Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Tiller, thank you for your dedication

Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed this morning at his church in Wichita, according to the Kansas City Star. Tiller runs the Women's Health Care Services clinic, which specializes in late-term abortions. It's one of the few clinics in the entire country that offers such services.

Tiller has spent years fighting to keep his clinic open and to keep offering such important services. He was acquitted in March on criminal charges of not consulting an independent doctor for a second opinion (required by law). His office has been the subject of numerous anti-abortion protests, it was bombed in 1985, and in 1993, he was shot outside his office. Earlier this month his office was vandalized. One can only imagine what he, his family and his staff deals with on a daily basis.

I get that what he does is controversial (though I highly recommend you visit the clinic's Web site, linked above, and read it -- you might be surprised). But it is vital to have doctors across the country who do offer such services, and we are now minus one.

Police haven't said yet if they have a suspect or anyone in custody, and I'm not going to jump to conclusions until that information is released. I am hoping against hope this isn't a case of another abortion doctor murdered for his profession. Not that his murder would be "okay" otherwise, but if it does come out that an anti-abortion figure did kill Tiller, well, I think it becomes even more obvious that most of the fanatical anti-abortion people out there don't actually give a shit about "life," only about controlling women's uteruses.

I would hope most people, whatever their opinion on this doctor's job, have the decency to express sympathy over this loss, and not exalt the murder as some kind of victory.

UPDATE: So much for my last statement. Take a look at some of the comments posted on Free Republic, via Daily Kos.

  • Good column here from the Kansas City Star.
  • Feministing weighs in, with suggestions on where to donate money.
  • Here is the link to donate to Planned Parenthood in honor of someone.
  • The comments posted here can only be described as fucking disgusting.

suspect has been arrested, but no details of who it is yet.

Tiller's family has issued a statement, which I'm posting in full:

Dan Monnat and Lee Thompson, Dr. George Tiller's attorneys, issued the following statement today at the request of Mrs. Jeanne Tiller, the Tiller's four children and ten grandchildren:

"Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients. This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.

We would like to express the family's thanks for the many messages of sympathy from our friends and from all across the nation. We also want to thank the law enforcement officers who are investigating this crime.

Our loss is also a loss for the City of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere."

And yet I have seen numerous people flat-out saying "I'm happy he's dead." Women are saying it. What does it take to get these women to understand the importance of this issue? You do not have to support abortion to understand that if the choice is taken away from you, you will not have control over your own body.

Also, from the NYT's story, finally a statement from a major group defending Tiller:
“Dr. Tiller was a fearless, passionate defender of women’s reproductive health and rights,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, which had worked on a legal case related to Dr. Tiller. “It’s time that this nation stop demonizing these doctors, and start honoring them.”

Just in, from the "you've got to be fucking kidding me" category: "Abortion foes fear backlash to Tiller's slaying."

NEW YORK (AP) — Anti-abortion leaders are deeply worried that the Obama administration and other Democrats may try to capitalize on the slaying of Dr. George Tiller to defuse the abortion issue in upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Full story here.
  • Carnal Nation has rounded up a "Tweets of Hate" list that is worth checking out, because seeing is believing. Example: "oh HAPPY DAY! Tiller the baby killer is DEAD!"

UPDATE V: President Obama has issued a statement:
I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.

UPDATE VI: Last of the night, I hope.

First, a suspect has been named. According to AP: "Johnson County sheriff's spokesman Tom Erickson identified the detained man as Scott Roeder. He has not been charged in the slaying and was expected to be taken to Wichita for questioning. Court records and Internet postings show that someone using the name Scott Roeder has a criminal past and has expressed anti-abortion opinions on sympathetic Web sites."

Is anyone surprised?

Second, Planned Parenthood has issued a statement.

Third, the more I read about Tiller, the sadder this story becomes. RIP, and thanks for all you did to help your patients.

UPDATE VII: TPM reports that U.S. Marshals will offer protection to other people and facilities, in light of Tiller's murder.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Equal rights should be just that

Anyone interested in the discussion of gay marriage, whether for or against it, should really listen to this interview. These two make excellent points about how, on a federal level, gay marriage should be legal:

Would love feedback on either side of this issue, because at the moment I cannot come up with any arguments against what they're saying. (Well, not arguments that don't involve religion or some sort of homophobia.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remember when empathy wasn't bad?

Good, in the form of then-Supreme Court nominee and now Justice Samuel Alito:
Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position... When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.
Bad, in the form of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor:
This wealth of experiences, personal and professional, has helped me appreciate the variety of perspectives that present themselves in every case that I hear. It has helped me to understand, respect and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants who appear before me as well as to the views of my colleagues on the bench. I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.
Good, in the form of Justice Clarence Thomas, according to George Bush Sr.:
"I have followed this man's career for some time," Bush said of Thomas. "He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor."
And more, straight from Thomas:
And I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does. You know, on my current court I have occasion to look out the window that faces C Street, and there are converted buses that bring in the criminal defendants to our criminal justice system, bus load after bus load. And you look out and you say to yourself, and I say to myself almost every day, "But for the grace of God there go I."

If you don't understand how laws affect people -- which some call "empathy" -- why should you be a judge at all?

As an aside, anyone noticing how the term "empathy" has gone from being code for "liberal/activist" to code for "female"?

I have many more thoughts on the nomination of Sotomayor, to come soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prosecution, please

A couple weeks ago, I came across this post on Andrew Sullivan's "Daily Dish":
Rape And "Enhanced Interrogation"

One way to look at how the Bush administration redefined torture out of existence, so that it could, er, torture human beings, is to compare their criteria for "enhanced interrogation" with those for rape. Raping someone need not leave any long-term physical scars; it certainly doesn't permanently impair any bodily organ; it has no uniquely graphic dimensions - the comic book pulling-fingernail scenarios the know-nothings in the Bush administration viewed as torture; and although it's cruel, it's hardly unusual. It happens all the time in regular prisons, although usually by other inmates as opposed to guards. It barely differs from the sexual abuse, forced nudity and psychological warfare inflicted on prisoners by Bush-Cheney in explicit terms.

Recall that smearing fake sexual blood on the faces of victims was regarded as brilliant interrogation by the Bushies in Gitmo - and its psychological effects were supposed to be heightened by Muslim sexual sensibilities. And male rape would be particularly effective in destroying male Muslim self-worth and psychological integrity. Rape almost perfectly fits, in other words, every criterion the Bush administration used to define "enhanced interrogation."

So ask yourself: if Abu Zubaydah had been raped 83 times, would we be talking about no legal consequences for his rapist - or the people who monitored and authorized the rape?
I had been reading up on torture-related articles, and I remember thinking that he made a good point in this post. Namely, that rape would seemingly fall within the "it's not torture" boundaries set by Bush and Cheney, and how horrific that fact is. (Though he is wrong in that it doesn't permanently impair any bodily organ; I believe there a girls and women all over Africa who will say otherwise.)

Soon after reading that blog entry, I was pointed to the 2004 Salon article in which Seymour Hersh claims that boys were sodomized at Abu Ghraib. I don't know why I hadn't heard about this before, but it was news to me. It hasn't really been reported on much, just a couple articles in the UK from what I can tell, so it's hard to know the accuracy of his claim.

Now, there's this news about the yet-to-be-released photos from Abu Ghraib, from the Telegraph:

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Simply horrific. It gets worse:

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”
Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

This same article says "The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken."

We don't know if those latest photos actually include the ones mentioned in this article. But I, for one, would like to know if "appropriate actions" were taken regarding these allegations of rape. Were any actions taken? What would be appropriate punishment? Why do I suspect it's little more than being discharged from the military?

This is so shameful. I want to believe it's not true, but sadly I won't be surprised if it is. Rape has long been used as a "weapon" in war; I just didn't think we would be the ones using it. Investigate, please. The country needs to know the truth about this, and all torture allegations that have surfaced thus far.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beware, daughters turn you liberal!

I've long thought that every guy who treats women like crap deserves to have a baby girl, so that he can watch her grow up and deal with such men and see what kind of an ass he really was. A little poetic justice, so to speak.

Turns out there's another great thing about men having and raising daughters: It tends to make them more liberal and more sympathetic to issues such as family planning.

From this story:
In remarkable research, the sociologist Rebecca Warner and the economist Ebonya Washington have shown that the gender of a person's children seems to influence the attitudes and actions of the parent.

Warner (1991) and Warner and Steel (1999) study American and Canadian mothers and fathers. The authors' key finding is that support for policies designed to address gender equity is greater among parents with daughters. This result emerges particularly strongly for fathers. Because parents invest a significant amount of themselves in their children, the authors argue, the anticipated and actual struggles that offspring face, and the public policies that tackle those, matter to those parents. . . The authors demonstrate that people who parent only daughters are more likely to hold feminist views (for example, to favor affirmative action).

By collecting data on the voting records of US congressmen, Washington (2004) is able to go beyond this. She provides persuasive evidence that congressmen with female children tend to vote liberally on reproductive rights issues such as teen access to contraceptives. In a revision, Washington (2008) argues for a wider result, namely, that the congressmen vote more liberally on a range of issues such as working families flexibility and tax-free education.

The study also found that people who have sons tend to become more conservative. I wonder why that is, exactly.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why pay more when you can be sick for free?

this image is about as stupid as our health care system.

Some important news about women's health care came out this week (full story here):
Most working-age women in the United States have too little health coverage, and often forgo needed care because of cost, U.S. researchers said on Monday. They found that seven out of 10 women have no insurance, not enough insurance or are in debt because of medical bills.
Seven out of 10? Yikes. The same story goes into more detail:

The Commonwealth Fund team said rising health costs hit women harder because they have lower average incomes and spend more on healthcare than men, and because they use the health system more often than men.

(The report) found that 70 percent, or 63.8 million, working-age women are uninsured, underinsured, have medical bill problems or medical debt, or did not access needed care because of cost. That compared with 59 percent, or 51.9 million, working-age men.

The team also found that 52 percent of women were more likely to leave a prescription unfilled, skip a recommended medical test or treatment, or fail to seek needed medical care. That compared with just 39 percent of men.

And they found that 45 percent of women had medical debt or reported problems paying medical bills, compared with 36 percent of men.
Speaks volumes about our health care industry that that many women are uninsured or underinsured. I'm assuming that people (well, women in this case, but I'm sure men do it too) often skip prescriptions or treatment because of lack of insurance/money. It makes sense that women use the health care system more than men, with all the OB/GYN and boobie business we have to deal with, and I'm guessing there's some truth to the myth that men don't go to doctors unless they absolutely have to. (Also seems like it would help if women made the same wages as men, to give us a fair starting-out point.)

Coming out a few days before this report was news that Sen. John Kerry introduced the Women's Health Insurance Fairness Act. The bill sounds like a good one: it would prevent insurers from charging more, denying or limiting coverage based on gender or pregnancy and would require maternity coverage. (The outrage here? That we have to actually legislate this.) I'll be keeping an eye on the bill to see if it gets anywhere. My guess is no. But with Obama trying to make changes in the health care industry, let's hope something like this is implemented.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why does anyone live in Texas?

For a state that puts more people to death than any other in this country (437 since 1976 with 373 more people on death row; by comparison, Virginia is second with 103 inmates killed since 1976) it's no real shock when news comes out that Texas has been making rape victims pay for their rape kit. Does anyone outside of Texas really expect anything less from that state?

Again: Texas is making victims of rape pay for the very exam that most often provides evidence that the person was raped.

Every single Texas lawmaker and any other official involved in this should be hanging their heads in shame right now. Every. Single. One. Not only because making a rape victim pay for a rape kit -- which is used to collect evidence for the state -- is outrageous, but because no one has done anything about it, and some officials are actually defending the practice.

You see, there's this law called the U.S. Violence Against Women Act, which requires states to pay for anonymous rape tests if they want to receive funding for other programs. There's also the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, designed to cover the cost of things like rape kits and other medical bills associated with crimes. The fund in Texas has consistently had "tens of millions of dollars" left over at the end of each year, indicating they have plenty of money to cover the costs of every single rape kit performed in the state. In 2008 alone, the fund had $66,572,261 in unspent money.

But, the spokesman for the state's attorney general chimes in with this (read full story here):

Attorney General's spokesman Jerry Strickland said the crime victim fund is enforcing strict guidelines imposed by the legislature as to which bills are paid and which victims are sent a denial notice. Otherwise, he said that fund could become "insolvent." He said state law is clear that crime victims must exhaust all other potential funding sources, such as local police or their own health insurance. "The legislature set it up that way," said Strickland.

Thank you, Strickland, for making sure the public knows that the lawmakers are in fact the one's behind this. And you have got to be kidding me with the "their own health insurance" line. Why in the world should a health insurance company pay for the state to collect evidence in a crime? This isn't about treatment; a rape kit is not treatment. It's an invasive exam that is designed to gather evidence so that the state will have it available if the case goes forward.

Women, if you or anyone you know is every sexually assaulted, know that you do not have to pay for a rape kit. Do not pay for it, no matter what. If creditors call and threaten you, send them to the police department handling your case or to a lawmaker. Try talking to the hospital that did the exam and see if they can help. Most importantly, don't get raped in Texas.

All this brings me back to my original question: Why does anyone live in Texas? Victims are treated like criminals, and judging by the number of people put to death there, it's got to be the most dangerous place in this country. Can we just grant the governor's wish to secede already? What are we waiting for?

More reading:

Anyone know of anywhere else this is happening?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Celebrating a free press

Tomorrow, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day, designed to draw attention to those who are out reporting the news and to those who have been arrested or killed in the process.

These days, many (most?) Americans have a cynical view of the press and see the media as an untrustworthy establishment. Who can blame them? Given the amount of material available now on the Internet and cable news, often conflicting, and the ever-invading, ever-louder commentary that permeates both, and radio as well, it's not hard to conclude why people would feel that way. We've basically gone from a time when media reported the news of the day via radio, nightly news or newspapers to a time when anyone can "report" anything at anytime through any bias they may have. Cable news channels don't show the news at night; they show commentary. Radio might give brief news accounts, but most talk radio is opinion-based. The days of Walter Cronkite are over. And if you believe what you hear, newspapers are on their deathbeds -- and no one seems to even care about that.

Even so, take a minute to think about what our country would be like without freedom of the press. (While you're at it, try to picture what news here would look like without newspapers. We think it's bad now? Just wait.) There are many people around the globe who don't have access to uncensored or non-state-sponsored news, where newspapers and TV channels are shut down, or aren't allowed to exist in the first place. Behind our free press we have thousands of journalists who daily put themselves in dangerous situations to bring the news to the public. Could be in a war zone, could be at a crime scene, could even be trying to shed light on scandal or corruption. Journalists are arrested or killed all over the world. The journalists out there actually doing the reporting might get a thank-you every now and again, but more often than not are lumped in with "the media" that everyone seems to disdain these days. These are real people behind these stories, people who believe in getting the news, people who believe in the freedom of the press, and who are driven to get to the bottom of the story.

Last year, 70 journalists were killed. 125 were in prison. 673 were arrested. Since World Press Freedom Day started in 1993, 692 journalists have been killed. I would bet most people can't even name one of them, yet everyone knows who Perez Hilton is.

More information:

To borrow from Obama borrowing from Thomas Jefferson ...

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Happy World Press Freedom Day.


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