Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Speech at the DNC

That was probably the best speech I've seen Hillary Clinton deliver. I think now, after calling for unity in the party, she sees her role as putting health care reform at the top of the agenda. In the speech, she hinted that she would be pressuring Barack Obama to include a mandate on health care reform if he's elected.

Also, her shoutout to Michelle Obama was amazing, and made me want Clinton to depart endless amounts of wisdom to Michelle should she become First Lady.

HuffPo Lunch

I'm at the Brown Palace Hotel for the Huffington Post lunch discussion on new media v. old media. The discussion itself has bad mics and isn't actually all that interesting, but I discovered when I went to check something on SIECUS (the Sex Information and Education Council on the US) and discovered that the Internet overlords had blocked the site:
The website you are trying to access has been blocked by the Brown Palace Web Filter because it is in the Sex Education category.
Weirdly enough, ObamaNation is totally accessible.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Crappy Hour

Megan and I talk about Madonna, McCain, and the right pandering to women on the "glass ceiling" over at Jezebel today. Check it out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Convention Blogging

I'll be blogging over the next week at the DNC in Denver. Be sure to check out what I'm doing at Pushback and RH Reality Check. I'll be cross-posting some, but not all, stuff.

Poll: Catholics Want Separation of Church and State

A new poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice shows that Catholics are pretty equally divided between the two major candidates. Barack Obama is leading over John McCain by a 42-40 margin, with 17 percent undecided. But most importantly, 70 percent of respondents said they thought the beliefs of Catholic bishops were irrelevant to public policy (backing up Jesse's post from a few days ago). Additionally, 73 percent believed that Catholic politicians and other public officials aren't obligated to make decisions that are in accordance with the Catholic Church's views. Based on most Catholics I know, this seems about right. But it looks like policy positions on choice rank far below economic and foreign policy concerns for most Catholics.

Cross posted at pushback.

Horrible Proposed HHS Regulations Announced

Remember those really horrible Department of Health and Human Services regulations that we heard were going to be proposed last month? Well, they’ve officially been announced. The regulations allow doctors and nurse practitioners to refuse to treat women for anything that might “conflict” with their religious beliefs. They also define “abortion” as ending a pregnancy even before implantation–which means they’d allow health care professionals to refuse to distribute birth control.

We’ve known about the potential for these kind of tactics for a while. HHS Secretary Michael Levitt raised a stink back in March over the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ new ethics guidelines (PDF), which said that a health care provider had an obligation to give a referral to a woman in a timely manner if he or she felt that the requested reproductive services would conflict with his or her conscience.

Additionally, such regulations directly conflict with state laws in California, Massachusetts, and Illinois that require hospitals and pharmacists to distribute birth control and emergency contraception if a patient requests it. In other words, this proposed rule could be very bad news for women and their reproductive health.

Cross posted at pushback.

Ms. Ph.D.

This article from Inside Higher Ed yesterday talked about a study from the University of Washington Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education entitled "Finally Equal Footing for Women in Social Science Careers?" The question mark pretty much says everything.
Generally, the evidence is very positive for women — as their careers start. Women are slightly more likely than men to have their first jobs on the tenure track (42 percent vs. 40 percent) and slightly less likely than men to have faculty jobs off the tenure track (26 percent vs. 28 percent). But these figures reverse themselves 6 to 10 years after a Ph.D., at which point men are more likely to have tenure or jobs outside of academe (generally with higher salaries than those for professors) and women are more likely to have jobs off the tenure track.
So in other words, as soon as women get higher up in academia or as soon as they start having children -- a lot of academics put off children until they get through tenure -- the picture looks much less rosy. Additionally the article notes the difference in partners of those in academia:
Men are more likely to be married 6-10 years out (79 percent to 71 percent). But the more significant difference may be who male and female social scientists marry. Women still “marry up,” the report says, noting that women in the survey are much more likely to be married to fellow Ph.D.’s while men are more likely to be married to people with less education than they have.

Just this week, a Stanford University study noted that academic woman at top research universities are more likely than their male counterparts to be married to fellow academics — and noted that this makes their career advancement in academe more difficult as they need to navigate dual-career issues. The study on the social sciences suggests that this situation extends well beyond the top universities examined by Stanford.
Generally speaking, academics tend to marry academics, but this seems to be an important and significant life choice. There is a great deal of history behind the whole notion of "marrying up," but this study suggests that such a notion may actually hurt a woman's career. A lot of social research shows that in couples where both partners are driven career-types -- especially when there are children involved, the woman's career often tends to take a back seat to the man's.

It seems that before women get bogged down in the 6-10 years out of a Ph.D. program, they succeed on almost equal terms. The study is just another piece of the social science research that tends to show women "volunteering" to take the back seat for the sake of her partner.

More on Gardasil

I finally got to read the long NYTimes piece on the HPV vaccine. The piece is thorough and well-reported, asking many important connections about Merck lobbying and cost-per-life saved. The article's conclusion is somewhat agnostic. It doesn't say that the vaccine is bad, but it does raise a lot of quesitons about both its effectiveness and its widespread use.

But here's the thing that really gets me: these questions are almost never asked about other kinds of medication and the article makes lobbying seem unique to Merck. It's not. It was only until recently that we began to question the amount of subsidies pumped into gas and feed corn farming. Once we're talking about preventing cervical cancer in women, however, that's when we bust out our investigative skills.

I'm not complaining. The piece raises a lot of really important questions, like how urgent is it to vaccinate against a virus that is largely seen as an inconvenience (cough, cough, flu vaccine). The article also points to a false sense of security the vaccine might give women. But I know very few women that suddenly think they're impervious after getting a shot. After all, there are plenty of other STIs (and not to mention pregnancy) that you can get if you risk sex without a condom.

In any case, I still believe that widespread use of the HPV vaccine along with continued research into its effectiveness is sound policy to pursue. After all, even if cervical cancer isn't listed as one of the most deadly, if we can prevent it, it seems like a good idea.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Debate Over Debates

Today the Barack McCain and John Obama campaigns released a joint statement that officially announcing the debate dates (although they've been known for a while). The debates will be sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a group that is bipartisan and nonprofit, but activist and author George Farah wrote an entire book, called No Debate, making the case against the CPD:
The CPD is not the honorable institution it claims to be. In fact, the CPD is a corporate-funded, bipartisan cartel that secretly awards the control of the presidential debates to the Republican and Democratic candidates, perpetuating the domination of a two-party system and restricting subject matters of political discourse. Through the CPD, the Republican and Democratic candidates exclude popular third-party candidates, eliminate challenging debate formats, and avoid addressing many important national issues. The presidential debates become exchanges of sound bites rather than exchanges of ideas. The CPD represents the Republican and Democratic nominees, not the American people.

While I'd say that Farah is probably on the extreme end of those advocating the democratization of debates--he argues that third-party candidates like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader should be allowed into debates--current rules state a third-party candidate must be polling above 15 percent nationally to make it into the debate, making it nearly impossible for them to get in. I'm not overly interested in making sure Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, or Ron Paul are included in the debates this year, but I think Farah does make some good points about the lack of real back-and-forth at the general election debates.

This Nightline video from 2004 summarizes some of the great debate moments of the past---and talks about how we're not likely to see anything like them in the future.

Cross posted at pushback.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gingrich, Hannity: Tire Inflation Benefits "Big Oil"

Via Steve Bennen, here's Newt Gingrich on Sean Hannity's show giggling about Barack Obama's suggestion that properly inflating your tires can help you save gas:

Gingrich says that because gas stations make a bigger profit on the tire inflation service (duh) than on gasoline, somehow Obama is promoting "Big Oil." Apparently Gingrich doesn't understand that oil companies don't distribute air compressors.

Isn't Gingrich supposed to be a "visionary" who is promoting sound environmental policy? Oh yeah, that's right--Gingrich is just another conservative who takes up the mantle of environmentalism when it's popular but doesn't actually show any real commitment to changing environmental policy. Gingrich goes along with Hannity's "more drilling" mantra even though science shows that drilling would do little to impact the price of gasoline. Gingrich shows here that he's the same old partisan hack he's always been.

Cross posted on pushback.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rachel Maddow (Finally) Gets Her Own Show on MSNBC

I'm just gonna go ahead and take credit for this one. Anyone else need their own show?

Harry and Louise: the Remix

Via Wonk Room. The ad largely credited with killing health care reform in the 1990s starred Harry and Louise, sitting at a kitchen table talking about how they didn't like health insurance plans drummed up by the "bureaucrats" in Washington:

But now, Harry and Louise are back, lobbying for health care reform:

The ad is funded by the Cancer Association Network, Families USA, the America's Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association, and--probably most surprising of all--the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business association that's historically been to the right of the Chamber of Commerce.

Small businesses seem to be terrified. They increasingly can't afford to pay for insurance plans and have joined major national coalitions in lobbying for universal coverage. It's an interesting shift in the health care debate, and seems to suggest that real change might be more possible than it was in the 1990s.

Cross posted at pushback.

Over the Counter Sexual Experience

Everyone I've talked to that went to see Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 seems totally embarrassed that they went to go see it. Well, I went ahead and saw it since I read all of the books and (go ahead, laugh at me) loved them. The movie was pretty great overall, since it focuses on the girls and their ambitions and goals. But there was something that differed from the book. [Spoilers below.]

The storyline with Tibby was almost the same as in the book -- except for one important detail. After she and Brian have sex for the first time and the condom breaks, the movie doesn't even mention emergency contraception as an option. In the book, written by Ann Brashares, Brian calls her to tell her she can still get emergency contraception and even looks up the address of the nearest Planned Parenthood. But Tibby is pretty much in denial (emphasis added):
She didn't want to know the address of the Planned Parenthood. She didn't want to have that kind of life. She didn't want to get examined by a gynecologist and fill a prescription. She wanted her sexual experience to be strictly over the counter.
Interestingly enough, since the book was written EC has become available over the counter. But Tibby, normally one of my favorite characters in the series, reacts in an extremely irrational way to a fairly common problem. After all, that's why they invented emergency contraception. And she somehow gets confused, like needing EC makes her a different kind of person than she was before she had sex.

Weirdly enough, before the film, there was a trailer for the movie House Bunny.

Somehow we can't have a realistic conversation about EC between a girl and her boyfriend who have sex for the first time when the condom breaks, but it's a-OK to show smart young women what they really need is to be more like a Playboy Bunny.

Misogyny of the Day

So a self-described anti-feminist lawyer (so presumably this makes him different than real lawyers, right?) Den Hollander has filed a lawsuit against Columbia University for their women's studies courses. He says any given women's studies course "demonizes men and exalts women."

But wait, there's more. Hollander has also filed a class-action lawsuit against Manhattan nightclubs for ladies' nights and a lawsuit that declares the Violence Against Women Act unconstitutional.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some demonizing of men to do.

Aviation Slowdown

This article by Brad Plumer (which was published last week and I finally got around to reading it) in the New Republic left me pretty depressed about the future of, well, everything. Apparently our entire lives have been affected by cheap air travel. Now that oil prices are rising exponentially, people are going to have to stop traveling. As someone that lives about 1,200 miles from my family, I find this infinitely depressing. I also never did the college travel junket, and it seems that now I probably will never be able to really afford traveling abroad. I think we need some renewable fuel air travel -- fast.

Anti-Choice Ballot Initiatives

Over at RH Reality Check today I have a summary of the anti-choice ballot initiatives in California, South Dakota, and Colorado. Check it out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Party Crasher

In the new issue of The American Prospect, Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein (Full disclosure: they’re both good friends of mine), have an article about the changes Barack Obama is making to the Democratic Party structure. Although Obama has positioned himself as an outside-the-Beltway guy–even moving employees who work at the DNC headquarters in Washington to Chicago once he secured the nomination–he’s taken a cue from some Democratic Party stalwarts. Many of the former staffers of Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, who largely got blamed for the party’s losses in 2002, are crafting Obama’s campaign.

The article also notes that the Obama campaign’s success is benefiting from a lot of the ground that Howard Dean broke in 2004. Two key components of his strategy are grassroots Internet organizing and building infrastructure in all 50 states. This means that Democrats are now considered competitive in states that they haven’t touched since Dixiecrats abandoned the party.

But the real question is if this is a strategy that will last or if it’s a temporary structure that supports a non-traditional candidate well. A number of people have pointed to a post-partisanship era, but the reality is that Republicans have taken a beating. They created an unpopular war and the economy is far worse than it was during the Clinton administration. Whether or not Democrats will remain competitive in non-traditional states remains to be seen.

Cross posted on pushback.

Girls Do Rock

Via DCist, I heard this show at 9:30 this weekend was amazing. These girls are seriously my heroes. I wish I had any musical talent or had grown up somewhere that this camp was offered. The week-long camp sounds amazing, and my roommate who went to the show said there were songs with lyrics pumping up how girls can do things just as well as boys. It's so true. Girls can do things just as well as boys -- sometimes even better.

The Gardasil Opt-Out

In Australia, 173,607 school-age girls were offered free HPV vaccines, also known as Gardasil. Of those, about 23 percent opted out of the vaccine. It's true that the shot, developed by Big Pharma giant Merck, has been loaded with controversy, even among those on the left. But you'll notice that this story isn't about the more than 100,000 girls that received the vaccine and will have a greatly reduced risk of cancer. Instead the story is about those that chose not to take the vaccine. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to opt out. Of course they should, but the controversy has always left me mystified.

We know that Gardasil's negative effects have been overreported. The doctors and nurses at my ob-gyn office even said they've never seen a negative effect beyond a stinging or a sore arm. Because Gardasil involves the parents of young girls thinking about those girls having sex some day, people always get a little nervous. You never see people opting out of polio vaccines. Perhaps after the vaccine has been around for longer, and the FDA approves the vaccine for men and older women, the stigma will begin to ease. At the end of the day, the HPV vaccine is one of the few ways to knowingly prevent cancer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Never Wear High Heels

From the Daily Mail:

The report 'Working feet and footwear' found that a number of big companies insist female staff who deal with the public wear slip-on shoes or high heels.

The unions called for staff to be allowed to wear the footwear they felt most suitable, but warned that prolonged wearing of stilettos would lead to health problems.

It published a guide for employers declaring: 'heels should have a broad base and be no higher than 4cm... if worn for long stretches no higher than 2cm'.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'We were surprised how many times we found employers' dress codes did not permit the wearing of comfortable footwear.

Image from Flickr user Porcelaingirl° ~is on holiday~ used with a Creative Commons license.

Re: Am I a Bad Feminist?

I mostly agree with Emily’s post on Bikini Coffee — women volunteering themselves up for ogling isn’t number one on my priority list when it comes to feminism. Anyway, attacking Hooters and its derivatives is something of a pet issue for Feministing writers and isn’t really indicative of its larger mission. Emily says, “when I read blogs like Feministing, I don’t really find myself getting worked up about a great many issues that I should probably be concerned about.” Although Emily isn’t afraid to call herself a feminist, her tone suggests that she just isn’t that into it. There are plenty of people out there that don’t identify with feminism and find it outdated.

Honestly, I used to fall into that camp too. I never really found a use for feminism until I graduated from college, got a “real job,” and moved from Minnesota. I began to realize that I was getting harassed and objectified almost every day of my life. After I got stares, honks, leers, “how you doin’?” comments, and straight-up offers of money for sex when I did nothing but walk down the street, I started to realize that street harassment is a real problem. Very few people find such behavior flattering. Some may have just given up on getting angry about it and figure they may as well make money off of it, like the baristas at Bikini Coffee.

Certainly seeking to end violence against women and pushing for pay equity, affordable birth control, parental rights, access to abortion, quality child care, and equal-partner relationships rank higher than bikini baristas on the platform of gender equality. But the third wave of feminism noted that the cultural stuff is important. As long as women out there feel like they are at their most valuable when they are selling their bodies, we have a problem.

Cross posted at pushback.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Time Warp Wives: The Way They Never Were

This article in the Daily Mail about a TV show called "Time Warp Wives" that tries to demonstrate that the best marriages were the ones in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. They all live in period homes with the male breadwinner model. What's interesting about something like this after reading Stephanie Coontz's Marriage, a History is that I remember that the male breadwinner model, which really boomed in the late 1940s and '50s, was simply never replicated in any other period of history. And in all practicality, the women that had male breadwinner families were at least middle class. The model emerged from a very unique series of circumstances: post-war economy, the rise of the love marriage, the relatively low cost of basic goods, and the real stagnation of women's wages. Poor women simply couldn't afford the luxury of staying at home.

But probably the weirdest thing about this show is the degree of fetishization of the male breadwinner model. Overall, people were much less happy with such marriages. It's not as if women as a whole just decided they no longer desired careers or a life outside the home -- women still desired these things but didn't have an option for obtaining them. It's true that some women were genuinely happy with these circumstances, but women aren't a monolithic group. Plenty felt deeply depressed thanks to a severe lack of outside goals and social interaction.

The show is nothing more than costuming and acting. It's no different than if someone decided they wanted to live in the Renaissance times on television or really any other given period in history. It doesn't really demonstrate anything about marriage today except that some people really get a kick out of dressing up in period costumes and pretending to live in a different era. If you ask me, it's all a little Truman Show.

Deployed Troops Give to Obama Six Times as Much as McCain

This seems rather significant:
According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul.

Despite McCain's status as a decorated veteran and a historically Republican bent among the military, members of the armed services overall -- whether stationed overseas or at home -- are also favoring Obama with their campaign contributions in 2008, by a $55,000 margin. Although 59 percent of federal contributions by military personnel has gone to Republicans this cycle, of money from the military to the presumed presidential nominees, 57 percent has gone to Obama.
Update. Graphed here:
Information for the graph courtesy of Opensecrets.org. Designed by yours truly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Humanizing Anti-Choice Folks

Via Megan at Jezebel, More magazine’s extremely humanizing profile of South Dakota anti-abortion activist Leslee Unruh is fascinating. The author, whose uncle was an ob-gyn killed by an anti-abortion fanatic, managed to make friends with Unruh, who was the driving force behind South Dakota’s abortion ban that was overturned in 2006, and who is working on a campaign for another abortion ban on the ballot this fall. Megan, who was surprised by Unruh’s charisma and the fact that she didn’t condemn the author’s uncle to hell, asked if there was an Unruh for feminists and the left. But Unruh is fascinating because she’s unique.

There are thousands of women who are the equivalent of Unruh on the other side, including the author of the profile. It’s because she’s a fervent activist against abortion and for chastity (or its modern equivalent, “purity”) that Unruh is unlike almost any American today. Guttmacher Institute research shows that nearly all Americans (95 percent) have sex before marriage, 98 percent of women use birth control during their reproductive lives, and the majority (nearly 60 percent) of Americans believe abortion should always or usually be legal. The abortion ban that Unruh fought for in South Dakota in 2006 was defeated by 10 points. That’s not a small margin.

In other words, Unruh’s fervent campaigning against sex, birth control, and abortion makes her one of the biggest outliers in America. Unruh is the face of a campaign that’s marginal in nearly every sense of the word. Although many people who want to protect reproductive choice fear the power that anti-choice activists have gained in recent years, it’s important to remember just how strange these people are. They’re not monsters, damning everyone who has sex to hell, but they do hold views that are extremely different from everyone else’s.

We don’t have to look far to find an Unruh on the left. Nearly everyone knows one.

Cross posted at pushback.

Whitley Speaks

In my column for RH Reality Check last week I reported that Dr. Kaye Whitley, the head of the Department of Defense's program on sexual assault, refused to appear before the House Oversight Committee despite the fact that the committee had issued a subpoena. Today, committee announced that the DoD has now agreed to let Whitley testify:
Yesterday, Chairman Waxman, Subcommittee Chairman Tierney, and Ranking Members Davis and Shays sent a letter [PDF] to Defense Secretary Gates seeking compliance with a subpoena of Dr. Kaye Whitley, who was instructed by her superiors not to appear at a July 31, 2008, hearing on sexual assault in the military, despite being under subpoena to do so.

Today, Defense Department officials notified Committee staff that Secretary Gates has agreed to comply with the Committee’s subpoena and make Dr. Whitley available to testify.

Violence in Mexico

Two stories today exemplify violence in Mexico. One from the LA Times:
A deputy police chief and another commander in western Michoacan state were slain, authorities said Tuesday, in the latest signs of violence in which at least half a dozen officers have been reported dead across Mexico in the last two days.
And another from McClatchy about a kidnapping that ended in death:
Mexican social commentator Roger Bartra said that many in the country, including in the government, seemed to think that democracy would bring about automatic reforms to an old system.

"If there is no democracy, we feel bad," Bartra said. "But Mexicans now have the sensation that democracy does not end problems, it does not necessarily resolve problems."

The story of violence in Mexico isn't getting much play outside of places like LA. The debate around Mexico operates in a very narrow space that's related only to immigration. As long as such strife exists there, it will impact other issues like immigration and criminal justice.

APA: There’s No Such Thing as "Post-Abortion Syndrome"

Via Lynn Harris at Broadsheet, the American Psychological Association has determined (PDF) that “abortion hurts women” rhetoric is bunk. The APA, which was to have adopted the new standard this morning, says in its draft language “the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” In other words, forcing women to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy is just as risky for mental health as it is to have an abortion.

This is particularly significant, because as Reva Segal and Sarah Blustain reported in The American Prospect in 2006, those in favor of an abortion ban in South Dakota have based much of their argument on the idea that abortion is harmful to women’s mental health. If the flagship mental health professionals organization, the APA, has determined that abortion is no risker to mental health than an unwanted pregnancy, then much of the reasoning behind the abortion ban has evaporated. In fact, by eliminating women’s ability to successfully take control of their reproductive health, the proponents of the ban are putting women at greater mental health risk.

Cross posted at pushback.

State Department Skeptical of Midwifery

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that people born in their own homes with a midwife may not be recognized as American citizens and denied important documentation like passports. The new practice has raised some panic in the southern part of Texas, where Latinos are commonly born in their own homes with a midwife. Yesterday the National Latina Institute for Reproductive health issued a statement that called this determination "racist and unfair." The statement went on to say, "This practice unfairly targets Latino citizens on the border and those who were born to parteras or midwives in private residences, a common practice among Latinos."

This is pretty clearly evidence that among certain groups, "American" means something very specific. Even how we view childbirth has become strongly influenced by culture. Midwives used to be extremely common, even among white Americans, but sometime before the middle of the 20th Century, middle-class Americans began giving birth in hospitals. Now, the State Department has determined that this is the norm, and has deemed all others with different beliefs or cultural practices un-American.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Baby Blogging

Okay, I normally don't do this kind of stuff, but I'm really excited about the birth of my nephew last Wednesday. He was born at 6 lb. 7 oz. and 20.5 inches long. (My sister said it was okay I blogged her baby.) His name is Garrett.

The Democratic Party Drops “Safe, Legal and Rare”

It looks like the Democratic Party dropped the “safe, legal and rare” part of its platform on choice. The new platform (PDF), which was just released, puts less of an emphasis on the controversial abortion reduction framework. The section on choice reads as follows:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

For the most part, this doesn’t change much in the way of choice politics on the national level, but it does start to include some elements of the reproductive justice approach to choice, which views women’s health and rights from a more holistic perspective.

Cross posted on pushback.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Eliminating Confusion on McCain and Choice

Sarah Blustain has a long piece in The New Republic to come out later this month that eliminates any confusion about John McCain’s position on choice. Ever since his run for the presidency in 2000, when he indicated he might choose a pro-choice running mate, many people have thought that McCain was moderate on choice. Not so:

But, as on abortion, both data and anecdote show there is little latitude in his positions. He has voted to end the Title X family-planning program, which pays for everything from birth control to breast cancer screenings and which is a target for the right because the recipients of these dollars also tend to be clinics that offer contraception to unwed and underage women and that offer abortions. He has backed largely discredited abstinence-only education, voting in 1996 to take $75 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant to establish such a program; ten years later, he voted against teen-pregnancyprevention programs. He has supported parental notification laws governing not only abortion but contraception for teens, and, though he didn’t want to talk to the press about it, he’s voted against requiring insurance companies to cover birth control. In international family affairs, McCain has voted not only in favor of the global gag rule, but also to defund the United Nations group that provides family-planning services (not abortions) for poor women, and to spend a third of overseas HIV/AIDS prevention funds on abstinence education.

Blustain reports that McCain has voted with anti-choice groups 125 out of 130 times and has voted in favor of judges that support overturning Roe v. Wade. Wonk Room has a good summary of McCain’s positions on women’s issues.

As Blustain points out in the piece, some Clinton supporters may be tempted to vote for McCain because they misunderstand his position on choice. But as she reports, “One June poll found that, when Democratic women voters in twelve battleground states learned McCain’s position on abortion, Obama gained twelve points among them.” This means that McCain’s stance on choice has huge implications for the upcoming election. For once, choice could truly impact a national race.

Cross posted at pushback.

Hawaii Is a State

In response to Cokie Roberts' comments on how Obama should abandon his planned vacation to his home state of Hawaii for a more "American" place like Myrtle Beach, both digby and Brad at Sadly, No! have served up some great snark.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Edwards Cheated. So?

Jesse posted that the news about John Edwards having an affair is disappointing. I’m not so sure it is. In fact, I’m not so sure why we should care about Edwards’ extramarital affair (I had the same attitude about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal). He’s a politician and his life is public, but his sex life is none of my concern. Making this public certainly doesn’t help his family, which is already dealing with a difficult situation. Millions and millions of people have affairs every year. Why do we care about Edwards? Cheating on his wife doesn’t diminish the work he has done on poverty and health care.

Cross posted at pushback

Banning Beer Pong?

The University of Florida, named the number-one party school in the country by The Princeton Review, is about to ban drinking games, according to an article published today in Inside Higher Ed. The school’s administrators are banning “‘excessive rapid consumption’ of alcohol. The policy specifically bars ‘drinking games,’ as well as ‘alcohol luges,’ which are carved ice blocks that serve as frozen pathways for liquor shots.”

They’re banning drinking games and ice luges? How will the frat houses ever survive? Apparently UF isn’t alone. IHE reports similar bans that have already been enacted at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Tufts University. It’s hard to say how they’ll effectively enforce the bans, or if they’ll just be slapped on top of other party-busting, underage drinking charges.

The IHE quote from the World Series of Beer Pong site’s co-founder Bill Gaines is pretty hilarious: “You can sit there and watch a church service in college and drink every time they say ‘God,’” he said. “Do you blame God?”

Photo by Flickr user Mohan S used with a Creative Commons license

Cross-posted at Pushback.

"Somos parte de la soluciĆ³n"

As the international AIDS conference wraps up today in Mexico City, I realized I didn't link to one of the most significant parts that I heard about. Becky Johnson over at RH Reality Check has a great post on a session in which Elena Reynaga, former sex worker and activist today who appeared at the conference wearing a bright pink T-shirt with white lettering that read "Somos parte de la soluciĆ³n" ("We are part of the solution"). Today, Reynaga works on AIDS issues worldwide.

A video of her presentation (which I understand is very powerful, although I don't speak Spanish so I can't understand it) can be found here on Kaiser Family Foundation's website. Scroll to 1:05:00 when her speech begins. I don't know of a transcript and translation, but I'd love to see one if it's out there.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Machismo Puts Lives at Risk

There's a heartbreaking story in the New York Times about gay men in Mexico -- or as they insist, straight men who occasionally sleep or have just once slept with a man. These men are at risk for contracting HIV, and their difficulty identifying as gay makes it much harder for public health officials to educate, combat, and treat HIV infection and AIDS.

What's remarkable about this story is what it really shows about social influences. Many people who stigmatize homosexuality don't see the harm and often feel it's wrong anyway. But this story shows that making an unsafe environment for these men to identify as openly gay puts their lives at risk.

Slaughter's Statement on Sexual Assault

Rep. Louise Slaughter writes on HuffPo about the lack of cooperation from the DoD on sexual assault in the military:
Kaye Whitley, director of the Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, had been subpoenaed to testify at Thursday's hearing, but apparently Department of Defense officials instructed her to stay away from the hearing.

I am very disturbed by the DoD's resistance to Congressional oversight on sexual assault. The DoD's decision to keep Dr. Whitley from testifying undermines the progress the Pentagon has made in addressing sexual assault by suggesting that there is something to hide.

I reported on the hearing for RH Reality Check here.

The G.I. Bill Loophole

A guest post by veteran and former Education Department official Jon Oberg over at Higher Ed Watch yesterday noted that the new G.I. Bill may still end up screwing veterans over a bit, even if the new Higher Ed Reauthorization Act prevents counting veterans benefits against a veteran’s federal aid package.

Because federal aid is never enough to cover the cost of tuition, room and board, and books, it’s ultimately up to each individual institution to create a total aid package. Even if there are federal regulations about not counting veterans benefits against the federal aid package, an individual college or university might. Instead of giving a student institutional grants to make up the difference between federal aid and cost, they could end up supplementing the remaining costs with loans or work study.

The new G.I. Bill does create the Yellow Ribbon Program, which matches college and university aid dollar-for-dollar from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This could create the proper incentive for institutions to give veterans their best possible package instead of their worst. But the program is optional, and Oberg fears that still might not be enough to compete with the private loan system.

The way that federal and institutional aid is packaged is complicated, and it seems like individual institutions have a lot of leeway in figuring out how to allocate aid packages. This can be good or bad, depending on the priorities of the institution.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Obama Is Your Carpool

Jon Stein has a good call on this Lifetime poll. Why does Lifetime assume that women would have different questions about the candidates that have nothing to do with politics? Are women just too concerned with carpooling and vacationing? Ugh. In any case, Obama is still beating McCain among Lifetime's women 49-38.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Running for Office

Jaana Goodrich at AlterNet today and Ezra Klein in the last issue of The American Prospect both talk about the same problem -- women don't run for office often enough, and we don't have enough women represented in government. There are a slew of reasons for this, but the two writers focus on different explanations. Jaana says:
The study design doesn't let us measure what the actual impact of the different family obligations might be, but Ilana Goldberg, whose organization She Should Run encourages women to run for elected office, says that the most common reason women give when deciding not to run for office is, "maybe when the children are all grown." This has nothing to do with "political ambition" -- rather, it has everything to do with cultural expectations about who is responsible for the children and who has a built-in support system.
Ezra points to another reason (which Jaana awknowledges as well):
The common failure of these reforms is that they focused on helping candidates who are already running, when the problem for women is that they don't enter primaries in the first place. To examine why, Jennifer Lawless partnered with political scientist Richard Fox to conduct the Citizen Political Ambition Study, which polled nearly 4,000 prominent lawyers, business leaders, executives, educators, and political activists on their attitudes toward electoral service. Lawless and Fox found that women were far less likely than men to evince interest in running for office. Women were much more likely than men to cite family obligations, negative feelings toward the process of campaigning, and a belief that they weren't qualified. But the most powerful finding was that the women surveyed were far less likely to be recruited to run for office.
The bottom line is that the two reasons amount to the same thing: there are abysmally few women running for office. Until a few year ago, organizations like Emily's List and She Should Run just didn't exist because it wasn't a priority to get women into office. Once it's a priority, we start examining the reasons and look for ways to remedy them.

Daily Show Commentary on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Don't Ask (About Citizenship)

By Flickr user Charlie Dave used with a Creative Commons license

Bob Mackey had a great post over at HuffPo on allowing immigrants, illegal or otherwise, to serve in the military to gain citizenship:
Currently, there is an expedited process for naturalization of veterans and serving military personnel, under INA Section 328 and 329 (328 is the peacetime service exemption, 329 is the wartime service exemption). In general, if an immigrant serves honorably in wartime, even for a single day, they are allowed to apply for citizenship. While this does greatly speed the process, it is not enough. Service itself should bestow citizenship, not "moral character," "English proficiency" and "Knowledge of Civics" tests. Three years of honorable service in peacetime and any service in wartime should result in automatic citizenship for both the service member and their immediate families. Combat wounded and medically discharged personnel should have the same automatic citizenship.
It's worth reading the whole post to learn about a fantastic soldier who Mackey served alongside a soldier named Raul. Mackey never asked if his citizenship papers were legal or not. In the military, what usually matters is if you can do the job you are assigned to do. Raul was a valuable soldier, so it didn't much matter if his documentation was legitimate or not.

What Mackey has touched on is something that's become alarmingly clear lately given the attention on "don't ask, don't tell," the needs of the increasing number of women in the armed services, and the fairly recent decisions to issue criminal waivers: the armed services is relatively slow to change and isn't easily adapting to its changing demographics.

Mackey makes excellent points about how other countries for years have used foreign nationals to serve proudly in the military to gain citizenship. And increasingly, as we fight more wars abroad, the presence of those in the military with the knowledge to speak other languages and understand other cultures is invaluable:
France, through its Foreign Legion, has long allowed foreigners to gain citizenship with service. There is no logical reason why the United States cannot do the same. Not just Latino immigrants should be recruited. Enlist those from the Middle East, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, who have already served alongside U.S. troops. Their knowledge of the culture, sensitivity and regional expertise to the U.S. military would be invaluable. Linguists who are native speakers, civil affairs officers who understand exact tribal and local needs and norms would be priceless.
This has become the main opposition to "don't ask, don't tell," since more and more Arabic speakers are discharged from the military for being gay.

Hopefully the Department of Defense will stop dragging it's feet and begin to take a more comprehensive look at how the armed services need to change their enlistment policies to create a better and more comprehensive force.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Onward Christian Soldier

Via Inside Higher Ed, the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled (pdf) yesterday that Temple Univesity’s sexual harassment policy, which was replaced in January 2007 with a newer, narrower one, was unconstitutional. Christian DeJohn, a former masters student at Temple who was also enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, claimed that the policy was “overbroad” because he felt “inhibited in expressing his opinions in class concerning women in combat and women in the military.” In other words, we need to make sure he has a safe space to spew his sexist rants about how women can’t fight. The policy, which was changed between the original lawsuit ruling and the appeal, originally read like this:

[A]ll forms of sexual harassment are prohibited, including . . . expressive, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual or gender-motivated nature, when . . . (c) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work, educational performance, or status; or (d) such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

DeJohn was awarded a whole $1 in nominal damages for his troubles. It doesn’t sound like DeJohn is really out anything because he got legal aid from Alliance Defense Fund’s Center for Academic Freedom–an organization that “help[s] you know and understand your rights as a Christian college student.”

But the dude just sounds like he has a giant chip on his shoulder. He’s also a big fan of lawsuits. In addition to the sexual harassment component of the suit, he claimed Temple didn’t let him complete his master’s program and therefore didn’t hire him as a historian. The court ruled against him on this point. DeJohn also sued the U.S. Army in a separate lawsuit for discriminating because they didn’t hire him for a job as a military historian (a job one presumably also needs a master’s degree for) because he was a veteran.

The ruling could impact non-discrimination policies at other universities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, all of which are in the Third Circuit Court’s jurisdiction. It’s unclear whether other colleges will voluntarily loosen their non-discrimination policies or face lawsuits that could be inspired by the court’s ruling.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Obama = Reagan

Wow, I guess Obama really is a Reagan for the left.

American History for Freedom

Apparently there is something objectionable in the Higher Ed Reauthorization Act (although it's probably not what Sec. Spellings was complaining about): Phi Beta Cons applauds the "American History for Freedom Program" which provides $25 million in funding per year to bring "a fair-minded view of Western civilization back to the curriculum." It seems clear that this is conservative propaganda funding -- the abstinence-only of history. That funding could have gone to more grants for low-income students, but you know, we have to make sure to fight for teaching about Christopher Columbus and how awesome he was.

Sexual Assault in the Military

Today over at RH Reality Check I have my report on the hearing the Oversight subcommittee held last week on sexual assault in the military. Here's a snippet:

Heartbreaking stories of sexual assault perpetrated against female soldiers and military contractors, including those of Maria Lauterbach, Jamie Leigh Jones, and Lavena Johnson, have shown that women in the military face risk harassment, rape, and even murder.

At an oversight hearing on sexual assault held by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs last Thursday, Mary Lauterbach, the mother of Maria, and Ingrid Torres, a victim of sexual assault and an employee of the American Red Cross working with military bases, were called to testify. The subcommittee had also subpoenaed Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SARPO) office, and invited Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary for defense, to testify.

But Whitley didn't appear before the committee. When Subcommittee Chairman John Tierney (D-MA) inquired why Whitley hadn't shown, Dominguez said he instructed her not to testify before the committee. Tierney and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted that it was illegal for Whitley not to appear before the committee with a subpoena. "Dr. Whitley is in serious legal jeopardy," Tierney said. "This is an unacceptable position for the Department to take." As a result, he dismissed Dominguez before Dominguez even delivered his testimony.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Secretary of Education Speaks Out Against New Grant Programs

Via Chronicle, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has spoken out against the more than 60 new grant programs (read: not private loan subsidies, but direct grants to students) contained in the Higher Ed Reauthorization Act. The Bush administration has called the programs “new, costly, and duplicative.” The president is, however, expected to sign the legislation into law. Because we wouldn't want to be happy about giving students money for college or anything.

Declining Power of the Pell Grant

As someone who works at Campus Progress, I've heard many times that the buying power of the Pell grant is far below what it was in the 1970s, when tuition was much lower. Increases to the value of the Pell grant itself have remained little more than stagnant over the years, with increases coming less and less often. This graph from the College Board (pdf) shows the percentage of tuition compared to the price of tuition at public and private institutions since the 1980s.

As you can see, the dent the Pell grant makes on tuition, fees, and room and board over time gets to be significantly less.

How the Higher Ed Reauthorization Helps Veterans

Higher Ed Watch has a good breakdown of what’s good and bad about the Higher Ed Reauthorization Act, but it looks like the legislation works in some benefits for veterans and their spouses and children by

-requiring zero family contribution for Pell Grants: Someone whose parent is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan while they’re under 24 or enrolled in college will have their family contribution readjusted to zero as long as they already qualify for the Pell Grant. What this means is that if you qualify, you’ll end up getting the maximum Pell Grant amount. Because the buying power of the Pell Grant has been declining for years, it amounts to a few extra thousand dollars in some cases. But every little bit helps, right?

-excluding GI Bill benefits from FAFSA calculations: When you fill out that overly complicated form to determine your eligibility for Stafford loans and other federal aid, the form no longer factors in benefits from the GI Bill, thus increasing aid you qualify for.

-guaranteeing readmission for veterans: The new legislation requires schools to readmit students who get called away for active-duty deployments. This was a problem before when tours of duty and training exceeded schools’ maximum leave lengths. Veterans would return from tours of duty only to be denied readmission, forcing them to go through a lengthy appeals process.

-establishing a Center for Excellence for Veterans: This is a newly proposed idea that still would need funding and further administration, but the idea is to create a body that would be the single point of contact to assist and advocate for veterans as they try to navigate the financial aid system. The proposed organization might also act as a contact for other veteran benefits, including those related to housing and health care.

There were some other fairly minor changes included with the legislation as well, mostly definition changes and changes to disability benefits for veterans. Veterans face a lot of the same issues that students face. The problem is that veterans may already come from low-income families, be first-generation college students, or be trying to raise families themselves. While most veterans benefits are handled through veterans committees and veteran-specific legislation, there needs to be cooperation across issue areas on issues like housing, education, and health care.

Cross posted at Pushback. (H/T to Ben Miller at Higher Ed Watch for much of the analysis.)

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