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“Pregnancy, Men And Gumball Machines”: Texans Fight Back Against Cuts To Women’s Health programs

It’s hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women’s health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state’s Women’s Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here’s a timeline of the fight.) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he’ll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he’ll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session.

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women’s Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics. Non-Planned Parenthood clinics, which may still be eligible for the program if the governor finds the money, are also struggling due to the drastic budget cuts to the program, and soon they may face increased demand. In spite of it all, women’s health advocates promise this fight is just beginning.

More than 300 protesters arrived on Tuesday to welcome Planned Parenthood’s “Women’s Health Express” bus (or as the organization’s president Cecile Richards calls it, the “don’t-throw-women-under-the-bus bus.”) After stopping at cities around the state, the entourage arrived across from the state capitol to protest new policies. It was diverse, both in terms of age and ethnicity, as were the speakers on stage, almost all of whom were female. It was also the second protest of the day—100 women showed up earlier as part of a weekly protest against the decision called “Seeing Red.”

The signs were quite creative. Planned Parenthood had some stating “Don’t Mess With Texas Women” or “No to metas con las mujeres de Tejas.” Then there were the homemade ones: “Dump Anita’s Husband” “Perry screws 130,000 women so who’s the slut?” and, possibly the funniest, “If men could get pregnant, birth control would be available in gumball machines.”

The program featured women who used the Women’s Health Program. At first, Delia Henry read nervously from a script, telling her story of relying on Planned Parenthood for information about her sexual health when her single father was too embarrassed to talk to her. Later, as part of the Women’s Health Program, she discovered she had diabetes during a routine blood test. “This program saved my life,” she said to applause.

In the crowd were women with similar stories. Sarah Jeansonne was there with her two daughters, explaining to them that politicians were trying to take away health care for women. The issue was hardly just politics for her. “It was a public clinic that told me I was pregnant with this one,” she said, caressing her daughter’s blonde hair. “It wasn’t planned. What if that wasn’t there?” She began to tear up.

“We all used Planned Parenthood at one time,” Jeansonne’s friend Kelly Taggle said. “Something has to fill in the gaps.”

The program featured everything from country singers to the Austin mayor, but undoubtedly the crowd favorite was state Representative Dawna Dukes, in red patent leather pumps to show she was “seeing red.” Dukes began with a story of getting excited to speak at her church, founded by her grandmother and where all her siblings had been married. Then she was told she could not speak. At first it was out of fear the church would appear to favor one candidate over another. “I’m unopposed,” she told the crowd.

Later, she said, the church called her back to tell her the U.S. Congress of Bishops barred her from speaking because she supported the Women’s Health Program on her website.

“I’m mad as hell,” she thundered. “I have not the time to go round and round and neither do Texas women.”

Dukes excoriated the governor, pointing out that the state’s Legislative Budget Board, the independent board that runs the state’s calculations, had called the program the most cost effective in Texas and recommended it be expanded. While Perry blames the Obama administration for the change in rules, Dukes was quick to point out that the rules for the program were conceived in 2007, under then-President George W. Bush. “Don’t blame Barack,” she said as the crowd cheered. “Blame your stupid recommendations under the Capitol dome!”

By the time Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards took the stage, the clapping was pretty much nonstop. Richards kept her remarks short. “We do more to prevent unintended pregnancies than any organization in the country,” she said, a frequent point among the speakers.

Then she moved to politics. “We’re the biggest tent,” she said. “By God, women’s health care does not come with a political label.”

 
 
 
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, March 14, 2012
 
 

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Planned Parenthood, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Irrational Actors”: Republican State Legislators Shoot Selves In Foot, Help Citizens

One of the main features of the Affordable Care Act is the creation of 50 state-based health-insurance exchanges, online marketplaces where people and small businesses will be able to easily compare competing plans and select the one they prefer. If you’re buying insurance on the individual market after the beginning of 2014 (but not if you get your insurance through your employer like most people), your state’s exchange is where you’ll go. While the federal government establishes a baseline of requirements for what plans offered through the exchange must contain, each state will determine exactly how theirs will work.

But after the ACA was passed, and especially after the 2010 election where Republicans won huge gains at the state level, a lot of states run by Republicans refused to take any action to create their exchanges. Like a Catholic bishop looking at a package of birth-control pills, they retched and turned away, not wanting to sully their hands at all with involvement in President Obama’s freedom-destroying health-care plan. But the law also provides that if a state doesn’t get around to creating its exchange, then the federal government will just do it for them.

Which is why I’ve always found the actions of Republicans on this issue puzzling. They all say they hate the federal government, and states can do things better. But in this case, they’re letting the federal government take over. Which is probably a good thing.

Let’s say you live in Arkansas. Who would you trust to create an exchange that works well and empowers consumers: a state government run by Republicans who think any government involvement in health care is vile, or the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, which has a huge reputational stake in making the Affordable Care Act work as well as possible? Well, you’re in luck, because Arkansas has explicitly refused to create an exchange. Plenty of other states with Republican-controlled legislatures have simply dragged their feet in the hopes that either the Supreme Court will strike down the ACA when it hears the case later this year, or that a Republican will win the White House in November and successfully repeal the law (this is a list of where exchanges stand in each state, if you’re curious).

Conservative health-care wonks seem to be divided on the issue. Here’s one (h/t Sarah Kliff) making exactly the case that I made—if Republicans just ignore this, it’ll be turned over to an administration they hate (I just happen to think that’s a good thing, while he doesn’t). But here’s another testifying before the New Hampshire Legislature, telling them not to do anything and hope it just goes away.

This offers a reminder, in case you needed one, that elected officials are not always rational actors. They’ll even do things that undermine the principles they hold, for reasons of emotion or pique or false hope. In this case, that means a lot of people living in Republican-dominated states will probably have access to an exchange that works substantially better than whatever their state would have set up. So it’ll be a happy ending!

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 14, 2012

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Ideology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Aiding And Abetting”: Scott Brown Weakened Restrictions On Goldman Sachs Abuses

In his public resignation letter in today’s New York Times, former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith said that one of the fastest ways to get ahead with the firm is to persuade clients “to invest in the stocks or other products that [the firm is] trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit.” He lambastes a firm culture where colleagues openly boast of “ripping their clients off.”

The sad thing is, this sort of shady might well have been on the way to being curtailed if not for the actions of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). After Brown was elected to the senate in 2010, he threatened to join a Republican filibuster of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, using that threat to significantly water down the bill. Among the industry-favored concessions he extracted was weakening of the “Volcker rule,” which was meant to curb risky speculative investments that do not benefit customers.

Thanks to Brown’s maneuver, the final bill upped the amount of risky trading big banks like Goldman could engage in, increasing the amount of gambling they’re able to do by billions of dollars. Since then, financial industry lobbyists have been hammering away at the the rule in an attempt to render it completely meaningless.

The financial sector, of course, has repaid Brown with a flurry of campaign contributions. Between contributions from the firm’s leadership PAC and contributions from company employees, Brown has already received more than $40,000 in campaign cash from Goldman Sachs this cycle.

 

By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, March 14, 2012

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Financial Institutions, Financial Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Goldman Sachs’ Million Dollar Man”: Mitt Romney’s Ties To A “Toxic And Destructive” Bank

Republican presidential primary frontrunner Mitt Romney (R) is taking a break from the campaign trail a day after finishing third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, stopping in New York City for multiple fundraisers and a visit with campaign surrogate Donald Trump. Romney will attend three fundraisers and haul in an expected $2 million this week, bolstering a fundraising total that has already made him Wall Street’s favorite candidate.

More than any other institution on Wall Street, Romney has ties to Goldman Sachs, the firm that was slammed in a New York Times editorial this morning by a resigning executive director who decried the firm’s “toxic and destructive” culture. Romney and his wife, Ann, have investments in almost three-dozen Goldman Sachs funds valued between $17.7 million and $50.5 million, according to his personal financial disclosure forms.

No Wall Street bank has been as generous to Romney’s campaign, his leadership PAC, and the super PAC that backs him as Goldman. According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports, Goldman Sachs employees have given the Romney campaign more than $427,000 during the 2012 cycle, nearly twice as much as he has received from any other major Wall Street bank (Citigroup employees have given roughly $274,000 to Romney, the second-largest amount). According to OpenSecrets.org, total contributions to Romney from Goldman Sachs, its employees, and their immediate family members totals more than $521,000.

The Free And Strong America Leadership PAC, which is affiliated with the Romney campaign, has received $30,000 from Goldman Sachs employees during the 2012 cycle. Goldman employees and their spouses, meanwhile, have given $670,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney.

After making billions of dollars in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008, Goldman Sachs benefited from a federal bailout that saved Wall Street banks. The company, like other Wall Street firms, stood opposed to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that was signed into law in 2010 and also fought regulations it contained, such as the Volcker Rule, which would prevent proprietary trading that made the bank billions but left taxpayers on the hook when it nearly collapsed. Romney has rarely missed a chance to tout his opposition to the law on the campaign trail, announcing that he’d repeal it even before he read it.

 

By: Travis Waldron and Josh Israel, Think Progress, March 14, 2012

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Financial Institutions, Financial Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Campaign Of Denial”: Mitt Romney Meets “Peasants With Pitchforks”

Political revolutions leave chaos in their wake. Republicans cannot shut down their presidential nominating contest just because the party is in the midst of an upheaval wrought by the growing dominance of its right wing, its unresolved attitudes toward George W. Bush’s presidency, and the terror that the GOP rank and file has stirred among the more moderately conservative politicians who once ran things.

When Pat Buchanan ran for president in the 1990s, the conservative commentator lovingly referred to his partisans as “peasants with pitchforks.” The pitchfork brigade now enjoys more power in Republican politics than even Buchanan thought possible.

Mitt Romney is still the Republican front-runner by virtue of the delegates he relentlessly piles up. But Romney keeps failing to bring this slugfest to a close. No matter how much he panders and grovels to the party’s right, its supporters will never see him as one of their own.

One senses that the conservative ultras are resigned to having to vote for Romney in November against President Obama. They are determined not to vote for him twice, using the primaries to give voice to their hearts and their guts. They will keep signaling their refusal to surrender to the Romney machine with its torrent of nasty advertisements and its continuing education courses in delegate math designed to prove that resistance is futile.

The more they are told this, the more they want to resist.

Rick Santorum is a superb vehicle for this cry of protest. He is articulate but unpolished. He has pitifully few resources compared with the vast treasury at Romney’s disposal, but this only feeds Santorum’s David narrative against the Goliath that is Team Romney.

Santorum’s purity as a social and religious conservative is unrivaled, and his traditional family life — he’s always surrounded on primary nights by a passel of kids — contrasts nicely with Newt Gingrich’s rather messy personal history. It is no accident that, while Gingrich narrowly carried the ballots of men in Tuesday’s Alabama and Mississippi primaries, he was routed among Republican women who were decisive in Santorum’s twin triumphs. It was the conservative version of the personal being the political.

And while Republicans shout to the heavens against class warfare, they are as affected as anyone by the old Jacksonian mistrust of the privileged whose football knowledge comes not from experience or ESPN but from their friendship with the owners of NFL franchises. In Mississippi and Alabama, Romney again prevailed among those with postgraduate educations and incomes of more than $100,000 a year. He was defeated by those with less money and fewer years in school.

The revolt of the right-wing masses means that Romney stands alone as the less than ideal representative of a relatively restrained brand of conservatism. The growing might of the conservative hard core, reflected in its primary victories in 2010, led other potential establishmentarians to sit out the race in the hope that the storm will eventually pass.

But having decided to run, Romney must wage a campaign of denial. He buries his old Massachusetts self and misleads about what he once believed. He even tries to run to Santorum’s right. Recently, he denounced Santorum for voting in favor of federal support for Planned Parenthood, a group to which Romney’s family once made a donation. It is an unseemly spectacle.

Bush’s efforts to craft a “compassionate conservatism” friendlier toward those in the political middle collapsed into ruins years ago. This year’s Republican candidates almost never speak Bush’s name. It is to Santorum’s discredit that he did not dare defend his perfectly defensible vote in favor of Bush’s No Child Left Behind education program. Santorum, too, fears the pitchforks wielded by those who see any exertion of federal authority as leading down a road to serfdom.

And so it is on to Illinois, the next place Romney has to win to keep the resistance at bay. The Land of Lincoln would be a fine setting for a stand in favor of a more measured form of conservatism. But it won’t happen. Romney is anxious about the power of the Republican right in downstate Illinois — the very region that opposed Honest Abe in his celebrated Senate race 154 years ago.

Once again, Romney will take the moderates for granted, ignoring the last remnants of the old Lincoln party as he chases after an elusive right. And once again, Santorum’s battle cry will challenge conservatives to have the courage to complete the revolution they started the day Barack Obama took office.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 14, 2012

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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