what's goin' on

Marvin Gaye asked the question, now Paul Krugman does the same. Read it. Think about it. People still wondering why I'm leaving the country need look no further.


What's Going On?
By Paul Krugman

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous.

But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.



Crabbi said...

Great post, L.

I've never understood the "It can't happen here" mentality. Sigh. Imagine if those weirdos directed just a bit of their considerable energy toward, oh I don't know, Darfur, maybe.

I feel like singing O Canada myself...Vancouver's nice...

laura k said...

Well thanks, Crabbi. It's easy when you just paste in Paul Krugman.

Yeah, haven't we all seen enough to know "it can't happen here" is just denial? But humans are so good at denial, and Americans have always been ostriches...

Crabbi said...

Yeah, but it's not just the pasting - it's the finding and the commenting. These guys also liked the Krugman article. Have you seen Big Brass Blog? It's a good one!

And yeah, we're American Idol watching, monster burger eating ostriches. Some of us, anyway. And I guess some are ostrich-eating ostriches. Hmm, have to think about that one.

laura k said...

Hey, that looks like a cool blog. I have a bit of a problem with the testicular imagery. I've seen no evidence that ownership of said testicles equates with courage or strength. Although I admit that Big Brass Ovaries doesn't have the same ring.

Crabbi said...

I think they're being ironic - and related the whole female/male blogger debate. I see it as an in-your-face kind of thing. Gosh, I see irony everywhere, don't I? At times, I'm sure I see it where it doesn't exist. Just a smart-ass, I guess.

I like Big Brass Ovaries :)

laura k said...

Oh! Maybe I didn't give it enough time, because of the balls thing. I'll re-check!

That "balls thing" is a pet peeve of mine. Its sister peeve is the use of "pussy" as a synonym for weakness. Seems to me that's just ass backwards.

And why do men insult each other with the thing they supposedly love?

Crabbi said...

Yeah, I agree - ass backwards. I have some trouble with those words myself. They're pretty fucking vulgar. OTOH, I've become desensitized in the last few years. My daughter believes we should reclaim the "c" and "p" words - and "bitch" too. There's power in that, but I can see how people would be offended. I dunno - guess I'm a flip flopper in this area.

laura k said...

Oh, I'm definitely with your daughter on that one. I think all those words are great - but IMO they're to be celebrated, not used as insults. I don't like using a beautiful part of femaleness as an insult!

I was just talking about this with a friend who is lesbian and African-American. We were trying to figure out why she freely uses the word dyke but can't stand to hear black people call each other the "n" word... It was a complicated discussion, had us both laughing at ourselves!

Anonymous said...

Thinks it's Mike Schiavo who will need the bodyguards for a while. Extreme RWs kill abortion docs in the name of God (the Eye For An Eye deal [also a good Soulfly song]), so you know they will claim the same with poor Mikey.

And all the guy wanted to do was exercise his right as guardian to do what he felt was what his wife would want.

Seems you guys can't even sneeze in parts of the states without a lawsuit or a death threat from somebody accidentally caught in the spray ... I'd hate to walk into a church and fart or something ... then I'd be the one looking for bodyguards.

Fuck it, come up here guys, where you can still make your own decisions on shit. That is, until the Tories (equivalent to the AFA in the States) get in power - then we're screwed.

laura k said...

We're trying... we're trying!

Thanks for your thoughts, G. Love your blog. I love libraries. When I was a kid I wanted to be a librarian, just to have access to all those reference books and look things up all day long. Mmmm.

P.S. It doesn't look like the Tories pose much of a danger up there.

Crabbi said...

Yep, I agree. My daughter is a big Vagina Monologues fan. I am, too, but she got to see it live, which thrilled her to no end.

It's a fascinating topic. I've been thinking about language a lot these days - what is said and what is not said. This culture of life thing makes me crazy! The right are masters of this type of manipulation. I mean, who's going to argue with living? Issues of choice aside, who says "I hate life. I want to snuff it out wherever I go."? It's the whole binary, you're with us or your're with the terrorists mentality. Is there a word for grey people? For people who do the nuance thing? If there is, let's reclaim it.

G, sometimes you have to kill people who want to kill people to show that killing people is wrong. Seriously, though, Canada is looking more tempting every day. A place where I can decide my own shit? Heaven (so to speak).

laura k said...

I think about language a lot, too. The right are great manipulators of language. Not coincidentally, that's a hallmark of non-democratic states.

But the media has full complicity in it. How would we ever have heard the words "partial birth abortion" (which is pure fiction, no such medical procedure exists!) or "culture of life" if the media didn't adopt them?

This drives me completely crazy. First the phrase is used in quotes, then the quotes come off, and it's part of the common vocabulary.

Re Canada: start saving your money. Read up. You can do it if you want. It's an option.

Hey Crabletta, how old is your daughter? If that's not too revealing a question.

Crabbi said...

Hey L, No, not at all. She's almost 24. I give a very brief description of her here. I have lots of J stories - she's really funny. Who says feminists have no sense of humor :) Oh, I know - assholes say that. And stupid, stupid freepers.

You're so right about the media - they've been complicit in this whole mess. This is rather a cliche, but I can't stop thinking of the frog slowly being boiled to death. God, the Bushies are clever. It took me a while to realize it because what they say is so simple on the surface and brings out all of my considerable snottiness. They just have this sledgehammer approach and those of us who love words just cringe and feel disgusted, but that shit works!

"Partial-birth abortion" is a disgusting term. I refuse to go along with that, but I think I might start using quotes, as you do. Another one that drives me crazy is "abortion doctor." They are OB/GYNs. And don't even get me started on "entitlement programs" or "entitlement mentality." I could go on and on. Perhaps I should just link to Orwell's Politics and the Eng. Language in a future post.

Yeah, I guess I could move, but probably won't. I admire people who are gutsy enough to take the plunge. Maybe I just need to let the idea percolate for a while.

laura k said...

I will read about J!

I think of Orwell all the time these days. The word I probably most over-use in wmtc is Orwellian or other variations. From "No Child Left Behind" to the "liberation" of Iraq, this is truly an Orwellian age.

My personal approach to disgusting fictions like "partial-birth abortion" is to try to always use the actual term. D&X or second-trimester abortion, gyn or doctor (as you said), etc. I *never* say "pro-life" (which implies I am pro death??), I say anti-abortion-rights, etc.

One of my first realizations of this was the term "ethnic cleansing". It was coined by the perpetrators. The world reacted in horror. Then the media picked it up, first with quotes... then the quotes came off... now it's an accepted term for genocide.

OK, I'm babbling.

Re Canada: it has to percolate. It's a huge decision. And you might prefer to stay and keep fighting. But it's important to know it's an option.

Anonymous said...

I like "Collateral Damage" best. Possibly the feel-good terminology of the century. Used for justification of the deaths of innocents (in other words, a loophole in Geneva).

Remember the support America had from the Iraqi citizen population when it first arrived under the pretense of dispensing Saddam (WMD issues aside)? Amazing how that support disappears when your unnecessary aerial bombing campaign kills the families of those who support you. Don't forget, women and children are the bulk of the Iraqi casualty list since the invasion. But it's OK: the GOV says they're just collateral damage. [Tell that to the families of 9/11 victims, Junior].

RE The Media
Add to your Reading List: "A War Against Truth", Paul William Roberts. Brilliant first-hand account of the Iraq invasion and Iraqi history by a journalist who was there. A must-read for all.

laura k said...

G, you are so, so right. Collateral damage. What a disgusting phrase for the needless death and destruction of innocent people.

Thanks for the reading tip, too. I'm going to post your comment later today, if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

Cool. My other reading tip is anything by Tim O'Brien. He writes a blend of fiction and reality centred around his experiences in Vietnam ... with the fiction written intentionally to highlight the reality ... powerful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Sorry about the above. Iffy connection here. Looked like it wasn't going, then went 3 times. Modern tech ... aargh.

laura k said...

No problem - happens all the time with Blogger.

I've read some Tim O'Brien, I also like him a lot. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and at the beginning of the war, I read a lot of war novels. If you haven't read Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, I highly recommend it. It deals with WWI, at home (in England) and on the front. I also read the All Quiet On The Western Front, which must be the ultimate anti-war novel.

Anonymous said...

Check out the movie version of All Quiet On The Western Front. The original, that is. 1930.

Some of the most innovative camera work ever ... much of it is on par with what we see today. And the imagery! The story is told in facial expressions more than in words. The action is quick and breathtaking, often with innovative flashes such as a single body part (the motions of a hand) to show a character's death.

Simply unbelievable - possibly the greatest antiwar film out there and one of the few successfully adapted from a novel. A true exception.

Note: Stay away from the film versions of Johnny Got His Gun and Slaughterhouse Five ... stick to the novels ... those film adaptations, like most, didn't quite translate.

And I still think Full Metal Jacket is the best war movie bar none.

Crabbi said...

What about personal responsibility? I love that one! But, I must admit, I find it confusing. Sometimes I think the people who say it don't actually demonstrate it. Maybe some spoiled, C-student, AWOL, lying dry drunk can explain it to me.

laura k said...

G: Thanks for the recommends! I've never seen All Quiet (of course, I was waiting to read the book, which I knew I'd do one day) but now I will.

I never saw FMJ - I remember it came out during a glut of Vietnam films and I was Vietnam-ed out. If it's that good, I'll definitely add it to my Netflix queue.

'Letta: I love your description of W.

C La said...

It's a little late to be posting this, but... Crabletta is assuming that he earned those C's. I believe him to be an "F" in C's clothing.