<\body> Stories in America: October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: It's the War

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, writes in today's Truthout:

President Bush led the country into war based on false information, falsified threats and a fictitious estimate of the consequences. His war and the continuing occupation transformed Iraq into a training ground for jihadists who want to kill Americans, and a cause celebre for stoking resentment in the Muslim world.

Bush's war and occupation squandered the abundant good will felt by the world for America after our 9/11 losses. He enriched his cronies at Halliburton and other private interests through the occupation. And he diverted our attention and abilities away from apprehending the masterminds of the 9/11 attack. Instead, we are mired in an occupation which has already cost over 2,000 American lives and the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

The issue of the war clearly distinguishes what is wrong with Republican rule. Republicans in Congress won't extricate the United States from the quagmire the president has gotten us into. They have refused to investigate what role the White House played in manipulating pre-war intelligence. They refused to investigate the Downing Street memo. Democrats, on the other hand, mostly voted against the war: Two-thirds of House Democrats and half of Senate Democrats opposed the war in Iraq. Democrats can draw no clearer distinction with the president and the Republican Congress than over this war.

Reaction to Alito's Nomination

"Alito's record suggests an activist judicial philosophy bent on rolling back the rights and freedoms that all Americans value. Alito has sought to limit the rights of women and people with disabilities in discrimination cases, demonstrated an open hostility to women's privacy rights even in basic reproductive health matters, has a record of hostility toward immigrants, and tried to immunize employers from employment discrimination cases. It is particularly troubling that President Bush would nominate a judge who would reverse American progress and make the Supreme Court look less like America on the same day that most Americans are honoring the life and legacy of Rosa Parks."
-Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean

""Last week after Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination, I asked the President: Who was in charge? Today, the President answered: the radical conservative right is in charge of his Administration. Instead of seeking to unify the country with a nominee who would command wide consensus, the President again chose to submit to the dictates of the radical right. The President's nomination of Judge Alito reflects weakness - the President is unable or unwilling to withstand pressure by an extreme element in our country, rather than acting as a leader of all the people."
-House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

"NOW is strongly opposed to the elevation of Judge Alito and will activate our members in communities nationwide to defeat his nomination to the High Court. Since Bush caved to the extremists' vicious campaign against Harriet Miers, women's rights supporters have been anticipating that he would bend to their will and appoint a judicial extremist of their choosing. He has done exactly that, and we are ready for the fight."
-National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy

"Earthjustice is extremely concerned that Judge Alito has repeatedly sought to go even farther than the current Supreme Court majority in restricting Congress' authority to allow Americans to protect their rights in court, and to enact laws that protect our health and environment."
-Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to strengthening environmental laws

"Right-wing leaders vetoed Miers because she failed their ideological litmus test. With Judge Alito, President Bush has obediently picked a nominee who passes that test with flying colors. We had hoped President Bush would nominate someone with a commitment to protecting Americans’ rights and freedoms. That’s what the American people want, and it’s what they deserve. Unfortunately, with Judge Alito, that’s not what President Bush has given us. He has chosen to divide Americans with a nominee guaranteed to cause a bitter fight."
-People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas

"He's the top choice for particularly pro-life people. Sam Alito is viewed as someone who is likely to join the hard right in likely narrowing Roe and possibly voting to overturn Roe. There will be no one to the right of Sam Alito on this Court. This is a pretty hardcore fellow on abortion issues."
-George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley on the Today Show

Judge Samuel Alito's America

From the American Progress Action Fund:

ALITO WOULD ALLOW RACE-BASED DISCRIMINATION: Alito dissented from a decision in favor of a Marriott Hotel manager who said she had been discriminated against on the basis of race. The majority explained that Alito would have protected racist employers by "immuniz[ing] an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer’s belief that it had selected the
'best' candidate was the result of conscious racial bias." [Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997]

ALITO WOULD ALLOW DISABILITY-BASED DISCRIMINATION: In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, the majority said the standard for proving disability-based discrimination articulated in Alito's dissent was so restrictive that "few if any…cases would survive summary judgment." Summary judgment allows a case to be dismissed before it goes to trial. [Nathanson v.Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1991]

ALITO WOULD STRIKE DOWN THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) "guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one." The 2003 Supreme Court ruling upholding FMLA [Nevada v. Hibbs, 2003] essentially reversed a 2000 decision by Alito which found that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law. [Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, 2000]

ALITO SUPPORTS UNAUTHORIZED STRIP SEARCHES: In Doe v. Groody, Alito argued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip-searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home. [Doe v. Groody, 2004]

ALITO HOSTILE TOWARD IMMIGRANTS: In two cases involving the deportation of immigrants, the majority twice noted Alito's disregard of settled law. In Dia v. Ashcroft, the majority opinion states that Alito's dissent "guts the statutory standard" and "ignores our precedent." In Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, the majority stated Alito's opinion contradicted “well-recognized rules of statutory construction." [Dia v. Ashcroft, 2003; Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, 2004]

Alito on Gay Rights

From Southern Voice:

President Bush's new pick for the U.S. Supreme Court -- Judge Samuel Alito -- wrote two opinions as a federal appeals court judge dealing with the harassment of gay students in school, likely giving both sides of the debate something to like and dislike in his rulings.

In 2000, Alito wrote an opinion on behalf of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals striking down a gay-inclusive "anti-harassment" policy adopted by a school district in State College, Pa., home to Penn State University. The policy had been challenged by a Christian conservative who said his children were compelled by their religion to criticize homosexuality as a sin.

In 2004, Alito issued an opinion in Shore Regional High School vs. P.S., reversing a federal judge's ruling that required a student who had been severely bullied for being effeminate from attending a high school with the same students who had harassed him for years.

Both opinions were written on behalf of unanimous three-judge panels of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.The split between the two school rulings by Alito — one striking down a broadly worded anti-harassment policy and the other protecting a student subjected to severe anti-gay harassment — suggest that while Alito is a conservative judge, he is not afraid to use the court's power to remedy a situation he views as unjust.

Alito on Abortion

Judge Samuel Alito has been nominated to take the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote on the Supreme Court and the fifth vote to limit government power to restrict abortions.

In the 1991 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alioto joined a Third Circuit panel in upholding most of a Pennsylvania law imposing numerous restrictions on women seeking abortions. This is from the Washington Post:

The law, among other things, required physicians to advise women of the potential medical dangers of abortion and tell them of the alternatives available. It also imposed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and barred minors from obtaining abortions without parental consent.

The panel, in that same ruling, struck down a single provision in the law requiring women to notify their husbands before they obtained an abortion. Alito dissented from that part of the decision.

Citing previous opinions of O'Connor, Alito wrote that an abortion regulation is unconstitutional only if it imposes an undue burden on a woman's access to the procedure. The spousal notification provision, he wrote, does not constitute such a burden and must therefore only meet the requirement that it be rationally related to some legitimate government purpose.

"Even assuming that the rational relationship test is more demanding in the present context than in most equal protection cases, that test is satisfied here," he wrote.

"The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems -- such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition -- that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion.

"In addition," he wrote, "the legislature could have reasonably concluded that Section 3209 [the spousal provision] would lead to such discussion and thereby properly further a husband's interests in the fetus in a sufficient percentage of the affected cases to justify enactment of this measure. . . . The Pennsylvania legislature presumably decided that the law on balance would be beneficial. We have no authority to overrule that legislative judgment even if we deem it "unwise" or worse."

The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which upheld the appeals court decision, disagreed with Alito and used the case to reaffirm its support for Roe v. Wade , the 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

On the spousal notification provision, O'Connor wrote for the court that it did indeed constitute an obstacle. The "spousal notification requirement is . . . likely to prevent a significant number of women from obtaining an abortion," she wrote.

"It does not merely make abortions a little more difficult or expensive to obtain; for many women, it will impose a substantial obstacle. We must not blind ourselves to the fact that the significant number of women who fear for their safety and the safety of their children are likely to be deterred from procuring an abortion as surely as if the Commonwealth had outlawed abortion in all cases," she said.

Plus, it "embodies a view of marriage consonant with the common law status of married women, but repugnant to our present understanding of marriage and of the nature of the rights secured by the Constitution. Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry, " she said.

Alito on the Environment

From Earthjustice:

In Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron (MEI), Judge Alito joined in a 2-1 ruling gutting citizens' access to courts under the Clean Water Act. Although the Act authorizes "any citizen" to bring a "civil enforcement action" against alleged polluters, the Third Circuit ruling declared that PIRG did not have standing to sue because it had not demonstrated that MEI's pollution resulted in serious harm to the environment (reversing a rare $2.6 million fine handed down by the trial court for MEI's violations of the Act). The majority concluded that the Constitution denied Congress the authority to pass a law allowing citizens access to courts in these circumstances. Three years later, the Supreme Court essentially reversed and rejected Judge Alito's analysis, ruling (in a 7-2 decision over a heated dissent by Justice Scalia) that "the relevant showing... is not injury to the environment, but injury to the plaintiff." (Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw)

In Chittester v. Department of Community and Economic Development, Judge Alito wrote an opinion holding that the 11th Amendment precluded state employees from suing for damages to enforce their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This decision was effectively reversed by a 6-3 Supreme Court majority in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs in 2003.

Judge Alito wrote a dissent in the U.S. v. Rybar case that would have unjustifiably restricted Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause, which is the basis for most federal environmental laws. The majority opinion upheld a conviction under the federal law prohibiting the transfer or possession of machine guns, but Judge Alito would have ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tell Congress to Finalize the Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act, which was passed 11 years ago to prevent, treat and prosecute gender-based violence, expired on September 30.

The House approved reauthorization through 2009 on September 29, with an added amendment by Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, that limits the VAWA's ability to create programs for women of color and immigrants.

The Senate version, which was reauthorized on October 4, drops a program that would have extended coverage for unemployment insurance to domestic violence survivors who lose their jobs as they hide or flee from violence.

Domestic violence activists are still waiting for politicians to work out the differences in the House and Senate bills and agree on one version they can then pass and send to Bush for his signature.

Senator Biden, a Democrat from Delaware and author the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, called the legislation "critical to ensuring the safety and well being of our nation's women and children."

"We broke tremendous ground in 1994 and 2000. We wrote new domestic violence laws. We outlawed marital rape. We distributed over $3.8 billion dollars to states and towns to train and support police, lawyers, judges, nurses, shelter directors and advocates to end domestic violence and sexual assault. And as a result, we've seen an almost 50% drop in domestic violence. But we must do more."

With so much attention on the Valerie Plame case and the upcoming Supreme Court nomination, the reauthorization of the VAWA isn't getting enough attention. Urge your representatives and Senators to act quickly by signing a petition.

In an October 29 Austin American-Statesman column, Sheryl Cates, executive director of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, writes:

Since 1996, more than 1 million individuals have called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, seeking a way to save their health, sanity, children and their very lives. The trouble is that every year, close to 4 million American women experience a serious assault by a partner. Three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. It is estimated that millions of children see family violence in their homes annually.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, increasing funding and directing more help toward underserved women. The legislation would direct $400 million annually to the criminal justice system; help sexual assault crisis centers; provide more resources for children, men and boys; train health care providers; and focus help on victims in rural America, among Native Americans and within our inner cities' housing projects.

Since the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, more than $3.8 billion has gone to states and localities to train and support those working to end violence against women. Now, the stage is set for Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which will expand this community-based approach to helping victims and holding offenders accountable by providing federal resources to the local governments and non-profit groups that are on the front line."

Watch 60 Minutes: Exposing A CIA Spy

I haven't written anything about the Valerie Plame leak because I prefer to focus on issues that are undercovered or not covered at all, but tonight's 60 Minutes broadcast on the leak is definitely worth mentioning and watching.

Unfortunately, most of this morning's news shows failed to address the issue at hand: what does the outing of Valerie Plame mean to her, her family, CIA agents who are currently overseas and the United States?

CIA officials, most of whom tend to avoid the media, are speaking out because the unprecedented leak has put lives in danger.

Melissa Mahle spent 14 years in the Middle East as a covert CIA operative maintaining a series of fictitious "legends," or cover stories, created by her superiors:

"We're not being undermined by the North Koreans. We're not being undermined by the Russians. We're being undermined by officials in our own government. That I find galling."

DailyDissent.org has the video.

Rosa Parks Fought Racism and Sexism

The death and courage of Rosa Parks is receiving excellent coverage in the national and local media, but what most reports fail to mention is that Parks fought not one, but two major obstacles: racism and sexism.

Here's Lynne Olson, author of "Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970," in an interview with the AP:

"After the bus boycott got going and [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] got involved, they wouldn't even let Rosa Parks speak at the first mass meeting," she said.

"She asked to speak, and one of the ministers said he thought she had done enough."

In 1963, tens of thousands of women who joined the March on Washington witnessed a tribute to prominent women, songs by several women, and brief remarks by the entertainer Josephine Baker, but no woman made a speech.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Starving the Poor

Just hours after a new USDA report showed more Americans are struggling to put food on the table, the House Agriculture Committee voted to cut food stamps by $844 million. The committee's 25 Republicans voted for the cut, while the committee's 20 Democrats voted against it.

The report found that 38.2 million Americans, including 13.8 million children, were "food insecure" in 2004, an increase of nearly two million from 2003. "These households, at some time during the year, had difficulty providing food for all their members due to a lack of resources," the USDA said. Some 25 million people receive food stamps monthly.

The cuts will impact 225,000 people in welfare to work programs and 70,000 legal immigrants who have lived in the US for at least five years.

"What seems like a small reduction, in fact is tragic for growing number of children and families in America who are already struggling," said Robert Forney, President and CEO of America's Second Harvest, The Nation's Food Bank Network. "Hungry and poor Americans are not responsible for creating the federal deficit, and they should not be expected to pay for it."

These cuts are part of the House Republican package that includes $70 billion in tax cuts and $50 billion in spending cuts. The spending cuts include cuts to other programs for low-income and vulnerable people, including Medicaid, foster care, child support, and support for disabled people.

"If the Agriculture Committee feels it needs to cut spending, it could simply limit subsides to no more than a quarter of a million dollars per farm per year. They don't need to take food away from hungry families," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "Katrina was a tragedy for many poor people, but cutting food stamps now is a scandal."

Based on the time I spent in seven of the so-called "red states," I would venture to guess that the majority of the people who rely on food stamps don't vote.

To put this in perspective, we spend $177 million per day on the Iraq war.

Recovering From Liberia's War & Pakistan's Earthquake

Liberia's ex-female fighters don’t want to carry gun again - Pravda
A Woman's hands that once cradled an AK-47 now caress an infant son and hem pants. Two years since Liberia's 14 years of horror ended, some 20,000 female fighters, a fifth of all ex-combatants, have been demobilized and, like 34-year old Oretha Davis, are now being trained to re-enter society. The country's future may hinge on whether they succeed. "I lost my head in that war," Davis said, looking at four-month-old Roland nestled in her lap. "That AK was heavier than my baby. I don't want to carry a gun again," she said, as dozens of other ex-female fighters hunch over sewing machines, training for a new trade. "Now I just want this baby, and to learn." Davis and dozens of other young women spend their days in classes down a potholed road in a poor neighborhood of Liberia's battle-shattered capital, Monrovia. They earn US$30 (24.88) a month during training.

Quake leaves Pakistani women traumatised, vulnerable - Reuters
Women left without family are among the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake that struck northern Pakistan on Oct. 8, killing more than 54,000 people. "They could get pushed into prostitution, forced to beg and there is also a danger of trafficking," said Naeem Mirza from the Aurat Foundation, a local NGO fighting for the rights of women. The U.S. State Department's country report last year outlined the seriousness of the problem in Pakistan, where women from rural areas are trafficked to the country's cities and the Middle East to work as prostitutes or domestic servants. "Every year thousands of Pakistanis are trafficked," said Ansar Burney, a Pakistani human rights activist and chairman of a group that campaigns against trafficking. The government says it will help widows and orphans. But Mirza said any notions of making these women economically independent was wishful thinking.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Budget Cuts Slam the Poor

Republicans say in order to offset Katrina spending, they have no choice but to push for a massive five-year $50 billion budget cut plan. Funding for fostercare, medicaid, food stamps and student loans would be slashed if the plan is approved.

Here's what's on the table:

*Reduce spending on food stamps by more than $1 billion - the food stamp program puts food on the table for 25 million people each month

*Cut $10 billion from Medicaid and Medicare - The Finance Committee's 11 Republicans supported the cut on Tuesday; the committee's nine Democrats opposed it.

*Reduce spending on foster care by nearly $600 million - the plan would cease payments to children taken from the home of impoverished grandparents or other relatives who are not their parents, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

*Reduce spending to federal student aid programs by $7.5 billion -- add that to $14 billion in previous cuts and you've got the largest-ever education cuts in history

These budget cuts come just weeks before Republicans send a $70 billion tax cut plan to the Senate floor and two months after Bush signed the $14.5 billion energy bill that gives billions in tax breaks to the very oil companies that are reporting record profits. Bush also signed the $286 bllion transportation bill in August, which channels hundreds of million of dollars into projects that critics say have nothing to do with improving congestion or efficiency.

Heat or Food?

Heating bills are expected to increase by as much as 70 percent this Winter. High gas prices are already forcing people like Twila Yeazal, a 67-year-old woman I met in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to spend less on food. "You either gotta let your medicine go, your gas go or your utilities or your food. I've been letting food go and going to churches to get food. That's the only way we can make it," she said.

The Senate yesterday rejected a bill to increase funding for the federal home heating program:

Senators voted, 54 to 43, in favor of a proposal to boost the fiscal 2006 budget for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $5.1 billion from $2.2 billion. But that was six votes short of the 60-vote majority needed to approve new spending not coupled with equivalent spending cuts.

Northern senators who pushed for increased spending for the program, led by Senators Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, argued that the surge in fuel costs will be crippling to low-income families.
People could have to ''choose between keeping the heat on, putting food on the table, or buying much needed prescription drugs," Collins said. ''No family should need to make such terrible choices."

Reed cited estimates that those who heat their homes with fuel oil will need $1,600 this winter, up $380, while the cost of using natural gas for heating could rise to $1,400.

San Francisco's State of the Union

In the majority of the conservative towns I visited over the past six months, I found state and local politicians who want to ban gay marriage, close Planned Parenthood clinics, further blur the lines between the separation of church and state and cut funding for education. I rarely heard anyone talk about plans to improve the lives of their citizens. The following list of initiatives announced by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is refreshing. The said thing is, most of the average people I met would greatly benefit from expanded health care clinic hours and teacher loan forgiveness, not a gay marriage ban.

Health care: Expand the operating hours at the city's public health clinics with the intent of making them more accessible for residents who lack health insurance.

Clean technology: Create an advisory council that focuses on positioning the city as a leader in the emerging sector of clean technology, such as wind and solar power and green-building practices.

After-school for all: Partner with the schools to find local and state money to expand after-school programs so they are available to every child who needs them by 2010.

Teacher loan forgiveness: Commit up to $375,000 a year to help 25 teachers pay their student loans. Qualifying teachers must agree to teach full time in the city for four consecutive years

Homes for teachers: Help teachers buy their first home by offering down-payment assistance of up to $100,000, financial counseling services, matching savings accounts and mortgage-credit assistance.

Community benefit districts: Increase the number of these business-improvement districts, in which property owners agree to pay a special assessment fee to fund neighborhood improvements, such as street cleaning and storefront beautification projects.

Citybuild: It started last month as a pilot job training and employment program that gives residents a chance to work on city construction projects, such as the rebuilding of the Hetch Hetchy water system and Laguna Honda Hospital. Up to 50 percent of new hires in each trade should be city residents.

Marching Right

From Salon.com:

The son of Prescott Bush, a patrician moderate Republican senator from Connecticut and a Wall Street investment banker, George H.W. Bush traveled to Texas to make his fortune in the wildcat oil industry. He was hardly a roaring success, but he took up his father's line of work, getting elected to the House from suburban Houston. It was then that he opened the negotiations of his Faustian bargain. His father had been the head of the United Negro College Fund; he and his wife were prominent members of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. But George Bush Sr., seeking political advantage in Texas, declared his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bush spent the next decade advancing himself as a consummate Republican loyalist in positions ranging from chairman of the Republican National Committee under Nixon to Gerald Ford's CIA director and United Nations ambassador. After losing the Republican presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he swallowed his criticism of Reagan's supply-side nostrums as "voodoo economics" when he became his running mate.

A sharp reversal of policy and turnover in personnel are the only actions that may enable Bush to salvage the shipwreck of his presidency, as they did for Reagan. But bringing in the elders, even if they could be summoned, would be psychologically devastating to Bush, a humiliating admission that his long history of recklessness and failure, from the Texas Air National Guard to Harken Energy, with rescue only through the intervention of his father and his father's friends, has reached its culmination.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bush Reverses Low Wage Decision

With the Valerie Plame case dominating the news, many important stories are falling through the cracks:

The Bush administration will reinstate rules requiring that companies awarded federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina pay prevailing wages, usually an amount close to the pay scales in local union contracts.

The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.

Democrats and the moderate Republican group both claimed their pressure caused President Bush to reconsider his open-ended suspension of Davis-Bacon starting Sept. 8 in hurricane-affected areas.

The Republican group originally sent a letter to the White House in September arguing that suspension of the wage law only leads to shoddy workmanship, reduces federal oversight and allows workers outside the region to undercut the local market.

Bush's plan to remove fair wage rules for Katrina workers failed to get much attention when he made the decision last month. This is the kind of issue that could give people a reason to vote.

Tell Target to Fill Prescriptions

A pharmacist at a Target in Missouri recently refused to fill an emergency contraception prescription for a 26-year-old woman for "moral reasons." Here's Target's response to a three inquiries from Planned Parenthood:

"Like many other retailers, Target has a policy that ensures a guest's prescription for emergency contraception is filled, whether at Target or at a different pharmacy, in a timely and respectful manner. This policy meets the health care needs of our guests while respecting the diversity of our team members."

In the last week, Target has changed its response, removing "or at a different pharmacy," from its standard reply, according to Planned Parenthood. But Target has not changed its policy.

Join Planned Parenthood in telling Target to fill prescriptions without discrimination or delay!

Sexual Harassment Uncovered

I saw North Country last night, a film about the first sexual harassment class-action suit filed in the United States. It's a must see. Be prepared to cringe.

Sexual harassment and discrimination suits rarely make front-page headlines, unless they're class-actions against large companies like Wal-Mart. Most corporations settle out of court to avoid bad publicity.

Here are a few articles about the most recent cases:

Sex discrimination settled against Tucson hotel - AP
A sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General's Office against the Holiday Inn Express has been settled.
In April 2004, a former front desk clerk at the Holiday Inn claimed she had been dismissed days after informing management of her pregnancy. A subsequent investigation by the Attorney General's Office found insufficient evidence to support the reasons provided by the hotel for her firing, according to the suit filed Sept. 1. As part of the settlement, the hotel agreed to pay the former employee $9,500 in back wages. Terms of the Oct. 12 settlement also require the hotel to adopt a policy within the next 30 days prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions; train current managers on the new policy within the next 45 days; and pay the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division $1,500 to monitor compliance.

'Working from home' mother wins case - Telegraph
A senior manager at a leading London law firm who wanted to work part-time, including half a day a week from home, after having a baby has won her claim for unfair dismissal. Michelle Langton, 34, claimed unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, victimisation and contravention of part-time workers' regulations against Herbert Smith, a legal practice employing 1,100 lawyers in Europe and Asia. An earlier tribunal found that pressure was brought on Mrs Langton to work fewer hours from home and awarded her almost £40,00.

Honoring Women Journalists

The International Women's Media Foundation yesterday honored four females for their couragous reporting. This is from the AP:

An Associated Press war photographer from Germany, a crime reporter from Bangladesh who was stabbed and beaten, and the founder of a magazine threatened with closure by Iran's government because of its coverage of women's rights all received Courage in Journalism Awards on Tuesday from the International Women's Media Foundation.

The foundation's 15th annual awards were presented to Anja Niedringhaus, Sumi Khan and Shahla Sherkat at a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria attended by more than 500 people who support its belief that "no press is truly free unless women share an equal voice."

Sumi Khan, 35, reports on politics, crime, minority persecution, Islamic fundamentalism and corruption in Chittagong for the Dhaka paper Daily Samakal and is the only woman crime reporter in the city.

Shahla Sherkat, 49, a journalist for 24 years, is the owner and editorial director of the magazine Zanan, or Women, which she founded in Tehran in 1991 because she felt mainstream journalism was ignoring women's rights in Iran. Zanan's offices were attacked by fundamentalist gangs in the early and mid-1990s, and in January 2001 Tehran's Revolutionary Court charged Ms Sherkat with anti-Islamic activities after she attended a conference in Berlin on reforms in Iran. She appealed a four-month sentence but had to pay a fine worth two months' salary.

Anja Niedringhaus, 40, who has worked on the front lines covering every major conflict from the Balkans in the 1990s to the war in Iraq, was blown out of a car by a grenade while caught in a crossfire in 2002 in Kosovo and was part of a group mistakenly bombed by NATO forces at the Albania-Kosovo border crossing. She was the only woman on a team of 11 AP photographers awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

Confidential Wal-Mart Memo Surfaces

Wal-Mart Watch, a group that keeps a close eye on the Wal-Mart's business practices, recently received a copy of a confidential memo outlining ways for the company to cut employee benefit costs.

The New York Times ran a story about the memo in today's paper:

Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.

In the memorandum, M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for benefits, also recommends reducing 401(k) contributions and wooing younger, and presumably healthier, workers by offering education benefits. The memo voices concern that workers with seven years' seniority earn more than workers with one year's seniority, but are no more productive.

To discourage unhealthy job applicants, Ms. Chambers suggests that Wal-Mart arrange for "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart-gathering)."

The memo acknowledged that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had to walk a fine line in restraining benefit costs because critics had attacked it for being stingy on wages and health coverage. Ms. Chambers acknowledged that 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid.

The average pay for a Wal-Mart worker is $1,000 below the poverty line for a family of three, according to Wal-Mart Watch. The company is also currently facing the largest class action sex discrimination case in history. For additional facts, visit Wal-Mart Watch's Issues Page.

It's easy to say, "If Wal-Mart workers aren't happy, find another job." The problem is, for many, Wal-Mart is the largest employer in town. During my six-month road trip across the country, I found many towns in which Wal-Mart was the only employer in town.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2,000 Dead Soldiers

Bush gave a speech today to military wives at Bolling Air Force Base in Washingon, DC, but failed to mention the mounting death toll. Instead, he repeated the same stale talking points:

"Each loss of life is heartbreaking, and the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom."

Check out photographer Paul Fusco's moving tribute to the 2,000 soldiers who have died in a war that shouldn't have happened in the first place.

Pakistani Rape Victim Receives Award in US

Pakistan gang rape victim to receive women's award in US - AP
A Pakistani woman whose gang rape triggered an international outcry has arrived in the United States to receive an award from a women's magazine, organisers of the event said. Mukhtaran Mai flew in over the weekend and will receive a Woman of the Year prize from Glamour magazine on November 2 at a ceremony in New York. Mai, 33, was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council in 2002 as punishment for her brother's alleged love affair with a woman from another tribe.

Study Shows Upswing in Arrests of Women - AP
Women made up 7 percent of all inmates in state and federal prisons last year and accounted for nearly one in four arrests, the government reported Sunday. A co-author of a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Paige Harrison, linked an upswing in the rate of arrest for women to their increased participation in drug crimes, violent crimes and fraud. The number of women incarcerated in state and federal prisons in 2004 was up 4 percent compared with 2003, more than double the 1.8 percent increase among men, the study said. In 1995, women made up 6.1 percent of all inmates in those facilities. "The number of incarcerated women has been growing ... due in large part to sentencing policies in the war in drugs," The Sentencing Project, a group promoting alternatives to prison, said in a statement.

Rape victim: 'Morning after' pill denied - Arizona Daily Star
Although it is safe, effective and legal, emergency contraception - the "morning after" pill - can be hard to find in Tucson. After a sexual assault one recent weekend, a young Tucson woman spent three frantic days trying to obtain the drug to prevent a pregnancy, knowing that each passing day lowered the chance the drug would work. While calling dozens of Tucson pharmacies trying to fill a prescription for emergency contraception, she found that most did not stock the drug. When she finally did find a pharmacy with it, she said she was told the pharmacist on duty would not dispense it because of religious and moral objections.

Israeli-Palestinian women's group launches personal crusade for peace - AFP
Three women sharing a hunger, not for fast food, but peace, chatted away in a food court at Washington's ornate Union Station -- completely ignored in the rush of travellers grabbing a lunctime snack. But their gathering was poignant, and remarkable, because as each one admitted, it could never happen when they go home -- because two are Palestinian and one is an Israeli. Sherene Abdulhadi, a Palestinian Muslim, Roni Hammerman, an Israeli Jew, and Amira Hillal, a Christian Palestinian, are touring the United States to call for a renewed bid to forge peace between their communities. "How can any kind of normal life develop under these conditions?" asked Hammerman, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is an Israeli peace activist. The three women are the latest in a stream of Israeli and Palestinian women brought to the United States to argue for a new commitment to peace in their violence-torn homelands, by the US-based non profit group "Partners for Peace."

Iceland's women walk off the job to protest pay inequality - AFP
Women across Iceland walked off the job to protest wage differences between men and women, working a shorter day since they get paid less for the same work, officials said. At 2:08 pm (1408 GMT), tens of thousands of women left their jobs after working 64 percent of the day, in an action marking the 30th anniversary of the first such walk-out on the remote North Atlantic island which has one of the highest standards of living in the world. In 1975, a handful of women marked the first Women's Day in Iceland by working only 64 percent of the day, since they were on average only paid 64 percent of what men were paid for equal work. The idea spread, and on October 24 that year, thousands of women walked off the job at 2:08 pm, bringing some of the largest companies in the country to a standstill.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Blue Tint of Indian Country

Here is the latest article I wrote for Alternet about the Indian Reservations I visited in Montana.

The Blue Tint of Indian Country - AlterNet
Democratic administrations have been kindest to Native Americans -- and come election time, Indians remember.

Here are a few photos from Browning, Montana, home of the Blackfeet Reservation. We arrived in Browning on Native American Day; the town celebrates with a parade in the afternoon and a Pow Wow at night.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Muslim Women Challenge Karen Hughes

Bush recently appointed his right hand woman, Karen Hughes, as the Undersecretary of State. Her job is to improve America's image overseas even though she has no diplomatic training. So far, she has failed miserably. You would think the administration would know better than to send Hughes abroad with the same talking points Bush uses in front of carefully selected American audiences. Speaking to a group of mostly female Indonesian Muslim students on Friday, she said:

"After all he [Saddam Hussein] had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people like he murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people using poison gas against them. After September 11, the leaders of America had to look at the threat of the world in a very different way ... I think you have to understand the horror and the shocks that Americans went through."

She's used the same line in past meetings with women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. A few typical responses:

"War makes the rights of women completely erased and poverty comes after war -- and women pay the price."

"This war is really, really bringing your positive efforts to the level of zero," said Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal, an activist with Istanbul's Women's Forum.

These meetings aren't getting much press, especially on television. It will be interesting to see if the administration changes its strategy or gives up altogether. Here are a few articles:

Indonesians Challenge US Envoy in Lively Exchange - Reuters
U.S. goodwill envoy Karen Hughes got a earful from a group of mostly female Indonesian Muslim students on Friday, who expressed anger at the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and attacked Washington's foreign policies.

Hughes Saw but Couldn't Conquer - Arab News
Last month Ms. Karen Hughes, US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. It was her first visit to Muslim countries and her first venture into one of the most volatile regions in the world. She had a chance to meet and listen to veiled and unveiled Muslim women, and Muslim women had an opportunity to air their thoughts and feelings and express their complaints and views on a number of hot, thorny issues to the senior American official entrusted with the task of promoting the values and improving the image of her country in the world.

Karen Hughes Proselytizing: Behind the Veil and Beyond the Hijab - Al-Jazeerah.com
America's circus diplomacy has arrived in the Middle East. The lady from Texas, grand emissary of the American Sultanate headed by Bush, has come to change the hearts and minds of people in the eastern caliphates, particularly those that hide behind the veils and beneath the scarves of Muslim women. Imagine: Karen Hughes proselytizing those daughters of the Qur’an… and with a Southern televangelical accent no less!

Activists grill Karen Hughes on war in Iraq - Washington Post
A group of Turkish female activists confronted Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes on Wednesday with heated complaints about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, turning a session designed to highlight the empowerment of women into a raw display of anger at U.S. policy in the region. "This war is really, really bringing your positive efforts to the level of zero," said Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal, an activist with the Capital City Women's Forum. She said it is difficult to talk about cooperation between women in the United States and Turkey as long as Iraq is under occupation.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

We're Back...

After six months of traveling through Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Utah and Montana, we are back in the Bay Area. I've spent the past few weeks working on a book proposal and haven't had much time to transcribe and post interviews. I'm planning to spend the next few months transcribing all of my interviews and writing my book. I will post excerpts of various interviews and continue blogging about politics, current events and women's issues.

Thank you so much for your support, kind words and encouragement over the past six months; this trip has been an incredible experience and I wouldn't have been able to do it without your help. Looking back, I can even appreciate the challenging times, like standing in the hot sun trying to avoid Wal-Mart security in the parking lot and getting caught in a Montana snowstorm with no heater hoping my van doesn't break down.

Over the course of my journey, I've interviewed a diverse group of people, including a Democratic cowboy from Linden, Texas who calls George W. Bush a "wannabe cowboy"; a Pentecostal self-proclaimed "redneck" who stages solo hunger strikes against corporate polluters; a former evangelical pastor who now preaches inclusion in Tulsa, Oklahoma; moderate Republicans who believe Bush is the worst environmental president in history; pro-choice Republicans; Republicans who oppose Bush's foreign policy, but are afraid to speak out; a Republican who wears a "W" pin on her lapel and has a poster of Bush in her kitchen; Republicans who think Bush is not conservative enough; and those who choose not to vote.

If the national and alternative media spent more time in states like Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi talking to people of all political stripes -- especially to the moderate Republicans who aren't afraid of speaking out, or progressives who live in conservative areas -- they would find the political climate of this country isn't as black and white -- or "red" and "blue" -- as they continue to insist it is.

Friday, October 14, 2005

An Opinion from Salt Lake City, Utah

After months of reading letters to the editor, I would like to see a newspaper or Web site that compiles letters from different parts of the country to keep track of what people are thinking and how opinions are changing.

Here is a letter to the editor in today's Salt Lake City Tribune:

Bush doesn't understand

The Oct. 7 article regarding President Bush's action plan for bird flu vaccine preparation was appropriate and timely, but disheartening.
It is obvious that the president has no understanding of preparation for a pandemic of any nature, as evidenced by his focus on immunization manufacturing capacity by leading pharmaceutical companies.
Because our health-care system is primarily market driven, there is no incentive for these companies to produce costly immunization materials for 2 million to 20 million patients, especially when the specific bird flu strain remains unknown and immunization safety and efficacy remains untested. Given the erratic production and supply of flu vaccine last year, it is clear the current government systems and health-care market services remain relatively unprepared for an efficient response to a pandemic.
The president remains uncommitted to designing a public health-care system that could be appropriately prepared for a pandemic. His talking points remain rooted in the production of immunizations and not in health-care resource development for all segments of the U.S. population.
If estimations for adequate pandemic preparation are truly 2 million to 20 million, this represents less than half of all uninsured patients in this country. Not all uninsured individuals will have the money and access to obtain the immunizations that their middle- and upper-class counterparts will receive.

Emma Kurnat-Thoma, RN
Salt Lake City

Saturday, October 08, 2005

An Opinion from Billings, Montana

This letter to the editor appeared in today's Billings Gazette:

It's too late to be blaming Clinton

I've known my old friend, Walt Holle, for over 40 years. He's a fine man, just a hard-core conservative who has fallen into their way of thinking.

In a recent opinion letter, he wrote about the Bush handling of Katrina, "I think we should be thanking those for the job we (Bush administration, Republicans) are doing instead of playing their (Democrats) blame game." Above this statement in his letter, he blames Clinton, not once, but twice, for Katrina and 9/11, while throwing in a cheap shot about Monica Lewinsky.

The "blame game"? The Republicans invented it, and Karl Rove has perfected it.

Get over Clinton already. He left office with a $5 billion surplus which is now a $2 trillion deficit. We weren't stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, losing the lives of our precious young; and Clinton didn't set the all-time record for presidential vacation days set by Ronald Reagan in an eight-year period.

Bush has surpassed that in five years. Two of those days cost him what little credibility he had left. Again, Holle's whipping boy, Clinton, has been out of office for five years.

As to Holle's criticism of Louisiana's Democratic Gov., Kathleen Blanco, if he had watched her testimony in front of the Congressional Committee, instead of listening to Rush Limbaugh, he would have seen a real lady who took a moral high ground, far from the finger-pointing and blame avoidance shown by the whiny "Brownie" under the same circumstance.

Bob Schwarz

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Glacier National Park

We got lucky and made it to Glacier National Park just a few days before most hotels and restaurants closed for the season. Glacier National Park is one of the most spectacular parks in the United States.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Conversations at a Montana Gas Pump

On the way to one of the most spectacular parks in the country on Wednesday, I stopped off at a gas station in Columbia Falls, a town known as the "Gateway to Glacier National Park." Columbia Falls (population 3800), like most small towns in the United States, is drastically changing and gas prices are high at 2.84/gallon. Here are excerpts from a few interviews about gas prices, the community and the Iraq war.

Jim, 63

Why do you think gas prices have gone up?

Tourist prices. You hear excuses, but who knows really? It's not out of hand yet.

Does it bother you?

Any price increase bothers me. I'm on social security, but what are you gonna do?

How long have you lived here?

Off and on sine 1962.

How has it changed over the years?

Way too many people moving in. It's not the last best place anymore.

How is the job market here?

It stinks. Incomes stink. Jobs stink.

What did you do before you retired?

I worked at the aluminum plant. That's one of the best jobs in the valley for a blue collar worker. Unfortunately, they've been shut down, too.

So where do people work? Which companies employ the most people?

The tourist industry. Unless you have a very professional job, you're gonna work for the tourist industry and it's not gonna pay enough to make a living on.

How do people make it?

Well, I retired. When they told me I was laid off, I said, OK, I'm outta here and I'm not coming back. They were good to me while I was there.

Do you have health insurance?

Not yet. I'm too young. I'm just 63 now, but I'm a healthy person so I'm not too worried about it.

Since you're on social security, what do you think about Bush's plan to change it?

I really don't know about it yet. Who does?

How does this area lean politically?

It's pretty conservative. We're all individuals. That's why we live here. I'm a registered Democrat and I voted for Bush both times.

What do you like about Bush?

I like that he's a conservative.

Do you think he's doing a good job?

So far. Everybody's preoccupied with his military endeavors and I support him 100 percent. That might not be real popular, but that's the way it is. It's a job that needs to be done.

Why do you think we're in Iraq?

We're there primarily for oil. Our oil comes from that region and our country runs on it. You gotta protect it. Maybe that's not popular, but that's the way it is. You shut your car down and what are you gonna do?

So you think we're at war for oil?

Probably 75 percent. We also have terrorism to deal with. We've been concerned about those people's freedoms and human rights for a long time. Everybody says bring our troops home, but you have to remember that the military is there to fight. People who sign up with the military do it to fight. That's their job.

When Bush says we have to finish the job, what does that mean?

You have to wait until they have an established government and police themselves. You can't walk out now and leave them with all the insurgents and all the terrorists. You can't do that. You've already totally disrupted their government. You can't just step away and say, sorry I'm done. You have to finish the job.

Do you think we've created more terrorism by going to war?

It's created more over there.

Terry, 53

Why do you think gas prices have increased?

I think part of it is to help for the disasters and the war. I've got a sneaking hunch that it's going to go up even more with the other hurricane that we just had.

Are people taking measure to drive less or is that hard to do around here where you don't have public transportation?

Job wise, it's really tough. You gotta have the gas to get to work. My son works at the airport and sometimes he has to drive back and forth a couple of times. Then there's activity. Our family is an outdoorsy family. We hunt and fish and that's been cut down. When we go somewhere, it's usually two or three of us helping to pay for the gas to drive up in the woods or take a fishing trip or to go hunting. We used to take off and not worry about it, but we do now.

Did you hear Bush say we have to be better conservers the other day?

I didn't hear it myself, but it boils down to what a guy can afford. I'm on disability right now and I can't afford to do a lot of things. My income doesn't change at all anymore. I have to really watch the number of trips I take and what I do.

Do you think the government can do anything about this?

I think they could, but I think they're going the wrong way. I just wish they would explain why this is happening instead of people just running to the gas pumps and see it go up everyday 10 or 20 cents without any explanation. That's the thing that gets me. What's the reason for it?

Are you from this area?

Yeah, I've lived here my whole life.

How has it changed over the years?

It has grown. I have three boys and they don't have a clue about what is used to look like around here. Thirty or forty years ago, it was so small and you could just enjoy driving around with no traffic. Now when you go to the park or the reservoir, you'll find 10 times more people there.

How about jobs and the economy?

Depends on what you do. When people come in, you have a lot of building jobs, so if you're a carpenter, an electrician or in construction, it's fine. But people who don't have a particular trade work at minimum wage. It's tough.

What did you do before you went on disability?

I worked at the aluminum plant for 29 years and my neck got all screwed up. I got chronic arthritis so I can't really do anything anymore.

How does this town lean politically?

It's more Republican, but I think Bush is losing a lot of his popularity over what's going on right now.

Did you vote for him?

Yeah, both times.

Why do you think he's losing popularity?

A lot of it has to do with the war. I think things sort of backfired on him in that respect. I think it's gonna be a never ending battle over there, trying to straighten a country that huge out. I just can't see it happening in a couple years; there's just no way it can happen.

Were you in favor of the war in the beginning?

I guess I had mixed feelings about it. I was in some ways, but I didn't want all of this to happen. I'm just thankful that none of my kids are in the service right now.

What do you think we should do?

It's hard to say. I think it would be impossible to just pack up and leave. To lose everything we were trying to gain probably wouldn't be the right thing to do either.

Why do you think we're there?

That's a good question. It's hard to answer that. We got Hussein out of there, but of course, the weapon deal didn't seem to be what they thought it was. I don't know. The United States can't change every country in the world to our specifications. I just don't know. I think people are getting fed up with it.

What do you think of our current political climate in general?

I don't think the Democrats have had anybody in there that has been worth voting for and I used to be a Democrat for years and years.

Why'd you change?

Probably because of Bill Clinton. (laughs)

So you're open to voting Democrat, but you haven't liked any of the candidates?


Do you think people want something different politically? If someone talked about real issues truthfully, would people respond? Would you respond?

Yeah, the truth would be nice. I guess that goes with the territory. When you vote for a Republican, you're voting for big business. That's the one thing that I never have liked about voting Republican. That's one of the reasons I didn't before. When I first started dealing with lawyers when I was going through my workman's comp, they told me about a lot of the changes made over the years. They told me I could thank the governor for that, who was a Republican. All those changes were made because of him. They were bad changes that hurt the worker. There's basically a formula now.

Did that make you rethink how you vote?

It pissed me off. Yeah. If a decent Democrat got in there, I probably would go back and vote that way. If it's Hillary, forget it. (laughs)