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United Nations Sharply Critical Of U.S. On Women’s Rights

The United Nations Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, has issued a very critical report of the U.S. on its policies on women’s rights. The report is based on a trip of the Special Rapporteur to the US from 24 January to 7 February 2011. During that trip, Ms. Rashida Manjoo broadly examined issues of violence against women in different settings. Her recommendations should provide fruitful material for the U.S. to improve its policies towards women.

As indicated in the report, “Violence against women occurs along a continuum in which the various forms of violence are often both causes and consequences of violence.” Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is one of the most critical expressions of violence. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) 552,000 violent crimes by an intimate partner were committed against women in the U.S. in 2008.

Their husbands or intimate acquaintances are responsible for the majority of crimes against women. The Violence Policy Center states that the number of women shot and killed by their husbands or intimate acquaintances was four times higher than the total number of women murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined, according to an analysis of 2008 data.

Rape and sexual assault continue to be prevalent forms of violence against women in the country. According to the NCVS, 182,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted in the U.S. in 2008, i.e. approximately 500 women per day. In addition, there were 3.4 million persons who were victims of stalking, most of them women. 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men have been stalked in their lifetime in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year. $4.1 billion of that amount is for direct medical and mental health services. Intimate partner violence incidents result in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year.

Children are also victims of violence carried out against their mothers. It has been shown that 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household. Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior among generations. In that regard, it has been shown that boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

Domestic violence offenses are one of the most chronically underreported crimes. It is estimated that only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings carried out against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

There are several reasons for these crimes not being reported. Among those reasons are: fear of retaliation from their abuser, the perception that the police will not respond adequately to the complaint or the belief that these are issues that should be privately addressed. According to a 2009 Department of Justice report, only 56% of intimate partner violence cases filed with the courts resulted in a conviction.

Women victims of domestic violence suffer a wide array of negative consequences, aside from the physical and psychological. Women victims of domestic violence face serious consequences in terms of economic instability, loss of employment and homelessness. In addition, violence against women is frequently seen among women in the military, women in detention, and among immigrant and undocumented women.

The extent of the phenomenon has made that violence against women is now recognized as an issue that belongs not only to the private sphere but that requires State intervention. According to the U.N. Rapporteur, the U.S. Government has taken positive legislative and policy initiatives to reduce the prevalence of violence against women.

Among those steps is the enactment and subsequent reauthorizations of the Violence against Women Act, as well as the establishment of dedicated offices on violence against women at the highest levels of government. However, according to the UN Rapporteur, more U.S. government actions are needed to curb a phenomenon that continues to cause tremendous harm to women’s health and quality of life.

 

By: Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, CommonDreams.org, June 4, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | DOJ, Economy, Education, Equal Rights, Government, Governors, Health Care, Human Rights, Planned Parenthood, Public Health, State Legislatures, States, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tennessee Ushers In Era Of For-Rent Politicians With New Campaign Finance Law

During the 2010 election season, we heard Republican candidates from coast to coast run on creating jobs. In the 2011 Tennessee legislative session, the Republican majority forgot that message and went after teachers and teacher unions. Any other year this would have been enough to make the staunchest conservative proud, but in a session where Republican legislators presented bills by non-citizens with corporate interests, according to the Tennessean, the measure of success was also to include rewriting existing campaign laws to lift the ban on corporate donations. The ban was lifted late Wednesday when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law SB 1915, which allows direct corporate donations to candidates.

SB 1915 changes existing law T.C.A. § 2-10-131 which did read: “No corporation may use any funds, moneys or credits of the corporation to make contributions to candidates. This means corporations are prohibited from making contributions to any PAC that supports the election or defeat of any candidate.” This has been nullified and allows for direct contributions without penalty.

For the first time in Tennessee history, direct corporate contributions to candidates and political parties will be allowed.

“This basically would just level the playing field, because unions are allowed to do this by statute now,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, according to the Nashville City Paper. Ketron was in the spotlight earlier this year, along with House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, for introducing and sponsoring legislation they introduced without reading.

The argument for passing such legislation to allow the influx of corporate money into Tennessee politics was based on fairness. Republicans were quick to point to unions and their political action committees as justification of needing this change, implying that P.A.C. money was unfairly going to the Democrats. This was not the case.

When we examine the numbers, we find that it is the Republicans who are benefiting from PAC money by a margin of $3-$1, reports Knox News. SB 1915 was written to become law as soon as the governor affixed his signature to the bill. So corporate America, Tennessee is now open for business: You are free to directly contribute to any candidate you wish.

The 107th Tennessee General Assembly’s 2011 session was one filled with controversy and fundamental changes to our state’s political structure. While the majority worked to silence one voice in government, they simultaneously opened the door to another. Republican supporters of SB1915 contend that they are complying with the Citizens United ruling that extends First Amendment rights to corporations and lifts prior bans on corporate independent expenditures. Critics of the bill contend that it will lead to a decline in good government and pit legislators against each other for corporate donations.

In a time when citizens are getting more impatient with their representatives, how does allowing corporate influence increase accountability? The financial summary of SB1915 shows that it will actually cost taxpayers money to implement. Not only do the taxpayers get silenced by corporate interests, they get to pick up the tab of implementing the changes. Gov. Haslam has signed the bill and it is now law in Tennessee. Let the era of rental legislators begin. May the highest bidder win.

 

By: Chris Robison, Associated Content, June 2, 2011

 

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul Ryan’s Norquistian-Churchillian Foreign Policy

Last night, Paul Ryan took the highly suggestive step of delivering a foreign policy address and leaking it to the magazine that’s been crusading for him to run for president. There is, however, one ideological snag.

Ryan’s budget is a Grover Norquist fantasy that would so starve the government of revenue that the only way to avoid deep defense cuts would be for the entire non-defense, non-entitlement portion of government to disappear entirely:

Perhaps the single most stunning piece of information that the CBO report reveals is that Ryan’s plan “specifies a path for all other spending” (other than spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest payments) to drop “from 12 percent [of GDP] in 2010 to 6 percent in 2022 and 3½ percent by 2050.” These figures are extraordinary.  As CBO notes, “spending in this category has exceeded 8 percent of GDP in every year since World War II.”

Defense spending has equaled or exceeded 3 percent of GDP every year since 1940, and the Ryan budget does not envision defense cuts in real terms (although defense could decline a bit as a share of GDP).  Assuming defense spending remained level in real terms, most of the rest of the federal government outside of health care, Social Security, and defense would cease to exist.

In reality, Ryan’s budget is unworkable and something would have to give. Many Republicans, and especially the neoconservatives forming the draft-Ryan committee, loath the idea of pressuring the defense budget. Ryan’s forceful endorsement of neoconservative principles, along with his continued opposition to defense spending cuts, reassures his base. In the neoconservative world, mighty declarations of willpower always trump puny arithmetic.

The political angle of Ryan’s foreign policy speech is to pick up the attack line that President Obama denies American exceptionalism. Here’s Ryan:

There are very good people who are uncomfortable with the idea that America is an “exceptional” nation…

Today, some in this country relish the idea of America’s retreat from our role in the world. They say that it’s about time for other nations to take over; that we should turn inward; that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens.

This view applies moral relativism on a global scale. Western civilization and its founding moral principles might be good for the West, but who are we to suggest that other systems are any worse? – or so the thinking goes.

Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen.

Ryan is referring to, without explicitly saying so, a widespread conservative claim. In April 2009, a reporter asked Obama if he believed in American exceptionalism. Obama began by citing objections to the concept before endorsing it:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

An endless parade of conservatives have truncated the quote, ending it after the first sentence, to make it sound like a disavowal of American exceptionalism. In other words, it’s utterly false, and therefore a fitting theme for Ryan’s foreign policy message.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, June 3, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Liberty, Medicare, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loose Lips: Romney Miscasts Economy In GOP Debut

In rhetorical excesses marking his entry in the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said the economy worsened under President Barack Obama, when it actually improved, and criticized the president for issuing apologies to the world that were never made.

A look at some of the statements by Romney on Thursday in announcing his bid for the Republican nomination and how they compare with the facts:

ROMNEY: “When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse. And he made it last longer.”

THE FACTS: The gross domestic product, the prime measure of economic strength, shrank by a severe 6.8 percent annual rate before Obama became president. The declines eased after he took office and economic growth, however modest, resumed. The recession officially ended six months into his presidency. Unemployment, however, has worsened under Obama, going from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 9.1 percent last month. It hit 10.1 percent in October 2009.

A case can be made for and against the idea that Obama’s policies made the economy worse than it needed to be and that the recession lasted longer than it might have under another president. Such arguments are at the core of political debate. But Obama did not, as Romney alleged, make the economy worse than it was when he took office.

ROMNEY: “A few months into office, he traveled around the globe to apologize for America.”

THE FACTS: Obama has not apologized for America. What he has done, in travels early in his presidency and since, is to make clear his belief that the U.S. is not beyond reproach. He has told foreigners that the U.S. at times acted “contrary to our traditions and ideals” in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy,” that the U.S. “certainly shares blame” for international economic turmoil and has sometimes shown arrogance toward allies. Obama, whose criticisms of America’s past were typically balanced by praise, was in most cases taking issue with policies or the record of the previous administration, not an unusual approach for a new president — or a presidential candidate. Romney’s actual point seems to be that Obama has been too critical of his country.

But there has been no formal — or informal — apology. No saying “sorry” on behalf of America.

ROMNEY: “Three years later, foreclosures are still at record levels. Three years later the prices of homes continue to fall.”

THE FACTS: Although foreclosures remain high, the number of U.S. homes that were repossessed by lenders fell in April, compared with March and a year ago, according to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. Romney’s claim about home prices, though, is supported by the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city monthly index. It found home prices in big metro areas have sunk to their lowest since 2002. Since the bubble burst in 2006, prices have fallen more than they did during the Great Depression.

ROMNEY: “Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and employers, he raises their taxes, piles on record-breaking mounds of regulation and bureaucracy and gives more power to union bosses.”

THE FACTS: Romney ignores ambitious tax-cutting pushed by Obama. The stimulus plan early in his presidency cut taxes broadly for the middle class and business. He more recently won a one-year tax cut for 2011 that reduced most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third. He also campaigned in support of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all except the wealthy, whose taxes he wanted to raise. In office, he accepted a deal from Republicans extending the tax cuts for all. As for tax increases, Obama won congressional approval to raise them on tobacco and tanning salons. The penalty for those who don’t buy health insurance, once coverage is mandatory, is a form of taxation. Several large tax increases in the health care law have not yet taken effect.

ROMNEY: “The expectation was that we’d have to raise taxes but I refused. I ordered a review of all state spending, made tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.”

THE FACTS: Romney largely held the line on tax increases when he was Massachusetts governor but that’s only part of the revenue story. The state raised business taxes by $140 million in one year with measures branded “loophole closings,” the vast majority recommended by Romney. Moreover, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers raised hundreds of millions of dollars from higher fees and fines, taxation by another name. Romney himself proposed creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 others — enough to raise $59 million. Anti-tax groups were split on his performance. The Club for Growth called the fee increases and business taxes troubling. Citizens for Limited Taxation praised him for being steadfast in supporting an income tax rollback.

 

By: Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press, Yahoo News, June 3, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Foreclosures, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Mitt Romney, Politics, President Obama, Regulations, Republicans, Tax Increases, Taxes, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Person, One Vote? Not Exactly

Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, set out a few years ago to determine how much Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states affected presidential nominations.

Mr. Knight and Mr. Schiff analyzed daily polls in other states before and after an early state had held a contest. The polls tended to change immediately after the contest, and the changes tended to last, which suggested that the early states were even more important than many people realized. The economists estimated that an Iowa or New Hampshire voter had the same impact as five Super Tuesday voters put together.

This system, the two men drily noted in a Journal of Political Economy paper, “represents a deviation from the democratic ideal of ‘one person, one vote.’ ”

A presidential campaign is once again upon us, and Iowa and New Hampshire are again at the center of it all. On Thursday, Mitt Romney will announce his candidacy in Stratham, N.H. Last week, Tim Pawlenty opened his campaign in Des Moines. The two states have dominated the nominating process for so long that it’s easy to think of their role as natural.

But it is not natural. It’s undemocratic, in fact. It is unfair to voters in the other 48 states. And it distorts economic policy in several damaging ways.

Most obviously, the federal government has lavished subsidies on ethanol, even though those subsidies drive up food prices and do little to solve the climate problem, partly because candidates pander to the Iowa corn industry. (Mr. Pawlenty, who now says the subsidies must end, is an admirable exception.) Beyond ethanol, a recent peer-reviewed study found that early-voting states received more federal dollars after a competitive election — so long as they supported the winning candidate.

Pork is hardly the only problem with the voting calendar. In the long run-up to the first votes, Iowa and New Hampshire also distort the national conversation because they are so unrepresentative. They are not better or worse than other states, to be clear. But they are different.

Their populations are growing more slowly than the rest of the country’s. Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire are more likely to have health insurance. They are older than average. They are more likely to work in manufacturing.

Above all, Iowa and New Hampshire lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to lifting economic growth. Big metro areas are where big ideas most often take shape and great new companies are most often born. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population.

Yet metro areas are also struggling with major problems. The quality of schools is spotty. Commutes last longer than ever. Roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are aging.

You don’t hear much about these issues in the first year of a presidential campaign, though. No wonder. Iowa, New Hampshire and the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, do not have a single city among the country’s 25 largest. Las Vegas, the 30th-largest metro area, and the Boston suburbs that stretch into New Hampshire are the closest these states come.

So the presidential calendar becomes another cause of what Edward Glaeser, a conservative-leaning Harvard economist, calls our “anti-urban policy bias.” Suburbs and rural areas receive vastly more per-person federal largess than cities. One big reason, of course, is the structure of the Senate: the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six.

Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president and veteran of Democratic administrations, points out that the world’s other economic powers take their cities more seriously. China, in particular, has made urban planning a central part of its economic strategy.

“The United States stands apart as an anti-urban nation in an urbanizing world,” Mr. Katz told me. “Our political tilt toward small states and small towns, in presidential campaigns and the governing that follows, is not only a quaint relic of an earlier era but a dangerous distraction at a time when national prosperity depends on urban prosperity.”

The typical defense from Iowa and New Hampshire is that they care more about politics than the rest of us and therefore do a better job vetting candidates. But the intense 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed that if Iowa and New Hampshire care more, it’s only because of their privileged status. In 2008, turnout soared in states that finally had a primary that mattered, be it Indiana or Texas, North Carolina or Rhode Island.

A more democratic system would allow more voters to see the candidates up close for months at a time. The early states could rotate each year, so that all kinds — big states and small, younger and older, rural and urban — had a turn. In 2016, the first wave could include states that have voted near the end recently, like Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Dakota.

A rotation along these lines would enliven the political debate. Investments in science and education, which are the lifeblood of future economic growth, might play a bigger role in the campaign. You could even imagine — optimistically, I know — that the deficit might prove easier to address if Medicare and Social Security recipients did not make up such a disproportionate share of early voters.

The issues particular to small-town America would still receive extra attention because so many of the 50 states are rural and sparsely populated. It’s just that Iowa and New Hampshire would no longer receive the extreme special treatment they now do.

And that special treatment is a nice thing, indeed. It focuses the entire country, and its next leader, on the concerns of only 1 percent of the population, as if democracy were supposed to work that way.

At a recent candidates’ forum in Des Moines, The Wall Street Journal reported, the moderator did something that seemed perfectly normal: She chided Mr. Romney for not having spent enough time in Iowa lately. “Where have you been?” she asked.

How do you think the rest of us feel?

 

By: David Leonhardt, Economic Scene, The New York Times, May 31, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Democracy, Elections, Government, Health Care, Iowa Caucuses, Medicare, Politics, Social Security, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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