Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Dems Urge Holder to Stay Strong on 9/11 Trial

Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today urged Attorney General Eric Holder to stick to his initial determination that the alleged 9/11 plotters should be tried in civilian court, and not bow to partisan politics on what should be a legal determination.

"I think that the degree to which this dialogue has escalated is really very unhealthy," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) at this morning's hearing, calling the recent attacks on Holder "reprehensible."

"Democrats did not do to Bush following 9/11 what has been done to this administration.. . . I believe the best interest of the people of this nation are served by the Attorney General, and the President, having maximum flexibility as to which venue these defendants should be tried in...I have never seen anything quite like this."

Feinstein was referring to pending legislation that would require the Obama administration to try the 9/11 defendants in the recently-created military commissions rather than in traditional federal courts, where almost all terrorism cases have been tried in the past. Another pending bill would require the administration to place all terror suspects in military custody rather than have them questioned by the FBI, which has the most experienced terrorist interrogators.

Feinstein denounced these efforts at the Senate hearing as based on deliberate ignorance. "The record is ignored," she said. "It doesn't matter that the Bush administration brought 200 terrorists to justice under Article 3 courts," she said, apparently referring to a Human Rights First study analyzing the successful prosecutions of self-described Islamic terrorists since 9/11. "It doesn't matter that the military commissions, fraught with controversy, have convicted only three terrorists, two of whom are already out."

Citing the recent guilty pleas of convicted terrorists Najibullah Zazi and David Headly, she said: "the fact of the matter is that Article 3 courts have other charges they can use if they don't have evidence to sustain a pure terrorists charge," referring to the civilian federal court system authorized by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. "You should have that option," she said to Holder. "A lot of the attacks are just to diminish you. You should not buy into that. You should stay strong."

Senators Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) made similar remarks and echoed Feinstein's concerns.

Attorney General Eric Holder this morning gave no indication whether the 9/11 plotters will ultimately be tried in a civilian court or military commission, although he promised that the decision would be made within "a number of weeks."

Holder said that "New York is not off the table as a place where they might be tried," yet said the administration would "take into consideration" local objections.

Although local officials had initially supported hosting the trial, after a downtown real estate group protested about the disturbance to local businesses, officials such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Charles Schumer reversed their stance.

Holder made clear this morning, though, that the trials could be held in federal court even if they don't take place in downtown Manhattan. "The Southern District of New York is a much larger place than simply Manhattan," said Holder. "There's also the possibility of trying the case in other venues beyond New York."

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) hammered Holder on his initial decision to try the case in a New York court, then criticized him for wavering on the decision in response to local objections, and concluded: "I hope you will reevaluate this and we will soon have clarity about what the policy of the Department of Justice is."

Holder wouldn't say where the 9/11 defendants will ultimately be prosecuted, he did defend the track record of civilian federal courts, which he said have prosecuted close to 400 terrorists since 9/11, relying on recently-released Justice Department numbers.

Holder pleased some of his critics, however, by repeating that the administration still intends to hold 48 detainees "who are too dangerous to transfer but not feasible to prosecute."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who's been pushing Congress and the administration to support legislation that would create a scheme for indefinite detention without trial within the United States, seized on the opportunity to note that the rules for indefinite detention based on "dangerousness" remain unclear.

"I would urge you to work with Congress to see if you can retain flexibility," Graham said to Holder. "If you're a member of Al Qaeda you're a continuing threat to the world," he said, adding: "holding a member of Al Aaeda who is a continuing threat until they die in jail is okay with me."

Asked by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) whether there would be a review process for those indefinitely detained prisoners who could be left to die in jail, Holder said: "that's something we 're still working on."

Holder didn't specifically say whether that process would be developed by the executive branch or should be created by Congress, although he indicated that an interagency review was ongoing and that he's "hoping to have something we will be willing to share and put in place in a relatively short time."

Want to know what's wrong with the War on Drugs?

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It’s the first time that 1 in every 100 adult Americans is in prison, proof of an exploding prison system that states can ill afford and a movement away from rehabilitation programs. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities within the prison system. More than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities which means 1 in every 36 Hispanic adults and 1 in every 15 black adults are in prison. How did this all happen? A change in laws and policies over the past decade have convicted more offenders, including non violent offenders, and put them away for increasingly lengthy sentences. For many, it is a system that is not providing the same returns in public safety in relation to this growth, and a rapid movement to change unfair laws has seen growing progress.

The 1980’s saw the “War on Drugs” launched in a big way. It was also the time for many federal policies that disadvantaged communities of color. One example: sentences for crack cocaine offenses (the kind found in poor Black communities) that were treated a 100 times more severely than powder cocaine offenses (the kind that dominates White communities).

Reform advocates say no other single federal policy is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system than the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses are African American.

The differences in sentencing were based on a myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior, all of which has been disproved. What it’s actually led to is a costly system that focuses on low-level offenders and users instead of dealers and suppliers, imprisoning addicts that could benefit from rehabilitation programs. One analysis by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, estimates that an increased focus on community programs and an end to the sentencing disparity could lead to a savings of half-a-billion dollars in prison costs.

With mounting pressure on Congress to do away with legislation that has devastated communities, we are at an opportune moment to instill justice back into the system. While The House Judiciary Committee has already passed a bill that ends the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on a bill soon. Some Senators want to reduce the sentencing disparity instead of eliminating it but this watered-down compromise will do little to restore fairness. Let the Senators hear your voice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Liz Cheney's Impeccable Timing

 

It's nice to see that even conservatives are disgusted with Liz Cheney's latest attack on Eric Holder. As you've no doubt heard, Cheney is miffed that there are attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in the past, have defended people accused of nasty crimes. Of course, that's what defense lawyers are supposed to do, but that doesn't stop Liz Cheney from sponsoring scary videosinsinuating that defending someone swept up by US forces and accused of terrorism is just fundamentally worse than defending an ordinary serial murderer, rapist or corporate swindler.

Cheney and her small but highly vocal group Keep America Safe know how to prey on people's worst fears and prejudices. So I'm not all that surprised by their attack on lawyers like Neal Katyal, a Georgetown law professor, now Principal Deputy Solicitor General, who previously argued that the Bush administration's military commissions were unconstitutional -- and convinced a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that he was right.

But there's another reason Cheney's latest attack should not have come as a surprise. Consider the timing: late on Friday, February 18, the Department of Justice released a long-delayed report that set out the details of how two Justice Department lawyers, in close contact with the Vice President's office, wrote a series of legal memos that grossly perverted existing law and longstanding legal precedent to justify some of the most heinous acts of torture and institutionalized abuse of U.S. prisoners in American history. Although a career official at the Justice Department ultimately decided that the department's internal ethics rules were too unclear to recommend sanctions, the facts of the underlying report remain a damning indictment of attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee, among others, who gave the legal green light to criminal and immoral conduct.

What better time for Liz Cheney to change the subject?

Sure enough, a little more than a week later, and just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Justice Department's ethics report, Keep America Safe on March 2 released its video on "The Al Qaeda 7" -- seven lawyers in the Justice Department with some connection at some point in their careers to the defense of a Guantanamo detainee.

Immediately, the media shifted gears: it was no longer John Yoo we cared about, now it was the "Al Qaeda 7" -- mysterious Justice Department lawyers who pal around with terrorists. Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

Sure, the argument came to look kind of silly after The Huffington Post unearthed a 2007 article by Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson in which he specifically stood up for those detainees' defense lawyers, saying they represented the best of American values and were the real patriots. And then several prominent conservative lawyers, such as former DOJ officials John Bellinger and Peter Kiesler, publicly criticized the Cheney attack ad as "unfortunate" and "wrong."

But maybe none of that really matters. After all, it wasn't like the Al Qaeda 7 had actually done anything wrong or were at risk of any criminal or professional censure. On the contrary, they'd done exactly what the legal profession requires them to do: zealously defend their clients. But Cheney's attack conveniently shifted the spotlight away from other former Justice Department officials who actually are at risk of professional and criminal sanction.

The Office of Professional Responsibility's final report provides ample evidence former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee intentionally wrote legal memos that were blatantly wrong. It also suggests that White House officials were intimately involved in that process. The fact that John Yoo's e-mails were "deleted" and unavailable to the ethics investigators is no small matter either, both for what additional evidence those e-mails might have contained and because destroying federal records is a crime -- as is obstruction of justice.

Liz Cheney may have managed to temporarily distract the news media from the subject of her father's role in developing illegal policies that authorized torture. But let's hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to press its probe, for there are many observers out there, both at home and abroad, who have not so easily forgotten.

Diaries

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