Nel's New Day

May 14, 2015

GOP Concerned Only about Carrying Fetuses Full Term

After eight people died from Tuesday’s Amtrak train crash, Rep. Paul Ryan voted to reduce Amtrak funding and then “misrepresented” congressional funding that could have prevented the crash. On Fox, he claimed that Congress funded the Positive Train Control (PTC) for the cash-strapped Amtrak earlier this year. Not only was the allocation far less than the Amtrak request, but the complex PTC takes more than two months to put into place. The last Amtrak bill was seven years ago. At this time, PTC is in service in only 50 miles of the 226-mile route between Washington and New York.

Ryan also said that Congress cannot rush to response to what he believes was “human error, but the PTC overcomes human error. He commented that he wouldn’t support tax increases for infrastructure improvement because “we can do better by saving more money [and] being more efficient.”

While talking about efficiency, Ryan voted in favor of yesterday’s anti-abortion bill that passed by 242-184, almost entirely on partisan lines. The so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” follows the conservatives’ belief that fetuses at this age can feel pain. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) answered the men who expounded on the pain that a fetus feels: “You want to talk about pain? Let’s talk about the agony of a woman who’s raped and again violated by unnecessary government intrusion.”

The bill bans the one percent of abortions that occur after the 20th week of pregnancies, ones that often involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Sexual assault victims cannot get rape-caused abortions after the 20th week until they have “obtained counseling” or “medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape” at least 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure unless the victims originally reported the rape to law enforcement. Counseling must be from a facility that doesn’t perform abortions, requiring consultation with two separate doctors.

Incest victims must also have reported the rapes to a law enforcement agency or government agency that acts on reports of child abuse, thus re-traumatizing the victims. The bill also prevents the abortions for victims 18 and older.

Non-viable fetuses or those that might be born with severe defects are typically not identified until after the limit set by this bill, but these issues are not addressed in the bill. The bill allows an abortion to prevent the death of the pregnant woman but says nothing about pregnancies that seriously jeopardize women’s health.

The bill also mandates medical procedures for doctors. If a doctor thinks that the aborted fetus could survive outside the womb, a second doctor must be present to care for it and provide hospitalization. Women are also required to sign consent forms that include the fetus’ age and steps to save its life. Doctors performing banned abortions would face imprisonment of up to five years plus fines, and people could also bring civil actions against doctors who violate the measure’s requirements.

After a similar bill failed in January, House leadership spent months negotiating its current success, time that certainly could have been more profitably spend with legislation that would boost in the economy. The conservatives’ goal is to ban all abortions although the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision established a constitutional right to abortion, allowing states to bar the procedure after viability when the fetus could survive if born.

Once the fetus has emerged into the daylight, however, mother and child are pretty much on their own. Only two laws help new parents: the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 providing 12 weeks of leave to new or expectant parents and an expansion of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. There is leave, but no paid leave. Parents have to save enough money for one of them to go without wages for the 12 weeks following a child’s birth. The United States is “exceptional” in this situation because 181 countries guarantee paid leave from work for new mothers and 81 guarantee it for new fathers. Employers also aren’t required in the United States to accommodate new mothers; they don’t even have to add break time for women who want to pump breast milk.

A law is supposed to protect pregnant woman at work, but in many cases it doesn’t. Many employers deny requests such as the ability to sit down while at work, an extra bathroom break, and drinking water while working. Pregnant women are expected to complete the same manual labor as men and non-pregnant women because it would be considered special treatment. Pregnant women may be forced to leave their jobs, leaving them reliant on the U.S. safety net.

According to conservatives, who get their marching orders from Fox network, these women carrying the beloved fetuses and avoiding abortions are “losers,” “moochers,” “takers,” and more. Conservatives accuse women of being pregnant just to get more federal money or, worse, of having “anchor babies” so that they can stay in the United States. Unmarried women who are pregnant or already have children are also told to get married so that they won’t be a drain on the country. (This idea is a myth.)

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich writes that poverty is a lack of money, not a lack of character, but conservatives disagree, preferring to shame poor mothers. Like preventing abortions, allowing children and their mothers to live in poverty is a policy choice.

Opposition to providing birth control is another conservative policy decision, frequently religious. Conservatives fight the provision of the Affordable Care Act to provide free birth control, women have to renew their birth control medication every month, and women’s clinics that provide birth control are shut down in massive numbers throughout the conservative states. Catholic health systems, controlling almost 20 percent of patients in the United States, may prevent participating doctors from prescribing birth control pills. They can also refuse tubal ligations and vasectomies—even deny the termination of an ectopic pregnancy in which the fetus grows outside the uterus.

While conservatives virtuously pretend to protect fetuses, more women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes in the United States now than at almost any point in the last 25 years. Throughout the world, the United States is one of only seven countries to experience an increase in Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) over the past decade. MMR rise in tandem with poverty rates as conservative legislators refuse to pass fair gender salary laws and increase the minimum wage.

The U.S. MMR is 14 times greater than in Israel, which has liberal abortion laws with government-subsidized abortion services. The states in this country with the greatest abortion restrictions have the highest maternal deaths, infant and child death rates, and teen drug and alcohol abuse. Georgia, with 11 restrictive abortion laws, has the highest MMR.

Legislation is moving forward in North Carolina to send detailed information about an abortion past the first trimester to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, including “an ultrasound image of the unborn child that depicts the measurements.” Already required in Oklahoma and Louisiana, this mandate violates privacy between a woman and her doctor and serves no medical purpose. Doctors are not required to send any other type of medical image to the state. Oklahoma ranks 48th in Maternal Mortality Rates; Louisiana is 44th.

abortion

No matter how horrifying yesterday’s anti-abortion bill passed in the House may be, conservatives can make life worse for pregnant women. Texas state representative Matt Schaefer has introduced an amendment forcing women to carry a fetus to full term even if it might be nonviable. Beyond causing severe health issues and perhaps death for the woman, the act would inflict great pain on the family. Schaefer’s justification is that suffering is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world.”

Thanks to conservative legislation, United States in 2015 can be compared to the country in 1929 with the huge gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the people in the nation. At this time, the ratio of pay between CEOs and workers is 373-1—and greater for women because they are below the average wage. One guarantee: GOP members of Congress will continue to focus on fetuses and the wealthy; everyone else will be left out. It’s what adds to their campaign war chests.

July 31, 2013

Jail, Threats, Fraud, Cookies, and More

Some news you might not see in mainstream media:

The Wall Street Journal’s announcement that the game Monopoly was doing away with its jail sentence, making the game look way too much like reality, created a great deal of hoop-la. Even John Oliver, Jon Stewart’s summer sub on The Daily Show, got into the excitement. It seems, however, that WSJ was wrong. Jail, at least in Monopoly, is here to stay. Wonder what else Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ is wrong about.

monopoly-jail-top630

Putting a picture of Jane Austen on the Bank of England bank note also caused great interest, especially for the people who sent rape and death threats to the major campaigner for using Austen’s picture. British people caught two of them, one a 21-year-old man who sent a about 50 abusive tweets every hour for 12 hours to Caroline Criado-Perez after she successfully lobbied for replacing Charles Darwin on the ten-pound note starting in 2017.

It wasn’t enough for these men that the picture of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill will replace the face of 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry on the five-pound note beginning in 2016. Without the addition of Jane Austen, the only woman on Britain’s money would be Queen Elizabeth II, whose face is on every British coin and banknote.

A Twitter representative, Mark Luckie, waited four days to talk with her about the abuse, temporarily blocking her attempted communication with him. Publicity connected the past seven days of threats and abuse has required police and politicians to take notice of the abuse toward Criado-Perez and Labor MP Stella Creasy, who came out in Criado-Perez’s support.

If you’re still smoking, you might be interested in knowing that cigarette companies have switched to clay in their filters, the same substance used in kitty litter. A dozen tobacco companies have avoided as much as $1.1 billion in taxes by making their cigarettes heavier with this filler filler, exempting their product from a 2,653 percent increase in federal excise tax  on non-”large cigar” tobacco products. Taxes for a rolled tobacco product weighing at least three pounds per 1,000 increased only 155 percent. Treasury Department spokesman Thomas Hogue said, “If you meet the definition of a large cigar, then you’re a large cigar.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently introduced legislation to equalize the tax structure that could make $3.6 billion in new taxes over 10 years.

Changing from kitty litter cigarettes to electronic ones won’t make people safer. Sales are rising for these alternatives, but no one knows the health problem because they aren’t regulated. The primary byproduct of electronic cigarettes is definitely not a “harmless water vapor,” as manufacturers claim.  In Scientific American, Stanton Glantz noted that the smoker inhales a collection of dangerous substances including acetaldehyde, nickel and cadmium. With every puff, both smokers and the people near them inhale formaldehyde, toluene, and nicotine.

The FDA tried to ban imports of electronic cigarettes from China by declaring them “unapproved drug/device combination products” but lost in court. Manufacturers maintain that these are healthy alternatives to cigarettes in the same way that tobacco companies used to swear that cigarettes were also “healthy.”

China also wants to buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor and hog producer. Shuanghui International is willing to pay $4.7 billion. In 2011, it was discovered that some Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. Smithfield president Larry Pope said that there wouldn’t be any problems, and it would bring more jobs to the United States. Other food safety issues in China have included rat meat passed off as pork and thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river. Smithfield already uses an additive, banned in China and Russia, to bulk up animals with muscle instead of far, without increasing the amount of feed.

People have known for decades about the dangers of lead in paint, but Sherman-Williams is being sued because it knew over a century ago that the company knowingly poisoned people. Ten California cities and counties are seeking $1 billion from the company to strip the leaded paint that remains on millions of residences throughout the state. The United States banned lead paint for residential use in 1978, several decades after other countries forbade its use. Once thought to be more dangerous for children, new research finds that lead effects for adults may be worse, causing dangers from increased blood pressure and stroke.

Pepsi may also be in trouble after it was discovered that the caramel coloring in drinks contains high levels of a probable carcinogen. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola were told to adjust their formulas to avoid a cancer warning label in California. Coke products no longer tested positive in May for the chemical, but Pepsi products outside California still contain it. Pepsi said that the chemical won’t be removed from its drinks until February 2014 but gave no timeline for world-wide distribution. FDA said that a person would have to drink 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the doses used in rodents to cause cancer, but California has still added 4-Mel to its list of carcinogens.

Detroit is so broke that it’s threatening to sell all its art in the museums and not pay contract pensions. No schools, no roads, no utilities, no services. But it is spending almost one-half billion dollars on a new hockey arena. That’s what you get with an “emergency financial manager” appointed by the Republican governor.

North Carolina

North Carolina has finished its hate-filled legislation, and Gov. Pat McCrory has duly signed all the hateful bills, but publicity about them hasn’t ended. The latest story started with a small group of women going to McCrory’s mansion to protest the most recent anti-abortion bill  that he had promised not to sign—and then did. at McCrory’s mansion.  Various French princesses have been credited with the statement, “Let them eat cake,” when referring to peasants suffering from famine. McCrory changed the term “cake” to “cookies” when he delivered a plate of chocolate-chip cookies to the protesters. Four security guards stopped traffic in the street, and McCrory walked to the middle and pointed at one of the women. She walked up to him, and he handed the plate of cookies, saying, “These are for you. God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.”

McCrory wouldn’t talk to the protesters; he just handed over the plate after he lied to them and took away their constitutional right to choose reproductive health care. The crowd responded by chanting, ”Hey Pat, that was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.” McCrory said that the critics exaggerated the impact of the law that closes 15 out of 16 clinics that provide abortion and bars state residents from paying for the coverage through state health exchanges. [Photo by Corey Lowenstein @ News Observer]

Cookies…-no-thanks

Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner and operator of AM and FM radio stations in America, will not be renewing its contracts with both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on its 40 channels that have hundreds of radio stations. Although they may have already signed with rival syndicate WOR, the future of right-wing radio may be in jeopardy. The majority of its listeners, primarily white, are disappearing because most of its older demographic. Limbaugh blamed the ad buyers, saying that they are Limbaugh recently acknowledged difficulty selling ads, complaining ad buyers are “are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism.” For months, Cumulus has been telling investors that Limbaugh is costing the company millions of dollars in lost advertizing.

If your electricity bills going up, it might be because of banks rigging the market. This week, the Federal Regulatory Commission fined JP Morgan Chase $410 million fine, following a penalty of almost $500 million against the British bank Barclay two weeks ago. JP Morgan agreed to pay a civil penalty of $285 million and return $125 million in wrongful profits without either admitting or denying its guilt in using energy traders to fix prices. The situation isn’t unique: financial markets are controlling market forces in oil, currency exchanges, and hard commodities from precious metals to aluminum. Industry deregulation in the 1990s permitted banks to directly deal in physical commodity markets instead of being limited to financial products based on commodity prices.

July 28, 2013

North Carolina Deciminates States’ Rights

Politics and religion are taking sides—sometimes opposite ones. Moral Mondays are an excellent example of religion fighting legislature as North Carolina finalizes its legislation for the year.

Moral Monday old manLast Monday’s arrests of 73 people brought the total to 925 since the group started on the last Monday of April. Each Monday, thousands collect at the state capital to demonstrate against cuts in social programs, education, and employment, against the state’s anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid laws, against labor rights and the resuming of the death penalty–against all the draconian action that this year’s legislature has taken. Last week’s group, many of them organizing in churches, came to fight the restrictive voter laws that will go into effect in the state.

In an effort at intimidation, a right-wing group has set up a website with the high-sounding name of Civitas Institute that includes the names, mug shots, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, and salaries of all those arrested. All it seems to prove is that almost all the people are North Carolina residents, instead of out-of-state carpet baggers, as GOP lawmakers claim.

The lawmakers must be getting worried about the demonstrators: this past week they moved their meeting time three hours earlier from the usual 7:00 pm schedule. Yet the protesters who sang and chanted in an almost empty building were still arrested.

The Assembly’s action has led to its approval rating below 20 percent, just a bit higher than for the U.S. Congress. Gov. Pat McCrory saw his approval rating fall 15 percent in just one month, and it may go farther down after he signed the anti-abortion bill that only 34 percent of the voters want. He had promised during his campaign not to sign any anti-abortion bill.

Arrests of residents who disagree with the legislative action are also becoming more aggressive with many being handcuffed for “petty citations” and sent to jail, according to House Democratic Leader Larry Hall. The lawyer from Durham said, “I believe we have a great police force here. Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”

He may have a point about the conservatives telling the police what to do. In July 2001, when the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats, conservative activists held a mass gathering to protest a proposed tax increase. No one was arrested.

Moral Monday participants refuse to be discouraged. Their numbers are growing, and they seem to be gaining confidence and courage because of the attention that they have drawn.

Past legislative actions have included killing the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on 900,000 poor people, cutting corporate and personal income taxes for the top 5 percent, eliminating unemployment for 70,000 people, denying Medicaid expansion that will cost taxpayers more, inviting corporations to frack in the state, defunding schools before distributing them to private companies—many of these through the 20 bills written by the ultra-conservative, corporate-owned ALEC.

The state’s most recent anti-abortion law mandates that all seventh-graders be taught the falsehood that abortions cause preterm births. It also requires a doctor to be present when the first drug in a chemical abortion is administered. Abortion clinics are required to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers whenever the state Department of Health and Human Services wishes. In order to slip through the new anti-abortion law, the state Senate put it under an anti-Sharia law, and the Assembly attached it to a motorcycle safety bill. A drawing shows the similarity between the uterus and the motorcycle.

motorcycle As someone tweeted, “If my uterus could fire bullets, you wouldn’t regulate it.”

The voter suppression law passed this week is the worst in the nation, disenfranchising 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of state-issued ID, almost two-thirds of them women. One woman said that getting the appropriate identification would cost her $120, which amounts to the poll tax that has been ruled unconstitutional.

The new voting law contains all the ways other states have legislated to keep minorities and the poor from voting: cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during that period, preventing counties from offering voting on the last Saturday beyond 1:00 pm or extending poll hours by an hour on Election Day because of long lines, purging voter rolls, and allowing vastly more vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters and give erroneous information as they have in the past.

Other methods of suppression, however, are unique to North Carolina. Citizens may not file provisional ballots if they go to the wrong precinct, confusing because many precincts in urban areas can be housed in the same building. It eliminates state-supported registration drives and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds as well as Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration. Parents of students who register where they attend college will lose the $2,500 child dependency tax deduction for their children, again creating a poll tax. 

Ex-felons cannot vote for five years after their release and only after they obtain two affidavits from local voters about their “upstanding moral character,” apply to the board of elections, and receive unanimous approval. Over 80 percent of those with a criminal record in the state are black. The state will also ban “incompetent” people from voting even if the person’s mental health issues have nothing to do with their ability to understand voting.

Yet outsider groups—those “carpet baggers”—can more easily donate money for electioneering while the law reduces disclosure of money sources. Contribution limits are raised from $4,000 to $5,000 per person and links future increases to inflation.

During 2012, 56 percent of North Carolinians—more blacks than whites—voted early; 78 percent of voters support the current early voting system. Over 155,000 voters used same-day registration in 2012. Many black citizens voted the Sunday before Election Day, no longer possible.

The Assembly will most likely continue to be GOP-controlled because of conservative gerrymandering of legislative maps helped by the voter oppression law. The Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act because the conservative majority did not see on-going racist problems in voting laws. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca even bragged that they wouldn’t have to bother with Section 5 of the VRA.

North Carolina Republicans claim that the law will combat voter fraud and insure integrity in polling places. Between 2000 and 2010, for a total of 6 election cycles, North Carolina had a grand total of two allegations of voter impersonations and zero convictions. Once again the political party that decries an expansion of government has done exactly that. The state claims to need money, but just the voting mandates will cost between $3 million and $20 million dollars.

I can visualize GOP legislators in all the other GOP-controlled states salivating as they wait to go back into session and copy all North Carolina’s laws. The country is going to need many more Moral Monday members.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has filed a federal court challenge to force Texas to obtain “pre-clearance” before implementing future voting changes. Perhaps he will do the same in North Carolina. would go after North Carolina’s voter ID law, which would be the strictest in the country.

June 28, 2013

‘Moral Monday’ Gives Hope

While legislators in North Carolina have systematically taken state resources from most of the taxpayers and transferred tax cuts to the wealthy, a group of protesters have continued to make their objections clear during the past two months, even to the point of being arrested. Called “Moral Monday,” the protest gathered the largest crowd this past week, about 5,000 people gathered. Of those 120 were arrested.

Although the GOP legislators would like to dismiss these protesters as “crazies,” many of them do their organizing in mainstream churches. Volunteers hand out green strips of fabric for people who are willing to be arrested. Those who have already been arrested are discouraged from signing up for arrest because of the weightier charge for repeat offenders.

For the most recent protest, Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday protests, asked during his invocation, “How do you say cutting 500,000 people’s health care is the moral thing to do?” He continued, “When you hurt the poor, you are not faithfully executing the constitution.” All the people standing behind him in this photo were arrested last Monday.

Armenta Eaton spoke about the reason that her 92-year-old mother, Rosanell Eaton, was willing to be arrested for her protests:

“What brought her out was the possibility of requiring voter ID. She was required when she was 21 years old to repeat the preamble to the Constitution in order to register. She did it! She didn’t even know she had to do it, she was just smart. They would yank you around back in those days. She was valedictorian of her class, she knew all that stuff. It’s what she had to go through. She thought things were smooth sailing. She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again. She fought for civil rights, she was a civil rights worker, and now she sees that it’s going backward.”

Chris Carter talked about how the rules protecting water quality have been “stripped away and are under attack.” Darlene Burns said she was doing it for her grandchildren.

“I want a better state for them to grow up in. I’ve got three that are still in the public schools. They’re decimating education and it’s not fair to the kids. It’s attacks on the unemployed, it’s turning down the Medicaid. It’s too many things to list. I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before. But it’s too important not to.”

Charles Warren explained that “it’s about the cause. So much to hurt the middle class, the unemployed, taking Medicaid away from 500,000 people, reducing unemployment. This is terrible for our state. Terrible for the people who’re going to be laid off. I’m really in favor of kicking all these legislators out.”

One man explained that next week 71,000 North Carolinians will lose federal extended unemployment benefits because of a new state law that reduces the maximum benefit an individual can receive. North Carolina is the only state to reject these federal benefits, which come at no cost to the state.

Sen. Thom Goolsby (R) calls them “Moron Mondays,” and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) accuses protestors of not being from North Carolina. McCrory and the legislature rejected an expansion of Medicaid in their state, despite the fact that the federal government would be footing the bill. As a result, 500,000 poor North Carolinians will not receive health insurance.

In 2010, one person was largely responsible for giving both houses of the North Carolina to the legislature for the first time since 1870.  Jane Mayer reported for the New Yorker in 2011, “three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to” wholesale baron Art Pope. When McCrory replaced Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue last January, the GOP had total control of the state.

Here are Art Pope’s dream bills going through the legislature:

Voter Suppression: In addition to requiring voter ID, the state cut early voter hours and eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Another bill would raise taxes on families with college students if the child registers to vote at school rather than at home. The state would no longer consider the child a dependent even though the parents pay all the bills.

Fewer Taxes for Wealthy: The bill would erase all individual and corporate income taxes and replace them with higher sales taxes that disproportionately burden lower-income taxpayers. A similar bill in Louisiana would raise taxes for 80 percent of the people while giving those in the top 1 percent an average tax cut of $25,423.

Anti-Abortion Moves: New restrictions such as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic would seriously hamper the work of the clinics. Conservatives claim that this is a safety measure, but hospitals refuse these doctors privileges. Also the House has just passed a bill requiring teachers to tell their students that abortions will increase risks of future premature births, despite the fact that this is a lie.

Anti-Worker Constitutional Amendment: Legislators want to lock the prevention of collective bargaining into the state constitution, making it even easier for companies to pressure workers against unionizing.

Subsidizing Home Schooling: A bill would give families a $1,250 per semester tax subsidy if they home school their children.

Judges for Sale: The bills would allow attorneys and special interest groups the ability to provide campaign funds for judges.

State Sponsored Religion: A GOP-backed resolution proclaimed that the U.S. Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional,” and then decreeing that North Carolina could establish its own state religion. That one failed, but it didn’t put anything into effect even if it passed.

Climate Change Denial: The state is banned from basing coastal policies on the most recent scientific predictions of sea level rise.

There are many more laws, some of them very strange, including preventing Tesla Motors from emailing its customers and banning “foreign law” in the state. Fracking in the state is legal now, however, because an exhausted senator pressed the wrong number. State law prevents her from changing her votes if it changes the result of the vote.

Only a few hundred protesters could fit inside the building. Orders of magnitude more waited outside. The others waited outside. Inside, people chanted, sang songs, and gave speeches.

North Carolina has no collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, even for public employees unions. One police officer thanked those arrested at the detention center for helping him get more overtime pay. Another officer described protesters as “very nice,” “orderly,” and “great to deal with.”

After the first bus headed off to jail with protesters, the crowd chanted, “You’re gonna need another bus ’cause baby there are more of us.” Some of the protesters went back to the church where they had gathered earlier for a potluck and planning for next week.

bus

Eaton was released from the detention center at around 9pm as well-wishers cheered her on. Many protesters returned to the Pullen Baptist Church afterward for a potluck where they traded stories and began to think about what more they can do next week.

The first people arrested on Moral Monday over eight weeks ago were to appear in court last Monday and expected to plead not guilty. Almost all the protesters have been charged with second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse, and violating building rules. NAACP legal advisor Irv Joyner, also a law professor at N.C. Central University, said that many of those charged with breaking building rules by displaying signs were not holding one. He also said:

“On public property, people can’t be directed to disperse or leave unless someone is engaged in unlawful activity. You can apply the same rational to the trespassing charge, which is the same idea. If you have a right to be there, that’s not trespassing.”

In addition, building rules allow visitors to move about freely unless they create disturbances.

Moral Monday gives me hope for change in this country.

June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Awards LGBT Rights; Davis Fights for Women’s Rights

Forty years ago, homosexuals were mentally ill. Ten years ago gays and lesbians were criminals. Today LGBT people can legally marry the people they love. Yesterday was the day that my partner and I celebrate as our anniversary because marriage equality is illegal in Oregon. It was our 44th anniversary. Without the same Social Security benefits that legally married people receive, my partner has lost well over $100,000. We don’t know how much we have lost in other benefits because of the discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Stonewall riots, hailed as the dawning of the gay rights movement, started in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 29, 1963, also 44 years ago. But today is a new day because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996 federal statute defining marriage as between one woman and one man.

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court as they dribbled out their rulings for the past session was exactly like riding a rollercoaster: yesterday, they destroyed the voting rights of almost half the people in the country, and today they gave federal rights to all married same-sex couples. They also refused to allow standing of those protesting marriage equality in California so that same-sex couples there might have the right to marry. If that is true, one-third of people in the U.S. will live in a jurisdiction that has legalized marriage equality.

In its traditional 5-4 vote, SCOTUS ruled that, for federal purposes, marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. This ruling was in response to a case about Edie Windsor, who was charged federal estate taxes after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died. Yet they let stand Section 2 of DOMA permitting each state its own definition of marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 26-page opinion, and dissenters Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, mostly joined by Clarence Thomas, wrote another 47 pages.

Kennedy wrote that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and intrudes on the states’ traditional role in defining marriage. His opinion also stated that the law “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Confusion will undoubtedly reign after the ruling because Kennedy also wrote, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” possibly just those authorized by the state of New York. Yet he also said, “The federal statute [DOMA] is invalid.” This is a very broad ruling, which is why Scalia, in particular, was apoplectic.

Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas opined that the court should not have taken the case because the House of Representatives had no right to appeal lower court decisions after President Obama stopped defending DOMA. Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, saying Congress did have that power. Whether or not it had any right to appeal, the House spent $2.3 of taxpayers’ money to support DOMA in the courts.

The majority did rule on the lack of standing in the case about California’s Prop. 8, stating that the private proponents of the measure, many of them living outside California, lacked the legal right to defend the proposition in federal courts. Supposedly, this ruling from SCOTUS did not change the district judge’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. Dissenters in SCOTUS on the Prop 8 case were an odd mix: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in disagreeing with the majority that included the ultra-conservative Scalia.

Although there may be more litigation regarding Prop 8, the governor told clerks that they would start issuing marriage licenses after the 9th Circuit Court takes care of its paperwork by lifting a year-long order that stopped the ban from going into effect until the Supreme Court reviewed the case. There might be a question about whether District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had the right to overturn Prop 8 for the entire state or for just his jurisdiction. The only definite conclusion is that the two couples in the Prop 8 case before SCOTUS will receive marriage licenses from the Clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles Counties.

How people would vote today in California, no one knows, polls show a movement toward majority acceptance of marriage equality; many people voted in favor of Prop 8 because of the lies from supporters about effects of marriage equality; and the Mormon Church, that paid as much as 70 percent of the campaign funds to support Prop 8, may not be as generous another time around.

With California now considered to accept marriage equality, 13 states and a few other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. and Native American reservations, have legalized same-sex marriage. This is one of the best maps describing the different same-sex couple laws across the U.S.

The hope is that same-sex couples may now start having rights in the military and in immigration that were prevented before this ruling. As Kennedy said in his ruling, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways…from the mundane to the profound. He mentioned healthcare, tax preparation, Social Security, and other benefits—even a person’s child can legally be kidnapped by an unmarried spouse.

A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of Steven, a Colombian man legally married to Sean Brooks. The Center for American Progress has 14 fact sheets showing federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now have.

One expects crackpot responses to SCOTUS, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have achieved the strangest one in a performance on the Glenn Beck when the presidential wannabe asked of marriage, “Does it have to be humans?” (I’ll have another batch of crazy comments in my upcoming Sunday “religion” blog.)

The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings overshadowed a mind-blowing event in Texas. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) filibustered an unbelievable vicious, evil woman-hating anti-abortion in the state’s Senate. The bill stops abortions at 20 weeks as well as closes 37 clinics, leaving only five clinics that provide abortions throughout a state that is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long. Some of the 26 million people would have to drive 600 miles in order to have the opportunity to comply with a federal law.

The term “filibuster” has gained a benign connotation because of the U.S. Senate rules that allows one senator to call from his comfortable couch to say “I filibuster” and then return to the sports channel. Filibuster in this case means that Davis stood–with no support, no leaning, no bathroom breaks, no food, no liquid, no nothing—for almost 12 hours and talked about the bill and nothing else. She even got one violation for talking about sonograms although that’s part of the anti-abortion game in Texas.

Davis had to last until midnight to keep the chamber from voting before the deadline of the special session. Her third “violation,” another being when a colleague touched her when fascinating her a back brace, came before midnight, but hundreds of protesters disrupted the vote, shouting “Let her speak,” so that the vote could not be started until after the deadline.

At this time, events become even more bizarre. The vote on the bill wasn’t finished until a few minutes after midnight. In their eagerness to terrorize women, however, Republican senators changed the time stamp to before midnight, thinking that this would pass the bill.

After images of both the before and after images of the stamp change were posted on the Texas Tribune’s live blog showing the accurate time stamp of 12:02 am, the Senate went into a closed-door caucus. At 3:00 am, they said that the bill did not pass because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn’t have time to sign it before midnight. Nothing about changing the time stamp.

In an ironic twist, Davis could be redistricted from her Fort Worth area after SCOTUS ruled yesterday that Texas can do gerrymandering districts. The state failed earlier because of the now-overturned Voting Rights Act.

More than 150,000 people watched the livestreamed session. Even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis. Gov. Rick Perry has declared a 30-day special session starting on July 1 to “address” the anti-abortion bill because the legislature needs to maintain “decency.” Nothing about the “decency” of illegally changing the timestamp for the vote.

It’s the GOP strategy: vote; if it fails, cheat; if that fails, hold another vote. The House has done it 37 times on Obamacare.

June 24, 2013

SCOTUS Decisions, Immigration Reform Amendment, Texas Anti-Abortion Continue

Although the Supreme Court did not deliver its rulings about marriage equality and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 today, they did divulge other decisions. SCOTUS did deliver a non-ruling on affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas. In the question of whether a white student suffered racial discrimination at the University of Texas, SCOTUS rejected a lower court’s approval of the school’s affirmative action plan but said that it will have to evaluate it again.

The constitutionality of race in university admissions, however, survived with the ruling that race may be considered as a factor as long as the policy is “narrowly tailored.” If “‘a nonracial approach . . . could promote the substantial interest about as well and at tolerable administrative expense,’” then the university may not consider race.

When states have banned affirmative action, the number of minority has drastically dropped. Today’s ruling allows universities to continue implementing diversity plans, but it does not preclude these state bans. In its next term, SCOTUS will review a Michigan ban that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down.

In his opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas compared any affirmative action to slavery. He has also said that he would vote to overturn the case next year upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action policy. That means he doesn’t need to listen to arguments next year because he’s already made up his mind.

Courtesy seems to have disappeared in SCOTUS. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented to the racial discrimination ruling, asserting that the lower court ruling should have been upheld. She also read a dissent to the case (below) which makes racial and sexual discrimination easier by raising the level of proof to establish retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

Part of Ginsburg’s dissent was a “hypothetical” (meaning drawn from a real case) when a female worker on a road crew was subjected to humiliations by the “lead worker” and who now has no remedy because of the court ruling. According to Garrett Epps, Justice Samuel Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head “no.” There are no cameras to show the incident, but Epps reported that the audience made audible gasps.

SCOTUS gave sexual and racial harassment a boost up in the workplace through today’s 5-4 ruling in Vance v. Ball State University. Thanks to five Supreme Court justices, a “supervisor” is defined as having the power to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

The definition eliminates all the people who still maintain power over employers through reporting their actions to employers—excuse me “supervisors.” One of these “non-supervisors” is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into having unwanted sex with him. Justice Elena Kagan also described the secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” That person is not a “supervisor” because it’s the “Head of Secretarial Services” who would fire her.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the five conservative justices also allowed employers a greater right to retaliate against victims of discrimination who report that they have suffered discrimination.

The Senate is working hard to discriminate against immigrants through its reform bill. In a desperate attempt to pass the bill, the Senate passed a motion to debate an amendment by 67-27 with 15 GOP “yes” votes that would ostensibly make the bill more palatable to conservatives. It’s a Christmas gift to Halliburton, as  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, because of the requirement for another 700 miles of fencing. Another piece of the amendment was doubling the number of border patrol agents to 40,000—one for each 1,000 feet of the southern border of the United States. The party that wants less government and spending cuts now helps support a bill that would cost an additional $46 billion.

Most of the publicity for the amendment came from the border security, but Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) managed other offensive provisions. One prohibits undocumented workers from counting past wages toward Social Security eligibility, and another prevents the government from providing welfare to immigrants until they become citizens. The provisions also called for an additional five-year ban on federal health subsidies under Obamacare for unauthorized immigrants who get a green card and tried to ensure these immigrants pay back taxes and penalties on any wages they earned while in the country illegally.

There may be more news about what’s buried in the 1,200-page amendment before the vote on Thursday or Friday.

Meanwhile, Texas GOP members are using a special legislative session to push through more restrictive anti-abortion regulations. (What happened to their love for small government?!) The proposed law would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks and shut down health clinics, leaving no place in western Texas—a very large area—to obtain an abortion. Women would have to travel at least 600 miles to get an abortion for any reason.

In a peculiar quirk, the bill’s sponsor, Jody Laubenberg (R) refused to support an exemption for rape because—ready for this?—she thinks that the rape kit, used to collect forensic data on the rapist for a prosecution, causes abortions. She said, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” Laubenberg has displayed an even greater ignorance then Congressional legislators.

Someone needs to explain to Laubenberg that this is the procedures for use of the rape kit. A victim enters the hospital; staff collect bodily fluid, residue under the victim’s nails, and any relevant blood or hair samples for an investigation. Nobody gets “cleaned out.” States with abstinence-only sex education, such as Texas, have highly uneducated people, even elected legislators.

A survey found that 63 percent of registered voters don’t want any more anti-abortion laws, and 71 percent think that the legislature should worry about the economy and jobs instead of policing women’s reproductive rights. Almost three-fourths think that personal medical decisions about abortions should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians. Also, 57 percent said that they don’t trust the governor or the legislature to make choices about women’s health care. Eighty percent think that anti-abortion should not be legislated in special session. And this opposition is from both parties and the independents.

The Texas Assembly passed the bill at 10:40 am today. Legislative rules require a 24-hour wait until the Senate can bring it up. The Texas legislature has until tomorrow night to get the bill passed.

This last weekend, dozens of people stood in line in Atlanta to buy exclusive LeBron James sneakers. When a man carrying a gun harassed them, a man in line pulled his gun and fatally shot him. The shooter then got back in line to wait for his sneakers. Some of the people thought that he wanted to rob them. A witness said about the dead man, “Sounds like he brought it on himself.”

Nobody said anything the man being dangerous, just that it was okay to kill him. Police have said they will not be charging the shooter because it was “self defense.” No need to wound him or feel any remorse—just kill him. This is the gun culture of the United States. 

June 18, 2013

House Passes Anti-Abortion Bill–Again

Unable to agree on almost everything else, House GOP members gathered together today to pass an unconstitutional bill, 228-196, restricting almost all abortions after the 20th week. The only exception threat to the life of a pregnant woman or reported rape or incest. Six Democrats voted in favor, and six Republicans voted against the bill. The Senate won’t support such a bill, and President Obama has said that he will veto the bill if it did. Yet national legislators seem determined to support all the red states that have introduced over 900 unreasonable anti-abortion bills this year alone.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who rammed the bill through his Judiciary Committee, should have led the debate on the House floor, but his Akin-esque statements have been so foolish that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) assigned Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that job. Her sole criterion is that she is female, a demographic missing in the committee vote. Her policies made her a good advocate for this anti-woman bill: she wants to end funding for Planned Parenthood and thinks that pay-equity laws take independence away from women.

One of Blackburn’s claims is that the bill was “for the children.” To really help children, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) proposed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women. This bill, referred to committee over a month ago, has failed to achieve even a hearing. PWFA responded to a concerns raised in a report about how pregnant women cannot get even the simplest of accommodations from employers such as extra bathroom breaks, the ability to sit instead of stand on the job, and the option of not lifting heavy objects.

Most women don’t work during their pregnancy because they think it’s fun; they do it because they need to help support their family. According to the report, “almost nine out of ten (88 percent) first-time mothers who worked while pregnant work into their last two months of pregnancy in 2006-2008, and more than eight out of ten (82 percent) worked into their last month of pregnancy.”

A 2008 law requires that pregnant workers receive the same protections as disabled workers. Employers, however, ignore their obligations, and courts have not done anything to protect pregnant workers. Even if they could quit during their pregnancy, only half of them qualify for unpaid maternity leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Forget paid leave—only 16 percent of private employers voluntarily give this benefit. Out of 178 countries world-wide, only two countries other than the U.S. are not required to give paid maternity leave, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.

Paid maternity leave would help the “children” who Blackburn describes. In her defense of the anti-abortion bill, Blackburn gave these empty words: “We are incredibly concerned about the well-being, safety, the health of these women. The life of women.”

Blackburn also said that “science is on our side.” The bill’s name, Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is based on an erroneous belief that the fetus can feel pain when it is aborted.  Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) presented the most outlandish “proof” of this pain—to this point, anyway—when he explained during a House Rules Committee meeting that he has seen male fetuses masturbating in the womb around 15 weeks into a pregnancy. As an OB-GYN, he would have the opportunity to watch “the male baby … have their hand between their legs.” (Thanks to Adele Stan, RH Reality Check, for finding this video.)

Two years ago, two Italian doctors did report witnessing a female fetus masturbating for 20 minutes. But the fetus was 32 weeks, not 15. A 15-week-old fetus is about 4 inches long and weighs a few ounces as compared to the 3.5-pound fetus at 32 weeks. Fewer than 1 percent of abortions are during the third trimester, after about 28 weeks, and are performed only for fetuses or pregnant women who cannot live within the procedure.

Other than Burgess’ anecdotal evidence, the rationale for the Republican bill was based on one scientifically disputed study cited by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  “The suggestion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain is inconsistent with the biological evidence,” said Dr. David A. Grimes, a prominent researcher and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “To suggest that pain can be perceived without a cerebral cortex is also inconsistent with the definition of pain.”

In March 2010, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Britain said of the brain development of fetuses: “Connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.”

Observations of physical recoiling and hormonal responses of younger fetuses to needle touches are reflexive and do not indicate “pain awareness,” the report said.

Blackburn had another justification for the bill. When Craig Melvin, MSNBC, interviewed her about the reporting requirement for rape and incest, she said, “[T]he hope is that that will help with getting some of the perpetrators out of the population that are committing these crimes against women and against minor females. We certainly would hope that we could rid our society of these perpetrators.” Melvin asked her, “How do you fight rapists with an abortion bill?” Blackburn moved to another subject.

Only 1.5 percent of the 1.21 million abortions each year, or about 18,000, occur later than 20 weeks after conception, primarily because of medical emergencies. The new bill from the House does not permit abortions for dire medical threats, the pregnant woman’s mental health, or a catastrophically impaired fetus.

Researchers Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Sadath Sayeed of Harvard Medical School have weighed in on the pain debate, noting that there is no evidence that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks and these fetuses are certainly not considered viable. The lawmakers and anti-abortion groups arguing for the 20-week bans are “espousing a view that aligns with the political hope” rather than medical evidence, said Sayeed, who is both a neonatologist and a lawyer. They also pointed out that even if the feeling of pain could be proved, that a fetus could be anesthetized. Legally speaking, they added, the rights of the fetus do not trump those of the mother.

A study examining the affects on women turned away from having an abortion because they miss the deadline by just days, lack insurance, or live too far away shows that they have higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain. Women denied abortions are three times more likely to end up below the federal poverty level two years later. Children of unwanted pregnancies tend to be more overweight, have more acute illnesses, get lower grades, and are less popular.

Women denied abortions also need far more help from government programs. The GOP has passed an anti-abortion bill in the House at the same time that they are trying to take food and shelter away from poor children and their mothers.

June 12, 2013

Legislative Males Take Charge

Yesterday, I wrote about the way that six Republican men, with no imput from women or medical doctors, moved a highly restrictive anti-abortion bill to the House floor. (More about that later.) Today a Democrat senator, Carl Levin (MI) decided what is best for raped women (and men) in the military despite protests from women, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The issue was whether the military rape cases should be moved to independent prosecutors instead of leaving it in the hands of ineffective military leaders, some of them rapists themselves. Gillibrand’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, moving these cases away from the failed military, had 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

Branch commanders complained about their loss of authority if this would happen, and the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee arbitrarily replaced Gillibrand’s amendment with his own, moving up the cases to a higher level of command if unit commanders decide not to prosecute service members. Levin’s plan was approved in committee by a 17-9 vote.

The Senate involvement came from the Pentagon’s annual report that estimated as many as 26,000 military members experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, an increase from 19,000 the year before. The abuse of victims is clear: last week a woman in the military who accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her last year said she was disciplined for drinking while her alleged attackers went unpunished.

Navy veteran Trina McDonald, who survived three rapes by other military members while serving in Alaska in 1989, predicted that Levin’s action would deepen the military’s sex-assault crisis. McDonald said that she did not report the crimes because she would have been forced to do this with the offenders, her superiors.

Gillibrand can still introduce her amendment when the Defense spending bill reaches the floor, but opposition from Levin and military leaders give it a slight chance of passing. Co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), summarized the position of Levin and other male senators: “They basically embrace the status quo here.”

As the New York Times wrote in “A Failure on Military Sexual Assaults”: “It is distressing that two decades of scandals could not persuade Mr. Levin to budge from his decision to support the military brass.”

Following the Senate Judiciary Committee vote yesterday to move anti-abortion bill to the floor, Chair Trent Franks (R-AZ) must be feeling defensive to make the following statement:

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low. But when you make that exception [allowing rape victims to get abortions], there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.”

Franks tried to explain this statement by saying that he was referring to women seeking abortions in the sixth month:

“This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”

An estimated 32,101 women, about the same number as people killed from guns, get pregnant from rape per year in this country. One study found that about 32.4 percent of victims did not find out they were pregnant until their second trimester—beyond the strict 20-week limit in Franks’ bill. Some studies show that rape victims are even more likely to get pregnant, putting the number of women who became pregnant from rape in one year around 83,000.  Even if they do find out before the 20-week limit, finding a clinic that performs an abortion has become an extremely time-consuming process.

The question for Franks is why it matters how few women this would affect. Does he mean that laws should only provide for a large number of people?

Another man in Congress is throwing around his weight. House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), king of the manufactured-scandal investigations, has decided that he doesn’t want anyone to know the information that his committee received about the scrutiny in the IRS. After seeing all the transcripts, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), asked Issa to release this information. A week after Cummings’ request, Issa called releasing the full transcripts to be “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Issa’s leak of partial transcripts with cherry-picked quotes, concealing the interview with the conservative Republican who started the Tea Party review, is far more “reckless.” His refusal must be taken as admission that the transcripts hold no “smoking gun.” Ten days ago, Issa said, “The whole transcript will be put out.”

Issa’s behavior has caused him to lose support of some GOP members. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who chairs the panel’s Oversight subcommittee, said that the release of partial transcripts could “adversely alter our ability to get future information from other IRS employees.” He expressed concern that Issa’s political act could stop an investigation for the facts.

Today Issa sent Cummings a letter scolding him for his suggestion that the IRS investigation was finished. During a Sunday interview on CNN, Issa said that Cummings’ desire to close the inquiry into the IRS targeting was “irresponsible, but not surprising.” Issa listed a number of questions that the investigation has not revealed. Lumped together, these questions seem to boil down to this from Issa: “How can I provide that Obama is at fault?”

On the state level, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and his fellow GOP legislators have moved on from union-busting and destroying the middle class to controlling women. A state senate bill, passed this morning, mandates the GOP-popular transvaginal ultrasound before abortion, the same invasive procedure that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said would be against the constitutional right to privacy.

“I don’t have any problem with ultrasound,” Walker told reporters. “I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” Another man with no medical training thinks that he should override a physician’s decision for a patient with a medically unnecessary procedures.

The bill mandates that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provide a list of free ultrasound clinics. Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), said she would pull them together from the “pregnancy help centers,” organizations run by religious anti-abortion groups. The only requirements for these “clinics” is that the person performing the ultrasound not have a record of conviction for sexual offenses and that both trans-abdominal and trans-vaginal types of ultrasound equipment are available.

The bill also imposes additional restrictions on abortion clinics, forcing a Planned Parenthood clinic to shut down. Currently only four health clinics in the entire state of Wisconsin provide abortion care. Another part of the bill designed to close clinics is the mandate that doctors who work in abortion clinics must get admitting privileges at a hospital. Mississippi passed this provision to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state, but it was blocked by the courts.

Senate President Mike Ellis, the man conducting the vote, could use this video to apply for a part in a violent horror film as he wildly wielded his gavel to prevent any debate. Ellis blamed the Democrats for his action because they tried to debate a motion that was not debatable. “They triggered this,” he said. “I am a nice guy.” Ellis allowed only one Democrat to speak this morning before the vote.

Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), the longest-serving state legislator in the nation, called this morning’s actions by the Republicans the worst abuse of power he has experienced in his more than 50 years as a legislator.

As usual in Wisconsin, the fast-tracked bill has gone to the GOP-controlled House, ignoring due process. Last year, Walker signed three anti-abortion bills into law and expanded abstinence-only education, which is unsuccessful according to studies. His budget also stripped 91 percent of Planned Parenthood funding, resulting in the close of clinics in rural Wisconsin.

And there you have some of the men controlling our rights according to their personal preference and ignorance.

June 15, 2012

Republicans Try to Silence Women–Again

Republicans continue to show their disdain for women with the Michigan state House of Representatives providing the most recent prime example of males’ determination to silence women. The issue surrounded the most vicious attack on women’s reproductive rights to date that is contained in one bill:  HB 5711 bans abortions past 20 weeks with no exception for rape victims, the health of the pregnant woman, or fatal fetal anomalies.  It contains language regarding prohibitive insurance and licensing requirements for clinics performing abortions, requiring them to have surgery rooms even if they perform surgeries and requiring doctors to be present for medication abortions. Other provisions would screen women for “coercion” before an abortion, make it a crime to “coerce” a woman into having an abortion, create new guidelines on disposing fetal remains, and excessively regulate prescriptions of RU-486. The bill would also amend Michigan’s Public Health code to restrict and regulate abortion in the state.

During the bill’s debate, two Democrat representatives—both women—vigorously protested HB 5711. The House Speaker then told them they would not be recognized during debate the next day, which was the last day of the session before the summer recess. Michigan lawmakers have never before been formally barred from participating in floor debates.

Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) was gaveled out of order after she protested when she wasn’t allowed to speak on her amendment, which would have required proof of a medical emergency or that a man’s life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy.

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) lost her speaking privileges because she said, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina,” she said, “but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville). “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Evidently men are willing to make laws about women’s vaginas, but not use the word.

Brown also argued that the abortion regulation bill would violate her Jewish faith. “I have not asked you to adopt and to adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?” Brown asked. Her reference was to the Jewish tenet dating back to the biblical era that “abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissible, but mandatory.”

Former legislator Bill Ballenger said he was surprised by comments during the debate, including a suggestion from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) that women withhold sex from their partners until such abortion-limiting bills stopped being considered. Tlaib was not hushed. “Those comments were really over the top,” Ballenger said. “But the idea of muzzling an elected official is not only counterintuitive but outrageous.”

“There have been many occasions of inappropriate behavior by men on the floor, and they haven’t lost their voice,” Brown said. “I was speaking to the bill at hand, I didn’t use any curse words and I was using anatomically correct language.”

In a statement, Brown said, “I was either banned for being Jewish and rightfully pointing out that House Bill 5711 was forcing contradictory religious beliefs upon me and any other religion. Or it is because I said the word ‘vagina’ which is an anatomically, medically correct term. If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it.” Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican Speaker Pro Tem John Walsh, said Brown was called out of order for saying “no means no,” suggesting that Brown compared the abortion legislation to rape.

Before the 60-page bill was approved in committee, almost 100 people showed up at a hearing to testify against it. Committee Chair Gail Haines (R-Waterford) ended the hearing and cut off all testimony after a Michigan Right to Life spokesperson and a few others in support of the bill testified. The bill passed the house 70-39; in September it goes to the senate which has a Republican majority of 64-46.

State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) told a local television station on Wednesday that he supports the bill and hopes it will end abortion in Michigan. That’s the goal of lawmakers. Abortion is legal, according to the Supreme Court; Republicans want to circumvent this law. They also want to silence all women who disagree with them.

January 22, 2012

Roe v. Wade at Risk

A third Republican presidential candidate has taken the majority delegates in a third state—although it’s hard to say that Rick Santorum really won Iowa when 8 precincts can’t find their paperwork. For women’s reproductive rights, there is no real difference among these three: any one of them would return women’s rights to that of a century ago–in short, none. All the candidates vow to overturn Roe v. Wade; all support the concept of “personhood,” giving more rights to a fertilized egg than a woman.

Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion for all women in this country during the first third of the pregnancy and allowed abortion during the second third to protect the woman’s health.  Legal yes, but not necessarily accessible. The murders of doctors who perform abortions during the past decades plus state laws limiting abortions have made this surgery almost impossible to get in many places, and state laws compound the inaccessibility of abortions.

To stop pregnancies, the far right has set up “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC) to pressure women, usually with deceptive information, into carrying a fetus to term, regardless of the women’s wishes and needs. An investigation of the CPCs in North Carolina, more than eight times the number than clinics that actually provide abortion, shows that over two-thirds of them provide medically inaccurate information. Yet they receive public funding from the state’s “Choose Life” license plate sales.

Of the 122 CPCs, 92 percent had no medical professionals although only 22 percent disclosed that they were not medically licensed. Because there is no state licensing for the CPCs, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not protect patient confidentiality. An investigator posing as a pregnant Jewish woman who went to five centers was told that unless she converted to Christianity she would not go to heaven. Volunteers at one meeting prayed for an investigator and suggested she become a “born-again virgin.”

New York City tried to give the public information about CPCs with a law that would require them to disclose whether they have licensed medical staff and how they protect the clients’ privacy. Federal Judge William Pauley blocked this law.

Over 1100 anti-abortion bills were introduced at the state and federal level in 2011, including the 8 by House representatives elected to find jobs for people and save the economy, an unbelievable increase from previous years. Legislators in 24 states passed 92 anti-abortion provisions in 2011, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. Recent state restrictions include waiting-period requirements, unnecessary medical procedures, burdensome and unnecessary clinic regulations, and cuts to family planning services and providers because of their connection with abortion. Other laws restrict private insurance coverage of abortions.

Arizona stopped the use of student fees and tuition to train OB/GYN students to perform abortions and revoked tax credit for donations to organizations that provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood, as well as to any institutions that might refer clients to Planned Parenthood, like domestic violence shelters. North Carolina’s requirement for an ultrasound before an abortion included the provision that a woman’s refusal to view the ultrasound would be kept on file for 7 years. Nine other states also have an ultrasound mandate.

Dana Millbank, supposedly one of the “good guys” in this debate, seems to sneer at pro-choice activists: “If the ‘choice’ rally participants really wanted to preserve legal abortion, they’d be wise to drop the sky-is-falling warnings about Roe and to acknowledge that the other side, and most Americans, has legitimate concerns.” Is he talking about the fact that the state forces women to have MRIs, a medical procedure not recommended by their doctors and one which serves no medical reason, before having an abortion.

Does he think that the “personhood” movement is no problem? After the initiative to define a fertilized egg as a “person” failed in Mississippi, Oklahoma thought it would put its oar in the fertilization waters. Their new bill defines “person” as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being” with a few exceptions such as “Only birth control that kill a person shall be affected by this section” and “Only in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction that kills a person shall be affected by this section.” The same people who proposed these bills are also convinced that ordinary birth control will kill the “person.”

What does Millbank think about Jennie Linn McCormack, a 32-year-old Idaho woman with three kids—unmarried, unemployed, and barely surviving on $250 monthly child support for one of her children? The man who had impregnated her was sent to jail for robbery. She couldn’t afford the $500+ necessary for the two-and-a-half-hour trip—mandated twice!–to Salt Lake City to get to a clinic. Her sister in Mississippi got her RU-486 online for about $200. She thought she was about 12 weeks pregnant, but the fetus turned out to be between 18 and 21 weeks.

According to Idaho’s 1972 law, a year older than Roe v. Wade, women can be imprisoned for five years for inducing her own abortion. The charges against McCormack have now been dropped, but the state retains the right to re-file charges. McCormack’s attorney, Richard Hearn, also a physician, not only obtained a federal injunction to prevent any woman from being prosecuted under the state’s anti-abortion statute by the district attorney but also filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming the statute is unconstitutional. He plans to argue the case up to the Supreme Court.

Much of politicians’ ignorance comes from their reliance on the bible to explain science. A fine example of this is Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R) who—naturally!—opposes Planned Parenthood. Marshall believes that women who have abortions then have disabled children because of God’s punishment. “In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest,”Marshall told a press conference.

David Williams, who ran for governor of Kentucky, tried to use logic to defend forcing rape and incest victims to carry their fetuses to full term. “If somebody shot my mother, I would want to kill them, but I don’t think that is the appropriate thing to do. We have laws against murder,” he said. He also failed in his gubernatorial bid but stayed as the president of the state senate.

Morals of the religious fluctuate and extend into hypocrisy. The Catholic leader St. Augustine believed that abortion of the “unformed” embryos was acceptable because “the law of homicide would not apply, for … it could not be said that there was a living soul in that body.” The Southern Baptist Convention voted in the 1970s to support abortion under certain circumstances but said in 2010 that life begins at conception and abortion is not permitted.

Memphis (TN) is another place where religion controls women’s rights. Shelby County commission voted 9 to 14 to take Title X funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to Christ Community Health Services. No more emergency contraception because of “religious objections.” Never mind that EC doesn’t abort fetuses. Instead women have to go to a “third party,” delaying the process and probably being too late for EC to be effective. Clients also are forced to listen to sermons with their health screenings and birth control pickups.  A Christ Community patient testified at the commission that she was told, “If only my relationships with people and God were right, I would have fewer health problems.” No way are there any referrals to clinics that provide abortions.

While some Christians call abortion murder and therefore wrong, they are not bothered by people lacking insurance or those with insurance having it terminated, meaning that people are killed by the “person” of insurance companies. War is murder, as is capital punishment, but anti-abortionists are usually not bothered by these murders.

People outraged by abortions past the first third of the pregnancy aren’t swayed by the horrific health issues that cause women to have abortions during the third trimester to save their lives. Rick Santorum refers to the health exception for a third-trimester abortion as “phony.”

Anti-choice people also don’t realize that they are at fault. Because of the severe limitations on getting abortions, despite Roe v. Wade, some women like McCormack who face funding and travel—sometimes two or three times to see a doctor far away—wait past the first trimester. Prejudice against birth control also causes abortions: 46% of women who get abortions weren’t using a contraceptive method the month they got pregnant often because of abstinence-only education and the cost of contraceptives.

Anti-abortion activists care nothing about the life of women who end up dying from illegal abortions, but at one time Mitt Romney understood the tragedy of these deaths. During his candidacy for Massachusetts senator in 1994, he volunteered the story of the sister of his brother-in-law. Because of her death, he said in the debate with Ted Kennedy, he believed that abortion should be “safe and legal.” That same year, he attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, and his wife, Ann, gave $150 to the group. During the same campaign, he said, “I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people.” During his 2002 campaign for the state’s governor, Romney vowed to uphold the state’s abortion laws. Ten years later he supports “personhood,” not only for corporations but also for fertilized eggs.

Ann Keenan, the sister of Romney’s brother-in-law, died of an infection at the age of 21 in 1963, ten years before Roe v. Wade. Listed on her death certificate was “subarachnoid hemorrhage following septic criminal recent abortion with septic thromboembolism pneumonia and hepatitis with focal necrosis of liver.” Infection, often caused by the use of unsanitary instruments, was one of the most common causes of death from abortion in the pre-Roe era, according to Dr. David Grimes, who previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control studying abortion deaths. Many other deaths were caused by self-inflicted wounds or bleeding to death, especially because women were afraid to see medical help.

Last week, Guttmacher reported that in countries where abortion is illegal—think maybe inaccessible?—abortion rates are higher. Stopping access to safe, legal abortion care does not lower abortion rates; it just forces women to search for clandestine and unsafe abortion care. The simple solution to unwanted pregnancies is to provide ways to stop these pregnancies. U.S. legislators are trying to stop birth control too. The conservative House and many state legislators have been intent on eliminating women’s access not only to birth control but also to breast and cervical cancer screenings.

To combat this trend, Planned Parenthood has created its own campaign, Women are Watching. Over half the voters in this country are women. All of us need to know about these attacks on women’s health and the candidates’ stance on pivotal health care issues.

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