aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The desperate decline of abortion rights in the South
Last month In These Times looked at the bleak state of abortion rights in the deep South:
Every state in the Deep South-Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina-restricts low-income women’s access to abortion. Most ban abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. None explicitly protect heath care facilities from harassment or violence. All have mandatory delay laws that unfairly burden women who have limited access to transportation and time off work, and Louisiana and South Carolina both passed unconstitutional laws requiring a husband’s consent for a married woman’s abortion. In the past 16 months, two abortion clinics in Alabama have closed, and new regulations are making it difficult for other clinics to stay open. Now, anti-abortion groups are strategizing ways to outlaw birth control and eliminate sex education. [...]
The Deep South’s reproductive rights community has few political allies. In Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats run on anti-choice platforms. “We don’t have any judges on our side. We don’t have many in the media on our side,” says Colon. “The pro-choice allies in the state legislature are the older black men. The women in the legislature sell us out every time.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
And yet thinking that anti-choice zealotry is only an issue south of the Mason-Dixon line is a mistake. Laws restricting women’s access to healthcare have chipped away at abortion rights in almost every state. In fact, only seven states have laws protecting the right to an abortion.
The decline of the Religious Right
Chris Kromm at Facing South notes that after three decades as the driving force behind the South’s shift to the GOP there are signs of the religious right’s decline and quotes this Steven Thomma piece from McClatchy Newspapers:
Today, their nearly three-decade-long ascendance in the Republican Party is over. Their loyalties and priorities are in flux, the organizations that gave them political muscle are in disarray, the high-profile preachers who led them to influence through the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation that’s less interested in their agenda and their hold on politics and the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is in doubt. [...]
In church, the generation of politically active, high profile evangelists such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell is giving way to new preachers such as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, who shun partisan politics or are willing to embrace Democrats. [...]
In elections, the organizations that once gave political focus to Christian conservatives and turned their passions into votes have splintered or disappeared.
The biggest of them all, the Christian Coalition, is a shell of its former self. Its budget has crashed from a 1996 peak of $26 million to about $1 million. Its new director wants to expand to issues besides abortion and marriage. And state chapters in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio have parted ways with the group they think is now too liberal.
Says Kromm, “It’s not that religious conservatives will likely swing Democratic in 2008. But they are no longer the highly-energized voting block they once were. “
Republican challenger to Marshall out-raised him
On the day the ad ran in the Macon Telegraph we learn one possible reason Jim Marshall voted against SCHIP:
[C]ampaign contribution reports filed at midnight Tuesday show a tightening race for money with Republican Rick Goddard, a former Air Force major general.
Goddard, in fact, outraised Marshall over the last three months. Goddard reports donations of $120,799.55 for a total of $272,780.72. His cash on hand is $226,634.21.
Marshall raised $106,442.86 over the last three months, for a total of $478,440.30 since his 2006 campaign. But the Macon incumbent has a 3-to-1 advantage in cash on hand. Marshall reports a nest egg of $724,176.44, and a debt of only $7,500.
Alcohol: the Date Rape drug of choice
Many studies have shown that rapes often do not involve physical violence or coercion, because the mere threat or potential for physical harm is enough to make victims submit, [Chitra Raghavan, a John Jay psychologist who conducts research on intimate-partner violence and rape] said. Dr. Raghavan also said that studies have shown that women’s sexual interactions do not change appreciably if they have been drinking and that serial rapists maintain (inaccurately, of course) that their victims did not resist and in fact wanted to be raped. She said that the discussion of alcohol “is endemic of how we blame women,” saying that such blame could lead to a viewpoint like: “Women hook up, get drunk and then say they don’t want sex. Tell them to cross their legs and put on a chastity belt!”
Katie Gentile, who directs the Women’s Center at John Jay, cited research by David Lisak, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, who has done extensive research on convicted sex offenders as well as ordinary men on college campuses.
“Men use alcohol all the time to ply their dates, whether they are drunk or not,” Dr. Gentile said. “It is the way in which they get their dates to be submissive enough to get raped.” [...]
Alcohol and drugs inevitably complicate acquaintance rape cases, [Linda Fairstein, who was chief of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan district attorney’s office for 25 years] said, describing the concept of an alcohol blackout — “a period of amnesia during which the person is actively engaging in behaviors — walking, talking — but the brain is unable to form new memories of the event, leaving the person unable to recall the events once they are no longer intoxicated.” In such cases, investigators must try to talk to witnesses and reconstruct what happened.
Mr. Laurino, the county prosecutor, said that the recreational use of drugs and alcohol had started to amount to a “public health crisis,” citing statistics that 30 percent of women who are examined for sexual assault report having used alcohol and that another 6 to 7 percent report having used some drugs. Mr. Laurino said that Dr. Lisak’s research showed that even the “nice guy next door” will use alcohol strategically. “The predator uses alcohol because they know it’s going it impair the credibility of the victim, which is extremely important,” he said.
Mr. Laurino cited examples of “undetected rapists — the small minority of men who have committed hundreds of rapes on campuses.” Such predators often have “sophisticated strategies” for sexual exploitation that involve deceiving women into imbibing strong alcoholic beverages. “The majority of men who do not commit sexual assault who do not batter or abuse women really need to hold a small minority of men accountable,” he said.
Dr. Gentile noted that many clubs and bars have rules that allow girls and women to drink free of charge. Every week at John Jay, she said, promoters from clubs hand out cards that state, “Ladies get in free.” She added, to a loud round of applause, “That is a date-rape drug.”
Tim Wu says we’ve de facto decriminalized drugs through other means:
This other drug legalization movement is an example of what theorists call legal avoision. As described by theorist Leon Katz, the idea is to reach “a forbidden outcome Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ as a by-product of a permitted act.” In a classic tax shelter, for instance, you do something perfectly legal (like investing in a business guaranteed to lose money) in order to reach a result that would otherwise be illegal (evading taxes). In the drug context, asking Congress to legalize cocaine or repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is a fool’s errand. But it’s far easier to invent a new drug, X, with similar effects to cocaine, and ask the FDA to approve it as a new antidepressant or anxiety treatment. That’s avoision in practice.
And the consequences?
Drugs prescribed are usually taken differently than recreational drugs, of course, even if at some level the chemical hit is the same. More broadly, the current program of drug legalization in the United States is closely and explicitly tied to the strange economics of the U.S. health-care industry. The consequence is that how people get their dopamine or other brain chemicals is ever more explicitly, like the rest of medicine, tied to questions of class.
Antidepressants and anxiety treatments aren’t cheap: A fancy drug like Wellbutrin can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,400 a year. These drugs also require access to a sympathetic doctor who will issue a prescription. That’s why, generally speaking, the new legalization program is for better-off Americans. As the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reports, rich people tend to abuse prescription drugs, while poorer Americans tend to self-medicate with old-fashioned illegal drugs or just get drunk.
The big picture reveals a nation that, let’s face it, likes drugs: Expert Joseph Califano estimates that the United States, representing just 4 percent of the world’s population, consumes nearly two-thirds of the world’s recreational drugs. In pursuit of that habit, the country has, in slow motion, found ways for the better-off parts of society to use drugs without getting near the scary drug laws it promulgated in the 20th century. Our parents and grandparents banned drugs, but the current generation is re-legalizing them. That’s why Rush Limbaugh, as a drug user, is in a sense a symbol of our times. He, like many celebrities, is a recovering addict. But with Limbaugh being somewhat outside of the 1960s drug culture, the medical marijuana movement was not for him. Instead, Limbaugh, the addicted culture warrior, has become the true poster child of the new drug legalization program.
Um: how to use it less
BOB GARFIELD: What about the public’s patience for vagaries of spoken language? Is there, in fact, an ebb and flow to the way we all handle other people’s speech errors?
MICHAEL ERARD: We typically don’t hear most of the “uhsÃ¢â‚¬Â� or the “ums” that other people say. There was one interesting study that was done where people are given a speech to listen to and about half of them, natively, listen to the content, and about half of them, natively, without any instruction, listen to the style.
When the content, for whatever reason, becomes extremely boring, people who listen for content start listening for style, and that’s when they start to notice the “uhs” and the “ums.” So when people say to me, how do I reduce the “uhsÃ¢â‚¬Â� and “ums,” I say, that’s easy; just be more interesting.
I think this is important, too… if the media set the standard, are they doing us a favor by cleaning up how
we they speak?
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you one more thing. I myself can barely utter an English sentence without making some sort of egregious error right in the middle of it. We naturally edit all of this stuff out of the show, or most of it. Are, are we doing our listeners a service by editing out my mistakes, and yours as well, by the way?
MICHAEL ERARD: I think you might be doing them a disservice. We live in a media environment that is very glib, and the glib has become praised over what is substantial. You know, in journalism there’s a sort of understanding that you won’t make someone sound more stupid or low class or uneducated than they actually are.
Quoting verbatim can be used to smear someone. But I think there’s also a way to use it in a way that gives you a more authentic sense of who the person is.
Matt Towery: Widner no Wilson mirror
[H]aving been directly involved in the creation of the 1995 law, I must note that the [Widner] case described in the article [AJC links die quickly; I excerpt it here] does not mirror - either by fact or legislative intent - the Genarlow Wilson case. [...]
At face value, the facts in the Widner case are completely different. The age difference between Widner and the 14-year-old is outside of any Romeo and Juliet exception - either explicit or implied. Based on the facts as set forth in the AJC article, Widner was 18 at the time and even the amended version of the Child Protection Act passed in 2006 excluded anyone 18 or older. Under the law, Widner was, at 18, a legal adult. In the law’s eyes he may as well have been 30 years old. [...]
Is 10 years an outrageous amount of time for Widner to serve? Yes. But the age issue in this instance is more problematic. Suppose an 18-year-old man, working at a store or fast-food place were to approach and convince a relatively inexperienced 14-year-old to engage in oral sex. Would this not possibly constitute, in essence, a grown man having sex with a child?
The answer is, legally, yes.
And that should not be! Remember, I’m an advocate of some concrete proposals put forward by William Saletan in Slate. Says he, it’s time to abandon the myth of the “age of consent.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
Saletan walks us through the history - “The original age of consent, codified in English common law and later adopted by the American colonies, ranged from 10 to 12” - then points out that as the age of consent has gone up, the age of puberty has gone down:
Having sex at 12 is a bad idea. But if you’re pubescent, it might be, in part, your bad idea. Conversely, having sex with a 12-year-old, when you’re 20, is scummy. But it doesn’t necessarily make you the kind of predator who has to be locked up. A guy who goes after 5-year-old girls is deeply pathological. A guy who goes after a womanly body that happens to be 13 years old is failing to regulate a natural attraction. That doesn’t excuse him. But it does justify treating him differently.
He goes on to look at research that finds differences in the age of physical, cognitive and emotional readiness and in that finds the beginnings of a logical scheme for regulating teen sex:
First comes the age at which your brain wants sex and your body signals to others that you’re ready for it. Then comes the age of cognitive competence. Then comes the age of emotional competence. Each of these thresholds should affect our expectations, and the expectations should apply to the older party in a relationship as well as to the younger one. The older you get, the higher the standard to which you should be held responsible.
The lowest standard is whether the partner you’re targeting is sexually developed as an object. If her body is childlike, you’re seriously twisted. But if it’s womanly, and you’re too young to think straight, maybe we’ll cut you some slack.
The next standard is whether your target is intellectually developed as a subject. We’re not talking about her body anymore; we’re talking about her mind. When you were younger, we cut you slack for thinking only about boobs. But now we expect you to think about whether she’s old enough to judge the physical and emotional risks of messing around. The same standards apply, in reverse, if you’re a woman.
It’s possible that you’ll think about these things but fail to restrain yourself. If you’re emotionally immature, we’ll take that into consideration. But once you cross the third line, the age of self-regulatory competence, we’ll throw the book at you.
Saletan sees “Age-span” provisions in the law as a good start, but in the Widner case above we find the problem. Towery says, “ I find 10 years too much for his case,” even as his legal argument sends Widner down the river!
Saletan’s proposal needs to be discussed, considered, codified and made into law:
I’d draw the object line at 12, the cognitive line at 16, and the self-regulatory line at 25. I’d lock up anyone who went after a 5-year-old. I’d come down hard on a 38-year-old who married a 15-year-old. And if I ran a college, I’d discipline professors for sleeping with freshmen. When you’re 35, “she’s legal” isn’t good enough.
What I wouldn’t do is slap a mandatory sentence on a 17-year-old, even if his nominal girlfriend were 12. I know the idea of sex at that age is hard to stomach. I wish our sexual, cognitive, and emotional maturation converged in a magic moment we could call the age of consent. But they don’t.