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“Todd Akin Is Ready For Another Close-Up”: His Problem Was That He Was Too … ‘Conciliatory’?

In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was facing a tough re-election fight in Missouri, so she helped boost the Republican she assumed would be the easiest to beat: then-Rep. Todd Akin (R). The plan worked extraordinarily well.

Akin was an extremist by any measure, but the far-right lawmaker secured a spot in the Awful Candidates Hall of Fame when he famously said women impregnated during a “legitimate rape” have a magical ability to “shut that whole thing down.”

Akin soon after lost by 15 points.

All of this unpleasantness, however, was two years ago. Now the far-right Missourian is back and he wants the spotlight again.

Todd Akin takes it back. He’s not sorry.

Two years after the Missouri Republican’s comments on rape, pregnancy and abortion doomed his campaign and fueled a “war on women” message that carried Democrats to victory in the Senate, one of the few regrets he mentions in a new book is the decision to air a campaign ad apologizing for his remarks. “By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin writes, “I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”

Hmm. Todd Akin’s problem was that he was too … conciliatory?

Making matters worse, as Joan Walsh noted, Akin is not only retracting his 2012 apology, he’s also back to defending the comments that caused him so much trouble in the first place. “My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization,” Akin argues in his new book, adding that “this is something fertility doctors debate and discuss.”

Republican officials are clearly aware of Akin’s willingness to re-litigate whether women can “shut that whole thing down,” and they have a message for the former congressman: for the love of God, please stop talking.

No, really.

Todd Akin is back talking about rape in his new book and Republicans have a message for him: Shut up. […]

“Todd Akin is an embarrassment to the Republican Party and the sole reason Claire McCaskill is still part of Harry Reid’s majority,” said Brian Walsh, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2012 cycle.

“It’s frankly pathetic that just like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in 2010, he refuses to take any responsibility for sticking his foot in his mouth, alienating voters and costing Republicans a critical Senate seat. Worse, he’s now trying to make money off his defeat. The sooner he leaves the stage again the better.”

The GOP has vowed to prevent the stumbles on social issues that plagued Republican candidates on the trail last cycle. So its overwhelming reaction to Akin: his five minutes of fame need to be over.

That may be little more than wishful thinking. Yesterday afternoon, Planned Parenthood Votes issued a report that not only detailed Akin’s disturbing record, but connecting Akin to 2014 candidates. From the materials:

“Todd Akin and his dangerous agenda for women were soundly rejected by voters in 2012, yet candidates like Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner and Greg Abbott continue to follow in his footsteps,” said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Votes. “Todd Akin’s appalling beliefs about women and rape were too extreme for America’s women, and they represent policy positions shared by politicians like Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Greg Abbott – among others. Just as Todd Akin was held accountable for his beliefs, these candidates will have to answer for their opposition to basic access to medical care for America’s women, and especially their cold indifference to women who are survivors of rape and incest.”

While Todd Akin was best known for his comments about legitimate rape, he also supported a wide range of measures – such as redefining rape, wanting to ban emergency contraception for survivors of rape and incest, and supporting measures that could interfere with personal, private, medical decisions relating to decisions about birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of a miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion – that were far too extreme for the vast majority Americans.

Similarly, Abbott, Tillis and Gardner have used their positions to do things such as prevent rape survivors from suing those who negligently hire their attackers, trying to deny rape survivors from accessing emergency contraception, and forcing survivors of rape and incest to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound before accessing an abortion.

Under the circumstances, the more Akin talks, the happier many on the left will be.

Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood but played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 11, 2014

 

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Todd Akin, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who’s Paying The Premiums?”: Health Insurance Is Not A Favor Your Boss Does For You

The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there’s one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It’s the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government’s involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include.

Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your local food bank when you’d rather give to the pet shelter. You can see it, for instance, in this piece by Megan McArdle in which she tries to look at the clash of rights involved in this dispute, but running through the whole piece is the idea that an employee’s health insurance isn’t compensation for her labor but a piece of charity her boss has bestowed upon her for no reason other than the goodness of his heart. Referring to the question of whether the religious beliefs of  Hobby Lobby’s owners are being imposed on its employees, she writes: “How is not buying you something equivalent to ‘imposing’ on you?” Then later she refers to “a positive right to have birth control purchased for me.”

But when your insurance coverage includes birth control, your employer isn’t “buying you” anything. Your employer is basically acting as an administrative middleman between you and the insurance company. Your employer isn’t the one whose money is paying the premiums, you are. It’s compensation for the work you’ve done, just as much as your salary is.

This goes all the way back to to the roots of our employer-based insurance system. During World War II, the government imposed wage and price controls, meaning employers couldn’t give raises. So they began to offer health insurance as an alternate form of compensation, and when the IRS decided in 1943 that insurance could be paid with pre-tax dollars, it made it all the more attractive as a form of compensation. And keep in mind that the preferential tax treatment of health insurance (which the self-employed don’t get) is a tax benefit to the employee, not the employer. If you eliminated it, employers’ balance sheets would stay the same (it would still be counted as an expense), but employees would have to pay taxes on the benefit.

You might or might not think that remembering the true nature of the insurance benefit should change the calculation in the Hobby Lobby case. I’m guessing that for the plaintiffs, it wouldn’t; they’d probably argue that even having to think about what sinful harlots their employees are imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. And as I’ve argued before, we should get rid of the employer-based insurance system entirely. That may happen eventually, but in the meantime, it’s good to remember just whose health insurance it is. It’s not your boss’. It’s yours.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Health Insurance, Hobby Lobby, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

“It Will Be Ugly, And It Will Escalate”: Buffer Zones, Clinic Escorting, And The Myth Of The Quiet Sidewalk Counselors

The Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law — which barred antiabortion protests immediately outside clinics. Justice Scalia portrayed the law as hindering ‘sidewalk counselors’ who lovingly entreated women to consider alternatives. This portrayal, embodied by the grandmotherly petitioner, allowed some to view the decision as protecting gentle civility. Referencing one particular Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, this “quiet counseling” was seen as well-intentioned, and, more importantly, constitutional.

It is also a myth — or at least a dramatic euphemism that applies to very few at the Boston site. I should know. I was there.

For four years, I volunteered as an escort on Saturday mornings. The scene described in the court — like a delusional game of telephone — was drastically different from reality.

Our mornings were mostly spent scanning the streets, attempting to spot patients before they approached the zealous spectacle. We’d tactfully ask if they were looking for the clinic, and walk them through the crowd.

Saturdays were favored by protesters, so escorts arrived in the early morning. Wearing identifying vests, we flanked the entrance and greeted patients outside the zone. Two would rotate to the back to watch the garage entrance, where only the more tenacious protestors wandered. We’d accompany patients up the long walk to the front, usually trailed by someone asking if Satan sent us. (He didn’t.)

During the freezing New England winters, we would briefly warm up inside, but were mostly left to stomp our feet and count how many toes we could feel. Once a month, a Christian band would show up, surreally, and hold a concert.

We knew the “quiet counseling” well. “Just like Auschwitz,” one would say, “you’re delivering them right into the furnace.” This particular protester would speak right into her ear — until he approached the painted line on the ground.

Sometimes, a male accompanying a patient would lose his cool. He could have been her boyfriend or brother. We didn’t know and never asked. Once they entered, the doors could burst back open and he would charge whichever protestor called his companion a whore. We would intervene.

Justice Alito felt the law represented “viewpoint discrimination” — constitutionally, one message can’t be favored over another. But as an escort, I never talked about abortion, even outside the zone. When guiding patients, I would detail what they could expect. I didn’t offer my perspective, or even criticize the protestors. My goal was to provide a calming presence seconds before what would be one of the more trying moments of their lives. I explained how to access the clinic, and maintained a low patter to distract them from strangers calling them beasts and murderers. If they were confused by the protestors’ Boston Police hats, we cleared that up too.

If the patient was African-American, the protestors said they were “lynching” their child. If the protestor was crying, they said the tears would never stop, even in hell. If a patient was with her mother, they thanked the mother — for not killing her own baby.

Surprisingly, those Saturdays were not without their lighter moments. For a group dedicated to attacking Planned Parenthood — a multi-purpose clinic — they seemed stunned when someone wasn’t seeking an abortion. “You’ll never be the same. You’ll always be a dirty killer,” one would say. A startled patient would respond, “Why would a Pap smear make me a dirty killer?” Many others sought birth control — though they didn’t approve of that either.

This is not to paint all protesters as unhinged. I still remember one young priest who didn’t condemn me and chose instead to make small talk — which we continued periodically. Another time, upon news of the Columbia shuttle deteriorating upon reentry, we all shared a collective moment of humanity.

Being in a college area, there were counter-protestors (also kept out of the buffer zone) — who promoted pro-choice politics through direct and shocking slogans. Many of us didn’t care for them either. We just wanted calm in an atmosphere of invective and hysteria.

The desire for calm stemmed, in part, from the 1994 Brookline shootings. The victims were known by some of my fellow volunteers. This very real risk led the police to call for a buffer zone. One of the victims, a 25-year-old receptionist, was not just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The murder was premeditated; her killer focused on her.

Even when I was there, clinic staff driving up would be greeted with protestors filming them and, not so subtly, stating the staffer’s home address. Those were the more chilling moments.

It is difficult (though not impossible) to argue that a unanimous Supreme Court case was wrongly decided. After all, it is a broad law. But that is not my goal. Instead, I’m writing to dispel the myth painted of Good Samaritans softly offering a helping hand. In the public relations war over whether the affected individuals were compassionate counselors or marauding bullies, many justices seemed to accept the former characterization.

The law was overturned as an overreaching infringement on free speech. Is this a free speech issue? Yes, of course it is. But as others have pointed out, buffer zones exist elsewhere, including outside the Supreme Court. Favoring free speech, the Court famously allowed Nazis to march in Illinois and, more recently, the Phelps church to picket funerals (at a distance). But parades and funerals eventually end. Here, the Court risks turning clinic entrances into permanently hostile environments — inciting those who have spent weeks agonizing over their decision. They overturned the express wishes of an elected legislature — including pro-life lawmakers who supported the measure in the interest of public safety.

Similar zones were upheld by the court in 2000, a ruling which was not overturned. Clinic entrances still cannot be blocked, and injunctions are allowed against particularly worrisome parties. Chief Justice Roberts even suggested other mechanisms the state can use in lieu of the zone. But it’s an ever-changing landscape, and those remaining precautions have become the next targets of these quiet counselors. Because, to those that brought the case, speech alone is not the goal.

The grueling decision of whether to have an abortion should never be taken lightly, and there is no shortage of advocates for either side that fill our collective eardrums. But that debate stops a few feet outside the clinic. Just like politicking outside voting booths, these last ditch efforts lose the veneer of debate and become akin to intimidation — which can easily morph into confrontation or devastating anguish. Anyone who wants to stop and chat can do so. But once patients decide to cross the line, they should be left alone. The Court noted that the environment is currently more peaceful than it once was. There’s a reason for that.

None of this is to say that this isn’t a legitimate debate. It is. But those who favor stripping the buffer zone away — what small help it is — shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking that a flood of polite conversation will follow. It will be ugly, and it will escalate.

 

By: Brian Giacometti, Field-based NGO Program Manager for Governance and Rule of Law; The Huffington Post Blog, July 7, 2014

 

 

July 8, 2014 Posted by | Buffer Zones, Public Safety, SCOTUS, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Endangering Health And Lives”: How Hobby Lobby Undermines All Americans’ Freedom

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case demonstrates that the court, at least the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, has little concern for, and probably little understanding of, women’s health care. By ruling that corporations, on the grounds of the alleged religious views of their owners, can deny women access to some forms of contraception, the court set a horrible precedent that if followed will endanger the health and lives of many American women.

The Hobby Lobby ruling may at first seem like a victory for the minority of Americans who think that both abortion and contraception should be illegal, and for those who believe that the US should operate more as a theocracy than a country where state and church are separate. However, the ruling not only is terrible news for women seeking a guarantee of good healthcare through their employer, but also for anybody who believes in personal freedom.

In the US, where health insurance is linked to employment, health insurance is part of the compensation package. When most Americans are about to start a new job, or choosing between two or more jobs, one of the first questions they ask is about the quality of the health insurance they will get. In most cases, health insurance varies because some companies offer plans with lower co-pays, better dental care or things like that. Firms that deny dental care are doing it because of concerns about costs, not because they have an ethical or religious problem with healthy teeth. Hobby Lobby is doing something different, denying women access to some forms of health care because of the personal beliefs of the people who run the company.

This decision raises the question of whether the Supreme Court will next rule that employers can tell workers how to spend the money they earn at their jobs. This sounds a bit extreme, but in a very real way that is precisely what the court just did. By limiting how workers can use some of their compensation, the court, despite its own assertions that it was not setting a precedent, opened the door for further limitations. If Hobby Lobby can tell people how they can or cannot use their health care benefits, why can’t they also tell people they can’t, for example, use their salaries to donate to pro-choice political candidates or pro-marriage equality causes? The answer, one would think, would be obvious, but the recent court decision makes it considerably less clear.

The Republican Party has long, if not always sincerely, repeated a mantra of individual freedom, but the Hobby Lobby decision, in which all five justices who formed the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, undermines that. A central belief of all Republican politicians is that Americans should have a right to do what they want with, and keep as much as possible of, their hard-earned money. The Supreme Court made a big move against that idea this week, but the outrage from the Republican side has been absent.

Conservative opposition to healthcare have consistently argued that decisions about health care should be made by patients and doctors, not by the government. The death panel hysteria that Sarah Palin unleashed on the American people a few years ago took that point to a nutty extreme. After last week, conservatives who support Hobby Lobby should probably change their position and argue that health care decisions should be made not by a patient’s doctor, but by a patient’s employer. Similarly, for supporters of the Hobby Lobby decision, the new mantra of individual freedom should now be that Americans should be allowed to do whatever they want with their hard earned money, as long as their boss approves, but somehow that seems an unlikely campaign slogan for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

The Hobby Lobby decision is about women’s health care and individual freedom, but it also is another sign of the consolidation of power by big corporations in the US. It is now legal for corporations to deny workers important medical services, and redefine their compensation packages, simply because, religious claims aside, they want to. During a very tenuous recovery in which real wages have not recovered, unemployment remains high and economic uncertainty on the part of working Americans is an enormous problem, the Supreme Court just gave more rights to corporations while taking wealth, as health care benefits are a form of wealth, out of the hands of working Americans.

 

By: Lincoln Mitchell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 6, 2014

 

 

 

July 7, 2014 Posted by | Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Good Reminder To Voters”: The Political Repercussions Of The Hobby Lobby Decision

Normally it’s not a good idea to jump right into the political implications of a major Supreme Court decision like Hobby Lobby, but in this case there’s no point in waiting. This was a political decision and it is absolutely proper for Democrats to use it as a weapon in the midterm election campaign.

Minutes after the court ruled that closely held corporations have religious rights that permit them to deny contraceptive benefits to employees, Democrats made clear that they would use the case to remind women of the personal consequences of this kind of conservative ideology. An e-mail blast from the Democratic Party called the case a “wake-up call,” and urged recipients to “stand up for women’s rights” by electing Democrats to Congress.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, tied the case to other Republican policies regarding women, including blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act. “It is no surprise that Republicans have sided against women on this issue as they have consistently opposed a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” she said.

The Supreme Court, in other words, could become a high-profile stand-in for the offensive remarks of Tea Party candidates (remember “legitimate rape”?) that helped elect several Democrats in 2012, but have largely been quieted this year.

Of course Republican politicians are trying to portray the Hobby Lobby decision purely as a win for religious freedom, which is a more attractive spin than the loss of reproductive freedom for women who work for these companies.

“Today’s decision is a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives,” Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. A more honest statement of the party’s thinking came in this tweet from Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.”

The White House — aware that most Americans oppose letting employers choose contraception plans based on religious beliefs — wasted no time in trying to transform the public’s anger at this kind of thinking into political action. Josh Earnest, the new press secretary, urged Congress to take action to assist the women affected by the decision, implicitly reminding voters that the future of this issue is truly in their hands. And Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a leading Democrat, quickly took up the challenge.

“Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will,” she said in a statement. “In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”

The court based its decision not on a Constitutional principle but on an act of Congress, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Acts of Congress can be overturned or changed if the right lawmakers are in place, and Hobby Lobby is a good reminder to voters that important policies are often not in the hands of nine justices, but in their own.

 

By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 30, 2014

July 2, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court, Women's Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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