Friday, March 30, 2012

Adrienne Rich dead

Adrienne Rich died a couple of days ago, at the age of eighty, due to complications of rheumatoid arthritis. Why did I think that she was going to live forever? Death is part of life, but the death of someone wonderful always seems to come too soon.The Advocate notes that she had been with her partner Michelle Cliff (a notable feminist writer in her own right) since 1976.

Adrienne Rich was that rare poet who made an impact both in the mainstream world of arts and poetry and among radical lesbian feminists. She had an obituary in The New York Times and John Nichols wrote an analysis of her life and work for My favorite was this remembrance by a woman whose life her work had touched.

For myself, I will always remember Adrienne Rich as someone who pushed the feminist movement to be its best self, who pushed women with privilege to challenge their own racism, classism, antisemitism. Rich was a leader in the best sense--someone who inspired all of us to find and express our own ideas and ideals. She had a broad understanding of feminism as a movement that challenges all forms of oppression.

I will miss her.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Three views on Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin is the African American teenager who was shot to death by Sanford, Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February. This tragedy took place in a social context in which young black men are considered dangerous criminals because they are black males.

Here are three posts about this story that I have found to be useful and informative:
  1. Pamela Merritt, who writes the blog Angry Black Bitch,  points out that if Trayvon Martin did the things George Zimmerman accused him of, Martin was "standing his ground" and should be considered the innocent party.
  2. Judd Legum at Think Progress provides a point-by-point summary of the case.
  3. In an interview on Fox News, posted at MEDIAite, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson denounces the so-called "New Black Panthers" for offering a "dead or alive" reward for Zimmerman's apprehension. For me, the most interesting and significant part of this interview was Jackson's prediction that this case could provide an inspiration to the civil rights movement equivalent to that provided by the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. This offers hope that this tragedy will ultimately fuel the cause of justice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's not about epistemology

You may wonder, gentle reader, what the heck is "epistemology," besides a funny looking big word that is fun to say in order to impress your friends? It is, very simply, that part of philosophy that is devoted to studying what we know and how we know that what we know is true.

This is a very important question. I think I know all kinds of things--that all people should have equal rights and power, that climate change is a serious problem and needs to be stopped, that US military intervention always makes things worse rather than better. There are large numbers of people who think I am exactly wrong about all of those things. How do I know that I am right and they are wrong?

Yes, that's an important question, but as you read in the title of the post, this is not about epistemology, so we'll take that question up at another time.

This post is actually about the Affordable Health Care Act, which has made its way to the Supreme Court. Right-wing opponents of the law have challenged its constitutionality, saying that the federal government doesn't have the right to require citizens to purchase health insurance. Liberal supporters of the law say that it provides a huge step forward in making health care available to all citizens.

As for myself, I just don't know. I expect that the law is constitutional, but I don't think it fixes what's broken about the US health care system. The US health care system is designed to allow private companies to make enormous profits by providing services that cost lots of money but may (or may not) improve anyone's health. Despite its name, I'm not sure the health care act will really make health care more affordable.

Robert Reich has written a blog post that expresses very well my reasons for ambivalence about the ACA. (You may recall that Reich served as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. Reich is now a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley.)As Reich writes:
The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising.

Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with pre-existing health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs.

This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You’ll remember the Administration couldn’t get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it.

But don’t expect the Supreme Court to address this dilemma. It lies buried under an avalanche of constitutional argument.
Now Republicans are using this compromise in order to whip up resentment from far-right Tea Party supporters who don't want the government to tell them what to buy. Some of this resentment probably comes from people who, even with subsidies, cannot afford to buy health insurance or pay a fine for not having it.

It seems like a lose-lose situation. If the Affordable Health Care Act is struck down by the Supreme Court, we are left with the same broken system, with all of its skyrocketing costs and inadequate coverage. Plus, it's a big defeat for the whole idea of universal health care. If the ACA is upheld, more people have some kind of coverage, but most of the problems of the existing system are left in place.

Reich, however, sees a silver lining in the possible overturn of the ACA. He argues that no one objects to mandatory participation in Medicare by people over 65, because this is a government program that works well and is universally popular.
So why not Medicare for all?

Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and seek to privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan’s plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government’s authority.

Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions.

When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they’re willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes.

If they did this the public will be behind them — as will the Supreme Court.

I would like to believe that Reich is right.

I have only one minor quibble about what he has to say.

The court debate started off with an argument about whether this is the right time to hear this case. This was a procedural issue based on an interpretation of an 1867 law that says that you can't file a legal challenge to a tax until you've had to pay that tax. People who don't buy health insurance won't need to pay a penalty for several years. The Supreme Court spent the whole first day of argument considering whether the 1867 law applies to this case.

Reich describes this argument thusly:
Not surprisingly, today’s debut Supreme Court argument over the so-called “individual mandate” requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a “tax,” and the question of whether the issue is ripe for review.
Um, no. This procedural argument had nothing at all to do with epistemology, it had to do with the way the word "tax" is defined. Maybe Reich meant to use the word "etymological," which has to do with tracing the history of words.

If we had an epistemological discussion about the ACA, we would be discussing whether we have any reliable way of predicting exactly what its effects are going to be. This is not a "nicety," but a very substantial problem. Even big words have meanings, and you can't just throw them around at random to prove how smart you are.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

And when do women get to be persons?

I have been too immersed in my schoolwork to give more than passing attention to the daily news. This is not entirely a bad thing. I really don't think it is necessary for me to keep track of every time some wingnut patriarch celebrity or right-wing Republican legislator says something truly stupid about a woman, women, or women's rights. Such nincompoopery has been so widespread for so long that it is hardly worthy of notice, and frankly, some of the nincompoops seem to thrive on the attention, any kind of attention. It's probably a good thing that my attention has been focused on Information and Communications Technology and Management of Information and Knowledge organizations instead.

I do regret that I can't keep up with the anti-woman shenanigans of the 2012 Oklahoma Legislature. This is not merely some kooky talk radio show that a person can turn off. These people are passing actual laws, and one of the laws that they seem poised to pass is called The Personhood Act, which would declare a fertilized egg to be a human being, with all of the rights and privileges of any other citizen or resident of Oklahoma.

I've found what looks like a pretty good explanation of the situation on a blog called God Discussion, including the text of the bill that's making it's way through the Oklahoma Senate. God Discussion reports that House already passed a similar bill on Tuesday.  As other commentators have noted, this is a law that would ban many forms of contraception. The creative and courageous Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice held a "Barefoot and Pregnant" rally at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, and is leading the campaign against the Senate bill (and against a possible ballot measure that would add this type of language to the Oklahoma Constitution). OCRJ also provided this link to help you take action to defend women's control over our own bodies and our own lives.

Not so long ago, the US Supreme Court decided that corporations are persons. The Oklahoma Legislature wants to declare that fertilized eggs are persons. I would like to know when women get our chance to be persons, too.