That’s life!


Finally, uteri are no longer political footballs. (Isn’t that a visual?)

Since President Obama signed the order prohibiting the withholding of Title X family planning funds for any reason short of gross agency incompetence, meeting women’s reproductive and health rights is no longer political fodder. Yes, men do receive family planning services from the thousands of agencies that help with birth control, cancer screenings and similar services, but most family planning recipients are women. So there really isn’t an equality issue at stake here. The issue is, and has always been, who gets to determine who’s in charge of life.

The kind of life I’m referring to has little to do with the decades-long war we have been fighting over whether women should have the right to an abortion. Let’s talk about what it really means to be on the side of life.

As I see it, anyone claiming to be pro-life must also be pro-choice. That’s not a contradiction in terms unless you are speaking in capitals: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Once you head to the big letters, you arrive at the political screaming match over abortion. I have been listening to it much of my adult life. I’m tired of it. I want it to stop.

I’m talking about the life that we animals and plants live. The essence of life is to be able to choose. Mostly those choices involve what is best for a particular animal or plant, aka survival. It’s freedom from constraint of any kind. While that may sound chaotic, that’s life. Choice doesn’t always mean choosing correctly, or wisely, or in ways I might have chosen. But to live is to choose. Take away choice and you have dictatorship. We humans get in the most trouble when we think, and act as if, we have control over anything other than the person walking around inside our own skin. We can make laws governing consequences to the choices we make, but ultimately choice is up to us.

Being pro-life also means being pro-environment. Here’s a pretty good checklist of where our environmental priorities need to be: Air, water, food. Shelter and clothing are up there, but not at the top of the list. After that it’s pretty much a free-for-all. As it should be. That’s life.

Most living organisms die within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. The end comes a little more slowly without clean water; about 3 days for the average human. Some people, most spectacularly religious ascetics, have been able to live for months without food, although the price they pay in damage to muscle and organ systems is high. But that’s a choice. The point is one doesn’t absolutely have to eat three squares a day to keep going. There’s no argument that air and water are absolutely essential to life.

The nation’s air and water are far cleaner now than they were when I was growing up with a front-row seat to the burning Cuyahoga River. That fire in 1969 captured the national imagination two years after I graduated from high school; Earth Day came one year after that.

Yet, there are now in Congress people who would roll back those basic environmental protections, as if our air and water are clean enough that we can afford to make them dirty again. They say we cannot afford the luxury of continued protection of these essential natural resources. I suspect many of those same people are Pro-Life.

They clearly aren’t reading the current scientific literature pointing to air and water pollution as culprits in our ongoing struggle against a host of diseases that were unheard of 100 years ago.  Fracking, hailed as the savior of the domestic energy industry, is being implicated in rising incidences of breast cancer and other diseases because of the toxic stew of chemical needed to separate oil from the rock in which it is embedded.

These anti-environmentalists are the same people who call climate change a hoax. They attribute the increasing number of catastrophic weather events, rising overall global temperatures, rising seas and increasing numbers of species extinctions all to some natural blip in weather patterns that will soon straighten itself out. They contend that we don’t need to jump through the hoops – pay the cost – of finding renewable energy sources.

Even if that were the case, a couple of questions: What’s the harm in clean energy? And what happens when the oil, gas and coal run out, which they will do? The phrase “renewable energy” is premised on the fact that fossil fuels are one-time use materials. Even if they weren’t so dirty in their production, use and disposal, once fossil fuels are gone, they’re gone. Then what?

Even those in favor of Life might be interested in answers to those questions. What’s the point of bringing a baby into the world if it will only die because the air it needs to breathe and water it must drink are poison and the food it needs to thrive is so adulterated that it kills  long before our God-given expiration date. Unless, that is, they see this planet as a lost cause and really don’t care what happens next. What’s pro-Life about that?

We need knowledge to answer those what-next questions, so being pro-life also means being pro-education. No doubt one can live a rich and meaningful life without formal education. Still, we have this cultural conceit that we are civilized and as such need a system by which many of us can learn a lot of important things others of us have picked up over the millennia. The system is education and what is learned is knowledge.

Answers to  “What next?” questions require more than a little knowledge. A lot of the knowledge we are generating now suggests there really isn’t a “next” unless we change course as a species inhabiting this planet. Now.

In fact, it seems to me a necessary piece of being pro-Life is to be pro-ALL-life. Not just unborn human babies, but plants and topsoil (it’s alive, trust me) and elephants and skinks and followers of certain religions and gut bacteria and Tasmanian devils and, well, everything. There is a reverence for all life that seems to be missing from the political battles waged over Life. Without such reverence, it is too easy to compartmentalize some lives as more precious than others. When that happens, life loses.

I understand but don’t share the perspective of people whose rallying cry is “Save the Planet.” Frankly, I’m not concerned about Mother Earth. She is the ultimate pro-lifer. If, or more likely when, she gets tired of us two-legged brats running around fouling our nest (and the nests of every other creatures we share this Blue Marble with), she’ll simply wipe us out. Clever lass that she is, she’ll make it look like an inside job. Still, I suspect when we reach the environmental tipping point, we’ll start to disappear. Maybe it’ll be by Big Flood, or Big Disease, or Big Poisoning or lots of little killings. But we’ll be gone. Who says humans as a species is exempt from the Sixth Great Extinction, under way right now?

With us gone or at least greatly diminished, Mother Earth will, as she has for the gazillions of years since the Big Bang, build a world in which life can exist. She’s done it many times before, without humans. She’ll do it again. That’s life.




101 Days

As the temperature refuses to dip much below 90, it’s hard to picture Nov. 8. It’s too far away to get worked up about. And yet, we have only 101 days left to decide what kind of America we want to wake up in on Nov. 9.

We have seen two people, both of whom are seeking the same office, give us their visions of the country and the road ahead. Donald Trump sees an America that is hobbling and needs a crutch. He sees a country challenged by outside forces and asks us to cower behind walls. And he would declare himself our national savior. Had there been no Declaration of Independence or Constitution, his vision still would have been of an America not worth the ink its map is printed on. But because of the ideals on which this country was founded, his strongman approach repudiates everything we have stood for. His America is not mine.

I have spoken to seemingly normal people who say they love their country and yet think that’s just what we need;  someone who will break through the political gridlock by dint of dictate. Who will sweep our problems aside with a command.  That is the kind of thinking that allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power. I am dumbfounded that people who say they love this country and are old enough to remember World War II can in good conscience go there.

The other candidate, a woman for the first time in our history, painted a portrait of a great yet still flawed country. Hillary Clinton reached out to those who feel they have been overlooked and disrespected. She offered concrete ideas for getting them back in the game. She honored those who have served us, in the military, in the safety forces, as teachers, as doctors, as anyone whose chosen career is dedicated to making other lives better. By uttering the national motto, E pluribus unum, she included those who reject her. It takes all of us to do this job of forming a more perfect union, she told us.

So now to the campaign. It will be ugly, inspiring, hard to watch and harder to say away from. I live in Ohio and dread the avalanche of door hangers, robocalls, junk mail flyers and all the other political detritus that will be thrust in my face because I live in a swing state. We are  small but mighty, us swing states. I suspect a majority of campaign budgets will be spent on us.

The difference in this election is that not only will I vote — Americans who sit out elections lose their claim to their birthright as citizens — but I will work my heart out. This could be the election that comes down to one vote in one precinct in my humble hometown. If the election goes to the unthinkable, and I know that there was any chance I might have been able to do something but failed to act, I will be a long time finding ways to forgive myself.

Not everyone will work. Not everyone sees the stark, frightening  choice we are facing. It is there nonetheless. We are Americans. We say we believe in freedom, justice, fair play, equality of opportunity. We have a chance to put our vote where our mouths are.

101 days. And counting.

A Nation of Cowards?

Full disclosure: I did not watch much of the Republican convention this week. I rarely watch political conventions. I find the drama and everyone’s tendency to showboat tedious. This year I also avoided it because I try to limit my exposure to negative energy. There has been precious little but negative energy coming out of the Q. Except for the positive energy toward the King of Negativity.Declaration 1

I failed. After about 30 seconds, my stomach was in knots and my head was pounding. What I heard in those few moments was enough. It literally made me sick.

Trump said he would be the “Law and Order president.” Clearly, he didn’t venture outside his four-day Love Fest inside Quicken Loans Arena to see plenty of law and order being provided by police officers from across the nation. They presided over a relatively  festive atmosphere despite the clear  passions felt by those on all side of whatever event was scheduled during the demonstrations. Police, demonstrators, passers-by, even reporters were smiling, hugging, welcoming. Outside the Q there was no sign of the hatred being brewed inside.

Trump cherry-picked statistics to drive home the point that we are teetering on the edge of civil chaos. Here’s what he couldn’t mention. Overall, violent crime is half what it was in the 1990s. The economy is in great shape. In fact, by most measures, we are far better off now than we were when President Obama took office nearly 8 years ago. Are we perfect? Nope. Do we have serious issues? Yep. But by and large, if we would just relax a minute, take a breath and look at the national landscape, we’d see we’re in pretty darn good shape. And the big problems we do have — national opioid epidemic just to pick  one — are nowhere on Trump’s radar. That reality doesn’t suit the Donald’s need for the masses to kowtow to the Great Protector. So he makes up his own.


In creating this straw man of insecurity, Trump told delegates and the viewing public to be afraid, be very afraid. Be afraid of people who don’t look like them, who don’t worship like them, whose cultures celebrate differently. He asked people to reject the very idea of anything they don’t know or find familiar. He asked his followers to make us a nation of cowards.

If he succeeds, he will reduce the country I love  to one simpering in fear, afraid to venture outside itself and take part in the world. “Americanism, not Globalism, will be our credo.” He would turn us into 322 million navel-gazers.

I am only too aware that the historic narrative we were taught is often at odds with reality. We who came here from Europe summarily appropriated land simply because we wanted it, needed it and the folks who were already here were in the way. While we were building a nation, we appropriated the lives and labor of millions of Africans and others who had no power to resist. We continue to ride that cushion of privilege, often unwittingly perpetuating a system most of us recognize as rigged against anybody but us.

We need to remember this as we move forward.  Still, we cannot lose sight of the greatness that is the idea of America. If we parse the facts, we will drown in petty detail. And Trump has proved himself more than willing to manipulate facts and to tell untruths to rob us of our birthright as a courageous people.

This country was first an idea, one that inspired people to turn their backs on the familiar and to break with an unjust system. This idea attracted people the world over to build the lives they dreamed of. This idea built what I believe is the greatest country on Earth. July 4th, we celebrated that idea. We cannot abandon it.

Trump’s acceptance speech had no room for such words as:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” or

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.”

We have fought an internal war over these ideals. We have paid dearly for the idea of a country of the people, by the people and for the people. I am grateful it did not perish from the Earth then. It is in danger now.

Trump would have us throw that all away in exchange for law and order. In the name of personal security, we should turn our backs on the notion of a common defense, a general welfare. Indeed, he would have us denounce the very notion that we are all in this enterprise together. Blessings of liberty? What liberty? For whom?

The Declaration’s end captured my young imagination. Thinking of the men in that room in 1776 who had been branded as traitors by their government, who knew that signing the document would likely sign their death warrant would any of them be captured, I wondered whether I possessed that kind of courage.

I  now know the answer. I pray it doesn’t come to that but I’m with the spirit of those 56 founders who said: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”