Nel's New Day

April 2, 2012

Wisconsin’s Journey to Freedom, Part II

Wisconsin—a place where the conservative governor Scott Walker stripped fundamental rights, slashed budgets for health and education, silenced citizens in the formal political process, and erased the possibility of public good or trust from state agencies. A place where Walker, who campaigned on getting more jobs for people and improving the economy, took $56 million from the working poor by reducing the Earned Income Tax Credit while giving $36 million to wealthy Wisconsin investors in a capital gains tax break. A place where Walker used $25.6 million of the $31.6 million Wisconsin’s state government received from the foreclosure fraud settlement to help close a budget shortfall in the state’s general fund.

Although union-busting was one of Walker’s passions, unions weren’t the only losers in Walker’s Wisconsin. The final budget bill allowed “direct conversion” of credit unions, owned by the share-holders, into investor-owned banks. Credit unions can return dividends to members through offering banking services with lower fees and loans at lower rates than banks. Communities without credit unions have higher fees at ATMs and for other banking services. The 220 credit unions in Wisconsin are often in rural areas that lack investor-owned banks. There was no notification of the credit union amendment to the public before the legislators voted.

Over a month ago, the state legislative bodies passed SB 202, repealing the 2009 Equal Pay Act allowing people to sue employers who illegally discriminate against them based on protected class status. The bill was sponsored by ALEC members, part of the coalition funded by wealthy conservatives such as the Koch brothers and huge corporations such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, and VISA. Identical bills that support anti-immigration, photo IDS, defunding unions, privatizing schools and public assets, corporate tax loopholes, etc. combined with those that stop states from raising revenue have popped up in all the 26 conservative-controlled states, thanks to ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

Like The Lily Ledbetter Act, The Equal Pay Act was developed to provide legal protection to women who are unfairly compensated based on their gender. One Republican explained the repeal of equal pay for all by saying that many businesses and employers asked for the bill. (I wonder how many votes from women these conservative legislators expect to get in the 2012 election.) Before Wisconsin passed the Equal Pay Act in 2009, Wisconsin was 36th in the worst pay gap; in the next two years the state climbed to the 24th position. Thus far I haven’t found any record of Walker signing the bill, but he is expected to do so.

Not content with destroying women’s pay equality, Wisconsin legislators have also passed another anti-choice bill, this one requiring doctors to verify—in writing—that women were not coerced into abortions. And to guarantee a higher percentage of teen pregnancy, the legislators also passed a bill requiring abstinence-only instruction for teenagers. (If they want to analyze the increase in teen pregnancy Wisconsin will have because of this law, they should check the high number of Texas teen girls who get pregnant thanks to abstinence-only education.) The Wisconsin bill also requires sexual education courses to discuss parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage (I’m guessing heterosexual), as well as explain pregnancy, prenatal development, and childbirth.

Following the loss of collective bargaining for 175,000 state public employees, school districts are now imposing strict and arbitrary rules on teachers without any mediation with teacher unions.  For example, New Berlin not only increased workdays for teachers with no pay increases but also created a dress code: no jeans, no open shirts, and no skirts that are not below the knee. Teachers cannot have any students as Facebook “friends” and must report any traffic incidents or tickets to the school district. School districts who want to work with teachers to design an employee handbook are afraid to do this because they might violate the ban against collective bargaining. The law has moved teachers to the level of serfs with no rights.

What kind of lawmakers have voted in favor of laws that allows such abuse of employees? Rep. Don Pridemore is a prime example. Rather than allowing an abused woman to divorce the man who beats her up, she should try to remember what she loves about him. Pridemore said, “If they can re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place it might help.”  With Sen. Glenn Grothman, he also co-sponsored not only the photo ID law, now declared unconstitutional, but also a bill that credits child abuse to single motherhood.

As the chair of the House Children and Families Committee, Pridemore wants to mandate the state Child Abuse Prevention Board to conduct public awareness campaigns emphasizing that single parenthood is a leading cause of child abuse. His co-sponsor, Grothman, said, “A child is 20 times more likely to be sexually abused if they are raised by say, a mother and a boyfriend, than their mother and father.” He failed to provide any support for this statement. Grothman, who has never been married, also wants to underscore “the role of fathers in the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect.”

There is hope in Wisconsin. Peter Rickman, a union organizer and former leader of Wisconsin’s Teaching Assistants Association, said they can create new organizations by bringing together community groups, political organizations, and unions that last beyond one protest or one election cycle. “We have strength in numbers, the 1 percent has the money,” he said. The logo of Wisconsin redesigned as a blue clenched fist still brings people together.

One person who continued to fight back against Walker and exercise his free speech is 36-year-old Azael Brodhead, Iraq veteran and state Department of Corrections probation and parole agent. For weeks he drove past Walker’s house, honked his horn, gave “the finger” through his sunroof, and shouted “Recall Walker.” When he was ticketed for “unnecessary blowing of horn,” he went to trial. Fined $166.20, he continued his routine—stopped the honking but kept up the yelling. “Probation agent is my day job,” said Brodhead. “Being a concerned citizen is 24-7.”

The Koch brothers bankrolling many of the conservative campaigns for Wisconsin legislators, including Walker, had a bad week in the state last week. Federal authorities are investigating Prosperity USA and Wisconsin Prosperity Network. At least one person being investigated is also involved in Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit cofounded by the conservative Koch brothers that helped organize the tea party movement in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Not much information yet about what’s happening but then it’s a secret investigation.

Much more about the effects of Wisconsin’s protests on the rest of the nation is in John Nichols’ book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Occupy Wall Street.

January 15, 2012

New Sex Ed Guidelines Fight Abstinence-only Programs

Wait until all those far-right folk raise their heads out of the Republican presidential candidate hoopla to hear about the latest news in sex education!

Proper names for male and female anatomy should be taught in the early elementary grades along with the understanding that all living things reproduce and that all people have the right to not be touched if they don’t want to be. At the same age, young people should have the ability to identity different kinds of family structures and explain why bullying and teasing are wrong.

By the end of the fifth grade, students should know the definition of sexual orientation as “the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender.” Students of this age should also be able to define sexual harassment and abuse. When leaving middle school, youth should be able to differentiate between gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. In addition, they should be able to explain why a rape victim is not at fault, understand bullying and dating violence, and describe the signs and impacts of sexually transmitted diseases. (Pity the poor politicians who still don’t believe that rape victims are not at fault!)

At the finish of eighth grade, adolescents need to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence, condoms, and other “safer sex methods” as well as how emergency contraception works. The goal for these recommendations is to provide a foundation for sequential, age-appropriate discussions about sex, bullying and healthy relationships. Curriculum guidelines come from a coalition of health and education organizations, including Advocates for Youth, American Association of Health Education, American School Health Association, National Education Association–Health Information Network, Society of  State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, and Future of Sex Education Initiative.

Statements from Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Education Abstinence Association, come as no surprise. Arguing that abstinence should be the focus of any sex ed programs, she said, “This should be a program about health, rather than agendas that have nothing to do with optimal sexual health decision-making. Controversial topics are best reserved for conversations between parent and child, not in the classroom.”

Parents are already fuming about this set of guidelines, claiming that only parents have the right to talk to children about sex education. By that they mean that “sex-ed teachers” should just tell students not to have sex, and everything will be fine. Research, however, proves them wrong.

Nine years ago, the AIDS Research Institute at the University of California (San Francisco), reported that comprehensive or abstinence-plus sex education is the the most effective curriculum whereas abstinence-only programming causes youth to be “uninformed and alienated.” They also discovered that sex and STIs increase with abstinence-only education.

Since that time, abstinence-only programs have caused more problems, not fewer. According to Ed Brayton, co-founder of Michigan Citizens for Science, research shows the same result. Recent research from the University of Georgia supports the problem with abstinence-only programs:  “States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs.”

Texas, home to abstinence-only proponents Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, is a prime example of this problem. Over 94 percent of  Texas schools teach only abstinence-only sex education or no sex ed at all; the state has the fourth-highest incidence of teenage pregnancy and the highest teen birth rate in the country. Texas’s pregnancy rates are more than 50 percent higher than the national average. Even worse, the state’s teen pregnancy, both initial and repeat, rose after the abstinence-only programs went into effect.

In the union-busting state of  Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and the other Republican law-makers plan to pass a bill that would repeal state law requiring schools to provide comprehensive, scientifically accurate, and age-appropriate sex ed. That law, The Healthy Youth Act, took effect this school year. The new law would remove not only requirements that schools teach about “the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives” but also the recommendation that schools teach about “puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image, and gender stereotypes.” The new law would replace that language with the requirement that instructors “identify the skills necessary to remain abstinent” for their students. The law doesn’t identify these skills.

Also of great concern is the growing belief that abstinence-only programs increase the problem of bullying. Because students are taught sexist beliefs about gender and sexuality, they are more likely to bully and harass because they learn that “real” boys cannot control themselves and girls are responsible for sexual desire. If girls don’t stop sex, then they are designated sluts. These programs reinforce the “boys will be boys” concept, blaming the victims.

Abstinence-only programs also teach that the only safe, normal way to have sex is between one male and one female. Thus LGBTQ youth are marginalized because they are “perverted.” According to a GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network) study “a significantly greater portion of students in schools that used an abstinence-only curriculum reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and gender expression—64.8 percent of these students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation compared to 57.3 percent of all other students.” In addition, same-sex marriage is illegal in most states. Because LGBT people cannot get married, the sex ed curriculum teaches them that they can never have a healthy sexual relationship.

Despite the fact that abstinence-only programs increase the risk of sexually-transmitted and infection and unplanned pregnancies, conservatives want abstinence-only programs, no birth control, and no abortions even in the case of rape or the woman’s health—all because of their personal religious beliefs.  In addition, they want to eradicate the health and possibly the lives of LGBTQ youth.  This is the next generation under the control of conservatives. The guidelines will disappear in federal government as rapidly as in Wisconsin.



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