Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fetus Envy

Would you like to know my opinion about abortion? That's what I thought. I don't care what you think either. And that's the way it should be with an issue so personal. Unless it involves you or a loved one, it's none of your damn business what someone else chooses to do about an unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy. And it most assuredly is not the concern of the government. Yet the moronic Tea Party Republicans, who came into office with the promise to concentrate on "jobs, jobs, jobs" have so far focused their legislative efforts on "abortion, abortion, abortion." The "smaller, less intrusive government" conservatives want to keep Washington off of your back, but all up in your uterus. Anti-abortion crusaders refer to themselves as "Pro Life;" a misnomer for sure. If you're "pro-life," you don't sit in the audience at a Republican candidates' debate and cheer about state executions, or that the Republic of Texas has an express lane running through their death chamber. If you're pro-life you don't scream "let 'em die" when discussing a terminally ill patient without health insurance. The loudest people that claim to be "pro-life" aren't really that concerned about the already living. In reality, they are merely "pro-fetus." In a critical time of economic crises, the House Republicans' obsession with abortion is extending the jobless, homeless recession that has gripped the nation since the Bush regime, like horse manure, hit the dusty trail.

The GOP zealots believe that their electoral victories in 2010 gave them a mandate to pursue their social agenda, while neglecting the country's economic turmoil, lest it give Obama a political "victory." To date, the Republican controlled House has presented 44 bills concerning abortion and 71 others regarding family relationships. With unemployment topping 9 percent, the number of jobs programs offered by Republicans? Zero, with a zed. Their medical meddling proposals vary in outrage from preventing women from purchasing private insurance that includes abortion services, to jailing doctors who fail to notify the parents of a minor seeking an abortion. This month, the House, with unanimous Republican consent, passed the "Protect Life Act," a law that would make it legal for a hospital, as a matter of collective conscience, to deny an abortion to a pregnant women with life-threatening conditions, basically allowing her to die on the floor without legal consequence. The Republican presidential candidates fell all over themselves to out-radicalize each other. Michele Bachmann would force a woman to carry her rapist's child to term, and Rick "man on dog" Santorum even came out against contraception. And these are the people who want government out of your lives.

The most violent act against women by the Tea Party cretins is a bill sponsored by N.J. Rep. Chris Smith, called the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Since the Hyde Amendment, which has been in effect since 1976, does precisely that, Smith's bill would be merely redundant if not for its unfathomable cruelty. The Hyde Amendment bans all federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother's life. Smith's bill attempts to further constrict a woman's rights by redefining the definition of "rape" from any form of non-consensual sex, to "forcible rape." This would eliminate date rape, statutory rape, incest, or any other such incident in which the woman failed, for whatever reason, to resist. The bill should be renamed the "Your mouth says no, but your eyes say yes" act. The backlash against narrowing the meaning of rape was severe enough for Rep. Smith to remove the language from the bill, but not the bill itself. It sits in the stack with the other 43, including proposals to ban abortion in the District of Columbia by declaring it under federal jurisdiction, and forcing abortion providers to provide mandatory sonograms and anti-abortion counselling. These bills are frivolous, however, when compared to the GOP's all-out war against Planned Parenthood.

Long demonized by the right, a congressional committee has begun an investigation into Planned Parenthood to examine their compliance with the Hyde Amendment amid accusations of being a mismanaged abortion factory awash in dirty money. The cult of the fetus cheered lustily while the president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony list said, "This is a critical step in holding accountable...a billion dollar business centered on abortion and an unapologetic partner of those who wish to exploit young girls." Meanwhile, on the Planned Parenthood website, the organization claims that last year they performed one million cervical cancer screenings, 800,000 breast exams, and 4 million STD tests and treatments. Abortion came to 3 percent of their combined services. Don't the cervix police understand that Planned Parenthood was there 100 years before Roe v. Wade?  So now the battle to defund and marginalize Planned Parenthood has come to Memphis. The Republican dominated Shelby County Commission has voted to provide state funding for family planning to Christ Community Health Services, which does not perform abortions. I'm certain the Christ Community folks are compassionate and qualified professionals, and will refer a woman wishing to terminate a pregnancy after a bit of faith-based counselling, but they also do not provide emergency contraception, which is sort of like going to the Christian Science Reading Room to fill your prescriptions.

If the rabid pro-lifers had their wildest dreams realized and the practice of abortion was once again made illegal, do they suppose that it would stop? Isn't a woman's privacy and good health preferable to returning to a time of agony and secrecy? I don't know a soul who actually "favors" abortion, either in concept or procedure. No one wants to run out and get an abortion. But unexpected things always happen and criminalizing a bunch of doctors and stigmatizing vulnerable women is not the answer. The irony is that the things that could lessen the need for abortion: sex education, dissemination of contraceptives, abandoning the idiotic "abstinence only" school curriculum, are all opposed by the social conservatives. When I told my wife that I was discussing this subject, she suggested that a female viewpoint was imperative. Melody would like to say that if a man was the one that got pregnant, we would never be having this conversation in the first place. She also wishes to emphasize that no pencil-neck fertilizer salesman from West Texas should be making medical decisions about a family's most intimate concerns, and until a man develops the ability to birth a child, sit down and shut up, Sonny. The surest way to stop this nonsense is to abort this Congress.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Dog We Trust

George Carlin once said, "When you get a dog, you know in advance that it's going to end badly." That's because the average canine lifespan is a short 10-12 years, depending on the breed. But Carlin, an animal lover, explained that this allows you to have a whole bunch of doggies in a lifetime, and he was never without one. Then again, if Carlin believed the demise of a well-cared for family pet is a life ending "badly," he never visited Memphis Animal Services on Tchulahoma. Those folks can show you a thing or two about animals coming to a bad end. After the Sheriff's Department raid on the facility in October, 2009, resulting from accumulated evidence of animal mistreatment by the Shelter's staff, the employees were relieved of their duties pending an investigation. That left a public perception that the wrong-doers were all let go, but in fact, most were just on leave and only three people lost their jobs: a veterinarian, the Shelter supervisor, and former Shelter Director Ernest Alexander, who was indicted on charges of animal cruelty. Mayor Wharton said, "The only thing we can do from this point is improve."

Unfortunately for the Mayor, this whole matter landed on his desk on his first day in office. I think it's safe to say that Memphis Animal Services was not high on his priority list. The conditions at the Shelter, however, were so wretched that it made embarrasing national news and the mayor was forced to pay immediate attention. The raid produced evidence of starving, neglected animals, the absence of any record keeping, and a euthanasia rate approaching 80 percent. If dogs were people, we'd be Texas. Promising improvements and "transparency," Wharton delegated responsibility to Director of Public Services, Janet Hooks, who, in turn, promoted the same woman who was only recently very publicly fired and charged with animal cruelty after "Kapone," a pit bull who had escaped his yard, went missing while in her custody. The next day, a dog died from heat stroke in the woman's van while she attempted to avoid arrest. This sterling Animal Control Officer was a hiree from Memphis' Second Chance Program for convicted felons. Not that I'm against giving former felons a break, (after all, they rehabilitated Michael Vick), but guess who's also in charge of the Second Chance Program? Can you say Janet Hooks? Perhaps some felons just released from a cage lack sufficient compassion to care for a dumb animal who's still inside one. In fact, the first requirement of potential Shelter employees should be, "Must love dogs."

The replacement for fired Director Alexander was Matthew Pepper, who came to Memphis from Shreveport. Improvements were made. However, Pepper decided to restrict the public's access to the Shelter's entire inventory of dogs by housing only the most presentable in an "adoption area." He explained that seeing all the dogs would only overwhelm and confuse people. Consequently, the adoption rate was limited and behind a locked door marked "Strays," an animal holocaust continued unabated. The city accepted Pepper's "resignation," but unbelievably decided to keep his policies intact. Pepper was quoted as saying he received pushback from city government and received "no support" over his attempts to fire those city employees he believed to be not up to the job. The city has yet to find a replacement for Pepper while the situation has become a large headache for the mayor, and a stand-off with rescue groups and activists who wish to see the Shelter privatized as a not-for-profit organization and de-politicized as an entity competing over the city's scarce tax funding. Meanwhile, the Shelter is still 1300-1400 calls behind in field investigations, including bites, and charges of abuse and neglect. "Kapone" is still missing, and despite the pleas of several citizens, those ominous doors at the facility and the doomed inhabitants within stay locked away from public view.

The question I hear asked most often is, "Why can't the animal activists show the same concern for people that they do for dogs?" The answer is simple. Most people are born with a capacity to care for themselves, but since we have domesticated these former wolves, dogs are totally dependent on humans for their well-being. That's why half the blame of the Shelter's problems are shared by irresponsible pet owners and reckless dog breeders. Not everyone is capable of caring for a pet, but spay and neuter services are often offered at a discount. Bob Barker was right. The major reason that nearly two dozen dogs are killed daily is to make room for replacements that are coming in all the time from unwanted litters and abandoned pets. Through the Tennessee Open Records Act, animal activist Cindy Marx-Sanders found that two-thirds of the euthanized Shelter dogs were put down for "space;" nearly 12,000 animals last year. There are an unbelievable number of pit bulls on the list, indicating over-breeding by greedy amateurs. These strays come from our homes and yards, and are the result of human indifference to some of our finest companions, illustrating a need for the training of pet owners, as well as those employed by Memphis Animal Services.

To their credit, the Shelter is trying. They have instituted more aggressive adoption policies, and every Thursday, they waive their usual fees for a special $10.00 "Yappie Hour." They're supported by a Friends of Memphis Animal Services Facebook page that posts pictures of available pets. They also sponsor off-site adoption events in parks and shopping centers which have proven very successful. October is officially "Adopt a Shelter Dog Month," and if you're able, you should try it. I know the first thing I did after moving back to Memphis from Nashville in 1992 was to get a dog. I had turned into a taciturn loner and thought a pet might help to re-socialize me. Studies have shown that petting a dog lowers blood pressure and eases depression. I figured I could start with a dog and work my way back up to humans. Here it is, 19 years later, and I have a wonderful wife and two rescued pets in the yard. I credit the dog for my recovery.  In mid-November, the Shelter will re-locate to a new $7.2 million, 35,000 square foot facility, including classrooms to train new employees. The problem is they're bringing the old Tchulahoma policies and staff with them. You can't teach an old dog new tricks or compassion either. You either have it or you don't. That's why the Shelter needs to work with those people who have only the animals' best interests at heart instead of locking them out. Before Memphis Animal Services moves to a clean house, they first need to clean house themselves.