Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change reveals his belief that there is a moral obligation to act swiftly on climate change, which disproportionately harms the world's poor. But conservative media are relentlessly attacking the pope over the encyclical, calling it "insipid" and "blasphemous," and fearmongering that the Catholic leader is a "Marxist" pushing for "a new world order," among other things.
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan criticizes the "Trigger-Happy Generation" in her latest column, adding to the increasingly wide range of media figures questioning the merits of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" on college campuses. But her attacks in particular reveal a troubling element largely missing from this debate: an honest assessment of the crisis of mental health support for students.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces, in theory, attempt to warn and shield students from material that might remind them of past trauma or reinforce a hostile experience. In practice, they take on many different forms, giving ammunition to both defenders and critics who often see them as overzealous attempts to shield students from reality.
In her May 21 column, Noonan places herself squarely in the critics' camp, labeling on-campus advocacy for safe spaces and trigger warnings as "part of a growing censorship movement." She specifically targets an opinion piece in a Columbia University newspaper, which described in part a survivor of sexual assault wanting greater protection after feeling triggered during a class discussion on the rape scenes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Noonan argues that the world is an unsafe place, and that students shouldn't try to shape it into something more comforting:
There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can't expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety ... [I]f you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?
Noonan is being flippant, but her dismissive joke actually points to a growing problem: colleges don't offer students enough mental health support, which may be one explanation for the growing trend of students trying to create safe spaces and safe texts for themselves.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the same day Noonan's column was published, a report released as part of the campaign found that millennials who work (which would include many college students) have the highest rates of depression of any generation. Last year, The Washington Post noted that according to recent studies, "44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students."
And victims of rape, intimate-partner violence, stalking, or sexual assault -- which the Columbia University student Noonan highlighted reportedly was -- are "drastically more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives," according to a 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association study, CNN reported at the time.
These students often don't have access to help, including the therapy Noonan blithely suggested. In 2011, the American Psychological Association labeled the state of mental health on campuses a "growing crisis," and they've continued to track the concerns since. College counseling centers, they explained, "are frequently forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing caseloads. For example, 76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visits for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients." 88 percent of campus counseling centers surveyed by the American College Counseling Association said they experienced staffing problems due to the increase in demand, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.
But as of 2012, only 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offered on-campus psychiatric services. Fewer than 13 percent of community colleges did as well. The services can't keep up with the rise in demand.
To be sure, not all of the students asking for safe spaces or trigger warnings on their campuses need therapy, nor are they all seeking these spaces because of a general lack of robust mental health service on their campuses. However, I know at least some of them are, because that's exactly what I did.
A federal trial begins today challenging the medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's health clinics which were passed into Texas law one year ago. The restrictions, which have forced half of Texas clinics to close already, were voted in by lawmakers based on a myth about abortion that the media perpetuated.
On August 4 a federal trial begins in Austin challenging a Texas law passed last summer which requires abortion clinics in the state to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" starting this September. The ambulatory surgical centers requirements say that a clinic must have doorways and hallways of a certain width, and "additional infrastructure like pipelines for general anesthesia and large sterilization equipment." As Mother Jones noted, "These requirements aren't medically necessary for an abortion, and they cost a lot of money to implement."
Abortion clinics already have safety requirements, according to medical experts there is no evidence that the additional surgical center restriction "positively affects health outcomes," and these requirements could severely reduce the number of clinics. There are more than 13 million women in Texas, but according to the Wall Street Journal, only seven clinics in the entire state currently meet the extra requirements.
Texas has already lost half of its women's health clinics in the year since the law was passed. Another portion of the law which went into effect last year, and which is currently being appealed, requires doctors who perform abortions to have "admitting privileges" at nearby hospitals. The Texas Medical Board already regulates all physicians in the state, but the requirement forces doctors to also be judged by a nearby hospital -- which some hospitals have refused to do, and which is impossible if there is no hospital within the vicinity.
The rapidly closing clinics have created a health crisis in Texas, leaving millions of women hundreds of miles away from accessing basic health services, and forcing many to resort to using unsafe and illegal procedures. The crisis is not just on lawmakers' hands, however; it was also championed and perpetuated by the media, who failed to investigate an anti-choice myth about the clinics before it was too late.
Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan baselessly accused President Obama of "us[ing] children" as "pawns" by deliberately allowing the humanitarian immigration crisis on the border to build in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
An escalating surge of child migrants fleeing violence in Central America have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, overwhelming existing detention facilities and deportation procedures.
In her June 11 Journal column, Noonan described President Obama's handling of the humanitarian immigration crisis on the border as a politically motivated step in a calculated game to "put the heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform." Noonan wrote that the migrant children are "pawns in a larger game," concluding, "How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?":
Meanwhile some in the conservative press call the president incapable, unable to handle the situation. But he is not so stupid he doesn't know this is a crisis. He knows his poll numbers are going to go even lower next month because of it. He scrambled Wednesday to hold a news conference to control a little of the damage, but said nothing new.
There is every sign he let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform. It would be "comprehensive," meaning huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief. His base wants it. It would no doubt benefit the Democratic Party in the long term.
Peggy Noonan is criticizing Hillary Clinton because the publisher's notes for her forthcoming memoir display insufficient modesty. But the publisher's notes for Noonan's own memoir describe her book as a "priceless account" with "timeless relevance" that is "as spirited, sensitive, and thoughtful as Peggy Noonan herself."
The book is being put forward as "a master class in international relations," which is quite a claim and a rather silly one: a professional diplomat would be slow to make it. But members of political dynasties are not in the modesty business.
In dubiously suggesting that Clinton wrote her own publisher's materials in order to accuse her of immodesty, Noonan ignores the reality that publishers typically offer extravagant praise for their authors and the books they produce. Indeed, Noonan's criticism of Clinton could also be applied to the Journal columnist based on publisher's materials for her own books.
For example, promotional language from Random House for Noonan's 1990 memoir, What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era, is filled with over-the-top praise of the book's "timeless relevance" and the "spirited, sensitive, and thoughtful" Noonan:
On the hundredth anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth comes the twentieth-anniversary edition of Peggy Noonan's critically acclaimed bestseller What I Saw at the Revolution, for which she provides a new Preface that demonstrates this book's timeless relevance. As a special assistant to the president, Noonan worked with Ronald Reagan -- and with Vice President George H. W. Bush -- on some of their most memorable speeches. Noonan shows us the world behind the words, and her sharp, vivid portraits of President Reagan and a host of Washington's movers and shakers are rendered in inimitable, witty prose. Her priceless account of what it was like to be a speechwriter among bureaucrats, and a woman in the last bastion of male power, makes this a Washington memoir that breaks the mold--as spirited, sensitive, and thoughtful as Peggy Noonan herself.
A Mississippi bill that will severely limit access to reproductive health is being promoted by conservative lawmakers using misleading arguments that mirror those pushed by right-wing media outlets.
In 2012, Mississippi passed House Bill 1390, legislation that would require all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the law, stating, "To further protect patient safety in the event of a complication during the procedure, this bill also requires the physician to have staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital." The governor's spokesman noted that Bryant felt the law was "an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women."
Rep. Sam Mims, HB 1390's sponsor, said in a CNN interview that the purpose of the law is "to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified," and that "If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens." In a May 8, 2012 blog, the Mississippi Republican Party wrote "HB 1390 will require all physicians performing in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; a necessity to protect life in case of an emergency during an abortion."
In July of that year, however, the law was partially blocked by a federal judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The law made headlines again in 2014 as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold the injunction.
Talking Points Memo argued that, despite the governor's purported concern for women's health, the law has more to do with restricting reproductive access than it does with women's health, arguing that medical organizations oppose requiring admitting privileges and pointing to Bryant's history of anti-choice advocacy. Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, agreed, telling Politico, "These people hide behind words like 'safety,' 'women's health,' 'concern' and 'compassion.' "
But the same could be said for choice opponents in the right-wing media, who frequently couch their anti-choice activism as concern over women's health.
According to the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, if you just ignore the millions of Americans who have gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, then it's clear that the law is a huge mess.
Over seven million Americans enrolled in health insurance through the ACA's exchanges by the end of the open enrollment period last week, a number that met the Congressional Budget Office's original sign-up estimate.
But if we "put aside" that success and "step back," Noonan argued in her April 3 column, then it becomes clear that the ACA is a "huge, historic mess." In other words, if you pretend that millions haven't been insured by the ACA, it's obvious that the law is an utter failure.
And trying to repeal this mess is comparable to fighting a "manic" sea creature underwater:
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan pointed to the fight against measures that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers as further evidence of "the politicization of everything," ignoring the fact that conservative media and legislators spearheaded the push to allow individuals and businesses to deny services to the LGBT community.
In a February 27 screed lamenting the decline of "the nation's morale," Noonan launched a wide-ranging attack on "the aggressive left" and its alleged responsibility for sowing the seeds of "national division." Obamacare, the IRS, the EPA, the NSA, and Nancy Pelosi all featured in Noonan's list of terribles, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whom she compared to Vladimir Lenin because Obamacare. Noonan also expressed concern about "the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place" (emphasis added):
We are suffering in great part from the politicization of everything and the spread of government not in a useful way but a destructive one. Everyone wants to help the poor, the old and the sick; the safety net exists because we want it. But voters and taxpayers feel bullied, burdened and jerked around, which again is not new but feels more intense every day. Common sense and native wit tell them America is losing the most vital part of itself in the continuing shift of power from private to public. Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies--local, state, federal--on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don't employ too many, don't take a chance! Which means: Don't grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you'll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
It's all part of the malaise, the sclerosis. So is the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place that must culturally and politically be respected. The political-media complex is bravely coming down on florists with unfashionable views. On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: "Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not." Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space? On an optimistic note, the Little Sisters of the Poor haven't been put out of business and patiently await their day in court.
While Noonan lamented the implications of a world in which being LGBT isn't sufficient reason for a business owner to deny someone a service, her survey of the "politicization of everything" excluded a look at the role of conservative media outlets like Fox News in crafting the narrative that LGBT equality poses a dire threat to religious freedom - the very narrative that led legislators across the country to begin proposing bills that would make LGBT customers legitimate targets of discrimination.
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
Appearing on Face the Nation, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan became the latest media conservative to claim that President Obama and congressional Democrats are attempting to distract attention from problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by addressing income inequality and pushing for an increase in the minimum wage, echoing several attacks from Fox News.
Noonan responded to host Bob Schieffer's question about why Democrats were focusing on income inequality and increasing the minimum wage by claiming that they "need to change the subject" away from Obamacare:
NOONAN: [Obama] does not want to talk about Obamacare. It is widely assumed that in 2014 the bad news of Obamacare, the dislocations, the lost coverage, the price hikes, the premium hikes, et cetera, et cetera, that all of this will continue. It's not the website. The website is the old story. It is the program. It will unveil over the next two years and it's going to be problematic. The president does not want to talk about it. The Democrats do not want to talk about it. Therefore, income equality, minimum wage, et cetera, et cetera. They need to change the subject.
Noonan's claim echoes those of Fox News personalities, who have repeatedly characterized a wide swath of issues -- including immigration reform, international diplomacy, and judicial nominations -- tackled by the administration as attempts to change the subject from the health care law.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, like so many Americans, dislikes air travel. Her December 20 column devotes a few paragraphs to the horrors of sitting on an airplane, among which is the ever-present threat that the seat assigned to you "was used on the last flight by a Senegalese tourist with typhus." And if the risk of louse-borne diseases from African tourists weren't enough, there are also people -- other people -- on the flight who do things like interact with one another:
The words you always hear are "We have a full flight today," and they do, which is bad news because of America's Personal Physical Boundary Crisis. Our countrymen increasingly lack a sense of where their physical space ends and yours begins. The young, blond Viking-looking woman with the big purse and the jangly bracelets, waving her arms and yelling to her friends across the aisle; the big, wide man who takes not only the arm rest when you're in the middle seat but the shoulder and leg space...
Imagine these people with phones. It will be hell. Their voices will have no boundaries. And they are precisely the people who'll make the most calls, because they understand their urgent need to chatter is more important than your hope for quiet.
There will be the moment when softly and with a smile, you ask if he could lower his voice just a bit. He will not. He's on with the office, it's very important. So after half an hour you'll gesture to the stewardess, and she'll say something to the man, and he'll snap the phone shut but he's resentful, and you have to sit next to angry, no-boundaries man for another four hours...
"These people" do indeed sound troublesome, but at least they're not disease-ridden tourists from economically disadvantaged parts of the world.
Speaking of economic disadvantage, a few paragraphs after Noonan vents at having to share space with people less well-off than herself, she approvingly quotes an anonymous "billionaire of New York" who can't abide by economic inequality:
A billionaire of New York, in conversation: "I hate it when the market goes up. Every time I hear the stock market went up I know the guillotines are coming closer." This was interesting in part because the speaker has a lot of money in the market. But he meant it. He is self-made, broadly accomplished, a thinker on politics, and for a moment he was sharing the innards of his mind. His biggest concern is the great and growing distance between the economically successful and those who have not or cannot begin to climb. The division has become too extreme, too dramatic, and static. He fears it will eventually tear the country apart and give rise to policies that are bitter and punishing, not helpful and broadening.
So the Peggy Noonan approach to economic inequality advocates closing the distance between the haves and the have-nots, but preferably in a way that involves no actual contact between the two. Because you never know who might have typhus.
On October 23, I attended the Institute for Legal Reform's (ILR) 14th Annual Legal Reform Summit to listen to right-wing columnist Peggy Noonan and a gang of corporate lawyers frighten each other into believing that there's an approaching tsunami of frivolous lawsuits.
The theme of this year's summit was "Healing the U.S. Lawsuit System," with panels ranging on topics from class action litigation to the spread of "U.S. style litigation" abroad, and speakers representing multinational corporations and some of the biggest law firms in the country. The keynote speaker for this event was conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. It was not entirely clear why Noonan was selected for this task -- though she is a reliable conservative ally, she hasn't written extensively on tort reform. In fact, she didn't make much of an attempt to tie her remarks into the theme of the event at all. Instead, she spent most of her speech complaining about Obamacare (problems with the healthcare website are "deeply IT-related. Deeply, federally, IT-ly related"), and making suggestions on how the Obama administration might "enhance its mystique" (don't go on TV so much). The closest she came to talking about tort reform was when she told a joke about a lawyer whose arm fell off after getting hit by a truck (the lawyer, naturally, was more concerned with losing his Rolex than his arm).
The ILR, an off-shoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is deeply troubled by the apparent onslaught of "frivolous lawsuits," and its stated goal is to "restore balance, ensure justice, and maintain integrity within the civil legal system." For ILR, this means advocating for federal and state-level "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to access civil justice and make it easier for corporations to avoid liability. The Chamber seems particularly disturbed by lawsuits, which is why, 15 years ago, it founded ILR. According to ILR President Lisa Rickard, back then "jackpot jurisdictions dominated the landscape," but thanks to reforms proposed by ILR, there have been positive changes in some of the nation's "worst jurisdictions."
For a group so concerned with lawsuit abuse, none of the attendees seemed disturbed by the fact that the Chamber itself brings a significant amount of lawsuits every year -- not just against the federal government, but regular people who just happened to piss them off. During Chamber President Tom Donohue's speech, he admitted that the Chamber has sued the federal government 170 times this year alone -- that works out to about three lawsuits a week. Despite all those (completely non-frivolous, I'm sure) lawsuits, Donohue insisted, "what we're doing is right. What they're [plaintiffs' lawyers] doing is wrong." Donohue continued, "What we do protects corporations from advancing their interest without being sued for trying to do their best" but still insisted that the Chamber "support[s] the truly wronged from being compensated." Donohue didn't stop there. "This is a war of attrition," he said. "The group with the most money will come out on top, and it better be us."
The Wall Street Journal op-ed page continues to be a primary source of life support for the fizzling "scandal" involving the IRS's targeting of non-profit groups. Peggy Noonan writes in her July 19 column that a massive "bombshell" landed this week courtesy of House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa's latest hearing into the matter: "The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office -- that had been established -- but to the office of the chief counsel." This new, shocking information, per Noonan, is a "bombshell" because "the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency."
Noonan need not have waited for Darrell Issa to drop the "bombshell" news that the IRS chief counsel's office was linked to the targeting. She could have just re-read her own Wall Street Journal column from May 18:
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of "frontline people" in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party's foes. It is not remotely possible nobody in the IRS knew what was going on until very recently. The Washington Post reported efforts to target the conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency by May 2012--far earlier than the agency had acknowledged. Reuters reported high-level IRS officials, including its chief counsel, knew in August 2011 about the targeting.
So Noonan's "bombshell" exploded two months ago, but she's only now sensing the vibrations.
Despite the right-wing media's most recent attempt to generate a "Watergate" style scandal imploding on live TV, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan continued to push the conspiracy theory that a recent break-in at a Texas law firm was orchestrated by the government in response to a whistleblower's allegations of misconduct among State Department employees.
Following June 29 and June 30 robberies at the Dallas office of Schulman & Mathias, lawyer Cary Schulman has suggested that State Department officials were responsible for the break-in. Schulman & Mathias represents a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General named Aurelia Fedenisn, who provided documents to CBS News alleging misconduct among State Department employees.
In a July 9 Wall Street Journal blog post, Noonan baselessly speculated that the government was behind the break-in at Schulman's law firm, comparing the break-in to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that resulted in the impeachment proceedings -- and ultimately resignation -- of President Richard Nixon. Noonan wrote:
Still, the Nixon-era whistleblower whose psychiatrist's office was broken into has some tough words, in an op-ed piece, for the current administration -- just as word comes that an Obama-era whistleblower's lawyer's office was broken into by . . . someone.
Just hours before Noonan's post was published, Schulman appeared on Fox News' America Live with guest host Martha MacCallum in a segment hyped as "'Watergate' Style Spy Claims." Schulman said that one reason to suspect State Department involvement in the burglary was because the perpetrators "have been unwilling to come forward with evidence of the crimes voluntarily and we don't know their whereabouts." When asked by MacCallum if he had any evidence to support these allegations, Schulman was forced to admit, "No I don't. All kidding aside, I was joking earlier. I don't know who did it."
The admission by Schulman that he has no evidence and was only "joking" about State Department involvement in the burglary did not stop Noonan from speculating that the government was somehow involved. Noonan concluded, "The burglary may or may not be a scandal -- but if it is, it's a big one."
Associations representing the OB/GYNs and hospitals of Texas say that a Texas bill mandating new restrictions on on doctors and clinics that provide abortions does nothing to improve women's health care and has no medical basis, but conservative media figures are ignoring that medical opinion to claim the bill is needed to protect the health of women seeking abortions.
A Texas bill that is being reintroduced in a July 1 special legislative session would mandate new regulations that would force all but five of the 47 clinics providing abortions in the state to close and require doctors who perform abortions to have admittance privileges at a local hospital. Texas Republicans argued that they introduced the bill not to restrict access to legal abortions, but to improve the safety of women obtaining them. On the June 30 edition of ABC's This Week, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan parroted these claims, saying "the bill does not specifically try to close abortion clinics, it says they have to meet certain medical standards in order to operate."
But the Texas District of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has expressed opposition to the bill, which it says imposes requirements on doctors and facilities providing abortions "that are unnecessary and unsupported by scientific evidence" and have no "basis in public health or safety." The organization's June 25 statement further stated:
The Texas District of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes SB 5/HB 60 and other legislative proposals that are not based on sound science or that attempt to prescribe how physicians should care for their individual patients. As a District of the Nation's leading authority in women's health, our role is to ensure that policy proposals accurately reflect the best available medical knowledge.
SB 5/HB 60 will not enhance patient safety or improve the quality of care that women receive. This bill does not promote women's health, but erodes it by denying women in Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe, and proven protocols.
Texas-ACOG further states that the bill creates "over reacting requirements for abortion facilities" that "does not promote the public health objective it claims to enhance," and calls the requirement that doctors who provide abortions have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles "unneccesary."
Additionally, the Texas Hospital Association (THA) issued a statement about the hospital admittance requirement, arguing that it does nothing to improve women's health because emergency room physicians would be the ones to treat a woman who needs emergency care due to complications from an abortion. From the statement:
THA agrees that women should receive high-quality care and that physicians should be held accountable for acts that violate their license. However, a requirement that physicians who perform one particular outpatient procedure, abortion, be privileged at a hospital is not the appropriate way to accomplish these goals.
Should a woman develop complications from an abortion or any other procedure performed outside the hospital and need emergency care, she should present to a hospital emergency department. Requiring that a doctor have privileges at a particular hospital does not guarantee that this physician will be at the hospital when the woman arrives. She will appropriately be treated by the physician staffing the emergency room when she presents there. If the emergency room physician needs to consult with the physician who performed the abortion, the treating physician can contact the doctor telephonically, which is often done in other emergency situations.
Image Credit: Whole Women's Health