Nel's New Day

December 22, 2012

Reviews on DMS-V Mixed

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) from the American Psychiatric Association has been the bible of its treatment for six decades, with the most recent edition to be released in May 2013. DSM-V has made a number of changes in definition, including the loss of Asperger’s syndrome when it was shifted to a form of autism and the addition of hoarding and binge eating as psychiatric disorders.

Within the LGBT community, however, the biggest buzz has been the change of “Gender Identity Disorder,” referring to transgender people, to “Gender Dysphoria,” described as “a persistent discomfort with gender role or identity.” In addition, GD is supposed to be placed in a chapter of its own, no longer linked with sexual dysfunctions and paraphilias (non-normative causes of sexual arousal), which will also have chapters of their own.

Earlier this year, the APA also released new health guidelines for transgender patients and a position statement affirming transgender care and civil rights.  Both documents align with a new standard for respecting trans people in the medical community.

Since the DSM-III first used the term “disorder” for trans people in 1980, many in the trans community have pointed out that the term doesn’t fit them because it is associated with symptoms that impede people from living their lives fully and which encroach on their overall well-being. Although gender appearance and identity mismatch may cause trans people depression and anxiety, gender realignment intervention can change that.

The GID diagnosis has been used to discriminate against trans people because the word “disorder” is seen as a descriptor for someone who is mentally ill.  In one legal case, according to San Francisco psychiatrist Dan Karasic, a trans woman from Utah benefits from the change to GD. Because she is trans, a lawyer has argued that her GID is a “severe, chronic mental illness that might be harmful to the child” who she fathered before her transition. The change from GID to GD may help her, but the fact that gender identification appears at all in the DSM-V continues the stigma for this community.

A problem with the change from GID to GD arises in preserving and increasing access to medical treatment; insurance companies are more willing to cover expenses if they view treatment as medically necessary rather than what they consider cosmetic. For transgender prisoners, the shift from a GID diagnosis may cause them to lose access to hormones, surgery, and other trans health care. Benefits don’t necessarily come from only a GID diagnosis, but it can be important when combined with other issues.

While the DSM-V may have moved forward on the issue of transgender, it moved backwards by changing “Transvestic Fetishism” to “Transvestic Disorder.” This makes the unscientific assumption that any social irregularity from occasional cross-dressing to transitioning into another gender is “motivated by a sexual obsession to see themselves as the opposite sex … used to justify shame-based ex-trans therapy and stigmatize all forms of gender variation among all sexes and all sexual orientations.” according to

Because Transvestic Disorder has been placed in the sexual disorders chapter, it is grouped with paraphilic diagnoses such as pedophilia and exhibitionism. Authored by Dr. Raymond Blanchard of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (formerly called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry), “this punitive and scientifically capricious category maligns many gender variant people, including transsexual women and men, as mentally ill and sexually deviant, purely on the basis of nonconforming gender expression,” according to trans activist Kelley Winters. She also wrote, “It is written to promote Blanchard’s unfounded theories of ‘autogynephilia’ and ‘autoandrophilia’ that conflate social and medical gender transition with fetishism.” Sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), an online petition calling for the removal of this harmful diagnosis from the DSM has garnered thousands of signatures.

It appears that DSM-V giveth and it taketh away. On one hand, gender dysphoria may align DSM-V with current moves to affirm trans identity, but on the other, concerns over Tranvestic Disorder’s broad and damaging nature may undercut the good found in the first change.

Experts in the field of psychiatry are concerned about the influence of this volume. Ron Rosenbaum wrote about the DSM in “The Gonzo Neurologist,” an article about Oliver Sacks in the December 2012 edition of The Smithsonian:  “[The DSM’s] supposedly objective quantifiable ‘criteria’ for mental illness … [reshapes] the way we think about what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘malfunctioning’ … because the health insurance industry demands a certifiable DMS diagnosis from a psychiatrist before it will agree to subsidize payment for medication and treatment.”

Sacks compares the use of the DMS in diagnosis to using “a sledgehammer rather than a scapel, obliterating questions such as what is the difference between ‘justified’ sadness and clinical depression.”

The British Psychological Society in the United Kingdom has an equally harsh response, stating that it has “more concerns than plaudits”. Like Sacks, the Society criticized proposed diagnoses as “clearly based largely on social norms, with ‘symptoms’ that all rely on subjective judgements … not value-free, but rather reflect[ing] current normative social expectations.” Other doubts about the reliability, validity, and value of existing criteria are that personality disorders were not normed on the general population. In addition, “not otherwise specified” categories covered a “huge” 30% of all personality disorders.

The Society also expressed concerns that “clients and the general public are negatively affected by the continued and continuous medicalization of their natural and normal responses to their experiences … which demand helping responses, but which do not reflect illnesses so much as normal individual variation.” It suggested a change from using “diagnostic frameworks” to a description based on an individual’s specific experienced problems, exploring mental disorders as part of a spectrum shared with normality.

Another criticism came from Robert Spitzer, the head of the DSM-III task force, concerned because the APA mandated that DSM-V task force members sign a nondisclosure agreement, effectively conducting the whole process in secret. Later the APA instituted a disclosure, but many people believe the process is not transparent enough and doesn’t protect against industry influence.

In a Point/Counterpoint article, Lisa Cosgrove, PhD and Harold J. Bursztajn, MD noted that “the fact that 70% of the task force members have reported direct industry ties—an increase of almost 14% over the percentage of DSM-IV task force members who had industry ties—shows that disclosure policies alone, especially those that rely on an honor system, are not enough and that more specific safeguards are needed.”

Those who don’t need to worry about employment, housing, insurance, benefits in prison, etc. are safe from the decisions of codification in the DSM-V. But those who lack this freedom, including young people, will need an understanding psychiatrist to survive its ramifications.

December 15, 2012

I’m Angry

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:47 PM
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For the past 24 hours the media has talked about how sad the shooting in Connecticut yesterday was, how upset people are, how we should pray for those who have lost children, what kind of person would commit such a travesty, why such a smart young man would do this, how mass murderers can be identified before they commit their crimes, what can be done to make schools more safe, etc., etc., etc.

Conservatives think that more guns are the answer. Geraldo Rivera said, “I want an armed cop at every school.” Conservatives think that better diagnosing of mental disorders will help. The religious fundamentalists want to bring back their god by denying everyone all freedom.

Almost no one mentions the real elephant in the room, the 300 million guns in the country. Anyone who refers to this is accused of “politicizing” the situation–as if it weren’t political already.

Groups like the NRA are running the country. We have allowed them to become so powerful that we won’t fight back. They spread their lies that violence will stop more violence. As Shakespeare wrote, “Murder begets murder.” This is what we will have until we look at the solution of gun control.

No amount of looking for mentally ill people and handing out more guns will solve the escalating numbers of gun-related deaths in the United States. I’m angry because within a few days, the children will be buried and the politicians will be back to business as usual, controlled by NRA lobbyists.

I’m taking a few days off the blog to regain my perspective; hopefully I’ll be back by the end of next week.

 

 

 

 

December 14, 2012

Today Is the Day to Begin Gun Control

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:05 PM
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A few months ago, 12 people died when one man took several weapons, including an AR-15 assault rifle, into a movie theater and fired off 50 shots a minute. The AR-15 is Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) favorite gun “because you can be so accurate with it.” A few days ago, three people died in a popular Portland (OR) shopping mall when a man shot into the crowd with an AR-15.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court struck down Illinois’ ban on carrying concealed firearms in public. Illinois is 43rd out of 50 states in the number of gun deaths per capita, fewer than half the rate as in Mississippi. Yesterday the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed a bill that would allow people to bring guns into schools.

Today, at least 28 people, most of them children in an elementary school, died in Newton (CT), just 60 miles northeast of New York City, when a man opened fire on them.

Politicians join the rest of the country in mourning these disasters. Flags are  lowered. There is an outcry for a few days. Soon, however, conservatives in Congress and state legislatures will go back to business as usual, working to move money to the wealthiest and make the United States less safe for people while most of the Democrats trying to prevent his. Stalemate.

I have questions. And spare me the mantra that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Once again, I say, “People who don’t have guns can’t shoot people.”

Why do we allow such websites as KSL.com, owned and operated by the Mormons, to sell firearms, no questions asked?

Why do we think that the Founding Fathers meant people to have arsenals of assault weapons in the 21st century? The Second Amendment cites “a well-regulated militia.” We’re not fighting the British any more, yet people can own an unlimited number of weapons only because of a grammatical misunderstanding.

Why isn’t there a hue and cry to support Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) in her work on legislation to ban assault weapons?

Why doesn’t the public hold responsible the Congressional elected officials who are beholden to assault weapons manufacturers and the NRA from their donations?

When will the media concentrate on how these killings can be stopped instead of analyzing what kinds of people commit these crimes?

Why do people always fight any gun control with the excuse that they need their guns to hunt for food? Do they use automatic assault weapons for hunting? (That’s a rhetorical question. Of course, they don’t.)

Why aren’t there more class-action lawsuits against the people responsible for the proliferation of high-powered weaponry in our society? Lax gun laws and inadequate security checks in Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky and 7 other states mean that they supplied nearly half the 43,000 guns traced to crime scenes in other states in just one year.

Why do we glorify gun ownership? Firearms are used in 300,000 crimes a year in the United States.

Why do people keep saying stupid things?

After Aurora, Mike Huckabee said, “We don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem – or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.” Today, his script read the same, that there is violence in schools because “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

Bryan Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn’t because “God is not going to go where he is not wanted.”

People in the United States have a love for killing. In 2010, 31,513 people died in the United States from guns; another 200,000 were injured. The United States is responsible for over 80 percent of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. The movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours, yet fewer than an average of 20 people a year are killed there with guns. In 2006 the number was two. Great Britain has fewer than an average of 40 gun murders a year.

Canada’s culture is similar to ours, but that country averages fewer than 200 deaths. Switzerland has the third-highest number of guns per capita on earth but a low murder rate. Three-quarters of the states execute criminals, but the states with no death penalty have lower murder rates.

On the morning of 9/11/01, 2,996 people died. Every year, ten times that number of people die of gun-related deaths. Although the death of 2,996 people caused the United States to declare preemptive war on two countries, wars that resulted in additional hundreds of thousands of people dying, nothing has been done about the 300,000+ people who died from guns during the past decade.

Gun-related deaths are more likely in states with a high percentage of working class jobs, rates of high school students carrying weapons on school property, and a majority vote for John McCain.

Gun-related deaths are less likely in states with higher levels of college graduates and creative class jobs, higher levels of economic development, higher levels of happiness and well-being, and more immigrants.

Gun-related deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation such as banning assault weapons, requiring trigger locks, and mandating safe storage for guns.

When I think about all the people who fight a federal registration list of gun owners, I think about the same people who bitterly fight to mandate a government-issued photo ID before people can vote. I also think about the mandatory registration for both driving and owning cars. No one has said that these registrations are a “slippery slope” toward the seizure of all private vehicles by a totalitarian government.

The NRA incessantly lobbies for looser and looser gun laws, but their members don’t agree with its leadership. In over 30 states anyone can purchase a firearm from a “private seller” without any background check, including a .50 caliber sniper rifle that can take down a helicopter. Sixty-nine percent of NRA members want this loophole closed.

People on the U.S. terror watch list cannot fly commercially, but they can buy guns and explosives. Eighty-two percent of NRA members want this loophole closed.

Laws limit the ability of law enforcement to access, use, and share data so that they can enforce federal, state, and local gun laws. Sixty-nine percent of NRA members want this loophole closed.

Some cities and townships have passed laws that lost and stolen guns must be reported, but the NRA threatens to overturn these laws. Seventy-eight percent of NRA members approve of laws that mandate the reporting of lost and stolen guns.

Last August, six Sikhs were killed in their temple. A month later, a man killed five people at his former workplace after he was laid off. Politicians paid little attention to these events. The image of 20 dead children under ten years old would hopefully shock them into thinking that there is no marker identifying a mass murderer, that the deaths are caused because of easy access to firearms.

Today is the time that the people in this country should rise up and demand accountability. It might save their own lives.

December 13, 2012

The GOP as a Death Cult

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:09 PM
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Over a year ago, I archived this article entitled “How the Modern GOP Is Like a Death Cult.” A year hasn’t made any difference. Last year, the people attending the primaries cheered at the thought of an uninsured person dying and at the large number of prisoners who were executed. This window into the Tea Party soul kept opening through the 18 months of the presidential campaign. “Contemporary conservatism has surrendered to a virulent, dystopian and pathologically hyper-individualist state of nature, ‘all against many,’ type of populist right-wing ideology.”

Those in the “cult” of narrow thinking that dominates right-wing political thought believe that the unemployed are poor because they lack spirit and drive; they have it easy; and the social safety net has made people “lazy.” Right-wing politicians also believe that  faith should be the guiding principle in political decision making. Something is true because they believe it is true, and reality must bend to their will. Any conservative who challenges the far-right agenda is a traitor, a heretic. Anyone who hints that taxes should be increased on the wealthiest people is cast out of the tribe.

220px-Horse_and_ManEvidence of the far-right’s worship of death comes from their rampant militarism around the world and the use of the public’s fear of terrorism to force their political agenda. The rejection of basic income supports and assistance to the needy results in death. Opposition to food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and other safety net programs kills people.

To the far-right, almost all of them white, the ideal America is the one in which the people of color are subservient to their white leaders. The death of American Empire is like the death of the Tea Party Republicans’ memory of a country that never really was.

The increasing control of conservatives is rapidly driving the United States downhill in educational attainment, class mobility, health care, and other measures. With our country’s only supremacy in military spending, the nation matches the decline of the British at the end of the 19th century.

The base of the Tea Party base is also dying. The term “generational replacement” means that the far-right GOP is comprised of white Americans who are much older than the general public. These people are not being replaced when they die. The joke about marriage equality is that what the Supreme Court decides doesn’t matter; as older people die off, the youth will legalize same-sex marriage.

Currently, the Tea Party is caught in the anger mode of the five stages of grief, refusing to move on to acceptance. Yet their anger is misplaced: their rage over class warfare blames the unions, the working class, and the poor for the faltering economy instead of the shift of the wealth into the top 1 percent. Conservatives blame the government because they refuse to see the oppression from the wealthy and the corporations.

The Tea Party GOP is also unable to transform their anger into productive behavior and good governance. Although they want to think that this is a grassroots group, they have been funded and manipulated by such corporate interests as the Koch brothers, corporations that also founded the movement. Those leaders have unleashed a force that threatens to take over the GOP, splintering it into two weaker political parties, possibly killing both of them.

“The Tea Party is the poltergeist of American politics. It is angry and destructive. The Tea Party poltergeist was summoned up by a crisis of faith, a decline in America’s standing in the world, and a system shock brought about by the combination of the Great Recession, failed misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and poor political leadership at home. Some have suggested that American politics is sick, and that it is suffering from an autoimmune disease: the Republican Party’s abandonment of normal politics is a symptom of this illness.

“The challenge for liberals, progressives, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives is how to reclaim life, and by doing so America’s future, from the jaws of the death cult that is the populist-infused Republican Party.”

December 12, 2012

Marriage Equality Goes to SCOTUS, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:36 PM
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Marriage equality has seen victories in three of the nine federal circuit courts and in at least nine cases. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is taking on the subject of marriage equality. The Obama administration argues DOMA is unconstitutional while House Republicans are defending the law on the other, already costing the taxpayers over $1.5 million.

Without a Supreme Court ruling, it is unconstitutional to withhold federal recognition on the more than 1,100 federal laws, codes, and regulations to same-sex couples married in the Northeast states covered by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st and 2nd circuits. These decisions don’t apply to same-sex marriages in Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Washington, and the District of Columbia. About 15 percent of Americans now live in states that allow gay marriage, and the number would double if the right were reinstated in California.

Without a Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples in California can marry, joining the 18,000 couples who were married before Proposition 8, banning marriage equality, went into effect. How will these cases turn out?

Which Justices Are the Most Influential? — The court should have the full complement of nine justices because it did not select the Massachusetts case. Justice Elena Kagan suggested in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings that she would not take part in a marriage equality case from Massachusetts because she worked on it while at the Justice Department.

It is assumed that four justices are likely to support marriage equality: Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Kagan. Three justices are equally certain to oppose it: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Scalia has made no secret of his disdain for LGBT rights; earlier this week he drew a parallel between bans on homosexuality and murder in a speech at Princeton.

That leaves two justices. Chief Justice John Roberts had always been considered as part of the conservative block: he voted to strike down affirmative action plans, restrict access to abortion, deny victims of discrimination back pay, and allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Yet last spring he upheld President Obama’s health care act.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is assumed to be the deciding vote, and he has a history on the side of LGBT rights. Sixteen years ago he wrote the opinion for Romer v. Evans (1996), striking down a Colorado voter-enacted law that the state from adopting laws to ban discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and seven years later for Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overturned a law criminalizing same-sex sodomy. In the latter decision, however, he left open the question of state’s making their own laws regarding marriage equality.

As liberal as Ginsberg is, she may prefer to go slowly into the marriage equality issue. She has criticized Roe v. Wade for going too far too fast, arguing that a more narrow ruling may have resulted in less backlash.

What Are the Choices of SCOTUS? – In the California case, the Supreme Court could reverse the lower court ruling, leaving Prop 8 to ban marriage equality; affirm on the narrower ruling, allowing marriage equality in California but not elsewhere; or address the constitutionality of marriage equality in the United States, either striking down DOMA or eliminating any possibility of marriage equality.

For the Windsor case, SCOTUS has chosen a Harvard professor of constitutional law, Vicki C. Jackson, to argue two procedural issues to show that the Court does not have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Jackson will contend that the justices have no authority because of the executive branch’s agreement with the circuit court that DOMA is invalid and because the House GOP leaders have no standing to appear in the case. Possibly SCOTUS wanted someone other than the two parties in the DOMA case to argue these issues because the two branches of the government disagree.

Thus the two cases that SCOTUS chose are different, allowing for different results. Justices can permit marriage equality in one case and not in the other. In short, SCOTUS can legalize marriage equality across the nation, ban it, retain the state-by-state legislative and judicial decisions about whether gays and lesbians can marry, or one of many other permutations:

1)    Strike down DOMA because it represents an intrusion of federal law into the traditional state domain of family law but leave marriage equality up to the states.

2)    Overturn DOMA across the nation because other courts have ruled 14 times in favor of marriage equality.

3)    Proceed incrementally by permitting marriage equality in the states under the jurisdiction of the 2nd Circuit Court and/or California, leaving the forty-one states that do not currently recognize same-sex marriage to continue their status quo.

4)    Include states that have given same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage but have withheld the word “marriage” from their rights: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

5)    Reverse all lower court rulings and return the legality of Prop 8 banning marriage equality.

6)    Clarify Article III standing to settle the question of who can intervene if state or federal governments decline to defend a statute.

7)    Rule that the California case was not defended by the right party and remand the controversy to the lower courts.

8)    Permit marriage equality only in California because it is the only state where some gays and lesbians were legally married before Prop 8.

9)    Not rule on either case, allowing lower court rulings to stand.

10) Agree with marriage equality in one case and support discrimination in another.

Some people think that marriage equality has become popular enough, with over 50 percent of the nation supporting it, that the court will vote in favor. Others think that with this popularity, SCOTUS will leave marriage equality to the voters.

Countries around the world have become increasingly supportive of legalized marriage equality. Legalized same-sex marriage would put the United States on a similar legal platform as Canada, Scandinavia, Western Europe, South Africa, and Argentina, where same-sex couples can legally wed. France is considering a “marriage for all” proposal, and Britain has promised a bill to convey marriage rights to same-sex couples. Striking down marriage equality would put the U.S. in the same category as much of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia as well as Russia, China, and Japan. Not that this might bother the Supreme Court.

la-fg-wn-global-gay-marriage-rights-20121207-001

Laws on marriage have probably created the messiest legal situation in the United States since slavery. Although laws differ from state to state about voting, driving, guns, and abortions, none of these differences create the problems of varying marriage laws. Despite legal marriage in one state, couples may not be able to get divorced in their home states. Returning to the state where they married is also problematic because of residence requirements, sometimes as long as two years. Marriage law leaves these couples in limbo.

When Will We Know SCOTUS decisions? — It is predicted that arguments will be heard in late March with decisions made public in June.

The most important piece of the marriage equality conundrum is that it is inevitable. If SCOTUS rules against its legality, the issue will come back again and again until we LGBT people gain our rights. We’ll know how far the court will go this time within 200 days.

December 11, 2012

Marriage Equality Goes to SCOTUS, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:51 PM
Tags: , , ,

Last Sunday same-sex couples had their first chance to marry in Washington state. Oregon’s largest newspaper, The Oregonian, printed several pictures of happy couples who could finally legalize their relationships. For many of us, looking at the photos was like standing outside a home and pressing our noses against the window, watching the happy people inside.

beard [Larry Duncan, 56, a retired psychiatric nurse, and Randell Shepherd, 48, a computer programmer, of North Bend (WA) apply for a marriage license after being together for 11 years. Although they’re not religious, Duncan said, “Enough people have told me, ‘God hates fags’. I want someone in a church to say, ‘God loves fags,’ to have that stamp on it.”] 

women[Deborah Needham, 48, and Nancy Monahan, 57, of Renton (WA) married on Sunday after being together 14 years. Monahan is a retired Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class and a Navy veteran. ]

Other photos! And more!

In nine states throughout the nation, marriage equality is state law. Oregon, on the other hand, is one of 31 states that have enshrined discrimination in the state constitution by banning marriage equality. Advocates of same-sex marriage are hoping that 2014 will be the year to overturn this bigoted amendment, but this would require over two-thirds of the vote in support allowing LGBT people to marry their partners. At this time, polls indicate 54 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.

There’s one other way that marriage equality can be legalized and all other states—a Supreme Court decision. Following the plethora of laws about same-sex marriage across the United States and the recent rulings that DOMA, the federal law restricting marriage to a man and a woman, is unconstitutional, SCOTUS has taken on two cases on appeal from lower courts.

Four federal district courts and two courts of appeal have overturned the provision in various cases on grounds that it unfairly deprives same-sex couples of federal benefits. The buzz now is what will the Supreme Court decide.

Which Cases Did SCOTUS Decide to Hear?Hollingsworth v Perry is the California case that overturned Prop 8, banning same-sex marriages after 18,000 gays and lesbians had already legally married in the state. According to federal Judge Vaughn Walker, a fundamental right to marriage equality exists in the U.S. Constitution from Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Walker’s ruling in a narrow ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional because it stripped away a previous right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

Windsor v United States challenges the $363,000 of estate tax that 83-year-old Edith Windsor was forced to pay after her partner, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. The two women had been together for 44 years and married in Canada because New York did not permit same-sex marriages. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, again based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

SCOTUS also plans to take up the issue of Article III standing, whether a person or group has the right to bring a case in court. The Supreme Court maintains that a person or group pursuing legal action must have suffered a direct and concrete injury in order to have standing in the case. After the California judge declared that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, the 9th Circuit Court determined that the opponents appealing the case lacked standing. They were merely ideologically against marriage equality.

SCOTUS also plans to examine whether House Republicans have Article III standing to intervene in the Windsor v United States case. If they lack standing in this case, they may lose their ability to defend similar laws, including other DOMA cases.

Which Cases Did SCOTUS Not Choose? The other cases which SCOTUS chose not to hear will not be overturned unless the high court’s final decision impacts them. 

1)    Diaz v Brewer deals specifically with health insurance benefits for LGBT state employees in Arizona.

2)    Gill v Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives and Massachusetts v United States Department of Health and Human Services deal with federal benefits denied to gay married couples, such as the right to file joint income taxes.

3)    Golinski v Office of Personnel Management (California) involves a married federal court employee who was refused the right to extend health benefits to her same-sex spouse. (So far Golinski is the only LGBT person in the country who has been allowed to begin receiving federal benefits while DOMA remains in effect.)

4)    Pedersen v Office of Personnel Management challenges DOMA in Connecticut as a violation of the 5th Amendment.

In Part 2 tomorrow, a non-lawyer’s take on what might happen to these cases in the next six months.

December 10, 2012

Tea Party May Suffer Reverses

Despite the looming “fiscal cliff,” the Tea Party that made big news last week. The 2012 election was not good for the movement. It succeeded in electing only four the 16 Senate candidates it backed. Tea Party Caucus founder Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) barely managed to survive a challenge from her Democratic opponent, and Rep. Allen West (R-FL), one of the top House fundraisers, lost. FreedomWorks’ $40 million in the 2012 cycle resulted in onlyl 25 percent success. Other Tea Party House members will be missing after December 31 this year.

Shock waves swept across the conservative community when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, resigned to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank. The senator will be long remembered for his support of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MI) after the now-failed candidate for Senate claimed that victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant and his leadership in the opposition to Obamacare.

Other DeMint positions included barring unmarried and LGBT teachers in public schools and pushing a law preventing the discussion of abortion on the Internet between patient and doctor. He also wanted to strip all federal employees of collective bargaining rights and compared striking Chicago teachers to “thugs” in the Middle East. By putting a hold on a 2010 bill to sell land near the Smithsonian Institution for the National Women’s History Museum, he blocked the entire project. His excuse was that museums already existed for “quilters” and “cowgirls.”

The Senate has a rule that one person can anonymously stop any bill from proceeding. DeMint has threatened to shut down the Senate by placing a unilateral hold on every single piece of legislation in the Senate. He also said that he would only allow bills to proceed that his office had personally approved. His megalomania didn’t stop there: last year he told Fox Business that he was willing to cause “serious disruptions” by not raising the debt ceiling to get cuts to social programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

DeMint’s actions have alienated not only the Democrats but also his own party. For the past two campaigns he supported enough Tea Party members in Senate campaigns to keep a Democratic majority in that chamber. Two years ago, DeMint’s candidates included Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Nevada’s Sharron Angle who threatened “Second Amendment remedies” if Congress didn’t change direction. All three lost their bid for the Senate.

Not satisfied with these losses, he moved on to unseat incumbents who were not “pure” enough in their conservatism, according to DeMint’s personal opinion. He broke his promise to GOP leaders to stop donating money to opponents of GOP Senate incumbents in the primaries when his personal super PAC gave $500,000 to defeat Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) in favor of far-right conservative Richard Mourdock. After Mourdock made his infamous speech about births from rape being a “gift from God,” he lost the former GOP senate seat to a Democrat, Joe Donnelly.

The Heritage Foundation will give DeMint a greater chance to meddle in GOP internal politics and provide him with a $1 million salary. Right now with $40,000 net worth he’s one of the poorest members of Congress.

The other South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham, was so surprised with the announcement that he could barely talk. The question, of course, is DeMint’s replacement. The other South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham, could barely speak about it.  Comedian Steven Colbert has offered, but Gov. Nikki Haley turned him down.

It’s not a plum position: DeMint was two years into a six-year term, and his appointed replacement will serve only two years before having to run for the next two years to finish DeMint’s term. Graham’s term is also up in two years. DeMint’s defection will benefit him because the state might not be able to find two strong candidates for Senate during the same election.

The more people have learned about the Tea Party, the less they approve of the movement. In the last two years disapproval has doubled from 25 to 50 percent while approval among voters is 21 percent. Even in DeMint’s highly conservative state, more people disapprove of the Tea Party than approve, and only 1 in 12 Republicans claim to be Tea Party supporters.

Last week saw two other blows to the Tea Party clout. One was the rapid departure of FreedomWorks leader and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) after a dispute about its future direction. Armey took an $8 million payoff and demanded that his name and photo have no connection with the organization. At the same time, Karl Rove has convinced his super PAC, Crossroads for Prosperity, to stop its ultra-conservative position and take any policy that will get GOP candidates elected. Hopefully that will result in a clash between DeMint’s pure policies and the pragmatic ones of Rove.

The same conflict will be evident in Congress. The movement was built on anti-establishment sentiment. Yet to be successful, elected officials have to operate within the establishment in order to be successful. The question is how Tea Party leaders and activists can do this without being part of what they see as the problem. An example of this is Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-TX), rising Tea Party star, who will be vice-chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, squarely in the middle of the establishment that he opposed during his candidacy.

Meanwhile Reince Preibus is struggling to maintain his leadership of the RNC. Showing his chops, he compared the U.S. president to the Italian ship captain accused of manslaughter after his cruise ship went down—without the captain.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), looked foolish when he proposed a bill to give President Obama the ability to raise the debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed, and McConnell immediately demanded that the bill have 60 votes to pass, in essence filibustering his own bill.

Now it’s a new week, and rumors abound inside the Beltway about talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Details remain private, but staff and leaders describe these discussions as “serious.”  It also might be a stalemate. Boehner has another three weeks, and Republican leaders say that they operate best with a deadline.

December 9, 2012

Christians Support Violence, Theocracy

It’s another Sunday and time for a roundup of religious oddities.

The word of God must not be enough to bring people to worship in the 21st century: several churches are now offering concealed firearms training. Pastor James Miller of Heights Baptist in San Angelo (TX) explained, “We’re about 150 miles from the border with Mexico and we’re very unsure about our insecure borders–about what’s coming into our cities. Personally, I feel more secure that should our worship time be interrupted by a life-threatening intrusion, that we would at least stand some kind of a chance in stopping either a mass killing or terrorizing experience.” Miller added, “Jesus advises his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword. He instructed his people to be prepared to defend themselves.”

Not everyone agrees with the gun approach as shown by this sign next to the church in Marengo (OH) that teaches classes necessary to get a concealed weapons permit.

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While churches provide secular training,  South Dakota’s legislature advocates Bible study in public schools. One supporter said it was a tiny step toward “taking back the heritage of our country.” The minority said, “It sends the message that other religious texts are not as important as the Bible, which I think is probably a dangerous path for us to start down.” A Republican added that the state should let “the church regulate church things.”

The federal government has been regulating “church things” in marriage for almost two decades. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is so intent on keeping same-sex couples from marrying that he’s paying lawyers to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defends marriage only for heterosexual couples. Having spent over $1.5 million of taxpayer money, he’s planning more expenditures in the Supreme Court. Now he’ll have to explain how he has “standing” and show how he’s been personally hurt by marriage equality.

Taxpayer money continues to promote Christianity in the military. Last week Blake Page quit West Point five months before graduation, citing mandated Christian involvement at the military academy in New York state. “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. He described routine prayers at mandatory events and awarding off-campus passes and credit to students who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, activities which foster “open disrespect of non-religious new cadets.”

Christian requirements at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs were criticized in 2005 when evangelical cadets received preferential treatment. and the promotion of religious proselytizing. In 2010 people raised concerns that the war in Afghanistan would be viewed as a Christian crusade because the the Pentagon used gun sights engraved with Bible verses.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) showed Christianity at its worst when he praised Uganda’s commitment to Christian faith and “national repentance” in that country’s determination to kill LGBT people. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in Ugandan Parliament in 2009 included a provision of the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  The Speaker of Parliament has promised the bill’s passage as a “Christmas gift” to the people of Uganda.

The praise of the FRC for dictator Yoweri Museveni’s dedication of his nation to God shows FRC’s desire for theocracy in America. FRC states that it does not support the death penalty for homosexuality but does oppose “the suggestion that gay and lesbian acts are universal human rights.” They have said nothing about other provisions in the proposed legislation including long prison sentences and punishment for people who don’t report people who engage in same-sex relations to government officials.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day. Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights leader, helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948. She wrote:

“Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places close to home. So close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.”

Each one of us occupies one of these “small places.” It is our choice to lead the world toward human rights awareness and action.

 

 

December 8, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 3

The first two blogs about NOW issues discussed women’s reproductive rights, violence against women, and racism. Following are additional issues regarding the current inequality of women.

Lesbian Rights: Currently the GOP is spending our taxpayer money, by now over $1.5 million, to continue the ban on marriage equality. Inability to be married discriminates against same-sex couples in more than 1000 federal laws, many of them costing a great deal of money. Although lesbians and gays are now permitted to openly serve in the military, their partners lack the same rights as married partners, refusing them housing and other benefits. People complain about the possibility of paying taxes on health benefits from their employers, but gays and lesbians are already forced to do this if their employers insure their partners.

During its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether LGBT people will continue to endure these inequities.

Economic Justice: During the fall campaign, conservatives kept claiming that women cared far less about reproductive rights than they did in the economy. They refused to recognize that reproductive rights influence women’s economic status: if women cannot plan their families, they have less chance to meet their economic needs. In addition to reproductive rights, NOW addresses a wide range of women’s economic justice issues including welfare reform, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, social security, and pension reform.

The GOP denies the fact that women are paid over 20 percent less than men for the same types of jobs. Conservatives also want to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments which many women desperate need because of their lower pay. Over a lifetime, women will receive almost $500,000 on average less than men during a 40-year career, which then figures into less savings and Social Security benefits. More than twice as many women seniors live in poverty than male seniors.

The poverty rate for women is almost 40 percent higher than for men; 14.5 percent of all women lived in poverty in 2010. More than 17 million women live in poverty compared to 12.6 million men. A greater number of Hispanic women, 25 percent, live in poverty, and 25.6 percent of black women are at or below the poverty level. More than 40 percent of single mothers now live in poverty. The GOP solution is marriage, but conservatives ignore problems of domestic abuse and the poverty of men who would become their husbands. 

When women banded together to fight these economic inequities, the Supreme Court struck them down. Twelve years ago, a lawsuit, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, exposed the company’s discrimination against women in pay and promotions, but SCOTUS said that women could not file a class-action suit because the group was too large to share “common claims.”

After the court reinforced the practice of discrimination, Congress introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act (EEORA). The majority of GOP representatives resulting from conservative state legislators’ gerrymandering will surely keep this act from passing the House. The Senate has already failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act because the GOP filibustered it, requiring 60 votes to move forward, eight votes more than it had—a majority of the Senate.

The most recent accomplishment for women’s economy was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that President Obama signed into law. The law overturned SCOTUS’s ruling that complaints have to filed within the first six months after receiving a pay check whether the employee knows if there is any discrimination. Fortunately, Mitt Romney was not elected president because he would never say whether he would try to overturn the Ledbetter Act.

Most of the public is aware that women are paid less than men. Not as many people know that women are charged more than men for goods and services. And there’s no federal law against this discrimination. People would never accept a difference in charges on the basis of race, but they seem to accept that one gender has to pay more than another for the same thing.

 Insurance companies charge women $1 billion more than men for the same coverage, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center. The reason isn’t maternity care; almost one-third of plans without this provision have higher charges for women of at least 30 percent or more. This inequity will stop as part of Obamacare at the beginning of 2014 unless conservatives overturn this law.

Cleaners charge more for “blouses” than men’s “shirts.” Women’s deodorant costs 30 cents more than men’s. Hair cuts are more expensive for women even if they get the same service. Men’s sneakers are taxed at 8.5 percent, while women’s sneakers are taxed at 10 percent.

In 2006, the Consumer Federation of America reported that women were 32 percent more likely than men to get saddled with costly, high-interest subprime loans–even in cases in which their credit ratings and credit histories were better than the men’s. As a result, women have been forced to pay thousands more in interest.

Twenty years ago, Ayres published a landmark study proving that women consistently paid more for cars than men did. Studies since then have shown that women continue to pay more. Black women suffered the most in extra charges when purchasing cars, an average of $400 more than men.

Equal Rights Amendment: Over 90 years ago,   Alice Paul, who was sometimes imprisoned for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The text was a simple sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Introduced to Congress for the first time in 1923 and every year until it finally passed 40 years ago in 1972, the ERA was given only 7 years to gain ratification by three-fourths of the states. Richard Nixon endorsed the ERA after its passage in 1972, and 30 states ratified the ERA within the first year. The impetus slowed, however, and some states rescinded the ratification leaving the ERA with only 35 of 38 states required for becoming an amendment. Failing this, the ERA continues to be introduced and continues to fail every year since 1972.

Winning this equality continues to be one of NOW’s top priorities. For more NOW issues concerned with equality for all women, go to NOW’s website. And find a NOW chapter near you.

December 7, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 2

Yesterday’s blog dealt with the importance of NOW in the area of women’s reproductive rights, probably the issue that NOW is best known for. But NOW addresses other vital issues of equality for women.

Violence against Women:  In addition to domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, hate crimes, violence at women’s clinics, violence from poverty, the country’s judicial system also victimizes women, particularly survivors of violence. All these tragedies result from the nation’s attitudes toward women and its efforts to “keep women in their place.” The GOP worked hard during the recent election to do exactly that while convincing women that Republicans supported women and that their War on Women was a ridiculous myth.

The fact that 92 percent of the Republicans in the House or Representatives and over 90 percent of the GOP senators are men, most of them white, is clear evidence of the part that the GOP wants women to play. The first 19 committee chairs that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) named are men. Ridiculed for this, he appointed one woman to chair a committee—the House Administrative Committee, making Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) sort of a “housewife.” Men will lead the other committees on science, education, foreign affairs, finance, etc.

The rejection of women is worse in state legislatures. For example, when a Michigan woman legislator dared to use the word “vagina” in speaking out against a horrendous anti-abortion bill, the House speaker’s spokesman accused her and another woman of having “temper tantrums.” The speaker then silenced Reps. Barb Byrum and Lisa Brown, keeping them from addressing the legislature. He compared the situation to giving a “time-out” to naughty children. Nothing like this has ever happened before, and men would certainly never receive this treatment.

The same patronizing attitude clearly emerged during last fall’s political campaign when one after another conservative tried to explain the different permutations of rape—that some rape is worse than others in strata from “easy rape” (thanks to GOP senate candidate Linda McMahon from Connecticut) to “legitimate rape” (from Missouri’s GOP senate candidate Todd Akin) past Richard Mourdock’s pregnancy from rape being “gift from God” when he failed in his run for senator from Illinois.

In 31 states, admitted rapists can legally sue for visitation and custody rights of the children born of their attacks. In California, the Moraga school district blamed an adult woman for having been raped in the school when she was twelve years old.

JP Morgan is also using the “slut shame” defense after Kimberly Shultz sued the company and vice president/senior project manager, Derrick Gilliam for extensive and coercive sexual harassment followed by forcible rape. The complaint also says that the police refused to help. According to the complaint,” JP Morgan’s Human Resource Department engaged in an unconscionable course of conduct, including making illegal inquiries into Schultz’s sexual history and background, making unauthorized disclosures of Schultz’s medical conditions in violation of Schultz’s HIPAA rights, and in general preparing the company’s defense to what it perceived would ultimately become a lawsuit.” JP Morgan is blaming Shultz.

Rape in the military has become a major issue as more and more frequently women service members are willing to be upfront about the men in the military who raped them.  Last Tuesday, the Senate finally adopted a provision sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to lift the ban on women in the military using their health insurance for abortion care in cases of rape or incest. The bill will almost surely fail in the House because of that chamber’s anti-woman culture.

Eighteen years ago, Congress passed the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), designed to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States. A recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows VAWA reduces intimate partner violence. From 1994 when VAWA was passed to 2010, rates of intimate partner violence for women and men decreased by more than 60%. Unanimously reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, VAWA reauthorization passed the Senate in April but has been held up in the House because that chamber doesn’t want to protect college students, LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native American women abused by non-native spouses on tribal lands.

An example of how insensitive people are to the need for extending VAWA http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/opinion/sunday/the-gop-and-violence-against-women.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1354910838-kqUOxBc+jo9qy1l7KbJuXQ  came yesterday from Dana Perino, Fox News host and former George W. Bush White House press secretary. While discussing Kansas City Chiefs’ line backer Javon Belcher’s murdering his girlfriend before killing himself, Perino said that women should “make better decisions” to avoid being beaten or killed by their abusers.

We are ending the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence that began on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Soraya Chemaly has provided 50 facts about domestic violence.  #50: Number of members of Congress who have gone through an educational training program on health, economics, violence, and gender norms: 0.

Racism: Since a “black man” (who happens to be half “white”) was elected to the White House, racism in the United States has become more common and overt. Conservatives blame President Obama for the rising level of racism in the country, yet the racist attitudes result from his being elected to the highest office in the United States. An example of racial hostility toward him is when  John Sununu, while campaigning for Mitt Romney, described the president as “lazy” and “incompetent.” The racist attitude toward the president has also transferred to all the people who might vote for him, leading to the states led by Republicans passing a large number of voter suppression laws.

The GOP refusal to extend VAWA, primarily because it would protect Native American women, is another indication of the conservatives’ racism. One of the additions to this act would fill the legal gap in which tribes cannot prosecute a non-Indian, even if he lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member.  A provision of the extension act provides tribes with concurrent authority to hold domestic violence perpetrators accountable for their crimes against Native women–regardless of the perpetrator’s race. Conservatives have claimed that protecting Indian and immigrant women is “unconstitutional.”

In addition, women of color are paid less than white women—who are paid less than men—and are forced to pay more than any other classification for such items as automobiles. (More about that tomorrow.)

Lesbian Rights: Today is a ground-breaking day: the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two marriage equality cases this term, Hollingsworth v. Perry opposing California’s Prop 8 ban on marriage equality in the state and Windsor v. United States, in which the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) discriminates against same-sex couples. SCOTUS has not yet declared whether it will hear the Arizona case where lesbian and gay state employees challenged the elimination of equal health care coverage for their families. The court’s ruling will decide whether lesbian will have more rights or lose the ones that they have now in the nine states that have legalized marriage equality. (That’s a subject for another blog!)

gay-marriage-washington

Jane Abbott Lighty, 85 (left), and Pete-e Petersen, 77), of West Seattle were the first same-sex couple of hundreds to have their marriage license signed in King County (WA) after being partners for 35 years.

Tomorrow, Part Three will deal with more lesbian rights, economic justice for women, and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

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