Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which “joked” that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign.
Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It’s about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president — and even his family — are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president’s late mother?
Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,
The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. Is sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.
Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old “I’m not racist, but…” line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on “I’m not racist, but…” logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president – they’re attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country.
Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama’s priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter — in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected.
The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff.
But the birther movement, the “secret Muslim” meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president’s otherness, most notably criticizing his “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn’t resist flirting with birtherism.
But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president’s readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama — falsely — for going around the world “apologizing for America.”
Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, March 2, 2012
As a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun.
At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way?
Then, once you accept the fact that he has become the puppet master of the Republican Party by stirring bloodlust (earning enough to bribe Elton John to play at his fourth wedding), you still cringe at the thought that your mom might hear the ugly things he said.
Now he’s brutalizing a poised, wholesome-looking 30-year-old Georgetown law student as a “slut,” “a prostitute” and “round-heeled” simply for testifying to lawmakers about wanting the school to amend its health insurance to cover contraception.
Sandra Fluke “goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her?” Limbaugh coarsely ranted. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.”
Isn’t this the last guy who should be pointing fingers and accusing others of taking pills for recreational purposes?
He said insuring contraception would represent another “welfare entitlement,” which is wrong — tax dollars would not provide the benefit, employers and insurance companies would. And women would not be getting paid just “to have sex.” They’d be getting insurance coverage toward the roughly $1,000 annual expense of trying to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and to control other health conditions. This is something men and conservatives should want too, and not just because those outcomes actually do cost taxpayers money.
Limbaugh leeringly suggested that were taxpayers to be stuck with the bill, Fluke and other “feminazis” should give them something back: sex videos. “We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” he said.
Fluke was lobbying Georgetown University to change its policy for three years before she became a cause célèbre outcast when the Republican congressman Darrell Issa barred her from an all-male panel on contraception. But her conflict with her Jesuit school did not stop its president, John DeGioia, from eloquently defending his student (who ended up testifying for Nancy Pelosi’s all-Democratic panel).
“She provided a model of civil discourse,” he said in a letter to the school. “This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression.”
He branded the reaction of Limbaugh and some other commentators as “misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”
Given this season’s lava spill of hate, it was fitting that DeGioia evoked St. Augustine: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth.”
It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, Bob Dole, the former G.O.P. leader and presidential nominee, was a spokesman for Viagra. (Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since “when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.”)
Rush and Newt Gingrich can play the studs, marrying again and again until they find the perfect adoring young wife. But women pressing for health care rights are denigrated as sluts.
On Thursday, the Senate narrowly voted down a puritanical Republican attempt to let employers and insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives on any religious or moral grounds they could dream up.
Only a last-minute media glare caused Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, and its Republican-led Legislature to modify a shockingly punitive law aiming to shame and in many cases penetrate women seeking abortions. The version that passed on Thursday is still harsh enough to damage McDonnell’s vice presidential prospects.
By Friday, President Obama, who had started out fumbling the contraception issue, and the Democrats were taking gleeful advantage, raising $1.6 million to combat the G.O.P.’s “war on women.”
Mitt Romney reacted to Limbaugh for days with craven silence before finally allowing on a rope line on Friday night that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Is there a right way to call a woman a slut?
Rick Santorum, whose views on women are medieval, said “an entertainer can be absurd.” Speaker John Boehner offered a tepid comment through a spokesman that Limbaugh’s words were “inappropriate.”
President Obama called Fluke and bucked her up, probably hoping to get Limbaugh to double down. El Rushbo, as he calls himself, obliged. “Did you ever think of backing off the amount of sex you’re having?” he demanded of Fluke on Friday’s broadcast as some advertisers were fleeing: Sleep Train Mattress Centers, Quicken Loans, Select Comfort and AutoZone.
The law student got the call from the president as she was about to go on Andrea Mitchell’s show on MSNBC. She darted into an empty office to talk to Obama and closed the door; soon Chris Matthews was wondering who was inside and sending a staffer to check it out.
“The president just wanted to make sure I was O.K.,” she said. “And I am O.K. I’m pretty level-headed.”
The childless radio yakker wondered snidely how Fluke’s parents, who live in rural Pennsylvania, would feel about her crusade. Fluke, a Methodist Democrat, said she was particularly touched that the president told her, speaking as the father of two daughters, that her parents should be proud.
“My parents and I don’t always agree politically,” she said, but about the issue of insuring contraception, “we see eye to eye.”
Update: On Saturday evening, Rush Limbaugh posted a statement on his Web site, which can be read here.
By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 3, 2012
When will Republicans stop their vagina monologue?
March is federally recognized as Women’s History Month, and Republicans have been celebrating the occasion in a most unusual style: with a burst of interest in women’s private parts.
On Thursday, the Senate took up an amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers to deny women birth-control coverage if the employer found contraception morally objectionable.
About 100 miles south of Washington on that same day, Virginia legislators passed a measure requiring a woman to be offered an ultrasound image of her fetus before aborting it. The legislation, which opponents say could also require some women who have miscarriages to be offered ultrasonic images of their dead fetuses, is the successor of a bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive “transvaginal ultrasound.”
Still on Thursday, the industrious Virginia House of Delegates also approved legislation bestowing rights on people, including a father, to bring a lawsuit over the death of the fetus.
On Wednesday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a powerful influence among Republican lawmakers, described as a “slut” the law-school student invited by House Democrats to testify in support of birth control. “It makes her a prostitute,” Limbaugh said of the woman, blocked last month by House Republicans from testifying on what became an all-male panel. “She wants to be paid to have sex.”
On Tuesday, Oklahomans held a protest at the state capitol to oppose a bill, passed by the state Senate and now being taken up by the House, that would bestow “personhood” on fetuses — one of many such efforts across the nation. Democrat Judy McIntyre, one of just four women in the 48-member state Senate, was so upset that, according to the Oklahoman newspaper, she held a protest sign proclaiming: “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d [expletive] a senator.”
Democrats think they have a political winner in the Republicans’ fascination with reproduction at a time when economic production is what voters have in mind. The party is raising money with a petition against the “Republican War on Women,” and 11 Democratic women running for the U.S. Senate are using the occasion to launch a fundraising tour.
They are attempting to tie together everything from last year’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood to the proposed repeal of Obamacare (which expanded coverage of mammography and birth control). And Obama campaign strategists tell me they are confident that the two leading Republican presidential candidates, a Mormon and a devout Catholic, will have difficulty beating the rap that the party is obsessed with reproduction.
Evidence that the Republicans realize they’re in a pickle: Mitt Romney spontaneously flip-flopped on his initial opposition to the Blunt amendment, which would also provide employers with a moral opt-out from other elements of Obamacare. Romney first said that “questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.” But he quickly reversed himself in favor of the amendment, aligning himself with Rick Santorum, who has voiced doubts about the constitutional protections for birth control.
More evidence: After championing the Blunt amendment, Republican leaders backed away from their demands for a vote on the provision. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an early proponent of the amendment after hearing about the issue during a Catholic Mass, disappeared from the debate. So Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) wound up forcing a vote on the provision, which was narrowly defeated Thursday afternoon.
“Today, the Senate will vote on an extreme, ideological amendment to the bipartisan transportation bill,” Reid said, kicking off Thursday’s debate. “This amendment takes aim at women’s access to health care.”
The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), made no mention of birth control in his reply, countering that “it is not within the power of the federal government to tell anybody what to believe, or to punish them for practicing those beliefs.”
Most other Republicans followed McConnell’s lead in avoiding mention of contraception. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), however, said the provision in the health-care law requiring preventive medical coverage for women is “questionable policy,” and he accused the administration of “deferring to its feminist allies” by mandating contraceptive coverage.
After the amendment went down to defeat, its sponsor gave a General MacArthur. “I’m confident this issue is not over,” Blunt said. “It won’t be over until the administration figures out how to accommodate people’s religious views as it relates to these new mandates.”
The monologue will continue.
I am a slut.
Before this week, I didn’t know I was a slut. But Rush Limbaugh set me straight:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.
Sandra Fluke is the Georgetown law student who testified about the necessity of providing insurance coverage for birth control. She spoke about her friend who suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome, which was being treated with birth control pills, until she could no longer afford to shell out $100 a month for her treatment.
Ms. Fluke did not talk about her own sexual activity. She did not claim that she was having so much sex that she could not afford the cost of contraception. She did not demand that she be paid for having sex.
But no matter—according to Rush, Ms. Fluke is a slut. I don’t know what dictionary Rush is using, so let’s see if we can suss out what exactly he thinks makes Ms. Fluke a slut:
- Maybe it’s because she can use the word “contraception” without blushing. So can I. Guess that makes me a slut.
- Maybe it’s because she cares about women having affordable access to necessary medical care. So do I. Guess that makes me a slut.
- Maybe it’s just because she’s a woman. So am I. Guess that makes me a slut.
And you know what? If you can talk about contraception, care about women’s health, or have the audacity to possess a vagina, you’re a slut too.
When he was called out for his obscene attack on Ms. Fluke, Rush didn’t back down; he doubled down:
It was Sandra Fluke who said that she was having so much sex she can’t afford it. [...] She’s spending $3000, $1000 a year, on pills and she’s going broke and wants us to buy it. [...] By her own admission, in her own words, Sandra Fluke is having so much sex that she can’t afford it. [...] Does she have more boyfriends? They’re lined up around the block. Or they would have been in my day.
Ms. Fluke said none of those things, but you know the Republican rule: When you’re losing an argument, just make shit up and hope no one notices. This afternoon, Rush issued an “apology,” in which he basically said he was sorry if any sluts were offended by being called sluts, but if they weren’t such sluts, he wouldn’t have to call them sluts. Some apology, eh?
Of course, people did notice. Like Republican Rep. Darrell “Vaginas violate my religious liberty” Issa in Congress:
Democrats are largely to blame for the name-calling and personal insults of the contraception debate, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) charged Friday. [...]
“While your letter raises important concerns about these inappropriate comments and the tone of the current debate over religious freedom and Obamacare, I am struck by your clear failure to recognize your own contributions to the denigration of this discussion and attacks on people of religious faith,” Issa said in response to Cummings.
You see, if those damn sluts hadn’t objected to Issa’s No Girls Allowed hearingabout how birth control makes Catholic bishops sad, Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t have had to attack those sluts for being sluts. See? It’s all their fault. You might even say they were asking for it.
Bill O’Reilly, who once had to pay millions of dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim, so you know he’s highly educated about what makes a woman a slut—refusing to have sex with Bill O’Reilly and his falafel—also joined Rush Limbaugh in his slut crusade:
“Let me get this straight, Ms. Fluke, and I’m asking this with all due respect,” he said. “You want me to give you my hard-earned money so you can have sex?” (Fluke is actually calling for her university’s private insurance plan to cover birth control.)O’Reilly went on, saying that, since Fluke wanted society to cover her “activities,” the government should also have subsidized his college football uniforms, since an injury might “cost society a lot.” He also said that perhaps taxpayers should pay for gym memberships for men so they could stay physically fit.
But a funny thing happened on the way back to the 17th century.
Women Sluts took notice too. Known slut and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Limbaugh’s attack “obnoxious.” The sluts at the Washington Post wrotein an editorial, “This is not the way a decent citizen behaves.”
Even President Obama, the slut-in-chief himself, called Ms. Fluke to offer his support:
“He encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women,” Fluke said. “What was really personal to me was he said to tell my parents that should be proud, and that meant a lot because Rush Limbaugh questioned whether or not my family would be proud of me, so I just appreciated that very much.”
The sluts of America are fighting back, and they’re hitting Rush right where it hurts: his corporate sponsors. Sleep Train, Select Comfort/Sleep Number, Quicken Loans, Cleveland Cavaliers, Citrix and LegalZoom have all pulled their support from Rush’s show. [Late today, the CEO of Carbonite announced that despite Rush's "apology," Carbonite is pulling its supporttoo.]
So, sluts, you know what to do: Click here to send an email to Rush’s other corporate sponsors, demanding that they stop supporting him and his slut crusade.
And then click here to tell Bill O’Reilly’s sponsors to drop him like a hot falafel.
By: Kaili Gray, Daily Kos, March 3, 2012
Here’s what a woman in Texas now faces if she seeks an abortion.
Under a new law that took effect three weeks ago with the strong backing of Gov. Rick Perry, she first must typically endure an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina. Then she listens to the audio thumping of the fetal heartbeat and watches the fetus on an ultrasound screen.
She must listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor. She signs a document saying that she understands all this, and it is placed in her medical files. Finally, she goes home and must wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.
“It’s state-sanctioned abuse,” said Dr. Curtis Boyd, a Texas physician who provides abortions. “It borders on a definition of rape. Many states describe rape as putting any object into an orifice against a person’s will. Well, that’s what this is. A woman is coerced to do this, just as I’m coerced.”
“The state of Texas is waging war on women and their families,” Dr. Boyd added. “The new law is demeaning and disrespectful to the women of Texas, and insulting to the doctors and nurses who care for them.”
That law is part of a war over women’s health being fought around the country — and in much of the country, women are losing. State by state, legislatures are creating new obstacles to abortions and are treating women in ways that are patronizing and humiliating.
Twenty states now require abortion providers to conduct ultrasounds first in some situations, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization. The new Texas law is the most extreme to take effect so far, but similar laws have been passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and are on hold pending legal battles.
Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi are also considering Texas-style legislation bordering on state-sanctioned rape. And what else do you call it when states mandate invasive probes in women’s bodies?
“If you look up the term rape, that’s what it is: the penetration of the vagina without the woman’s consent,” said Linda Coleman, an Alabama state senator who is fighting the proposal in her state. “As a woman, I am livid and outraged.”
States put in place a record number of new restrictions on abortions last year, Guttmacher says. It counts 92 new curbs in 24 states.
“It was a debacle,” Elizabeth Nash, who manages state issues for Guttmacher, told me. “It’s been awful. Last year was unbelievable. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
Yes, there have been a few victories for women. The notorious Virginia proposal that would have required vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was modified to require only abdominal ultrasounds.
Yet over all, the pattern has been retrograde: humiliating obstacles to abortions, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex education in schools.
If Texas legislators wanted to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The small proportion of women and girls who aren’t using contraceptives account for half of all abortions in America, according to Guttmacher. Yet Texas has some of the weakest sex-education programs in the nation, and last year it cut spending for family planning by 66 percent.
The new Texas law was passed last year but was held up because of a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In a scathing opinion, Judge Sam Sparks of Federal District Court described the law as “an attempt by the Texas legislature to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights.” In the end, the courts upheld the law, and it took effect last month.
It requires abortion providers to give women a list of crisis pregnancy centers where, in theory, they can get unbiased counseling and in some cases ultrasounds. In fact, these centers are often set up to ensnare pregnant women and shame them or hound them if they are considering abortions.
“They are traps for women, set up by the state of Texas,” Dr. Boyd said.
The law then requires the physician to go over a politicized list of so-called dangers of abortion, like “the risks of infection and hemorrhage” and “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.” Then there is the mandated ultrasound, which in the first trimester normally means a vaginal ultrasound. Doctors sometimes seek vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion, with the patient’s consent, but it’s different when the state forces women to undergo the procedure.
The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton’s, that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Achieving that isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But family planning and comprehensive sex education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned abuse and humiliation.
By: Nicholas Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 3, 2012