Bob Dylan’s Missed Chance in China

It’s been a long, long time since Bob Dylan has had any credibility as a singer of protest songs.  His one-time reputation as the figurehead of protest is long gone.  (To be fair to Dylan, he may never have wanted the reputation of being considered as the voice of the 1960’s civil rights and anti-war movements.  But if he didn’t want that, it’s a huge rip off for him to keep singing those songs and making money from them.)  But he keeps going on—doing a seemingly continual series of concerts even though all he does is get on stage, sing in an almost incomprehensible voice, have no communication with the audience, and get off so he can get his money.  (He also constantly changes the tempo and sound of his classic songs, which I actually like.)

But, boy, in recent days, has he ever missed a chance to do some actual good and cause some actual changes.  He is currently in China.  He performed one concert a few days ago and is scheduled to perform another one on Friday.  The kicker is that he capitulated to censorship from the Chinese government by agreeing to leave out any songs the government decided were not to be performed.  Thus, for example, Dylan did not perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Desolation Row,” or “Times They Are a-Changin’.”  (He had performed those songs in Taiwan just two days prior to the China concert.)

Wouldn’t it have been great to see Dylan agree before the concert not to perform the songs and then go on stage and sing them anyway?  Now, that would have been a protest!  What would the Chinese government do, put him in jail?  Keep him from leaving the country?  No, it would be almost impossible to believe they would do that.  After all, when Bjork performed in concert in China in 2008, she yelled “Tibet! Tibet!” during her song “Declare Independence.”  She was allowed to leave the country.

Bob Dylan, don’t you at least think about doing something that would make those who at one time idolized you think that you are still capable of making a difference?  You have another chance on Friday.  What are you going to do?


A Former “First Lady”’s View on Women

I was doing a crossword puzzle recently and one of the questions was to name the person who said:

A woman’s place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight.

I didn’t know the answer, but it turned out that the speaker was former “first lady” Bess Truman, wife of President Harry Truman.  She gave the quote while Harry was a senator and still believed it when Harry became President.  (Even though she apparently did quite a bit of work behind the scenes to help Harry.)  Her stance of trying to be invisible in public was, and is, particularly jarring because her immediate predecessor as “first lady” was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was, of course, a national force.  Bess Truman seemed to go out of her way to distance herself from Roosevelt.  For instance, she ended Roosevelt’s weekly meetings with female reporters, giving as her reason that “[y]ou don’t need to know me. I’m only the president’s wife and the mother of his daughter.”

One way of looking at this is to see how things have changed since the 1950’s.  Another way to look at it is to have even more gratitude for Eleanor Roosevelt.

Still Only Words (but No Action) from Hillary Clinton as USAID Pulls Back on Goals for Helping Afghan Women

Two days ago, I wrote about how Hillary Clinton, after promising last year that the United States would never “abandon” the women of Afghanistan, has said nothing about moves by USAID (United States Agency for International Development) that, in fact, are precisely abandoning the rights of Afghan women.  Well, now, Clinton has said something, but, as has been the practice of Barack Obama (e.g., the recent cave-in on Guantanamo), she has given idle words without taking any action.

In response to the Washington Post article about the abandoning actions by USAID, Clinton (again) said the right things to a House panel: that the U.S. government will not back away from supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan, that the U.S. commitment to Afghan women remains undiminished, that “[w]e believe strongly that supporting women and girls is essential to building democracy and security, and that the United States is “currently providing more support than at any time in our government’s history” for education, health-care and political empowerment programs.

But they were words only.  And she did not even address the actions by USAID.  So, it appears that Clinton likes to say that they U.S. supports women’s rights in Afghanistan, but is content to look the other way when the U.S. takes actions that are completely contrary to improving those rights.  Like Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton.  Apparently, promises aren’t meant to be kept.




No Comment from Hillary Clinton as USAID Pulls Back on Goals for Helping Afghan Women

In May 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States would never “abandon” the women of Afghanistan by allowing President Hamid Karzai to make any deals with the Taliban.   Specifically, Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials that “we will not abandon you. . . . [I]t is essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.”  Clinton also said that she had promised Karzai that the U.S. would not “abandon Afghanistan in its quest for peace and long-term stability and we will not. And I make the same pledge to the women of Afghanistan. We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always.”  And last month, Clinton promised that the United States “will not . . . support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.”

However, Clinton has made no comment as USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has eliminated provisions in contracts that would have ensured at least some help for Afghan women.  Even though this is not in the context of Karzai making deals with the Taliban, it seems awfully clear that this is an abandonment of the women.  Why are we hearing nothing from Clinton?  As I said in that July post, “Hillary Clinton, please remember your pledge to the women of Afghanistan.”  Clearly, she has forgotten that pledge.

In March 2010, USAID sought bids for a $140 million land reform program in Afghanistan.  The bid required that the winning contractor meet specific goals to promote women’s rights: “The number of deeds granting women title had to increase by 50 percent; there would have to be regular media coverage on women’s land rights; and teaching materials for secondary schools and universities would have to include material on women’s rights.”  However, before the contract was awarded, USAID removed all of those specific requirements.  Similarly, in a $600 million contract for a municipal government program, USAID removed all specific provisions related to women’s rights.

The reasons given by U.S. government officials for these changes are extremely troubling.  The director of USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs says that the elimination of specific women’s rights provisions were done because they were not “realistic”:  “If you’re targeting an issue, you need to target it in a way you can achieve those objectives.  The women’s issue is one where we need hardheaded realism. There are things we can do, and do well. But if we become unrealistic and overfocused . . . we get ourselves in trouble.”

Another senior government official (anonymously) says that the reason for the changes is because there is a “desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict” and that “[g]ender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities.  There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.”

So, in the words of that official, women’s rights in Afghanistan is a “special interest” and a “pet project.”  Ms. Clinton, do you agree with that?  If not, why are you not commenting?

And, Ms. Clinton, what do you think about President Karzai drafting new rules that would “bar private safe houses for women who are fleeing abuse and place new rules on those seeking refuge in the country’s 14 public shelters, including forcing women to submit to medical examinations and evicting them if their families want them back”?  Isn’t that also an abandonment by the U.S.?

“U.S. Catholic Bishops Major Force Behind War on Women”

In April 2010, Newsweek had an article titled “A Woman’s Place Is in the Church” with the subtitle “The cause of the Catholic clergy’s sex-abuse scandal is no mystery: insular groups of men often do bad things. So why not break up the all-male club?”  The article was strongly against the male officials of the church and had this to say:

The problem—bluntly put—is that the bishops and cardinals who manage the institutional church live behind guarded walls in a pre-Enlightenment world. Within their enclave, they remain largely untouched by the democratic revolutions in France and America. On questions of morality, they hold the group—in this case, the church—above the individual and regard modernity as a threat. We in the democratic West who criticize the hierarchy for its shocking inaction take the supremacy of the individual for granted. They in the Vatican who blast the media for bias against the pope value ecclesiastical cohesion over all. The gap is real. We don’t get them. And they don’t get us.

The assault on women’s rights from the Catholic bishops and cardinals has only gotten worse.  Two days ago, NOW issued a press release titled “U.S. Catholic Bishops Major Force Behind War on Women.”  It correctly declared that “[t]he collusion of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has led to an open declaration of war on the women of this country.”   This is the press release:

Statement of NOW President Terry O’Neill
February 23, 2011

The collusion of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has led to an open declaration of war on the women of this country. The bishops have long sought to enshrine into law those policies of the Catholic Church that subordinate women. And they don’t care how badly women get hurt in the process.

In the last election, the bishops helped to elect legislators that would do their bidding, which includes enacting dangerous and discriminatory bills denying women safe, accessible and affordable abortion care and family planning, even encouraging hospitals to let women die in the name of ‘life.’

A recent poll shows abortion ‘barely registers’ among voter priorities, and yet Speaker Boehner has declared barring federal funding for abortion care a ‘highest priority’ — responding not to the call of his constituents but to the demands of the bishops. And it turns out abortion isn’t the only target, as evidenced by their stunningly dangerous efforts that, if enacted, can and will result in the preventable deaths of women:

  • The proposed continuing resolution passed by the House to temporarily keep the government functioning would zero out Title X family planning, which has never covered abortion care. Should this gain traction in the Senate, millions of women, the vast majority of whom have incomes of less than $11,000 per year, will lose access to pap smears, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and contraception. It is a public health nightmare — but a dream-come-true for the Catholic bishops.
  • HR 358, which many are calling the ‘Let the Women Die Act’ not only brings back Rep. Joe Pitts’ (R-Pa.) rejected Stupak-Pitts proposition from health care reform, but also encourages providers to refuse training, performance and even referral of abortion care. This bill gives our government’s ‘blessing’ to any emergency room that would let a pregnant woman die rather than perform an abortion procedure that could save her life.
  • HR 3, also known as ‘Stupak on Steroids,’ would enshrine the Hyde Amendment into law and expand it to impose tax penalties on millions of families and businesses whose private insurance covers abortion care, thereby expanding the scope of Internal Revenue Service audits to the area between women’s legs. In testifying in favor of this bill in committee, a representative from the Catholic bishops proudly supported revoking abortion rights even in cases of rape. You read that right — and isn’t that rich, coming from the very men who have consistently protected sexually abusive priests?
  • And HR 217, which NOW has dubbed the ‘Public Health Nightmare Act,’ would permanently eliminate Title X family planning services, leaving millions of women and men stranded without essential services like birth control, cancer screenings and screenings for HIV/AIDS and STDs.

Pro-life? Hardly.

Not only are these assaults on women’s rights at odds with generally accepted medical practice and flatly unethical, there is little doubt that they will kill women.

The National Organization for Women is fighting back against these efforts in coalition with our allies and women’s health advocates across the country. We also renew our demand that the federal government require the all-male and violently anti-woman U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops follow the same lobbying and disclosure requirements that currently apply to everyone else.

There is one tactic I would add.  As I said in an April 2010 post about the Newsweek article:

Depressingly, catholic women are not doing much about the situation.  The article says that, in the U.S., 60 percent of the people who attend Sunday mass are women and, thus, most of the contributions to the collection plate are made by women.  That amount is $6 billion each year.  Obviously, the catholic church (all churches for that matter) wants to bring in as much money as it can.  It would seem that women would have a lot of leverage simply by stopping their Sunday contributions.  I don’t remember seeing anything about monetary boycotts of the church, but there must be groups that are talking about that kind of an approach.  If not, why not?

What else can be done to stop the Catholic bishops from continuing their assault on the rights of women?






Obama’s Reversal on Defending the Defense of Marriage Act

It looks to me that President Obama has decided that it is now “safer” to be a true advocate for same-sex marriage.  How else to explain his flip-flop of now telling the Department of Justice to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act when it was only one month ago when the Department had vowed to continue going to court to defend the Act.

The reasons given by Attorney General Eric Holder for the flip-flop are ludicrous.  Supposedly, according to Holder, he and President Obama have changed their minds because they determined after an extensive review that the law’s key section is unconstitutional.  The review was supposedly completed recently in response to two pending cases filed in November in Connecticut and New York.  Since the Department has been defending cases against the Defense of Marriage Act for two years, if one is to believe Holder’s stated reasons, the Department has failed miserably in its legal obligations for the past two years.  In fact, some opponents of same-sex marriage feel that the Department has been “deliberately throwing the case.”  If it intentionally has been “throwing the case,” the attorneys could be guilty of ethics violations.  Hopefully, that is not what has been going on; it is one thing for the Department of Justice to decline to defend an act, it is quite another to intentionally do less than its best.

Of course, Obama has still not committed all the way for support of same-sex marriage.  He is still said to be “grappling” with the issue.  How high do the polls showing support for same-sex marriage have to go before he will stop “grappling” with the issue?  Oh well, you can’t have everything.  Wouldn’t it be nice for Obama to finally take a true stand on this issue (and other issues) where he continues to equivocate?

What Would Allison Pearson Think About This Kind of Writing?

Until I read a recent article by Monica Hesse in the Washington Post, I had never heard of Allison Pearson.   But I learned then that she is a British author who wrote the novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It” about ten years ago and that the book “became the millennium’s first mommy bible.”  And that her second novel “I Think I Love You” has just been released and it “is about love. First love. The first, all-consuming, soul-melting love experienced by 13-year-old girls toward the men who live in posters inside their lockers. Love in the time of tweenagers.”

Allison Pearson

Fine.  But what bothered me about the Monica Hesse article were these opening paragraphs:


Allison Pearson’s body sits on the floor of the upstairs office, called the Pink Room for its wallpaper. Her eyes are closed; she is moving her lips and gently swaying from side to side in time with the music, the fabric of her skirt periodically clinging to the carpet, revealing vulnerable swaths of leg. The whole thing is intensely personal; you would almost rather walk in on someone flossing as having this meditative flashback, which appears to border on the religious.

Allison Pearson’s mind has gone to a nice place. A feathered haircut place. A place of corduroy and soft, girlish man-voices, and Partridge families, and –

For all I know, those paragraphs mirror the writing of the two books.  But, is it really necessary to describe the author in those terms?  It seems too stereotypical to me.  I wonder what Pearson thinks about it?