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A Progressive Defense Of The White House On Plan B

I get the reasons for liberal outrage at the Obama administration’s Plan B decision. But I can’t quite join in the indignation. I know that I am a man—a fact I’ve been aware of for some time—and so readers male and female can factor that in here as they wish. But it seems to me that to call this merely a case of politics cynically trumping science is way too dismissive of some concerns that parents with all kinds of political views might have about their teenage daughters buying this pill without their knowledge.

Much of the opposition to allowing underage girls to buy the pill over the counter amounts to straw-man arguments. There’s the line that taking the pill amounts to abortion. Watch this lurid ad by a right-to-life group and think about what sort of cacophony must be raging inside the mind that could even come up with such an egregious thing. Outside the realm of anti-abortion fanaticism, I don’t think most of us would equate the prevention of a pregnancy with the removal of an existing fetus. It’s called “emergency contraception” because it’s contraception, not abortion.

There’s also an argument about harmful effects on young girls of the pill’s heightened progesterone levels. I am far from being an expert on such matters, but unanimous view of the scientific community appears to be that the pill is safe for all females of child-bearing age, and that’s good enough for me.

Those are ideological issues, and ones that can be dismissed easily. But it seems to me that there is a fair issue here, and it has to do with parents having a right to know about and be involved in what their kids are up to. You simply don’t have to be a right-winger to have concerns about your 14- or 15-year-old daughter having easy access to such a pill.

That is not a political question per se. A parent’s view on that matter will be partially informed by politics, but only partially (and in some cases not at all, since lots of people have no political views to speak of). Parents’ opinions on this will be informed most of all by the parent-child relationship; by the parents’ views about sexuality and morality; by the parents’ feelings about their authority vis-a-vis their child’s autonomy. These areas might have a lot to do with a parent’s political views, but they might not. We all know people who are politically conservative but sexually libertine, or politically liberal and as chaste as Mother Teresa.

In other words, this is less about appeasing the right than acknowledging reality in all its complications out there in the country, where many people probably have mixed feelings. I’d be fascinated to see some polling on this, and I expect we will soon.

In an ideal world, parents would rationally support the idea of their daughters having every means available to them to correct an error (or, obviously, to override a violation) that happened a day or two prior. But parents don’t always think rationally about these things. That makes these issues sensitive by definition, and it’s hardly illegitimate for a government to take such matters into consideration. I’d have had more respect for Kathleen Sibelius in this situation if, instead of that blather about 11-year-old girls not being able to follow instructions and take the pill properly, she’d just said: “Look, I respect the science, but this raises ethical and moral questions about what is the proper age for access to emergency contraception, in addition to the scientific ones. And that’s a public debate we ought to have more of before we pull this trigger.”

Such pills are generally available in other advanced countries, but there are some limits. In England, you have to be at least 16 to buy them. In Finland, 15. In Quebec, you have to consult a pharmacist. In Italy, it requires a doctor’s prescription.

So advanced societies haven’t yet made an across-the-board decision that all girls from 11 up should be able to buy this pill, and the United States always lags behind in these things, for all the reasons we know.

I wouldn’t doubt that the administration feared the development of a narrative here. Newt Gingrich in particular is very adept at that sort of thing: This election, he’d have announced with his usual fanfare, is a contest between traditional values and 13-year-old girls having no-consequences sex. It’s hard to know the extent to which that would have taken off.

But I doubt this was just politics. It was only in August that this same “anti-woman” administration issued new standards requiring insurance companies to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other fees. That will take effect, under the new health-care law, in January 2013 and should go a long way toward lowering the cost barriers to birth-control services for insured women. If the administration so lives in fear of political fallout from the cultural right, then why did it do that?

So maybe there was something more going on here. Maybe we should have a longer debate about the appropriate age at which this pill should become available. And maybe the right answer, an answer that much, but not all, of the advanced world has agreed on, is that there shouldn’t be a limit. The science says it’s safe, and it will undoubtedly prevent unwanted pregnancies—and, in an irony that the anti-abortionists never grasp, it will prevent abortions, too. But it’s now the job of advocates to make the culture catch up to the science.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 9, 2011

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Abortion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gingrich: Great Debater, Greatly Flawed Candidate

Was that a wink?

Looked like it to me: As Rep. Ron Paul accused Newt Gingrich of flip-flopping, lobbying and putting taxpayers’ money in his pockets, the former House speaker looked into the audience and winked. As if to say: “I got this.”

And, for the most part, he did. The latest GOP front-runner showed Saturday night why many Republican voters suddenly believe he is the best candidate to challenge President Obama. For all his flaws — and those who worked with Gingrich say he has many of them, probably too many to be president — the former House speaker is a brilliant debater:

— He took a punch as well as he threw them.

— He defended his checkered record, even if that meant steamrolling the truth (Gingrich claimed he never lobbied or backed cap-and-trade legislation).

— He kept his ego and temper in check. Barely.

Yes, Gingrich is a great debater. But he’s not a great candidate and, if you watched closely enough, you could almost see his heavy baggage littering the debate stage.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry alluded to Gingrich’s marital difficulties: “I’ve always been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife,” Perry said, “you’ll cheat on your business partner.”

Gingrich kept his cool. “I’ve made mistakes at times,” he replied. “I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness.”

Early in the debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took dead aim at Gingrich’s record and rhetoric on climate change, lunar landings and child labor laws. He also accused Gingrich of being a career politician.

Gingrich seized the moment. “Let’s be candid,” he said, “The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in ’94.”

Killer line.

Yet in the next breath, Gingrich showed why he would be a vulnerable candidate against Obama. Defending his proposal to put poor kids to work in school cafeterias, the former House speaker said, “I’ll stand by the idea: Young people ought to learn how to work. Middle kids do work routinely. We need to give poor kids the same opportunity.”

What? Poor kids don’t work? Spoken by a Washington insider, a callous and cold politician who is out of touch with the rest of America.

His churlish side showed when Rep. Michele Bachmann accused the two leading candidates of being “Newt Romney” clones. Gingrich struck back with a disconnected answer that misled the audience about the extent of his lobbying and took a detour so he could brag about his best-selling books. “I know that doesn’t happen to fit your model,” Gingrich snapped at Bachmann, “but it happens to be true.”

Viewers were left to wonder whether Gingrich’s response was more arrogant, inaccurate or irrelevant.

But, hey, he’s a great debater.


By: Ron Fournier, The Atlantic, December 10, 2011

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Newt Gingrich’s Dangerous, Self-Aggrandizing Foreign Policy

A mere four months ago, Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign had just imploded, his top staff had resigned en masse, and the disgraced former House speaker was apparently engaged in nothing more than a self-promotion tour. Now, his inexplicable revival as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination requires that Americans understand just how dangerous he would be if he became president. Like many of his rivals, Gingrich is reliably hawkish on foreign policy, but he has the habit of framing issues in stark, apocalyptic terms that inevitably exaggerate the scale of contemporary threats. There is every reason to expect that U.S. foreign policy would become even more militarized and confrontational under a President Gingrich, and America’s relations with much of the world would deteriorate quickly.

Many Republicans flatter Gingrich by treating him as one of the party’s intellectuals, but Gingrich frequently shows that he is unable or unwilling to make crucial distinctions in his treatment of international problems. He complains on his campaign website that “we currently view Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other danger spots of the globe as if they are isolated, independent situations,” and that America “lacks a unified grand strategy for defeating radical Islamism.” But these conflicts are largely separate from one another, and there is no such thing as a monolithic, global, radical Islamism that can be addressed by one strategy. No conflicts around the world can be properly understood except by focusing on local circumstances, but for Gingrich, the ideological emphasis on a unified global threat takes priority over proper analysis.

Gingrich’s formulation doesn’t allow for recognizing the differences among diverse Islamist groups, and it prevents him from seeing how those differences could be used to American advantage. Instead, he lumps them together much as the absurd “Islamofascist” label did during the last decade, and adopts a posture of hostility toward much of the Islamic world as a result. This failure of intellect was on display last year when Gingrich joined in the ridiculous demagoguery against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” whose ecumenical supporters Gingrich predictably labeled “radical Islamists.” Far from “telling the truth about our enemies,” Gingrich has a tendency to imagine enemies where none exist.

He has referred to Iran’s nuclear program as an “apocalyptic Iranian nuclear threat,” which grossly exaggerates the danger from future Iranian nuclear weapons and misleads the public into believing that Iran has decided to acquire nuclear weapons. Gingrich’s judgment of the Iranian threat is so exaggerated that he has claimed that it’s worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis. He openly supports waging covert war against Iran to thwart the threat he is exaggerating, which ensures that tensions between the U.S. and Iran would increase dramatically in the event that Gingrich took office.

While Gingrich often refers to himself as a “cheap hawk,” he has been firmly opposed to current proposals for military spending cuts. The ambitious and active role Gingrich envisions for the U.S. in the world precludes the possibility of meaningful reductions in military spending. Fiscal conservatives should expect no help from Gingrich in reducing the Pentagon’s budget.

Civil libertarians may have the most to fear from Gingrich. He has defended practices of indefinite detention, torture, and targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki. Gingrich has articulated justifications for virtually every government abuse committed in the name of national security in the last ten years, so we should expect nothing less from his administration if he came to power.

Another worrisome sign of Gingrich’s belligerence was the approval he gave to John McCain’s dangerous overreaction to the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Despite the Georgian government’s role in escalating the conflict, McCain famously declared that “we are all Georgians,” and insisted that the U.S. support Georgia during its short, disastrous war. Gingrich called this “one of the best moments McCain had in the campaign so far,” which tells us that Gingrich believes that McCain’s aggressive, knee-jerk response to a foreign crisis was correct, and that it’s presumably the sort of response Gingrich would offer in a similar situation.

Perhaps worst of all is Gingrich’s supreme confidence in his own intellectual superiority. This means he will not be easily dissuaded from making policy on the basis of his numerous misjudgments about foreign threats and U.S. interests. A Gingrich administration promises to give America many of the misguided and harmful policies of the Bush years, but the errors will be compounded by Gingrich’s presumption that he understands the world far better than anyone else.


By: Daniel Larison, The Week, December 8, 2011

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 2 Comments


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