Take Five (The Boys of Bummer edition)

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ONE: “It’s all dudes.”

The most indelible quote from a week full of indelible quotes came from Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who remarked that seeing a photo of the all-male panel giving testimony at Congressman Darrell Issa’s hearing on contraception coverage was “like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years.”

Beyond the sorry specifics of the Issa hearing, Murray’s comment is an on-point description of the bedrock philosophy underlying the modern Republican Party, although in some cases a 50-year regression is insufficient; 100 or even 150 years might be a more appropriate number, depending on the issue.

Issa indulged in some of his usual obfuscation – oh, hell, let’s just call it what it is: bullshitting – when it came to explaining why a woman put forward by Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was denied the chance to testify:

… Issa Thursday said Democrats could not add their witness because she was not a member of the clergy, but a student at Georgetown. He also faulted Democrats for not submitting the name of the witness, Georgetown Law Center student Sandra Fluke, in time.

Issa’s staff sent a letter to the Democrats, saying, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

Got that? The Democrats’ witness wasn’t eligible because she’s not a member of the clergy. Oh, and also her name wasn’t submitted in time. Oh, and the hearing about reproductive rights wasn’t really about reproductive rights. Or all of the above. Yeah, that’s it, all of the above.

Issa’s little farce prompted a senator’s grandson to provide the week’s runner-up in the indelible quote department:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said her 16-year-old grandson saw the photo and instantaneously knew something was off. “It’s all dudes,” Boxer said, quoting her grandson.

House Democrats heard testimony from Fluke today, but the Republican majority on the Committee on House Administration would not allow the testimony to be televised.

TWO: Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Stick

Twice this week, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates postponed voting on a measure to require Virginia women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, involving the insertion of a metal imaging probe into the vagina.

A scathing Dahlia Lithwick piece last week in Slate put the proposed legislation in sharp perspective:

… the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman…

Throughout the controversy, Republicans availed themselves of the opportunity to indulge in some of the more revolting political rhetoric in recent memory:

[Deputy House Majority Leader C. Todd] Gilbert [(R-Shenandoah)], who opposes abortion rights, shocked opponents of a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion when he said: “In the vast majority of these cases, these are matters of lifestyle convenience.”

Gilbert later apologized, but only after video of his comments went viral. Even worse, another legislator, whose exact identity seems to have eluded scrutiny so far:

… suggested that women who consent to sex also consent to vaginal probing.

Yesterday, the House of Delegates approved the bill, albeit with revisions suggested by Governor Bob McDonnell, who, although an idiot, is not stupid:

… under pressure from pro-choice activists, as well as stinging ridicule from late-night television comics, McDonnell tweaked the bill to require only non-intrusive abdominal ultrasounds…

Well, maybe a little stupid. McDonnell commented:

“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state… No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”

In McDonnell’s Virginia, a proper role for the state is to mandate pointless, potentially humiliating and fiscally wasteful procedures, not invasive ones.

THREE: Warrior within What, Now?

Wasilla High School last appeared in Take Five when then-principal Dwight Probasco first barred the school’s “symphonic jazz” choir from performing the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” following a purported complaint from a parent about composer Freddie Mercury’s sexual orientation, and later permitted them to sing an abridged version which omitted the lines about the song’s narrator killing a man.

Probasco has since retired, and I’m sure new principal Amy Spargo hoped her administration could get underway without controversy. Guess again, Ms. Spargo:

Jim Dault and Shala Dobson are proud to display their artwork at Wasilla High School. After all, the Meadow Lakes artists are Valley residents and have a familial connection with the school.

That’s why Jan. 29 was an exciting day, Dault said. That’s the day they installed their sculpture “Warrior Within” in front of the Mat-Su Borough School District’s largest high school. Three days later, however, the $100,000 work of art, contracted through the state’s Percent For Art Program, was covered by tarps and has remained under wraps since.

The reason? Some students think the stone and concrete sculpture that features a pair of shields surrounded by feathers resembles female genitalia…

Spargo ordered the sculpture covered pending review by a committee of parents, teachers, students and admin staff. The piece, though, had already been reviewed and approved by a committee convened under Alaska’s Percent for Art program (which mandates that one percent of capital construction costs of public buildings be devoted to public art). It had also been approved in advance by the Mat-Su Borough school district. The principal, however, is determined to pursue the matter her way, although she doesn’t exempt herself from criticism:

Spargo said she welcomes all opinions to the debate, but those who cry censorship “never had to run a school before. This is my judgment on how to move forward. The artists have been delightful people, they’re wonderful professionals, they delivered what the contract says. … But the (negative) response was large, and it was pretty consistent that there wasn’t a lot of appreciation; however, I don’t think there was any prep work on my part to prepare the student body for it. It’s a great concept about thinking about what it really means to be a warrior.”

I’ve always assumed being a warrior had something to do with strength, courage and resolve, even when confronted with something (very vaguely) reminiscent of female genitalia. Continue reading Take Five (The Boys of Bummer edition)

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Take Five (Dejection Year edition)

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ONE: Deck the halls with boughs of folly…

This is the 43rd edition of Take Five, which celebrates its first anniversary next Monday – or would, were the world not perched perilously on the precipice of a moral abyss unprecedented in the majestic sweep of the last, say, six and a half months.

Back in May, I commented on a decision by Dwight Probasco, principal of Wasilla High School, to drop Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the school’s graduation ceremonies repertoire following a parent’s complaint that the song was inappropriate due to its composer’s sexual orientation. An abridged version of the song ended up being performed by the school’s “symphonic jazz” choir, though, and so legendary Wasilla – proud crystal meth capital of Alaska and the place where Sarah Palin reads, oh, pretty much all the newspapers and magazines that have been in front of her over all these years – forfeited its claim to being the Last Bulwark against the Gay AgendaTM.

That daunting mantle had to be picked up 2,756 miles southeast, in Traverse City, Michigan, where Cherry Knoll Elementary School has been gearing up for this year’s Christmas concert. As the program came together, the school’s music teacher boldly decided to alter the lyrics of “Deck the Halls” to avoid having the children sing about “gay apparel,” as the term purportedly caused the kids to giggle.

Following widespread criticism, school principal Chris Parker has since decreed that the young warblers revert back to the original lyrics. America’s desperate search for the Last Bulwark against the Gay AgendaTM continues.

TWO: Panic in Detroit

Elsewhere in Michigan, another city seems poised to fall under the fiscal control of the state government. Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Act of 1990 was updated last March, a change which:

… allows the state to review local governments’ fiscal standing sooner and take more actions to prevent bankruptcy…

Under the new law, Michigan’s emergency financial managers have extensive authority. They can reject, modify or terminate any collective bargaining agreement, recommend dissolution of the local government or recommend bankruptcy as a last resort. However, the courts can revoke a manager’s control if the court finds it to be based on insufficient documentation and evidence, or if the decision to assert emergency control is found to be arbitrary and capricious.

That this legislation occurred under Governor Rick Snyder is reason enough to think it’s a bad thing. “Arbitrary and capricious” pretty much sums up Snyder’s entire approach to governing. It’s not much of a stretch to believe that it’s simply another way to erode public sector workers’ rights and subvert municipal self-determination. Of course, there are alternative views:

… Tom Wieczorek, director of the Washington-based International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety Management and a retired city manager from Michigan, says the new Michigan law is designed as a better alternative to bankruptcy…

Although they too smell just a little off:

… Wieczorek says other states could pass similar laws, just as the idea of placing limitations on public employees’ collective bargaining rights spread from Wisconsin to other states. “It just seems lately to be a trend, what starts in one state moves across [to others],” he says.

In April, Benton Harbor became the first municipality in Michigan affected by the revised act, later joined by Flint and Pontiac. This week, Snyder’s government began a review of Detroit’s financial situation. Depending on the outcome, Detroit might be next.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, a Democrat, has already incurred the wrath of public employees by proposing to lay off 1,000 city employees and negotiating 10 percent pay cuts with those who would keep their jobs. AFSCME has declared its willingness to cooperate with the city government, but reaching a compromise is bound to be difficult and painful. Without one, though, it’s a safe bet that Lansing will step in.

So how might state control of Detroit work? If Pontiac and Benton Harbor are any indication, it wouldn’t be pretty:

As Benton Harbor’s emergency manager, Joe Harris has ordered firefighter cross-training for police officers, which reduced public-safety costs by a third.

He also negotiated new collective-bargaining agreements with many unions, forcing Benton Harbor employees to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums and contribute 10 percent of their wages to pensions.

In Pontiac, emergency manager Lou Schimmel dismissed the city clerk, the city attorney and the head of public works. He’s also taken smaller steps, such as removing parking meters that cost too much to maintain. And he hopes to save $3 million by having the neighboring community of Waterford take over fire protection.

Legal challenges against the revised act on grounds of unconstitutionality are pending. I hope they get expedited. Any day now, Snyder might decide that Michigan can no longer afford courts. Continue reading Take Five (Dejection Year edition)

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Take Five (Who'da Thunk It edition)

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ONE: Scumhog Millionaire et al.

Donald Trump wrapped up his latest and most Rococo exercise in crass, self-aggrandizing buffoonery on Monday with the altogether unsurprising announcement that he has decided not to vie for the GOP Presidential nomination after all.

Trump used the opportunity both to pat himself vigorously on the back and to indulge in some rank untruths, all of which was also altogether unsurprising:

“This decision does not come easily or without regret, especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country.”

What Trump should have said is “ranking down there with ditch water,” since his Icarus-like fall from political favor has been swift, despite most Republican voters being unable to distinguish Shineola from, let’s say, um, Santorum:

Trump’s support for the Republican nomination fell from 26 percent in April to just eight percent in early May in surveys done by Public Policy Polling.

The announcement came hot on the heels of Mike Huckabee’s admission a couple of days earlier that he doesn’t particularly feel like getting his ass kicked by Barack Obama next year either:

“All the factors say go, but my heart says no.”

Trump was quick to offer up this ludicrous tidbit of congratulation and commentary on the Huckabee announcement:

“Mike Huckabee is not going to be running for president. This might be considered by some people, not necessarily me, bad news because he is a terrific guy — and frankly I think he would be a terrific president. But a lot of people are very happy that he will not be running, especially other candidates. So, Mike, enjoy the show. Your ratings are terrific. You’re making a lot of money. You’re building a beautiful house in Florida. Good luck.”

Now, you might be thinking at this point that the race for the Republican nomination just got a little more rational. And you would be dead wrong:

Rep. Michele Bachmann said Tuesday she’s close to deciding whether to jump into the 2012 presidential race, and she suggested that Mike Huckabee’s and Donald Trump’s exits from the field make it more likely she’ll get in.

Huckabee’s and Trump’s decisions have “changed the grass roots and what they’re looking for,” the Minnesota congresswoman said on Fox News Channel on Tuesday. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook, our Facebook has been lit up, our donations are pouring in. People are saying ‘Michele jump in, we want you to run.’’

Bachmann has decided to utilize a two-tier approach to campaign fundraising:

… asking supporters to choose to donate small amounts if they want her to stay in the House, or larger amounts if they want her to pursue the presidency.

No word yet on how big a donation is required if one simply wants her to shut up and disappear, but I have my checkbook handy. Continue reading Take Five (Who’da Thunk It edition)

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