Items From the Internet

Reproductive Rights

Moderator@ forwarded “What the War over Contraception is Really About: Control over Women’s Bodies.” Author Ruth Rosen describes the “bizarre theatrical antics” leading up to the U.S. Senate vote that defeated an amendment that would have allowed religious employers to refuse to pay for the contraception of their employees. The drama began on February 16 when President Obama announced that all employers of all institutions, regardless of their religious affiliation, would have to pay for contraception. When the Catholic Church and right-wing fringe went ballistic, he compromised and said that if an institution felt it was violating its religious beliefs, then the insurance company would pay.

In the weeks that followed, the Republicans launched a war on contraception. They told women that the appropriate birth control pill was an aspirin held by tightly-grasped knees; they created a religious “hearing” on contraception made up of all men; and right-wing radio pundit Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student, who had defended contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

In Virginia, the legislature passed a bill that would require a pregnant woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound probe inserted in her vagina so she would really know she was carrying a human being. The governor at first agreed, but then, attacked for humiliating pregnant women, he dithered about what kind of bill he would sign.

The Republican Party, for its part, framed the fight as one of religious freedom and freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Democrats and women’s rights advocates responded that it was exclusively about women’s health care.

What neither side wants to say is that this is a counter-reformation, an attempt to return women to the early 1960s before the birth control pill existed and the Supreme Court, in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), established the right of contraception in the United States. At stake is the right of a woman to control her own fertility, her own reproductive choices, and, therefore, to lead an independent life.

After abortion became legal in 1973, the Republican Party inserted an anti-abortion plank into its 1980 platform and ever since, every Republican candidate has had to pass a litmus test of opposing abortion in order to run for president.

When the Supreme Court formally ratified that rupture by making abortion legal in Roe v. Wade (1973), many in this country trembled at the possible changes women’s sexual independence might bring. By then, the women’s movement had challenged and changed laws and customs that governed the daily lives of women in both the work place and at home.

Today, contraception and abortion are legal, but, state by state, laws are chipping away at women’s access to both contraception and abortion. The truth is, this is the last gasp of a patriarchal counter-reformation that is still alive, mobilized, and well-funded.

Moderator@ sent “The War on Birth Control” by Rachel Maddow who details the history of the “personhood” initiative. In 2008 in Colorado, a rebel faction of anti-abortion activists decided to pursue a “personhood” initiative. Over the objections of the mainstream anti-abortion movement, they proposed amending the state’s constitution to redefine the word “person” to include zygotes. Under the proposal, “from the moment of fertilization,” a woman would be considered two people under Colorado law. When the initiative went before voters, it failed by a large margin.

The same activists brought up the measure again in 2010. They changed the “moment of fertilization” language to “the beginning of biological development,” but Colorado voters said no to “personhood.” Again.

Voters seemed to have rejected “personhood” because it would not only criminalize all abortion, but would probably outlaw hormonal forms of birth control as well. Hormonal contraceptives generally prevent an egg from being fertilized in the first place, but the theoretical possibility that they might also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus raised the specter of birth control pills being viewed as instruments of homicide.

After Mississippi rejected “personhood” and its threat to contraception and after Colorado rejected it twice, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul attended (Paul by satellite) a Personhood USA candidates forum in South Carolina. All signed a pledge to pursue “personhood” at the federal level. Mitt Romney did not attend the event, but when asked on Fox News before the Mississippi vote last year whether he would have supported such a measure as Massachusetts governor, he replied, “Absolutely.”

The right has picked a fight on this issue because religiosity is a convenient partisan cudgel to use against Democrats in an election year. But this is more than just a 2012 measure of Catholic bishops’ influence on moral issues. It’s this year’s mainstream Republican embrace of an anti-abortion movement that no longer just marches on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to criminalize abortion; it now marches on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, holding signs that say “The Pill Kills.”

HR 347

Karen Lee Wald ( calls attention to the article “US Congress passes authoritarian anti-protest law” by Tom Carter, who writes about a bill passed in March that would make it a felony to participate in many forms of protest associated with Occupy Wall Street. Several commentators have dubbed it the “anti-Occupy” law, but its implications are far broader. The bill—HR 347, or the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011—was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, while only Ron Paul and two other Republicans voted against the bill in the House of Representatives (388-3). Not a single Democratic politician voted against the bill.

Among the central provisions of HR 347 is a section that would make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.” The bill defines “restricted” in extremely vague and broad terms. Restricted areas can include “a building or grounds where the president or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or grounds restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

The Secret Service provides bodyguards not just to the U.S. president, but to a broad layer of top figures in the political establishment, including presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries. Even more sinister is the provision regarding events of “national significance,” which are left to the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. Included among such events would be the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as National Special Security Events (NSSE), a category created under the Clinton administration.

The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury is involved, the penalty may be increased up to ten years. Also criminalized by the bill is conduct “that impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of government business or official functions” and “obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds.” In order to appreciate the sweep of HR 347, it is necessary to consider a few examples.

(1) A wide area around the next G-20 meeting or other global summit could be designated “restricted” by the Secret Service, such that any person who “enters” that area can be subject to a fine and a year in jail under Section 1752(a)(1)—making it a felony to enter any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so).

(2) Senator Rick Santorum, as a presidential candidate, enjoys the protection of the Secret Service. Accordingly, a person who shouts “boo” during a speech by Santor- um could be subject to arrest and a year of imprisonment under Section 1752(a)(2)—making it a felony to “engag[e] in disorderly or disruptive conduct in” a restricted area.

(3) Striking government workers who form a picket line near any event of “national significance” can be locked up under Section 1752(a)(3)—making it a crime to impede ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds.

The passage of HR 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the unprecedented nature of the bill, which would effectively overturn the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent.

Lacotas & the Tarsands Pipeline reports that the Oglala Nation and all American Indian tribes in South Dakota have adamantly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline that was routed through the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations and that would cross the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System in two places. In protest, the Eagle Butte Indian tribal council decided to form a human blockade on their reservations if the convoy attempted to come through.

On March 5, when the XL Pipeline trucks came through and refused to turn around—claiming they had corporate rights that superceded any other laws—Lakota human rights activists Alex White Plume, Debra White Plume, Sam Long Black Cat, Andrew Iron Shell, and Terrell Eugene Iron Shell refused to break their blockade and were charged with disorderly conduct and taken to the jail in Kyle, South Dakota.

Native News Network reports that the trucks attempted to pass through reservation land because Totran Transportation Services, Inc., a Canadian company, apparently wanted to avoid paying South Dakota $50,000 per truck  to use its state highways.

The developing confrontation between Native peoples and the huge multinational corporate XL Pipeline complex could become an international focal point.

Voter ID’s

Color forwarded their concern about voting rights. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as five million eligible voters could meet difficulties on Election Day 2012 due to new, imposing voter laws. There are currently eight states with photo voter ID laws containing specific criteria for what qualifies as “identifi-cation” for voting purposes. Some states require that identification be state-issued and only for the state a person is voting in; some prohibit college IDs; some demand that the full name and address on the card be current; while others require that an ID card has an expiration date.

Looking at those stipulations, it’s not hard to imagine how low-income citizens, African Americans, Latino Americans, college students, and elderly voters might get tangled up or turned away on voting day.

The Center estimates that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters lack proper identification right now. For African Americans, it’s 25 percent. Other groups like Native Americans, transgendered people, newly divorced, newly married couples or people who’ve recently lost their homes could all have information on their drivers licenses that reflect names, addresses, and faces that aren’t current. The costs for these groups will be more than an inconvenience: fees for new birth and marriage certificates, hours lost waiting in lines for updated materials, and transportation costs to handle it all.

Republicans in state legislatures around the country have tried to pass these laws for years. In 2010, when Republicans not only took over Congress, they became majorities in state legislatures across the country, one of the chief items on their agendas was changing the rules of the voting game. An example is Tennessee, which for the first time since the Civil War saw its House of Representatives, Senate, and governor’s office all controlled by Republicans. They quickly passed new voter ID laws and last year made headlines when a 96-year-old African American was denied an ID to vote.

A great deal of funding comes from the Koch Brothers, who’ve vowed to remove President Obama from the White House by any means and billions of dollars if necessary. Another player is ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—a body that includes banks and corporations working alongside Republican legislators to craft laws that would dismantle not only voter rights, but also environmental and labor protections.

The states are perverting and exploiting civil rights laws in order to pretend that racial discrimination has been completely eradicated. Some even point to the election of the first black president and the record turnout of voters of color in 2008 as evidence that no traces of discrimination are left in the system. Instead, they claim to trace voter fraud to “people voting with the names of other displaced, deceased, or fictionalized voters” and argue this is why voter IDs are needed.

All the data shows that instances of voter fraud are negligible at best. The voter fraud argument is in many cases a ploy to disguise the racial animus that fuels the voter ID push  as well as to keep “illegal immigrants” from voting.