Nel's New Day

June 16, 2015

Jeb for President? Part II

king bushJeb Bush’s plan for the half of 2015: raise tens of millions of dollars, separate himself from his brother’s presidency, win conservatives, and become the Republican who will win the GOP nomination. Thus far, he’s raised the money. Asked about his brother, he waffles between supporting him and trying to find a way to please people who disagree with George W. Bush’s Iraq War. Conservatives still don’t like him, and he has appeared incompetent through answers to questions and consistent flip-flopping.

Last week he changed his campaign manager to the more negative and conservative Danny Diaz, meaning that Bush may have reconsidered whether he’ll still campaign “joyfully.” Diaz’s participation in Bush II’s campaign is another connection between Jeb and Dubya. One Bush ally said that Diaz will signal that “the culture of the Bush operation will now be a Pickett’s Charge engagement campaign with his main opponents.” Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg lost most of its soldiers and contributed to the loss of the Civil War for the South.

The Bush name lacks the gleam it once had. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush.” Sixteen years ago, Bush’s brother had over half the House GOP caucus—114 Republicans—on board with endorsements. The House has more GOP members in 2015, but Bush has only two dozen committed to him and no senators. Bush’s flip-flopping doesn’t seem to bother GOP congressional members, however, as much as his seemingly moderate views on immigration and education.

Bush may be sued for his fund-raising style.  He waited seven months after forming  a leadership political action committee in lieu of an “exploratory” committee to declare his candidacy while he’s acted like a presidential candidate. Without officially declaring as a candidate, he could send “anonymous donations” into his Super PACS, both named Right to Rise.

According to the New York Times, “federal law makes anyone who raises or spends $5,000 in an effort to become president a candidate and thus subject to the spending and disclosure restrictions.” Technically, Bush sidestepped that law, but unethical behavior has never bothered him. As Florida governor, he engineered a vast voter fraud and intimidation program to tip the scales in favor of his brother George W. Jeb, and Jeb is back gaming the system to make more money from corporate interests.

Jeb Bush has declared that brother, George W, is his senior advisor. That’s the Bush with a foundation accepting undisclosed donations from millionaires while he was president. One big donor, Dallas oilman and major SMU supporter Edwin L. Cox, had his son pardoned by former President George H.W. Bush. Other donations to the Bush Foundation come from foreign governments such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. With assets of $47 million and another $3 million a year from undisclosed donations, the George Bush Presidential Library can funnel campaign and influence money—even illegal donations from foreign governments—to Jeb Bush with no record or transparency.

Jeb’s past shows the same sort of dodgy dealings in politics:

1989: Bush successfully lobbied his father, then president, for the release of Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, who allegedly orchestrated the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976 as well as other terrorist attacks. In a federal prison on an immigration violation and dubbed an “unrepentant terrorist” by then-Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Bosch was a cause célèbre for Miami’s influential Cuban population—a voting bloc that Jeb used to launch his political career.

1994: Despite Bush’s strident advocacy to keep people in a vegetative state alive and prevent abortion, his first campaign for Florida government promoted the acceleration of the death penalty enforcement in the state by limiting death row inmates to only one appeal.

1996: Bush pushed for charter schools in Florida. Providing money to religious schools was later ruled unconstitutional, but after he was elected governor, he made sure that public money went to developers to build schools, free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements, that drained money from public schools. Despite a law that charter schools had to be operated by non-profit groups, for-profit companies were managing three-quarters of the state’s newly approved charter schools by 2002. The next year he signed a bill that removed any cap on the number of charter schools. Although Bush claims to have no profit from these schools, his allies do. Bush sticks to Common Core because it makes money for his friends.

1999: In his first year as Florida governor, Bush signed an executive order to end affirmative action in education and business after calling these policies “stupid and destructive.” Since then, Black enrollment in universities has dropped by almost half in some of the schools while the Black population in the state remains stable at 20 percent.

1999: Bush signed a law making Florida the first state to fund anti-choice initiatives through the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. He also supported “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) that provide women with medically inaccurate information—for example, abortion makes people go insane—and fail to tell women about the full range of their reproductive health options.

2000: During the recount for the presidential election, Bush made 95 calls to the George W. Bush campaign while his secretary of state and George W.’s campaign co-chair, Katherine Harris, lost or spoiled ballots from hundreds of thousands of Black voters.

2001: Bush gave Bsafe Online, an American Family Association subsidiary, $600,000 of tax money to block Internet users from information about LGBT identities. Yet he invested $1.3 million in state pension fund money in Movie Gallery, a video rental company with a wide selection of pornographic films.

2003: Thirteen years and many court cases after Terri Schiavo went into a vegetative state, Bush was instrumental in passing “Terri’s Law,” demanding that her feeding tube be reinserted.  It was another two years before she was allowed to physically die.

2003: Bush initiated the dumping of tons of toxic waste by the Koch brothers company, Georgia-Pacific, into the Florida St. Johns River after he and his cabinet, over the objection of then Attorney General Charlie Crist, gave a preliminary approval to the GP pipeline from its Palatka paper mill to the river. Within the next two years, GP moved forward without a constitutionally-required notice and fair warning for a wetlands permit and an easement. Law required that the public Trustees carefully consider the costs and benefits and the money savings by GP from the river dumping, but it was never done. No compensation has been made for the areas covered with toxic waste and the diminished swimming and fishing use in the affected area. GP got its easement in 2009 with no notice to citizens and environmental groups. After citizens sued and a Bush-supported court rubber stamped Bush’s actions, the case went to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

2003: Bush asked a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim despite an earlier decision by the Florida Department of Children and Families to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the baby only after the woman gives birth.

2005: Bush is responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through his support of corporate-controlled ALEC. The media described it as a license to hunt and kill.

2006: Bush asked the Florida GOP legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot repealing a constitutional provision separating church and state. The legislature refused.

2009: Bush declared himself Hispanic on his 2009 voter registration. In 2012, Republicans accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of misrepresenting herself as Native American.

2010: Bush and his education reform organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, created a group of school superintendents and other high-ranking officials called “Chiefs for Change” to advance the Florida model of education, which emphasizes accountability and emphasized giving schools letter grades based on performance, especially standardized test scores. One of the original eight chiefs was accused of inflating the grade of a lackluster charter school funded by a Republican donor. The office of another was caught manipulating test score data.

In October, a New Mexico advocacy group filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education failed to disclose thousands of dollars it paid to bring public school superintendents, education officials, and lawmakers to the group’s events, where they had private “VIP” meetings with the foundation’s for-profit ed-tech company sponsors. The complaint alleges that Bush’s foundation disguised travel payments as “scholarships” to hide the fact that the nonprofit was facilitating lobbying between big corporations and public officials.

2015: Bush’s first fundraiser for his PAC was hosted by Charles Davis who held a top job at an insurance brokerage sued by the state of Florida for swindling clients while Bush was governor.

2015: One of Bush’s emails reveals that he closely coordinated with the Florida legislature to schedule Florida’s 2016 presidential primary in a way most favorable for himself.

2015: Bush’s hire for his PAC’s chief technology officer, Ethan Czahor, tweeted about women being “sluts” and joked about being ogled by gay men at the gym. Jeb solved the problem by having the tweets deleted.

Bush promises to deliver a four percent annual economic growth. He has no method; he said that 4 is “a nice round number.” He cited his record as governor—the one that ended just as the housing bubble popped and wiped out 900,000 of Jeb’s 1.3 million jobs created while he was in office. The bubble filled state coffers, Jeb took credit and left office before the disaster, and now the candidate wants to be viewed as an economic genius.

There’s much more here. The last part of the Jeb Bush iceberg tomorrow.

June 26, 2014

Free Speech Includes Bullying Women*

Eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, 100 acid attacks, and countless other incidents of blockades, vandalism and threats. This isn’t a listing of tragic events in a Third World country; it’s what has happened at women’s clinics in the United States since 1977. Massachusetts alone had two women shot dead and another five women wounded. That’s the reason that the state passed a law in 2007 requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics. That’s the law that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in today’s ruling.

The law was intended to protect the safety of both patients and employees. Protesters claimed that they had the First Amendment right to “engage” women at the clinics. The poster witness for the anti-choice activists was a “sweet-little-old-grandmother” who said she just wanted to talk to the women, to give them “comfort.” It’s the same excuse that abusers use for their victims: they just want to “talk.” Eleanor McCullen, the lead petitioner, said about her anti-choice discussions with the women, “We’ll be gentle and loving.”

All nine justices, in McCullen v.Coakley, agreed to overturn a lower court ruling that relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling for an eight-foot buffer-zone law in Colorado. The three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “the law does not require that a patient run a public-sidewalk gauntlet before entering an abortion clinic. First Amendment rights do not guarantee to the plaintiffs (or anyone else, for that matter) an interested, attentive, and receptive audience, available at close-range.”

The justices ignored a report from the National Abortion Federation showing buffer zones reduced criminal activity at 51% of facilities after these were put into place. Three-fourths of the facilities reported that buffer zones “improved patient and staff access to the facilities.” In the same survey, 92% of facilities said they are concerned about their patients’ safety approaching the facility. In addressing freedom for protesters to voice opposition, Physicians for Reproductive Health board chair Nancy L. Stanwood requested the same freedom from harassment and violence in accessing health care services. Women have lost this freedom as activists are now free to verbally hound them up to the doorway of Massachusetts’s women’s clinics.

In the SCOTUS ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wants public access to all “public fora” for speech activities. Free speech on the sidewalks has a higher constitutional priority than public safety concerns for women entering clinics. “Government’s ability to restrict speech in such locations is very limited,” Roberts wrote. The ruling appeared to show concern that the number of women who were talked out of abortions had fallen because protesters had been kept away from them. Two witnesses had reported that they reached far fewer people than before the Massachusetts’ law took effect.

The Court ruled that abortion providers could create rules with the police on a case-by-case basis to ensure safe access.

The question that justices avoided in the case is a definition of intimidation. Should women going to a clinic for any health reasons—cancer screening, regular checkups, etc.—be subjected to people who lecture them on their killing a fetus. The Court said that the protesters are “sidewalk counselors” because they distribute leaflets and offer “an outstretched arm.” They seek to engage in “consensual conversations with women.”

Consensual usually means that all involved want the event to occur. How does the Court guarantee that the “counselors” are not actually blocking a woman from entering the clinic? Megan Amundson, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League’s Massachusetts chapter, said that violence occurs when “don’t want to talk or engage with the protesters.”

Mark Rienzi, attorney who persuaded the Court that his clients were very nice people and only wanted to talk, said that most of the trouble occurring at the Boston clinic was on Saturday mornings. Possibly an idea is to go on another day. Most of the women using the clinic, however, work during the week, making them vulnerable to the Saturday morning trouble.

Former state legislator Paul Demakis, who represented the district where John Salvi III walked into two different clinics and killed two receptionists, said, “What the protesters did was—in very aggressive, even offensive ways—to interfere with and to intimidate women going into health clinics to exercise their right to choose.” He worked to craft the 35-foot buffer-zone law that extended to 35 feet because Boston Police Captain Bill Evans said that a lesser radius was unenforceable. Demakis pointed out that 35 feet is “a little more than halfway between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.”

Before the buffer zone was enacted, protesters impersonated the police, screaming women’s faces, took telephone numbers, filmed inside patients’ cars. They touched the patients without consent and initiated physical altercations.

Today’s ruling against women shows where we fit in the hierarchy of law. Polling places and funerals have buffer zones of at least 150 feet and 300 feet, depending on state law. Earlier this year, SCOTUS ruled that an anti-war protester could be kept away from a public road near California military base and the political protesters could be kept farther away on sidewalks from George W. Bush than his supporters were. A unanimous SCOTUS ruling for Wood v. Moss decided that anti-Bush protesters were legally moved farther from the then-president’s dinner table than the friendly demonstrators. Justice Ruth Bader wrote, “People are not at liberty to speak whenever, however, and wherever they please.” Bush consistently required zones to protect himself from free speech protesters.

The justices also protect themselves. Last year, a federal district judge ruled that a 1949 law barring demonstrations on court property was unconstitutional, and SCOTUS immediately issued a regulation barring demonstrations on the public plaza in front of the Supreme Court building. Their buffer zone is 252’ by 98’ where people cannot picket. These spaces are all “public fora”  not covered by today’s ruling.

Supreme-Court1 buffer zoneThe only good news from today’s decision is that the Court could have wiped out all buffer zones. Justice Antonin Scalia wants to overturn the SCOTUS decision in Hill v. Colorado in which a majority of the Court allowed a 100-foot buffer around medical offices and an eight-foot buffer around patients. Part of that ruling stated that “protecting the well being of patients entering or exiting healthcare facilities is specifically targeted by this legislation because they are more likely to be emotionally and physically vulnerable.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, now the swing vote on the extremely conservative Court, was one of three dissenters in Hill. 

The bad news is that the entrance to women’s clinics will be filled by bullies calling women names such as whores and murderers. The same people will “accidentally” block women from entering and “accidentally” bump into clinic workers. Because of the nation’s lax gun laws, they may also “accidentally” shoot and kill clinic workers and patients. Little-old-lady Eleanor McCullen may have been the person to appear in court, but she won’t be the only person accosting women who need health care. Christian family values: physically intimidate women getting legal health care and workers who provide for their services.

In Wood, Justice Ginsburg explained that “in directing their displacement, the agents acted not to ensure the President’s safety, but to insulate the President from their message.” Women trying to get health care should be insulated from anti-choice protesters’ vicious, hateful messages.

Would the Supreme Court understand the dangers of today’s decision if eight of them had been murdered during the past 20 years? And how many murders, assaults, arsons, bombings, acid attacks, death threats, vandalism, and other acts of violence are necessary at women’s clinics before a more sane court addresses the question of buffer zones?

*Thanks to Steven Rosenfeld and Alter-Net for the headline.

 

January 29, 2014

GOP Hurts Economy in Restricting Women, Wages

My email contained the following from my Oregon senator Jeff Merkley. He’s one of the reasons that I’m proud to live in Oregon:

“Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tires for almost 20 years. Just before her retirement, an anonymous coworker left her a tip that she was being paid less than all her male coworkers in the same position. Even though Lilly proved in court that she had been paid less because of her gender, the Supreme Court ruled that her employer didn’t have to make her whole because she hadn’t brought her case when the pay discrimination began – decades before she ever knew about it.

“Fortunately, Lilly didn’t give up. She fought to change the law, and she won.

“This week is the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being signed into law. I was proud that I got to vote for Lilly’s bill as one of my first acts as a U.S. Senator. This law is proof that even one person fighting for fairness and equality can make a huge difference. But it’s also a reminder of how far we have to go to make sure that women have equal opportunity and equal pay in the workplace.

“Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is just plain wrong. It’s unfair, unequal, and it cuts into millions of families’ bottom lines. Too often, our legal system still doesn’t work for women who try to find justice in the courts. Thanks to Lilly, they no longer face unfair statutes of limitations that require them to seek justice before they might even know they face pay discrimination. But there is more work to be done. That is why I am fighting to give women stronger tools to fight wage discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“In 2014, it is long past time for pay discrimination to be a thing of the past. Please know that I will keep fighting for workplace fairness for all Americans.”

Last night in his fifth State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the same issue.

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running hardship—and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), as usual fact-challenged, stated during an interview on NPR today that the difference in pay between men and women is a myth. First he said that young women were making an equal salary to men, and then he followed with his belief that women make the same in the same types of jobs. Both beliefs are wrong. A 2012 study considering factors affecting earnings such as education, parenthood, and hours worked, shows that college-educated women still earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school even when they have the same major and occupation. That difference increases over time because benefits and raises based on wages are better for men. Paul’s only reason for his beliefs is that the women in his family are doing fine.

Conservatives refuse to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, although it has 207 co-sponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate. According to a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, however, the U.S. economy would produce an additional $447.6 billion in income if women received equal pay—a definite boon to both men and women.

According to the new report from Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, closing the gap in earnings between men and women would cut the poverty rate in half for working women. Paying women who work full time, year round the same as men would boost their incomes by $6,250 a year on average. The change would raise 3 million working women above the poverty line and boost GDP by $450 billion.

A clear difference between male and female salaries is demonstrated by the Oakland Raiders. Both football players (male) and cheerleaders (female) attend practices and 300 games and events each year. The men make between $405,000 and $5.8 million; the women each make $1,250 for the season, less than $5.00 per hour. The $5.00 per hours goes down if they bring the wrong pompoms, wear the wrong workout gear to practice, or forget their yoga mats. There is also no reimbursement for travel expenses or photo shoots. The cheerleaders have just filed a lawsuit against the team for wage theft and unfair labor practices.

Increasing the minimum wage could start to decrease the wage gap between wages for men and for women. Women disproportionately work in low-wage sectors, live on minimum-wage salaries and, thanks to working a lifetime at unequal pay, are significantly more likely than men to outlive their savings. Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. A woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just $15,080. Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in roughly 40 percent of U.S. households nowadays.

Last night the president called for a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and stated that he was signing an executive order mandating this minimum wage for all companies that receive federal contracts. This requirement does not cover existing contracts, but the mandate will affect about 560,000 employees in new contracts. Although $10.10 an hour is not a living wage almost everywhere in the United States, it’s a start.

Numbers in the story of the minimum wage:

73:  the percentage of Americans who support it.

53:  the percentage of Republicans who support it.

273:  the ratio of the average CEO salary to that of the average worker. In 1965, CEOs made only 20 times the salary of the average worker.

$10.46:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had simply kept up with inflation since 1968.

$18.72:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had kept pace with gains in worker productivity since 1968.

$28.34:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had grown at the same rate as the wages of the top 1 percent since 1968.

$15,080:  the annual earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker at today’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, which is $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

17,000,000:  the number of women, who make up approximately two-thirds of low-wage workers whose wages would rise.

28,000,000:  the number of workers whose wages would rise.

$32,600,000,000: the increase in economic activity during the period it is being phased in.

$51,000,000,000:  the increased wages that workers would earn while it is being phased in.

While conservatives ignore the needs of women and the poor, they spend their time trying to control women’s lives. Tuesday the House passed The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7) that prevents insurance plans sold in the new health care exchanges from covering abortion and eliminates tax benefits for small businesses that purchase insurance plans covering abortion. At this time, more than 80 percent of private health insurance plans include abortion coverage.

The bill would also prevent the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to subsidize abortion care for low-income women. It even bans abortions for women in state exchanges to pay for their insurance with their personal, private funds. Extremists such as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) think that they need the bill to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion when in fact the Hyde Amendment did that over 30 years ago.

H.R 7 will not see the light of day as long as Barack Obama is president. In Texas, however, a brain-dead woman was kept alive for over two months because a Texas law seems to allow the state to keep a pregnant woman on life support even if she had not wished for this to happen. Texas is not alone: 31 other states have laws restricting doctors’ actions regarding terminally ill women who are pregnant. The state took the woman off life support only after a court order to do so. Although the fetus had been oxygen deprived for the same length of time as the women, it took a court order to follow the wishes of the woman and her family.

In the official Republican response to the president’s State of the Union speech, Rep. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.” Rodgers voted in support of H.R. 7 which puts government in between a woman and her doctor.

Fox network women are getting fed up with their abusive colleague Erick Erickson in his attacks against Wendy Davis, famous for her 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to keep the Texas legislature from passing more extremely restrictive anti-choice laws. For the past six months, Erickson has used a number of perjoratives, including “Abortion Barbie,” against the Texas legislator. Greta van Susteren called him a “jerk” who is “really lousy at being a spokesperson for his views.” Megyn Kelley called Erickson out for his statement that women are “complementary” to men and children are hurt in families if women are the primary breadwinners.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) summed up a response to House Republicans: “My question to you is this: What century are you living in?” 

January 22, 2014

On Anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ Women Need Help

Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that continued to give reproductive rights to the women of the United States. The Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution and ruled that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the decision to abort must be left to the mother and her physician. Since 1973, both the Supreme Court and individual states have chipped away at women’s reproductive rights as extremists attempt to criminalize the procedure for any reason. This year SCOTUS is hearing a case to decide whether anti-choice people can walk up to people going into a women’s clinic to verbally abuse and threaten them.

Anti-choice arguments in the Supreme Court include the U.S. Constitution not including abortion in any of its terminology. (I’ll repeat my earlier argument that the Constitution also doesn’t address marriage etc.) At the time that the Constitution was written, there were no laws against abortion. Nowhere in the country was abortion addressed in any law until Connecticut passed a law in 1821 protecting women from being poisoned by untrained abortionists after the fourth month of pregnancy.

Not until 1873 was information about abortion and birth control banned by the Comstock Act. Within less than 100 years, however, abortion was considered a felony in 49 states and Washington, D.C., but states started repealing these laws in 1970. By 1989, however, SCOTUS stopped reaffirming Roe v. Wade as its decisions started to allow states’ punitive laws.

Reproductive rights are not the only loss for women during the past few decades. As an extremist far-right Congress refuses to act on serious economic and environmental issues in the U.S., women suffer the majority of the fallout. Following is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) list of economic and environmental issues facing the people, including women, in the United States:

  • The middle class continues to decline; median family income is $5,000 less than it was 15 years ago. More people, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history.
  • Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is actually 13.2 percent instead of 7 percent, and youth unemployment is higher. Real unemployment would measure all those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.

As tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.

Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable. That’s the news from the science community.

Sanders’s agenda for the coming year includes five issues: the economy, health care, global warming, education and election reform.

Wealth and Income Inequality: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

Jobs: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

*Wages: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

Retirement Security: At this time only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income. We must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

Wall Street: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

Campaign Finance Reform: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

Social Justice: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

Civil Liberties: The National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

War and Peace: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Health Care: The Affordable Care Act doesn’t do enough to fix the system; we need a single-payer plan as Vermont does.

Climate Change: With Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act.

Education: Last July, Sanders protested the passing of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act that would potentially raise costs for students on the Senate floor. He plans to amend the Higher Education Act in 2014 to make college more affordable for students.

Election Reform: Overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC through a constitutional amendment is an important priority. The only legal remedy to corporate person-hood is through a 28th amendment.

Another of Sanders’ positions is to make higher education more affordable. If “conservatives” wanted to “conserve,” they could greatly lower the cost of higher education or even make it free. These are some of the statistics:

  • Undergraduates paid public universities $62.5 billion in 2012; the U.S. government spends $69 billion on educational financial programs so that students could afford some of this $62.5 billion.
  • Student loans are currently $107.4 billion; the government will make $184 billion on student loans over the next decade. The loans are thus making college far less affordable.
  • For-profit universities, with diplomas of dubious market value, take 25 percent of all educational financial programs while they educate 10 percent of the students who are then responsible for about half of all loan defaults.

 In an Atlantic article, Jordan Weissmann suggests that the federal government send money to the states with the mandate that legislatures maintain tuition at a reasonable rate. In the past 35 years, states have cut per-student funding for their schools by 44 percent, requiring the schools to increase tuition. A public option for higher education would take the federal government out of the business of subsidizing for-profit universities. Higher education costs rise because state schools raise tuition, allowing for-profit universities to do the same thing. More and more countries around the world are providing free or inexpensive higher education; the richest country should be able to provide the same opportunities for young people.

*Sanders’ answer to question about increase in minimum wage causing fewer jobs: “In my state of Vermont, our minimum wage is $8.60 compared to the national minimum wage of $7.25. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. You have states where there is virtually no minimum wage at all, and their unemployment rate is much higher. The facts just don’t bear it out. The reality is that if we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour about 30 million Americans would get a pay raise, and 88% of them are adults. These are not kids. These are working families struggling to keep their heads above water. They need a pay raise. We’ve gotta pass it.” He also pointed out that paying people minimum wage requires taxpayers to subsidize workers through the safety net while the companies reap the benefits.

The people in the United States have the opportunity to reverse the downward spiral of the country in its 2014 election. The direction of the nation is in the people’s hands when they vote.

January 17, 2014

Reproductive Rights Subject of SCOTUS, House

This past week, both the federal judicial and legislative systems addressed women’s reproductive rights. The one in Congress was a direct attack while the U.S. Supreme Court just questioned whether women’s reproductive rights should be protected. Last Wednesday, SCOTUS heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley about the 35-foot safety buffer zones and Massachusetts law requires about reproductive health clinics. The purpose of these zones is to help patients, doctors, and other healthcare workers enter facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Twenty years ago, the ruling in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center made a safety buffer zone constitution after SCOTUS heard the Florida case. As Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor  Smeal said, “We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence. Surveys show that buffer zones decrease criminal activity and increase safe access to clinics.” The Massachusetts zone was enacted in 2000 following years of intimidation and violence, including the 1994 murders of two clinic receptionists—Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38—by anti-choice extremist Joh Salvi at two separate Brookline (MA) clinics. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.

After anti-choice demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate people who wanted to enter the clinic, Massachusetts strengthened its law in 2007. The law has survived challenges in lower federal courts as judges found that the law is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the public without infringing on the First Amendment rights of others. Many acts of violence, including murders, occur as people, including a volunteer clinic escort, enter the clinics. The buffer zone provides a line of defense.

The Massachusetts law doesn’t keep people from talking to the protesters, and the protesters are permitted to say anything they want. The objection from protesters is that they aren’t permitted to get into people’s faces—or perhaps to commit violence. The face of the protesters in the court is a sweet-looking grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who says, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.”

Planned Parenthood ‘s amicus brief has a different picture. According to Amanda Marcotte:

“Protesters ‘wore Boston Police Department hats and shirts and stationed themselves, carrying clipboards, at the garage entrance,’ demanding that patients give them personal information. Protesters would attack clinic escorts with umbrellas. While the prior law disallowed directly approaching patients, anti-choicers would follow them around screaming invectives, often through bullhorns. When cops were called, the protesters argued that they were just following, not ‘approaching.’ The police department itself suggested a stronger buffer zone around the front door.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a Virginia-based activist who has volunteered in clinic defense in eight states, said, “Patients know it’s going to be a gauntlet, and they approach it like a combat zone.” Lori Gregory-Garrott, an escort at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, wrote about the daily battle just trying to get patients past a wall of hostile protesters even if the patients are only picking up their birth control prescriptions. Megan, a counselor at an independent Massachusetts clinic, talked about the accusations of murder and “going to hell” that she constantly hears.

The 35-foot zone about clinics where 90 percent of the work is primary care, contraception, cancer screening, and gynecological services is far less than those for funerals, political conventions, and polling places. Catholic University law professor Mark Rienzi, representing the anti-choice demonstrators in SCOTUS, claims, “Public sidewalks are places that people are supposed to be free to exchange information and exchange ideas.” Polling places require 150 feet, and, by federal law, funerals require 300 feet. A 252 X 98 foot plaza in front of the Supreme Court building is used as its buffer zone.

Justice Antonin Scalia was furious in 2000 after six of the nine judges ruled in favor of a buffer zone in Hill v. ColoradoHe furiously announced, “Our longstanding commitment to uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate is miraculously replaced by the power of the state to protect an unheard of right to be let alone on the public streets.” Except, of course, in the case of the plaza that protects him. This time, he objected to a lawyer’s characterization of the people as protesters,” asserting that the petitioners in this case “don’t want to protest . . . they want to talk to women about abortion.”  If this case were only about protesting, he continued, a thirty-five-foot buffer zone “might not be so bad.”

People at clinics without buffers have reported serious problems beyond being pushed out of the way and sprayed by some unknown liquid. In Alabama, volunteer and clinic escort Pamela Watters described both verbal and physical assaults including someone a protester from Virginia who pushed another volunteer, a great-grandmother, into a patient’s moving car.

When protesters blocked a clinic entrance in Chicago, the city passed an ordinance requiring that protesters stay eight feet away from patients if they are within 50 feet of the clinic entrance. Protesters are still harassing patients by wearing orange vests like the clinic escorts, giving baby booties in gift bags to patients, and videotaping patients.

At EMW Women’s Surgical Center of Louisville, one of the only two clinics in state, an average of 40 protesters line the sidewalks every day, a number that can swell to 100 if students from local bible colleges are bused in. They use megaphones, display signs with aborted fetuses pictures, and block open car doors so that patients can’t get out of their vehicles. The police don’t always show up if someone asks for their help. That’s what people call “freedom of speech” in reference to a lawful act of going into a women’s clinic. That’s what the highest justices in the land are discussing in the safety of their court.

The day before the Supreme Court heard the case about buffer zones, they declined to hear a case about the Arizona law preventing abortions after 18 weeks. The law stated 20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, but the people who voted in favor of the law are apparently science knowledge-challenged. Conception comes about two weeks after menstruation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the law unconstitutional and permanently blocked its enforcement. SCOTUS’s refusal to hear an appeal means that the law has been struck down.

Two other defenses of pro-choice came this year when the justices refused to hear Oklahoma’s defense of two anti-choice measures. One would have prohibited the use of one drug that is used to induce an abortion in the first weeks of a pregnancy, and a second would have required costly ultrasound tests for women seeking an abortion.

While SCOTUS works on clinic buffer zones, the House Judiciary Committee hearing spent last week trying to figure out how to keep middle-class consumers from getting health care subsidies if their plans include abortion coverage in H.R. 7.

H.R. 7 men

The committee takes pride in H.R. 7 as a “pro-jobs” bill. Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said:

“[It is] very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”

This isn’t the only crazy conservative reason to block all abortions. Rick Santorum said during his presidential run that having children makes the Social Security fund solvent. Former GOP-supporter Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) said in 2007 that he wants women to have babies to “fill our Army.”

The next time that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that the House is enacting “jobs bills,” check to see exactly what these are. As for the buffer zones, Eileen Shim got it right: “If abortion clinic protesters weren’t such bullies, we wouldn’t need buffer zones.”

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January 10, 2014

GOP ‘Obsessed’ with Abortion

Just because the U.S. Congress is not enacting much legislation doesn’t mean that state legislators aren’t working. The problem with the GOP-run states, however, is that they’re all working against women.  During the past three years, state legislators in GOP-controlled states enacted 205 laws to restrict reproductive rights for women, more than the previous decade when states passed just 189 abortion restrictions.

The top year was 2011 with 93 anti-choice laws. Things looked a bit better for women in the next year with “only” 42 laws, but the number climbed to 70 in 2013. That increase came from just a few states that passed 26 of these bills: North Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

graph abortion restrictions

 Almost half of the abortion restrictions enacted since 2011 fall into four categories: targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), limitations on insurance coverage of abortion, 20-week abortion bans, and restrictions for medication abortion. States have also adopted restrictions including parental notification, waiting periods, counseling, and ultrasounds, among other issues.

A study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that being forced to view ultrasound images has minimal effect on a woman’s decision to have an abortion, a requirement in seven states. The hypothesis that this visual can create fetal bonding for women who want an abortion has been debunked. In a study of 15,575 medical records, 98.4 percent of women terminated their pregnancies even when forced to look at the ultrasounds.

The sweep of Tea Party politicians in 2010 started the anti-choice trend. Candidates campaigned on fiscal issues and immediately moved on to social issues as soon as they were elected. The Guttmacher Institute identified 13 states as “hostile” to abortion rights in 2000 with more than four anti-choice laws; the number more than doubled to 27 by 2013. Over 31 percent of women in the United States live in these 27 states. States designated as “supportive” to women’s abortion rights dropped from 17 to 13 in the same period of time. California actually expanded women’s access to abortion and prevented clinics from being unfairly targeted. Both Pennsylvania and New York are making moves to follow California’s example.

The most recent state bill designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights comes from Mississippi State Rep. Sam Mims, who initiated the bill meant to shutter the only clinic in the state that provided abortions. His current bill would limit over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to people age 18 and over. Minors would be forced to either get a prescription or obtain the medication from a doctor or other health provider.  

Last August, Plan B was approved for pharmacy shelves without a prescription, but it is still very difficult to obtain in many places. An investigation revealed that Native Americans living on reservations have almost no access because stores are not stocking the drug. These areas tend to be remote and have above average levels of sexual assault. Even stores in cities as diverse as Portland (OR) and Louisville (KY) keep Plan B behind the counter rather than on the shelves as required by law.

These stores also demand ID or refuse to sell Plan B if the customer is under 18. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health published in December shows that 20 percent of almost 1,000 pharmacies stated that only females at least 18 years of age could purchase Plan B.

Mississippi is following the direction of Oklahoma which passed a law making emergency contraception available only to those 17 and over and forcing everyone to show ID for its purchase. A state judge later blocked the law from going into effect, partly because it violated the “single subject” rule, restricting a bill to only one issue. When the state legislature tried to re-pass the restriction, the bill failed to get out of committee. Mississippi remains one of the two states in the United States with the highest number of teen pregnancies and banning all contraceptive information except abstinence in schools.

The first bill that the Tea Party introduced when they were elected to the U.S. House in 2010 was on anti-choice. Then they held committee hearings about contraception without allowing women to participate. Yesterday they did both.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, with not one woman among its 12 members, is considering the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7). Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who heads the subcommittee, denied a request from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, to testify although H.R. 7 specifically affects her district. Subcommittee member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) made a motion for Norton to testify, but that motion was also denied.

The bill bans subsidies and insurance coverage for abortion in Affordable Care Act state-level insurance marketplaces. It also requires small businesses to pay more for health benefits if they choose to offer insurance plans that cover abortions. And it changes the tax code to eliminate medical-expense deductions for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. That could require the IRS to audit any women who claims one of these exceptions, forcing the women to relive their horrible experiences.

Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect this month, over 80 percent of private insurance plans covered abortion just as any other medical procedure. State legislatures, such as Michigan, have begun banning the insurance coverage of abortion, hoping that women cannot afford to pay for the procedure. In Michigan, the law passed without a governor’s veto requires a special insurance rider for abortion even in the case of rape.

In D.C. the proposed bill prevents the District from spending its own local funds on abortion care for low-income women. Norton wrote that the subcommittee is obsessed with dual objectives: infringing on the District’s right to self-government and interfering with the reproductive health of the District’s female residents, particularly its low-income women. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, agrees, calling the GOP behavior “obsessive.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised to fight for a rider in next week’s appropriations package to allow employers to refuse to cover contraception in their health insurance plans for moral reasons. The Republican National Committee will delay its annual winter meeting and bus members to the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C.

The judicial system has been an integral part of decisions regarding anti-choice laws, generally overturning them as unconstitutional. Fortunately, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an Oklahoma case limiting medication-induced abortions. SCOTUS’s decision let stand the lower court ruling, overturning the Oklahoma law to limit these abortions. The decision may also affect the other 15 states that passed similar laws.

At this time, 17 percent of abortions in the U.S. are medication-induced, an advantage after GOP-controlled states have greatly restricted the number of clinics and doctors. Medication is also a benefit, especially for women with ectopic pregnancies from a fertilized egg implanted outside the uterus, because this type of abortion does not need general anesthesia. Oklahoma has only two clinics where women can get abortions, forcing women to drive up to four hours one way to see a provider.

In Texas, a brain-dead woman is being forced to stay on life support until her fetus is harvested. When Marlise Munoz collapsed last November, perhaps because of a pulmonary embolism, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Her brain did not recover because of no oxygen for an extended period of time, but electric shock revived her heart. She had been very clear about not wanting to be on life support, but a state law forces her to remain there for the length of her pregnancy, despite the strong possibility that the fetus is also brain-dead after the same lack of oxygen. Texas is one of 12 U.S. states invalidating a pregnant woman’s end-of-life wishes.

LifeSupport_MapThree experts hold the position that her situation is not covered by the Texas law. Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System, said, “Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead.” John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth pointed to a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said the hospital would not have absolute immunity from a civil or criminal case. Meanwhile the hospital refuses to take Munoz off life support.

There is some hope in Vermont. State legislators have introduced a bill this month that would affirm a woman’s right to an abortion and repeal all pre-Roe v. Wade Vermont statutes that criminalize performing abortions or advertising abortion services.

While people have lost their unemployment benefits, going hungry because the minimum wage is so low, and being separated from families through deportation, GOP continue their efforts to stop abortions and prevent people from getting low-cost health care. At the same time, they fight contraception, forcing women to get pregnant.

July 5, 2013

Shame on the Conservatives

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 10:11 PM
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White, straight men in the United States celebrated their freedom this past week while the rest of us continued to be second-class citizens. One of the reasons is the over 300 terrifying anti-choice bills in 13 different states within the past few months.

The worst laws were connected to the two-year budget and passed in Ohio in late June and signed by Gov. John Kasich (R) last week. These included defunding Planned Parenthood and taking state funding from true reproductive health facilities to faith-based, anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” through blocking transfer agreements between abortion clinics and hospitals. Although clinics are required to have a transfer agreement with nearby hospitals to send patients in case of an emergency, the new budget prevents public hospitals from entering into these agreements. Most of the private hospitals are religiously-affiliated and anti-abortion.

The law also strips funding from rape crisis centers that give their clients any information about abortion services and requires doctors to give women seeking abortion information about the presence of a “fetal heartbeat.”

The most horrifying piece of Ohio law, however, is that it bans contraception by redefining pregnancy and fetus. Scientists agree that pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. Ohio law, however, defines fertilization as dating from the first day of the last menstrual period, actually weeks before ovulation. William will be required to have ultrasounds, which they would have to pay for,  at least 24 hours before they can receive oral contraception or an IUD. According to Ohio law, preventing pregnancy constitutes abortion.

Kasich has the right for line veto. He could have signed the budget without signing the anti-choice, anti-contraception laws. Below he is surrounded by men who support the subjugation of women through anti-choice laws.

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Last week, Sen. Wendy Davis and thousands of Texas protesters succeeded in temporarily blocking a bill that would close all except 5 women’s clinics providing abortions in the state that spans 290,000 square miles. Even  before these closures, almost 90 percent of women in Texas live in counties that have no abortion services. The GOP controls both legislature and governor; therefore Gov. Rick Perry called another special session, this one for 30 days, with the intent of passing an omnibus bill that would make abortion in the state almost impossible for all except the wealthiest women. That bill passed the state House committee at midnight last Tuesday night.

Two years ago Texas cut $73 million from family planning programs in its two-year budget. The following year, Perry dissolved the state’s partnership with the federal Women’s Health Program and forfeited millions in Medicaid funding for low-income women’s healthcare. State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington openly admitted the sole goal was to “defund the ‘abortion industry.”

The day before the bill left committee, over 6,000 orange-clad activists, many of them men, gathered in the Texas heat on Monday to protest the bill that endangers women’s lives through blocking access to contraception, cancer screenings, STI testing, fertility counseling, and other family planning resources for lower and middle-income women. The protesters are supported by 80 percent of Texans who do not want abortion on the special session agenda. Only 34 percent of the poll respondents trust the governor and legislature to make decisions about women’s healthcare, perhaps instead preferring help making these decisions from a licensed medical practitioner.

Texas representatives have said outrageous things past Bill Zedler’s accusation that protesters and Davis are terrorists and Jodie Laubenbert claiming that rape kits for forensic investigations will just “clean out” a woman’s uterus. Sid Miller has no idea what he has legislated: Actually, I have never had a sonogram done on me, so I’m not familiar with the exact procedure—on the medical procedure, how that proceeds.” Jonathan Strickland tweeted that he was grateful for the Second Amendment because he might have to protect himself from protesters.

Wayne Christian explained that family planning is “a war on birth control, abortion, everything.” And state Sen. Dan Patrick connected his legislation to the Bible:

“I spoke to my colleagues and said, when Jesus criticized the Pharisees, he criticized them because their laws and their rules were more important than actually taking care of people. And in my view, stopping a debate to save thousands of lives, well, saving the thousands of lives is more important than our tradition of, well, you should never stop someone.”

Perry’s anti-regulation position is clear when he vetoes the equal pay act and the bill against texting while driving. Texas is the place where “a fertilizer plant blows up a Texas town and state lawmakers rush to regulate … abortion clinics,” according to the title of a Mother Jones article.

The day after the Texas bill came out of committee, the North Carolina Senate pushed a measure, attached to “an anti-Sharia law,” that would force abortion clinics to follow the same rules as surgical centers, ban certain abortions, and require a physician to be present throughout an entire chemical abortion procedure, as well as allowing any healthcare provider to refuse to participate in abortion-related services.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), up for election next year, commented, “If this is a healthcare bill about women, I am glad any state legislator in Raleigh is not my doctor.” Hagan added, “When I think about a bunch of men sitting in Raleigh debating how wide a hallway should be in a women’s healthcare clinic, I think that is totally absurd.”

Gov. Pat McCrory is in a bad position if the measure passes. During his 2012 campaign, he was asked if he would sign any new abortion restriction. His answer was a flat “no.” He has also criticized the way that the bill was pushed through. Unfortunately, the number of conservatives in the state legislature is so high that they can override a veto.

Above are three of the most dangerous states in the United States for women in terms of their health care. Here are several more:

North Dakota: Strong majorities passed the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the nation, quite an achievement considering what is happening in other areas. The ban on abortions after a “detectable” fetal heartbeat, identifiable by a transvaginal ultrasound as early as six weeks, is least likely to survive a legal challenge. The state’s TRAP law requiring clinics obtaining hospital admitting privileges closes the last remaining abortion provider.

Kansas: The anti-choice omnibus bill has over a dozen provisions denying abortion services starting with a redefinition of medical emergency so that pregnant women with hemorrhaging, infection, and ruptured ectopic pregnancies would be forced to wait a minimum of 24 hours before the necessary abortion. Doctors are also required to tell women that abortions cause greater risk of cancer, a falsehood, and that a fetus over 20 weeks can feel pain, another falsehood.

Arkansas: The state’s 12-week abortion ban is currently being blocked by a federal court injunction. Gov. Mike Beebe pointed out that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and will incur significant costs and fees in litigation. Even anti-abortion activists opposed the law because it would be overturned in court. The state legislature overturned Beebe’s veto.

South Dakota: The 72-hour mandatory waiting period which includes counseling from faith-based, anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” is also being blocked in court.

Virginia: At the end of last year, lawmakers used the size of parking lots, the width of doorways, and the length of corridors to close clinics in the state. Surprisingly, the state health board voted to grandfather existing clinics from the new regulations but reversed its position after threats from governor-wannabe Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The 40-year-old Hillcrest Clinic closed because of the $500,000 needed to meet the new requirements. In addition, the laws requiring any woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure drives women to seek out care at crisis pregnancy centers which often advertise free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, CPCs that deliberately provide inaccurate health information.

Mississippi: The state TRAP law  closed the last abortion provider in the state because seven area hospitals rejected the clinic’s petitions for admitting privileges, following a state law that allows them to refuse medical service on religious grounds. A judge has issued a temporary injunction against the TRAP law, keeping the clinic open—for now.

Oklahoma: Home to restrictive laws, including a mandatory waiting period of 24 hours, compulsory pre-abortion counseling, and a 20-week “fetal pain” ban, the state also has a 2011 law banning “off-label” use of abortion-inducing drugs. That law is currently blocked by a legal challenge but up for review.

Wisconsin: Today, Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s GOP presidential wannabe, joined the bandwagon with the GOP law mandating ultrasounds and preventing doctors without admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing abortions. The ultrasound technician is required to point out the fetus’ visible organs and external features so that the pregnant woman can bond with the fetus. The law takes effect on Monday—this coming Monday. Walker signed the bill in private and sent out a statement.

Alabama has a similar law for doctors that would shut down three clinics in the small state. That law was blocked in June. Hospitals often grant privileges only to physicians who guarantee a minimum number of annual referrals. Doctors who perform abortions usually cannot meet this requirement because abortion problems requiring hospitalization are extremely rare.

No one in the country is safe from the GOP, the party that opposes family planning. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to introduce a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, a procedure that occurs in 1.5 percent of all abortions usually for fetal abnormalities affecting its health or life. The bill has no exceptions for the woman’s health. Once again, it’s the GOP method of avoiding any bills that would provide jobs and move the economy forward, and Rubio is showing his presidential cred to far-right conservatives.

Welcome to the long, hot summer.

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.

March 23, 2012

Anti-Choice People Get Crazier

How crazy can anti-choice people become? Just when you think you’ve seen it all ….

Members of an anti-choice group performed an exorcism outside a women’s clinic in Ohio last Sunday. Priests got permission from the Rev. Steve J. Angi, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to perform the “exorcism of locality,” designed to drive evil out of a place, rather than out of a person. Participants read the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, that states, “Seize the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan, bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer seduce the nations.”

While the Catholics are exorcising “locality,” Republican legislators are becoming more and more outrageous. In Arizona Rep. Terri Proud wants a bill to force women witness an abortion before they can have the procedure. An Alaskan bill requires women who opt for abortions to prove in writing that the fetuses’ fathers approve of the procedures.

To keep women from having abortions, both Arizona and Kansas are considering bills giving women’s doctors the legal right to lie about health issues regarding both the pregnant women’s and the fetuses’ health. In a 20-9 vote, the Arizona Senate approved a bill, sponsored by Nancy Barto, that prevents lawsuits if doctors fail to inform women of prenatal problems. The Kansas bill goes further, permitting doctors to outright lie outright if they discover a medical condition that could affect a pregnant women or fetus. Nine other states already have “wrongful birth” laws on their books allowing doctors to withhold information from pregnant women.

Idaho State Sen. Chuck Winder clearly states the arrogant attitude that many Republican legislators have toward women. While discussing his mandatory ultrasound bill, he said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

Gov. Rick Perry (TX) stated that he can take money from Planned Parenthood because the Tenth Amendment allows him to do anything with federal money that he wants. Between the withdrawal of state and federal funds from Planned Parenthood, over 300,000 Texas women in poverty can no longer receive health care. Texas also has a 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements for abortions. The Texas Observer has published a story about the pain that these laws cause for women carrying fetuses with irreversible medical conditions, an article that every Republican should be required to read.

Utah’s governor signed the bill that demands a 72-hour waiting period before women can get abortions. The rationale behind lengthy waits seems to be that women will change their minds if given enough time … or perhaps not meet the short window of time during which women can get abortions.

The trend against women, however, seems to be slightly reversing. Tennessee is thinking about not requiring the publication of the names of doctors’ who perform abortions although the women’s identity could still be obvious. The change comes from the only physician in the legislature, a Republican who wants to protect at least doctors if not women.

The Idaho House is backing off forced ultrasounds after the Senate passed the bill 23-12 with five Republicans voting against it. The cancellation of a House committee hearing gives the impression that the bill may have died. After the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would force doctors to lie to their patients by telling them legislature-specified statements that abortions give higher risks for breast cancer, legislators decided to take the bill back to committee so that it could be reconsidered. Abortions do NOT give a higher risk of breast cancer.

Arizona’s bill requiring women to tell their employees why they want contraception has already passed the House, but it’s being amended by its sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko, who pulled it from the Senate Rules Committee. The intent to return to committee is to work on amendments—what kind wasn’t disclosed. Gov. Jan Brewer said she was concerned that women might be “uncomfortable” with the bill.

Utah governor Gary Herbert vetoed a bill banning public schools from teaching about contraception in health education classes.

Women are still fighting back. Project TMI is still posting on legislators’ Facebook pages across the nation.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), which has been almost invisible in the past few years, has tackled the bust of Rush Limbaugh being sculpted for the Missouri state capitol. The state chapter’s program, “Flush Rush,” has sent hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Steven Tilley, the state House Speaker responsible for inducting Limbaugh in the Hall of Famous Missourians. Tilley’s justification for keeping Limbaugh in the capitol is that the Hall is “not called the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians. We’ve inducted people like John Ashcroft, Warren Hearnes, and Harry Truman. They certainly had their detractors.” Apparently at least one Missouri Republican compares Limbaugh to Harry Truman.

Because of its opposition to Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is losing affiliate officers and events. Another group—one that’s pro-choice and spends more of its funding helping women prevent breast cancer—would better suited to take its place.

Conservative legislators are also more reluctant to fight in other areas such as same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of the New Hampshire House voted to keep its 2007 same-sex marriage law in a 211 to 116 vote. Republicans hold 189 seats in the House; they could easily have passed the bill.

Even with this trend, the country trends farther and farther to the right. There must a tipping point somewhere!

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