The Eleventh Commandment

The debacle over President Obama’s free contraceptive mandate within the Affordable Care Act came to a head this week with Rush Limbaugh calling birth control advocate and former president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice  Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute. The uproar started when California Congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa convened a February 16 hearing to discuss regulations requiring faith-based employers and insurers to provide birth control, and allowed no women to speak on the panel. With women’s health at the center of the debate, the absence of women was offensive and troubling to many. The title of the hearing itself, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” is indicative of the partisan rancor from the outset. The prohibition of Fluke’s testimony was red meat to Democrats who seized on the opportunity to criticize the motives of Republicans, who have been on a tear lately… from defunding Planned Parenthood to passing a Virginia law requiring ultrasounds for abortions to introducing “personhood” legislation which would define life as beginning at the moment of conception.

Prior to the Fluke controversy, Obama addressed the legitimate inquiry into First Amendment protections for religious institutions by removing the requirement from the Catholic Church itself and placing it on insurance companies instead. Republicans and religious leaders, however, would not drop the issue, and it morphed into a debate on women’s health. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum weighed in on the issue, decrying the use of contraceptives as a practicing Catholic, and in an interview with Andrea Mitchell, his financial backer Foster Friess said, “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” Friess’ admonition for women to keep their legs closed didn’t exactly go over well.

The following week Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, convened their own hearing in which Ms. Fluke testified to the non-contraceptive conditions for which birth control is often prescribed, and recounted stories of a friend with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a student with endometriosis who cannot get coverage from her insurance provider. Ms. Fluke implored the panel:

“How can Congress consider allowing even more employers and institutions to refuse contraceptive coverage and then respond that the non-profit clinics should step up to take care of the resulting medical crisis, particularly when so many legislators are attempting to defund those very same clinics?”

Ms. Fluke’s assertion that birth control could cost over $3000 over three years set off a wildfire on the right. Limbaugh opined that the third-year law student is a “slut” who is “having so much sex” that she can’t pay for contraception, and that her desire for free birth control coverage made her a “prostitute.” While the quoted amount is on the high end and there are many cheaper options, her assertion is not technically false. Per month it works out to $83.33, and while generic pills cost much less, the more effective Ortho-Evra patch goes for $80-100 per month. Seemingly ignorant as to how birth control actually works, Limbaugh figured how much sex Fluke must be having per day to be paying so much…. Earth to Rush Limbaugh:  Pills, patches, etc. don’t work like Viagra–you don’t pop them every time you have sex! A woman could have sex once a month and her birth control would cost the same amount.

On the topic of Viagra… Bill O’Reilly jumped on the Sandra-Fluke-Slut-Train himself, apparently in a contest with Limbaugh to see who could be more insulting to women. O’Reilly echoed Limbaugh’s crass characterizations of Ms. Fluke, but went further trying to debunk a comparison by California Senator Barbara Boxer of birth control to Viagra, the cost of which IS covered by health insurance. Objecting to financing the recreational use of contraceptives, O’Reilly said:

“Nobody’s saying that American women should be denied insurance coverage if something is physically wrong with them, and that’s what Viagra covers for men. So this is BS, and by the way nobody is denying women birth control either- it’s on sale nearly everywhere.”

However, the Boxer analogy is an apt one. Both pills are used for reproductive AND preventive health, but BOTH may be used recreationally. According to noted Boston urologist Irwin Goldstein, nearly 400 of his patients are using 25 mg of Viagra nightly as a preventive measure–with nothing ‘physically wrong with them.’ Says Goldstein, “Men say, ‘I’m potent. I don’t want to become impotent. Is there something I can do?’ It’s a very simple strategy for preserving sexual health.”

Further, as found in a WebMD article entitled, “Viagra: How Young is Too Young?”:

Urologist Myron Murdock, medical director of the Impotence Institute of America, says these men are likely to use Viagra because sexual performance is a high priority for them.

A younger man, Murdock says, “wants his V-12 Jaguar working just perfectly,” whereas an elderly gent may be content with less dependable erections. What’s more, the sexual partners of younger men “are more demanding of their performance,” Murdock says.

Pfizer denies that it’s promoting Viagra for recreational use. “We’ve consistently opposed that,” says spokesman Geoff Cook. Nevertheless, Murdock says it’s fine to pop the little blue pill to “optimize” your sexual performance.

So Bill O… I, like you, don’t want to subsidize someone else’s bedroom recreation–whether it’s boner pills or birth control. I suspect, however, that this is not what it’s really about… It’s about the suppression of female sexuality in a patriarchal society and forcing religious morality on others, which is funny coming from a political ideology that allegedly espouses liberty. So why is a woman a whore for wanting to have sex responsibly without risking unwanted pregnancy? Because of the eleventh commandment.

P.S. Personally, I stopped taking birth control seven years ago, so I’m not looking for a handout. I didn’t want to poison my body with synthetic pharmaceuticals with harmful side effects. But hey, that’s the beauty of this country–it’s my choice. If you guys want to poison yourselves with magic pills, go right ahead, I won’t stop you.

Know Thine Enemy

When I arrived in D.C. last week for Occupy Congress and Occupy the Courts, I was full of hope for impacting the elected representatives gathered in our nation’s capital, and much more so after the first night’s mass protest, but was unaware of the entire Congressional schedule… that in fact only the House of Representatives was meeting that week and that they would only meet for two days before adjourning for out-of-town retreats… in Baltimore. Seeking interviews with any Congress members I could find, I had popped in and out of the administrative office buildings of Cannon, Rayburn, and lastly, Longworth. Shortly before Longworth closed, I found Speaker Boehner’s office, and was informed that he had already left for the Republican Retreat, a 3-day strategy session mapping out GOP initiatives for the year. I gathered some contact information, namely that of Boehner’s Chief of Staff, Mick Krieger, before heading back to a hotel where several members of the Occupy Los Angeles Media Team were meeting for dinner.

Once I arrived at the hotel, discussion quickly turned to the events taking place in Baltimore that night and for the following days. Not only was the Republican Retreat taking place there, but also the Democratic Progressive Caucus, which was being attended by some members of Occupy Wall Street, NYC. We all expressed the desire to go, and somehow all the pieces fell into place, chiefly that we were able to book rooms at the very same hotel that was hosting the Republican Retreat. We even had an old school, green Volkswagen van to complete the hippy road-trip adventure. Pulling up at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in the VW was certainly amusing—not only to me, but to the staff and police securing the hotel.

The following day, Thursday, was the first of the Republican Retreat, and I was determined to open a dialogue with the legislators in attendance. Much to my chagrin, the events were not open to the public, and the hotel was crawling with security. I looked endlessly online for an event agenda, to no avail. A colleague and I went to Happy Hour at a neighboring bar, hoping to glean some kind of information from anyone taking a respite from the activities. As the afternoon progressed to early evening, many attendees streamed in, evidently on break. Once people started heading back to the hotel, I took that as my cue to join them.

I rode the elevator with people heading to the reception before the dinner, and was able to blend in with the group. I headed to the bar, made a lap around the room, and sat down at a table to observe the crowd for any opportunities. I spotted a man with a name-tag that read ‘Mick Krieger,’ and recognized it immediately though not knowing why. I pulled his business card out of my purse, and realized he was Boehner’s Chief of Staff. I sat awhile, waiting for an opening, but it did not come. Instead, I got up to do another lap, and ran into Representative Allen West of Florida, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Army and currently the Tea Party legislator notorious for brawling with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

I engaged Rep. West in a discussion of the National Defense Authorization Act, and how certainly he must find it appalling considering the Tea Party’s stance on civil liberties. He shook his head in disagreement, saying that there was no provision for detaining American citizens indefinitely in the final bill, and that the law was “vital to our national security.” I asked him, “Why, then, did Obama issue a ‘signing statement’ upon signing the NDAA into law? And further, why did I see Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Bill Maher discussing the very topic apologetically?” Mr. West continued to deny the existence of the provision, saying that Wasserman Schultz “didn’t know what she was talking about.” He then asked me if I knew of their feud and for my opinion on the matter. I replied, “Honestly, I found it refreshing that you stated your feelings so openly. It’s so rare in politics these days.” I profusely thanked Rep. West for his military service, and he politely posed for a picture with me.

I continued my stroll around the reception, looking for Krieger and Boehner. The dinner bells rang, and people started piling into the dining room. I went in myself, took a look around, and realized I had very little time for action. I walked back out into the reception lobby, and found Frank Luntz, the GOP strategist familiar to many from his appearances on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. I told him I was a big fan, and asked him how it was seemingly so easy for him to handle Stephen Colbert, to which he replied, “It’s very hard—he’s very intelligent, and it’s hard to know when he’s joking and when he’s being serious.” I was laughing hysterically inside my head, but managed to keep it together enough to thank him and request a picture.

After Frank Luntz, the room was almost empty, most everyone having been seated for dinner. I honestly thought that my adventure was over… I was grabbing a water from the bar; turned to leave; and whom did I see? John Boehner! Walking toward me! The whole transaction went something like this:

“Why, hello there!”

“Hello, Speaker Boehner! How are you? You are looking great this evening!”

“Why thank you.”

“I’m really a huge fan. Would you mind taking a picture with me?”

“Sure, sure.”

As I am pulling up the camera function on my phone, he asks with knowing eyes, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, well, I’m in town to visit my cousin’s art gallery…” He looks at me directly in the eyes, as if to say, “Cut the bullshit.”

“…and I’m a political blogger covering the events” …upon which he turns and walks away, in the direction of the dining room.

I immediately headed back to my hotel room; found that the key no longer worked; and went downstairs to address the issue with the front desk. Walking back to the elevators, I was stopped by an undercover Capitol Police officer. He asked me what I was doing on the 3rd floor for over an hour, how I had gotten there, etc. I showed him my I.D.; requested his; and returned to my room, where several members of Occupy LA Media were waiting. After going over the details of my story, they told me that they had been very productive talking with Progressive Caucus members that day, and that they were headed back to the other hotel for further discussions. I decided to pen the following e-mail to Krieger, in a last-ditch effort to open dialogue between Occupy and the Republican Party. To this date I have received no reply.

Hello, Mick,

I saw you speaking with Rep. Patrick Meehan, and was wanting to speak with you myself.  However, I thought it inappropriate to interrupt you, being that I do not know you personally.  I am a producer of written content, graphics, and video for Occupy LA Media and for my own website, www.LadyLibertine.net.  I am seeking to open a dialogue with you and Speaker Boehner vis a vis common ground between Occupy and the Republican party.  Just so you know, I am making this effort because I have counterparts that are now speaking with the Progressive Caucus.  Occupy does not seek to align itself with any party, but to open dialogue with all.  Again, we do not affiliate with any party.  I do not speak on behalf of the movement generally, but as an autonomous individual.  I think that our mutual love of civil liberties and the Constitution can be this common ground.  I look forward to meeting you formally and engaging you further.

For love of country,

Lauren Windsor

aka Lady Libertine

My and my colleagues’ experiences in Baltimore reflect a critical issue for Occupy nationally. How does the movement go forward in engaging the political parties to affect change, when we have scant resources in a battle with forces who seemingly have an unlimited supply? The Democrats welcomed Occupy members with open arms… though I am not naive enough to believe they truly seek structural change. The Republicans, did not, and apparently, do not want dialogue, as evidenced by a recent report from Up with Chris Hayes, detailing the efforts of former Boehner staffers to destroy Occupy.

In a memo from D.C. lobbying firm Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford (CLGC), of which two partners are former Boehner aides, CLGC outlines the threat that Occupy poses to the financial industry and proposes strategies for marginalizing the movement and its supporters to their client, the American Bankers Association (ABA). According to Hayes, “It lays out a plan for a nearly $1 million campaign against Occupy Wall Street and any politicians who might express sympathy for Occupy Wall Street, including specific Democratic politicians in contested races.”  While Occupiers quibble over the political correctness of mission statements for committees, and over not taking help from progressive organizations for fear of being co-opted, and amongst themselves generally, lobbyists and legislators strategize the movement’s demise. I implore everyone who is active in this movement to stop in-fighting and obstructionism, and to start seeing the big picture…

A friend of mine recently told me a story about the Indian tribes fighting for their survival. At first, all the tribes fought each other and could not join together against their common foe. But one day, one of the elder chiefs had a vision during a sweat (a tribal ritual sauna). In the vision, he saw all of the tribes fighting in a valley, decimating each other, and on the hill overlooking it, he saw the white man in victory without any effort. That chief was able to see the bigger picture, and unite the tribes. Occupy and the organizations of the progressive left and libertarian right are the Indians, and we are in dire need of uniting our tribes against Wall Street and its defenders, namely, but not solely Republicans, if we ever want to stand a chance. I know that many will say that the 99% movement is inclusive, not exclusive, that Occupy neither affiliates nor excludes. However, Occupy has extended the invitation to dialogue to BOTH parties. That invitation remains open, but until Wall Street and Republicans come to the table, know thine enemy.

The Obama Doctrine: Piss Off Everyone Involved

Last night President Obama updated the American public of the progress of the war in Afghanistan, though nothing said was particularly spectacular or surprising.  This address had been highly anticipated due to the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden, and his promise to begin troop withdrawal this July, for which he was highly criticized last year and for which he will receive much criticism this year…. though for the opposite reasoning.

When President Obama entered office, troops in Afghanistan numbered 34,000; they now number 100,000.  He campaigned on re-focusing on the war in Afghanistan and doing whatever necessary to capture bin Laden, even if that meant disregarding sovereign borders– both promises kept.  Obama announced a withdrawal of 10,000 troops by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer, which will recover the amount of troops he added for the surge in 2010.  The President declined to specify the further reductions, but said they would occur at a steady pace until the “end” of the war in 2014.  Polls show that 56% of Americans now support immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Many of the Republican Presidential contenders are calling for speedy troop withdrawal, mostly due to the slow pace of economic recovery at home, pressures from the Tea Party, and let’s be realistic– to play the contrarian role to a Democratic Commander-in-Chief.  Many Democrats, rather than themselves uniting as a party behind their leader, are renouncing Obama as well.  With friends like that, who needs enemies?

There are, however, still those in both parties that believe a large military presence is still needed to maintain American security, not to merely fight what remains of Al Qaeda, but to stabilize tensions in a fractured Pakistan and in a Middle-East still roiling from the Arab Spring.  Despite the new Republican stance, old establishment Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) support a large continued role, and question a hasty departure.  The Pentagon has called for no significant reduction until the fall of 2012.

No matter what numbers Obama cited, they would have been wrong.  Noted.  However, the number of troops still in Afghanistan next summer would be double what they were when Obama took office… The difference now?  Osama is dead.  Our economy is enduring protracted pain, a pain that could largely be remedied with funds spent in Afghanistan.  Funds to the tune of $120 billion a year.  Democrats are salivating for these funds for infrastructure projects.  Republicans want to pay down the deficit.  Even if Obama wanted to end the war to accomplish those ends, he would not be able to do so with any political cover… So what does he do to accomplish it without doing it himself?  Piss everyone off.

Obama is the Jedi of compromise, of taking the middle road, of patience under pressure, often to his own detriment.  What’s an effective compromise?  One in which everyone leaves the table unhappy.  So here’s my thinking:  Obama’s damned regardless, so he forces everyone else’s hand.  Rather than acquiesce to those demanding troop withdrawal– he can’t be militarily irresponsible, or to the war hawks who would wait for withdrawal until the fall of an election year– a politically untenable position, Obama announces the fewest troops possible that would still qualify as a troop reduction in most people’s minds, and thus still delivers on another promise.

Yet this troop reduction will not be enough for many lawmakers, who will rally to support new anti-war legislation on the behalf of angry constituents in the lead up to next year’s election.  The McGovern-Jones bill for an Afghan exit would likely be re-introduced.  If Congress passed anti-war legislation, Obama would have adequate political cover to end the war at a much faster and much more economic pace… and still have the political clout to win re-election… So this is my Obama/Afghan fantasy:  that he is pissing everyone off in an elaborate Jedi-mindfuck.  Let’s hope the force is with him.