Nel's New Day

April 6, 2016

Mississippi Wins Most Hateful Contest

If the states had a contest to see which one could pass the most hateful and broadly discriminatory law, Mississippi would be the winner—at least for now. Mississippi is the “South of the South,” according a friend familiar with “the South.” To keep their pride—and poverty— the state legislature has passed, and Gov. Phil Bryant has signed, a law that may be the model for the conservative extremists in other red states. Legislators started with right-wing reaction to giving marriage rights to same-gender couples and then accelerated with the thought of transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity—and their appearance. The claim is protecting “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions,” but its purpose is to allow discrimination against most people to run amok. It allows employers to use not only bathroom and locker access policies but also dress code and grooming.

Bryant claims that “this bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizens of this state under federal or state laws” and “is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people.” It actually doesn’t limit the rights of any Christians who profess religious liberty, but everyone else has lost their rights.

The law has the standard stuff about permitting people to be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, denied housing, and turned down for essential services and care. On July 1, 2016, the law grants this “religious freedom” not only to the organizations that IRS grants freedom because of religion but also any private sector or government entity that wants to decline goods and services to anyone who they find objectionable.

In addition to LGBT and human rights groups, the Mississippi Economic Council has come out against the law for fear that it will negatively impact both customers and employees of businesses. The Mississippi Manufacturers Association also opposes the law because of the negative impact on business and industry in Mississippi. The law violates corporate policies, keeping b businesses from staying in or moving to the state. Nissan, Toyota, and IBM have all expressed concern about the new law.

Mississippi isn’t alone in a hate bill based on protecting religion: almost three dozen states introduced almost 200 anti-LGBT bills in their legislatures this year. Most states have failed, including South Dakota and Georgia where the governors vetoed these bills. North Carolina succeeded before Mississippi, and it will be a litmus test on how hate legislation affects the state’s economy. PayPal has already abandoned plans to expand into Charlotte (NC). Both Kansas and Missouri have new “religious freedom” bills.

New York, Vermont, and Washington have already banned  ban state-financed travel to Mississippi. As in North Carolina, federal agencies are reviewing the possibility of pulling funding because of the law.

The law makes any sex outside marriage illegal. According to the Washington Post,it prevents the government from ‘discriminating’ (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a ‘person’ (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage. That includes employers, landlords and rental companies, adoption and foster care agencies, people and companies that provide marriage-related services (rental halls, photographers, florists, etc.).”

All state employees can openly express their beliefs without consequence because the law states that no one can be sued for discrimination.Doctors using the religious conviction excuse are protected if they refuse to provide counseling, sex-reassignment surgery, fertility treatments, and other services. Counselors, even those paid by taxpayers, can refuse to serve people. Foster and adoptive families may religiously “guide, raise or instruct” children anyway that they want, including forcing children into “conversion therapy.”

People can decide “whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent” with their beliefs or moral convictions as well as decide to whom they will sell or rent housing they control based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Any person  or school can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” and can manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.

Protect Thy Neighbor, a project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, listed some hypotheticals of the law’s results beyond the LGBT community:

  • An adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a family if the parents lived together before they were married.
  • A counselor could refuse to help a teen who called a suicide hotline.
  • A car rental agency could refuse to rent a car to a single unmarried mother.
  • A corporation could fire a woman for wearing slacks.

All people who use religion as a reason to discriminate are protected from tax penalties, loss of contracts or grants, or loss of other benefits such as licenses or certification. And on and on! Citing religious beliefs for discrimination not only gives people victory in court but also compensatory damages. The law also voids any anti-discrimination laws in cities or counties.

Five years ago, 46 percent of Mississippians wanted to outright ban interracial marriages, and now a Mississippi landlord is able to refuse rental to a married interracial couple, a Hispanic/Native American woman and a black man. The man is a member of the National Guard. The law legalizes this egregious act.

Although anyone can be blocked from being served by both private companies and government agencies, the Mississippi legislature does have concern about safety in church. The state senate passed the “Mississippi Church Protection Act” allowing concealed carry in churches without a permit and provides immunity from civil and criminal penalties for any designated “sergeant at arms” who has supposedly undergone training. The bill also includes a provision allowing people to concealed carry without a permit. If it passes, Mississippi would be the ninth state to have this law. The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police strongly opposes the bill, but they have no say about the lack of concealed carry permits.

Bryant said that Mississippi law is all about giving freedom to people, but he must not consider women to be people. Women who want to have an abortion in the one remaining women’s clinic in the state must have state-directed counseling in person to discourage her from the procedure and then wait another 24 hours–meaning two different trips to the clinic. A woman must undergo an ultrasound and be offered the option of seeing the image.

Health plans under the Affordable Care Act can cover abortion only in cases when the woman’s life is endangered, rape or incest. Insurance policies for public employees cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. Telemedicine with medication abortion is prohibited. Abortions are performed after 18 weeks only if the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised or there is a severe fetal impairment because state legislators believe that a fetus can feel pain after that time.

Thus Mississippi protects Christians—except for women who need abortions—and no one else. My question is when two different people’s Christian beliefs conflict? Which one will have the rights?

Jesus-Facepalm

In an effort to interpret “what would Jesus think,” the anti-discrimination organization Planting Peace has put up this billboard a few blocks away from the state capitol.

January 5, 2016

Women Lose As Others Forge Ahead

The year 2015 was really good for people in the U.S. More red states accepted the Affordable Care Act, LGBT people gained more rights, the unemployment went down while the economy went up, the Iran agreement survived treasonous attempts by Republican legislators to destroy it, states started to move away from gerrymandering, a ban on microbeads in products will make eating fish healthier, President Obama decided to declare a war on unfettered gun ownership by felons and people with mental illnesses—the list goes on and on with encouraging actions.

Women, however, kept losing their fundamental rights. Conservative court actions and calls for defunding Planned Parenthood led to growing denials of inexpensive, easy access to health exams to detect cancer and STIs as well as contraceptives that would keep them from getting pregnant. During 2015, a number of states introduced almost 400 anti-abortion bills, an increase from 335 in 2014. From regulating medication abortions to complete bans on second-trimester abortions, 57 of these bills made it into law.

An overview of the “war on uteruses”:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas requires providers to lie to patients by telling them that the effects of the “abortion pill”—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486—can be reversed. Another restriction is mandating original FDA-approved dosage, decreasing the drug’s effectiveness and increasing negative side effects. Other inaccurate information forced on patients is the myth about fetal pain during abortion and women’s mental health problems after it. Laws also ban using telemedicine for medication abortion, especially beneficial for poor women living in rural areas. Idaho also bans this safe practice and requires doctors who administer the medication to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. With its concern about the importance of life between conception and birth, Arkansas is the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: Kansas, the first state to pass a ban against what it calls “dismemberment abortion,” fails to use medical language in its law, opting for such emotional language as “unborn child” instead of fetus. A Kansas district judge blocked the law, and the case is on appeal. Oklahoma’s law uses even worse language by describing it as “purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child….” That law is also on hold.

Waiting periods: North Carolina and Oklahoma tripled the time between state-mandated abortion counseling from 24 hours to 72 hours. All 12 Southeast states mandate waiting periods except for Florida where a law for a 24-hour waiting period blocked by a circuit court judge is pending a final ruling.

Reducing abortion access: Tennessee amended the state constitution by refusing any funding for abortions although state and federal money cannot legally be used to fund abortion. Another law requires clinics performing more than 50 surgical procedures a year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery centers similar to hospital standards. A woman who attempted to self-induce a miscarriage in her bathtub after 24 weeks of pregnancy now faces a first-degree attempted murder charge.

Parental consent: Arkansas women under 18 seeking a judge’s permission for an abortion without parental consent must undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” to ensure that the minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests. With no time limit for the court proceedings, the pregnancy could be so advanced that performing an abortion could become illegal. A minor is also required to file the petition in the county where she lives, violating her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: Despite the governor’s veto, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law offers no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and provides only a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. A similar law in Arkansas against abortions after 12 weeks was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Two states did move toward preventing abortions. Oregon became the first state to offer contraceptives over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

The growing lack of access to abortion and contraception increases unintended pregnancies among poor women while the number of these among well-off women is shrinking. The rate of such pregnancies among women with incomes below the poverty line jumped 56 percent from 1994 to 2008 while falling by 24 percent for higher-income women. In 2008, the unintended-pregnancy rate for poor women was more than five times that of the most well-off.  Without Planned Parenthood, women are more likely to lack contraception. Of 491 counties with PP clinics, 103 counties have no other place giving low-income women access to affordable contraception.

Women who are turned away from terminating pregnancies are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line over the following two years than women who successfully get an abortion. They are also more likely to end up unemployed and to rely on government benefits to get by, then considered “takers” by the Republican legislators.

In the coming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will make pivotal decisions regarding women’s access to abortions and contraception.

Whole Woman’s Health vs. Cole determines whether Texas can enforce two regulations forcing about 75 percent of the state’s women’s clinics to close by requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and mandating clinics to have the same standards as an outpatient surgical center. Although the case is framed as a health issue for women, it is actually about blocking abortions. The decision will determine the standard used in federal courts to review abortion regulations—whether states can enact regulations without proving the effectiveness of safety.

Zubik vs. Burwell addresses the fourth SCOTUS challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the second case about the religious freedom objection to employer mandate for no-cost contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies. The issue of this case is not whether religious groups are exempt but whether they must notify the government of their religious objections. They maintain that the mere signing of a notification will “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” quoting the 1993 federal law on religious liberty. Almost all the appeals courts have rejected this claim; SCOTUS will combine seven of them in this one case.

From 1973 until 1992, the Supreme Court rejected dozens of state efforts to limit access to abortion, enforcing Roe v. Wade’s ruling that until the point of viability, the state could regulate abortion only to protect the health and well-being of women. The only decisions during that time against abortion were Bellotti v. Baird (1979), ruling in favor of parental consent, and Harris v. McRae (1980), excluding payments for medically necessary abortions from Medicaid.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld a highly restrictive Pennsylvania law that included mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, and biased information. The Court abandoned the legal principles of Roe v. Wade, allowing laws designed to limit access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy if the law does not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. The decision that spousal consent was an undue burden has not stopped hundreds of restrictions since 1992 that were not perceived as violation of the new standard.

In the more recent Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 law that fails to refer to any medical procedure. It bans an intact dilation and evacuation (D&E) unless the fetus is no longer alive. Since then, state restrictions have forced doctors to choose a less safe procedure if they cannot ensure the fetus is no longer alive even if it is brain dead.

The number of nonhospital providers performing 400 or more abortions per year peaked in the late 1980s at 705 and fell by 2011 to 553. Since 2011, over 200 abortion restrictions have led to massive closure of clinics throughout the nation. Five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—each have just one, and the number of abortion providers in Texas has gone from 62 across the huge state to a possibility of only ten. Not one clinic is open for 550 miles. Throughout the United States, clinics are closing at the rate of 1.5 every week. Other states have suffered the same losses, for example Ohio losing over half of its clinics.

abortion graphIn clinics still open, Christian terrorists subject workers and clients to a campaign of terror, criminal acts, and violence. The killings by these terrorists aren’t limited to clinics: Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church while attending Sunday services. Most abortions today require endless waits, interminable journeys, humiliation, and money. According to the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling, states cannot regulate abortion if it “places an undue burden on women.” That’s the decision to be made this year about the state laws stopping poor women from obtaining their constitutional rights in reproductive care.

This summary is a beginning description of the “undue burden” of state laws on a simple procedure that can save women’s lives. According to Professor of Law Michael Dorf, the court will have to investigate if the laws mandating hospital standards at a clinic are an unnecessary health regulation—and thus unconstitutional because they are blocking women from their legally fundamental right to have abortions.

July 21, 2015

Kasich: ‘Moderate’ GOP Candidate with Bad Reproductive Rights Record

Today’s late entry into the GOP presidential campaign, John Kasich, has had such a low profile that he looks better than the collection of crazies stumping the country for the GOP presidential nominee. Conservatives should love him—investment banker, Fox network commentator, budget hawk, blue-collar background, past legislator, and governor of the must-win state of Ohio for the president. His short fuse, however, may bring more excitement to the fight, currently among the field of 15 men and one woman who desperately want to be winners. For example, he prompted a walkout after yelling at a wealthy donor at a Koch brothers-sponsored conference. He told a BP employee in a meeting that oil and gas companies deserve to “have a bad reputation.” He added, “Oil companies are liars and they are going to be screwed.”

His anger is so obvious that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accused the 63-year-old candidate of having “a hair-trigger temper.” Like candidate Scott Walker, Kasich cuts out anyone who disagrees with him. Conservative activist Matt Mayer said:

“When you criticize Kasich, you’re sort of dead to him. That’s the way it works.”

Kasich may have a better chance than when he first ran in 1999, but a downside to the incumbent-defeating state senator, congressman, and governor is that the people of Ohio voted out his signature law rolling back public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights, worse than Walker’s law in Wisconsin. “Ohio’s law … gives city councils and school boards a free hand to unilaterally impose their side’s final contract offer when management and union fail to reach a settlement,” New York Times’s Steven Greenhouse wrote. Kasich’s law also applied to police and firefighters, who were exempted from Walker’s law. Backlash cut Kasich’s approval-disapproval rating from 30 to 46, and the Ohio constitution allowed voters to put the law up for approval or disapproval. Despite his campaigning for the law, Kasich lost by 61 to 38 percent.

The 16th candidate  also opposed his own party to accept the Medicaid expansion with the argument that helping the poor is a Christian action. In the 21st century, this is an anti-GOP position. He even went farther when he claimed that limited government advocates had to do more to help the less fortunate. He presented this position at the Koch brothers event, but Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley were quick to disagree. Kasich even told the New York Times that the GOP is waging a “war on the poor.” He said that his “most important mission” was to convince conservatives that “when some of us are doing better, it is essential that we begin to figure out how to help people who are not doing better.” Preparing for his campaign, he told people to “read Matthew 25″ about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. His arguments make the GOP uncomfortable because religious arguments to help people makes cutting those programs far more difficult.

The Ohio legislature refused to expand Medicaid so Kasich bypassed them. He went to the state “Controlling Board,” created to handle adjustments to the state’s budgetary flow and asked them to let the federal Medicaid money come into the state. When two appointees indicated that they would vote against Kasich, he simply replaced them with a final count of 5-2 in favor. Lawsuits against his action failed with the state Supreme Court upholding Kasich’s actions. A former president was Kasich’s justification:

“Reagan was fiscally responsible, but he was also pragmatic and compassionate. When we consider what Reagan would do, let’s also remember what he did do—expand Medicaid.”

Kasich’s win raised his popularity poll to 55 percent approving of his job performance, compared to 30 percent disapproval. Lawsuits against his action failed when the state Supreme Court upheld Kasich’s actions, and he won his next election with a 31-point victory.

Kasich has followed the GOP position in his support of a mentor program receiving Ohio taxpayer funding from “Community Connectors” required that the schools partner with both a church and a non-profit business and signing a bill that stopped Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for at least two years. Worst, however, may be Kasich’s elimination of women’s reproductive rights.

Ultrasounds are required at least 24 hours before women who can receive oral contraception or an IUD because Ohio law equates preventing pregnancy to abortion. All women having abortions must also have ultrasounds, even if doctors find these unnecessary.

Restrictions on women’s clinics have caused Ohio to lose seven of its 16 clinics since 2011 putting the state second in closures behind Texas. That was before the latest set of highly restrictive laws attached to the state’s budget bill, one which mandates that clinics have an emergency patient transfer agreement with a hospital no more than 30 miles away. One new Ohio law forbids public hospitals from accepting such transfer agreements although Ohio law forbids public hospitals from accepting such transfer agreements. Another one law closes a Dayton clinic waiting for two years for a state variance allowing it to operate without this agreement by requiring that the clinic get a variance within two months.

These new laws are piled on top of the ones from two years ago, defunding Planned Parenthood, moving state funding from real reproductive health facilities to faith-based, anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers, and requiring that doctors have partnerships with private hospitals—highly difficult because most private hospitals in Ohio are religious ones. Two years ago, a law stripped funding from rape crisis centers that give clients any information about abortion services and requires doctors to give women seeking abortion information about the presence of a “fetal heartbeat.” Kasich has made life harder for women in keeping from getting pregnant, having abortions, and keeping their children because the budget cuts for welfare services to single mothers went to the crisis pregnancy centers.

As conservatives in Ohio struggle to pass a 20-week abortion ban, they fail to consider that Ohio law defines fertilization as dating from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period, actually about two weeks before true contraception. That means that Ohio could have an 18-week abortion ban as conservatives have tried to impose on the state.

Kasich imposed a policy in which counselors at rape-crisis clinics are legally prohibited from referring victims to abortion providers, even though terminating an unwanted pregnancy is still legal. The governor has not explained why the gag rule is necessary.

On the national level, Kasich’s chances are slim to none. Ranked at 12th in national polls, he hasn’t topped three percent in any of them, keeping him out of the first debates, awkward because the first one on August 6 is in his home state. Only George Pataki rates below him in the latest PPP polling. His chances and position put him in the same arena with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who continually pointed out the failures of the GOP base in his 2012 GOP run for president. Kashich’s team includes two key consultants for Huntsman. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Kline wrote that conservative voters should “punish [Kasich] for his expansion of President Obama’s healthcare law.” Other conservative pundits such as Avik Roy, who works for Rick Perry, and Jason Hart, Watchdog.org reporter, agree with Kline.

Republicans from defense hawks to protectors of corporate tax breaks were upset with Kasich, then U.S. representative when he helped broker an agreement with President Clinton and congressional Republicans to balance the U.S. budget in 1997. How long Kasich will last, no one knows. His campaign 16 years ago ended in July 2000 because Bush had much more money than he did. When Kasich dropped out 16 years ago, he said about Bush’s slogan, “This business of compassionate conservative, I wish I’d thought it up.” Now he’s co-opted the description.

September 6, 2014

Good News for the Past Week

The Israelis didn’t kill any Palestinian children or other civilians last week, the U.S. Congress wasn’t in town to start World War III, and  the Department of Justice plans to investigate the police force at Fersugon (MO).  That’s a few of the good things that happened last week. Locally, the best news is that the conservative Freedom Partners (aka Koch brothers) pulled over $1 million of television ad buys in October for GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby. Ads starting last month continue through the end of this month, but a Rasmussen poll showing incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley ahead by 13 points may have discouraged more than the $1.6 million expenditure for Wehby.

On the national level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit Halbig v. Burwell that would have taken insurance from almost 10 million people in the nation. The argument was whether some wording in the Affordable Care Act meant that only the 14 state-run exchanges could provide subsidies for low-income people seeking insurance. If the earlier decision had held, ACA might be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court because of differing circuit court rulings. The en banc (entire court) order vacates the earlier three-judge decision, infuriating conservatives because the court is “packed” with Democratic nominees. The “packed” conservative SCOTUS never seems to bother conservatives. Arguments are scheduled for December 17.

The ACA has gotten so popular that at least one Democrat, Arkansas’ Sen. Mark Pryor, is boasting about it in a tough re-election fight. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS weak response is that good benefits don’t matter if they’re part of “Obamacare.” Pryor’s opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, showed his desperation by accusing Pryor of voting for Medicare “cuts” through the ACA, a common conservative lie. As Pryor states in his TV ad: “My opponent knows I did not cut Medicare benefits. I cut waste and protected benefits.

At the same time, more GOP-run states are accepting federal Medicaid funding through ACA, bringing the total number of states to 27, ten of them with GOP governors.  Pennsylvania outright accepted the funding last week, Tennessee plans to do so, and other states—Indiana, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming—are considering the same step.

DB_medicaid_map_lg In another fit of desperation, a state representative from Utah, who is a doctor when not debating in legislature, has a unique argument against health care. “Sometimes access actually can mean harm,” said Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy. “I’ve heard from National Institutes of Health and otherwise that we’re killing up to a million, a million and a half people every year in our hospitals. And it’s access to hospitals that’s killing those people.”

Even more upsetting to conservatives, insurance costs are not rising as fast as in the past and in some places are actually going down. When Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield tried to raise premiums by 12.5 percent, the Connecticut insurance department made them lower the average premium to a 0.1 percent decrease. California, which has seen increases of up to 40 percent in the past, will have an average increase of 4.2 percent. Oregon saw a drop of 2.5 percent. If Halibig v. Burwell were allowed to stand, people using the federal exchange would have an increase of 322 percent (and that’s not a typo!).

A ruling from another circuit court, the 7th, brought marriage equality to Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s the third federal appeals court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. The 10th Circuit struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah, and the 4th Circuit ruled against bans in Virginia. The 6th Circuit, deciding on bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee heard arguments a month ago. In the 7th Circuit decision, Judge Richard A. Posner used a variety of sources, including 19th-century English political philosopher and social commentator John Stuart Mill, to respond to the states’ arguments that many people find same-sex relationships repulsive.  Posner wrote:

 “Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman, the 80-year-old Reagan appointee who’s been on the bench for over 30 years, might want to read Posner’s quote. In Louisiana, Feldman became the first in a string of over 20 federal judges to rule against equality on the basis that same-sex couples cannot procreate. One could ponder whether Louisiana has a law that fertility and desire to bear children are prerequisites to marriage. Feldman is one of those people who believe in human rights by popular vote.

In another decision in Louisiana, Federal Court judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP was “grossly negligent” leading up to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With proper care, the company and its subsidiaries could have prevented the explosion and oil spill that killed 11 and spilled 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters. BP is 67% negligent for the spill, and oil-service company Halliburton and rig owner Transocean are 30% negligent.

fire BP

According to the ruling, BP made decisions that were completely unsafe and “motivated by profit.” For example, BP drilled 100 feet deeper, just eleven days before the disaster, although the company’s geologists warned against it. The negative pressure reading on the morning of the explosion should have led to more safety tests. Instead, officials decided to continue working. The explosion occurred that evening.

Under the Clean Water Act, a corporation acting in a grossly negligent manner can be fined up to $4,300 per barrel spilled: the cost of the civil case could be as much as $18 billion. BP plans to appeal. Shares of BP in the United States dropped 5.9 percent at $44.89 and closed down almost 6 percent in London, the worst one-day slide in more than four years. BP has already agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and may face other bills from a Natural Resources Damage Assessment.

Louisiana’s five women’s clinics that perform abortions will stay open, thanks to a ruling from U.S. Federal Judge John deGravelles.  A new law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles was to go into effect last Monday, but the judge ruled that doctors can continue to perform legal abortions if they are seeking these privileges. The judge will hold a hearing within a month to make a more permanent ruling.

Judge Lee Yeakel helped Texas women by striking down the state’s “brutally effective system of abortion regulation.” The overturned law required all women’s clinics to be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers, costing each one between $1 million and $1.5 million. Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, tried to block the law mandating admitting privileges last fall but was overruled by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He did succeed in stopping the rule for admitting privileges in McAllen and El Paso.

Ohio’s cuts to early voting and the state’s elimination of same-day voter registration violate both the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting and the constitution’s Equal Protection clause, according to U.S. Federal Judge Peter Economus. An injunction barring the Ohio’s restrictions on voting go into effect before the November election, and the judge ordered the state’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.

not darren wilson This photo is NOT Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) a month ago, despite Chicago firefighter Kevin O’Grady’s claim. For the record, the photo, which went viral, is of motocross rider Jim McNeil who died in a 2011 crash. The photo was taken in 2006 after a motor accident at a friend’s house. There is no indication that Wilson suffered injuries. In another bogus photo posted by Kansas City Police Department Officer Marc Catron, an image of Michael Brown pointing a gun at the camera and biting down on a wad of cash is actually of Joda Cain, a Washington County (OR) murder suspect.

Police Chief Tom Jackson has also been found to lie about his reason for releasing a videotape of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store. Jackson had said that he did thie because of a Freedom of Information Act request. There were actually no requests, but requests have not led Jackson to release the incident report for Brown’s killing. There is also some evidence that the police omitted images of Brown paying for the cigars from the video.

The best news for Leon Brown and Henry McCollum is that DNA has exonerated them from charges for rape and murder. The two men, on North Carolina’s death row for over 30 years, have been released from prison. Ages 15 and 19 at the time of their arrest in 1983, the two mentally challenged men were told that they could go home if they confessed to the crimes. Now that they are 46 and 50, biological material collected at the crime scene has been connected to a known sex offender who lived just feet away from where the 11-year-old girl was found. Since their arrest, the police force has also hidden boxes of crucial evidence and not disclosed it to either the defense team or the prosecuting attorney.

Twenty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used the McCollum to justify the death penalty in an unrelated case. He said, “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with [rape and murder]!” Justice Harry Blackmun answered, “Buddy McCollum … has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old. He reads on a second grade level. This factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in his case is unconstitutional.” Now McCollum will not have to suffer the “quiet death by lethal injection.”

Voting, women’s rights, health care, death penalty, marriage equality, transparency–all these are beginning to succeed because of the judicial system. Now we’ll wait for the appeals.

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 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 9, 2013

The GOP Looks for a Few Good Vaginas

Distress with the majority of women voting for Democrats during the 2012 general election, the GOP is trying to bring the fairer sex back to the fold. A practical way would be to change some of its policies such as denying women our reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration laws, etc. Maybe even stop being patronizing and controlling. But that isn’t their approach. After an expensive report revealed that a majority of women are not happy with the GOP platform, leaders set out to tell women that Republicans like women.

For example, Rep. Renee Ellmers and 18 other Republican women put together the Republican Women’s Policy Committee with a really nice website and Facebook page to show women that the GOP party likes women. http://rwpc.ellmers.house.gov/  It’s got really nice photographs of women legislators unlike the real ones when all the male lawmakers get together to make life harder for women. And it’s got promises like telling people that the GOP will protect women from being forced to have health insurance.

The latest GOP endeavor is Project Grow which stands for “Growing Republican Opportunities for Women.” (It’s also an acronym for “Gerrymandering Republicans Oppose Women.”) “We need to be a party that allows talented women to rise to the top,” according to the RNC publicity. The GOP still hasn’t figured out that women can be annoyed by the control thing of being “allowed” to do something which is actually their right. Needing a woman to lead the grow project, the GOP selected as a leader Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who opposes pay-equity measures for women and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The GOP has a ways to go to “allow” women into their camp. The House Democratic Caucus is one-third women compared to the 8 percent of women in the House GOP majority. Last year almost twice as many Democratic women filed paperwork to run for the House as Republicans, and over three times as many Democratic women were elected.

In the new legislative session this year, state lawmakers have introduced over 300 bills to eradicate women’s reproductive rights. The House passed an anti-abortion bill, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working on one in his chamber.

Project Grow was launched just before the week of the Fourth of July when both Ohio and Wisconsin passed unconstitutional anti-choice bills. Texas would also have succeeded if the media hadn’t pointed out that the GOP leadership cheated by changing the time clock. Now Texas, accompanied by North Carolina, is charging along toward a more successful outcome for the conservatives, despite the vast majority of voters opposing their bill.

Sarah Slamen, 28, tried to explain the facts of life to the legislators while testifying. Three men had to haul her out of the court because she was giving very uncomfortable information to them. This is one women that the GOP will not get to “grow.” [The video is well-worth watching!]  In an interview with Daily Kos, state Sen. Jane Nelson said that Slamen was being disrespectful but never stopped the 13 hours of testimony that “called women murderers, killers, promiscuous, thoughtless, and selfish.”

Part of Slamen’s statement was to be the way that Gov. Rick Perry’s sister, Milla Perry Jones, would benefits from the closures of clinics because she is head lobbyist for allied surgical centers and doctor-owned hospitals that has given $4 million to get Perry’s bill passed. The Texas Observer had pointed out that these facilities overcharge for tests, procedures, and services.

The Texas House committee passed the bill, that will close all except five clinics, onto the House which also approved the bill. They will take a formal vote on it tomorrow morning. Democrats pointed out that GOP committee leaders “limited testimony at a public hearing, declined to hear from hundreds more waiting to testify and refused to consider Democratic amendments–and at times even failed recognize Democrats to speak at all to raise questions.”

walkerMost of the GOP action last week surrounding anti-abortion bills took place in the dark of night, Wisconsin included. Gov. Scott Walker’s signature was barely dry when the new law was taken to federal court where a judge blocked part of the law for ten days. A hearing is scheduled for July 17. [Left: Scott Walker]

In his 19-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Conley noted that the admitting-privileges provision of the new GOP law serves “no medical purpose” and was rushed into law for no apparent reason. It is up to state officials to prove that it safeguarded women’s health, he wrote, which he said “does not bear even superficial scrutiny on the current record.” He also agreed that the law had been rushed onto the books, noting that it was proposed, passed, signed and enacted in just 34 days, a timeline he called “precipitous.” 

“[T]he State,” Conley wrote, “must demonstrate that the regulation is reasonably related to ‘the preservation and protection of maternal health’ but it failed to do so.” In addition, he pointed out that “the majority of patients are at or below the federal poverty line.”

Last night 64 members of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protesters, now in their tenth week, were arrested for objecting to a bill that limits abortion access. The weekly rallies have grown from a few dozen in the early weeks to over 2,000 people. State GOP legislators claim that their protests make no difference, but the activities are beginning to affect tourism in the state.  The state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said, “The current environment makes it very challenging to market North Carolina.”

Last week’s bill mandating clinics performing abortions to conform to the standards of ambulatory surgery centers was pushed through the Senate without a public hearing. The state House has scheduled public hearings on the bill today.

Cecil Bothwell, a city councilman from Asheville (NC), summed up this attack on women: “It amazes me that they claim they don’t want government intervening in health care issues [about Obamacare], yet they want to tell women what to do with their bodies.”

Tanya Glover, 34, came to the protest because the legislature’s lean education budget slashes services for her special needs child. “This state has gone to hell and it’s hurting my family,” Glover said.

Her description fits the 30 states controlled by the GOP.

December 6, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 1

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When I moved over 20 years ago to my home in a wonderful small town on the Oregon Coast, I joined the local chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women). Only five years old at the time, the chapter was involved in community education through marches, consciousness-raising meetings, celebrations of women’s accomplishments, and a regular newsletter.

As the organization expanded, we fought for a sexual harassment policy at the school district, sent packets to the women of Yugoslavia during their violent wars, increased knowledge of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) through participation in a national Clothesline Project, and instituted a “court watch” to observe attitudes in court toward victims of DV and SA. After a large Catholic hospital organization wanted to purchase the local public hospital, we were on the forefront to oppose this action, protecting women’s reproductive rights and the Death with Dignity law in Oregon and hiring a lawyer and take the case to court.

Oregon is considered a very blue state: all the elected state officials are Democrats, and both the state House and Senate are Democrat-controlled after the House was evenly divided between the two political parties during the last session. At the end of the twentieth century, the country appeared to be moving toward equality between men and women, and we were more comfortable about women gaining rights. That combined with some of the active members leaving the community led to the disappearance of the local NOW chapter.

What a difference ten years makes! After eight years of oppression under George W. Bush, women’s rights have eroded so badly that we even face the possibility of losing contraceptive rights. Pregnant women who miscarry are now imprisoned, and “stand your ground” laws protect strangers who shoot a possibly innocent person while an abused wife afraid for her life is in prison for shooting a gun into the air.

It’s time for local NOW to reform, and we are fortunate in having a new member of the community who is willing and excited about doing this. Since I started Nel’s New Day, with the hope that it might both communicate attempts by conservatives to control people and share positive events, I have concentrated less on women’s rights that I had intended.

Watching our chapter of NOW reform has made me look at NOW’s priorities and evaluate what we are losing because of the Republicans’ domination of Congress through the majority in the House and the filibuster in the Senate. National NOW has six priorities for its actions. During the next three days I will explain how these need work from all of us if we reach NOW’s goal of equality for all people, not just one set of white men.

Reproductive Rights: After Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973, women gave a sigh of relief: women had rights over their bodies. In the almost 40 years since that Supreme Court decision, the same court has hacked away at women’s rights established by the highest court in the land, but it is within the past decade that state legislatures have decimated women’s rights to have abortions.

Almost two years ago, the House of Representatives set the tone refusing women their reproductive rights with its first bill of the 112th Congress—an anti-abortion bill. Following H.R. 1, past candidate for vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) continued to co-sponsor 8 anti-abortion bills, several of them redundant with exiting laws. The entire House voted on 55 anti-women bills, a very high number considering that this chamber passed only 196 bills leading into the last few weeks.

In just one year, 2011, state legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, enacting 135 of them in 36 states. That number is in comparison to 18 anti-abortion laws passed in the year that George W. Bush first ran for president. State by state, more and more women have no place to go for an abortion.

These anti-abortion laws included earlier and earlier prevention of abortions, sometimes before a woman knows that she is pregnant. A Colorado organization has promoted “personhood” amendments across the nation with a “person” defined as an embryo from fertilization. Such a law, like the one that Mississippi rejected last year, would prevent not only abortions but also most hormonal contraception. Other laws created waiting periods—up to 72 hours—so burdensome that women who live in many states could not follow them.

Not satisfied with these laws, states required ultrasound mandates, even transvaginal ultrasounds, and prevented insurance policies from covering abortions. The icing on the cake was clinic regulations that keep clinics from providing abortions under the new high level of standards.

Conservatives also passed laws allowing doctors to lie to pregnant women. In Arizona and Kansas doctors are exempted from medical malpractice suits if they withhold medical information even if the woman suffers an injury from a pregnancy because of the doctor’s lies. Kansas also forces the doctor to falsely claim a link between abortions and breast cancer.

Although the majority of voters in the United States support women’s right to abortion, states haven’t stopped their anti-abortion work since the election. Ohio was the first state after the November election to try to kill Planned Parenthood. More states are working to ban “telemedicine” which makes medical abortion more accessible to rural women—or women in states with no clinics.

States are also trying to ban abortions being covered in Obamacare federal health insurance exchanges. Another ongoing issue comes from the so-called crisis pregnancy centers working to receive federal funding in spite of the fact that the sole purpose of these centers is to prevent abortions.

All the states trying to pass more and more laws against women’s reproductive rights are controlled by Republicans—both legislature and governor. For example, Michigan’s super majority of Republicans has a proposal to give tax credits for fetuses while removing these from children.

With the restrictions, at least one state has no provisions for providing abortions, and over 90 percent of the counties in the country have no facilities. Within the last decade, anti-abortionists became more violent, killing Dr. George Tiller when he went to church on May 31, 2009. Tiller treated patients who discovered late in pregnancy that their fetuses had severe or fatal birth defects.

Part Two will cover more NOW issues with violence against women, racism, and lesbian rights; Part Three finishes with economic justice and the Equal Rights Amendment.

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.

February 23, 2012

Is It Lying or ‘Puffing’

Puffing. That’s the term that we used for smoking a cigarette for most of my life. Now, thanks to Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, the word has a new definition. Yesterday the court discussed the constitutionality of the 2006 Stolen Valor Act which makes lying about having military honors a crime. During their exchange, justices voiced concern about laws that would potentially cause politicians and others to be indicted for lies and “exaggerations” about accomplishments or failures—false college degrees, extra-marital affairs, etc.

“In the commercial context, we allow a decent amount of lying. It’s called puffing. So maybe we allow a certain amount of puffing in political speech as well. Nobody believes all that stuff, right?” That’s Scalia’s take on whether political lies are acceptable.

Let’s take Newt Gingrich’s response to ads about his ethics violations during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives. “I was exonerated in every single case,” he said. After being charged, Gingrich agreed to pay $300,000 and admit he had “engaged in conduct that did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.” During the investigation, he submitted letters from his lawyers for which “the [House ethics] subcommittee was unable to find any factual basis.” Committee members stated that Gingrich “should have known” that the information in the letters “was inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable.” (Scalia would probably say that he was “puffing.”)

After the ethics committee voted 7 to 1 to reprimand him and require a $300,000 penalty, the full House passed the committee report by 395 to 28. Does this pass the Scalia test that nobody would believe Gingrich? I’m guessing not. When he claims that he was completely exonerated, millions of Americans nod their heads in agreement, thankful that the people accusing him of these ethics charges are wrong.

What about a state representative in Indiana, Bob Morris, who refuses to sign a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary because it is a “radicalized organization” that is “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” and that its agenda “includes sexualizing young girls” and promoting “homosexual lifestyles.” Morris’ lies has led to loss of members, meeting places, and status for the Girl Scouts because people believe him.

Jonathan Libby, a lawyer arguing against making lying illegal because of constitutionally-mandated free speech, said the law should not criminalize speech unless it “causes imminent harm to another person” or the government. He explained that laws against fraud and perjury were constitutional because those lies caused harm. The question here is the definition of “harm.”

Hundreds of politicians were elected in 2010 because they lied about their aims and goals. With their newfound power, they switched lanes from improving the economy and getting people jobs to their program of restricting people from voting, eradicating unions and fair wages, eliminating women’s reproductive rights, etc.–in short, doing harm. Now fewer than a couple of dozen people are providing over $100 million to “puff” about candidates, skewing the election in the way that they want.

Can a car salesperson justify lies about the condition of a used car by the new definition of “puffing”? Or would “free speech” justify lying about the condition of a house to a prospective purchaser?

Many years ago, I tried to smooth over a situation between a good friend and her young daughters by “puffing.” My friend firmly said, “I don’t lie to my children!” It was a great lesson in parenting that I’ve never forgotten. It’s a lesson that politicians have never learned. Their speeches show that they not only “shade the truth” but also openly lie about situations, knowing that they can persuade many people that what they say is factual.

Last night during the debate about whether women deserved contraception, the Republican presidential candidates talked about how our current culture is tragic because of “immorality.” I claim that lying to the people is also a form of “immorality.” How sad that a judge in the highest court of the United States would justify lying by the country’s leaders because we are not supposed to believe anything that they say.

The next time anyone accuses you of lying, just tell them that Scalia says you’re just “puffing.”

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