This post first appeared on The Nation blog.
Last week, an appeals court lifted an injunction on Texas’ exceedingly restrictive abortion law, which forces abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This requirement — which went into effect when the injunction was lifted Friday — may close a third of the state’s clinics, according to research carried out by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. On Monday, attorneys for providers asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the injunction. I spoke with Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund in North Texas about the law, how Texas women are faring and what we can all do to help.
Jessica Valenti: Can you explain a bit about what TEA Fund does, for our readers who may not be familiar with abortion access funds?
Merritt Tierce: TEA Fund provides financial assistance to low-income women who want an abortion and can’t afford it. Our clients are usually referred to us by one of the clinics we work with — I used to say one of the “dozen or so” clinics we work with, but now it’s basically down to three, plus one in New Mexico and one in Louisiana. Our volunteers conduct a brief intake interview to assess the caller’s need and situation. If the caller meets our eligibility requirements, we will commit an amount between $25 and $400. We never cover more than half the cost of the procedure, and our average grant right now is about $150. The money is paid to the clinic after the procedure is performed (we’re billed just like any other vendor). We are a small 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with an annual budget of about $200,000. We are usually able to help about 1,000 women annually, but have never been able to meet the need. We could easily commit $10,000 each week, and right now we commit only $3500.
Valenti: Late last week an appeals court upheld a Texas law that widely restricts abortion access — one third of the state’s clinics could close as a result. How prepared was the TEA Fund and other reproductive justice organizations? Have you been girding yourself for this kind of loss?
Tierce: We have all been preparing for the law to go into effect since the end of July. Clinics have been working overtime to try to get [hospital admitting] privileges for their physicians. TheTexas Policy Evaluation Project has done phenomenal work compiling the data to predict the impact the closures would have on the state. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood have been coaching all of us to remember this is a long game. The fury and momentum we all felt coming out of this summer has to be sustained, and converted into concrete actions and votes.
Several new organizations have been created since the 2013 legislative session ended, and we are working with the new groups and our longtime allies the Lilith Fund [a reproductive equity group that assists women exercise their right to abortion] and Jane’s Due Process [a nonprofit that provides legal representation to pregnant minors] to ensure that we support one another’s efforts as efficiently as possible. We have also all increased our fundraising, knowing that not only would we be facing calls from more people, but that each person who needs financial assistance would need more after the law went into effect.
Valenti: What are you hearing from the women you work with? Are they already feeling the impact of the law?
Tierce: There have been a variety of responses from fear to anger. Many have had to reschedule their appointments at a different clinic. That means the people who scraped together the $100 for the sonogram will have to pay for it again, and wait 24 hours again, because of Texas’ sonogram law: The provider who performs the abortion must administer the sonogram. So if you go to a different clinic, there’s nothing the clinic can legally do to see you without starting all over. The rescheduling itself means that some women will be unable to afford the abortion because the cost will increase as the pregnancy advances.
My sense is that most of these women did not know much about what has been going on in the Texas legislature. It’s important to acknowledge that simply being able to pay attention to the news is a luxury many people don’t have, especially people who are struggling to find food, shelter, employment or healthcare, or people who are trying to escape intimate partner violence. What’s so infuriating about these laws is that the people who have the least ability to fight back are the very people the laws affect most severely.
Valenti: What can people expect to see in terms of the law’s impact over the next few months?
Tierce: More women will try to have an abortion outside of the healthcare system. The use of Cytotec (misoprostol) will increase, especially in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, where it is more easily available (and where there is now no access to abortion). Inevitably some women will harm themselves as a direct result of the clinic closures. Many women will continue unwanted pregnancies because they have no other options. Because of the shame and stigma that surround abortion, we may not hear these stories in detail; however we know that, historically, this is what happens when abortion access is restricted.
We can also expect to see the fight continue and intensify, as a result of the severe body blow this law has dealt. We were angry; now we are nuclear.
Valenti: Almost every anti-choice talking point I’ve read about this law mentions that restrictions on abortion are meant to “protect women.” What’s your response to that?
What I see in the state’s argument and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling is an obvious prejudice toward women who seek abortion for any reason, and consequent decisions that exploit the legal limits of “undue burden” to push on the meaning of “undue.” I see a really Calvinist sadism in the perspective that any woman who wants an abortion for any reason must bear whatever burden there is to be borne en route to that abortion. The burden is, in truth, her punishment from the state.
It’s insane to me — and I mean truly insane — that they have made any headway at all with the idea of “protecting women,” because abortion is safer than not only most medical procedures but a ton of other things people do every day. The only climate that could have allowed this preposterous cloak of an angle is widespread ignorance about abortion that allows the taboo to remain intact.
Valenti: What’s next for Texas reproductive justice activists in the short and long term?
Tierce: We are working to establish a statewide practical support network, to help people get to the remaining clinics by assisting with transportation and lodging costs and arrangements. Texas is an enormous state with limited public transportation, especially from the rural areas that have been hit hardest by clinic closures, so this is the key focus for all of us right now. Long-term our focus will be to elect pro-choice leaders who can begin to restore access to reproductive healthcare. Another area of primary importance is educating the public about abortion, so that everyone is on the same page about what it really is. Basic abortion realities have to be common knowledge, or we will continue to be vulnerable to these attacks.
Valenti: What can people who don’t live in Texas to do help, besides donating to groups like the TEA Fund? (Though they should certainly do that as well!)
We definitely do need the money! But we also implore people to recognize that this situation is not solely the result of extreme conservatives having their way within an extremely conservative state. It is just as much a result of political complacency and/or neutrality among an immense population of Texans who actually do support reproductive rights, just as a majority of Americans do. But silent support of justice and freedom doesn’t cut it.
If people who aren’t necessarily activists or writers or politicians had been more “out” about abortion, it could have been normalized over the past forty years. The stigma could have been broken down and abortion could have been assimilated into the mainstream practice of healthcare, where it belongs. Instead we legalized abortion but let it remain taboo, and that’s exactly what has given the religious right room to work in. The only way to make abortion acceptable and keep it legal is to learn about it and talk about it—and I specifically mean in everyday conversation.
That should include not only the tragic, compelling stories of people who were raped, or fetal anomalies, or maternal health issues, but the story that is in fact the most common abortion story: the first-trimester procedure chosen by someone who just doesn’t want to have a baby right now. The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.
Fewer than one percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks, so even if people do feel tremendous sympathy for those cases, it’s remote. It is too easy for people to shut out experiences that seem too foreign, and statistically it isn’t likely that a woman who needs an abortion will be able to identify with any of the experiences she has seen in the media.
To my mind that is itself a tragedy, because if a woman gets to a place in her own life where she needs an abortion, she should know that abortion is common. She should know that abortion is extremely safe. She should know that it won’t affect her ability to have children later. She should know that many of the women she knows have had abortions. Instead she walks into the clinic and she doesn’t know any of these basic realities and she feels very alone.
To donate to TEA Fund, click here.
This article first appeared on ProPublica.Nearly six months ago, President Obama promised more transparency and tighter policies around targeted killings. In a speech, Obama vowed that the US would only use force against a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” It would fire only when there was “near-certainty” civilians would not be killed or injured, and when capture was not feasible.
The number of drone strikes has dropped this year, but they’ve continued to make headlines. On Friday, a US drone killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban. A few days earlier came the first drone strike in Somalia in nearly two years. How much has changed since the president’s speech?
We don’t know the US count of civilian deaths
Progressives have plenty to celebrate after last night’s off-off-year elections. Some of those victories were national news – Bill de Blasio’s win in the New York mayoral race, Martin Walsh becoming the new pro-labor mayor of Boston and New Jersey voters both raising the Garden State’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour and amending the state’s constitution so it will rise with inflation in the future.
But there were other, smaller wins in local races that got considerably less attention. Many pitted grassroots activists against deep pocketed corporate interests. You can’t win them all, but here’s a roundup of some under-the-radar progressive victories of election 2013…
New York City: Not only did Bill de Blasio win on a platform of reducing inequality and halting NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ program, he’ll also govern with a more progressive city council, as the 21 new members of the 51-seat body are expected to double the council’s progressive caucus after aggressive campaigning by labor groups and the Working Families Party. MORE
Yesterday, New Yorkers went to the polls and elected the city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades, a self-described progressive who campaigned unabashedly against the city’s stark and growing inequalities. The race brought to the fore a particular narrative of New York City, where Moyers & Company is produced: After 12 years of Michael Bloomberg, the city is more stable than it’s been in decades, but it’s also more divided. An influx of newcomers is driving the city’s growing prosperity, but also fueling its phenomenal inequality.
Bloomberg helmed the city during a time of transformation. New York’s darkest days — the crime waves, arson and near-bankruptcy of the ’70s and early ’80s — are now firmly in the past, a memory invoked only by de Blasio’s detractors to illustrate the perceived harm that a break from Bloomberg orthodoxy could bring about.
But one side effect of New York’s transformation is its growing economic inequality, a gap more dramatic than seen in other American cities. Earlier this year, the average rent in NYC topped $3,000. During Bloomberg’s mayoralty, homelessness increased by 73 percent. Parts of Queens, Brooklyn and upper Manhattan have undergone dramatic demographic shifts as rents have skyrocketed. The rising cost of an apartment in New York’s more far-flung neighborhoods is a handy bellweather for the city’s transformation, and an examination of the diversity of the places New Yorkers call “home” is one of the clearer windows into the trend toward inequality. MORE
Happy Wednesday morning! Lots of politics in the news — here are some of the stories we’re reading this morning…
Election news you may have missed…
- MSNBC’s Rebecca Smith reports that a $15/hour wage ordinance passed by Sea-Tac voters is a big win for working America.
- And in New Jersey, voters not only raised the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour, they also amended the state’s constitution to tie future increases to the rate of inflation. Susan Livio reports for the Newark Star-Ledger.
- Six of 11 Colorado counties vote ‘yes’ to exploring secession from the Centennial State, reports Monte Whaley in The Denver Post.
- The very right-wing “establishment” candidate narrowly beat out his very, very right-wing tea party challenger in a much-watched showdown in an Alabama special congressional election.
- The Koch brothers’ group, Americans for Prosperity, took a beating in the small Iowa town of Coralville, which rejected its preferred candidates, prompting Joe Biden to give the mayor a congratulatory call. Via TPM.
- Portland, Maine, voters approve recreational cannabis, but as Randy Billings reports for the Press-Herald, practically speaking it was mostly a symbolic vote.
- Casino gambling goes down in Massachusetts; Colorado voters narrowly reject new school investment measure. Jack Healy reports for the NYT.
- TNR‘s Alec MacGillis says that Terry McAuliffe’s win in the VA gov’s race was a big loss for the NRA.
- MoJo’s David Corn cautions that what seemed like a good night for the GOP establishment in its civil war with the tea party may be deceptive, and that tea partiers still have tons of energy.
- Alex Seitz-Wald reports for the National Journal that a Koch Brothers-backed dark money group, the Freedom Partners, has been accused by a watchdog group of violating the tax code.
In other news…
Can we have a little progress? –> A proposal to increase Social Security benefits and make the cost-of-living adjustment more generous — paid for by eliminating the cap on payroll taxes — is gaining momentum in the Senate, reports Ed Kilgore at WaMo.
Do happy stories sell newspapers? –> A Florida woman who became an overnight media sensation as the face of Obamacare “sticker shock” has learned that her insurance company was trying to rip her off and she can get much better coverage than she had for a few dollars more per month. Now she says her cancellation may be a “blessing in disguise.” MSNBC’s Steve Benen wonders whether the media will report this new development with the same zeal.
Love legalized in IL –> Chicago Tribune: lawmakers pass marriage equality in the land of Lincoln.
The coming Democratic clash –> At TAP, Harold Meyerson on what divides Democrats: Wall Street-friendly neoliberalism versus the robust liberalism of the New Deal.
The next bubble? –> David Dayen writes at Salon that Wall Street’s newest
scam scheme involves securitizing rent payments, wonders what could possibly go wrong.
Serial plagiarist loses writing gig –> Dog-bites-man, except for the fact that he happens to be a sitting senator from the great state of Kentucky.
Awful, awful drug war story –> Local New Mexico TV news team on the case of a man pulled over by police who suspected he had drugs in a body cavity. He was then forced against his will to undergo numerous invasive medical procedures during the ensuing investigation.
SCOTUS OK with bad lawyering –> Andrew Cohen reports in The Atlantic on a little-noticed case in which all nine justices ruled that having incompetent and unethical defense counsel isn’t grounds for a retrial.
Defamation? –> WaPo’s Erik Wemple on the two young Muslim men alleging that they were smeared as the Boston Marathon Bombers by the New York Post.
“Toxic monster” –> The Independent reports that a Texas-sized, floating junk pile from the tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant is heading toward the US Pacific coast.
Bucket-list –> California man celebrates his 100th birthday by jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
What else is going on? Let us know in the comments!
This post first appeared in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog.So much has been said about new “21st century” skills, standards and learning requirements, that they have become virtually synonymous with “college and career readiness” (a similarly poorly defined goal). The purportedly new demand for higher-level and different skills has further increased the pressure for more tests and higher stakes attached to them.
A new study showing explosive growth in student poverty suggests, though, that we have misidentified the problem. What if we have actually been teaching the right skills in US schools all along – math and reading, science and civics, along with creativity, perseverance and team-building? What if these were as important a hundred years ago for nurturing innovative farmers and developers of new automobiles as they are now for creating the next generation of tech innovators? What if these are the very characteristics of US schools that have made us such a strong public education nation, and the current shift toward a narrower agenda just dilutes that strength? What if, rather than raising standards, and testing students more, the biggest change we need to address is that of our student body? MORE
This post originally appeared in Mother Jones.
Voters across America are heading to the polls today for state and local elections, and just like in federal elections, big business has been writing big checks to campaigns across the country. To follow the money in your state, see which industry topped the list of campaign contributions in the last election cycle:
Using data from www.FollowTheMoney.org, we mapped which industries gave the most to state-level campaign donors for the 2012 election (ballot initiatives and party PACs excluded) and limited our search to the top business in each state. We also excluded unions, law firms and nonprofits, since political giving from these entities can be associated with a variety of industries.
A simple truth — one based on math rather than ideology — is that in an economy like ours, which is slowed by sluggish private-sector demand for goods and services, every dollar of federal deficit spending either puts a dollar more in our pockets, or results in a dollar less in debt owed by American families and businesses. That’s because it’s offset by either a dollar less in public spending in the economy or a dollar more that we pay in taxes.
So while the deficit is indeed shrinking fast, the CBO estimates that the austerity package known as “the sequester” will cost the American economy 1.6 million jobs through the end of next year.
While many conservatives rail about “out of control public spending,” the reality is that federal spending, as a share of the economy, has dropped in each of Obama’s five budgetary years (XL).
This post first appeared in The Nation.
Two states will elect governors Tuesday and one of those governors could emerge as a 2016 presidential contender. The nation’s largest city will elect a mayor, as will hundreds of other communities. A minimum-wage hike is on the ballot. So is marijuana legalization. So is the labeling of genetically-modified foods. And Seattle might elect a city council member who promises to open the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Forget the silly dodge that says local and state elections don’t tell us anything. They provide measures of how national developments — like the federal government shutdown — are playing politically. They give us a sense of whether the “war on women” is widening the gender gap. They tell us what issues are in play and the extent to which the political debate is evolving.
Here are some signals to watch for as the results come in tonight:
1. Have Republican Extremists Finally Gone Too Far?
Since the Republican Party became competitive in Virginia, no Democrat has ever been elected governor when a Democrat was in the White House. Indeed, the last Democratic president to see a Democrat take charge in the Old Dominion state was Lyndon Johnson.
So if Democrat Terry McAuliffe is elected Tuesday, there’s a message there — and it could tell us a lot about the evolving politics not just of Virginian but of the United States as it heads toward the critical mid-term elections of 2014.
In 2010, a wave election propelled tea party-endorsed candidates into statehouses across the country. Last week, the Economic Policy Institute issued the first comprehensive report surveying the impact that conservative legislation has had on workers’ rights in the past two years.“The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012” reveals the existence of a multifaceted, nationwide campaign to not only deprive working people of the right to join a union, but also keep wages low and make it harder for people to take their employers to court when they’ve been wronged. Moyers & Company caught up with the report’s author Gordon Lafer – a political economist at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center – to discuss his findings. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Joshua Holland: Your report looks at a wide array of state laws — passed or proposed — that undermined workers’ rights in 2011 and 2012. You say that this is an unprecedented assault on working people.
Reading your report, it struck me that this is exactly what people mean when they say that political inequality follows economic inequality: You have these growing fortunes on the one hand and then declining political clout on the other hand. It just seems like this is a cycle that keeps continuing.
To what degree is this a result of the 2010 wave election, when Republicans took a number of statehouses?
Gordon Lafer: What you’re saying is very important, and what’s even more important than just thinking about the wave election is that 2010 was the year that the Supreme Court said that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on politics [in its Citizens United decision]. MORE
Today is Election Day and outside money is flooding campaigns in small towns and big cities across the country in amounts not seen in past off-year elections.
The New York Times points to the cash that the billionaire Koch brothers have thrown into local races to help sway voters in Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Texas.
In Coralville, Iowa (population: 20,000), the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) jumped into the race to elect the town’s next mayor and city council with an aggressive campaign — including direct mail, newspaper advertising and knocks on doors — focused on the tiny town’s finances.
It’s just one local race AFP has tried to swing — often with success — since the Citizens United decision in 2010. MORE
Happy election day! A political nerd’s favorite day of the year. Here’s some of the stuff we’re reading this AM before heading to the polls…
Big win for a big man –> TNR‘s Nate Cohn ponders what Chris Christie’s expected landslide win in NJ may portend for the 2016 presidential contest.
Mapping the campaign cash –> At MoJo, Alex Park and Tasneem Raja map the industries that donate the most to candidates in each of the 50 states.
From pot to schools –> Josh Eidelson with five “under the radar” races to watch today for Salon.
Politicians don’t think much of voters –> At The Monkey Cage, Larry Bartels writes about research suggesting that politicians don’t think they’ll be held accountable by an electorate that’s tuned out and has a short attention-span.
Silly season –> At Gothamist, John Del Signore warns that a shocking New York Post revelation that NYC Mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio once went on a university-sponsored trip to the Soviet Union could cost him “the crucial ‘senile conservative’ demographic.”
The politics of health care reform is fun –> Cancer patient pens op-ed in the WSJ blaming the ACA for the fact that she has to switch insurance companies. Health care wonk points out that her insurer was actually pulling out of the market because of competition with larger companies that enjoy a state tax break. Without comment, a White House advisor tweets a link to the wonk’s article. Prominent right-wing blog outraged, accuses the White House of “smearing” a cancer patient.
Headline says it all –> “Recessions can hurt, but austerity kills.” Jon Henley in The Guardian.
Billionaire says it’s time to give back –> William Greider reports for The Nation on a billionaire money-manager telling his clients they should pay higher taxes and give something back to working people.
That makes it alright then! –> NSA official defends agency snooping by comparing it with NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ program, according to McClatchy’s Ali Watkins.
ENDA –> Republican Sen. Mark Kirk uses first floor speech since suffering a stroke to push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. BUT: Greg Sargent writes at The Plum Line that the House is moving backward on LGBT rights.
Torture –> Medical personnel violated professional standards by assisting CIA in torturing suspected terrorists post-911, says new report. Via The Guardian.
Booze is worse? –> NYT op-ed says marijuana and alcohol appear to be substitutes, and the former is less harmful to society.
Busted again –> More alleged plagiarism discovered in Rand Paul’s past writings, according to Andrew Kaczynski at Buzzfeed.
Thawing –> Iran says UN chief nuclear inspector is visiting Tehran, according to AJE.
Emergency –> Texas abortion providers file emergency petition to stay law that would shutter one-third of the state’s clinics. Jessica Mason Pieklo reports for RH Reality Check.
Number four –> India launches mars spacecraft, becoming the fourth country to visit the red planet, reports AP.
Goldilocks –> Study finds 8.8 billion Earth-size “goldilocks” planets — not too hot, not too cold for life — in our solar system alone.
This post first appeared in Think Progress.
On Tuesday, approximately 25,000 residents of South Portland will decide the future of what could soon become America’s next tar sands pipeline. Not Keystone XL; the Portland-Montreal Pipeline.
In 1941, as Germany choked off Canada’s fuel supply during the early stages of World War II, the US opened a pipeline to allow imported crude to flow from Maine to Montreal. Today, that same pipeline has made Portland the second biggest oil port on the Eastern Seaboard. Tankers steam into Casco Bay almost daily, navigating among lobster buoys and kayakers and dwarfing the fishing boats that once lined the waterfront of Maine’s largest city. MORE
We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.
The Half in Ten campaign — launched in 2007 by the Center for American Progress, Coalition on Human Needs and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — set an ambitious goal: to cut poverty in half over ten years. Today, it seems almost fantastical on the face of it, given the nation’s polarization and soaring political and economic inequality.
But with 200 coalition members across the nation combatting poverty, Half in Ten remains steadfast, as campaign manager Erik Stegman described at the release of the third annual report which tracks progress towards the campaign’s ultimate goal.
“It’s an achievable goal because we’ve done it before,” said Stegman, who co-authored the report along with other contributors, including a foreword by Sister Simone Campbell. Stegman writes that the War on Poverty contributed to cutting poverty by 43 percent between 1964 and 1973, “to a historic low of 11.1 percent.”
“We know how to do it, and we can do it again,” asserts Stegman.
Half in Ten has always done an exceptional job laying out the policy choices that are there for the taking if we want to dramatically reduce poverty. But the heart of its work lies in showing how public policy decisions intersect with the lives and experiences of real people. MORE
Now she has a new short, The Story of Solutions.
Leonard frames our economy as a game with a dubious path to “winning.” “It’s as if we’re getting better and better at playing the wrong game,” she says. The end goal, at the moment, is “more:” more things, a larger GDP. Leonard proposes changing the game to one where the goal is “better.”