Category Archives: Women

A Blue Wave after all

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The immediate aftermath of the midterm elections left me uneasy, unable to fully celebrate the Democratic control of the U.S. House, despite my conviction before the election that without a Democratic victory in the House, democracy in America would surely be doomed.

The superstars, Stacy Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke were counted out as most returns were tallied on Wednesday. But high hopes dashed on Wednesday were revived by the weekend.

Andrew Gillum gave his concession speech on Thursday when it seemed he would not be Florida’s governor. But on Saturday, he took it back. Gillum and Stacy Abrams in Georgia are striving mightily against Republican opposition to have all votes counted and recounted in their races for the governor’s mansion. Both are close enough to trigger recounts. The same holds for the senate race in Florida.

As the vote counting continued, a Blue Tide began to wash over Republican-held seats, growing in size and strength. The House majority kept growing, and close races drew even closer. Democrats needed 23 seats to gain a majority in the House. As late vote counts rolled in, they garnered 32 seats, with 10 still not called.

The Blue Wave asserted itself: Democrats won 367 congressional seats— more than the Tea Party had in 2010. They flipped seven governorships, including in solid red Kansas (where they also captured a House seat). And when Florida and Georgia are finally finished counting and recounting, Democrats may gain one or two more governors.

Democrats scored trifectas — winning both houses of the state legislature and the governor — in six states: Colorado, Maine, Illinois, New York, New Mexico and Nevada. They will have full control in 13 states; the Republicans in 21.

Victories in state elections are important. State governments strongly influence health care, taxes, immigration and climate change in their states. They control redistricting, which is pivotal today, because gerrymandering currently causes Democrats to lose elections and seats, despite winning the popular vote.

Republican Martha McSally at first appeared to have won Jeff Flake’s senate seat in Arizona, but when all votes were counted a week after Election Day, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the first woman Arizona would send to the Senate and the first Democratic senator elected by the state in three decades.

The country moved left. Even in races the Republicans won, Democrats gained ground. As in 2016, Democrats won the popular vote. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke roused enthusiasm and came close to winning with a tremendous number of Democratic votes in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat since Ann Richards became governor in 1991.

More reasons to celebrate the 2018 midterms:

  • Americans were more engaged than ever in the elections. They voted in record numbers, more than in any midterm since 1914.
  • They elected more than 100 women.
  • The new class of representatives is more diverse than any of its predecessors, including two Native American and two Muslim women.
  • They are young, and have lowered the average age of representatives by a decade.

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And now, Justice Kavanaugh

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Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) put the icing on the cake. The confirmation was baked in long ago: the path to a fifth conservative seat on the Supreme Court was in the works for at least 30 years. (Remember Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?)

Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford described the sexual assault she had suffered in high school at a specially convened hearing of the Senate Judicial Committee, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that the Senate would “plow” through to a certain confirmation. But when Ford described her ordeal, she moved and impressed not only the senators, but the president, with her authenticity. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation no longer looked like a sure thing.

Then Kavanaugh testified. Red-faced, he wept and he raged. Furious, he accused the Democrats of plotting a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” fueled by “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” But “what goes around comes around,” he said, apparently foreseeing vengeful retribution against the Democrats.

Following the hearing, people were appalled at Kavanaugh’s injudicious lack of control, his partisanship, fury and unseemly demeanor. The American Bar Association and the Yale Law School withdrew their endorsements pending a further investigation by the FBI. Close to 1,000 professors of law wrote to the Senate that Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament required for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans, all men, identified with Kavanaugh. They said they believed Ford had been sexually assaulted, yet contrived a way to exonerate Kavanaugh and justify voting for him. They began to poke holes in Ford’s testimony, pointing to her inability to remember details such as the address of the house, who took her home and the like. The people Ford named as being at the party couldn’t recall the party, much less the attack. All the evidence the senators chose to examine was gleaned from the severely limited FBI investigation. It was not enough to identify Kavanaugh as Ford’s aggressor. There was only Ford’s word. It didn’t occur to the men that a woman who had been sexually assaulted would have a powerful and excruciatingly present memory of the event, if not the superfluous details, while others present would have no reason to remember what was for them one unremarkable party among many. Once again, the woman was silenced, her searing testimony almost beside the point.

Within days, the debate shifted. Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial temperament, his lying under oath and his fierce partisanship replaced the sexual assault as the principal reasons to deny him a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, Kavanaugh’s unsuitability was tamped down by the overwhelming desire to hold on to power. Republicans have an extremely thin majority in the Senate. In the event of a Democratic victory in the imminent midterm elections, they would lose not only one or both houses of Congress, but the ability to establish a conservative majority in the Court that could endure for decades to come.

So Ford exposed her private torment to the world, and for what? For nothing, as she herself had feared?

Well, no, not entirely. Women heard her and their own buried traumas rose to torment them. All across the country women clamored to bear witness. They marched and spoke and wrote and pounded on the doors of their representatives. 

Many men listened to them. Amazed by their number, they confessed they had no idea that sexual assault was such a widespread problem. The #metoo phenomenon, just a year old, came roaring back.

Now that women’s and Democrats’ efforts have failed to prevent the elevation to a lifetime appointment of a judge whose convictions threaten the progress already made, what comes next?

Keep striving. We have to believe that though we have undoubtedly suffered a setback, we have the strength to reclaim lost ground and continue to advance into a more equitable future for all Americans.

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What’s wrong with Kavanaugh?

KavanaughSneerLet me count the ways.

Mueller is closing in, so Trump elevated Brett Kavanaugh above the other candidates for the Supreme Court to protect himself. Kavanaugh believes there can be no limit set on executive power: the president may not be indicted nor his greed restrained. As Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” Trump’s ambition and rapacity would be unfettered with no opposition from SCOTUS.

Almost 200 congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last year charging that Trump was illegally profiteering from his businesses. That suit was just given a green light as was another, that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, DC. Trump will soon need Kavanaugh to protect him from the sanctions of the co-equal branches of government.

Women, of course, stand to lose the most if Kavanaugh is confirmed. The judge is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, greatly hobbling a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to have children and therefore be able to make a life for herself without depending on husband or father.

The differences in opinion between the far right that wants to put women back in the kitchen and progressives who believe that society suffers when half the population is not able to contribute its talents to the common good are philosophical and tightly held. The place of religion, the rights of non-white citizens, immigration, gay marriage, traditions that glorify the antebellum South, all contribute to a rancorous divisiveness that alienates the two Americas as never before since the Civil War.

But we knew all that before the profoundly moving confrontation between the presentations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Thursday’s Senate hearing solidified the positions of both sides, though Dr. Ford impressed even the president and his sycophants with her careful, sincere and clearly difficult testimony. At the very least, Republicans knew it was politically expedient not to further alienate women, to admire her courage and acknowledge the pain she confessed before the entire country.

Then it was Kavanaugh’s turn. I understand the disappointment, the anger, of scrabbling to the peak of judicial accomplishment only to slip as you’re cresting the summit and plummet into an irretrievable abyss. Republicans felt Kavanaugh was justified in venting his rage, especially since he and they felt cheated and out-maneuvered.

Still, I was appalled at Kavanaugh’s complete loss of control and composure. This man who aspires to the pinnacle of his profession lapsed into a tantrum, belligerently lashing out and crying in the manner of a spoiled child whose promised toy was snatched from his hands. For a man in his position with so much at stake, as a prospective justice, he should certainly have exerted self-control.

Not bothering to hide or disguise his contempt for Democrats, for the hearing or for the U.S. senators who asked him questions that he clearly thought were beneath him, he failed a test of coolness under fire. He was rude. He sneered and snarled at Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)— both women— and did not deign to answer their questions. He went so far as to throw their questions back at them, and when Feinstein pressed him, he broke his silence by saying he’d already answered the question and then again persisted in his non-answers.

He was about as partisan and petulant as a judge could be expected not to be:

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

To questions about his alleged behavior when drinking too much, Kavanaugh proudly threw out his academic achievements. He seems to think that his Ivy degrees will shield him from any accusations of impropriety. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked about a reference to drinking in his calendar, Kavanaugh deflected:

Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.

Complete non sequitur. ‘I got into Yale’ isn’t a moral defense. But Kavanaugh tried it again when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) recalled that Kavanaugh’s roommate described him as “a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time.” Kavanaugh’s response:

Senator, you were asking about college. I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

What we witnessed was a manchild who is sure that he is entitled to the ultimate prize for his hard work, that he deserves the prize because of the Yale degrees on his CV. He couldn’t control his rage because he is convinced of being cheated of that prize, falsely and spitefully accused of a sexual assault he insists he couldn’t possibly have committed then or ever.

Dr. Ford is “100 percent” certain he was her attacker and Kavanaugh is also 100 percent sure that he wasn’t. But the reason that this isn’t a simple “he said, she said” is that Ford suffered a traumatic event “forever seared” into her memory. For her, it was a singular, extraordinary experience. I do believe in due process, so I can’t say he is guilty, but I also believe that it is entirely possible for a man, especially under the influence of alcohol, not to remember something that for him was unremarkable, a possibly common occurrence.

Brett Kavanaugh’s refusal to answer questions at a hearing that he says he requested, his contemptuous, condescending interaction with U.S. senators, his demeaning treatment of women and his inappropriate, raging belligerence are reasons enough not to elevate him to the Supreme Court.

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One woman’s must-see video

MJ Hegar is a self-described ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat. She was a combat rescue pilot in Afghanistan until she was shot down and wounded on a mission. Several adventures later, Hegar is now trying to unseat the Texas Tea Party Congressman John Carter who refused to see her because she wasn’t one of his donors.

She calls her campaign video “Doors.” Doors she’s opened, shut, walked through, and doors slammed in her face. I’m posting her video, not to boost her candidacy, but because it’s impressively made about an even more impressive woman.

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The Notorious RBG

I had heard “RBG,” the movie that celebrates the life and accomplishments of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was good. But I wasn’t prepared for how moving it would be for someone who lived through the times that RBG did so much to change.

If you remember when women’s minds were not valued and their voices barely heard, you’ll enjoy watching the amazing and Notorious “RBG.” If you’re too young to remember, then see it and learn. You’ll appreciate how different your life is from your mother’s (or grandmother’s) because of RBG’s legal triumphs.

“RBG” is a love story. The marriage of Ruth and Marty is lovingly told, as is her fierce belief in the Constitution and her crusade for equal rights.

The movie is fun to watch. The montage of old clips and photos interlaced with Ruth speaking her mind today is very well done. It’s also au courant— Ruth’s kids say she never watches TV, but we see her watching Kate McKinnon’s recent impersonation of her on SNL. She rocks with laughter, her usually sober demeanor dissolving.

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Women vault from the military to the ballot box

A SALUTE TO WOMEN VETERANS TRAILBLAZING A PATH FROM THE MILITARY TO PUBLIC OFFICE

By Diane Vacca

Reblogged from Women’s Voices for Change

Knowing she had to come down smoothly with a single engine and 149 people aboard, Captain Tammie Jo Shults deftly guided her crippled aircraft while reassuring her passengers that the plane was descending, not going down. She warned that they would come down hard, but instead, “she didn’t slam it down. She brought the bird down very carefully.” Passenger Alfred Tumlinson admired the pilot’s cool (“She has nerves of steel”) and the emergency landing that saved the lives of almost all aboard the Southwest Airlines plane whose engine exploded in April. The single fatality was the woman who had been blown halfway out a window broken by shrapnel from the explosion. Once safely on the ground, Shults modestly thanked the air traffic controllers for their help and walked through the plane, talking to each passenger and shaking every hand, according to Tumlinson.

Shults knew what she wanted at an early age. “Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she said. Living near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, she was fascinated by the planes overhead and knew she “just had to fly.”

But it wasn’t easy.

Read More …

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Five Shorts long in imagination

Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.

The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.

The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.

The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.

Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.


Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein  to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.

All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

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