In Human Rights News: Budget Deal, Medicaid, Reproductive Rights, and More

In Human Rights News: December 7 -13, 2013

In this week’s Human Rights News we find issues related to the national budget, banking reform, big money in politics, gun violence, healthcare, reproductive rights, sexual rights, militarization of the police, and nuclear disarmament.

MIXED OPINIONS ON BUDGET DEAL. The House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Tuesday on a deal that they promise will end the partisan gridlock in the budget wars. The reaction to the deal has varied widely among progressive news sources. Imara Jones of Colorlines calls the deal “the best budget news to come out of Washington in three years” for the working poor and historically marginalized, while E.J. Dionne Jr. of Truth Dig calls the deal inadequate, parsimonious, and very conservative. The deal raises the federal budget for 2014 by $85 billion which will be equally divided between defense and non-defense areas of the budget, restoring some badly needed funding to social programs. However, the budget fails to extend unemployment benefits and leaves little room for new projects to fight rising inequality and declining upward mobility. Read more about the budget deal here at Colorlines and here at Truth Dig.

BANKING REFORM. Also on Tuesday, federal regulatory agencies passed the Volker Rule, an important financial reform designed to prevent banks from taking high-risk bets for their own profit, a practice known as proprietary trading. The ruling specifically targets big banks that are granted deposit insurance by the federal government. Banks lost roughly $230 billion in proprietary trading during the first year of the financial crisis, and taxpayers paid heavily for the bailouts needed to keep the banks in business. “Today’s finalization of the Volker Rule ban on proprietary trading is a major defeat for Wall Street and a direct attack on the high-risk ‘quick-buck’ culture of Wall Street,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of the non-profit organization Better Markets. However, while the rule might be a step toward returning stability to the financial system, the rule’s effectiveness will depend largely on how strongly regulators implement and enforce it. Read more at The Nation.

OP-ED: “THE GREAT AMERICAN CLASS WAR.” Bill Moyers published a piece on TomDispatch this week about the threats to democracy posed by big money in politics, voter suppression, and the widening gap between the rich and poor. He cites the historian Plutarch who wrote about how money came to determine elections in Rome before its fall, a process that spread to the courts and army until “the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.” We do not yet have emperors, writes Moyers, but our government is controlled by people who cater particularly to those with the funds to finance their campaigns. While approximately 46 percent of Americans live at or below the poverty line, the financial class is making record profits and spending lavishly on campaigns to elect politicians who will serve its own interests. Read the full article at Tom Dispatch.

GUN RESTRICTIONS ARE EVEN LOOSER A YEAR AFTER SANDY HOOK. Last Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Nearly every state has passed at least one new gun law in the past year, according to a database constructed by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Only 39 of the new laws tighten gun restrictions whereas 70 of the laws loosen them. The New York Times put together an interactive graphic (found here), which shows that Democrat-controlled states are largely responsible for the restrictive laws while Republican-controlled states are mostly responsible for the laws loosening gun restrictions. Scott Martelle of Truth Dig writes than many of the laws relaxing restrictions “seem to have been spawned by sheer lunacy.” For example, it is now legal in Arkansas for a pregnant woman to shoot to kill if she feels that her fetus is threatened. In Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina, it is now legal to carry concealed weapons into bars. Finally, nine of the bills passed relax the restrictions on guns in schools. Read the full article at Truth Dig. Mother Jones analyzed gun-related child deaths reported in the media over the last year and found that at least 194 children under the age of 12 have been killed in gun-related accidents or homicides since the Newtown shooting. Read more at Mother Jones.

STATES REFUSING MEDICAID EXPANSION WILL FORGO BILLIONS IN FEDERAL FUNDS. There are 20 states, mostly in the south, that are still refusing to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act. The Commonwealth Fund, a health policy think tank, has calculated that these states stand to lose out on billions of dollars in federal funds, although the residents will still pay to help cover the cost of expansions in other states. “No state that declines to expand the program is going to be fiscally better off because of it,” said Sherry Giled, co-author of the study. “Their tax dollars will be used to support a program from which nobody in their state will benefit.” Human rights advocates are running campaigns to get states that have declined the expansion to reconsider. In North Carolina, Moral Monday activists are calling on Governor Pat McCroy (R) to hold a “Special Redemption Session” of the legislature to revisit the Medicaid expansion. Click here to sign an open letter to the governor or read more at Facing South.

MICHIGAN PASSES EXTREME ANTI-CHOICE LAW. Michigan’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law on Wednesday that will prohibit all public and private insurance plans in the state from providing abortion coverage. The measure will force women and employers to buy a separate policy, which must be purchased prior to becoming pregnant, to cover abortion care, even in cases of rape and incest. The state has vetoed an identical bill twice before, but this time it was introduced through a rarely-used initiative process that does not require Governor Rick Snyder’s signature. Snyder, a self-proclaimed pro-life Republican, previously said that the bill went “too far” and that he does not “believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage.” Reproductive rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers have condemned the new law. “This tells women who were raped. . . that they should have thought ahead and planned for it,” said state Senate Leader Gretchen Whitmer. “Make no mistake, this is anything but a citizens’ initiative. It’s a special interest group’s perverted dream come true.” Democratic state legislatures have called for the law to be repealed immediately. Read more at Salon.

THE FIGHT AGAINST AIDS IN LOUISIANA THWARTED BY STATE POLICIES. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Wednesday that charges Louisiana state policies and police intimidation of sex workers with contributing to the spread of HIV and AIDS. The state’s death rate from AIDS is almost twice the national average and New Orleans has the second highest incidence of new HIV infections in the country. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Megan McLemore, a senior health research director at HRW said that state officials forbid access to sterile syringes and criminalize sex work. Whereas many other police departments in the U.S. have stopped the harmful practice of seizing condoms from sex workers, the New Orleans Police Department uses condoms as grounds for arrest. About one third of the people surveyed in the HRW report (all of whom said they had exchanged sex for food, drugs, or money) said that their fear of getting arrested for carrying condoms resulted in unprotected sex. Furthermore, the report found that incarceration heavily influences the state’s HIV rate. Tela Love, a transgender woman and former sex worker told Al Jazeera that while a person can enter jail HIV-free, “when she come out of jail she probably won’t be. . . And then she’s intimidated and afraid to use condoms.” Read more at Al Jazeera.

OP-ED: “THE CRIMINALIZATION OF EVERYDAY LIFE.” In an article published this week on TomDispatch, Chase Madar discusses the militarization of police in the United States and the generally disastrous results that come from dealing with problems by “throwing cops at them.” It begins in schools, where acts that were recently seen as normal childhood misbehavior (e.g., drooling on a desk, disrupting class, a kindergartner’s tantrum) are increasingly treated as criminal offenses. Criminalization of immigration has been on the rise for the last decade: criminal prosecutions of immigrants for illegally entering the country have soared from 3,000 in 2002 to 48,000 last year. Madar covers several aspects of life that have been infiltrated by the police including travel, work, sex, and the digital world. He also points out that Americans are not treated equally by the police. Law enforcement targets kids more than adults, the queer more than straight, Muslims more the Methodists, antiwar activists more than the apolitical, the poor more than the wealthy, and African Americans and Latinos more than white people. Read the full article at TomDispatch.

NUN AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST IN PRISON FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. Sister Megan Rice is an 83-year-old nun who has devoted her life to ending nuclear proliferation. She faces a possible 30-year prison sentence on charges of tampering with national security and damaging federal property. Last year in July, Rice and two other activists hiked to the Y-12 National Security Complex, a nuclear facility that once provided enriched uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, bypassed their security, and proceeded to splash blood on the walls and hang banners. Now she is incarcerated in Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center and spends her time reading and writing letters to her supporters and educating fellow detainees on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the connections between excessive military spending and the poverty she believes has led to the incarceration of so many young women. She criticizes the U.S. government for not investing more in social services for the underclass and connects nuclear weapons to the prison-industrial complex. She is scheduled to be sentenced on January 28. Read more at Al Jazeera.

in human rights news, budget, banking reform, Bill Moyers, TomDispatch, Chase Madar, Sandy Hook, gun violence, rape, Michigan, Medicaid expansion, AIDS, Louisiana