Thursday, February 23, 2006

South Dakota Bans Abortion + Iraq Civil War + Food Kitchens + Andrew Hill

I knew the day was coming soon when I'd have to type these words, as I made clear in my remarks about the Alito hearings and the Roe v. Wade anniversary, but I wasn't sure exactly when, or which state would distinguish itself by going first. South Dakota gets that honor, by banning abortions in almost every instances, with the aim of forcing the even more right-wing US Supreme Court to redecide the landmark 1973 ruling. The legislature of that state beat out Kentucky, Indiana, and several other states in enacting the legislation, which the Republican governor, Michael Rounds, has said he would sign.

The lawmakers voted down proposed amendments to allow abortions to protect the health of the mother, in cases of rape or incest. They also refused to allow voters to decide the fate of abortions by referendum. The lone exception would be if the fetus died during a physician's attempt to save the mother's life.

Planned Parenthood of South Dakota has said that it will sue to have the law overturned once it's signed, and it will probably make its way to SCOTUS fairly quickly, especially if the South Dakota appellate and supreme courts uphold it. Once it reaches SCOTUS, the chief question would be how would Anthony Kennedy, the lifelong Roman Catholic, Republican Reagan appointee who's become increasingly moderate in the last few years, would rule, especially now that there are four solid blocks on either side of this issue (on the left, Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg, and Breyer, and on the right, Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia).

Today, Associate Justice Alito's first day, the highest court signaled its eagerness to hear another abortion-related case, involving a revisitation of its prior ruling on the 2003 partial birth abortion ban law. If the earlier decision is overturned, some states, such as Wisconsin, have said it would de facto make legal abortions almost impossible, but that would only be a prelude to the outright banning of them by SCOTUS. I will go so far as to say that if the Supreme Court does manage to ban abortions either partially or outright in the remaining years of Bush's presidency, no matter how disastrous everything else turns out (Iraq, Plamegate, the domestic spying, the corruption scandals, the incompetence and cronyism, the Medicare prescription drug plan, the economy and deficit, you name it), he will be extolled as one of the greatest heroes of the far right, for generations. He could literally permit another 9/11-style attack, and be championed for having put the judges in place who banned abortion. I hope it doesn't come to that, but I knew when Roberts floated in that we were in for serious trouble.

Update: I saw online that the Ohio state legislature, controlled by Republicans, aims to take an even more extreme step: in addition to banning abortions in almost all cases, it wants to penalize women if they leave the state to get an abortion. So, under this law, if the Supreme Court has not fully banned abortions (yet), but Ohio bans them and the law is under appeal but without a judicial stay, thus not invalidating it, and other states could still have the power to permit them, then a woman whose residence is in Ohio could potentially be penalized for going to the neighboring states of Michigan or Pennsylvania, or even to Canada, to have an abortion. As far as I know, this previously hasn't passed muster as a legal principle (a state barring its residents from engaging in activities in another state), but hey, if the fanatics can try it, why won't they at this point? They see the green light hovering before them...


Shiite enraged
Not that the current scenario in Iraq wasn't imaginable to a great degree as far back as the late summer of 2002, when the W Unltd. mafia began their Goebbelsian propaganda campaign to launch this war (which they'd been planning for years, and which, according to recently released notes, they decided to launch on 9/12/2006), to which the Congress and the national media (though not millions of Americans and people around the world) completely and utterly capitulated, but still--

Horribile dictu, visu, scitu:
Guardian UK: Sectarian violence explodes attack on mosque (Shiite holy shrine)
Guardian UK: On the road to Rubicon
Guardian UK: Iraq slips towards civil war after attack on Shia shrine
UM history professor Juan Cole: Sistani threatens to turn to militia, al-Sadr calls for calm
Christian Science Monitor: Attack deepens Iraq's divide
New York Times: More clashes shake Iraq, political talks are in ruins
The Nation: Ari Berman's The Notion: Days of rage in Iraq


Today's Washington Post reports that 25 million people visited a food bank in 2005, up 9 percent from 2001. (It doesn't say what the percent increases were for the three interim years). To quote

The organization said it interviewed 52,000 people at food banks, soup kitchens and shelters across the country last year. The network represents about 39,000 hunger-relief organizations, or about 80 percent of those in the United States. The vast majority are run locally by churches and private nonprofit groups.

The surveys were done before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. After the hurricanes, demand for emergency food assistance tripled in Gulf Coast states, according to a separate report by the group.

The new report, being released Thursday, found that 36 percent of people seeking food came from households in which at least one person had a job. About 35 percent came from households that received food stamps.

Cousin said the numbers show that many working people don't make enough money to feed their families. She said the food stamp numbers show that the government program, while important, is insufficient.

"The benefits they are receiving are not enough," Cousin said.

Government reports also show the number of hungry Americans increasing.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last year said 13.5 million American households, or nearly 12 percent, had difficulty providing enough food for family members at some time in 2004. That was up from about 11 percent in 2003.

Not that this is any surprise, as the average family income dropped 2.3% from 2001 to 2004, according to USA Today. It seems there is a domestic price for outsourcing jobs and creating only low-wage service ones, gutting unions, and shifting the tax burden onto the poor and working-classes:

Average family incomes fell in the USA from 2001 to 2004, pulled down by a sluggish recovery from the downturn and the sharp stock market drop, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. The decline — the first since 1989-92 — was accompanied by the smallest increase in net worth in that period.

In its comprehensive Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Fed said the median net worth of the bottom 40% of families declined, while those at the top saw gains. The percentage of families investing in stocks fell 3.3 percentage points to 48.6% from 2001 to 2004, a level last reached some time between the 1995 and 1998 surveys.


From 2001 to 2004, average family income fell 2.3%, to an inflation-adjusted $70,700 from $72,400 in the 1998-2001 period. By contrast, from 1998 to 2001, average income jumped 17.3%. Median income — the midpoint of the income range — rose 1.6% to $43,200.

Fed economists said the figures were "strongly influenced" by a more-than-6% drop in median real wages during the period. Also, investment income was less than in the stock market boom years of the late 1990s. (Related: Full report)

Real net worth — the difference between family assets and liabilities — rose only slightly from 2001 to 2004. Median net worth rose only 1.5% to $93,100 during the period, vs. a 10.3% gain from 1998 to 2001. And liabilities rose faster than assets, due largely to a big rise in mortgage debt.


HillOn another beat, the New York Times features an insightful conversation with composer and pianist Andrew Hill (photo at right, by John Ballon). Now 69 and battling lung cancer, Chicago native Hill is one of the remaining pioneers from the major wave of experimentation in jazz that occurred during the late 1950s and 1960s. He chats with Ben Ratliff about CDs* he's listening to, his teenage performance with Charlie Parker, and calls attention to one of my favorite pieces, Max Roach's "As Long as You're Living" (though I like the version with Abbey Lincoln's vocals best). A charming piece that offers a window into this very talented and original musician's mind.
*Why does the New York Times persist in adding apostrophes to pluralize acronyms? Don't they realize they're one of the sources behind people adding apostrophes to pluralize everythign these days? CDs. Radars. IUDs. See? It's very simple. Just add an "s" or "es" (if the word ends in an "s" sound) and be done with it. Apostrophes signify possession or contraction--is this so hard for the New York Times to figure out?


  1. To adopt Condi's words, I take a long view of history. Roe vs. Wade was flawed in very many ways, in execution and in respect to how it was decided (as a right to privacy).

    Maybe the Left needs to lose: abortion, affirmative action, freedom, privacy, sexual rights.

    Feminism definitely needs to wake the hell up. Black politics needs to stop being sermons about irrelevant issues. And we all need to stop blaming hip hop for structural problems.

    Reality check time.

    The left lost when we forgot our origins in class-based struggles (debates between Washington and DuBois, black power, these were rooted in, if not related to, class).

    Feminism was not about disenchanted middle class white women, contra our established histories; it was more interesting in relation to class, especially when it comes to women of color. I won't touch queer politics: but we lost the moment we forgot Stonewall's class origins.

    That this decision should happen now, especially following a spectacular series of failed strikes and incredibly repressive union-busting since Reagan on, suggests the victories of neoliberalism as embodied in a complacent, self-satisfied, and victim-oriented American politics (yes, I do mean all those contradictions at once).

    But I really just need to write an essay on this. . . . yet another one.

  2. Write your essay. But just remember, it won't only be the "left" that loses...freedom, etc. Also, when you use these broad terms like "we," who are you talking about? Most Black progessives--most progressives I've worked and dealt with--don't blame mainstream hiphop for anything except its commercial self-indulgence and political irrelevance (these days). Poor C. Delores Tucker is dead. I also think that real progressives are quite aware of class, and have continued to make it a central aspect of progressive activism. The Democratic Party, and mainstream liberals, particularly the DLC crowd, whose emblematic figure was Bill Clinton, tried and continue to try to minimize class and the effects of the ongoing class struggle on politics, but progressives have never stopped talking about class. Or have they?

  3. they are wasting no time in reinstituting their demonic ways ... it is truly scary and i cant even think of what they have coming up next

  4. i think it's time to move to amsterdam...

  5. Nubian, I am feeling you, and I am feeling your photo. I think it is hot. But, the way them Europeans are playing the race bid whisk game, load only knows. The Danes just called a downton freedom of the press no trump, and the realities of globalization and European protectionism are about to hit colored hard over there. Shine your American passport like a silver cross with garlic on it.

    John. First you were right about the tangible consequences of abortion legislation. I was not aware of it going this far. It says a lot about the climate in which we live. And second, the discussion of class and its relation to education, an understanding of how the system operates, and access to wealth are not discussions that I hear outside of the progressive camp that I am involved in. Infact, when I left that camp to work in the "otherworld" no one was talking about it. They talk about work and debt. I get the feeling that we are arriving at the point of "everyman for himself".

    Interesting observation concerning the Clintons. I did not think of it that way, and a side from him playing the saxophone and being the first black president (who did nothing for Rwanda) I have never really known what to think of him.

  6. Sorry, too quick response. I blame you. Provocative posts make me feel like singing, dancing, writing, and hollering hallelujah all at once. Language spits out, literally. Now that I've played the blame game. More measured.

    I'm not sure when, but at some point, it very much feels like certain versions of progressive politics became rooted in fruitless struggles over representation, content with symbolic victories and symbolic proclamations. Perhaps my own entry into politics via the academy has me particularly jaundiced. I don't mean to obscure the relationship between representation and politics (which nubian has blogged about very eloquently) but I do think a politics of representation overshadowed more structural analyses. Thus, I partially agree with the right *cringe* when they talk about the "PC" wars or "culture wars." That they reduced complex discussions about the means and modes of production (language rooted in how we live and interact) to semantic struggles, and that *the left* continued to engage them on these grounds, losing, in the process, a view of structure, continues to be a source of continual anxiety and exasparation (I simply parrot Spivak).

    It's difficult to think about "the left" or "we" or "progressives," in part because I want to claim I *belong* to all three, that "we" speaks to or should speak to these three formulations; it so often doesn't. And I think that's a huge loss. From within the academy (we "foreign students" often begin in the academy, so take it as our point of entry into politics), prospects look especially grim for minority politics: women's and gender studies programs and hiring; attrition rates for black graduate students--not to mention strategic geographical positionings for social and psychic reasons which leave racist and homophobic institutions unchecked and uncritiqued; retirements and other leavings (death and otherwise) of the first generation of black professors to make paths into the academy; and the increasing recalcitrance of the iPod generation, minority and otherwise, to identify with any broad-based politics that undermines a neo-liberal inspired concept of ego-centered, emotionally-driven iPolitics--earphones in, world plugged out, it's cool as long as "i" feel good about myself. Storm clouds gather and the rain will be cold.

    Apologies for the long reply/posting. Indulge my long-windedness.

  7. Sorry, one more.

    As a good friend astutely remarked, official bannings of abortion merely put into law what has been happening in practice.

    Access to abortion clinics and resources has been increasingly difficult, especially for poor women, who cannot afford to travel long distances, often over a 2-3 week period; face emotional and financial intimidation (listen to your baby's heart); and often go to the wrong clinics, misled by false advertising (someone needs to sue pro-life clinics who misrepresent themselves).

    I'm not surprised by Ohio. Their stance on gay rights--as in, get rid of the queers through punitive and restrictive legislation--tells a terrible tale about civil rights. (Wait till it's the only State that offers me a job, *sigh* because the universe loves playing cruel jokes on me)