- Elon James White Let’s Call Trump’s Language What It Is (@TheRoot.com)
This is wonderful news, but as it involves both HIV and stem cells, I already know how evil fucks like Glenn Beck will spin it.
They’ll say that homosexuals with AIDS are vampires who have to suck the life force out of unborn babies to survive.
You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Just watch.
Trailer for Night Catches Us.
What politicians really mean nowadays when they talk about being “sensitive.”
The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.
Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:
* There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind government. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.
* The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection, etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible — roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, education, etc. No business can function without them. This has not been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is what makes freedom, fairness, and prosperity possible. Conservatives do not believe in those moral missions of government, and when in power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral missions.
* The moral missions of government impose a distinction betweennecessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities should never be diverted to private profit.
* Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services — car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government “services” and speak instead of government providing necessities. Similarly, “spending” does not suggest providing necessities. “Spending” suggests services that could just as well be eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the term “spending” when discussing necessities.
* The market is supposed to be “efficient” at distributing goods and services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. Health care is a perfect example.
* Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money would be there later. Those corporations and governments that took the money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies and governments) are now blaming the unions who negotiated deferred earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., general motors) are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and investing them safely.
* Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means to make money and hence as a private good. This leads them to eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.
* Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a restriction on access to necessities for many, and a grossly unfair distribution of power — power over the media and political power.
* Tax “cuts,” “breaks,” and “loopholes” sound good (wouldn’t you like one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets of super-wealthy people who don’t need it.
* Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of public, not just private concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.
* Carbon-based fuels — oil, coal, natural gas — are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers, hundreds of billions for oil leases, hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas fracking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself — the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death — the oil and coal companies — are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies, they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming — our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.
* What is called “school failure” is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning in place a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.
* Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs — extravagant offices, business cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions.
* The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. But that truth lies outside of public discourse.
* Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible. Those workers deserve gratitude — as well as health care, education for their kids, and decent housing.
Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words to express the frames. Such words have to be invented and will only come into common use when these presently untellable truths become commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse:
* greed crisis in place of economic crisis
* blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants
* government for profit in place of privatization
* public theft in place of tax breaks
* failing citizens in place of failing schools
* corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization
* deadly coal in place of clean coal
Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.
If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this is it. Bring back “empathy” — “the most important thing my mother taught me.” Speak of “empathy” for “people who are hurting.” Say again how empathy is basis of democracy (“caring for your fellow citizens”), how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip on public discourse.
As we get ready, in 2010, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hormonal contraception in the United States, women have every right to stand up and cheer for a birth control option that has revolutionized how effective a contraceptive can be. “The Pill” and its descendants have indeed provided women with a unique tool that has changed the terms in which women control their social and professional choices. Amidst all the applause, though, let us not oversimplify the history of a drug that has often coupled danger with opportunity, and indeed reinforced some serious inequities even as it promised to enhance women’s rights.
Today, 50 years later, ovulation suppression through hormonal drugs still harbors many adverse effects, which range from mood swings and diminished libido, to fatalities from blood clots. The innovation itself emerged at the cost of experimentation on poor women, and came, in part, out of a desire to control the fertility of poor populations. The pill was able to be born because of deep social and economic injustices, not solely as a response to them. The pill trials were conducted on poor women in Puerto Rico, in part because they had fewer legal protections against some of the dangers of new drug trials. Male doctors scoffed when female doctor Edris Rice-Wray suggested that the side effects of the new pill might be too numerous to be generally tolerable and carried on with hardly a pause when more than one woman in the trial died mysteriously. It turned out that Rice-Wray was right about the risks of the pill but wrong about women’s willingness to endure them.
It might be easy to see the approval acceptance of hormonal contraception as a pure female victory, and indeed it happened in part because women deeply hungered for reliable birth control. It is also true that it was moved forward not only to satisfy this need, but because of deep anxieties among the powerful that a booming population in the developing world would lead to the spread of communism, and that a similar growth in poor (and non-white) populations within the United States would cause domestic instability. Even as the pill offered the promise of liberation to affluent women it provided a powerful and easily abused tool for controlling the fertility of poor and disempowered women. Margaret Sanger realized this, and readily voiced deeply racist and classist sentiments in service of her otherwise valiant agenda.
Within just a few years of the approval of Enovid, the first pill, it became clear that women were experiencing serious adverse health effects. Barbara Seaman, a young journalist for Brides and Ladies Home Journal magazines realized how common truly frightening health problems were when she began receiving letters from readers. Experiences ranged from the aggravating —weight gain, mood swings, sexual problems—to the life threatening—blood clots and other potentially fatal problems including cancers. Seaman’s ground-breaking 1969 book, The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, chronicled the suffering of real women on the pill and documented the multiple health risks tying the silence and lack of information about them to drug company greed, unequal power between doctors and patients, and sexism in American life.
It was a tough message for many women to hear, and certainly one that defied (and continues to defy) a narrative that argues simply that access to reliable birth control gives women power. But for those who were willing to take up the difficult implications of Seaman’s work, an important feminist model emerged. When members of DC Women’s Liberation disrupted hearings on the pill spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson it was to protest the manipulative way the pill was being marketed to women, not to praise the product. Women were demanding something truly radical: the right to insist not just on access to contraception, but to demand that the products be safe. Today, while many valid questions about the pill’s safety and side effects remain, the hormone dose has been reduced ten times, and patient package inserts have been added to warn patients of the risks. This is due to the tireless efforts of the women’s health movement.
Women have certainly seen their lives and opportunities transformed in the past fifty years. While the pill is one powerful player in this remarkable story, this revolution has occurred largely through the persistent efforts of women (in multiple contexts and conditions) on their own behalves. The pill did not create second wave feminism. And likewise, it did not create all the changes that that remarkable movement oversaw. Those things happened because courageous women were willing to sacrifice and fight over time for them. In recent years, the reproductive justice movement, powerfully led in many cases by feminists of color, has made the point that single-mindedly striving for the right to birth control and abortion ignores the complex power systems that too often dictate the terms in which women make decisions about their health in general and their reproductive and sexual health in particular.
And that brings us to the current moment. As the pill starts its second half-century, women find themselves dealing with many of the same old problems. Access to health care is deeply unequal: many go uninsured and many more lack basic education about their bodies and sexual health. While the shocking sterilization abuses of poor women and women of color that persisted into the nineteen eighties have been curtailed, the experience of Norplant in the nineteen nineties showed that new and potentially dangerous products are still marketed disproportionately to these women.
Doctors still pressure women to use pharmaceutical birth control and dismiss concerns about side effects and dangers revealing that while women have entered the medical profession, they have not been immune to perpetuating sexism and perhaps even more distressingly, drug company agendas. Women have come to accept with little question that contraception should be their responsibility.
Even in an age when HIV/AIDS has brought new relevance to condom use, women still struggle with partners who insist that it is better for them to bear the costs of contraception in their veins than cause sexual inconvenience. And of course all these years later there is still no “pill for men” or modern contraceptive equivalent for male bodies. In fact there has been very little contraceptive innovation at all. Drug companies, burned by law suits with the pill, Dalkon Shield IUD and more recent devices such as Norplant have largely decided that the pill (and other hormonal contraceptives) are “good enough.” Repackaging of the same old drugs—in the form of implants, injections, rings, patches and chewables —are sold as innovation and pills promising to eliminate periods show the way in which contraceptives are being subtly re-branded as lifestyle drugs.
Rarely in any contraceptive debate is the issue of respecting a woman’s natural reproductive cycle raised. If men were asked to take a hormonal therapy that would cut off the healthy production of their sex cells, would they take it? Would they take it if it would reduce their sexual appetite and adversely affected their moods? Would they take it if it increased their risks of developing high blood pressure, metabolic problems, certain cancers and having a stroke? Maybe. Yet, women everyday take on these risks to suppress ovulation without ever considering whether they are loosing something essential when they do so.
The pill has indeed helped women to write heroic chapters in their histories. It has provided a contraceptive efficacy that was only a dream before, and other health benefits such as some protection against ovarian cancer and relief for women with severe menstrual distress. But it is not a silver bullet.
And even today it poses serious health questions and comes with a host of side effects. As we stand on this important anniversary, perhaps we need to do the thing that seems to be the hardest: to appreciate this remarkable innovation while also being honest about its limitations. To give credit to this exceptional tool while also frankly acknowledging the sometimes difficult histories that have allowed to it take its current position of prominence in the contraceptive landscape. We need, once again, to broaden the conversation, educating women to make responsible decisions about birth control that would respect other birth control choices. And even as we enjoy and use this amazing product, we need to keep pushing and fighting for something better.
Laura Eldridge is a women’s health writer and activist. Her upcoming book In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices for Women (Seven Stories Press; June 2010) will be the most comprehensive book on birth control since the 1970s.
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