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Monday, June 22, 2009


If anyone is on twitter, set your location to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location/timezone searches. The more people at this location, the more of a logjam it creates for forces trying to shut Iranians' access to the internet down. Cut & paste & pass it!!!

Neda--A Symbol of Revolution

Distressing footage depicting the death of a young Iranian woman at a demonstration in Iran has turned her into a galvanizing symbol for the country’s protest movement.

The young woman, known as Neda, believed to be 16-years-old was shot dead while attending a protest with her father in Tehran on Saturday.

Footage of her death was captured on video and has been watched by thousands on social networking sites including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Iranian state television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in Saturday’s protest which was held in defiance of a warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The office of Tehran's prosecutor general claimed "unknown vandals" had opened fire and killed people on Saturday, Press TV, Iran's English-language television channel, said.

Witnesses claimed she was shot by member of the pro-government Basij militia from the rooftop of a civilian house.

Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have urged people to demonstrate solidarity with victims of unrest by carrying black candles with green ribbons, their website said.

Motorists have been called on to turn on their headlights for two hours from 5 p.m. to "show their solidarity with families of martyrs killed in recent events".

"Protesting against lies and fraud (in the election) is your right," Mr Mousavi, who officially came second to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the poll, said in a statement on his website late yesterday.

"In your protests, continue to show restraint. I am expecting armed forces to avoid irreversible damage," he said.

The unrest in Iran is the most widespread since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which ousted the US-backed shah.

Iran's most senior dissident cleric - Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri - called for three days of national mourning for those killed.

"Resisting people's demand is religiously prohibited," he said. The Grand Ayatollah who was also an architect of the Islamic revolution fell out with the present leadership and has been under house arrest for some years.

Mohammad Khatami, a Mousavi ally and a moderate former president, warned of "dangerous consequences" if the people were prevented from expressing their demands in peaceful ways.

His comments, carried by the semi-official Mehr news agency, were implicit criticism of Khamenei, who has backed a ban on protests and defended the outcome of the election.

State television said a daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of Ahmadinejad, had been released after being detained together with four other relatives during the Saturday rally in Tehran

From our Friends at Idealist.org

A Pride Month Interview

Lesbian and Gay Perspectives in AmeriCorps and Peace Corps
June is Pride Month, so The New Service podcast from Idealist.org is taking a closer look at the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals serving in Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

Today's guests are lesbian and gay former service corps participants:

-Chad Jeremy, a former AmeriCorps NCCC corps member, currently a training specialist with AmeriCorps NCCC in Perry Point, MD. Chad is an officer with National Service GLOBE, an affinity group for LGBT folks involved with national service.
-Kate Kuykendall, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (China, 1999-2001); currently a Public Affairs Officer for Peace Corps Los Angeles. Kate's a member of the LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group.
-Martha Tierney, a former Notre Dame AmeriCorps member, currently a program offer for AmeriCorps National at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Martha is also a National Service GLOBE officer.

The New Service podcast host Amy Potthast speaks with them about agency policies affecting LGBT service—including policies around joining the corps with a same-sex partner; the experience of serving as a lesbian or gay corps member; and opportunities to serve on projects that relate to LGBT issues.

Also check out our interivew with one of the only known transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers about his service. (Because of scheduling issues, and as a way to maintain his anonymity, we agreed to a written interview with him.)

Finally, if you are an LGBT individual considering Peace Corps service, register for Kate Kuykendall's online information session "Have Rainbow, Will Travel: The LGBT Experience in the Peace Corps" on Saturday, June 20, 2009. She'll introduce Peace Corps service more specifically, and also address issues of special concern to LGBT folks.

The Idealist.org Podcasts

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pro-Life Terrorist: From our Friends at Socialist Worker

Nicole Colson documents the history of a right-wing movement that, in any other context, would be called out for what it is: terrorist.

June 9, 2009

TROY NEWMAN is worried.

Newman is president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which for years has targeted the Wichita, Kan., abortion clinic of Dr. George Tiller. Seven years ago, the group even moved its headquarters to Wichita--the better to harass Tiller, his employees and his patients, up close and personal.

But now Dr. Tiller, one of a small number of doctors anywhere in the U.S. who would perform late-term abortions, has been murdered--shot in the face (to avoid his bullet-proof vest) as he attended church on June 1, allegedly by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.

And Newman is concerned about a PR disaster--since it's hard to call your movement "pro life" when it assassinates doctors.

Newman's regret, of course, isn't for Dr. Tiller. It's not for the employees of Women's Health Care Services, who still face harassment at their homes, where Operation Rescue blankets their neighborhoods with pictures of aborted fetuses.

Nor does Newman care about Tiller's patients--the women (some of them children) who were victims of rape and incest, or whose pregnancies faced medical complications and fetal abnormalities. These women and their partners were often forced to run a gauntlet of Operation Rescue protesters just to enter Women's Health Care Services and exercise their legal right to choose abortion.

No, Newman's worry is that the murder of Dr. Tiller has ripped the mask off the "pro-life" movement and exposed an ugly truth--just behind the "respectable" front that preaches "saving babies" is a group of violent fanatics who are determined to put an end to women's right to chose abortion "by any means necessary."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN ANY other context, a movement that carried out the kind of violence the anti-abortion movement has over the past two decades would be called what it is: terrorist. But most of the media--not to mention politicians--refuse to do so.

The double standard is striking. In May, when a group of men were accused of plotting to carry out bombings of two Bronx synagogues and to shoot down military aircraft, the media featured screaming headlines about "terrorism" on U.S. soil, and politicians promised the public would be protected. This was despite the fact that the alleged "terrorists" never had access to weapons, nor harmed a single person or engaged in a single act of violence.

The modern U.S. anti-abortion movement, on the other hand, has a long and terrible record of bombings, arsons, acid attacks and vandalism at clinics across the country--and a string of murders to answer for.

As the National Abortion Federation Web site details, "Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, there has been an organized campaign by anti-abortion extremists which has resulted in escalating levels of violence against women's health care providers."

The first reported clinic arson in 1976 has been followed by more than 200 other arsons and bombings. Beginning in the early 1990s, some anti-choice activists began injecting butyric acid--which produces a rancid, vomit-like odor--into the walls of clinics. There were approximately 100 separate acid attacks on clinics between 1991 and 1998, causing more than $1 million in damage.

Between 1998 and 2002, 654 letters purporting to contain anthrax were sent to clinics. In November 2001 (just after the September 11 attacks, and in the wake of real anthrax attacks that killed five people), anti-abortion activist Clayton Waagner sent more than 500 fake anthrax letters to various clinics. Though none of the letters turned out to contain real anthrax, clinics were shut down in some cases.

If Scott Roeder was the man who murdered Dr. Tiller, as police allege, he is far from the first to kill an abortion provider in the U.S. Including Dr. Tiller, at least four abortion providers have been assassinated by anti-choice extremists since 1993.

That year, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. The following year, Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts were shot and killed by former minister Paul Hill outside another abortion clinic in Pensacola. In 1998, anti-choice extremist James Kopp killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home in Amherst, N.Y.

Clinic staff and others have also been killed or injured in attacks--like the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., clinic, in which nurse Emily Lyons was maimed and off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson killed by bomber Eric Rudolph.

Dr. Tiller was long targeted for death by the anti-choice movement. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, who was later also convicted of multiple clinic arsons and acid attacks.

Scott Roeder himself has a history of targeting clinics. Recently, he was caught two weekends in a row--the second being the day before Tiller's murder--allegedly attempting to put glue in the locks of another Kansas clinic, Central Family Medicine. But when clinic staff called the FBI to report the vandalism (and provide a description of the suspect, complete with car license plate number), they were reportedly told by the FBI that there was nothing that could be done until a grand jury could be convened.

These actions are designed to prevent women from exercising their legal right to an abortion--and to frighten doctors and clinic staff from providing care. If that doesn't qualify as terrorism, then what does?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SOME ANTI-choice activists, like Operation Rescue's Troy Newman, condemned Dr. Tiller's murder and publicly professed that they "abhor violence." But others couldn't hide their glee at Tiller's killing.

Randall Terry, the founder and former president of Operation Rescue, staged a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he denied that the anti-choice movement is responsible for Tiller's death--but added that Tiller "was a mass-murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

Regina Dinwiddie, who protested at clinics alongside Scott Roeder, told CNN that Tiller's slaying was "absolutely" justified. "He forfeited his life by taking the lives of innocent children," she said.

Talk radio host Steve Deace had the gall to compare Scott Roeder to the 19th-century abolitionist John Brown. "Maybe the fact that we have a lawless society that has not protected these babies from infanticide created the Scott Roeders of the world, who in very John Brown-like fashion, illegally took matters into his own hands," Deace said.

Not surprisingly, there are warnings that more violence could be on the way. Speaking to the Associated Press from his jail cell on June 7, Scott Roeder warned, "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."

Colorado Right To Life spokesman Bob Enyart told the Los Angeles Times that abortion providers "should expect that violence begets violence." In particular, Enyart had strong words for Dr. Warren Hern--a colleague of Dr. Tiller's in Boulder, Colo., who has heroically pledged to carry on providing women with access to late-term abortion.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "the constant threats with which [Dr. Hern] has lived since 1973 have transformed his life into a series of security measures: sleeping with a rifle, scanning rooftops for snipers, wearing a protective vest."

But whether they publicly denounce violence or not, there's plenty of evidence to suggest an ideological connection--if not more--between groups like Operation Rescue and the more violent wing of the anti-abortion movement.

After he was arrested, authorities searched Scott Roeder's car and found a Post-It note with the name "Cheryl" and a phone number. That number belongs to Cheryl Sullenger--the senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue--who, after first denying ever having spoken to Roeder, acknowledged speaking with him on several occasions (though never about anything substantial, she claims).

In a statement claiming that Roeder had no affiliation with Operation Rescue, the group stated, "Operation Rescue has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see to it that abortionists around the nation are brought to justice. Without due process, there can be no justice."

Yet there was nothing peaceful or legal about the clinic firebombing that Cheryl Sullenger planned in 1988. Though it was not carried out, Sullenger spent two years in prison for her role in conspiring to bomb the Alvarado Medical Center in California.

So Operation Rescue abhors violence...but employs a convicted terrorist?

Like other anti-choice groups, Operation Rescue claims to be peaceful, but it does everything in its power to make life a living hell for abortion providers and clinic staff. As a 2004 report in Rolling Stone details, the group targeted everyone connected to Dr. Tiller, however casually--using tactics that seem to invite the potential of violence without necessarily crossing any legal lines.

For example, Sara Phares, an administrative assistant at Dr, Tiller's clinic, was sent a letter by Troy Newman suggesting she should "quit her job and repent her sins." A week later, hundreds of Phares' neighbors were sent postcards with pictures of aborted fetuses that accused Phares of "killing babies like these." The cards listed Phare's phone number and home address.

That was followed by Operation Rescue protesters appearing at Phares' home, according to Rolling Stone:

They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with 20-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their backyards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares' front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property.

Such tactics are designed to skirt the line of what's legal--whipping up anti-choice sentiment and putting providers and clinic staff in the crosshairs, but allowing groups like Operation Rescue to claim they had no responsibility.

Former evangelical anti-choice activist Frank Schaeffer was one of the few who admitted that the anti-choice movement "helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen." As Schaeffer commented on the Huffington Post following Tiller's murder:

The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today, once again, the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say on this day, after a man was murdered in cold blood for performing abortions, that I--and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church--all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.

Years ago, Troy Newman took out a full-page ad in the Catholic newspaper The Wanderer. In it, he declared: "Wichita isn't big enough for George Tiller and me." Looks like Newman finally got his wish.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IF TROY Newman and his ilk are responsible for whipping up hatred, they are aided and abetted by the mainstream media and the politicians who applaud their cause.

Few in the press (a notable exception being MSNBC's Rachel Maddow) have been willing to call out the anti-choice movement for encouraging, promoting and creating a climate where this terrorist violence is okay.

Instead, for years, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, repeatedly attacked Dr. Tiller on the air, referring to him as "Tiller the baby killer" and hurling outrageous lies--for example, that Tiller would "execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed."

During a 2006 show, O'Reilly said: "[I]f I could get my hands on Tiller...well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech."

After Tiller's murder, O'Reilly joined the chorus of those trying to wash their hands of the violence. Instead, O'Reilly insisted that he was being persecuted. "When I heard about Tiller's murder, I knew that pro-abortion zealots and Fox News-haters would blame us for the crime," he said, adding that the "far left is exploiting, EXPLOITING, the death" of Dr. Tiller for political gain.

O'Reilly, true to form, then reminded viewers that Tiller was responsible for destroying "60,000 fetuses who will never become American citizens."

Naturally, there was no mention of the campaign of domestic terrorism engaged in by the anti-choice movement over a period of decades. In O'Reilly's world, you're only a terrorist if you're non-white and a Muslim.

O'Reilly's attitude is hardly unique. On the campaign trail last year, for example, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin repeatedly invoked the name of former Weather Underground figure Bill Ayers as a "domestic terrorist" to try to smear Barack Obama because of his casual association with Ayers.

But when NBC News reporter Brian Williams asked Palin, with running mate John McCain at her side, "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist under this definition, Governor?" she refused to say yes.

"There's no question that Bill Ayers, via his own admittance, was one who sought to destroy our U.S. capitol and our Pentagon...that is a domestic terrorist," she told Williams. "Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans, or facilities that--it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're gonna use the word 'terrorist' there."

Such rhetoric isn't surprising given that the modern Republican Party has depended on a base in the anti-choice Evangelical Right--which openly brags about setting Republican "values."

But if the Republican Party has openly embraced such anti-choice zealots, the Democratic Party has been spineless in calling them out for it. Instead, the Democrats have constantly preached that "Middle America" wants "middle ground" on the question of abortion.

Thus, in April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism acknowledging, in a footnote, that groups opposed to abortion might be among the extremists. That's hardly a shocking statement in light of the movement's history of repeated violent actions.

Obama's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the report at first--but after anti-choice groups protested vociferously, she said the section including anti-choice activists should not have been included.

That kind of weak-kneed response is, unfortunately, all too typical of the Democrats, who spend more time talking about finding "common ground" with anti-choice activists than fighting to defend abortion rights and abortion clinics.

Now that the anti-abortion forces have been exposed as preachers of violence and hate, in the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder, activists should seize the opportunity to push back.

Why are women's health clinics across this country forced to install video cameras and hire security guards? Why are doctors forced to wear bulletproof vests, and patients forced to struggle through a gauntlet of protesters?

If abortion remains legal, then why has the anti-choice movement been able to get away with creating a climate of terror that prevents physicians from practicing, and women from exercising, their legal rights? And why have the Democrats been so willing to accept every restriction on a woman's right to choose--from parental consent laws to mandatory waiting periods to forced ultrasounds.

This isn't "common ground." This is losing ground.

We need to build a new movement for abortion rights that fights to change the terrain of the debate--and pressures the government to hold the anti-choice terrorists accountable for their violence.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fabulously Feminist Sharon Smith

What We Learned at Notre Dame
Obama and Abortion Rights


As soon as the news surfaced that President Barack Obama had been invited to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement ceremony, the fanatical wing of the nation’s anti-abortion crusade began assembling the smoke and mirrors needed to masquerade as a mass movement. Media savvy crackpot Randall Terry, who boasts a long record of confrontation with the enemies of the Christian Right, immediately took the lead. With great fanfare, he announced his plan to “make a circus” out of the pro-choice Obama’s speech — the kind of grandiose threat guaranteeing a prominent spot on the evening news.

Terry is perhaps best known for his role as a media representative for the parents of Terri Schiavo and a key proponent of “Terri’s Law” in Florida, a bill passed in 2003 that temporarily blocked the removal of their daughter’s feeding tube as she lay in a prolonged vegetative state. At the time, Terry organized angry protests outside husband Michael Schiavo’s home because he wished to have the feeding tube removed. The media lapped it up.

But Terry’s pet cause is opposing abortion. He founded Operation Rescue in 1987, which specialized in whipping anti-abortion fanatics into a collective frenzy as they blockaded abortion clinics across the country during the following decade. As Washington Post staff writer Michael Powell wrote in 2004, “Subtlety wasn't Terry's thing -- he described Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, as a ‘whore’ and an ‘adulteress’ and arranged to have a dead fetus presented to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.”

In the weeks before Obama’s May 17th speech, Terry et al worked hard to create the illusion that they represented a groundswell of outrage at Notre Dame’s betrayal. Money was apparently no object, since Terry spent $50,000 saturating the campus with photos of bloody “aborted fetuses” — which, as usual, looked suspiciously like newborn babies covered in ketchup. These doctored photos appeared and reappeared on placards, on the sides of semi-trailers that circled the university, and even on so-called “Truth Banners” streaming from low flying “Abortion Planes” above Notre Dame.

Anti-abortion activists pushed strollers with plastic baby dolls covered in red paint through neighborhoods as horrified residents tried to calm their frightened toddlers. On May 1st, Terry and a small group of these stroller pushers achieved their first well-publicized arrest on Notre Dame’s campus. Many more arrests would follow in the coming weeks.

As graduation day approached, rumors circulated that up to 20,000 protesters would descend on campus for commencement weekend. A student organization calling itself Notre Dame Response was formed, claiming it was a coalition of campus groups planning to protest Obama’s speech. When the day arrived, however, the anti-abortion masses never appeared. Only 26 seniors and their families — out of a graduating class of 2,900 — skipped commencement to protest Obama’ presence. And 23 student groups actually endorsed Obama’s invitation to speak. No students were counted among the dozens arrested over the weekend (many of them repeat offenders), while a mere 150 off-campus protesters demonstrated against Obama’s speech.

Yet curiously, no pro-choice demonstration took place at Notre Dame that weekend to combat all the anti-abortion hype. A handful of students did line up holding “Pro-Obama” signs, but “choice” never made its way into the campus discourse. It seems that the established pro-choice organizations preferred to let Obama represent their side of the debate.

He did not. On the contrary, his speech called for those on opposing sides of the abortion debate to find “common ground … to work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term." Obama’s speech never articulated his own support for women who choose abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy. His speech was so conciliatory to abortion opponents that even the Pope expressed delight. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano praised Obama's speech and noted that Obama had stated at a recent press conference that passing a Freedom of Choice Act, which would protect women’s right to choose, was not high on his list of priorities.

As such, Randall Terry was able to transform Notre Dame into ground zero for the most maniacal wing of the anti-choice movement without ever being forced to answer a coherent defense of the right to choose.

Shortly before Notre Dame’s commencement, a new Gallup poll was released claiming that for the “first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.” The poll found 51 percent describing themselves as “pro-life,” up 7 points from a year ago. To be sure, the same poll showed that 53 percent of respondents also believe that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances. But this severe erosion of support for choice – which stood at 75 percent in 1973 – should be a wake-up call for abortion rights advocates.

Obama appears intent on replaying the Clinton-era scenario, in which the pro-choice presidential candidate promises supporters that he will pass the Freedom of Choice Act while on the campaign trail. Once elected, his enthusiasm vanishes and, when pro-choice supporters do not protest this betrayal, the legislation never materializes. Indeed, the pro-choice movement’s silence during Clinton’s two terms allowed the passage of a wide array of anti-abortion restrictions in states around the country — including mandatory parental consent and notification laws for minors, 24-hour waiting periods and anti-abortion “counseling” — allowing abortion rights to recede under the watch of a pro-choice president.

Entrusting politicians to defend legal abortion has proven a disaster for the pro-choice movement. The movement embarked on this calamitous strategy in the late-1980s, when the leaders of the largest pro-choice organizations, including the National Abortion Rights Action League (now called NARAL Pro-Choice America) decided to adapt their argument for choice to one more acceptable to rightward moving Democrats. NARAL issued a “talking points” memo to its affiliates in 1989, instructing staffers not to use phrases such as “a woman’s body is her own to control” and to reshape the right to choose as a “privacy” issue.

In so doing, the politically passive pro-choice movement allowed the more aggressive anti-abortion crusade to successfully hijack the very definition of “life” in the abortion debate. Removing women’s rights from the debate allowed the rights of embryos to supersede those of living, breathing women desperate to end an unintended pregnancy.

Since Clinton’s election in 1992, the anti-abortion crusade has remained defiant while the pro-choice movement has been in steady retreat. This is the only way to understand how a small but dedicated army of religious zealots has managed to successfully transform the political terrain in its favor — and why a figure as ridiculous as Randall Terry is now regarded as legitimate within the political mainstream.


Those who specialize in doctoring photos of babies care little about saving women’s lives. But large numbers of women die when abortion is illegal, because they are forced to undergo unsafe procedures performed in unsanitary conditions. If they develop an infection, they are often reluctant to go to the hospital for fear of arrest. In 2003, the World Health Organization estimated that 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year. The death toll during the century when abortion was illegal in the U.S. is unknown, but the number is certainly large — and some estimates are as high as 10,000 each year. A University of Colorado study done in the late 1950s reported that 350,000 women experienced postoperative complications each year from illegal abortions in the U.S.

One in every three U.S. women — including one in every three practicing Catholics — has an abortion in her lifetime. Indeed, the abortion rate has been rising as the economy worsens in the current recession, while the National Network of Abortion Funds told the New York Times that calls to its hotline requesting financial help are almost four times higher than a year ago. The majority of women who undergo abortions are young and low-income. So legal abortion is not a marginal issue but an urgent need for millions of women.

Women bear the ultimate responsibility for carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term—often as single parents, earning wages that are much lower than men’s. It is not a coincidence that female-headed households are the most likely families to be living in poverty in the U.S. today. For all these reasons, the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy should belong to the pregnant woman alone.

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in 1973 was the greatest victory of the women’s liberation movement — and it was the product of struggle. If support for abortion has declined in recent years, it is not because the right to choose is any less necessary. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to build a new pro-choice movement that reinserts women into the abortion debate and wages an uncompromising fight for abortion without apology.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unsung heroes of World War II finally get their due

By Kevin Bohn
CNN Senior Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From the time she was about 8 years old, Jane Tedeschi wanted to fly.

Jane Tedeschi when she was in the Women's Airforce Service Pilot program.

1 of 4 "[Charles] Lindbergh was flying across the Atlantic, and a lot of other people were flying air races and things like that. It was very romantic," she said.

Flight was still relatively new in the 1920s and 1930s, and female pilots were few.

But Tedeschi was determined.

In 1941, she found a childhood friend who taught flying and started taking lessons. After the friend was sent off to war and the airport near her home in Bethesda, Maryland, was closed to private flying, she traveled about 40 miles to Frederick and spent nights on the floor of a farmhouse to continue her lessons.

Around the same time, Deanie Parrish was working in a bank in Avon Park, Florida, and kept seeing aviation students who were attending a flying school there.

"I asked an instructor 'Why can't I learn to fly,' and he didn't have an answer...so I decided to find out for myself."

She found an instructor and started taking lessons.

These two women were not only fulfilling a personal dream. Along with 1,100 other women, they would become an instrumental part of the war effort during World War II, becoming the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft.

The Women's Airforce Service Pilots was born in 1942 to create a corps of female pilots able to fill all types of flying jobs at home to free male military pilots to travel to the front.

In the days after the outbreak of the war, Jacqueline Cochran, one of the country's leading female pilots at the time, went to a key general to argue that women would be just as capable pilots as men if they were given the same training.

She won the argument, and the program was launched.

Parrish joined up at age 21 in November 1943.

"Everybody was doing something," she said. "I wanted to do something for my country."

Some 65 years after their service, the WASPs are being honored with the Congressional Gold Medal -- one of the national's highest civilian honors.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, shepherded a bill through the Senate, and it now awaits a vote by the House of Representatives.

With fewer than 300 living former WASPs, all in their late 80s or older, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, a sponsor of the bill, told CNN it's important for the House to act quickly.

"This is a largely overlooked veterans group. They haven't gotten the medals they deserve, the recognition they deserve," Ros-Lehtinen told CNN.

Some 25,000 women pilots applied, and 1,830 were accepted. They had to pay their own way to Texas for 21 to 27 weeks of rigorous training, for which they received less pay than the male cadets in the same program, Parrish said.

Candidates had to be at least 21 years old and at least 5-feet, one-half inch tall.

When Tedeschi underwent a physical, she was told her height was only 5 feet. Watch Tedeschi recall WWII »

"I frowned," she recalled. "I said I need that half inch so he wrote it down." She was in.

Eventually 1,102 women completed the program and were assigned to one of 120 bases across the country to start their missions.

Depending on the base, they did everything from participating in ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice; towing targets for air-to-air gunnery practice with live ammunition; flying drones; conducting night exercises; testing repaired aircraft before they were used in cadet training; serving as instructors; and transporting cargo and male pilots to embarkation points.

"We were still civilians. All of our training was to make (Army) Air Corps pilots," Tedeschi said.

They flew more than 60 million miles in every type of aircraft -- from the PT-17 and AT-6 trainers, the fastest attack planes like the A-24 and A-25 or heavy bombers such as B-17s or B-29s.

Paid $250 a month, the women were not officially part of the military -- receiving no benefits, no honors.

Eventually Parrish was sent to Florida where she flew a B-26 bomber for air-to-air target practice, training gunners for combat.

Tedeschi, who graduated in May 1944, was sent to a Selma, Alabama, base which did more engineering work.

"We did whatever they asked us," she recalled in a CNN interview. "You knew enough about flying you could adapt ... sometimes it was a little tougher."

For instance, she would take planes up after repair which could involve acrobatic work -- "which, of course, we liked to do," or be called to do night flying.

While the work was technically non-combat, it could be dangerous.

Thirty eight of the pilots were killed. Parrish recalled the military would not allow the flag to be put on a colleague's coffin.

"It still bothers me," she told CNN.

As the war was winding down in December 1944, the program was closed -- with no recognition from the government and not much help for the women who served.

"You got home the best way you could," said Parrish. "I paid my own way home."

The women then went off to restart their prewar lives -- but without getting any of the help that male veterans were getting.

Several of the women, however, said they were not bitter since the only reason they had signed up was to do their part for the country, pointing out that they were just like the thousands of other women who also learned new skills and went to work in the factories to replace male workers sent off to war.

"We were proud of what we did, and the war was over. It was time to get on," said Tedeschi, who is married and 89 years old.

But many Americans were not aware of their efforts. The WASP records were sealed for more than 30 years. In 1977 Congress voted to make them eligible for veterans' benefits.

"I didn't care for veteran status, but now I could have a flag on my coffin ... that is important to me," Parrish said.

Parrish married a pilot after the war. She and her daughter, Nancy, for over a decade have documented the work of the WASPs. Read more about the WASPs at the Wings Across America Web site.

While some of the WASPs say the medal itself is a nice gesture, more importantly they say they hope the publicity will teach younger generations about their accomplishments and remind some still skeptical men just how capable women are.

"People all over the country will hear about it. It will be a national event," Parrish said.

Fabulously Feminist News

Report Indicates Severe Abuse in Catholic Irish Orphanages

A report issued this week by Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on abuse within at least 216 Catholic orphanages and state institutions has resulted in a global outcry against the continued abuse of children by the Catholic church. The report investigated alleged incidents of abuse dating back to 1914 and included evidence from more than 1,700 people relating to abuse they experienced as children in state institutions, according to the Irish Times. More than half of those surveyed reported sexual abuse.

The report stated that
"In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was routine….Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body….A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from," reported the Guardian UK. Most of the schools were run by the Catholic-affiliated Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy. The report also found that the Catholic Church protected known pedophiles working in the institutions.

Through a statement, the Christian brothers said: "We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long-term psychological effects on children.....We appreciate that no healing is possible without an acknowledgement of our responsibilities as a congregation for what has happened," reported ABC.

Media Resources: Irish Times 5/21/09; The Guardian UK 5/20/09; ABC 5/22/09


DC Defense of Marriage Act Introduced in Congress

A bill was introduced yesterday in the US House of Representatives that would institute a Defense of Marriage Act for the District of Columbia defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Dan Boren (D-OK), neither of whom represent the District of Columbia, according to Politico. District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), has long supported gay, lesbian, and transgender rights.

This bill's introduction is in response to the passage of legislation earlier this month by the DC City Council that will enable the District to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. Since Congress has jurisdiction over DC, Congress could block this legislation by passing a joint resolution against it and having this resolution approved by the president, according to the Washington Times. If Congress does not take action, the measure will become law.

Washington, DC Councilmember David Catania (I) has said he will introduce a same sex marriage bill this year. Democratic committees in three wards in Washington, DC have voted in favor of a same sex marriage resolution and a committee on a fourth ward has voted in opposition, according to the Washington Post.

Media Resources: Washington Post 5/21/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/6/09; Politico 5/21/09; Statement of Eleanor Holmes Norton 5/5/09


Louisiana House Passes Health Care "Conscience" Bill

Legislation that would allow health care providers to withhold certain services and medications, including abortion and emergency contraception, on the basis of religious or moral objections was approved by the Louisiana state House this week in a 65 to 33 vote. The bill (see PDF) also includes conscience clauses on stem cell research, cloning of human embryos, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia and now moves to the state Senate, reported the Associated Press.

A previous version of the bill said that it would protect health care providers "from liability, discrimination and employment action for refusing to provide certain health care services," but did not specify which "certain health care services" the law would include, according to the News Star.

The current Louisiana bill is similar to a Bush-era regulation released in December 2008 that established new protections for health care providers who refuse to provide certain services based on moral or religious bases. The provisions of the regulation placed the burden on women to seek out individual providers who will provide certain kinds of treatment, including birth control, abortion and sterilization. The regulations drew widespread protest. During a month-long public commenting period, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received tens of thousands of comments against the regulations, including letters opposing it from at least thirteen state attorney generals and six medical groups. The Obama Administration moved to rescind these HHS regulations in March.

Media Resources: Associated Press 5/20/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 3/9/09; News Star 5/20/09


California Assembly Passes Fair Pay Legislation

The California state Assembly passed a state-level version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Monday on a 49 to 28 vote. The measure codifies at the state level a broader version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. According to the bill, the statute of limitations on pay discrimination claims runs from the receipt of each discriminatory payment.

Assemblymember Dave Jones (D), who co-authored the legislation, said in a press release: "The Court's ruling encourages employers to hide information and will likely lead to more unlawful discrimination. President Obama and the Congress have acted to amend federal law and now we should act to ensure that our state law is not weakened by this court decision. This legislation will ensure that the Supreme Court's flawed decision does not apply to state laws that affect a worker’s right to equal pay."

The federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, signed by President Obama in January, corrected the Roberts Supreme Court decision (see PDF) that gutted the ability of women workers to sue for wage discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a wage discrimination complaint had to be filed within 180 days of the initial salary decision even if the victim is unaware of the discrimination until much later. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 requires that a complaint be filed within 180 days of receiving a discriminatory paycheck.

Media Resources: California NOW Press Release 5/18/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/8/09

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why women need single payer

Why women need single payer

Gary Lapon looks at a new study that details the gender inequality built into the U.S. health care system.

May 18, 2009

"WOMEN AT Risk: Why Many Women Are Forgoing Needed Health Care," an issue brief released this month by the Commonwealth Fund, reveals the gender inequality of the U.S. health care system and illustrates the gross inability of the current private health insurance system to meet the needs of working class women and men.

Although the study doesn't call for it, it provides further evidence for the compelling case for "everybody in, nobody out" single payer health reform as necessary both to provide universal access to health care and as a blow against sexism.

Report authors Sheila D. Rustgi, Michelle M. Doty, and Sara R. Collings begin by placing their findings in the context of an economic crisis where millions of workers are losing their jobs (and with it their employer-provided health insurance) while "health care costs are rising at a rate of more than 6 percent per year...increasingly, health insurance and access to care are falling further out of reach for many working families."

Women are disproportionately affected because on average they "require more health care services [than men] during their reproductive years" and "have higher out-of-pocket medical costs." Considering that women are paid about 76 cents for every dollar a man makes, they face the triple burden of requiring more care, paying more each time they access care,and relying on less income to cover these costs.

Disturbingly, "in 2007, more than three of five adult women under age 65 reported a problem paying medical bills, a cost-related problem getting health care, or both." And this data, from before the onset of the current economic crisis, is likely much worse today.

While U.S. Census Bureau data shows that some 47 million (nearly 16 percent) of U.S. residents are uninsured, the inclusion of the underinsured--those who have insurance but "incur out-of-pocket health care costs" such as co-pays and premiums "that are high relative to their income"--reveals that health care woes are spread across a much broader section of the population.

According to the "Women at Risk" report, 75 percent of adults with yearly household income under $20,000 and 60 percent of those with household income between $20,000 and $39,999 "had gaps in their insurance coverage or were underinsured...in 2007, 45 percent of women and 39 percent of men were underinsured or uninsured for a time in the past year."

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THE FINANCIAL burden of health care costs for the underinsured can be crushing, especially for those living paycheck to paycheck, and it's growing at a rapid rate. In 2007, 55 percent of women with household income under $20,000 spent at least 10 percent of their income on health care, up from 29 percent of those women in 2001, an increase of nearly 90 percent in just six years. The underinsured have coverage, but financial barriers mean they must at times go without needed care or choose between paying for care and other necessities such as food, rent, or debt payments.

According to the "Women at Risk" study, 67 percent of low-income women and 65 percent of moderate-income women responded "yes" when asked if, during 2007, because of cost they'd "not filled a prescription; skipped a medical test, treatment, or follow-up visit recommended by a doctor; not visited a doctor or clinic when they had a medical problem; or did not get needed specialist care." Working-class men fare better, but still face a crisis situation: for men in the same income brackets the percentages forgoing needed care are 57 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

Frequently, the un- and underinsured skip preventive care, such as cancer-screening: according to the Commonwealth report, "only 67 percent of underinsured women over the age of 50 received a mammogram in the past two years, compared with 85 percent of adequately insured women." Going without preventive care has tragic consequences: patients with treatable but dangerous diseases such as cancer and diabetes may go years without a diagnosis, only finding out about their condition when it's too late to prevent serious complications or even premature death.

According to Urban Institute findings based on Institute of Medicine methodology, 137,000 people died in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006 from a lack of health insurance. To put this in perspective, that is over 28 times the number of U.S. soldiers who've died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 23,702 more than the number of U.S. residents murdered during those same six years.

The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, yet is the only advanced industrialized nation that does not provide universal access to care and of thousands of poor and working class residents die each year as a result.

They die because health insurance giants maximize profits, which increased 170 percent from 2003-2007 to $12.6 billion for the industry leaders, by providing less care and passing more costs on to those who are insured, providing insufficient coverage to those who are underinsured, and refusing to cover those who cannot afford to pay enough in premiums for the insurance companies to make a profit.

Until the profit motive is removed and the insurance companies excluded by the introduction of a single-payer reform or system of socialized medicine, millions will continue to suffer from forgoing needed health care.

Proposed reforms that maintain a role for private insurance, such as the "health insurance mandate" reform (the Massachusetts model), under which everyone is required to purchase health insurance, even if they contain enough subsidies to insure everyone (and even in Massachusetts over 2 percent aren't covered) will amount to a massive public subsidy to the health insurance industry and fall short of providing universal health care.

As illustrated above, millions of the underinsured, those who have insurance but pay a prohibitively high percentage of their income in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, do not have access to the care they need. Having access to insurance is not the same as having access to care, and it is not enough to fill in the gaping cracks in the system.

Those who are oppressed and marginalized, such as low-income women, are more likely to fall through these cracks, or be "swept into them" (as described in Michael Moore's Sicko).

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REPRODUCTION IS one of the main reasons women as a whole require a greater amount of health care than men. Women must pay for birth control, abortion services, prenatal, maternity, and post-partum care (before during, and immediately after the time of birth), and other services associated with choosing whether or not to have children or ensuring the health of mother and child.

According to a 2007 Thomson report for the March of Dimes entitled "The Healthcare Costs of Having a Baby," for the insured, the average vaginal birth in 2004 cost $7,737 (inclusive of prenatal and other care) while the average Cesarean section cost $10,958, the overwhelming majority paid for by the insurance company.

However, for the uninsured and underinsured, disproportionately low-income women, these costs are prohibitive and can have a devastating impact on the health of the woman and child. According to Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, "it is well documented that a lack of prenatal care is associated with poor birth outcomes, including prematurity and low birth-weight, and high out-of-pocket expenditures may discourage women from obtaining the care they need."

Control over reproduction is essential to winning equality for women. Working-class women who cannot afford birth control or an abortion when they so desire, do not have full control over their bodies and therefore cannot enjoy equality with men.

Similarly, this control is denied women who would like to have children but are discouraged or go without proper care because they lack adequate health insurance and cannot afford the costs associated with the care necessary to minimize health risks to mother and child.

For working-class women especially and for the working class as a whole, health-care costs associated with reproduction are one of the ways the capitalist class passes the cost burden of raising the next generation of workers onto the working class. The capitalist class that wants workers to have more babies for the former to exploit for profits when the latter grow up, but would much rather the working class pay the costs and perform the unpaid labor to raise them.

The enactment of a system of universal health care, one that includes full funding for abortion (and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding for abortion), would be a major victory for the women's rights movement, the labor movement (health care benefits are often used as a lever for employers to gain concessions from labor) and for the working class as a whole.

Today, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 59 percent of Americans support government-provided national health insurance as opposed to 32 percent who think it should be left to the private sector. And numerous polls have shown that significant majorities of doctors support a single-payer system that eliminates the role of private health insurance.

Earlier this month, when nurses, doctors, and other "single-payer" advocates disrupted a Senate finance committee meeting on health care reform to ask why supporters of single-payer were not included and why committee chair Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) refused to consider it, they were removed by police and arrested.

A government that would provide a seat at the table for health insurance executives who preside over a system that kills dozens every day by denying care, while arresting those who actually provide health care and speak for a majority of the population, is not going to pass single-payer unless pressured by a movement from below.

As Frederick Douglass wrote, "Without struggle, there is no progress." Supporters of women's and worker's rights should join the movement for single-payer health care, health care for all. Everybody in, nobody out!

Friday, May 15, 2009

From our Friends at Socialist Worker

Escaping the Dollhouse

Adam Turl looks at a new television series, Dollhouse, from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy and Firefly.

May 14, 2009

"THERE'S NOTHING good or bad but thinking makes it so." That's the world according to Topher Brink (played by Fran Kranz)--the fictional scientist that programs the brains (of only semi-willing subjects) in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.

Last Friday, Fox aired the season finale of Dollhouse--which stars Eliza Dushku as Echo, one of dozens of brainwashed and programmable human "dolls" or "actives" hired out to the wealthy and powerful by the secretive corporate cabal that runs the "Dollhouse."

The Dollhouse is a gilded cage (that looks like an upscale spa) hidden beneath a high-rise office building in Los Angeles. Actives are assigned names based on the alphabet, such as Alpha and Echo and Whiskey. Their minds are wiped clean in between their assignments--which frequently involve sex (prostitution) and violence (sometimes assassination).

Dollhouse, written and created by Joss Whedon. Starring Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Tahmoh Penikett, Fran Kranz and Alan Tudyk. First season finale aired May 8 on Fox.

They are nominally "contracted" employees (who have signed over five years of their lives to the Dollhouse). Their new personalities, dreams and talents are controlled by the house (while their real personalities and memories are stored in computer files called "wedges" until their bonded servitude is over). The Dollhouse is illegal and "underground" (figuratively and literally).

I usually love Joss Whedon's work, and Dollhouse is one of few shows on television that successfully goes beyond mere entertainment--but with a Friday night time slot (a notoriously bad time for new shows) and with a "difficult" underlying theme (to say the least), ratings have been low. The show might be canceled.

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WHEDON, A third-generation television writer, is known for his fantastic premises (ranging from fighting demons to spaceship-piloting bandits with hearts of gold) in classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and the brilliant web-only Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog--that nevertheless put "real-life human" drama at the center.

That is not to say that his shows are simply soap operas with amazing settings. They have a particular outlook on what it "means" to be human. Whedon is certainly no socialist or radical, but he describes himself a humanist, a feminist and has repeatedly professed his atheism--saying that he doesn't believe in the "sky bully," i.e. God. With Whedon, the old axiom "nothing human is alien to me" comes to mind.

His shows are often unique because the viewer is led to understand and, on occasion, empathize with the "bad guys" and because Whedon's "heroes" sometimes make horrible mistakes. In other words, his characters act like real people who develop and change due to their actual circumstances (however fantastic these may be).

This is refreshing with a "popular culture" where "bad guys" are often one-dimensional cartoons and where the "good guys" are largely infallible and unflappable.

In Buffy, Angel is a vampire with a "soul" trying to make up for his past crimes. In Buffy's sixth season, Willow (Buffy's friend and a powerful "witch") becomes so distraught when her girlfriend Tara is murdered that she tries to destroy the world. Some of the worst villains in Firefly are flesh-eating "reevers"--but in Whedon's film adaptation of the show, Serenity, we learn that they were created in a botched government experiment in behavioral control. They become victims instead of villains.

Dollhouse takes this theme farther. As the "dolls" are reprogrammed with new personalities and memories, every week the question is: who are these characters really? In particular, this is the case with Dushku's character Echo (her real name is Caroline before she becomes a "doll"). The dolls are victims of the Dollhouse and, at the same time, its pre-programmed defenders.

Whedon got inspiration for the show from an episode of This American Life. "Guys had found a way to block a memory stream on mice," Whedon recalls, and "got flooded with letters from people begging them to be test subjects, because they were like, 'I don't want to remember my life. Something bad happened,' or 'I want to cut out something.'"

Many of the more recurring characters in the show are the corporate managers of the Dollhouse. What they are doing is clearly wrong, but they are depicted like real people, more or less middle management in a global conspiracy of "dollhouses" from Los Angeles to Tokyo to London.

Paul Ballard (played by Tahmoh Panikett) is a suspended FBI agent who is trying to root out the Dollhouse and rescue Caroline, but ends up agreeing to work for the Dollhouse in a deal to free one of the actives.

"The good and evil is kind of the point," Whedon told Salon.com, "the relativity of both and our assumptions about what's evil is something we want to explore all the time. The Dollhouse is by definition kinda sketchy. And very illegal."
This is not to say that Whedon never takes sides--and his ideas obviously tend toward the liberal and progressive. His earlier shows demonstrate this more clearly.
For example, in one episode of Buffy, the "slayer" is sucked into a demonic sweatshop dimension (until she leads a rebellion to free those inside). In Firefly, two principal characters are veterans of the defeated war for independence from the supposedly "civilized" Alliance.

In the first season of Angel, the show makes the case for rehabilitation instead of punishment when the renegade vampire slayer Faith (also played by Dushku) tries to kill Angel. In fact, the main enemy in Angel is an "evil" corporate law firm, Wolfram and Hart.

Dollhouse also takes sides--but not enough. Every episode is downright eerie--and it couldn't be otherwise given that it is in no small part about the commodification of personality itself. Actives are essentially bullied into signing away their lives. As Whedon describes it, "the question of whether they've actually volunteered or not is obviously somewhat dicey. And as we'll begin to learn, every Active has a different backstory."
Some are former prisoners or victims of different tragedies.

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WHEDON'S SELF-DESCRIBED feminism also permeates Dollhouse--as it has in his previous work.

In 2006, Whedon won an award from Equality Now for his positive depictions of women. In his speech accepting the award he argued that "the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who's confronted with it."

Feminist ideas showed early on in his career when he worked as a writer on Roseanne--a show that presented working-class people and working-class women as actual human beings. Part of his logic behind Buffy was to invert the Hollywood formula of "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie." Instead of a victim, she is the super-hero able to protect and defend others.
As Whedon recalled: "I started out with [the idea of] 'Martha the Immortal Waitress.' The idea of somebody that nobody would take account of, who just had more power than was imaginable."

Similar themes--including the power of the supposedly weak to fight back--cross through his other shows. In the first season of Angel, the heroes essentially abort a series of unwanted demonic pregnancies (using magic). In Firefly, the show's characters defend women in a brothel from a misogynist warlord (and fight alongside them).

The feminism is there in Dollhouse--although it is more problematic. Not all the dolls in Dollhouse are women--but many are (and it likely isn't an accident that it shares a similar name with Henrik Ibsen's play, A Doll's House).
In the second episode of Dollhouse, Echo is hired out to a psychopathic multimillionaire who hunts her in the woods (until she kills him). In another episode, one of the Dollhouse "handlers" is killed (by the Dollhouse brass) when he sexually abuses one of the dolls. Throughout the show, Ballard's motivations for "saving the girl" (Caroline/Echo) are called into question.
But the series suffers because Whedon doesn't clearly condemn the prostitution implicit in the fabric of the dollhouse (not unlike far too many later-day "feminists" who wrongly believe there is something "empowering" about prostitution). Whedon doesn't go that far, but his ambivalence about the "world's oldest profession" is a weakness in the makeup of the show.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

REGARDLESS, EMPATHY, liberalism and feminism aren't the only reasons why Whedon's shows are so good. They are (usually) genuinely good stories--using "classic" plot devices (cliffhangers, "the end of the world," criminal capers, etc.) as well as groundbreaking new ones--where the fantastic reinforces the mundane.
For example, Buffy won an award for the fourth season episode "Hush." In "Hush," for 35 minutes there is no spoken dialogue (a demon has stolen everyone's voices) but the silence brilliantly underscores the "real" conflicts of the characters.
In Dollhouse, at its best, the twists and turns of plot underline the larger questions the show raises about control and individuality.

In the season finale, an escaped (and homicidal) doll, Alpha (brilliantly played by Alan Tudyk) kidnaps Echo. Alpha was accidentally given 48 personalities at once and considers himself a sort of ubermensch. However, his homicidal impulses began before the Dollhouse accident--raising the question of how much control the Dollhouse really has over the minds of its actives.

Echo is the would-be hero of the show. Throughout the season, she remembers things she is not supposed to--engagements, skills and memories that were supposed to have been wiped from her mind.

Dollhouse's biggest problem (politically, artistically and in getting viewers to tune in each week) is also what makes it interesting--the identity crisis of its characters.

Part of what made Firefly, Buffy and Angel compelling was that viewers loved the characters and identified with them, warts and all. They were trapped in conditions often beyond their control, trying to do their best, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding (much like real life).

Whedon has said that "Echo is a much more complicated character by virtue of being hardly a character, and the premise itself is designed to be kind of distancing."
But that could be a fatal flaw. It may be that the lack of control (and the limited ability to fight back) that Echo and the other dolls have is too apocalyptic--and the line between so-called "good" and "evil" too blurred to be useful as either an artistic or political device.

By way of contrast, in Buffy, Angel and Firefly, you often understood why people did the wrong thing--but they could only find hope by switching sides and trying to make the world better. By extension, viewers could conclude that they too could find hope by picking the right side--whatever tragedies, weaknesses or failures they had endured.

In these series, even large numbers of people joined together to fight back--as in the finale of Buffy season three, when Buffy's graduating class unites to defeat the town's newly transformed demonic mayor.

Dollhouse should be renewed--and folks should watch it. For all Whedon's wild plots, his stories are some of the few on television that really resemble the complications and conflict of life as it is actually lived. But here's to hoping that as the show progresses, its characters will start picking sides--and ultimately that they "burn" the Dollhouse to the ground.

That's what Buffy would do. "Martha the Immortal Waitress" is nobody's slave.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Right on!!!

From our Fabulously Feminist Friends at Feministing.com

Marriage Equality Bill Passes NYS Assembly, Now On To The Senate!

So same sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa. (And will be in Vermont and Maine by September 2009). We're really happy for those states, but also pissed off that our own state of New York hasn't followed suit yet. That may be about to change, but we have some work to do first.

In April Governor David Patterson introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage (one that a majority of New York voters support ). The bill would amend the Domestic Relations Law to give same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into civil marriages, qualifying them for state rights on issues such as property ownership, inheritance, healthcare and insurance coverage. (Note: it specifically says "civil marriages", so all those bullshit lies about how priests could go to jail for not performing same sex weddings don't apply).

The bill has just passed through the New York State Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 89-52 . Yay! Getting it through the Senate might be a little trickier. (A similar bill passed in the Assembly in 2007 with a vote of 85-61, but couldn't pass in the Senate).

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has stated that he won't bring the bill to the floor of the Senate unless he' s sure it has sufficient votes to pass. As of now it still seems like the numbers come up short, so what can we do about that? Although Republican Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos opposes marriage equality, in April he stated that members of the Senate Republican Conference will be free to vote their consciences rather than pressuring the GOP to vote against the bill.

Recent articles in New York magazine and the New York Times broke it down on who the swing voters might be. Some of them are "undecided" on the issue (or just haven't spoken out publicly about their stance) while others are against the bill but worth the time to try to convince them to change their minds! So we think it'd be a good idea to get in touch with those Senators and tell them how important it is for them to support same-sex marriage.

Thomas P. Morahan (R-Rockland County) - He has said that he's "not going to come out one way or the other" on the issue.

Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County) - He told the Times that although he's inclined to oppose the bill, it "deserves serious consideration".

Vincent L. Leibell (R-Westchester/Putnam/Dutchess) - He prefers civil unions to marriage, but said that he might not make up his mind until the last minute and that "society changes over time". (Interesting piece of info: His law practice does estate planning for gay couples).

James S. Alesi (R-Rochester) - "My public opinion has not been stated yet, and it probably won't be for a while". (Possible factor: He attends a church that blesses same-sex unions).

Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Hamptons) - Gay rights advocates consider him "open" to considering a yes vote.

Elizabeth O'C. Little (R-Queensbury) - Gay rights supporters believe she is "within reach". So um, let's reach out to her, shall we?

William T. Stachowski
(D-Buffalo) - He opposes expanded same-sex marriage rights.

David J. Valesky (D-Oneida) - He was quoted in April : "I don't think that that's an issue that should be at the forefront of the Senate agenda and I would be very surprised if it was anytime soon." He would not say whether he himself supported the bill or not.

Shirley L. Huntley (D-Jamaica) - She opposes the bill largely based on her religious beliefs and that she's had a "large influx of calls and letters from constituents who asked me not to support it." Hm... sounds like it's time for a large influx of calls and letters from constituents who do want her to support it?

Brian X. Foley (D-Suffolk County) - He has yet to voice a decision either way.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester) - She's said that she's reserving judgment on the issue. Good sign:"I always try to believe that I'm an open-minded person." Bad sign: "This is an issue that challenges the fundamental believes that people have and that's not easy."

John L. Sampson (D-Brooklyn) - He went from no to undecided, saying "I can't impose my own religious beliefs in a situation like this".
Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) - He said in April that he's yet to make a decision, but that "gay marriage is not a priority at this time ".

George Onorato (D-Astoria) - He might be the biggest problem of all the Democrats... Apparently he has pledged to vote against marriage equality for reasons of "faith" and being "old fashioned and so far little progress has been made with him. There are already have been organized attempts to change his mind , so feel free to jump on board, especially if you're from his district.

You can contact the New York Senate: here or here.

Maybe you think it's a waste of time... but look at U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who no longer supports the Defense of Marriage Act, despite voting for it in the past. And here in New York, Assembly member Joe Lentol initially opposed gay marriage, but voted for the bill in 2007, and there are several members who voted no in 2007 but changed their votes to yes this time around. The point is that politicians do change their minds - and it's up to us to help them get there in time for this bill to pass.

For more information on which district you live in and what you can do in your area: Marriage Equality New York . (If you're in NYC this weekend, you might also want to check out this event May 17th).

And of course, if you are going to try to go head to head with your senator, some myth-busting tips from Empire State Pride Agenda might help you counter any anti-gay arguments.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

WTF!!! of the Week

By Mohammed Jamjoom

(CNN) -- Husbands are allowed to slap their wives if they spend lavishly, a Saudi judge said recently during a seminar on domestic violence, Saudi media reported Sunday.

It is OK to slap Saudi women who spend too much, a judge has told an audience.

Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily newspaper based in Riyadh, reported that Judge Hamad Al-Razine said that "if a person gives SR 1,200 [$320] to his wife and she spends 900 riyals [$240] to purchase an abaya [the black cover that women in Saudi Arabia must wear] from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment."

Women in the audience immediately and loudly protested Al-Razine's statement, and were shocked to learn the remarks came from a judge, the newspaper reported.

Arab News reported that Al-Razine made his remark as he was attempting to explain why incidents of domestic violence had increased in Saudi Arabia. He said that women and men shared responsibility, but added that "nobody puts even a fraction of blame" on women, the newspaper said.

Al-Razine "also pointed out that women's indecent behavior and use of offensive words against their husbands were some of the reasons for domestic violence in the country," it added.

Domestic violence, which used to be a taboo subject in the conservative kingdom, has become a hot topic in recent years. Groups like the National Family Safety Program have campaigned to educate the public about the problem and help prevent domestic abuse.

Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider told CNN that Saudi women routinely face such attitudes.

Another Gem by Our Freind Mr. Billet....

Reality Relapse
By Alexander Billet

Music has changed a lot in the past five years. It's become more urgent, more immediate, gained a higher degree of calculated grittiness and a slightly lower tolerance for bullshit. Pity nobody told Eminem that.

Back in the late 90s, as well as the first half of this decade, Mr. Shady set the pace for artists around the world. His unbelievable ability with a mic and unabashed willingness to speak his mind--no matter how much controversy it stirred--put him at the forefront. As the first white rapper to carry real credibility among all sections of the Rap community, he helped usher in an era when Hip-Hop was to become an unstoppable global phenomenon with universal appeal well beyond the limits of the American ghetto:

"Look at these eyes, they be blue baby, just like yourself
If they were brown, Shady lose, Shady sits on the shelf...

Let's do the math, if I was Black, I would have sold half
I ain't have to graduate from Lincoln High School to know that"

Lyrics like these from 2002's "White America" displayed how aware Em was of his role--and all the contradictions in American culture that it brought to the forefront.

Which means he should know better than anyone that Hip-Hop shifts at a pace unseen in any other popular genre. Why then, one might ask, is he releasing an album that sounds like it was recorded five years ago? Relapse is Eminem's first album since 2004, and listening to the singles leaked on the internet, it certainly shows.

"We Made You" just about sums it up. Em still has a great skill with rhyme and flow. His penchant for skewering pop culture icons remains intact as ever, leading him to lambast everyone from Kim Kardashian to Samantha Ronson. But five years after he went into recluse, it doesn't seem irreverent so much as self-referential. Even the Dr. Dre-produced beats seem recycled, as if they were created in a bubble where nothing ages or evolves.

None of this has stopped Interscope from putting every ounce into generating positive publicity for Relapse. Street teams have slapped up posters in every major urban area in the country, and the web has been abuzz with hype for the album for weeks now. The album's content, however, has been met with little more than shrugs and yawns from critics and fans alike.

It's not simply that Eminem hasn't kept up. All the alienation, the raw and untempered outrage he once tapped into is still there in millions of young people. In times like this, however, it takes a much more dynamic and focused form. The bottom-up rumblings that have made themselves known since the beginning of the recession cry for a soundtrack that directs its anger at something more specific than the celebrity elite. What's truly confusing is that Em has been more than happy to sharpen the point of his lyrical spear before. In a time that calls for it to be sharper than ever, Mr. Shady has chosen to hold back on giving his barbs some real purpose.

Compare this to the current status of M.I.A., the seemingly unlikely standard bearer whose star never seems to stop rising. The Tamil refugee turned super-artist has a lot more in common with Eminem than one might think: an unapologetic willingness to speak her mind, a background not stereotypically associated with Hip-Hop (aka "she's not Black"), and an aesthetic that bends the boundaries of her genre and dares her audience to shed their preconceived notions.

Record execs are either oblivious or begrudgingly accepting of the fact that "Paper Planes," one of the most recognized songs in the world right now, is essentially about robbing white tourists in a Third World country. More broadly, though, it's about taking back the wealth stolen from these countries by the West.

It's not far-fetched to say that the global explosion of "Paper Planes" is indicative of a shift in mass consciousness the likes of which hasn't been seen in almost two generations. Surely, this shift has been a long time coming, but it has only been in recent months that it's made itself known. Where yesterday's youth seemed divided and out for themselves, today's young people were willing to vote a Black man in as president and are keenly aware that their collective futures are at risk of being flushed down the crapper.

Musically, the new direction of this energy is best embodied in an artist like M.I.A. A refugee, daughter of a freedom fighter, an unabashed militant whose vision of the future doesn't include compromise. Though she spent her early career as a favorite in the Indie scene, her music has always been unmistakably Hip-Hop. Its collision with Punk and Electronica and her ability to gain acceptance in multiple sub-cultures highlights just how much people's ideas have changed in recent years.

When she was selected at one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" last month, it took many people, including this writer, by surprise. To some it might be her first step toward selling out. The events of Time's honorary gala, though, show an artist as willing as ever to speak truth to power. What's more, she was in the rare position to speak it to its actual face.

Writing on her MySpace blog, M.I.A. recounted the admittedly odd experience of meeting such figures as Oprah Winfrey, and actually urging her to speak out on the Sri Lankan war against Tamils. In her signature tongue-in-cheeky style, she also wrote:


What seems surreal about this is the sheer clash of interests taking place. It's worth taking a step back to note the real significance of the whole phenomenon. Here is the daughter of a guerilla fighter, a woman who has never shied from making clear whose side she is on, being pointed to by one of the most establishment magazines in the world as a major influence. Ultimately, very little has changed in M.I.A.'s outlook. What's changed is the way ordinary people look at the world around them and what they are willing to fight for.

When cultures shift, it's not uncommon to see a new and dynamic future alongside the stale, rehashed past. It's unfortunate that the latter of the two can be found so pronounced in an artist who not so long ago was on top of his game. The embodiment of the former, however, in a musician who sees the world in a radically different way is something that can give us all a lot more hope.

This article first appeared on The Society of Cinema and Arts.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Roxana Saberi Freed!

U.S. reporter freed by Iran, reunites with family
Saberi allowed to leave country after prison term for spying is suspended

msnbc.com news services

TEHRAN, Iran - An American journalist jailed for five months in Iran was freed Monday and reunited with her parents after an appeals court suspended her eight-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the United States.

Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, met her parents outside Evin prison Monday evening after the court cut her jail term to a two-year suspended sentence, her lawyers said. While they awaited her release, her mother, in a headscarf, smiled while her father looked overcome with emotion.

"She was reunited with her father and mother. They left for their house," her lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told The Associated Press. He said Saberi was free to leave Iran immediately.

Her Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, said he planned to return home with his daughter in the next few days. The family lives in Fargo, North Dakota, and her parents have been in Iran for several weeks seeking their daughter's freedom.

Snag in relations
Iran's about-face clears a major snag in the Obama administration's efforts to engage Iran in a dialogue after decades of shunning the country. Washington had called the charges against Saberi baseless and repeatedly demanded her release.

Saberi, who grew up in Fargo and is a former Miss North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and had worked as a freelance journalist for several organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.

She was arrested in late January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired. She was later charged with espionage, a charge that can carry the death sentence.

Saberi had gone on a hunger strike in prison recently to protest her jailing but ended it after two weeks for health reasons.

She was jailed in Evin prison, where many political prisoners are held, since January.

On Sunday, a court heard an appeal of Saberi's conviction and sentence and her lawyers emerged saying they were able to defend her and were optimistic her sentence would be reduced.

The United States, several European countries and human rights groups had been advocating for Saberi's release.

"They (Iranian officials) surely must have felt the weight of international pressure," U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota told The AP after hearing she would be released.

A warning?
Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders last month said Saberi's conviction was a warning to foreign journalists working in Iran ahead of its presidential election in June.

It said seven journalists were imprisoned in Iran, which it said was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in its latest press freedom index.

Iran denies Western allegations it is seeking to stifle dissenting voices. The government says it welcomes constructive criticism and upholds the principle of free speech.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fabulously Feminist Poets

Instead of subjecting you to my verses, here are some Woman who helped to influence me. Check them out!

Fabulously Feminist Mother's Day

Salary.com's 9th Annual Mom Salary Survey Reveals Stay-at-Home Moms Would Earn $122,732 in the U.S. and $135,661 in Canada

2009 Valuation of the Mom Job Shows Working Moms Would Earn an Additional $76,184 U.S. and $83,863 Canadian

NEEDHAM, MA--(MARKET WIRE)--May 5, 2009 -- Salary.com, Inc. (NasdaqGM:SLRY - News), a leading provider of on-demand compensation, payroll and talent management solutions, announced today the results of its annual Mom Salary Survey. For 2009, Salary.com(TM) determined that the time mothers spend performing the 10 most popular "mom job functions" would equate to an annual cash compensation of $122,732 for a Stay-at-Home Mom and an additional $76,184 for a Working Mom, up 5% and 11%, respectively, from the 2008 calculations of $116,805 and $68,405. Moms and their families can create their own "mom paycheck" by visiting the Mom Salary Wizard®.

"This is our ninth year looking at the value of mom's work. It has become a popular annual event because it not only recognizes the critical value of what moms do, but educates the public on the key factors that determine what employers are willing to pay for a given job," said Meredith Hanrahan, senior vice president at Salary.com, Inc. "We value the job of mom based on her job description and calculate what an employer would have to pay in cash if they were to hire someone to do all that a mom does."

Salary.com created the 'Mom Job' based on Certified Compensation Professional®* benchmarking principles that determine the value of a job. Following these employer-based principles, it is important to match jobs based on their job descriptions and not solely job titles. In Mom's case, her role is an example of a hybrid job with 10 different jobs -- each with different salaries -- that comprise her job. In the Mom Salary Survey, 12,150 moms quantified their hours worked in each role for a typical week. Salary.com's compensation professionals weighted the different responsibilities of the job to determine mom's overall total compensation.

Salary.com leveraged its CompAnalyst® global market data to benchmark the mom jobs in the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, the salary was $135,661 for Stay-at-Home Moms and an additional $83,863 for Working Moms (reported in Canadian dollars). The job titles that best matched a mom's definition of her work in both countries are (in increasing order of the percentage of her total 'Mom Job' salary) were: Laundry Machine Operator, Janitor, Van Driver, Housekeeper, Computer Operator I, Cook, Day Care Center Teacher, Facilities Manager, Psychologist, Chief Executive Officer.

Because the study took place from Mother's Day 2008 to Mother's Day 2009, the increase for both the stay-at-home and working mom reflects merit increases between 3.5 and 5.0 percent in early 2008, prior to the downturn. However, economic conditions began to show up in the working mom's salary.

"We found that not only are working moms outsourcing less and doing more themselves, but they're also spending more time on the higher-paying jobs such as facilities manager, CEO, and psychologist -- both factors that contributed to their increased salary figure. This year, the working mom had 17 hours of overtime in addition to her full time hours both at work and as a mom -- up nearly double from 2 years ago," added Hanrahan. According to the Salary.com survey, the working mom puts in over a 92-hour work week once you combine her full-time job, mom hours, and mom overtime. The primary driver of mom's six-figure salary depends on the amount of overtime worked. This year the stay-at-home mom's overtime averaged 56 hours in their 96-hour "work week" -- over half her time spent on the job is overtime.

The Mom Salary Survey has been enhanced over the years to reflect feedback such as adding salary ranges for working moms and for stay-at-home and working dads. The survey data has been incorporated into the Mom Salary Wizard, an online tool where consumers can personalize the survey data to reflect their time spent per job in an average week. The Mom Salary Wizard shows users how factors such as geography and the mix of various mom jobs can impact compensation and can either increase or decrease the mom salary from the national median Salary.com publishes every year.