Weekly Pulse: New Anti-Choice Bill Suggests More #DearJohn Letters Needed

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Health advocate Eesha Pandit and blogger Sady Doyle join GRITtv host Laura Flanders for a discussion of the House GOP’s draconian abortion bill, H.R.3. The bill, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called a top priority, would permanently restrict federal funding for abortion, even beyond the already stringent guidelines set out in the Hyde Amendment.

Doyle launched the #dearjohn Twitter campaign to channel public outrage over H.R. 3, particularly its clause that changed the existing “rape and incest” exception for Medicaid funding for abortion to an exception for “forcible rape.”The GOP ultimately removed the word “forcible,” but the bill’s other far-reaching restrictions remain in place.

Getting the “forcible” proviso removed from the bill was a small victory, but Doyle notes the fight is far from over. H.R. 3 isn’t the only radical anti-choice bill on the GOP’s legislative agenda. Carol Joffe reports at RH Reality Check that H.R.358 (the so-called “Protect Life Act”) would give hospitals unlimited discretion to turn away women who needed abortions, even to save their lives.

Insure pregnant women

A California state senator is taking on insurance companies for denying pregnancy-related health care coverage, Brie Cadman reports at Change.org. State senator Noreen Evans has introduced a bill that would protect insurance coverage for pregnant women in the individual health insurance market. Unlike group insurers and HMOs, private plans in the state are currently not required to cover maternity care. In 2004, 82% of individual health insurance plans in California covered maternity care; by 2009, only 19% of individual plans did so.

Irony alert

The individual mandate component of health care reform, which will impose a tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, is the bete noire of conservative Republicans, and the target of multiple constitutional challenges working their way through the courts. Ironically, as Simeon Talley explains at Campus Progress, the mandate was originally proposed by a Republican as a bulwark againstsocialized medicine:

Indeed the individual mandate has its genesis on the right. Ezra Klein interviews ‘Father of the Mandate’ Republican Mark Pauly: “We did it because we were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance, which isn’t market-oriented, and we didn’t think [that] was a good idea. One feature was the individual mandate.”

Medicine and the public good

At truthout, Dr. Andrew Saal remembers what he said when a medical colleague asked him to sign a petition to repeal health care reform:

I centered myself and spoke in calm, measured phrases, with a warm smile. “I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I believe that caring for those unable to pay is a matter of civic duty and professional honor. And while a pinch of free enterprise may keep the system nimble and foster innovation, at the end of the day, medicine is a social commodity similar to police and fire services.”

Saal’s colleague argues that he should be entitled to charge as much as the market will bear for medical services. After all, he studied hard and went to medical school. Saal sees things differently. He argues that, while doctors are entitled to fair compensation for their skilled services, medical knowledge is social. The doctor who places a cardiac stent didn’t invent the procedure. Saal notes that federal tax dollars fund the basic research that makes medical breakthroughs possible. While the stent itself may have been developed by a private company, the company couldn’t have invented it if the government hadn’t invested untold millions of dollars on basic research.

What’s more, Saal notes, doctors don’t pay the full cost of their schooling. The federal government subsidizes medical education through low interest federal loans, the university system itself, and Medicare reimbursements for interns and residents (doctors in training).

Nail salon hazards

Nail salon workers are exposed to a miasma of formaldehyde, toluene, and other known and suspected chemical hazards. The National Radio Project takes a closer look at the potential health effects of working long hours in poorly ventilated salons.

In California, the issue is of special concern to the Vietnamese community. An astonishing two-thirds of nail salon workers in the state are Vietnamese immigrants, most of them women in their childbearing years. Epidemiologists have yet to definitively prove a link between nail salon exposure and chronic disease, but the suspect chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

The bottom line is that safer chemicals are available. Activists say that regulators should mandate healthier alternatives now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by membersof 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 AuditThe Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

First U.S. Trial of 'Child Soldier' in Modern History Starts This Week at Gitmo

On Tuesday, the Obama administration is scheduled to begin its first trial of a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay. Omar Khadr was only 15 when he was captured in a firefight in 2002 with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Now 23, he'll finally have his day in court. Only instead of an experienced federal court with a long history of trying terror suspects, Khadr will be tried in a military commission, created just last year. In the eight years since President George W. Bush created the first military commissions at Guantanamo, they have convicted only four terrorists - only two in contested trials. Regular federal courts in the United States, by contrast, have convicted more than 400 in the same time period.

Khadr was only nine when his father, an alleged Al Qaeda financier, dragged him from Canada to Afghanistan and put him to work helping his Al Qaeda-connected friends. Khadr has said that he never had a choice. And a Canadian intelligence agency reported, based on interrogations of Khadr in 2003, that Khadr viewed Al Qaeda "through the eyes of a child" who didn't understand that his father's activities were linked to terrorism.

What's more, based on what's been presented in pretrial hearings so far, there appears to be little or no evidence, other than "confessions" extracted under highly suspicious circumstances, that Khadr actually committed the most serious crime he's accused of: throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.

Even if he did, Khadr shouldn't be tried in a military commission.

Under international law, a child captured in combat is supposed to be treated as a victim rather than a warrior, offered rehabilitation in custody and eventually repatriated home. Khadr, who has relatives in Canada, was offered neither option.

In addition, the crime of murdering a U.S. soldier isn't actually a war crime. In war, it's not a crime to target the other side's soldiers. But because Khadr was a civilian, rather than a member of a regular foreign army, throwing a grenade is a criminal act that could be prosecuted in a regular criminal court. Although the military commission rules characterize his crime as one that falls within the commissions' jurisdiction, the legal authority of the commission to prosecute conduct that was declared a war crime after the act was committed, or ex-post facto, remains legally questionable.

Khadr's lawyer has also questioned the legality of the military commissions as a whole, filing an appeal just this week with the Supreme Court arguing that the commissions are unconstitutional because they target only "aliens"--people who are not U.S. citizens. Though the courts have so far punted on this issue, it's clear that even if Khadr is convicted, he'll have several strong grounds for appeal.

So why is the government bringing this case in a military commission?

Perhaps the government hopes that Khadr's statements, which he claims were extracted by various kinds of torture and abuse, will be allowed into court as evidence. Although Khadr's lawyer hasn't yet had the opportunity to present all the evidence of his client's treatment at Bagram and at Guantanamo Bay, what's come out at pretrial hearings so far is that when Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in July 2002, the teenager had been shot twice in the back, blinded in one eye and had a face peppered with shrapnel. Interrogators at the Bagram air base took to calling him "Buckshot Bob." But that didn't stop them from interrogating him while he was still recovering from life-threatening wounds and strapped to a hospital gurney. Using what the military calls a "fear up" technique, an interrogator testified, Khadr was told a story about another prison just like him who refused to cooperate - and who then was gang-raped and killed in an American prison.

Official documents also reveal that at Guantanamo, Khadr was subjected to the military's "frequent flyer" program -- meaning he was moved every three hours for weeks at a time to keep him from sleeping prior to interrogations.

So just how reliable are the statements he made, either at Bagram or at Guantanamo?

Now, after eight years at Gitmo, Khadr insists he's not guilty. He has also at times said he'd boycott his own trial because he thinks the whole military commission process is a sham.

It's easy to understand why. Now 23, Khadr, has been interviewed by dozens of interrogators, each time led to believe that his cooperation would spare him from violence and lead to his release. He told interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear, but that release never happened. If Khadr had been imprisoned in the United States, he would have been tried and either convicted or released long ago. But instead, Khadr has been held without trial on a secluded prison camp in Cuba for nearly a decade with little opportunity to defend himself.

Human Rights First has been observing the military commission hearings since their inception in 2002. Repeatedly, our observers have been astounded by the injustices, inefficiency and wholesale fiasco that many of the inexperienced and legally questionable commissions' proceedings produce.

That's partly because the commissions are so new - created by a law passed in 2009. The first military commission system, created by the Bush administration, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. As a result, there's is almost no legal precedent to guide commission judges. The Military Commissions Manual, meanwhile, was only issued in late April - on the eve of Khadr's first pretrial hearing. The resulting confusion offers yet more opportunity for Khadr and anyone else convicted in a military commission to challenge their convictions on a broad range of legal grounds. Decisions on the prisoners' fate will be delayed that much longer.

There's another reason that this whole military commission system leaves me scratching my head: the extravagant expense involved. Keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and military commission system open for fewer than 180 detainees costs taxpayers a lot of money. Construction and renovations to the camp have cost about $500 million so far; operating costs are another $150 million every year. The Washington Post recently estimated the bill, much of which has been paid to KBR and Halliburton, has so far exceeded $2 billion. Just the cost of flying dozens of journalists and observers like myself, plus all the lawyers involved, to and from Guantanamo to attend each of these hearings so the government can claim that they're "public" is astronomical. Meanwhile, federal courts and secure prisons in the United States are readily available and already paid for. And the government doesn't have to cover anyone's costs to get there.

I'm in Guantanamo Bay this week to observe the end of Khadr's pretrial hearings and the beginning of his trial in a military commission. But I doubt I'll gain any better understanding of why the Obama administration chose to try him there.

Update: Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Omar Khadr's military defense lawyer, just gave a quick news conference in the sweltering airplane hangar here at the Gitmo base. (Only prosecutors are allowed to use the indoor air-conditioned rooms for press conferences.) "This case will echo in the future," Jackson said, noting that it will set a sad precedent for the United States' right to try a child soldier as a full-fledged war criminal.

It will also create a lasting legacy for the Obama administration."Forever the Obama administration will be remembered as starting the military commissions with a case of a child soldier," Jackson said.

Somehow that doesn't seem like the sort of legacy Obama had in mind when he vowed to close the Gitmo prison down on his first day in office.

Inouye to strip Anti-Rape Amendment from Bill

I say we cut off his other arm, and then move South.

Multiple sources have told the Huffington Post that Sen. Dan Inouye, a longtime Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the provision, which was offered by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed by the Senate several weeks ago.

Inouye's office, sources say, has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up. The Senate is considering taking out a provision known as the Title VII claim, which (if removed) would allow victims of assault or rape to bring suit against the individual perpetrator but not the contractor who employed him or her.

"The defense contractors have been storming his office," said a source with knowledge of the situation. "Inouye either will get the amendment taken out altogether, or water it down significantly. If they water it down, they will take out the Title VII claims.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/22 /frankens-anti-rape-amendm_n_329896.html

There's more...

Progressive Democrat Newsletter Issue 196

After a brief break, the Progressive Democrat is back. This week I discuss Sierra Leone, America's Indian Country, and the Taliban as well as continuing my local focus in 16 states where I have solid readership.

LOTS going on, of course, more than I can comment on. The Gaza war, where I have strong sympathies with both sides. The impeachment of a certain disgustingly corrupt Governor of Illinois...impeached, I should add, with the help of his own Democratic Party. THAT is the difference between Dems and Repubs. Democrats WILL impeach one of their own if he is found to be corrupt. Repubs just make excuses for their own corruption and blame the media. Speaking of which, Sarah Palin spent the week whining about how the media was to blame for her losing. Yeah, right. Like her having no clue about much of anything didn't have something to do with it.

There's more...

When Men Rule Society Rape Exists

"Rape is not a natural act for men. A study by anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday found that in cultures with a high incidence of rapes, the economic, religious, and political structures are controlled by men. In Sanday's study of 44 societies that were not patriarchal, there was virtually no rape"(http://tinyurl.com/5peugt).

The evidence shows that male dominance causes rape. Men dominate women in our society politically, economically and socially, thus we suffer rape. I read one of Sanday's books about a gender equal society: the Minangkabau. The book called Women at the Center describes the Minangkabau society where women have as much power as men (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~psanday/). Sanday lived with the Minangkabau for many years all summer each year and though she did a thorough investigation she found no rape and no domestic violence. There is division of labor so that women dominate some power centers and men dominate other power centers. For example, Minangkabau women inherit all property and have more economic power than men. But overall there is roughly equal gender power. Sanday said the people are very nice and the men are nurturing like women. Sanday wrote two books about rape so she's an expert (Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, A Woman Scorned: Acquaintance Rape on Trial). She says what motivated her to write about rape was the amazing difference she saw in the way women were treated in the gender equal societies versus the way women were treated in the United States. Her studies document that rape is a problem when men dominate women in society. Thus, to end rape it is necessary to end male domination. The Minangkabau people view rape as the ultimate evil and have structured their society in a way to prevent it. We must restructure our society to put women at top levels of leadership in order for us to have gender equality to end rape. It is important to note that in order to eliminate rape it is not necessary to achieve gender equality in all spheres of life, but it's necessary that women have equal power as men overall. The key word: overall. For example women can dominate a powerful sphere and men can dominate another equally powerful sphere so that overall women and men have equal power. Currently, men dominate all three major spheres: 1) political, 2) economic and 3) social (religion, arts, media, etc.) Because of that women must strive for 50% equality in all three spheres. The result of the striving is we will eventually have 50% of the power in one sphere. At that point women may dominate that sphere and continue to make gains until the point where the sectors that men dominate will equal in power to the sectors that women dominate. Or, we have the option of 50% power across the board in all spheres [edited to explain balance of power].

Researchers all over the world documented that male dominance encourages men to rape. Bernard Lefkowitz in his book about the rape of a handicapped girl in the affluent suburb of Glen Ridge documented the community's male dominance and said the rape and the community's general decision to support the rapists instead of the victim "reflected the values embedded in the larger culture." Those values are that men should dominate women. Anneka Van Woudenberg, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch who has documented the recent increase of military rape in the Congo where in some villages as many as 90% of women have been raped, explains that the rapes are about power: "This is not rape because soldiers have got bored and have nothing to do. It is a way to ensure that communities accept the power and authority of that particular armed group. This is about showing terror." Dr. Denis Mukwege, the director of Panzi Hospital in Eastern Congo, says of the rapes: "Sex is being used to commit evil" (CBS, War Against Women, Jan. 13, 2008, http://tinyurl.com/2ogl8s).

There's more...

Diaries

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