This Primary Day, Democrats Can Control Who Runs the New York State Senate. The Future of Progressive Social Causes is at Stake

Posted in Editorials on August 13th, 2014

September 9th is Primary Day in New York State. While primaries have lower turnouts and generally receive less media scrutiny, they are often very significant races that determine the policy direction a party takes. In some cases, as in the June Congressional primary between Rep. Charles Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, it determined the person who will ultimately serve in the next Congress.

Next month’s primary is an important one for Democrats. Conventional wisdom holds Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, Eric Schneiderman and Tom DiNapoli will all be serving in Albany next year. What’s less certain is who will control the State Senate.

Some are surprised to learn that the Senate is currently in Republican hands when one considers the lopsided advantage that Democrats hold in party registration in our state. As of this past April, there were 5,873,844 Democrats and 2,785,773 Republicans. Yet Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, controls the Senate, in part due to a power-sharing agreement made with Jeff Klein, a senator from the Bronx who defected from the Democratic caucus to form the “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC). Joining Klein to form the IDC were Malcolm Smith of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida, and David Carlucci of Rockland. Sen. Smith was forced to leave the IDC after he tried to bribe his way into the New York City Mayor’s office.

Smith was soon replaced by Sen. Tony Avella, who joined the IDC earlier this year. While Avella acted like he was joining the IDC for benevolent reasons alone, his staff got raises as a result, Avella himself became Chair of the Social Services Committee, and his campaign was given $50,000 by other senators for his good will.

Albany works different than real life, it seems.

On February 26th, Avella told the New York Daily News:

“Under Sen. Klein’s leadership, the [Independent Democratic Conference] has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families.”

Odd that he didn’t feel that way before the raises, chairmanship, and 50 grand. Details…details.

This statement, though, makes September 9th so important for Democrats in New York.

Leaving the Democratic Caucus, led effectively by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, in order to best promote a “clear, progressive agenda” is like Michael Bloomberg saying he could most effectively support gun control legislation by writing a check to the NRA. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe if the NRA offered Bloomberg’s staff raises and made him chair of a policy committee he’d reconsider. That would be benevolent, right?

No greater proof is needed to rebut the claim that the IDC and its alliance with the Republicans is promoting a “clear, progressive agenda” than three bills which never saw the light of day thanks to the “power-sharing agreement”: the entire Women’s Equality Act, GENDA and a ban on conversion therapy.

The Women’s Equality Act, all-encompassing legislation that would have ensured equal pay, cracked down on human trafficking, and safeguarded reproductive health was apparently deemed “extreme.” As was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The third bill, to ban conversation therapy, would have made it illegal to try to “cure” children of homosexuality, a “treatment” that has increased depression and suicide rates. In fact, Gov. Chris Christie helped ban it in New Jersey and is quoted saying he

believe[s] that on the issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards…I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.

All of these bills should have passed, reflecting the substantial registration advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in New York. But they weren’t even given a vote on the floor. The reason they were not given a vote is clear: because Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans would not allow a vote.

Why do Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans have this say? Because they were given it by members of the IDC who were given plum committee posts and financial benefits in exchange for their allegiance.

As a result, any chance of progressive social policies passing in New York came to a halt.

You see, according to the “power-sharing” agreement, both “co-leaders” Skelos and Klein need to approve bills that go to the floor.

Democracy has a different definition in Albany.

What many people don’t realize is that the Senate Republicans have a second master: the New York State Conservative Party. Many of their members could not win without the backing of the Conservative Party, and rely on it for votes, GOTV and fundraising. The Conservative Party has been openly hostile to women, to minorities and to the LGBT community, and doesn’t hesitate to punish those who run opposed to its dogma. The party is closely aligned with the Catholic Church, including its belief on the role of women in society, the rights of said women, and its narrow interpretation of the Bible to meet its own agenda – regardless of who is harmed.

This can be remedied on September 9th, though. Many members of the IDC face primaries. Two races in particular can have a significant impact on the future of the IDC and the State Senate. In Queens, Tony Avella is being challenged by John Liu. In the Bronx, Jeff Klein is facing Oliver Koppell.

If the Democrats can regain control of even one of these seats, it will send a clear message that Democratic voters didn’t go out and vote on Election Day 2012 so that Dean Skelos could be left in power.

If you want the chance for a true progressive agenda on social issues, you need to express yourself on Primary Day.

The alternative is a State Senate that is to the right of Chris Christie.

WFP Endorses Cuomo: Business as Usual in Albany

Posted in Editorials on June 3rd, 2014

Corruption and Albany are synonymous. In fact, nothing about Albany corruption surprises us anymore. Indictments run rampant. Scandals loom in every corner. Deals are made every day under the assumption that voters are stupid and don’t pay attention. And it seems that at any given time, jury selection is underway somewhere in New York for a pending trial of some politician.

So the Working Families Party’s nomination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo this weekend should come as no surprise. What is odd is that the Governor, who is in good shape to be handily re-elected, threw the Senate IDC-Republican “co-majority” under the bus in order to win a nomination that four years ago he was considering not taking at all.

Perhaps the governor saw what the “professional left” has done to other, more centrist, Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Christine Quinn and he was afraid he would eventually meet the same fate. However, it doesn’t really seem logical that a WFP candidate would garner enough votes to realistically threaten his re-election. The candidate being considered, Zephyr Teachout, is an unknown entity who would have trouble garnering the 50,000 votes the WFP needs to remain an active political party with ballot access in this state. If the WFP endorsed her, the unions would still back Cuomo, siphoning votes and dollars from any campaign she had.

In fact, there is much more for the WFP to lose than gain in not endorsing Cuomo.

So why? Was this all really about a local minimum wage, income inequality, corporate tax breaks, and other populist issues? Unlikely. It would seem almost ridiculous to buck a sitting governor when he has delivered on other progressive initiatives like gun control and marriage equality.

Questions remain: Will Cuomo be true to his word and actually turn on his GOP-IDC allies in Albany? Can he actually follow-through on any of his legislative promises given that the session is about to close? Does the WFP have any recourse if he doesn’t? Is this really about satisfying liberal activists in advance of a presidential bid?

And overall: Why? Why the fight, the drama, the tension?

Perhaps the answer is in who came to Andrew Cuomo’s rescue at the WFP convention: none other than Mayor Bill de Blasio. Darling of the Working Families Party and the professional left.

Maybe it’s as simple as de Blasio and his allies just taking another pol down a peg after a strenuous six months.

As always with Albany…we may never know. Unless there’s an indictment.

Freedom of Speech Means Freedom to Be an Asshole

Posted in Editorials on May 18th, 2014

From the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech

I am a firm supporter of the right to free speech and free expression. These rights are essential to other rights – political advocacy, religious freedom, artistic expression, academic freedom and the right to advocate for social change. I am so thankful to live in the United States where I have this right, and I hold it dear.

Not everyone who has these rights uses them for a good or useful purpose. The costs of free speech are high. When I was a clinic escort, I witnessed protesters who would harass patients and doctors. I find this morally abhorrent, and while I do support the FACE Act and other measures to prevent people from forming human chains around clinics, I also recognize that much of what these protesters do is and should be protected speech.

This weekend I attended the Women in Secularism conference sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. One of the speakers, Taslima Nasrin spoke about the harms of religion to women. Nasrin was exiled from her home country of Bangladesh for criticizing Islam. Others have been jailed or murdered by vigilantes for doing the same.

In her speech, Nasrin said,

“Without the right to offend, freedom of expression cannot exist.”

Mary Johnson tweeted this quote, and I retweeted it. Then this happened (conversation edited for clarity, see my twitter stream for unabridged conversation):

So, to sum up, according to Carl Nyberg, we can’t criticize Islam because of American imperialism, and we can’t be supporters of free speech unless we spend every waking moment trying to get Chelsea Manning out of prison.

I agree that there is racist and xenophobic sentiment underlying some critiques of Islam. But that doesn’t mean that it’s above question. Taken to its logical conclusion, Nyberg’s argument means that until we eliminate antisemitism in the United States, no one can speak up about the sexual abuse of children in Hasidic communities. I reject this entirely.

I don’t think that people should be bigoted or even unnecessarily mean to each other. I’m a huge supporter of social justice, civility, Wheaton’s Law, and plain old cheerfulness. But I believe these things must come from within and not be imposed by a government. The right to free speech includes the right to be an nasty and cruel abortion clinic protester, to voice islamaphobic opinions, and to tell me that I want to “shit on other religions without being criticized.” As Taslima Nasrin said,

“Without the right to offend, freedom of expression cannot exist.”

Buying Kathleen Rice

Posted in Editorials on December 18th, 2013

“Nearly $300,000.”

According to the New York Daily News, that’s how much Nassau County District Kathleen Rice received from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, its partners, and their spouses. Weitz & Luxenberg isn’t just any firm. And it’s not just known for its masterfully-produced “Metal-on-Metal” hip replacement surgery ads seeking your willingness to sue.

This is the law firm of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Yes, in New York State, there’s absolutely no conflict of interest (apparently) to make money at a personal injury firm while also determining if tort reform legislation makes its way to the floor of your chamber.

What’s interesting about the donations Ms. Rice receives from Mr. Silver’s firm is that she’s also co-chair of a Moreland Commission in New York that’s investigating government corruption, with a focus on the New York State Legislature. According to the Daily News, “No one else on the 25-member corruption commission received contributions from Weitz & Luxenberg.”

A spokesperson for Ms. Rice said that she is “immune to fear or favor.”

Sidebar: Kathleen Rice has also received contributions from a partner at Thor Equities, who was subpoenaed by the same commission of which she is a co-chair.

Now we know why she is “immune to fear or favor”: vaccines are so expensive these days.

Speaking of vaccines, what do you have to do in a Republican stronghold like Nassau County to repeatedly have the GOP refuse to nominate a strong candidate against you? It seems odd that when Republicans hold three out of the four countywide posts, that they would give Ms. Rice, a Democrat, a free pass when it came to her own elections.

Maybe it’s her record.

In June 2013, Ms. Rice “investigated” the Republican County Executive Ed Mangano’s use of government employees to hand out flyers that touted his repeal of an energy tax and for not raising property taxes. Such language, it seems, would be more suited for campaign literature handed out by volunteers. Luckily for Mr. Mangano, Ms. Rice’s office found nothing wrong with this exercise. She deferred to a county ethics board which is controlled by Mangano-appointed members.

Ms. Rice’s actions resulted in even greater and more egregious taxpayer-funded literature being mailed out by the county right before the fall elections. One of these flyers stated that: “Democrats Are Playing Politics with your Health.” But it’s all okay, right? Because none of these used “objectively overt political statements.”

It seems putting up token opposition in District Attorney’s races can have benefits for the opposition’s party.

But this story isn’t over just yet.

Apparently it’s just dandy for Republicans to use intimidation to win an election as long as Democrat Kathleen Rice occupies the District Attorney’s Office.

But now circumstances have changed and the Democrats have finally woken up to her “immunity.”

Ms. Rice most recently found “no criminality” when the local police commissioner who, according to the Daily News (glad someone is actually reporting this) “at the urging of Gary Melius, a politically connected donor, personally directed officers to arrest a key witness in a case connected to the county executive race.”

To sum it up, according to the Daily News:

The witness, campaign worker Randy White, was set to testify in a case involving a third-party aspirant for county executive who Dems believe was a strong candidate designed to help GOP incumbent Edward Mangano.

Two days before the testimony, White was arrested — while riding on a bus — on an outstanding warrant over a $250 fine he hadn’t paid from an unrelated misdemeanor conviction.

The Daily News also writes:

Some question how aggressively Rice’s office investigated, given that the situation touched major Nassau County political figures: Mangano, who Rice found to have no involvement, his police department, and Melius.

Rice spokesman Shams Tarek said the DA is “completely unfazed by all this commentary and is used to ignoring political pressure as she follows the facts and applies the law.”

Well, obviously she is unfazed…she got a vaccine and is now immune.

But this isn’t as simple as going soft on GOP corruption to have an easy ride on Election Day. It’s much deeper than that. The gentleman mentioned above, Mr. Gary Melius, who is he, exactly?

Well, it turns out he owns Oheka Castle. And he might have skipped out on a $27.9 million mortgage payment due last year.

But that’s beside the point. Gary Melius is Executive Director of the Nassau County Independence Party. And his COO at Oheka is Chairman of the same party. It must be one helluva castle!

Why is this significant? Ms. Rice doesn’t need the Independence Party’s support for her DA races. When the Republicans choose to leave you virtually unchallenged, your opposition doesn’t really matter.

But she will need the Independence Party’s backing should she run for Congress next year, as is widely speculated. She could also use the party’s assistance for other races, including a future County Executive run – or anything else.

That’s why her “immunity” should be questioned. And it’s why it’s so perplexing when she repeatedly finds so little wrong with matters she “investigates.”

So how much does it cost to buy Kathleen Rice? Much like a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

No, Policy Mic, Barack Obama being a good host doesn’t mean that Democrats and Republicans are all the same deep down.

Posted in Editorials on December 13th, 2013

There’s a post by Policy Mic going around, “8 Photos You Didn’t See From Obama’s Trip to South Africa” which shows the Obamas, Clintons and Bushes traveling together to Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and exchanging pleasantries. The article ends,

Perhaps, instead of giving in to the frantic us-or-them discourse proffered by the media (Funeral selfies! Handshakes! Ted Cruz!), it’s time that we acknowledge that conservative and liberal politicians spend more time together, and have more in common with one another, than we’d like to believe.

There is a little bit of truth here. Real life is not an internet chat room. There are layers and nuance to human relationships. I have a few friends that identify as right of center and several conservative family members. While I disagree with their ideas, we can still enjoy spending time together, and some of them even know how to have a political discussion without name calling or taking things personally.

But. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have deep moral differences. And the pictures Policy Mic published might make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they don’t mean that our differences don’t matter. Barack Obama once said, “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.” They are not only that but I believe they are the cause of our liberty. If nothing is up for debate or open to question we are not free.

Being a politician means that you have to be “on” all of the time with everyone – even with people you don’t like. Even in the back bench minor leagues of local politics – I have made some genuine friends, but I have also suffered through many a cocktail party where everyone seemed fake. Just because the Obamas, Clintons and Bushes can pull it off better doesn’t make it any less fake. Having a permanent smile plastered to your face to keep up appearances doesn’t mean there aren’t deep moral disagreements between liberals and conservatives. We aren’t all alike.

I hate to be the one to deliver this reminder, but George W. Bush lied us into a war with Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and instated a policy of torture. Barack Obama later ended both the war and our torture policy. We aren’t all alike in that the Clintons and the Obamas believe that a woman has a right to bodily autonomy and the Bushes do not.

Being charming is a part of the job of being president. But we should not pretend that this charm has any deep significance. It’s a pleasant illusion meant to smooth over how deep our differences really are.

Wonkery on the EPA and Dispersants

Posted in Editorials on April 25th, 2013

On Monday, the Daily Beast published an article titled, “What BP Doesn’t Want You To Know About the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill” an expose that was in part about the toxic effects of Corexit, a dispersant manufactured by Nalco and used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico to clean up the oil spill.

It appears that people who were exposed to Corexit are now suffering severe health problems, including headaches, fatigue, muscle spasm, short term memory loss, bloody coughing fits, and painful nerve damage. BP was allowed to use Corexit, but they did not follow the safety instructions for use as outlined by the manufacturer, Nalco.

I was very curious as to how a dispersant like Corexit was approved in the first place, and to understand what it meant for the government to approve a dispersant with “confidential” ingredients.

In 1990, during the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act. One provision of the act was that companies must have a “plan to prevent spills that may occur” and have a “detailed containment and cleanup plan” for oil spills. This provision led to an update to the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1994, the EPA finalized rules which, in part created the National Contingency Plan (NCP) product schedule.

EPA maintains the NCP Product Schedule, which lists the following types of products that are authorized for use on oil discharges:

-Surface washing agents
-Surface collecting agents
-Bioremediation agents
-Miscellaneous oil spill control agents

The full rules for the NCP are a part of the Code of Federal Regulations, and with regards to the process a manufacturer must undergo to have their dispersant listed in the NCP Product Schedule they state, in part:

300.915.a.10 Dispersing Agent Components.
Itemize by chemical name and percent-age by weight each component of the total formulation. The percentages will include maximum, minimum, and average weights in order to reflect quality control variations in manufacture or formulation. In addition to the chemical information provided in response to the first two sentences, identify the major components in at least the fol­lowing
agents, solvents, and additives.

Additionally, it is stated that,

The submitter may assert that certain information in the technical product data submissions… is confidential business information… Such information must be submitted separately from non-confidential infor­mation, clearly identified, and clearly marked ‘‘Confidential Business Infor­mation.’’ If the submitter fails to make such a claim at the time of submittal, EPA may make the information available to the public without further no­tice.

It appears that Corexit was initially one of the products submitted with the ingredients marked confidential. But a quick perusal of the database shows that most of the products in the NCP schedule have at least some of their ingredients listed as “CONFIDENTIAL.”

The special handling instructions and worker precautions for Corexit state:

Avoid eye contact. In case of eye contact, immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. Get prompt medical attention. Avoid contact with skin and clothing. In case of skin contact, immediately flush with large amounts of water, and soap if available. Remove contaminated clothing, including shoes, after flushing has begun. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. For open systems where contact is likely, wear long sleeve shirt, chemical resistant gloves, and chemical protective goggles.

But as the Daily Beast detailed, these instructions were ignored.

In response to public outrage after Corexit had already been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, the ingredients were released, and listed them on a Q&A page about dispersants designed to respond to Frequently Asked Questions about the Gulf Oil Spill.

The ingredients for Corexit 9500A and 9527A are still not listed in the NCP database. This is probably a bureaucratic oversight. But unless you knew about the special FAQ, you couldn’t find the full list ingredients of Corexit.

In response, EPA Chief Lisa Jackson and Senator Lautenberg supported the “Safe Dispersants Act” introduced in July 2010, which

would require better testing, approval, and disclosure of the health effects of dispersants used in response to an oil spill under the National Contingency Plan. It would also require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a study to determine whether additional regulations are needed. The legislation would achieve the following:

Require testing on a wide range of acute and long-term environmental and health effects of specific chemical dispersants before they could be added to an approved products list.

Ban the use of dispersants that cannot be proven better for the environment and health than natural or mechanical removal of oil.

Require the public disclosure of both chemical dispersant ingredients and ingredient concentrations.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and no further action has been taken. Perhaps it’s time for another letter writing Sunday?

Cause for Optimism on Keystone

Posted in Editorials on April 23rd, 2013

Although I am still unsure about the final outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline, there have been some developments in the past 24 hours that have made me feel very optimistic.

First, the EPA has released at statement that upon their review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, they have rated the impact of the action as

EO (Environmental Objections) The review has identified significant environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to adequately protect the environment. Corrective measures may require substantial changes to the preferred alternative or consideration of some other project alternative (including the no action alternative or a new alternative).


(Insufficient Information) The draft EIS does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment, or the reviewer has identified new reasonably available alternatives that are within the spectrum of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS, which could reduce the environmental impacts of the proposal. The identified additional information, data, analyses, or discussion should be included in the final EIS.

Additionally, the EPA raises three concerns. First, that Keystone has not adequately addressed the greenhouse gas emissions of the project specifically because their argument that the tar sands will be developed anyway is a weak one, and they have not done enough to explain how this is the case, especially relating to the price of oil, and the railway infrastructure to ship it.

I’m really relieved that this isn’t flying, because it’s something that has been bothering me since I first read the executive summary of the dEIS, and something I included in my public comments. It is a bad argument caused by shoddy work at best, intentional deception at worst.

The EPA statement goes on to question the adequacy of the pipeline safety plan, and state that Keystone has not done enough to explain why alternate pipeline routes would not be a better alternative.

Next, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other environmental organizations have released their public comments on Keystone, which I haven’t had a chance to review in their entirety yet, but they raise similar concerns – that the consideration of the no action alternative was incomplete, that other alternatives haven’t been adequately considered, that the dEIS hasn’t addressed greenhouse gas emissions, and that tar sands oil is more difficult to clean up than other oil. They go farther than the EPA and criticize the dEIS for not sufficiently addressing Environmental Justice and tribal concerns, when the EPA applauded Keystone for good work in that area. Additionally, the Sierra Club et al raise procedural concerns; including that documents relevant to the dEIS were not released to the public.

I got a warm, fuzzy feeling reading about all of this today. The EPA and environmental NGOs are working as they are supposed to, and the idealists in the 1970′s who set up these procedures hoped they would act – in the best interests of the public. This is the first indication in years, if not ever at all, that the Obama administration may be opposed to Keystone XL. It’s highly unlikely that Cynthia Giles, the “top cop” of the EPA would release such a harsh rebuke without the administration on board. And this is a very good sign.

This past Saturday I was talking about Keystone XL with someone in my congregation and I was explaining how pessimistic I was about it and why. She asked me if there was any hope at all. I told her that if I was right, and the dEIS really shouldn’t have assumed the tar sands will be developed anyway, I trust that the Sierra Club will make it known in their public comments if not in a lawsuit. And some think that it is heading that way. It’s a really good feeling when that glimmer of hope becomes a giant ray of sunshine.

Earth Day 2013 – Hope Springs Eternal?

Posted in Editorials on April 22nd, 2013

Despite my pessimism and cynicism about the Keystone XL Pipeline, I decided to submit a public comment anyway. This tip from a Council on Environmental Quality document called, “The Citizens Guide to NEPA” is in keeping with my understanding of the process:

Commenting is not a form of “voting” on an alternative. The number of negative comments an agency receives does not prevent an action from moving forward. Numerous comments that repeat the same basic message of support or opposition will typically be responded to collectively.

So I did not sign the numerous petitions that will be submitted today. Instead, I wrote a comment focusing on what I thought were the weakest part of the dEIS.

Dear Ms Genevieve Walker,

I am writing to voice concerns about the Keystone XL Pipeline draft Environmental Impact Statement. I have two main areas of concern – the impact of the project on climate change, and the ability to clean up any future oil spills.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement states that the impact on the climate will be negligible because the no action alternative assumes that the production and consumption of tar sands oil would remain unchanged. This is quite a large assumption to make considering the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that would be emitted from burning the tar sands and is resulting effect on our climate. It is my understanding that the no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. Therefore I find it not only tremendously irresponsible to make this assumption but highly disingenuous. Although this dEIS appears to comply with the letter of the law I believe it to be incomplete until another scenario is added to the alternatives section which considers not building the Keystone Pipeline and no further development of the Canadian tar sands. I know that the United States has no control over Canadian companies, but the analysis is not complete without consideration of this scenario.

Secondly, I am concerned about the possibility of an oil spill within the United States. The dEIS states that measures would be put in place to prevent such a spill and that if one were to occur, procedures are in place to respond . However, the current spill of tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas makes this plan highly suspect. It seems that the technology does not yet exist to adequately respond to a spill of tar sands oil.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Happy Earth Day.

They Don’t Even Want Consensus

Posted in Editorials on March 25th, 2013

The March 16 episode of Both Sides Now featured Ron Reagan Jr. and Torie Clarke. The two were discussing Rand Paul’s filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination. Both agreed that it was grand standing, and that the President should be more transparent about the drone program.

Mark Green the host said “Consensus Alert!” To which Clarke responded, “Don’t you hate that? You just hate that as the host of the show.”

“No, we love it!” said Green.

“We actually live for those moments,” Reagan replied.

The topic was quickly changed, but I think the exchange was telling. Clarke’s mocking question was followed up with Reagan and Green’s enthusiastic reassurance. This is an almost perfect metaphor for the gridlock in the American government right now. Republicans don’t care about governing and Democrats are begging for table scraps of common ground.

The Incoherence of Anti-Choice Politics

Posted in Editorials on January 10th, 2013

The anti-choice movement in the United States is one that seeks to outlaw abortion. This is not only morally abhorrent in terms of denying women bodily autonomy, but also incredibly poorly crafted public policy. Very few of its proponents can explain how this prohibition would work. The pro-choice movement would do well to understand exactly how weak this position is from a practical standpoint.

There was a long period of American history when legal abortion was not available. Leslie J Regan’s book When Abortion Was Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867 – 1973 documents the history of the era well. Often, doctors would perform abortions in secret and with varying degrees of safety. Women died of infections, and were often refused medical treatment in hospitals unless they would reveal the name of their doctor. The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan tells the story of the secret group of women who provided abortions in Chicago in the late 60′s and early 70′s. The book tells the stories of the women who took great personal risk to get the abortions they needed and of the women who organized the illegal abortions to make them as safe as possible. From these books and other historical documents we can see that even when abortion was illegal, women still sought them out. Even in the present, abortion rates are generally the same, regardless of the legality of the procedure.

Although it was only 41 years ago that these laws were in place, the anti-choice movement seems to have a very short term memory as to how the law used to be – and a surprising difficulty in articulating what exactly the law should say if they were in charge.

Anti-choice protesters can’t explain whether or not a woman who gets an abortion should go to jail and why.

Rick Berg (R-ND) won’t say whether or not a rape victim who gets an abortion should go to jail.

Even if we concede that anti-choicers would eventually decide on legal punishments for doctors and/or women involved in abortion, as they had done in this country in the past, it is also important to ask questions about how this law would be enforced. Would the tactics of the past be used? Would we codify that women admitted into emergency rooms for complications due to an illegal abortion be refused treatment unless they reveal the name of their doctor? Would a woman caught attempting to abort her pregnancy be placed in jail until she gives birth? Would we look to the models in place in other countries?

In communist Romania:

Monthly gynecological examinations for all women of childbearing age were instituted, even for pubescent girls, to identify pregnancies in the earliest stages and to monitor pregnant women to ensure that their pregnancies came to term.

This is a horrific violation of human rights. But it is robust public policy. This type of draconian enforcement is necessary to actually eradicate abortion, instead of just making it more difficult or more dangerous as was the case in America’s past.

In fact, this same policy is used in China to force women to get abortions in order to uphold their one child policy:

Every village has a family planning committee and in some, women of childbearing age are required to have pregnancy tests every three months.

In El Salvador, women who go to the hospital for miscarriages are investigated because they are suspected of procuring an abortion. Would American anti-choicers go this far? What would constitute probable cause that a woman had an abortion? A late period? A miscarriage? An infection? Who would keep track of all American womens’ bodies?

Whenever a person declares that abortion should be illegal in the United States, these are the facts we must present them. These are the questions we must ask. They must know the logical conclusion to the policy they are proposing. Even if they think they are speaking of religion or morality – they in fact suggesting a radical change to our laws and to our way of life. This must be made clear. That they have not thought it out this far suggests an ignorance as to how government works, and fantastical belief that simply declaring something to be wrong means that it will stop happening.


For further reading – How Would A Rape Exception Work?