. The only difference that additional drilling will make is addition billions to those who hold the power, but they've successfully pushed the idea that this is a national benefit, not a money grab by an already wealthy few.

Why do many people still have doubts about something as straightforward as climate change? Because tens of millions are spent each year to see that they stay confused -- more by far than is spent trying to get across the truth. - Devilstower, DailyKos
This post is filled with excellent points, facts, and logical conclusions from those facts. However, every single fact is simply asserted without links to primary source. This is not to say that I do not believe what Devilstower has written. On the contrary, I have no doubt that he has researched the numbers and facts cited. However, I take strong issue with the precedent established by a front-pager on the most influential blog on the 'net in stating such facts without providing a citation to their source. I do not think this is a problem in January 2010, but I think that it becomes a problem if it is a precedent for what is written in October 2010, when we will be fighting a vicious war of words at the conclusion of a difficult campaign season.

And so I am asking, for the good of public discourse, and for the good of our principles, that we as participants in the blogosphere rededicate ourselves to evidence-based discussion and reintroduce quotes from primary sources, and links to facts and research into our posts. This will help inoculate us from criticisms that we are "just like them" in how we debate. It will insure that we are critically examining what we believe. And it will make us stronger as a community.

(As a concluding note: Finding such evidence is truly simple. the Sierra Club's financial statements are available online, and Congress discussed a resolution on peak oil in 2005. It took me about 60 seconds to find those and past the link into this post.)

Update - Apparently, Lowell and I were reading the same thing this morning.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Good News

Quote of the day.

The reality is that Democrats are on a losing streak only if you ignore their wins. - VB Dems

And as a bonus, go read Digby. As ever, she is a voice saying what we all wish we could say in the way we wish we could say it.

Thank you, Digby. Thank you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Traffic, Budgets and Consequences

If every 4 or 5 days, someone got mugged and beaten at the exact same streetcorner in Loudoun County, you can bet that our elected officials would be up in arms. You can bet that people like Joe May and Tom Rust would be screaming to high heaven that more money should be made available for law enforcement and Richmond would respond, because criminals were on the loose in our suburbs.

Well, every 4.3 days in Loudoun, someone has their property destroyed and suffers bodily harm at the exact same intersection, and no one seems to be doing anything about it.
Waxpool Road at Loudoun County Parkway saw 84 crashes in 2009, and was also the most crash prone intersection in 2008 with 86 crashes. The intersection of Harry Byrd Highway (Route 7) at Belmont Ridge was tied with the intersection of Route 7 and Potomac View Road as the second most crash prone intersection in Loudoun. Each intersection saw 73 crashes in 2009. - Loudoun County Traffic
Our combined crises of budget shortfalls and transportation nightmares have consequences. Those consequences are traffic accidents. Traffic accidents are not only harmful to the people involved, but also to the people who are delayed as a result, the police and emergency crews that are diverted from other duties to deal with the incident, and the added costs to us, the taxpayers, of cleaning up afterwards. Solving the budget and transportation problems we face will have a salutary effect if it does nothing more than reduce accidents. Until then, we can expect the awful frequency of accidents to continue, and no letup in their negative impacts on our lives.

These are the consequences of letting our transportation problems fester, and the revenue reform we need go unfinished. I just hope that the consequences don't prove too fatal to too many of our neighbors this year.

Gays, Abortion, Culture, Debate

Here are links to four things I've read in the past couple of days that I found interesting and informative.
  • Divorce Rates Higher In States With Gay Marriage Bans - Another in a long series of data points showing that states which purport to have the highest values do the poorest in upholding them.
    Overall, the states which had enacted a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as of 1/1/08 saw their divorce rates rise by 0.9 percent over the five-year interval. States which had not adopted a constitutional ban, on the other hand, experienced an 8.0 percent decline, on average, in their divorce rates. -
  • Gay Marriage and Abortion Facts - Yes, correlation is not causation, but boy is it interesting!
    Counterintuitive as it may seem, the facts remain that abortion is most rare in countries where it is legal and readily available, and most common in those where it is illegal or difficult to obtain. This is largely because the countries where abortion is legal also have better sex education and more access to birth control. So, to some extent, the good and sincere people who call themselves "pro-life" have the blood of millions of babies on their hands. These are the facts in the real world, as it actually exists.
  • Who's Afraid Of The HPV Vaccine - In another case of science proving common sense, it turns out that cultural values directly impact whether people believe "experts" or not.
    A new study concludes that people tend to match their risk perceptions about policy issues with their cultural values, which may explain the intense disagreement about proposals to vaccinate elementary-school girls against human-papillomavirus (HPV). The study also says people's values shape their perceptions of expert opinion on the vaccine.
    An online experiment involving more than 1,500 U.S. adults reveals that individuals who have cultural values that favor authority and individualism perceive the vaccine as risky, in part because they believe it will lead girls to engage in unsafe sex. But individuals with cultural values that favor gender equality and pro-community/government involvement in basic health care are more likely to see the vaccine as low risk and high benefit.
Though it may seem like common sense, applying critical science and peer-reviewed methodology to these questions is useful and important. We are reaching the point where science can quantify and break down political opinions and responses to information, perhaps finally getting us past the enlightenment ideal of rational discourse that has proven insufficient for modern debates over policy.

And, one more for a bonus.
  • Top public universities faulted on financial aid - A key question for UVA's next President, how do you maintain your status as a top public university and serve those who are currently underserved by that status?
    An evaluation of top public universities in the 2007-08 school year found that the University of Virginia had one of the best graduation rates for minority students. But the school ranked near the bottom when it came to enrolling low-income students in numbers that reflect the state's demographics, and it ranked in the middle for enrollment of minority students.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Embarrassment to Loudoun

Loudoun County is a diverse, forward-thinking County that has made amazing progress in the past five years. The County has a commitment to serving and respecting all its citizens.

That is, unless you are the Supervisor from the Sterling District.
During remarks in the meeting room of the Board of Supervisors, Delgaudio used the pejorative terms “fruity,” “bizarre” and “freaky” to describe the proposal on sexual orientation for Loudoun citizens.

The word “fruity” belongs on a candy wrapper, not attached to a person.

Further, instead of using the personal pronouns of “him” or “her” during his remarks, Delgaudio preferred to use the term “it” to describe people who might be protected by the new county guidelines.

This was sustained and unrestrained demagoguery targeting human beings.

Delgaudio saw fit to drive the bigotry home – literally -- by sending a mass e-mail to residences across his district that went on to restate the same offensive terms, such as “cross dressing freaks,” and railing against how the county might now “have to treat ‘it’ the same as a normal person.” - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
It is an embarrassment to all of us that an elected representative would speak such hate and disrespect for his own constituents from the dias of a representative body. It is an embarrassment that he would say such things at all, but to do so in an official capacity at a meeting of the Board is beyond the pale. No only is an apology in order, as the LTM has called for, but so is censure of Supervisor Delgaudio from those who support him, but purport to support equality as well.

Words of hatred beget acts of hatred, even here in Loudoun County. Words like Mr. Delgaudio's can only serve to embolden the criminals who destroyed and vandalized private property with anti-Gay intent in 2006. Of course, these words have come to be expected from a man who has made a national reputation by hating homosexuals.

Hatred, bigotry and contempt are not my values. They are not Loudoun's values. I am embarrassed for my County, and I offer my own apology for the behavior of Supervisor Delgaudio, since I doubt he will offer one himself.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to Equality Loudoun.)

Don't Be Evil

"Don't Be Evil" is Google's motto. It is a challenging thing for them to hone to, considering the incentives in the marketplace. Perhaps the biggest challenge to a "no evil" philosophy is the rise of China. China is a conundrum for an open, capitalist society like ours. On the one hand, it is an enormous market, with amazing potential for growth. That opportunity is frequently coupled with that is the old theory that increased trade leads to increased freedom. On the other hand, China's approach to individual rights and liberty is at odds with America's. That often means that American companies take actions in China that would be essentially illegal in America (like government-sponsored censorship). Squaring that circle is among the most difficult things for American companies to do.

This is why Google's announcement today is of such significance. Because of China's policies and actions on human rights and individual liberty, Google is putting the Chinese government on notice that the company may stop doing business there altogether.
We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China. - Official Google Blog
I applaud Google's new approach and resolve. It is a major thing for a company with the breadth and significance of Google to say, essentially, "we choose our principles over our profits." Would Halliburton make the same choice? What about Citigroup?

What Google is doing is truly leadership by example. Google is demonstrating that American business can be a force for good, and progress, if it chooses to be. For that, I say thank you Google.