Thursday, October 30, 2008

Things are not fine for the middle class as I know it.

I listen to right-wing radio and for the most part agree with what I hear, but I can't help getting annoyed at the pundits who keep insisting that the Obama tax refund plan is meaningless to the middle class. Twice today I had to stifle the urge to call in (Gallagher and Hewitt) to tell them that I don’t care anymore that we’re not technically in a recession yet. It’s coming. It will hurt. And it’s going to hurt families making on less than $150,000, all of whom are, we are told, getting a refund. But when a man promises my family $1,800, that’s not nothing.

I could use that money for the great Democratic boogey-man, those “unexpected health care expenses” used to justify every ill-advised expansion of welfare boondoggles. Oddly enough, I have some of those. My toddler started day care eight weeks ago and has been ill for the last seven. We have world-class health insurance through my employer, even though it takes a big chunk of out of my take-home pay. Still, ER copays aren't cheap. At least competition in healthcare is alive for now -- we’ve gotten to to try the sparkling new local ER, where a child-phobic respiratory therapist accidentally hurt our toddler with a too-large suction catheter, and then last week we got to visit the run-down dump of a downtown children’s hospital where the cheerful effociency of the pediatric nurses nearly distracted us from the holes in the drywall. End result, we’re down hundreds of dollars this month in copays. But finally, we pray, she is safe and well. Our family is happy. Our fundamentals are strong.

Our finances are not.

According to the Interactive Class-Finder on New York Times website (how British!), I’m high-upper-middle because of my “prestigious” attorney job, but Obama just thinks I’m middle-class. I make less than $100,000 per year, but I’m likely to hit that number in the next 2-3 years. We live in a decent older house in a nice city just 30 minutes commute from downtown. Our daughter goes to a lovely church-run daycare while my husband goes to graduate school. We’re the American dream family: just starting out, working hard, and stretching, stretching to reach something better.

But there’s a pretty good chance we won't make it. We gambled by buying a high-priced house at what turned out to be the market peak. We hedged out bets by paying extra to fix the rate, which apparently makes us suckers - no balloon-payment holiday for us!. The mortgage is hefty. Both of them are, actually. They eat 80% of what I take home. In the meantime, the family eats well enough, because I now cook everything from scratch. Even though we’re poorer now than ever, I actually feel more connected to traditionally conservative values – it’s hard not to identify with my foremothers while I’m baking bread, soaking beans, boiling sugar for desserts and jams. But some of the fun leaves my one-time hobby when I have to calculate the cost-per-head of everything that goes into the dish.

But we get along ok as we dance right along the line, generally spinning just this side of solvency but occasionally skipping over it. We still buy books and lunches and basic cable TV, and if our kid wears clearance Garanimals then at least she always has the expensive best-quality diapers next to her skin. Scrimping is our new normal; our definition of "splurge" has changed radically. We’re lucky enough to have student loans and credit cards get us down the home stretch, just 24 months until my husband gets his professional degree and starts working. We've bought the American dream, and are leveraging into it everything we can grasp. The expectation of riches doesn't make the rags anymore fun to wear.

$1,800. That's a lot of money to buy nice things with, things that would make a difference in our daily lives. It's a smaller dream, to be sure. But it's the bigger Christmas celebration with more people I've been wishing for. A trip to the overseas military base to see my brother's new baby. New suits for a new body instead of wedging into the industrial Spanx (generic-brand, of course) to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes. Hell, it’s three pairs of earrings! Or it’s one little thing every month with the money freed up by paying down a credit card.

So what’s the problem? I pay taxes. I wish I paid fewer taxes. I’m not going to have to pay more, if I can take Obama at his word. I’ll get what I want and others will pay. I ought to be happy that Robama Hood wants to steal from the rich and give it to me.

But I'm not. Why?

Obvious knee-jerk lefty response: I’m too stupid to know what’s good for me. But that’s not it, precisely the opposite. I’m against this stupid “tax cut” for pure self-interest. If I let him soak the rich now, I’ll never be rich. Debts must be paid, books balanced. If he taxes the rich and the corporations, there will be fewer jobs. When my husband graduates, his student loans will come due, job or no job. There is no way we can pay them on my salary alone. If we default, we’re just contributing to the financial downward spiral. That’s not going to help the large financial instutitions. Any more bad investments and the insurance investors are going to feel the squeeze, giving them less to spend on . . . cha-ching . . . lawyers like me! As the maxim goes, good attorneys are easier to replace than good secretaries, so let’s see where that leaves us. . . ah yes, not able to make the mortgage payments we were making previously. Thus continueth the circle of failure. And that presumes that everything that Obama is saying is true: that there will be a tax cut, and that I will get it. Already one of my state's U.S. Representative had the brilliant idea of having the federal government cut tax cut checks directly to the states, not the people. Federalism, indeed.

The country needs economic growth. I need economic growth. I’m not selling my future for 1,800 pieces of silver, even if it comes from “the rich” or corporations or robber-barons or even those making just a little bit more than me. I don’t give a rat’s ass about fairness in the tax code or “helping” the middle class at the expense of anyone else. Obama is right that things are not fine. They’re not fine for me. But there’s not-fine for right now and there’s looming disaster, and I’m ok with sucking along at not-fine for awhile while we regroup and beat it together, instead of whining about who should be hardest hit.

So when I hear right-wing pundits claim that no one needs any of Obama’s tax-refunds, I get frustrated. That argument doesn’t persuade me, and I’m on your side. But in the meantime, there are people suffering as there always are. We don't need to belittle the plight of those desperate for some relief who reach for the dreamlet Obama dangles. We need to tell them about the better dream they’re selling out.

I am middle class. I am struggling. And I am voting against Obama so that one day I won't have to struggle.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Defending the indefensible - with nice gory personal details at the end.

It's funny that the conservative blogosphere seems to have largely ignored the debate quotation that has the liberal bloggers going out of their minds. Make that air quotation - McCain's reference to the "health of the mother" justification for abortion.

While fully recognizing that most Americans would disagree with me, I think that McCain's position is insufficiently pro-life. But that doesn't stop this HuffPo guy from deciding that McCain is the devil for using scare quotes around the term "women's health" when used as a justification for abortion. I think McCain deserves to be defended.

HuffPo guy ignores the fact that "health of the mother" has been used to justify abortions, even late-term abortions, for problems most people don't consider health problems. According to the LA Times:
The official position of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group that endorsed Obama in May, states: “A health exception must also account for the mental health problems that may occur in pregnancy."
It's not a far leap to get from there to purely emotional distress. Which, don't get me wrong, I don't want pregnant women to be upset. Even when it occurs, however, it's never fetus intentionally trying to make your life miserable. Why should the fetus be the one to pay the ultimate price? But in today's world, if you dare to believe that emotional stress doesn't have the same moral weight as killing someone, that makes YOU evil. Question the morality of the pro-abortion folks, and watch the liberal villagers come charging with their pitchforks.

Which is appropriate, because they can't resist using them on straw men.

Arguments in this area always seem to assume that any questioning of the "health" exception as most broadly applied means that you would rather women just die. Actually, though, Senator McCain doesn't think your concern for your health is extreme. He thinks your concern for your "health" is extreme ("health" defined as mental stress, emotional turmoil, or inconvenience). His air quotes are appropriate because actual health as traditionally defined is not what he's talking about. McCain supports the health of the mother exception for abortion when it's talking about physical health. Obama distanced himself from the overly broad NARAL "health" exception also.

Tellingly, Ms. Jezebel's real-world example has nothing to do with actual health either:

[G]o read Gretchen Voss's story about hers [second trimester abortion]— why she had one, how it wasn't avoidable and how ridding the world of such procedures would have made her life much harder.
So I read it. What did I find? Ms. Voss's fetus was diagnosed with a severe neural defect that made it likely to die in utero or shortly after birth in gruesome fashion. That is enough to cause no end of mental distress to Ms. Voss and her husband. That would have happened either way. But how much emotional distress was saved by not letting nature take its course? How much emotional distress was saved in not letting the pregnancy miscarry a few weeks down the line, a few months, a few years of short birth? Is that distress more or less than the distress caused by this:

Unlike a simple first-trimester abortion, which can be completed in one quick office visit, a second-trimester termination is much more complicated, a two-day minimum process. He started it that day by inserting four laminaria sticks made of dried seaweed into my cervix. It was excruciating, and he apologized over and over as I cried out in pain. When I left the examining room, my mom and my husband were shocked -- I was shaking and ghostly white. The pain lasted throughout the night as the sticks collected my body's fluids and expanded, dilating my cervix just like the beginning stages of labor.
That's horrifying. To be asked to kill your child is horrifying too. Is it more or less distressing to have to hold the power of life and death over your child? Is it more or less distressing to do it when family and friends are trying to help you, the person they know and love, by advising you to terminate the life that you're making and that you love? Even if you don't love your fetus, how much stress is enough to justify killing someone?

Ms. Voss's experience colored her experience of her second pregnancy:
As the rest of our prenatal testing results started to pile up, all of them completely normal, we began to let hope back into our hearts. Of course, we know that anything can happen at any time. We'll never forget that. There will be many more months of worry -- and then, I guess, a lifetime more.
Anything can happen at any time. Why kill the fetus? What chance of futile mental distress is worth what chance that doctors may have gotten it wrong? How much distress is worth a life?

The ready availability of abortion detrimentally impacts women's and babies' health. Why spend resources pushing difficult and expensive in utero surgeries when you can just start over with a new pregnancy? But if there's no one pushing the envelope with this treatment, medical science will never progress. The hospital nearest my house has a policy that if you come in with a miscarriage at less than 20 weeks, they will not try to save the pregnancy. Start over. Let it die. Death doesn't matter when you're spared the gory details.

I believe that death does matter. Or better stated: Life matters. The lives of babies born and unborn, and the lives of the men and women they grow up to be. All of these statements presuppose that the "tissue" growing inside a woman is a human and a life, and that human life is worth protecting.

Because let's not play games about where life begins. We know a fetus is alive. It's alive just the same as I'm alive and our betta fish is alive. My hamsters used to be alive, and rumor has it that the brown plant on my patio may be alive even yet. A fetus, or embryo, or blastocyst is alive the way tasty cows and corn plants are alive, until they're butchered and harvested to make my dinner. The question isn't when a fetus is alive. The question is "should we care."

We don't care when some things are killed. I'm happy when roaches are killed. My only regret when celery plants get killed is that I might have to eat them too. But are human cells at the earliest stages more like celery plants or more like babies? If anything, right at the outset, they probably look a lot like bacteria, single-celled organisms. But I'm an educated person, so I know that two things can share similar characteristics, but still be very different. Bacteria and blastocysts are freakin' tiny. But so are hydrogen and helium atoms. Only one explodes. Terminating the life of a fetus isn't quite like cutting off a pinky toe either, even though that's living human tissue. Limbs don't have a separate chromosomal identity. Fertilized eggs carry human DNA, a complete set of unique chromosomes. Obliterating a fetus obliterates all of the descendants that won't be created from itself - preemptive tribal genocide. Fetuses are human, and they are alive.

If that sounds overly academic, that's because it is. By six weeks, that living human has an eye spot, upper and lower jaws coming in, buds for arms and legs. How many women even know they're pregnant then, especially if it's unexpected? Click through the graphics, watch it grow. It's got these weird nubbly arms and legs, but it's still a living human. God help us if the standard is that it's ok to kill the weird-looking humans. (I, for one, would be screwed.)

Analytically, life begins at conception. Human life. A separate human life. Should we care? Only if we care about human life at all. If we don't care about human life in general, we wouldn't care about protecting a mother's health, comfort, and dignity either. How much should we care? After all, the pre-viable fetus needs the mother to live, and that is not without cost.

I recognize that the interests of mother and fetus may not always be in accord. But protecting human life has to be the highest moral value. When you weigh the competing interests of mother and child, life trumps all. If the mother is going to be inconvenienced, the fetus wins. Mental distress versus life? Life is more important. If the pregnancy risks the mother's life? Whoa, there. That's different. Pro-life doesn't say that the fetus is more important than the mother. Life = life. Arguing against a pro-life position by saying you are anti-woman makes no sense in this moral framework and certainly isn't persuasive. Couching the question in mom versus baby begs the question of how to compare the moral weight of the interests at issue. The emotional toll brought on by a difficult, unwanted, and or seemingly-futile pregnancy can be devastating and profound. Preventing that emotional and mental distress would be worth great cost. But not the cost of taking someone else's life.

I sympathize with Ms. Voss more than I can properly explain. But I wonder too about her family, her "Catholic father and Republican father-in-law." They seem so hopeless. "Anything can happen," she says, while acting as though death is certain. I can't help but wonder how much of the residual sadness she feels could have been avoided or relieved by taking solace in the fact that she did all she could do. Physically and emotionally, she wasn't ready to go. She admits fighting the anesthesia to hold on to being pregnant just a few minutes longer. How can we know what would have happened had she let things go on? How can we know what damage was done to her soul (or psyche, if you prefer) in deciding to kill the child she so desperately wanted. By having the abortion, we'll never know. We can never know, in this world, how it would have been different if all the people who were killed had been allowed to live.

I used to be pro-choice, rabidly so. I hate government, and I don't want it fiddling in my uterus. I was fiscal conservative/social liberal because I thought people were almost always better off being left alone. Life disabused me of this misguided notion. The culture we live in matters. There are people who are vulnerable, who are sick, and who need help in any society. If the culture doesn't care about them or their problems, humanity suffers.

In our culture, abortion is legal. It is, to be blunt, less messy than other ways of having a pregnancy terminate. Pregnancy is awful in ways you cannot possibly imagine, and I could not possibly explain. And other women have much worse pregnancies than I did. Add this to tremendous social and institutional pressure in favor of abortion for poor women, black women, school-age girls and women, women with "imperfect" or disabled fetuses. Pregnant women are treated with contempt and loathing in many parts of society, especially the workplace. I don't think people like to be reminded so viscerally of the fact that we're so animal. Birthrates decline as countries prosper.

So much as I hate to admit it, the culture matters. If our culture truly valued human life in all its forms, women wouldn't walk into hospitals while having a miscarriage and wait in the waiting room as a low priority because triage determines that there's not really anything they can do for you. A medical system that valued human life in all its forms wouldn't send you a doctor who just shakes his head while you try and fail to get the words out, to explain through your tears that you've read articles about 21-week old fetuses that lived and you're at 19-and-a-half so please, please take a chance on me. A life-loving culture wouldn't tell you it was hospital policy not to even try and as a matter of fact, there's a separate wing of the hospital you have to check in to if you want to save your baby but you haven't hit the "right" gestational age to qualify.

Abortion is the easy way to get out of the messy facts of life, like neural tube defects and downs syndrome and otherwise unexplained miscarraige. It's the easy answer we let doctors give when they don't know what to do, and trust me, when you're pregnant, you discover how frighteningly little anyone knows about the awesome act of creating life.

* * * * *

The emergency room doctor gave us some privacy while he left to go schedule the D&C. I didn't want to face delivering the remains of my dead child at home. They'll just take it out, he said. A friend in the same position only took one day off work when her first fetus was determined to be "growing too slow" and removed. It was New Years Day. I wouldn't even need to take vacation.

My ob-gyn came in a few hours later to do the pre-op. Yet another pelvic exam left me so sore I could hardly move. Hospital policy required a Foley catheter for an ultrasound that hurt every second it was in. Insult to injury - the ultrasound showed that my body was having severe contractions. I don't know what it showed the baby's body as doing. All they told me was "dead."

"Schedule the procedure," I demanded. I know my rights.

I was angry when my doctor told me it was better not to do any medical intervention if at all possible. What were we supposed to tell our families? "Oh hey, my dead baby is going to fall out of me any minute. And Happy Holidays, by the way." Ever tactful, we told them exactly that.

And then we waited.

How many days are you supposed to wait for your dead baby to fall out of you?

We waited 22 more weeks.

There is such relief in not having to be God.

She is so beautiful it will make your heart stop.

I nearly killed her.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

controlled burn

A good post here called "The Case for Letting it Burn" makes me think of forestry policy in relation to the financial mess. I'm opposed to the pie-in-the-sky policies that caused the volatility and extent of the crisis. Each day that the sky doesn't fall makes me wonder if the bailout is necessary and solidifies my opposition to it. I always think of leftist policies as feel-good short-term things, from their economics to their environmental (Free houses for poor people! Trees are good!). The illusion of a poorly managed forest is nice, controlled burns can be ugly, but the result is a healthier forest overall and in the future.

So I say no bailout. Let this be a controlled burn to destroy the waste of the economy so that good big new economic trees can grow.