At Least We Beat Latvia

Or, on the road to becoming a Third World shithole …

Jeff Green reports at CNN that the U.S. has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world, according to a Save the Children/World Health Organization report.

American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month as children born in Japan, and newborn mortality is 2.5 times higher in the United States than in Finland, Iceland or Norway, Save the Children researchers found.

Only Latvia, with six deaths per 1,000 live births, has a higher death rate for newborns than the United States, which is tied near the bottom of industrialized nations with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with five deaths per 1,000 births.

In developed nations, most newborn mortality is a result of babies being born too small or too early. Prematurity and low birth weight correlate to poor prenatal care. Lack of prenatal care is associated with a 40% increase in the risk of neonatal death.

Japan was among a number of nations highly ranked mainly because they offer free health services for pregnant women and babies, while the United States suffers from disparities in access to health care.

Disparities. A delicate way to put it. Even though our hospitals generally are as well equipped as any to handle neonatal intensive care — better than most nations, possibly — a higher percentage of our babies are at risk when they are born because of those disparities. Tom Tomorrow:

Because of some unholy confluence of conservatism, free-marketism, and general head-up-ass-ism, this country has never made health care for all a national priority. Things like this are the result, and it infuriates me. Next time some right wing asshole starts talking about the scary, scary dangers of socialized medicine, just remember: among industrialized nations, only Latvia has a higher death rate for newborns than the United Fucking States of America.

For a nation as advanced and wealthy as we are alleged to be, that’s unspeakably obscene.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the right wingers to acknowledge this problem. Early last year Nick Kristof wrote a column about the shockingly high infant mortality rate in the U.S., and the righties attacked him for being unpatriotic and even “morally bankrupt.” I kid you not.

In the U.S. infants born to African American and poor, less well-educated mothers are disproportionately at risk. Which takes us to this Christian Science Monitor story from last week …

In 2001, US women living below the federal poverty line were four times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, five times as likely to have an unplanned birth, and more than three times as likely to have an abortion as women with income at least double the poverty line ($9,800). And these disparities are growing …

The article also notes that “the federal Title X program, which subsidizes women’s health clinics across the country, has experienced an annual decline in funding during the Bush years, when the figures are adjusted for inflation.” Title X clinics provide family planning services. Or, they used to. Three years ago the Missouri state legislature stopped funding birth control education and contraception in the clinics. From the Kansas City Star (April 10, 2006):

Missouri’s federally funded Title X clinics each year help about 30,000 low-income women, yet it’s estimated that more than 600,000 women in the state need contraceptive services. About half of these are low-income. State funding would help.

Lawmakers haven’t approved state money for birth control education and contraception for low-income women for three years. About $3.5 million was cut out of the budget in 2003. Last year legislators cut thousands of women off Medicaid, which had helped them pay for contraceptive services.

Some House members recently attempted to allow county health clinics to use state funds for contraceptive services. But most lawmakers didn’t go along. Instead they approved an amendment by Rep. Susan Phillips, a Kansas City Republican, that denied spending for contraceptives or any treatment not spelled out in the state budget. Phillips says contraceptives are not an appropriate use of tax dollars.

The editorial points out that “every dollar spent to prevent unwanted pregnancies saves taxpayers $3 in health-care costs.” But of course it’s not about cost, or even health care. It’s about wingnut morality. Bonnie Erbe writes in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

It’s no secret to those who follow Washington politics that birth control has been “next on the list” of anti-abortion, religious conservatives. Following the enthronement of President Bush’s Victorian coterie in 2001, their top priority — an imposition of “everything but” a ban on abortion — has been accomplished in five short years. Now there’s undeniable proof that abortion was not the home run they longed for, but more tantamount to first base in a long-range plan to ban birth control, too.

Erbe cites a long New York Times magazine article by Russell Shorto about the war on contraception that I’ve been meaning to blog about … so many outrages, so little blogging time. Shorto says that criminalizing birth control has been creeping up on the rightie to-do list. Opposition to birth control was pretty much a Catholic-only phenomenon twenty years ago; now the fundies and the more miswired elements among evangelicals are anti-contraception, also.

As with other efforts — against gay marriage, stem cell research, cloning, assisted suicide — the anti-birth-control campaign isn’t centralized; it seems rather to be part of the evolution of the conservative movement. The subject is talked about in evangelical churches and is on the agenda at the major Bible-based conservative organizations like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. It also has its point people in Congress — including Representative Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, Representative Joe Pitts and Representative Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — all Republicans who have led opposition to various forms of contraception.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is considered one of the leading intellectual figures of evangelical Christianity in the U.S. In a December 2005 column in The Christian Post titled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” he wrote: “The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals, and it threatens to set loose a firestorm.. . .A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control — and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies.”

I’d like some of these men “facing the hard questions” to have to face a nice 18 hours or so of back labor, followed by the joy of an episiotomy.

You’ll like this part:

Many Christians who are active in the evolving anti-birth-control arena state frankly that what links their efforts is a religious commitment to altering the moral landscape of the country. In particular, and not to put too fine a point on it, they want to change the way Americans have sex.

Heart-warming, huh?

I’m not even going to go into the Bush Administration’s blocking approval of emergency contraception or the pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. I’ve ranted many times in the past that the only sure-fire way to reduce abortion rates is to provide easy access to birth control. Here I just want to point to how the way the fundies and Fetus People — excuse me, “social conservatives” — are trying to pull the whole bleeping country into a downward spiral that leads to more poverty, more dead babies, more repression, and more of everything else that plagues the Third World. Like I said, we’re on the road to becoming a Third World shithole. The fundies won’t be happy until we’re all wrapped up in burkhas.

But I’d like to provide one more example, which you may have heard before. Tristero asks why anyone would not approve of a vaccine that would prevent cervical cancer and save lives?

Well, as it happens, our morally-stunted fellow citizens on the right have the answer to the questions. Turns out the the best time to administer the vaccine is when the girl is between 10 and 12 years old. And Hal Wallace, head of the anti-fucking activist group that’s deliberately mislabeled as”Physicians Consortium,” believes that vaccinating an 11 year-old girl against cervical cancer would send a message “that you just take this shot and you can be as sexually promiscuous as you want.” And the equally loony Family Research Council (James Dobson’s band of self-righteous prigs) says “it would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination.”

They don’t call ’em the American Taliban for nothin’.

Richard Cohen’s Digital Lynch Mob

Richard Cohen panned Colbert and got 3,499 nasty emails. In comparison, the emails he got after a column on Al Gore and global warming were much more even-tempered. His conclusion is that we lefties are brimming with foaming-at-the-mouth rage while righties are cool and rational.

This spells trouble — not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before — back in the Vietnam War era. That’s when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

How soon they forget. Back in December 2004, Cohen was complaining that the righties were being mean to him.

When, for instance, I wrote a column suggesting that Bernard Kerik was a bad choice for secretary of homeland security, I got a bucket full of obscene e-mails right in my face. I was denounced over and over again as a liberal who, moreover, never would have written something similar about anyone Bill Clinton had named. This would be news to Clinton.

What struck me about the e-mails was how none of these writers paid any attention to what I had to say. Instead, they preferred to deal with a caricature — someone who belonged to a movement, a conspiracy, and was taking orders in the service of some vast, nefarious cause. E-mails are the drive-by shootings of the common man. The face of the victim is never seen.

Atrios suggests it’s time for Richard to retire. That’s a thought. Political commentary is not for the faint of heart these days.

Reaction to today’s column from leftie blogs so far has been dismissive. Digby points out that “There’s no political downside to hating Richard Cohen,” and he calls the column a waste of WaPo real estate. See also A Tiny Revolution.

It’s easy to be dismissive. One, Cohen is a wanker. He has fleeting moments of clarity — I link to him from time to time — but in the next column, or paragraph, he’ll be settled back into the foggy, clueless comfort of beltway insider conventional wisdom. He’s no Krugman. But then again, he’s no Krauthammer. He tends to bob about in the squishy center of the political spectrum, just to the left of the cognitively impenetrable David Broder.

We might, however, want to take Cohen’s charge a little more seriously. Beltway insider conventional wisdom already says that we netroots lefties are nothing but radical malcontents, and that close association with us is a political liability. Not exactly the effect we want to go for, I think. The VRWC could take charges like Cohen’s and turn them into a full-bore discrediting of us. In effect, we could be collectively swift-boated. Just as we’re trying to crash the gates, Democrats might put up bigger barricades. And a moat.

We know that rightie blogswarms can be vicious. Most of us have been targets of one from time to time. It ain’t fun, but it comes with the territory. However, I suspect — this is just a hunch — that righties are feeling less empowered than they were during the glory days of the Dan Rather smackdown, and are not swarming as strongly as they used to. But we lefties may be getting friskier.

On the other hand, the Al Gore column drew much less attention on the blogosphere than the Colbert column, which was a collossally stupid column. Among Cohen’s dumbest efforts, certainly. Technorati says the Colbert column was linked by 217 bloggers, whereas the Al Gore column had only 105 links.

I haven’t broken down these numbers by leftie v. rightie, but you can see at a glance that prominent bloggers who linked to the Al Gore column were mostly from the Left. The only prominent rightie bloggers (i.e., blogs with names I recognize) who linked to the Al Gore column were Gateway Pundit, Oxblog, Blue Crab Boulevard, and Carol Platt Liebau. No little green footballs; no nice doggie; no power tools; no instahack. The big guns of the Right, in other words, were silent.

The Colbert column, on the other hand — did I mention it was among Cohen’s dumbest efforts? — took fire from nearly all the big guns of the Left. Kos, Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, Wonkette, AMERICAblog, Eschaton, Pharyngula, Pandagon, Steve Gilliard’s News Blog, The Poor Man, The Carpetbagger Report, Booman Tribune, Seeing the Forest, Ezra Klein — definitely the A Team. Plus Democratic Underground, Daou Report, and Alternet. And me. (Links are on the search list.)

Cohen’s comparison of reactions to the two columns, in other words, was hardly a fair trial. Let him piss off Wizbang or RedState, and then see what happens.

Still, the anger thing does worry me. I am not saying we don’t have a right to be angry. And I have argued many times that the righties have us beat in the hate and fear departments. I get angry, too. But I think it’s possible that this angry left meme, as unfair as it is, could hurt us. (Since when is swift-boating fair?) And, as I argued here, displays of anger are counterproductive to persuasion. Cohen is right about the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helping to elect Richard Nixon. I remember it well.

So, I’m asking Mahablog readers to stop picking on Richard Cohen and to not indulge in sending hate emails to pundits or politicians who piss you off. Put your energy into something positive, like supporting Ned Lamont. Thank you.

Avedon demonstrates how to challenge a bleephead like Cohen. Read and learn.