Monthly Archives: January 2010

Philadelphia and Chicago Call for Immigration Reform

Two major cities, Chicago and Philadelphia, swung their weight behind comprehensive immigration reform this week.

In the aptly-nicknamed “City of Brotherly Love,” the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution telling Congress not to head for the hills on comprehensive immigration reform. Of course, Philly has a strong record on immigration issues, perhaps because immigrants have done so much to pick up what was a seriously flagging economy. Last year, the City Council urged support for the DREAM Act, to help students brought to the United States as children establish a secure residency. And Mayor Michael Nutter encouraged undocumented immigrants to help keep the city streets safe and report crimes to police by broadcasting a policy that city employees wouldn’t ask questions about immigration status. Ah, Philadelphia, what a fine tradition you have — you saw the Declaration of Independence signed, are home to the Liberty Bell, and support a just immigration system.

Sadly, there’s a blemish on their shining pro-immigration reform stance: Rep. Patrict Murphy (D-PA), one of the Blue Dog Democrats, signed on to a bill recently introduced in the House that would deny undocumented immigrants any means of embarking on a path to legalization. Local immigrant rights groups and working to bring Murphy on board with the City Council and the mayor.

Meanwhile, the Cook County Board — which includes Chicago, IL, in its jurisdiction — also called for “just and humane” immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Illinois is also home to six of the House Representatives co-sponsoring CIR ASAP, including the head honcho on this bill himself, Luis Gutierrez. Thanks to the Windy City for not leaving immigrants out in the cold!

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The Super Bowl: A Call for Tolerance and Fairness, Not Censorship

With all the hubbub lately over Focus on the Family’s Tim Tebow commercial, set to air during the Super Bowl, the Grey Lady has decided to weigh in on the advertisement in an editorial today.

The New York Times objects to women’s rights groups that have pushed for the ad to be removed from the air as pushing censorship. There’s merit to the advice that reproductive rights supporters take this commercial from the rabidly anti-choice Focus on Family and treat it as evidence that a woman deserves to make this decision herself (Amanda Marcotte makes a similar argument at RH Reality Check regarding the hypocrisy of groups trying to turn back Roe v. Wade celebrating a woman’s choice). Hey, I’m thrilled to hear that we were mistaken, that this is not an anti-choice, but rather a pro-life and pro-choice ad, and Focus on the Family and the right-wing have had a sudden change of heart and now support a woman’s fundamental right to choose! And I intend to hold them to this support for a woman’s right to choose in the future. I guess we can go ahead and take those abortion restrictions out of the health care bill now? What, still no?

However, the Times leaves out a massive chunk of the story. Namely, while applauding CBS for changing its no-advocacy ads policy, the Times fails to mention that the network only claimed to have changed its policy conveniently after accepting the Focus on the Family ad. In the past, it has rejected an LGBT-friendly, pro-religious diversity commercial from the welcoming United Church of Christ (UCC) due to this policy. Thus, our petition on Change.org, which has garnered almost 4,000 signatures co-running on the Gay Rights and Women’s Rights blogs, doesn’t call for “censorship.” It tells CBS not to use double standards to favor anti-choice, homophobic organizations — that it should either uphold its no-advocacy policy and reject Focus on the Family, or it should offer the UCC another chance to air their ad.

For those who are interested, here is the very progressive, hardly controversial UCC ad that was rejected:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXCzzNoMeNs&w=618&h=300]

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Bill Seeks to Deprive Undocumented Students of In-State Tuition

Anti-immigrant forces aren’t confining themselves to the state-by-state approach in hiking up tuition prices for undocumented immigrant students — a new bill has been introduced in the House that would bar universities from providing in-state tuition rates to these seekers of higher learning.

Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) introduced what they’ve dubbed the “Fairness to American Students Act” with support from hate group FAIR and law professor Kris Kobach, who recently lost a court attempt to overturn in-state tuition in his and Tiahrt’s fair state of Kansas. Kobach recently decided to try the court-based approach again in Nebraska, but it seems that anti-immigrant forces are trying to get their bases covered by fighting the nativist fight on a number of fronts.

The bill would deprive states of the ability to make their own decision to provide in-state tuition based on factors other than being a U.S. citizen who resides in-state. The alternative requirements, usually along the lines of having attending high school in-state, actually helps more students who are American citizens or legal residents — for instance, students whose parents move out-of-state after high school, which can suddenly make their plan to attend public state college unaffordable.

Of course, the bill is couched in terms of helping low-income American citizens and legal residents find college affordable. And yes, it’s a serious problem that state universities, which are supposed to provide a quality education to those who can’t afford the cost of private higher education, are outside many students budgets. But the problem in Nebraska, where Kobach is focusing his current court case, isn’t the mere 43 undocumented students who receive in-state tuition. Trying to deprive them of the ability to continue their education is more mean-spirited nativism than anything else.

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Halliburton/KBR Attacks Employee Gang-Raped On Their Watch

How is being gang-raped by colleagues a legitimate “distinct risk” of working for a defense contractor?

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, the Halliburton/KBR employee who was drugged, gang-raped, and abused by her coworkers while in Iraq, and then locked in a shipping container and threatened by the company in an attempt to zip her mouth shut. KBR’s rape-permissive environment left the men so confident that they wouldn’t be punished, one didn’t even bother leaving and was still in Jones’ room when she awoke, mutilated and violated.

To cover their asses, KBR alleged that Jones could not sue her employer for a gross disregard for her safety due to the terms of her contract requiring private arbitration. So she sued to be allowed to sue. And the courts ruled that Jones is free to sue away — the arbitration provision only covers legitimate work-related issues, and being gang-raped by colleagues was definitely not a distinct risk of her employment. In a little more finger-wagging, the courts pointed out that if KBR had actually considered this a distinct risk, they would have given Jones the private, women-only sleeping quarters she requested.

Now, KBR is headed to the Supreme Court to get this ruling overturned. And their awesome new tactic is to attack Jones’ credibility, calling her a liar and self-promoter who “sensationalize[d] her allegations … in the media, before the courts, and before Congress.” Seriously, how dare she tell Congress on them? Clearly KBR is smarting from Al Franken’s amendment penalizing companies that keep sexual assault victims from pursuing their claims in court.

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Tiller’s Killer Found Guilty of Murder, Cites Pat Robertson as Inspiration

And, that’s a wrap.

After 37 minutes of deliberation, jurors returned a guilty verdict for first-degree murder in the trial of Scott Roeder, who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller in his church last year. The verdict was hardly surprising — once the judge had ruled that Roeder could not, after all, present a voluntary manslaughter defense, the killer’s matter-of-fact confession made it difficult to see him as anything but guilty. Roeder even discussed his other plots for killing or debilitating Tiller, like chopping off his hands with a sword, and expressed no remorse for his actions. (And yet, the New York Times reports, some anti-choicers don’t believe Roeder received a fair trial.)

Roeder’s testimony also brought up the issue of where the motivation to kill a doctor who provides abortions comes from. He revealed that his true acceptance of “Christianity” and the evil of abortion came during Rev. Pat Robertson’s television show, “The 700 Club.” Robertson’s brand of Christianity, however, is based on demonization of opponents; the New Yorker points out that “Pat Robertson has attributed any manner of slaughter or scourge — September 11th, Hurricane Katrina — to abortionists.” His website teaches that “abortion is murder.” In recent infamy, he blamed the earthquake in Haiti on “a pact with the Devil.”

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Are Public Universities Out of Your Price Range?

Students are supposed to be able to turn to public universities to get a good education at a reasonable price.

But, as Megan points out on the U.S. Poverty blog, many qualified students are denied the chance to even attend a public institution due to the expense. A new study out of the Education Trust, “Opportunity Adrift: Our Flagship Universities Are Straying From Their Public Mission,” reports on the problems that have priced quality low-income students out of the system.

In an effort to boost their national rankings, many public universities are enticing relatively well-off students to their campuses with merit scholarships, meaning there’s less money in the pot for low-income students that don’t have any other choices.

On the other hand, student often find that it’s easier to afford a private college than a public one. Of course, writing a check for $50,000 a year for private college is outside the price range of the majority of Americans. But, more and more, private universities are basing financial aid on need-only, rather than trying to recruit through merit scholarships — if you can get into the school, they’ll give what you need, and only what you need. Another positive step has been the introduction of need-blind admissions.

However, this isn’t an adequate solution. Especially when the economy is hit and endowments shrink, private colleges pull back on their financial aid packages. We shouldn’t be relying on them to do the job that public universities are meant to. Any student prepared and willing to go to college should have that opportunity. And investing in higher education should definitely be a government priority, since that will train young people to make bigger and better contributions to the economy.

Photo credit: Photos8.com

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Is the Anti-Choice Tim Tebow Super Bowl Ad a Lie?

There’s been a flurry of attention surrounding CBS’ decision to run an anti-choice Super Bowl advertisement featuring Tim Tebow from the notorious right-wing group Focus on the Family. In the newest twist, the Center for Reproductive Rights asks: is the Tebows’ story a big fat lie?

Pam Tebow, Tim’s mother, claims in the controversial planned ad that she chose not to have an abortion while in the Philippines, against medical advice. But does this story hold water? The Center for Reproductive Rights sent a letter to CBS pointing out that abortion in the Philippines has been criminalized since 1870, punishable by imprisonment of the woman and her doctor — no exceptions. While a report from the United Nations indicates that a woman might be able to claim self-defense and get permission from a panel of medical professionals if her life is endanger, the criminal code on abortion does not list threat to the health or life of the mother as grounds for an exception. Women who need abortions turn to illegal procedures which kill many and leave far more with severe health problems.

Thus, Pam Tebow’s allegation that she chose not to have an abortion against the counseling of her doctor doesn’t seem to square with the facts. As Amanda Marcotte points out on Pandagon, “if women like Pam Tebow don’t have a choice, they don’t get to be heroes. Just victims.” And lucky that, in her case, the abortion ban didn’t cost Pam her life.

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77 Cents on the Dollar Is Not Enough

Seems like we still can’t get the concept of equal work, equal pay down.

A year ago today, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. While this was an important step for restoring women’s protections against pay discrimination, it’s not enough. We still need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which tripped through the House alongside the Fair Pay Act, then got stuck in the Senate.

As Roxann has posted previously, “Ledbetter gave women the ability to challenge discrimination; the next logical step was to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law designed to prevent it from happening in the first place.” The Paycheck Fairness Act would put the onus on employers to demonstrate that any significant wage gaps were based on factors unrelated to sex, which could make significant inroads toward narrowing the 33 cent gap on the dollar between what men and women are paid.

The bill further requires courts to provide the same remedies for sex discrimination as they would for workers cheated out of a fair wage due to race or national original. And it lets employers know that taking revenge against an employee (or, in their mindset, “rabble-rouser”) who makes wage inquiries to hold them accountable for paying everybody what they deserve.

No doubt this concept of equal pay for equal work is still seen a very controversial in the (very male) Senate. And it doesn’t help that the Supreme Court just last week gave corporations free reign to buy as many politicians as they can afford. Well, tough. Send your senator a message that you’re the one who votes him in or out, and you want paycheck fairness now.

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Cheating NYC Workers Out of the Pay They Earn

A just-released study out of the National Employment Law Project finds gross violations of minimum wage and other labor laws in New York City, with immigrant populations particularly vulnerable to abuse. Their disturbing findings reveal that a solid majority of low-wage workers suffer from some kind of wage theft.

The report, “Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City,” found that 21% of low wage workers were paid less than the legal (already low) minimum. This breaks down into violations for 11% of U.S.-born workers, 21% of authorized immigrants, and 35% of undocumented immigrants. Latino workers had the highest rates of wage abuse, with women being taken advantage of slightly more often than men.

While these numbers for employer abuse of minimum wage for both U.S.-born and immigrant workers are disturbing, violation rates for other aspects of labor law are much higher. The reports finds that documented immigrants in NYC had a 78% overtime violation rate; for U.S.-born citizens it was slightly less, but still high, at 63%, and for undocumented immigrants overtime violations were up at a full 92%. Employers also took advantage of immigrants who spoke English poorly 89% of the time, compared to 68% for more fluent speakers. The statistics for being made to work off-the-clock and for having mandatory meal breaks infringed upon were at comparably high levels.

Overall, this wage theft amounts to 15% of what workers should have earned, or about $3000 of a meager $20,000 a year per worker. In sum, taking into consideration the more than 300,000 workers who have suffered pay violations in NYC, employers are stealing — and enjoying themselves — over $18 million per week, or about $1 billion per year. This hurts the entire community by depriving workers of the consumer purchasing power that best stimulates the economy.

While this study focused on NYC, wage abuses against low-income workers occur across the country. A 2009 report, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” looked at labor law violations in cities around the nation.

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Tiller’s Killer Will Be Tried for Murder

Update: after 37 minutes, the jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Scott Roeder.

Reproductive rights advocates and doctors who provide abortions can breathe a collective sigh of relief: Scott Roeder, Dr. George Tiller’s confessed killer, will be tried for murder.

Tiller was murdered in cold blood in his church last year by Roeder, an anti-choice fanatic who opposed his provision of legal late-term abortions to women. Roeder was quickly arrested and confessed to the crime, so it seemed like a simple case of murder.

However, the judge threw everyone for a loop earlier this month when he said he would be willing to entertain a “voluntary manslaughter” argument, which could result in a sentence of as little as five years prison time. Many reproductive rights advocates worried that such a ruling would in effect declare “open season on doctors.” Prosecutors warned that “this line of thinking would allow anyone to commit premeditated murder, but only be guilty of manslaughter, simply because the victim holds a different set of moral and political beliefs than the attacker.”

But today, after Scott Roeder testified on the stand (during which he revealed that he’d considered using a sword to chop off Tiller’s hands), the judge informed the jury that they could not consider the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He said, “There is no immediate danger in the back of a church,” which would render Tiller an imminent threat, and his practice of performing late-term abortions was legal. A second-degree murder charge is also out of the question, because the killing was most definitely pre-meditated.

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