mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Last Rural Abortion Clinics In Texas Just Shut Down”: Back-Alley Procedures Are About To Become A Lot More Common

Since November, the last abortion clinics in East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, some of the poorest and most remote parts of the state, have been hanging on by their fingernails. The two clinics, both outposts of a network of abortion providers called Whole Woman’s Health, stayed open with slimmed-down staffs while their owner, Amy Hagstrom Miller, struggled to comply with the first chunk of HB2—the voluminous anti-choice law passed by the Texas legislature last summer—which requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Today, after weeks of failed negotiations with nearby hospitals, Hagstrom Miller announced that both clinics are closing their doors.

The clinics in Beaumont, about an hour east of Houston, and McAllen, just north of the Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, were the last rural abortion providers left in Texas. Between July, when HB2 passed, and November, when the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, nearly half of the state’s 44 abortion clinics folded, unable to comply with the new rules. The health center in McAllen stopped offering abortions and pared down its staff, providing ultrasounds and counseling to the women who continued to walk in the door and helping them coordinate travel to the nearest clinic, two hours north in Corpus Christi. The Beaumont clinic survived this initial purge because one of its physicians had admitting privileges, but he’s in his seventies and wants to retire. His colleagues couldn’t get privileges in his stead, leaving the clinic in a precarious position.

“I had to come to terms with the fact that those clinics had no future,” Hagstrom Miller says. She might have kept looking for a way to keep them open, if she wasn’t facing a much bigger threat. In September, the rest of HB2 will go into effect, requiring all abortion providers to conform to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), outpatient care units that offer more complicated procedures, usually involving high levels of anesthesia. Only one of Hagstrom Miller’s remaining three clinics, the Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth, qualifies as an ASC. Updating the other two clinics to comply with ASC regulations—which include wider hallways and specialized heating and cooling systems—could cost $6 million.

The Corpus Christi clinic (which isn’t one of Hagstrom Miller’s) also has until September to renovate. If that clinic closes, Rio Grande residents will have to embark on a five-hour trek to San Antonio. Women in Beaumont won’t have as far to drive, but they will have to make multiple trips. Under Texas law, women seeking an abortion must obtain a sonogram from the doctor who will be performing the procedure at least 24 hours ahead of time. If you live more than 100 miles from the clinic, you’re exempt from the law. Unfortunately for Beaumont women, their town is a mere 90 miles from the nearest abortion provider in Houston.

For many women, a long drive, an overnight stay, and a few days off work are a substantial burden, but not impossible. For the residents of the Rio Grande Valley, though, these new hurdles could make abortion as difficult to obtain as if it were illegal. McAllen is one of the poorest cities in the country, second only to Brownsville, another town nearby. Last fall, Sarah Posner documented some of the barriers that keep women in the Rio Grande from accessing basic reproductive healthcare like birth control. Unpaved roads, erratic electricity, and poor sanitation are common in the surrounding communities. Few of the Rio Grande’s residents have jobs with sick leave. By Hagstrom Miller’s estimate, around one-third of her patients are undocumented immigrants who can’t drive beyond the border checkpoints north of McAllen without risking deportation.

Rather than waiting for months to scrape together the money for the procedure and the trip—a Sisyphean task in itself, since the price for abortion skyrockets from as little as $300 in the first trimester to several thousand dollars by the end of the second—more women may take matters into their own hands. The Rio Grande Valley already has one of the highest rates of self-induced abortion in the country. A 2012 survey found that 12 percent of women in clinics near the Mexico border said they had attempted to end their pregnancy on their own before seeking professional help. “They’re getting drugs from Mexico, drinking teas, eating herbs, falling down the stairs on purpose or convincing their boyfriends to beat them up,” Hagstrom Miller says. “Any of those methods could be fatal.”

The problem is compounded by the Texas legislature’s decision, in 2011, to slash funding for family planning services. Dan Grossman, the vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, a pro-choice think tank, has been investigating the effects of these cuts as co-principal investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas-Austin. In a 2012 survey of women seeking abortions, nearly half of the respondents said they hadn’t been able to obtain their preferred form of birth control in the past three months. “The cuts in family planning are leading to a rise in unintended pregnancy and an increased demand for abortion,” Grossman says. “More clinic closures means that women will have to wait longer to get the procedure, which means a higher risk of complications.”

In 2013, 38 percent of people living in the Rio Grande Valley were uninsured. When state-funded family planning clinics in the region folded, poor women lost their only source of affordable birth control. Now, some may be getting access to contraception once again, thanks to the rollout of Obamacare. But Texas’s refusal to participate in Medicaid expansion means that many Rio Grande residents will fall into the “coverage gap”—earning too much to be covered under Medicaid but too little to qualify for insurance tax credits—and won’t be able to get the no-cost birth control promised by the Affordable Care Act. Others are undocumented and unable to buy insurance on the exchanges.

Long wait times for appointments will undoubtedly become the norm. By next fall, when the ASC requirement kicks in, six clinics in major urban centers—Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth—could be responsible for performing more than 70,000 abortions each year. Hagstrom Miller and others are fundraising to help poor women pay for transportation to these cities, but for many, a trip to Mexico to buy illegal abortion drugs might seem like a better bet.

 

By: Amelia Thompson-Deveaux, The American Prospect, March 6, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Texas, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberty, Equality, Efficiency”: What’s Good For The “One-Percent” Isn’t Good For America

Most people, if pressed on the subject, would probably agree that extreme income inequality is a bad thing, although a fair number of conservatives believe that the whole subject of income distribution should be banned from public discourse. (Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate, wants to ban the term “middle class,” which he says is “class-envy, leftist language.” Who knew?) But what can be done about it?

The standard answer in American politics is, “Not much.” Almost 40 years ago Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book titled “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P.

But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.

Let’s start with the evidence.

It’s widely known that income inequality varies a great deal among advanced countries. In particular, disposable income in the United States and Britain is much more unequally distributed than it is in France, Germany or Scandinavia. It’s less well known that this difference is primarily the result of government policies. Data assembled by the Luxembourg Income Study (with which I will be associated starting this summer) show that primary income — income from wages, salaries, assets, and so on — is very unequally distributed in almost all countries. But taxes and transfers (aid in cash or kind) reduce this underlying inequality to varying degrees: some but not a lot in America, much more in many other countries.

So does reducing inequality through redistribution hurt economic growth? Not according to two landmark studies by economists at the International Monetary Fund, which is hardly a leftist organization. The first study looked at the historical relationship between inequality and growth, and found that nations with relatively low income inequality do better at achieving sustained economic growth as opposed to occasional “spurts.” The second, released last month, looked directly at the effect of income redistribution, and found that “redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth.”

In short, Okun’s big trade-off doesn’t seem to be a trade-off at all. Nobody is proposing that we try to be Cuba, but moving American policies part of the way toward European norms would probably increase, not reduce, economic efficiency.

At this point someone is sure to say, “But doesn’t the crisis in Europe show the destructive effects of the welfare state?” No, it doesn’t. Europe is paying a heavy price for creating monetary union without political union. But within the euro area, countries doing a lot of redistribution have, if anything, weathered the crisis better than those that do less.

But how can the effects of redistribution on growth be benign? Doesn’t generous aid to the poor reduce their incentive to work? Don’t taxes on the rich reduce their incentive to get even richer? Yes and yes — but incentives aren’t the only things that matter. Resources matter too — and in a highly unequal society, many people don’t have them.

Think, in particular, about the ever-popular slogan that we should seek equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. That may sound good to people with no idea what life is like for tens of millions of Americans; but for those with any reality sense, it’s a cruel joke. Almost 40 percent of American children live in poverty or near-poverty. Do you really think they have the same access to education and jobs as the children of the affluent?

In fact, low-income children are much less likely to complete college than their affluent counterparts, with the gap widening rapidly. And this isn’t just bad for those unlucky enough to be born to the wrong parents; it represents a huge and growing waste of human potential — a waste that surely acts as a powerful if invisible drag on economic growth.

Now, I don’t want to claim that addressing income inequality would help everyone. The very affluent would lose more from higher taxes than they gained from better economic growth. But it’s pretty clear that taking on inequality would be good, not just for the poor, but for the middle class (sorry, Senator Santorum).

In short, what’s good for the 1 percent isn’t good for America. And we don’t have to keep living in a new Gilded Age if we don’t want to.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 9, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Winds Are Shifting”: How Corporate America Is Losing The Debate On Taxes

If there is one clear loser in President Obama’s budget this year, it’s U.S. multinationals.

With six new ideas designed to plug some major leaks in the tax code, the 2015 budget proposes a total of more than $276 billion in higher taxes on overseas earnings for U.S. multinationals over the next decade, about $120 billion more than last year’s budget. (A sample of the policy just to give you an idea of how deep in the guts the administration is going: “Create a new category of Subpart F income for transactions involving digital goods or services.”)

So much for the White House’s attempts to strike common ground with big company chief executives, who have been howling for years about paying too much in taxes with the federal corporate tax rate at 35 percent. The companies have also poured money into an endless parade of coalitions with names like ACT, RATE, WIN, TIE AND LIFT.

The trouble with the executives’ complaints is that many companies don’t pay nearly the 35 percent rate. GE, for instance, in its most recent annual filing said it paid an effective tax rate of 4.2 percent. (See this graphic we ran last year showing taxes paid by companies in the Dow 30.) These firms insist that the high rate is merely forcing them to find complex ways to lower their tax bills.  But with this budget, it’s clear the administration isn’t buying it.

“The problem is not an international tax system that unacceptably handicaps U.S. businesses,” said Ed Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law who has done extensive research on the way companies shuffle their income overseas to lower their tax bills. “Instead the problem is an international tax system both in the United States and other countries that U.S. multinational firms have demonstrated they are highly skilled at gaming.”

The president’s budget is the latest sign for corporate tax lobbyists that the winds are perhaps shifting against them. Last month’s tax reform plan from House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) also included a number of ideas unpopular with business, including a bank tax. His section on international tax reform was somewhat more generous to big firms, giving them a lower rate on overseas earnings with anti-abuse measures that Kleinbard says don’t go far enough.

Of course, expectations are low that either the president or Camp’s policies will ever make the leap to reality. But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists, corporate America is not exactly seeing its worldview reflected in these blue prints.

 

By: Jia Lynn Yang, WonkBlog, The Washington Post, March 5, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Tax Code | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One American Voice”: GOP Should Listen To Gates On Ukraine

The words of the late Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) have been ringing my ears these past few days. The then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in 1947 that “partisan politics [must stop] at the water’s edge.” Translation: No matter the domestic battles with the president, international crises demand we speak with one voice. Those days are long gone judging by the cacophony of ridicule of President Obama because of the actions taken in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN, “We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slammed Obama on Monday for having “a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.” And Sarah Palin, the person McCain saw fit to make his 2008 vice presidential running mate said later that night, “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

My Post colleague David Ignatius’s column today was a needed tonic. He got former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the phone to talk about Republican bashing of the president over Ukraine.

Gates, a Republican himself, urged the GOP senators to “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”

Not only that, Gates told Ignatius that Putin “holds most of the high cards” and that “considerable care needs to be taken in terms of what is said, so that the rhetoric doesn’t threaten what policy can’t deliver.” Ah, such reasonableness from the GOP. Pity Gates, now the chancellor of the College of William and Mary, isn’t in the Senate.

In the end, even he shared my lament. “It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice — one American voice — seems to have become a quaint thing of the past,” Gates told Ignatius. “I regret that enormously.” At least I’m in good company.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 5, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Discriminator-In-Chief”: CPAC Presidential Straw Poll Picks Guy Who Thinks Whites-Only Lunch Counters Should Be Legal

With 31 percent of the vote, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the closely watched Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll this weekend, dwarfing second place finisher Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) 11 percent of the vote.

The son of libertarian icon and former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Rand Paul has emerged as the nation’s leading spokesperson for an anti-government philosophy that would undo nearly all the accomplishments of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Era. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Paul came out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964′s bans on private discrimination — including the bans on employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters — claiming that the right of “private ownership” should trump African Americans’ and other minorities’ right to be free from invidious discrimination. Permitting private discrimination, according to Paul, is “the hard part about believing in freedom.”

Nor are Paul’s libertarian views limited to his skepticism towards civil rights protections. In 2013, Paul endorsed a long-ago overruled Supreme Court decision called Lochner v. New York. The Court’s Lochner opinion relied on a fabricated “right to contract” that it and subsequent cases used to strike down various laws protecting workers from exploitative employers — on the idea that if a worker signs a contract that forces them to work 16 hours a day for barely subsistence wages then it would somehow violate the worker’s rights to pay them more money for fewer hours work.

Lochner was overruled in 1937, after the Great Depression discredited the largely libertarian economic policy that had been imposed upon the country by the Supreme Court. And it was, until very recently, viewed as a disastrous opinion even among leading conservatives. Robert Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected by a Senate that deemed him too conservative, labeled Lochner as “the quintessence of judicial usurpation of power.”

Yet, if Rand Paul were elected president, he would have the power to nominate potential Supreme Court justices who would restore Lochner and who would potentially strike down the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters to boot. And this is the man that one of the nation’s top conservative gatherings selected as their first choice to be the next President of the United States.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, March 8, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: