January 30, 2007

Police Jail Rape Victim for Two Days; Deny Emergency Contraception

When people wonder why feminism is important, and when people try to smear the word by claiming it’s anything more than the radical idea that woman are human beings and deserving of the same rights and privileges as any man, this is an excellent example of societal injustice worth waving in their face.

First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed – for two nights and two days.

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.

The premedical student attended Saturday’s Gasparilla parade and veered off from her friends shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said. The Times is not naming her because police say she is a victim of a sexual crime.

As she walked north on Howard Avenue at Swann Avenue, she was grabbed by a man with crooked teeth and raped behind a building, McElroy said.

After the assault, the man ran off. The woman walked to her car, which was parked on the University of Tampa campus. At 3:40 p.m., after finding her vehicle, she called police.

As police assisted her, taking her to a nurse examiner’s clinic, and processing her report, an officer found two outstanding warrants for the woman in Sarasota County.

Attorney Virlyn “Vic” Moore III of Venice said his client was seated in the front seat of the police cruiser, on her way to the scene of her attack when the officer learned of the warrant, cuffed her and placed her in the back seat.

“To stop the rape investigation and instead victimize her again,” Moore said. “I’m aghast, astonished and outraged. I have never, ever heard of this happening.”

The officer arrested the woman at a sergeant’s instruction, McElroy said.

The student had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest, McElroy said. Moore said his client is convinced that she paid the fine and that the warrant was probably the result of a clerical error.

The judge set no bail.

“As soon as the chief’s office found out about it Monday, detectives were assigned to get her out of jail,” McElroy said. “Obviously, we’re very concerned about this young woman.”

Jail records show the woman was booked about eight hours after the reported rape.

A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called “morning-after pill” approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday.

For the emergency contraceptive to work, the first pill must be taken within three days of unprotected sex and the second 12 hours after the first. The woman had already taken the first pill soon after the assault Saturday, Moore said. She was unable to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. The jail allowed it, he said, after media inquiries.

I think the bulk of the article speaks for itself.

While I believe that to a degree this is blatant lack of consideration for a victim of a heinous crime, this is also the result of an arrogant police department who used their discretion entirely inappropriately. The number of questions to be answered here are numerous: Why was this woman treated this way? Why was the jail staffer’s religious beliefs even a factor when it came to him performing his duty? Why is a crime that the woman committed when she was a juvenile a felony, and considering the frequency of clerical errors like this (and they’re surprisingly frequent) why wasn’t she at the very least given the benefit of the doubt? Why did the police opt to pursue the warrants over the crime at hand? Why did the police decide that this old, likely already resolved matter of restitution was more important than rape?

The message is clear to sex offenders in Florida-make sure your victim has a dubious legal history and you can get away with anything. And women? Your message is clear as well: when the police claim to be there to serve and protect, they’re really saying “prosceute and enforce.” It’s sad that we’re not in the position where we can trust the authorities to use proper discretion on a case merit basis.

It’s remarkable. We’ve come a long long way, but apparently we have a great deal farther to go.

[ Police Jail Rape Victim for Two Days ]
Source: St. Petersburg Times

Going Home Shouldn’t Be A Crime

Apparently our federal institutions, charged with maintaining the public good, have more interest in suing those people they are charged with serving than actually serving them. After Hurricane Katrina, the detractors would wag their fingers at the people in New Orleans and tell them that they should have “helped themselves,” and should have “known better than to depend on the government,” essentially admonishing them for making use of the social support system that we’ve sought to build for all of our citizens. The mantra was that you can’t depend on local, regional, or federal authorities for anything, and that you should be ready to fend for yourself and take care of yourself without Uncle Sam’s help.

Many people got the message-I myself did, and made sure that I had an emergency and disaster plan, depending on the kind of emergency. I would suggest that you do the same-in the case of a cataclysmic or disastrous event, you’ll know what to do and have some kind of plan. Still, a massive event like Hurricane Katrina can throw anyone’s plans out of whack.

Still, when the people living in public housing decided to stop waiting for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to repair and renovate their public housing units so they would have a place to live, they took matters into their own hands and decided to do just what the detractors said they should do: help themselves. They walked into their homes and began the long and arduous job of cleaning up their living spaces and effecting repairs.

What did HUD do? Thank them for doing the work on their own? Apologize for taking so long to help them? Nope-they sued them for “damages” and asked a judge to throw them all out of their homes.

On Martin Luther King’s birthday, after being shut out of their homes for a year and a half, residents of the St. Bernard housing development in New Orleans took matters into their own hands. They entered their apartments, without permission, to the cheers of hundreds of supporters.1 HUD (Department of Housing and Urban development), the federal agency that’s supposed to help provide low-income housing, responded by suing them for monetary damages and asking a judge to throw them out of their homes—homes that are structurally intact and can be made livable with minimal investment.2,3

HUD can’t—or won’t—open up perfectly good housing, but it finds a way to sue the people it’s supposed to serve?

It’s appalling. I understand the need to ensure that the homes are viable and livable, but we’ve proven this already-essentially the only thing that needed to be done was to have professionals come and begin the cleanup, and well, where the government fails, individuals prevail. So why are the people of New Orleans being punished for exercising their own personal responsibility and trying to steer their own futures?

Make your voice heard, tell HUD to drop their petty lawsuits and do their jobs:

[ Going Home Shouldn’t Be A Crime ]
Source: Color of Change

Kennedy to Republicans: “What Is it About Working Men and Women That You Find so Offensive?”

I’d like to know as well.

Where does the greed stop? What is it about working men and women that the right side of the aisle seems to dislike so much? We knew that the right only capitulates to the well being of the greater public when it’s election season or when they have a socially divisive axe to grind, but the minimum wage? We’ve heard the Friedman-esque arguments that it’ll hinder trade and businesses will have to struggle to pay the minimum wage, but I’m concerned with the profit margins and validity of the books of any company that can’t afford to pay its workers a living wage, and at least one pegged against inflation so that we don’t have people working multiple full-time jobs just with the hope that someday they’ll be able to pay for their groceries and their children’s medication.

It’s shameful that we’re even having this debate, but the right has never shed its shame before, so we shouldn’t expect much else now. All we can demand is that the democrats and progressives on both sides of the aisle who actually care about their constituents and the real national interest will stand firm behind the minimum wage increase. I’m not discouraged by some tax incentives to make the “hurt” easier on small businesses that are struggling as is, and firmly believe that the larger effect will outweigh those small issues, but it’s important to get the measure passed and the law enforced first, and hopefully with as few amendments as possible.

[ Kennedy to Republicans: “What Is it About Working Men and Women That You Find so Offensive?” ]
Source: TruthOut

If you like, you can take action and tell the Senate to stop nickel-and-diming the American people and to pass the minimum wage bill without watering it down with amendments and tax breaks that will dilute its importance. Make you voice heard.

[ Senators: Don’t Nickel and Dime the Minimum Wage Bill! ]
Source: Faithful America

January 22, 2007

Blogging for Choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Happy anniversary! It’s the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. And I particularly like the idea of Blogging for Choice, to show my support not just for a monumental legal decision that had far reaching effects and sparked a firestorm of discussion and debate over the past three decades, but also to answer the fundamental question that the Blogging for Choice site poses. So in that spirit, let’s get started.

This year’s topic is a simple one: tell us, and your readers, why you’re pro-choice.

This is simple: because I believe in the power of the individual to choose the direction of their own lives.

It’s actually much deeper than that, to be honest, but it starts there. I believe that no one, regardless of their religion, their personal belief system, their personal morality, or their personal decisions, whether those beliefs and choices happen to be pro-choice or anti-choice, have the right to tell anyone else what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, how they can and cannot lead their lives, when they can and cannot start and raise a family, and how they choose or do not choose to have sex or have children. I simply believe that abortion is a matter between a woman, her doctor, and potentially her mate or partner, and that’s where the conversation can and absolutely should end.

I believe that those people standing outside of medical clinics holding photoshopped placards of blender babies that apparently are supposed to make me sympathize but instead make me chuckle at the horrible post-processing work done on the images have an agenda, and that agenda has nothing to do with protecting life, or a “culture of life,” I believe it has nothing to do with proving that all life is sacred, and I believe that they have no one’s best interests at heart and no good intentions to bring to bear. They have a sense of self-righteous, indignant morality that they seek to impose on everyone else-women, children, men, everyone. They seek to control our lives and our bodies, and the matter of abortion is only a first step, and those who believe that this begins and ends with “life,” or begins and ends with “abortion” are either incredibly naive or allowing themselves to be played as pawns in a greater campaign by a vocal minority of evangelical, radical, and incredibly un-Christian religious crusaders and far-right conservative fascists. The question is, then, inevitably, what that campaign seeks to achieve, and the answer is clear: starting with abortion, these people seek to define, legalize, and enforce morality according to their own beliefs and forsaking all others and any sense of pluralism and compassionate civil society. These are the people who would have adulteresses stoned in public and homosexuals beaten, the same people speaking from the same pulpits who felt so strongly about the “horrific ungodliness” of interracial marriage that they would rather castrate and hang young Black men than even stand the possibility that he may have given a white woman a sideways glance. This isn’t about “defending life,” it’s about asserting morality and dominating power, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing at all noble.

I draw these relationships between all of these same people because their eventual goal is crystal clear: to shape and form society in the image of their own morality, their own misinterpreted religious ideas, and their own corrupted sense of right and wrong. There are no analogies between abortion and murder to be drawn here, only between choice and freedom and the oppressive lack thereof.

Why am I pro-choice? I believe in freedom. I believe in liberty, and I believe in the rights of the individual to steer the direction of their own lives, and that includes the basic human right to voluntary reproduction, not compulsory reproduction. Extending this right includes the right to available, affordable, and effective contraception, reproductive care, (which includes not just abortion, but pre-natal care for women who opt to have children-note the opt, and extended care for children who have been born, a group the anti-choice community seems to conspicuously ignore) and education.

There’s nothing more American than choice, than freedom, than liberty, than the power of the individual to chart the course of their own lives, to rise and fall under their own power. It’s the American dream that we all stumble towards and grasp for, advantaged or not, and that choice, that freedom, is that makes us who we are.

Now then. Who are these people who dare try to take our freedom away from us?

January 15, 2007

The Dream Lives On

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 13, 2007

Stem Cell Bill Sails Through House

Additional good news. The same stem cell bill that the President used his first and so far only veto on sailed through the house with not nearly as much debate (or press coverage) as the last time it went around, and there were no marathon debate and shouting sessions on the floor of the House like there were last time we went through this. The American people, by and large, can see the scientific benefits of stem cell research coming, have no intrinsic passion to protect frozen embryos and embryos doomed to be destroyed anyway from being potentially life-saving treatments, and would any day choose to help the living, the here and now, from diseases like Parkinson’s and MS and potentially develop other treatments to regenerate and replace organs and tissues, rather than force and impose their personal moralities on the rest of society.

The Senate is poised to take the same tack they did last year and pass the bill, likely without hesitation, but the President has already indicated that he’ll ready the veto pen again to stop some of our finest scientists in federally funded institutions like the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and universities around the country from diligently working to develop the kinds of life-saving and life-altering treatments that most scientists believe would be in sight if they only had the opportunity and the research money to apply to it. Thankfully, even though the President seems intent on pleasing his ultra-conservative base at the expense of the rest of us, the federal funding ban does not reach to state funding and private funding, both of which have flooded to research agencies around the country to support stem cell research initiatives.

Even so, the position of the Administration has more other unintended consequences, like holding back American research science in comparison to the rest of the world. Scientific institutions around the globe have no similar esoteric issues with stem cell research, and are moving forward full steam with studies and experiments that can make a real difference in people’s lives, rather than soothe an isolated group’s sense of self-righteousness, and those other organizations are luring talented and skilled scientists, researchers, and students away from American firms, schools, and institutions because of a lack of funding and research opportunities.

It’s a shame, but at the very least the Congress is taking steps to take a stand for what the majority of the American people believe and stand for. Unfortunately it’s clear, from the war to stem cell research and more that the President doesn’t feel he has to govern according to the desires of the people he was elected to serve.

[ Stem Cell Bill Sails Through House ]
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy of Yahoo news)

Democrats Push for Alaska Drilling Ban

From the “good news” department, the Democratically controlled Congress is finally taking steps to protect the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) once and for all from the oil industry’s best friends in Congress who keep trying to open the refuge up to drilling. We’ve been down this road before, politicians in the pockets of the oil companies have claimed that it would “boost our homeland security” and “increase our oil independence” if we build a drilling complex on top of the natural habitats of dozens of endangered animals. Unfortunately for the oil interests, the most optimistic estimates of how much oil might possibly lay under the soil of the refuge wouldn’t be enough to sate the American appetite for oil for any appreciable amount of time, and it wouldn’t make us any more independent, as any oil gains from the Refuge would have no effect on oil imports from middle eastern countries. In short, drilling for oil in the Refuge would line the pockets of the industry but make no appreciable difference in oil prices and supply for the American people-another attempted bait and switch by a small group of congressional Republicans.

Still, now that the Democrats are in control of congress, legislation has been introduced that would permenently put an end to the debate, stop it from coming up every time Ted “a series of tubes” Stevens feels like raping the environment, and finally put the highly partisan matter to rest. Even many Republicans are tired of dealing with the matter and have indicated their support for the measure, to kill it once and for all. Now we just hope that they get together with their colleagues across the aisle against the highly anti-environmental sentiment in their own party and vote to resolve the problem.

[ Democrats Push for Alaska Drilling Ban ]
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy of Yahoo! News)

Tax Cuts Offer Most for Very Rich, Study Says

The reality-based community will hear this and say “we knew this already,” but it’s always good to have definitive proof and data to use when the Republicans try to sell the American people on the notion that their tax cuts are “powering the economy” and “giving back to the American people,” when in reality it’s part of their strategy to please their wealthy and large-business friends while hand-waving at the people. Cutting taxes for the wealthy and those who need the break the least winds up creating a hole in fiscal policy that the middle and lower classes then wind up having to fill with added tax dollars, and overall is part of the conservative right’s departure from the policies of fiscal responsibility.

According to a study published byt he non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the results of the Bush tax cuts, the same ones that congressional republicans swore over and over during the 2004 and 2006 election seasons that we should make permanent because they were integral to economic growth, in reality have had very little effect, other than benefiting the very very wealthiest Americans.

Families earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush’s tax cuts, according to a new Congressional study.

The study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also shows that tax rates for middle-income earners edged up in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available, while rates for people at the very top continued to decline.

Based on an exhaustive analysis of tax records and census data, the study reinforced the sense that while Mr. Bush’s tax cuts reduced rates for people at every income level, they offered the biggest benefits by far to people at the very top — especially the top 1 percent of income earners.

Though tax cuts for the rich were bigger than those for other groups, the wealthiest families paid a bigger share of total taxes. That is because their incomes have climbed far more rapidly, and the gap between rich and poor has widened in the last several years.

So the very best interpretation is that the tax cuts were a mixed bag, but the more concrete interpretation is that the only people who have really benefited from the tax cuts are the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States, not to mention the significant takeaway from the report that the income gap is growing ever so wider. The widening gap is a trend that’s troubled the progressive community for some time, but the fact that it’s more than obvious now is all the proof that we need that the American people are feeling the pinch of an administration and one-party Washington that’s not interested in economic justice and equality. Many people interpreted the results of the 2006 midterm elections as a referendum on the President and one-party rule in Washington, and that’s likely true-economic equality and opportunity for the middle and lower classes was no doubt an important issue to voters last November. The Democrats, now in power on Capitol Hill, have vowed to address the issue, and given the speed with which they’ve pushed for changes to President Bush’s bloated Medicare changes and raising the minimum wage, they’re already taking action to help the middle class recover from the policies of the previous Congress. Sadly, knowing the White House, they’ll probably ready the veto pen to nix any changes that might actually prove beneficial to the American people.

[ Tax Cuts Offer Most for Very Rich, Study Says ]
Source: The New York Times

January 6, 2007

100 Hours Mark the Change

The first 100 hours of the new Congress have gone off swimmingly. Nancy Pelosi has been sworn in as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, and literally in the first day the House passed, with only one lone Republican voting in dissent, a comprehensive ethics reform package that would put the brakes on lobbyists’ efforts to wine and dine senators and representatives in exchange for their votes on favorable legislation, something that the Republican congress before them were wrought with. Next up, equally important issues like raising the minimum wage, enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations for securing more entry points to the country than airlines by inspecting cargo on planes as well as ships, and much much more. For a change, it’s time for progressives to check our cynicism and snark and truly come out to support the new Democratic congress in their efforts to clean up the mess that they inherited not only from their Republican colleagues across the aisle (not to mention the ones kicked out of office, either by voters or by their own scandalous doing) but in some part from their own colleagues.

Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign For America’s Future, has more:

In the three fleet weeks before the president’s State of the Union address, the new Congress will put down a clear marker that the times, they are changing. The conservative era is over. Common sense is no longer exiled from the nation’s capital.

If the first female Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is successful, the House will start by passing tough new ethics rules to apply to themselves. The new majority will then pass the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade. They will vote to cut interest rates on student loans in half. They’ll empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. They’ll roll back a portion of the obscene subsidies that go to big oil and use the money to fund renewable energy. They’ll vote to unleash stem cell research from the zealots. They’ll make common sense investments in homeland security.

And, if they are smart, Speaker Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid will join with Democratic governors to invite the president to join them in launching a 10-year, concerted drive for energy independence—an Apollo Plan for Energy, that invests in new energy and new efficiency, mobilizes science and technology, generates new jobs in America, redresses global warming, while reducing our dependence on Persian Gulf oil.

All this will take place in 100 hours, before the befuddled president gives his State of the Union address. The slim new Democratic majority in the House will demonstrate that they heard what voters were saying. They will take immediate steps to clean up Washington, and turn the agenda from the dictates of corporate lobbies to the concerns—wages, the cost of college and health care, soaring energy prices—that Americans worry about over their kitchen tables at night.

With any hope, the new Congress will give the American people a little less to worry about at night, and a little more faith that there are people in government, regardless of their political affiliation, who have gotten the message of the midterm elections that we all sent, and will choose to work to the benefit of the people from the perspective of the people.

[ 100 Hours Mark the Change ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Exxon Mobil Cultivates Global Warming Doubt

It’s not news that Exxon Mobil has gone out of its way to buy pseudoscience that casts global climate change into doubt, and it’s not news that Exxon Mobil is one of the most anti-environmental companies on the planet, actively fighting literally any effort to protect wildlife, restrict oil drilling, clean the air and water, or restrict the amount of damage they’re allowed to do in the process of doing business. Exxon Mobil is the company that’s fought and continues to fight the jury-awarded damages that the people of Alaska deserve in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, claiming that the events don’t warrant the damages and that they should only have to pay a paltry few million that wouldn’t even begin to reimburse the state, local, and federal governments for their cleanup efforts and ongoing restoration activities.

Even so, Exxon Mobil is incredibly threatened by the realization that climate change is not only real, but is happening now and something has to be done to curb it. It’s common knowledge in the scientific community that global climate change is discussed in journals and papers as a matter of fact, not speculation, and that while there are many contributing factors, human greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are a significant, if not the most significant, factor. Climatologists, the real ones who do their research independently and aren’t on the payroll of an energy interest, agree that this is fact, this is happening, and something must be done to reverse course or the consequences will be very real. And yet, the media continues to report the energy industry’s paid pseudoscientists as though they’re another “side” to the “argument” that’s not actually happening. The tactics being used are eerily reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s attempts to buy science that supported the nonsense that smoking wasn’t hazardous to people’s health and that nicotine wasn’t an addictive drug.

As it comes to light that the “dissent” with regard to global climate change and its concequences are really being farmed out by energy interests threatened by the prospect of having to change their business model to meet the demands of the future, we can only hope that they’ll step back, put up less money in resistance and put more money into securing their place in tomorrow economy by exploring renewable energies, lower-emission energies, pollution controls, and so on. I would be more than happy to urge the government to loosen its regulations on the energy industry if the energy industry would, even once, demonstrate that it doesn’t need both of our eyes on it at all times.

[ Exxon Mobil Cultivates Global Warming Doubt ]
Source: Reuters (courtesy of Planet Ark)