Nel's New Day

February 23, 2013

No Compromise for VAWA

For 18 years the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) was the law of the land, passing in the year that Newt Gingrich took over the House and renewed every six years even when the GOP had control of a Congressional chamber and the presidency. Then the Tea Party came to town, and everything changed.

VAWA provides vital protections against domestic violence and sexual assault, providing assistance to victims through funding clinics, shelters, hotlines, and services. Greatly improving the nation’s infrastructure of dealing with rape and abuse, VAWA has saved countless women’s lives and livelihoods. It established the National Domestic Violence Hotline; trained law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors to help victims; made stalking illegal; and updated laws throughout the United States to consider rape by a partner equal to rape by a stranger.

Since VAWA, partner violence and homicides fell: from 1993, the year before VAWA’s passage, until 2010, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64 percent. The number of women killed by partners dropped 43 percent.

vawa

Last April, the Senate passed another six–year extension to VAWA, but the House rejected it. This month the Senate passed VAWA, but the House opposes support for Native American, undocumented, and LGBT victims of DV and SA.

One sticking point with the GOP-controlled House, that has proposed a watered down version of VAWA, is the provision that would protect Native American women on tribal reservations. They ignore the statistics of sexual violence against Native American women. Three out of five are assaulted by their intimate partners, and 56 percent of these women have non-Indian husbands. Despite epidemic rates of domestic violence against Native women on reservations by non-Native men, local governments are not permitted to respond to crimes in their community if the perpetrator is not Native. Only federal prosecutors, often hundreds of miles away without local resources, are allowed to investigate and prosecute these crimes. On some Indian reservations, the homicide rate of Native women is ten times that of the national average.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is an example of the 22 senators–all men–who voted against VAWA, bigots who oppose protecting Indian women from non-Native men. He declared that VAWA was unconstitutional because white men would be deprived of their rights by facing a tribal court.  “On an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” he said. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”

“The jury is supposed to be a reflection of society,” Grassley wrongly claimed. According to the Sixth Amendment, juries are drawn from the “state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” The U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruled that criminal defendants have a right to a jury “drawn from a fair cross section of the community” where the case is heard. Over 95 percent of Vermont is white, so the jury might be all white. On the other hand, the population of local communities on the Navajo Nation are largely Native American. Grassley’s statement indicates he thinks that Navajo jurors are less like to be impartial than whites.

Of these 22 senators, five senators are so anti-women that they voted against an amendment to ban human trafficking.  

Grassley has company in his anti-VAWA stance. Heritage Action, from the group headed by ultra-conservative Jim DeMint, and Freedomworks, one of the Tea Party groups,  are fighting VAWA’s reauthorization because it is “unprecedented, unnecessary and dangerous.” Claiming that VAWA is “bad for men,” the groups stated, “Under VAWA, men effectively lose their constitutional rights.” Because male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking may also be covered, the only men who might suffer from VAWA are those who commit these violent crimes.

Sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), one of 17 GOP women who constitute 8.5 percent of Republicans in the House, the House bill removes rights from three specific groups of people:

Native American Victims: Tribal court sentencing on non-Native defendants would be limited to one year in addition to other options allowing defendants to evade justice in tribal courts. Non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on reservations could move their cases to a federal court if they feel their constitutional rights are not being upheld. The bill also eliminates the 2000 VAWA allowing tribes to issue and enforce civil protection orders against all persons, the only protection a tribal government can provide to victims of domestic violence from DV, stalking, and harassment.

LGBT Victims: The bill removes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services, thereby disqualifying LGBT victims from a related grant program; eliminates a requirement in the Senate bill that programs that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and excludes the LGBT community from the STOP program, the largest VAWA grant program, which gives funds to care providers who work with law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

Undocumented Immigrants: Undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be eligible for legal status only if federal or local officials certify that it would help investigate or prosecute criminal activity.

Last year, Grassley vote against the rights of these groups, saying that it was just the Democrats’ “election year politics.” He indicated that these provisions were included to make Republicans look bad in an election year. Instead of accepting the motivation to make the United States a better place to live, he follows the paranoid complaint from the National Review :

Democrats have nearly perfected the following exercise in cynical electioneering: 1) introduce legislation; 2) title it something that appeals to the vast majority of Americans who have no interest in learning what is actually in the bill, e.g., the “Violence Against Women Act”; 3) make sure it is sufficiently noxious to the GOP that few Republicans will support it; 4) vote, and await headlines such as “[GOP Lawmaker] Votes No On Violence Against Women Act”; 5) clip and use headline in 30-second campaign ad; and 6) repeat.”

Amanda Marcotte laid out the issue much better:

“There’s a long and ongoing history of rape and domestic violence being minimized and ignored by law enforcement and society at large. Domestic violence is frequently minimized as mere couple-squabbling. Rape is often written off as the victim’s hysterical reaction to bad sex or just desserts for a woman who broke one of the many unwritten sexist ‘rules’ about going out at night, being alone with a date, dressing a certain way, or drinking alcohol.

“VAWA addresses these realities, by strengthening law enforcement response and providing victim services that avoid victim-blaming or minimization, and is not, contrary to conservative hopes and dreams, an attempt to make up for women’s supposed physical or emotional inferiority.”

If the House version even gets out of committee, GOP members will whine about Democrats not compromising with them. Trying to find common ground by refusing rights to specific groups of people is like the agreement of 1787 that gave each slave in the South only three-fifths’ status of a white man in determining Congressional representation. Emory University President James Wagner declared this a good compromise. Denying people rights is never a good compromise.          

February 15, 2013

Rubio, Paul Offer No Specifics

The first televised response, or rebuttal, to the president’s State of the Union address was delivered almost 50 years ago by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI) to the speech given by President Lyndon Johnson. This year two freshmen senators, Marco Rubio (FL) and Rand Paul (KY) gave differing GOP positions after President Obama’s SOTU. It was evident that neither one had heard the president’s speech; it was more of the standard narrow small-government, make-the-poor-pay conservative position.

Unfortunately for Rubio, he drew great attention from comedians and progressive programs about his sweating, face-wiping, saliva-cleaning, and bottle-swigging behavior. Until this year, Bobby Jindal and Michele Bachmann had provided the low bar for achievement in the SOTU response endeavor. From now on, the image of Rubio leaning over to pick up his bottle of water and then taking a drink in the middle of a sentence will predominate the 2013 SOTU rebuttal images.

Paul Krugman, however, provided perhaps the most scathing response to Rubio’s speech, writing “that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain.” Krugman defines zombie ideas as those that have “been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead–but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.” He cites one of the most popular of these zombies as the frequent GOP statement that tax cuts for the wealthy help the country’s economy. As almost everyone knows, deregulated financial markets led to the need for large government bailouts to keep banks from failing. Yet Rubio, in all his ignorance, claimed last Tuesday night that “a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.”

Another zombie is that deficit spending destroys jobs: Rubio wants a “balanced budget,” even in a recession. But, as Krugman points out, the economy was depressed because businesses wouldn’t invest. Rubio said, “Every dollar our government borrows is money that isn’t being invested to create jobs. And the uncertainty created by the debt is one reason why many businesses aren’t hiring.” Businesses don’t hire because people don’t have money to spend. Bush’s economy clung to life partly because of the 800,000 public jobs that he created during his two terms, about the same number of jobs lost since President Obama took office because of the cuts in government spending.

In complaining about excessive government spending, Rubio failed to admit that the deficit is shrinking faster than at any time since the end of World War II; the country actually had a $3 billion surplus in January.

budget deficit Friday

Part of that is came from the $2.5 reduction that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress already approved. And this isn’t good news: such a rapid decrease in the deficit will likely result in an economic recession, damaging everything from education to food safety to medical research.

The GOP that wants a “balanced budget” voted for big government with deficit-financed Bush’s tax cuts, Bush’s wars, Bush’s Medicare expansion, and Bush’s Wall Street bailout with no regard for the “mountains of debt heaped on our children and grandchildren.” Bush’s first budget began with a federal debt of $5.7 trillion. His last budget ended with a federal debt of $12.9 trillion. Obama is now sitting on a debt of $16.1 trillion. Senator Rubio’s math fails him.

Rubio’s treatment of the sequester matched other post-truth positions. He repeated the GOP myth that the dramatic government cuts to take place in 13 days (while Congress has declared a ten-day recess) is entirely the responsibility of President Obama. Yet it was the GOP House, supported by math whiz-kid Paul Ryan (R-WI) that passed the sequester. After the vote, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) chortled that Republicans got 98 percent of what they wanted.

Even a GOP representative recognized the falsehood of Rubio’s statement. Justin Amash (R-MI called the GOP attempt to blame the president for the sequester “disingenuous.” He said, “The debt ceiling deal in 2011 was agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, and regardless of who came up with the sequester, they all voted for it. So, you can’t vote for something and, with a straight face, go blame the other guy for its existence in law.”

Rubio voted against the sequester, but 28 of his GOP senate colleagues voted in favor of it. In the House, which passed the sequester by 268 to 161, two-thirds of the Republicans voted in favor while one-half of the Democrats opposed it.  Doug Elmendorf, CBO director, told the House Budget Committee that automatic sequestration cuts will cost the American economy 750,000 jobs just this year.

Republicans claim that they have a plan and the opposition has provided none. It’s actually the reverse. Both Senate Dems and the president have a sequester alternative, but they include tax increases on the wealthy instead on the poor and middle-class populations. The House action that Paul Ryan (R-WI) has talked about happened six months ago—in the last Congress. Nothing has been done in the 113rd Congress.

In his formal Republican response, Rubio criticized Obama for proposing tax increases: “The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families,” Rubio said. “It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So, Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”

He described his neighbors as immigrants, working people, and middle class. Yet Rubio’s house is for sale at $675,000. Huffington Post has a very nice slide show of Rubio’s “working-class” home.

rubio house

During his call for smaller government, Rubio  explained that he was able to attend college because of a government loan, and his mother needed her Medicare.

Rubio thinks that minimum wages won’t work, that we just need “good-paying” jobs.  Yet the current minimum wage is worth almost 20 percent less than it did almost a half century ago, showing that just believing in “good-paying” jobs doesn’t work.

minimum-wage

Not having heard the president’s SOTU, Rubio complained that the president failed to present specifics. It was Rubio, however, who talked in generalities. Typical of GOP speeches, he called for spending cuts but couldn’t name anything he wanted to cut. He suggested changes in Medicare but vowed that none of the changes would hurt seniors. He claimed that the president wanted to increase the deficit. He pushed the policy of turning safety net programs over to states when he represents one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation.

Rubio even stated that combating the climate crisis means asking government to “control the weather.” The GOP refuses to accept that people influence climate change, but the chart showing the number of anomalies during the past half century should frighten anyone.

climate anomoliesRubio also neglected a number of subjects that the president addressed, for example, the need to repair the infrastructure would include the interstate highway system, initiated by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that allowed the nation, and particularly Florida, to become a success story in growth of population and economic opportunity. Politicians like Rubio who call for much smaller government ignore the fact that government supports them, in Rubio’s case for most of his working life.

In his Tea Party response, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used the same zombie ideas, accusing the president of over-spending and over-taxation. He used Ronald Reagan’s claim that “government is the problem,” the same President Reagan who increased government spending, raised taxes seven years of his two terms, and almost tripled the national debt.

Paul said that everyone in the United States is “guaranteed a chance to succeed based not on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work.” Paul’s father was a doctor in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard because he became an obstetrician and then served in the U.S. government for 24 years. He, too, is convinced that the job market will flourish as soon as the government gives another big tax cut to corporations.

Paul shared the spending blame between both major political parties, further promoting the division between mainstream GOP and Tea Party members. Rubio’s party wants the sequester to take effect to destroy the president whereas Paul wants to get rid of most defense spending and foreign aid.

Like Rubio, however, Paul had no specifics. And like Rubio, Paul voted against the Violence against Women Act that would help women subjected to domestic abuse and sexual assault. There seems to be no end to the “war on women.”

January 2, 2013

GOP Passes Tax Cuts, Otherwise Fails

After stalling for two months, the House finally decided late last night to support the Senate version of the fiscal cliff bill one day before the end of the 112th Congress. Although the end vote was bipartisan, the Republicans were badly split: Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) voted in favor; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R- CA) opposed.

Grover Norquist can’t complain about the tax increase on the top 2 percent because it wasn’t really an increase. According to the GOP, the taxes went up on midnight of 12/31/12; the new bill lowered the taxes on the bottom 98 percent and left the top 2 percent the same. They think like children do.

Provisions of the new law:

  • Tax rates will revert to the ones in 2001 for families making over $450,000 and individuals over $400,000. All income below these amounts, basically the bottom 98 percent of the people in the United States, will permanently remain at the current level.
  • Taxes on capital gains and dividends are permanently set at 20 percent for the top 2 percent and stay at 15 percent for everyone else. [Clinton-era taxes were 20 percent for capital gains with dividends taxed as ordinary income, topping out at 39.6 percent.]
  • The estate tax is permanently 40 percent for the top 2 percent ($450,000/$400,000), indexed to inflation, with a $5 million exemption.
  • The pay freeze for Congress, lifted by President Obama this week, has been re-imposed.
  • The 2009 expansion of tax breaks for low-income Americans: the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit ($2,500 tax credit to help college students and their families pay for tuition and related expenses) will be extended for five years.
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax, which sometimes raised taxes for the middle class, has been fixed.
  • Two limits on tax exemptions and deductions for higher-income Americans will be reimposed: Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP) will be set at $250,000 and the itemized deduction limitation (Pease) kicks in at $300,000.
  • Extended for the coming year are the full package of temporary business tax breaks, federal unemployment insurance that benefits those unemployed for longer than 26 weeks, and avoidance of Medicare cuts to doctors.
  • A farm bill fix is good for nine months, probably keeping the price of milk the same.

After two months of wallowing in the possible disaster of the tax-cut situation, the climate of antagonism and fear will continue for the next two months.  That’s when the debt ceiling expires, and Congress has to approve its increase. The Republicans will spend most of their time claiming that raising the debt ceiling costs us money. It doesn’t. Raising the debt ceiling just allows the United States to pay their bills; it doesn’t spend any additional money.

The sequester, the across-the-board spending cuts of $110 million both domestic and military, has not been settled, just delayed for two months. And the payroll tax “holiday” has expired, raising taxes 2 percent for Social Security on the first $113,700 of wages.

Thus the GOP will rattle their sabers for two months about raising the age for Social Security, lowering the payments, and screaming about how “entitlements”—that people have already paid for—are the reason for the deficit instead of the Bush tax cuts and wars that cost the country over $4 trillion.

The fiscal cliff bill did provide bonuses to corporations in the form of subsidies.

  • NASCAR – Sec 312 extended the “seven year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complex property.” That means the tax breaks for anyone who builds a racetrack and related facilities to the tune of $43 million during the next two years.
  • Railroads – Sec. 306 provides tax credits to certain railroads, private businesses, for maintaining their tracks which costs taxpayers about $165 million a year.
  • Movies – Sec. 317 costs about $150 million for two years by providing a subsidy to Hollywood studios.
  • Mining Companies – Sec. 307 and Sec. 316 offer tax incentives for miners to buy safety equipment and train their employees on mine safety because laws can’t make companies protect their workers.
  • Goldman Sachs Headquarters – Sec. 328 extends “tax exempt financing” an extension of post-9/11 recovery funds that pretty much goes to “fancy Manhattan apartments and office towers for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp,” according to Bloomberg. That paid Goldman $1.6 billion in tax-free financing for its new headquarters through Liberty Bonds.
  • Off-shore Loophole for banks – Sec. 322 allows American corporations such as banks and manufacturers to avoid taxes on certain lending practices. Those benefiting from the $9 billion include GE, Caterpillar, and JP Morgan.
  • Foreign Subsidiaries – Sec. 323 extends the “Look-through treatment of payments between related CFCs under foreign personal holding company income rules.” This provision cost $1.5 billion from 2010 and 2011 and allows U.S. multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned by companies they own abroad.
  • Bonus Depreciation, R&D Tax Credit was projected to cost $8 billion for 2010 and 2011, and the depreciation provisions were projected to cost about $110 billion for those two years, with some of that made up in later years.

The Joint Committee on Taxation in 2010 did an analysis of what many of these extenders cost, more than the over $100 billion per year listed above.

While the Republicans were stalling on the fiscal cliff bill, they refused to address the issue of the money needed after Superstorm Sandy. After the House adjourned on Tuesday night without passing the $60.4 billion Sandy relief package that the Senate approved last week, many GOP members affected by the storm became livid. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told people in New York and New Jersey to not donate one cent to congressional Republicans.

Boehner felt so threatened that he promised to address the bill on Friday. That’s after the 112th Congress ends, meaning that both House and Senate have to restart the entire legislative process. Chris Christie, New Jersey governor, used much stronger language when he charged that the GOP put politics “before our oaths to serve our citizens”:

 “Our people were played last night as a pawn. Last night, the House of Representatives failed that most basic test of public service and they did so with callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state. There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker John Boehner. [Historically] disaster relief was something that you didn’t play games with, but now in this current atmosphere everything is a subject of one-upmanship. It is why the American people hate Congress.”

Christie finished by emphatically saying, “Shame on you, shame on Congress.”

Boehner may back down on the Sandy relief bill, but it appears that after 18 years, the Violence against Women Act is gone.  Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Democratic point person on VAWA, said:

“The House Republican leadership’s failure to take up and pass the Senate’s bipartisan and inclusive VAWA bill is inexcusable. This is a bill that passed with 68 votes in the Senate and that extends the bill’s protections to 30 million more women. But this seems to be how House Republican leadership operates. No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the right wing of their party always comes first.”

If proponents succeed in reviving the bill in the 113th Congress, there will still be far fewer resources available for state and local governments to combat domestic violence until they succeed. The original VAWA was drafted in the office of then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) in 1994; maybe the vice-president can resurrect his creation.

At this time, no one knows if Boehner will even continue as Speaker of the House. Conservatives claim that they have enough votes to oust him. Again, they are behaving like children. No one has come out for Boehner’s job because they are afraid, and no one will try a coup if they aren’t 100 percent positive that they will succeed. Boehner has already taken retribution against his opposition, and he’ll continue to do that.

So Boehner stays, the House GOP will cause Congress to be the same failure for the next two years, and the bottom 98 percent won’t have to pay more taxes.

December 7, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gay-marriage-washington

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

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

April 30, 2012

To Confused Conservatives: Why Women Aren’t Happy with You

What a view from conservatives regarding women’s rights! “Senate Democrats Plan another Trap for Mitt Romney with Female Voters,” reads the headline for Alexander Bolton’s “article” in the conservative publicationThe Hill.  What is the trap? Proposed legislation to more easily create equal pay for the genders. The Paycheck Fairness Act, blocked by Republicans two years ago, would prohibit employer discrimination in talking about other employers’ wages in both the same offices and other offices of the company. A woman could allege wage discrimination is she’s paid less than a man working for the same job for the same employer. That’s the “trap” causing Bolton to cry “foul”:  sending a bill up for a vote that mandates equal pay is trying to trap the poor Republicans.

These are the same conservatives who probably consider the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) to be a “trap” because it tries to protect all women, not just specific classes. Thirty-one male senators voted against VAWA; several of the others voted for it only because they think that the House will remove some of those “special classes” of women from protection. Calling the existing VAWA “controversial,” the men of the House were very sure to have women—specifically Sen. Kay Hutchinson (R-TX) and Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL)—front and center to introduce the “uncontroversial” bill that eliminates certain classes of women. Or maybe they were just embarrassed to admit that some women deserve to be sexually assaulted.

After the House passed a bill taking Affordable Care Act funding to pay for keeping the federal student loan interest rate the same, Rep. John Boehner is trying to persuade anyone who will listen that this has nothing to do with women. The “slush fund,” as Boehner dismisses it, pays for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer. Mr. Boehner, those are women’s parts so the loss of funding hurts women.

In giving marching orders to House Republicans for the “reconciliation” of the budget, Reps. Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Jeb Hensarling sent a memo telling their colleagues to increase the defense budget while reducing food stamps. That’s another blow against women who are trying to find food for their children. The three House Republican leaders ignore the facts that the budget was settled last summer during the debt crisis and that they voted for this budget. Because Democratic senators arguing that the Budget Control Act counts as a budget with no need for an additional spending plan for 2013, the House Republicans are considering a seldom-used reconciliation process, hoping that Democrats won’t stick to last summer’s law and won’t have their own plan.

Republicans should use a mirror to see how offensive their behavior is. On a Meet the Press panel talking about the “war on women” yesterday, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos immediately interrupted Rachel Maddow when she said that women in this country make 77 cents for each dollar that men make and then continued to interrupt everything she said. She finally called him out on his “stylistic issue,” calling it “condescending,” after he said, ” I wish you are as right about what you’re saying as you are passionate about it. I really do.” The look on his face showed that he still didn’t get it. As Jason Easley wrote, “The goal was to put Rachel Maddow in her place, and to stop the ‘hysteria’ from the ‘girls’ who don’t understand that because men say so there is no war on women and pay gap.”

After Hilary Rosen mistakenly said that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, doesn’t work and then repeatedly apologized, saying that she meant Ann didn’t work outside the home, the Republicans thought they were home free. When Ann Romney went out on the campaign trail to make a speech, this is what she said: “I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids.” When she suggested that she understood poor families, she said that she and Mitt had to sell some of their stocks to get by in college. Her husband had already suggested that young people can start businesses the same way that he did, by borrowing $20,000 from his parents—back when $20,000 was equivalent to perhaps ten times what it is now.

Republicans around the country also ignore women’s needs. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is willing to drug-test welfare applicants before they can get any benefits although this costs the state. He also took $2 million from health care providers to give to the fake “crisis pregnancy centers” that keep women from having abortions no matter what their needs. His most recent attack on women is to veto $1.5 million for Florida’s rape crisis centers because he thinks it duplicates existing services. The majority of the existing services, however, are education and prevention; the $1.5 million would have gone to working with actual victims.

Ohio has a proposal to rearrange funding for women’s clinics, putting Planned Parenthood last. Local health departments get the top funding priority, followed by federally qualified community health centers, and then private care centers. The end result of the reprioritization leaves thousands of Ohio women with no birth control, cancer screenings, or STI testing and treatment. Although women could go to a private care center, not everyone who works at this private care center will provide birth control. “You would have to be an established patient, and it would depend on the doctor,” said the receptionist at Lower Lights Health Care center. Ohio plans to move funds meant to help cover contraception to groups that decide on a case by case basis whether or not they want to provide contraception.

Even candidates don’t take women seriously. Recently a woman asked State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for Washington governor, how he would vote on the Reproductive Parity Act, a bill that would expand insurance coverage for abortions in the state insurance plan as long as the plan covers maternity care as well. At first McKenna accused her of trying to “bushwhack” him by asking the question and asked her if she were being honest. When she tried to address the question, he snapped at her and said, “Why don’t you go get a job?” The woman runs “youth empowerment” programs at the YMCA.  Again a Republican man tried to shut up a woman by  being contemptuous to her.

In his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, President Obama described the Republican position: “Jimmy [Kimmel] got his start years ago on ‘The Man Show.’ In Washington, that’s what we call a congressional hearing on contraception.” No war on women? Thing.progress has produced a video collage of comments during the past few months. For another piece of black humor, check out this video from the Funny or Die website as women counsel Rick Santorum for aborting his campaign.

And these are just the most recent Republicans actions against women!

April 25, 2012

Romney: ‘Vote for Me; I’m Great’

“I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. It is an America driven by freedom, where free people, pursuing happiness in their own unique ways, create free enterprises that employ more and more Americans. Because there are so many enterprises that are succeeding, the competition for hard-working, educated and skilled employees is intense, and so wages and salaries rise.

“I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents – some successful even beyond their wildest dreams – and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.

“This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.

“In the America I see, character and choices matter.  And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded.  And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that is taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace.”

Nobody can disagree with the importance of fairness, rising salaries, growing middle class, small business, education and hard work, etc. In fact, President Obama has been talking about these for years. These are the values that Mitt Romney espoused last night in his kickoff speech as presidential nominee for the GOP. Not enough delegates yet, but everyone else is dropping like flies except Ron Paul. Romney’s basic problem with his speech is no explanation of how he would accomplish these laudatory goals.

Romney’s speech could be summed up in one statement: “Vote for me: I know America is a great country.”

In discussing Romney’s speech, Ezra Klein described the three parts of an effective political speech: extolling values; defining policy goals; and providing specific ideas or proposals or programs that achieve these goals. Romney did two out of three but nothing about how he plans to raise salaries etc.  Keeping general keeps from alienating much of his audience. Between supporting the Ryan budget and discriminating against immigrants, Romney has a big problem.

Republicans do seem to be falling in line behind Romney. Despite an earlier statement from one Congressman that Congress is not there to be Romney’s cheerleaders, both House and Senate conservatives are already changing their positions on key issues. Romney supports the Violence against Women Act, so Republicans senators say they will vote for the bill, letting Republican representatives in the House fight about the controversial language expanding special visas to illegal immigrants seeking protection from abuse, a provision specifically naming same-sex partners as eligible for domestic violence programs, and another empowering American-Indian tribal authorities to prosecute abuses alleged to have happened on their reservations.

Once in lockstep opposition to keeping the interest rate below 4 percent for college loans, Republicans are now vigorously supporting the extension of the current interest rate for federal student loans for one more year on top of the past five years. (Republicans are big on short-term fixes!) The catch is that while Democrats plan to pay for the supposed $6 billion cost by ending tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, Republicans hope to take the funding from the health care “slush fund”—House Speaker John Boehner’s words. As usual, the Republicans prefer to give money to wealthy corporations rather than using it to fight obesity and tobacco use as well as respond to public health threats and outbreaks.

Thus Romney shows support for women through VAWA and students through the federal loan program. He has a harder time with immigration reform even with Republican support in an attempt at an the “Etch a Sketch” reversal. Republicans have their own 180-degree turns: in February Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Romney’s “self-deportation” approach, that life be made so miserable for Latino immigrants that they leave this country. Now McCain emphatically claims that Romney never made that statement, despite videos of Romney using this term, even in his debates last year.

Also in the debates, Romney referred to Arizona’s discriminatory law SB1070 mandating profiling people as a “model” for the nation. In a current poll, 14 percent of the Latinos support Romney whereas 70 percent support President Obama, a separation that might grow when the reason behind SB1070 becomes better publicized. Co-authors Kris Kobach, past Romney adviser, worried about foreign terrorists, while Michael Hethmon feared that immigrants would overburden the environment.

According to Hethmon, immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority.’ ” Hethmon said, “How many countries have gone through a transition like that–peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.” So the purpose of SB1070 as a “model” is to keep the country from making a “transition” away from a majority of Anglos?

Women, immigrants, massive cuts to the country’s safety net—these are parts of the baggage that Romney will carry during his campaign against President Obama. As Dana Milbank wrote, “Aficionados of the Etch a Sketch will recall a certain flaw in the toy: If you use it often, some of the lines drawn no longer disappear when you shake the device, instead leaving an indelible trace of where you have been.” The lines are not disappearing for Mitt Romney’s outrageously far-right statements no matter what platitudes he spouts in speeches.

Correction: The North Carolina election for the anti-marriage equality amendment is on May 8.

April 24, 2012

GOP Opposes VAWA, Women

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:19 PM
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Politics takes front and center this week with five primaries across the nation today. Voters in one state, North Carolina, will determine the fate of an anti-marriage equality amendment to the constitution which will disenfranchise domestic partnerships for not only LGBT couples but also for 233,000 heterosexual couples. Friday may bring a vote in the House on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that greatly expands the government’s ability examine online activities in this country.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court discusses the Arizona anti-immigrant law SB1070. Let’s hope that none of them addresses the “fairness” of the law the way that one of them did while discussing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Also tomorrow the Senate debates a bill that potentially impacts over half the population of the United States—the Violence against Women Act (VAWA).

For the first time since its original passage in 1994, VAWA faces a fight for renewal. Originally written and introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the bill is an effort to prevent domestic violence and help victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Twice reauthorized–once signed by George W. Bush–VAWA has enjoyed broad bipartisan support until this year. Republicans have decided to fight VAWA because the revised act extends the classes of victims to Native Americans, the LGBT community, and undocumented immigrants. Conservatives don’t want other women to be beaten, strangled, and raped, but those other women don’t deserve government help.

Some women are even supporting the Republican opposition: Janice Crouse, a spokesperson for Concerned Women for America, said that VAWA “pits husbands against wives” and that under the law “a woman can, with the barest evidence and no evidence at all, claim abuse and get (a husband or partner) out of the house.” Meanwhile after opposing VAWA in the Judiciary Committee two months ago, some Republicans say they are drafting their own, scaled-back version of the law. They have yet, however, to produce any specific proposals.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has said that the Senate GOP won’t filibuster VAWA, up for debate tomorrow. Its 61 Senate co-sponsors would already make it filibuster-proof, but Republicans plan to undermine the bill through amendments that delete the added classes of victims. Concerned that tribal officials might be able to prosecute non-Indians for abuse on reservations, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) described the added classes of victims, “matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition.” Conservatives can pass these amendments with 51 votes if all the Republicans plus a few less-than-liberal Democrats vote to delete some women from the bill. An alternative to these amendments is to add toxic amendments, forcing Democrats to oppose the bill.

Since VAWA’s first passage, domestic violence has annually decreased by 53 percent. Because victims now report incidents, abuse reports have increased 51 percent. The law has provided hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children access to legal help, health care, and police assistance. VAWA makes special provisions for the elderly, the disabled, and women in rural areas who can’t easily access help. Thus far, VAWA has not been a cure: in 45 percent of cases where a man killed a woman, it was because a woman tried to leave an abusive relationship. One in five women will be raped in her lifetime, as will one in 71 men. Between one-third and one-fourth of same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence.

One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime; they face the highest rate of domestic violence out of any group in the country, three and a half times the national average. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said that “any American” could be imprisoned by tribal courts, but the provisions allow tribal members to prosecute non-tribal people who commit domestic violence and who either live or work on a reservation or are married to a tribal member. Republicans also oppose the increased number of visas extended to abused undocumented victims. The expanded VAWA would prevent shelters from discriminating against LGBT victims.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the highest-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) held a press conference last week about VAWA. “It really is a shame, I think, that we’ve gotten to this point that we even have to stand here today to urge our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to support legislation that has consistently received broad bipartisan support,” Murray said.

One GOP Senate candidate, Sarah Steelman who is opposing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), didn’t know about VAWA until she got a question about the bill. Later she said, “Of course I am for stopping violence against women” but accused Senate Democrats of making the bill a “political football.” [Any time someone disagrees with the GOP position (which is anything opposing the Democrats’ position), that person screams “politization,” probably the term replacing “un-American.”]

Steelman is in good company: Mitt Romney didn’t know what VAWA was when he was a presidential candidate in 2008. Thus far, Romney has not stated an opinion about VAWA’s renewal.

Since the beginning of the recession, the Northeast has seen a 72 percent increase in the incidence of domestic violence in the Northeast while domestic violence homicide rates have increased 24 percent in New York. Yet across the country, states are cutting funding to counseling programs, non-shelter services, and rental subsidies that help domestic violence victims escape into other permanent housing.

This Friday the Senate will leave for a one-week recess. Will they create separate classes of Native Americans, LGBT, and undocumented immigrant people, allowing them to suffer violence to the point of being killed?

As Meghan Rhoade wrote, “The bottom line for women is that everyone deserves protection from violence–regardless of the length of her skirt, regardless of her sexual orientation, and regardless of her immigration status.” Freedom from violence should be a human right.

March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day–We’re Still Losing

Today is International Women’s Day, a day not only to celebrate women’s accomplishments throughout history but also to look back to struggles and forward to what needs to be done to improve the lives and opportunities of women. During the 100+ years that countries have commemorated women on one day in early March and worked for our rights, we have come a long way in the United States— voting, owning property, controlling our bodies, etc. Yet domestic violence and rape are still rampant around the world, unmarried Saudi Arabia women are still subject to male guardianship, and female genital mutilation is still common. And in the United States we are losing our rights.

In 1945 the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right, the Charter of the United Nations, was signed in San Francisco.  Almost 70 years later, women still lack the same rights and opportunities as men. Many countries worked toward this equality after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which promotes women’s rights as human rights, in 1979.  President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, but the United States Congress refuses to ratify this document that calls for inclusion and equality of women in “all spheres of life.” Thirty-two years after Carter signed CEDAW, the United States is one of seven countries that has not ratified the treaty; the other six countries are Iran, Somalia, Naurau, Palau, Sudan and Tonga.

A tipping point comes when small changes build up to critical mass until one more addition changes everything, reversing the direction. The conservatives have initiated so many state and federal laws that we may have reached critical mass—the tipping point when we start fighting back. Now Republicans, including women, are getting very concerned about losing the women’s vote for their party in the upcoming election. In defending the GOP’s fixation on birth control, Ann Romney, wife of a Republican presidential candidate, said, “Do you know what women care about? Women care about jobs.”

Instead of castigating the Democrats, she should turn back to her own party. Last year, state legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, up from 950 in 2010. Of these provisions, 135 were enacted in 36 states, an increase from 89 in 2010. Of the 135 provisions, 68%—92 in 24 states—-restrict access to abortion services; the 92 new abortion restrictions enacted in 2011 shattered the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. In contrast, the majority of the jobs bills enacted in the Republican-controlled states had the effect of lowering salaries, usually for women.

Ann Romney is right that women care about jobs, but women also care about restrictions on their bodies and reproductive rights as shown by protests across the country. When Virginia decided to require transvaginal ultrasounds for all women before they could get abortions, the women silently stood outside the state capitol, even when the SWAT team came up to arrest them. Despite the state backing down, requiring only abdominal ultrasounds, women are still angry.

Across the country, women legislators in Republican-controlled states are protesting. They’re introducing bills stopping vasectomies (because these prevent children from being born) and requiring mental and medical screenings (such as rectal exam and cardiac stress tests) for men who want prescriptions for such drugs as Viagra that supposedly cure erectile dysfunction.

Another case in which Republicans vote against women is the Violence against Women Act. After VAWA expired last November, the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee held up its reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, because not one of them would agree to vote the bill out of the committee. They supposedly objected to lesbians and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse being covered under the bill. Ann Romney needs to know that women need safety as well as jobs.

Ann Romney has ignored the fact that Republicans have a history of voting against women and jobs. Every male senator voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009; it passed because three women Republican senators voted for the bill. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 stated that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. Legislation was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that the 180 days began with the first check a person received even if the person was not aware of any inequity for a long period of time.

The Republican senators have consistently blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides for equal pay for equal work, despite the House passing this act in 2009—before the conservatives took over.

Across the board, Republican-elected officials at all levels of government and their spokespeople and pundits on TV and radio continually display a lack of respect, civility, and in many cases outright hostility towards women. As long as they continue to do so, Republicans will have more and more trouble getting votes from women, a group that comprises more than half the voters in this country.

Conservatives have been increasingly discouraged about electing a Republican president because of the drawn-out primary. Now they believe this primary can hurt the chances for Republican representatives and senators. Conservatives should extend their worry to the conservatives’ consistently destructive behavior toward half the country’s population.

With their current policies of eliminating women’s rights and making decisions for women, the neo-cons may lose all the gains of the 2010 election. They won that election because they promised to improve the economy and get people jobs; all they have done since they were elected is to take rights away from women.

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