How Banning Abortion Will Transform America

Across the United States, Republican-controlled legislatures are outlawing abortion, with the hope of bringing the issue before a sympathetic Supreme Court. If they succeed in revoking women’s reproductive rights, the US will quickly become a different society – one resembling communist-era Romania.

HUNEDOARA, ROMANIA – “It was a horrible time,” recounts one Romanian gynecologist, referring to the period between 1966 and 1990, when abortion and contraception were completely banned under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. “Women refused to have sexual lives, resulting in family fights and abandonment,” she continued. “For a woman, any sexual contact meant only panic and pain.” As another Romanian who lived through the period put it, “It was impossible to have a normal sexual life because of fear of getting pregnant.” 
If the Republican Party in the United States has its way, millions of American women could soon come to know the same fear. Republican lawmakers in GeorgiaAlabama, and other states have enacted or are proposing outright abortion bans, hoping to bring the issue back before a sympathetic US Supreme Court and overturn or further gut the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In the absence of Roe’s constitutional protection of a woman’s right to have an abortion, America would become a different society, because, as in Ceaușescu-era Romania, the government would police its members’ most personal choices.
It wasn’t only women who suffered from the Ceaușescu regime’s attacks on their bodily integrity. Far from strengthening the family, Romania’s draconian “pro-life” policies
  • poisoned heterosexual intimacy,
  • strained marriages, and
  • weakened social trust.

Monthly gynecological exams brought the state inside women’s uteruses and, by extension, into the bedroom. State surveillance of sexual activity resembled that of a farmer breeding livestock. With provisions prohibiting women from going out of state for an abortion, or from using certain contraceptive methods (such as intrauterine devices), much of the new US legislation, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would expose women to a similar enforcement regime.

After the Ceaușescu regime fell in December 1989, one of the interim Romanian government’s first moves was to decriminalize abortion. While debates about many aspects of the communist legacy soon erupted, few Romanians had any doubt that forcing women to have babies they didn’t want had been disastrous for the country.

Even after three decades under the ban, Romania’s birth rate had not increased. Instead, Romanian women had undergone nearly 7.3 million back-alley abortions – an average of three apiece – between 1967 and 1989. At least 15,000 women died as a result of complications and untreated side effects. Romania’s infant-mortality rate during this period was the highest in Europe, and anywhere from two to 59 times above that of other countries.

Though most Eastern Bloc countries expanded women’s reproductive freedoms after Stalin’s death in 1953, by the late 1960s, communist leaders began to worry that declining birth rates would lead to future labor shortages. But while other East European countries addressed the issue through longer paid maternity leaves and higher child-care benefits, the Romanian government took a different path.

Prior to 1966, Romania had one of the most liberal abortion policies in the world. But, desperate for population growth, Ceaușescu issued Decree 770, essentially nationalizing Romanian women’s wombs. Both abortion and contraception were criminalized for all women age 45 and under who had not borne at least four children (later increased to five). The only exceptions were for rape and incest, high-risk pregnancies, and cases in which the fetus could contract a hereditary disease from either parent. The law was strictly enforced. The Romanian secret police, the Securitate, registered suspected pregnancies and kept tabs on women until the birth of the child. It was the kind of natalist authoritarianism that US “pro-life” advocates have long dreamed of.

With challenges to Roe looming on the horizon, and with many US states having already denied access to abortion facilities and reproductive health services through other means, Romania’s experience shows what happens when women suddenly lose the right to control their own bodies. Without reproductive freedom, heterosexual sex turns into a game of “Russian roulette” for women, because they quite literally bear the consequences of any liaison. Indeed, Alabama’s new law goes further than Ceaușescu’s Romania, by eliminating even the exception for rape or incest.

Abortion opponents claim that banning it will

  • promote marriage,
  • strengthen families, and
  • restore traditional gender roles.

But the Romanian case shows that a more likely scenario is a

  • rapid increase in maternal mortality, an
  • explosion of unwanted children and orphans, and
  • a “sex recession,” as wives choose to avoid intimacy with their husbands altogether.

As in Romania, the state’s violent intrusion into the private sphere will upset the lives of men and women alike. Americans can look forward to a future of bad sex and wrecked relationships.

It’s time to face facts. A century of evidence from around the world shows that coercive reproduction policies correlate weakly with actual fertility rates. The fact is that women’s decisions about family size are based on material realities. When basic food supplies are scarce (as in Romania in the 1980s), women will risk their lives having back-alley abortions, for fear of lacking the means to care for a child. Where paid parental leave and childcare are absent or prohibitively expensive, as they are in the US, women will make similar economic choices, regardless of the laws on the books.

After communism, Romania’s people recognized that democratic societies have a responsibility to guarantee women’s bodily autonomy, and to respect the right of all citizens to make their own decisions about whether and when to start or add to a family. It is odd that in the “land of the free,” one of the major parties would emulate a communist dictator.

 

Trump’s Darkest Days

Responsible journalists report that Trump White House aides (who are notoriously sieve-like) say the US president feels alone and cornered.

Feeling lonely should not be surprising, as Trump is not one for close friendships. He has proven time and again that for him, loyalty is a one-way street. Virtually no one who works for him can feel secure. Probably no one but his daughter Ivanka is safe from the terminal wrath that eventually pushes so many associates out the door.

.. Trump had dropped hints that he would pardon Manafort, but he was advised – and for once, he listened – that to do so before November’s midterm congressional elections would be catastrophic for the Republicans and therefore him. Manafort apparently calculated that he could neither bet on a pardon later – what if Trump himself was in serious legal danger by then? – nor afford another trial. His plea deal with Mueller strips him of most of his properties and tens of millions of dollars, but he was willing to accept huge financial losses to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

.. Manafort also wanted an arrangement that would keep his family safe. After all, he would be giving Mueller’s prosecutors the goods on some Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin – folks who are not particularly gentle toward people who betray them.

.. Kavanaugh was a risky choice all along. Drawn from a list of other highly conservative possible nominees provided to the president by the right-wing Federalist Society, Kavanaugh stood apart for his extraordinary views about presidential power. Kavanaugh has written that he believed that a president cannot be investigated or prosecuted while he is in office.

.. This view that a president is above the law is unique (so far as is known) among serious legal scholars. Its appeal to Trump is obvious. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s views are far to the right on other issues as well

.. Republican leaders were desperate to get Kavanaugh confirmed before the midterms, lest their voters stay home out of disappointment and even anger if he wasn’t confirmed – in which case their worst nightmare, a Democratic takeover of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, could come true..

.. Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear, which (like previous books on Trump, but to a greater extent and with more depth) offers a devastating portrait of a dysfunctional White House. In particular, the book – together with an anonymous New York Times op-ed by a senior administration official – showed how far aides would go to keep an incurious, ignorant, and paranoid president from impulsively doing something disastrous.

..

The Rules for Beating Donald Trump

Don’t argue with 4.1 percent growth.

.. don’t bet on bad news.

Why? Because it creates a toxic perception that Trump’s critics would rather see things go wrong, for the sake of their own vindication, than right, for the common good. That, in turn, reinforces the view that Trump’s critics are the sort of people whose jobs and bank accounts are sufficiently safe and padded that they can afford lousy economic numbers.

.. If working-class resentment was a factor in handing the White House to Trump, pooh-poohing of good economic news only feeds it.

While they’re at it, they might try to observe Rule No. 2: Stop predicting imminent disaster. The story of the Trump presidency so far isn’t catastrophe. It’s corrosion — of our political institutions, civic morals, global relationships and democratic values.

.. Democrats can make a successful run against the corrosion, just as George W. Bushdid in a prosperous age with his promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House after the scandals of the Clinton years.

.. Third rule: Stop obsessing about 2016.

.. The smart play is to defend the integrity of Mueller’s investigation and invest as little political capital as possible in predicting the result. If Mueller discovers a crime, that’s a gift to the president’s opponents. If he discovers nothing, it shouldn’t become a humiliating liability.

.. Tweets are the means by which the president wrests control of the political narrative from the news media (and even his own administration), whether by inspiring his followers, goading his opponents, changing the subject, or merely causing a ruckus.

.. Fifth: Beware the poisoned chalice. We keep hearing that the 2018 midterms are the most important in all of history, or close to it. Why?

Democrats took control of the Senate in the 1986 midterms but George H.W. Bush easily defeated Mike Dukakis two years later. Republicans took Congress in 1994, only to become Bill Clinton’s ideal foil. Republicans took the House again in 2010 amid a wave of discontent with Barack Obama, and you know what happened. Get my drift?

Finally: People want leaders. Not ideologues. Not people whose life experiences have been so narrow that they’ve been able to maintain the purity of their youthful ideals.

.. governors. John Hickenlooper. Deval Patrick. Maggie Hassan. Andrew Cuomo. Want to defeat Trump? Look thataway.

Debacle in Quebec

there has never been a disaster like the G7 meeting that just took place. It could herald the beginning of a trade war, maybe even the collapse of the Western alliance. At the very least it will damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally for decades to come; even if Trump eventually departs the scene in disgrace, the fact that someone like him could come to power in the first place will always be in the back of everyone’s mind.

.. I’m already seeing headlines to the effect that Trump took a belligerent “America first” position, demanding big concessions from our allies, which would have been bad. But the reality was much worse.

.. He didn’t put America first; Russia first would be a better description. And he didn’t demand drastic policy changes from our allies; he demanded that they stop doing bad things they aren’t doing. This wasn’t a tough stance on behalf of American interests, it was a declaration of ignorance and policy insanity.

.. Trump started with a call for readmitting Russia to the group, which makes no sense at all. The truth is that Russia, whose GDP is about the same size as Spain’s and quite a bit smaller than Brazil’s, was always a ringer in what was meant to be a group of major economies. It was brought in for strategic reasons, and kicked out when it invaded Ukraine.

.. There is no possible justification for bringing it back, other than whatever hold Putin has on Trump personally.

.. Then Trump demanded that the other G7 members remove their “ridiculous and unacceptable” tariffs on U.S. goods – which would be hard for them to do, because their actual tariff rates are very low. The European Union, for example, levies an average tariff of only three percent on US goods.

.. Yes, Canada imposes high tariffs on certain dairy products. But it’s hard to make the case that these special cases are any worse than, say, the 25 percent tariff the U.S. still imposes on light trucks.

.. His trade advisers have repeatedly claimed that value-added taxes, which play an important role in many countries, are a form of unfair trade protection. But this is sheer ignorance

.. they’re just a way of implementing a sales tax — which is why they’re legal under the WTO.

.. He may just have been ranting. After all, he goes on and on about other vast evils that don’t exist, like a huge wave of violent crime committed by illegal immigrants (who then voted in the millions for Hillary Clinton.)

Was there any strategy behind Trump’s behavior? Well, it was pretty much exactly what he would have done if he really is Putin’s puppet: yelling at friendly nations about sins they aren’t committing won’t bring back American jobs, but it’s exactly what someone who does want to break up the Western alliance would like to see.

.. Alternatively, maybe he was just acting out because he couldn’t stand having to spend hours with powerful people who will neither flatter him nor bribe him by throwing money at his family businesses – people who, in fact, didn’t try very hard to hide the contempt

.. this was an utter, humiliating debacle. And we all know how Trump responds to humiliation.

 

Hurricanes, Climate and the Capitalist Offset

Texans will find few consolations in the wake of a hurricane as terrifying as Harvey. But here, at least, is one: A biblical storm has hit them, and the death toll —38 as of this writing — is mercifully low, given its intensity.

.. This is not how it plays out in much of the world. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ripped through Central America and killed anywhere between 11,000 and 19,000 people, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua. Nearly a decade later Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar and a staggering 138,000 people perished.

.. The storm will be a “speed bump” to Houston’s $503 billion economy, according to Moody’s

.. he expects the storm to derail growth for about two months.

.. Climate activists often claim that unchecked economic growth and the things that go with are principal causes of environmental destruction. In reality, growth is the great offset. It’s a big part of the reason why, despite our warming planet, mortality rates from storms have declined from .11 per 100,000 in the 1900s to .04 per 100,000 in the 2010s

.. growth isn’t just a matter of parking lots paving over paradise. It also underwrites safety standards, funds scientific research, builds spillways and wastewater plants, creates “green jobs,” subsidizes Elon Musk, sets aside prime real estate for conservation

.. it’s also only one of four Category 4 or 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States since 1970. By contrast, more than twice as many such storms made landfall between 1922 and 1969.

Donald, This I Will Tell You

And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment.

Your whole campaign was mocking your rivals and the D.C. elite, jawing about how Americans had turned into losers, with our bad deals and open borders and the Obamacare “disaster.”

.. You knew the Republicans were full of hot air. They haven’t had to pass anything in a long time, and they have no aptitude for governing. To paraphrase an old Barney Frank line, asking the Republicans to govern is like asking Frank to judge the Miss America contest — “If your heart’s not in it, you don’t do a very good job.”

.. Instead, you sold the D.O.A. bill the Irish undertaker gave you as though it were a luxury condo, ignoring the fact that it was a cruel flimflam, a huge tax cut for the rich disguised as a health care bill. You were so concerned with the “win” that you forgot your “forgotten” Americans, the older, poorer people in rural areas who would be hurt by the bill.

.. You were humiliated right out of the chute by the establishment guys who hooked you into their agenda — a massive transfer of wealth to rich people — and drew you away from your own.

You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.

.. That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.

They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”

You got played.

If you voted for Trump because he’s ‘anti-establishment,’ guess what: You got conned

The greatest trick Donald Trump pulled was convincing voters he’d be “anti-establishment.”

.. But the idea that he would do this was based on a profound misunderstanding of what the establishment actually is, and who Donald Trump is.

.. An organizational chart of Trump’s transition team shows it to be crawling with corporate lobbyists, representing such clients as Altria, Visa, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Verizon, HSBC, Pfizer, Dow Chemical, and Duke Energy. And K Street is positively salivating over all the new opportunities they’ll have to deliver goodies to their clients in the Trump era. Who could possibly have predicted such a thing?

The answer is, anyone who was paying attention.

.. No, their commitment is to be of service to that most oppressed and forgotten group of Americans, the wealthy. Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers. Paul Ryan’s tax plan is even purer — it gives 76 percent of its cuts to the richest one percent in its first year, and by 2025 would feed 99.6 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.

.. Once that’s accomplished, Trump and the Republicans plan to either gut or completely repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, the greatest wish of Wall Street bankers. Can you feel the anti-establishment wind blowing?

.. So what’s going on here? Most plainly, the voters thinking that Trump would vanquish the establishment were just marks for a con, like those who lost their life savings at Trump University. But

.. By now we should understand that while Trump is an ignorant buffoon in some ways and an outright moron in others, he’s also a savant of hatred and resentment. He not only identifies the ugliest feelings that portions of the electorate have — that’s the easy part, and all of his primary opponents knew equally well what those feelings were — he finds just the right way to reach in and goose them. And he grasped that people were ready to sign on with an attack on all sectors of established power, in Washington or anywhere else.

.. What Trump tapped into was their sense of powerlessness, that unseen forces are pulling the strings and manipulating “the system” for their own benefit. That “system” encompasses everything from politics to the economy to their local schools to culture. The system made that factory leave town. The system lets immigrants come in and speak a language other than English. Everywhere you look you’re being held down by the system.

So when Trump complained that anything that didn’t go his way meant the system was “rigged” against him, they nodded in agreement and said, “Yep, it’s rigged against me, too.”

.. He’s reckless, impulsive, vindictive, hateful, and authoritarian, and his presidency is going to be somewhere between disastrous and cataclysmic, likely in ways we can’t even imagine yet.