Sunday, December 27, 2009

No longer haunted by holiday depression



For much of my life I spent the holidays obsessing about not having the perfect family. I’ve always been haunted by Brady Bunch like visions of the big happy family. My family of origin was small and dysfunctional. And continuing the family pattern I went on to two unhappy marriages. I finally got the marriage thing right the third time around but the dream of the perfect family still eluded me--a loving partner, wonderful children, and a large, supportive extended family.

My husband I did not have children (which was the right decision for us) but one consequence was putting the Brady Bunch dream further out of reach. And my little son was stuck shuttling back and forth between 2 households in a tension- filled joint custody arrangement.

For the most part, I haven’t wasted too much time feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have this dream family. But the holidays always brought these anxieties to the foreground and there were years when I really dreaded the holidays.

Yes, I know how rare it is to have a happy marriage and to have an extended family free of tension, in-law problems, and ancient, unresolved quarrels threatening to disrupt the family dinner. It’s not like the whole world has something from which I alone am shut out.

For reasons I don’t fully understand I’ve gotten beyond my dream of the perfect family. I have my wonderful husband, my son, my sister and her family, and many wonderful friends. I will never have that huge happy family I’ve always dreamed about, but I’ve made my peace with that. And one consequence is that the holidays are no longer an ordeal to be gotten through.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A cautionary tale from Gail Collins: Or why we have to pass a health care reform bill



Today I received an email from NOW President Terry O'Neill. One of the reasons many feminists support NOW is to have an organization we can count on to look out for women’s rights. From Terry O'Neill:

The so-called health care reform bill now before the Senate, with the addition of Majority Leader Harry Reid's Manager's Amendment, amounts to a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us. And by the way, it's the rest of us who voted the current leadership into both houses of Congress.
The National Organization for Women is outraged that Senate leadership would cave in to Sen. Ben Nelson, offering a compromise that amounts to a Stupak-like ban on insurance coverage for abortion care. Right-wing ideologues like Nelson and the Catholic Bishops may not understand this, but abortion is health care. And health care reform is not true reform if it denies women coverage for the full range of reproductive health services.
We call on all senators who consider themselves friends of women's rights to reject the Manager's Amendment, and if it remains, to defeat this cruelly over-compromised legislation.


Support for abortion rights is a litmus test issue for me. I’ve never voted for an anti-choice candidate, no matter how good that candidate might be on economic justice issues. And I don’t expect to ever vote for an anti-choice candidate.

I will write to my senators to let them know how outraged I am by the anti-choice language in the bill. I will continue to lobby to get this language out of the final bill, but I don’t want to ask my representatives to torpedo the final bill.

I have gone back and forth on this. What finally clinched it for me, was Gail Collins’ article which jogged my memory about what happened when progressives failed to work together to mobilize support for child care.

Collins relates a cautionary tale:
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them…Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it. The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted….
Meanwhile, there was hardly a peep from the other side. Children’s advocates had been enthusiastic at first, but as the legislation made its way through Congress, they squabbled over what kinds of community groups should be allowed to deliver the services…
In the end, the people who hated the whole idea were much more energized than the people who loved the idea, but disagreed on the details.
“People always think there will be another day,” said Jack Duncan, who was counsel for the subcommittee that handled the bill in the House. “Well, there might be another day, but not in my lifetime.”


At that stage in my life, I thought the 1971 child care bill was too flawed to support—-nothing short of free childcare for all would have satisfied me.
I didn’t realize at the time that we had just blown a historic opportunity which would have made an enormous difference in women’s lives. If there had been enough support from progressives to override Nixon’s veto, the bill would have in all likelihood have become stronger over time.

By now, Americans would view government subsidized high quality child care as a right—-just the way Europeans view child care as a right. We forget that social security was not widely supported initially, but there is now a consensus that financial support in old age is a right of citizens. Something similar is likely to happen with health care.

At this stage in my life, I am willing to take half a loaf to establish the principle that all Americans have a right to health care. We can’t miss this opportunity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How I’m dealing with my depression about health care reform



This is not the way I expected it to turn out. No public option, no Medicare buy –in for people 55-64. But I don’t want to kill the bill.

I spend too much time reading liberal/ progressive blogs and am dismayed by how many on the left are making the argument that it’s better to scuttle this bill.

Many thanks to Nate Silver who kept me from falling into this defeatist way of thinking! One of my Facebook friends alerted me to
His 20 Questions for Bill Killers

Silver convinced me that passing this bill is so much better than starting over. Among his most compelling points:

8. How many years is it likely to be before Democrats again have (i) at least as many non-Blue Dog seats in the Congress as they do now, and (ii) a President in the White House who would not veto an ambitious health care bill?

11. Would base voters be less likely to turn out in 2010 if no health care plan is passed at all, rather than a reasonable plan without a public option?

[An aside: Nate Silver got me through the 2008 general election. Whenever I stated to panic, I went to fivethirtyeight.com and Nate’s solid, fact-based analysis calmed me down. Silver demonstrated that electoral arithmetic was clearly in Obama’s favor and that helped me get beyond the headline of the day.]

Silver’s arguments helped and a little bit of history helps. Major social reform has always been piecemeal. In order to get the votes to pass social security, FDR made a devil’s bargain with Southern Democrats to exclude domestic workers and share croppers, effectively excluding the majority of African-Americans.

In many ways the New Deal was racist, but it established the principle that the elderly were entitled to financial support. In the 1950’s the laws were amended to ensure that the principle applied to all workers. (Those who had been excluded from social security or their descendants should have been compensated.)

Medicare was similarly a work in progress, with prescription drug coverage not included. Medicare established the principle that the elderly were entitled to health care, but it took forty years for prescription drug coverage to be included, and even then, the prescription drug coverage passed during the Bush administration was deeply flawed. We are still working on fixing that one.

Killing the bill will kill reform for the foreseeable future and kill more of our fellow citizens who are dying for lack of health care.

And from Bill Clinton:
“Take it from someone who knows: these chances don't come around every day. Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder -- both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country."

Maybe Obama and the Democrats could have fought harder, fought smarter but the archaic senate rules have stacked the deck against change. It’s time to get rid of the filibuster and the 60 vote threshold required.

So I’m reconciled (sort of) to passing this flawed bill as a first step and trying to talk myself into a "don’t mourn, organize!” mind set.

I’m going to work like crazy to make sure the people who came out for Obama in 2008 come out in 2010 to give the president the votes he needs to fix this bill. Too bad Lieberman doesn’t come up for re-election until 2012.

Karen Bojar

Saturday, December 12, 2009

President Obama deserves the Nobel Prize


One downside of retirement is I have more time to obsess about what troubles me. If I were still working, I’d be too busy grading papers to be obsessing about Afghanistan and Obama’s Nobel Prize.

I am in the minority who thinks Obama deserves the award. I don’t share the disillusionment of many of my left wing friends with Obama. He inherited a horrendous mess. There were no good options in Afghanistan and the economic disaster was not of his making. And as for the difficulty of getting real health care reform passed, although the Democrats control congress, Obama does not have an ideological majority. A lot of those blue dogs might as well be Republicans.

But the escalation in Afghanistan gave me pause. I had hoped for a different decision. There is an argument for trying to stabilize a region in which there is a real possibility of nuclear weapons winding up in the hands of some truly scary people. But is increasing troop levels the way to forestall this? I've read some compelling arguments against Obama’s surge—even from Arlen Specter! So I’m very uncertain about all this and worried, really worried.

Yet I still think President Obama deserves the Nobel Prize and am happy it was awarded to him—-largely because of what this says about the world’s changing view of our country. In less than a year Obama has dramatically changed the image of the US. In the first days of his administration he declared an end to torture, the intention to close Guantanamo, his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons and , in the truly remarkable Cairo speech, he reached out to the Muslim world. Granted it’s more promise than achievement, but after 8 years of Bush/Cheney such a dramatic shift counts for a lot. Obama has raised the hopes of people around the globe that just maybe another world is possible.

Karen Bojar

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More thoughts on the winter garden


A beautiful medititation on the winter garden from my friend Fran who gardens in Cambridge, MA:

I think of the winter garden as the place for stock-taking. The “bones” of the garden are evident and I, thanks to retirement, have the leisure to reconsider, regroup, and plan. This year I’ll try to do more with autumn flowers. I’m also looking for a good groundcover for a bank where the dogs run—plants that are low-growing, very hardy, and willing to spread. The ground phlox hasn’t been entirely satisfactory, but maybe more of it would work better. I always want something in bloom throughout the year but am far less successful than Karen. Maybe next year. Time to check out plant sites on the web.

Of course, a lot of what I see now is jobs that I should have done already—tie up the broom so it doesn’t get beaten down by the snow, prune here and there, do any odd job that cold and rain and snow will allow. And leaves always remain. Nonetheless, it is rather peaceful since there really isn’t all that much that I can physically do, but I can dream. And when snow comes it covers up all the problems and everything looks beautiful.

Like Karen, people ask me if I would prefer living where I could have a year-round garden and, like Karen, I prefer (actually need) the varied seasons. Seasonal change and weather are very important to me. I love the drama of storms and the comfort of warm sunny days. When spring comes, I really feel that I’ve earned it by surviving winter. A friend, a fellow New Englander, moved for a time to California and said she didn’t know how Californians developed any personality without weather to contend with! I also think that without the winter break from gardening I wouldn’t have that pause that makes gardening something to really look forward to. I await the snowdrops and crocuses as the first sign that, once again, spring will really come.

Reading gardening books in the winter is a special pleasure for me. I plan such wonderful gardens, even if they are only very partially realized. At the moment I’m reading Olive Pitkin, My Garden and I: The Making of a Mid-Life Gardener (1992). I prefer narratives like this one to “how-to” books. Pitkin does most of the gardening herself (aided by relatives and friends), which I admire. I can’t really identify with gardeners whose work is done primarily by others. I also can’t identify with those who seem to have unlimited resources. When the famous gardener Christopher Lloyd was laying in a garden on an estate, a road was in the way of what he planned so the owners had the road moved. That’s a bit more ambitious than I can manage. I’m content with my little city plot of ground in all the seasons that it passes through.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Winter Garden


This is a tough time of the year for me. We’ve had our first snowfall and hard frost, so there’s not much left in my garden—just a little bit of winter jasmine.

I try to have something in bloom for as much of the year as possible but December and January are tough. I usually get a snow drop or two in January, but that’s it.

Friends who know of my passion for gardening sometimes ask if I’ve ever wanted to move to a warmer climate where I could have an all year round garden. Not an option. Not only do I love my city, my house, my friends, I don’t think I could live without the drama of Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.

I’m sure that I would never burst into tears of joy at the sight of the first species crocus (usually in late February) if it weren’t for several months of ice and cold. Now maybe that sounds a little crazy—wanting the pain of winter to fully experience the joy of Spring, but that’s how it works for me. And then Philly winters aren’t all that bad; it’s not like I’m living in Maine.

I’ve tried to figure out why seasonal change is so important to me and I think it has a lot to do with growing up on English literature. My imagination has been shaped in a really deep way by all those references to seasonal change. Bits and piece of poetry pop into my mind when I am out in the garden. Right now it’s “bare, ruined choirs where once the sweet birds sang.”

And the Holidays for me are a Winter Solstice festival. I just can’t imagine the holiday season without cold weather and at least the possibility of snow.

The way I make sense of the world is bound up with seasonal change. Sure some of it may seem clich├ęd—e.g., the autumn of my life—but it’s powerful nonetheless.
Karen Bojar

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I’m glad I got it together to go to DC for the National Lobby Day to Stop Stupak



I’m glad I got it together to go to DC for the National Lobby Day to Stop Stupak and Pass Health Care Reform.

A diverse group of women from all over the country gathered in DC; the really good news is that the majority were young women in their 20’s and 30’s. I think many women in my generation breathed a sigh of relief when we saw all these young women determined to protect reproductive rights.

Lobby days can be tedious as you go to one office after another, usually meeting with staff rather than with elected officials. (Thanks to Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, one of the few elected officials who met with constituents.)

The lobbying may have been tedious, but the rally was inspirational. Leaders of major feminist organizations and women legislators with long careers fighting for gender equality affirmed their determination to stop this assault on women’s rights.

Many emphasized that that here has been a compromise in place for decades that federal funds can not be used for abortion but that women can purchase insurance coverage which includes abortion with private funds—-i.e.with their own money. The Stupak-Pitts amendment would overturn this compromise and dramatically change the status quo.

No other legal medical procedure has been singled out to be excluded from plans on the proposed newly created insurance exchange—just this procedure which applies only to women.

A common theme from the women legislators who have been fighting for real health care reform is “We are going to win this one. We are not going to pass health care reform which restricts access, which takes away a right which women currently possess.” As Carol Maloney (Dem. representative from NY) said, “I didn’t go to Congress to roll back women's rights."

We must make sure that in arguing that health care reform not undo the compromise in place for decades(the Hyde amendment), that we are not legimitizing this law's discrimination against low income women.

After we defeat Stupak, we will mobilize against the Hyde amendment which denies government employees and women on Medicaid access to abortion. And we will win!