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Bush

While Americans eagerly vote for the next president, here’s a sobering reminder: As of Tuesday, George W. Bush still has 77 days left in the White House — and he’s not wasting a minute.

President Bush’s aides have been scrambling to change rules and regulations on the environment, civil liberties and abortion rights, among others — few for the good. Most presidents put on a last-minute policy stamp, but in Mr. Bush’s case it is more like a wrecking ball. We fear it could take months, or years, for the next president to identify and then undo all of the damage.

Here is a look — by no means comprehensive — at some of Mr. Bush’s recent parting gifts and those we fear are yet to come.

CIVIL LIBERTIES We don’t know all of the ways that the administration has violated Americans’ rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Last month, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

Agents will be allowed to use informants to infiltrate lawful groups, engage in prolonged physical surveillance and lie about their identity while questioning a subject’s neighbors, relatives, co-workers and friends. The changes also give the F.B.I. — which has a long history of spying on civil rights groups and others — expanded latitude to use these techniques on people identified by racial, ethnic and religious background.

The administration showed further disdain for Americans’ privacy rights and for Congress’s power by making clear that it will ignore a provision in the legislation that established the Department of Homeland Security. The law requires the department’s privacy officer to account annually for any activity that could affect Americans’ privacy — and clearly stipulates that the report cannot be edited by any other officials at the department or the White House.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has now released a memo asserting that the law “does not prohibit” officials from homeland security or the White House from reviewing the report. The memo then argues that since the law allows the officials to review the report, it would be unconstitutional to stop them from changing it. George Orwell couldn’t have done better.

THE ENVIRONMENT The administration has been especially busy weakening regulations that promote clean air and clean water and protect endangered species.

Mr. Bush, or more to the point, Vice President Dick Cheney, came to office determined to dismantle Bill Clinton’s environmental legacy, undo decades of environmental law and keep their friends in industry happy. They have had less success than we feared, but only because of the determined opposition of environmental groups, courageous members of Congress and protests from citizens. But the White House keeps trying.

Mr. Bush’s secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, has recently carved out significant exceptions to regulations requiring expert scientific review of any federal project that might harm endangered or threatened species (one consequence will be to relieve the agency of the need to assess the impact of global warming on at-risk species). The department also is rushing to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list — again. The wolves were re-listed after a federal judge ruled the government had not lived up to its own recovery plan.

In coming weeks, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule that would weaken a program created by the Clean Air Act, which requires utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants to produce more power. The agency is also expected to issue a final rule that would make it easier for coal-fired power plants to locate near national parks in defiance of longstanding Congressional mandates to protect air quality in areas of special natural or recreational value.

Interior also is awaiting E.P.A.’s concurrence on a proposal that would make it easier for mining companies to dump toxic mine wastes in valleys and streams.

And while no rules changes are at issue, the interior department also has been rushing to open up millions of acres of pristine federal land to oil and gas exploration. We fear that, in coming weeks, Mr. Kempthorne will open up even more acreage to the commercial development of oil shale, a hugely expensive and environmentally risky process that even the oil companies seem in no hurry to begin. He should not.

 Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.

Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.

The administration has taken other disturbing steps in recent weeks. In late September, the I.R.S. restored tax breaks for banks that take big losses on bad loans inherited through acquisitions. Now we learn that JPMorgan Chase and others are planning to use their bailout funds for mergers and acquisitions, transactions that will be greatly enhanced by the new tax subsidy.

One last-minute change Mr. Bush won’t be making: He apparently has decided not to shut down the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the most shameful symbol of his administration’s disdain for the rule of law.

Mr. Bush has said it should be closed, and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and his secretary of defense, Robert Gates, pushed for it. Proposals were prepared, including a plan for sending the real bad guys to other countries for trial. But Mr. Cheney objected, and the president has refused even to review the memos. He will hand this mess off to his successor.

We suppose there is some good news in all of this. While Mr. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, he has only until Nov. 20 to issue “economically significant” rule changes and until Dec. 20 to issue other changes. Anything after that is merely a draft and can be easily withdrawn by the next president.

Unfortunately, the White House is well aware of those deadlines.

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2008 Presidential Candidate Comparison

Here’s a look at the candidates’ positions on several key issues. For more information, visit www.nea.org/educationvotes

Click to Enlarge

US FEMINIST KATHA POLLITT ON SARAH PALIN

‘Gender Alone Is Not Enough’

Activist and poet Katha Pollitt talks to SPIEGEL about the American women’s movement, her support for Barack Obama and the politics of the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Pollitt, there used to be a joke in the women’s movement that equality would be achieved if a mediocre woman could have the same kind of career as a mediocre man. That’s the case now with Sarah Palin. Are you satisfied?

Pollitt: No! Sarah Palin wasn’t just picked because she is a woman, or because of her mediocrity. She is a fanatical opponent of abortion, and picking her is an attempt to get the evangelical Christian voters — who they have been tepid about McCain — into his camp. They might have voted for him anyway, but they might not have volunteered and donated and energized their friends and neighbors. That is different now because of Palin.

SPIEGEL: What excites people about Sarah Palin?

Pollitt: They feel that she is likeable. They can relate to her because she seems ordinary, warm, enthusiastic. If Sarah Palin was my neighbor, I might like her too — but as a potential President? It’s shocking to me that people would vote for someone because they think he or she is “like me.” Oh, Sarah Palin is a mom, I am a mom, so I will vote for her. That is irresponsible.

SPIEGEL: But with George W. Bush, Americans also voted for the guy that a lot of people would like to have a beer with.

Pollitt: Yes, and one would think that the past eight years have taught people that maybe it’s not a very good idea.

SPIEGEL: For the first time in American history, both parties have had viable female contenders in their Presidential campaigns — Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Sarah Palin is now running for Vice President. Does that represent progress for women?

Pollitt: I can answer that in two very different ways. In some long-view world historical sense, I could say: We might look back in 500 years and realize that 2008 was the year that women began to come into their own in American politics. But right now I see it a little differently. Hillary Clinton was a candidate who represented a certain liberal feminism. If she had become president, our abortion rights would have been safe. Clinton would have made sure that the anti-discrimination laws were enforced, and she would have financed a lot of programs that are good for women.

SPIEGEL: What about Sarah Palin?

Pollitt: With her, we would get the opposite. Other than in terms of her “girls can do anything” image, I don’t see that her political goals will do female voters any good.

SPIEGEL: Sometimes even female politicians who don’t consider themselves feminists can provide a positive influence: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a role model for many younger women who showed that women can wield power successfully.

Pollitt: Margaret Thatcher never said, “Vote for me because I am a wife and mother.” On the contrary, she didn’t present herself as relatable at all: She was the iron lady. Thatcher never made anything of her looks, she made very few concessions to conventional notions of femininity. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is all about those notions. She represents a very old image for America, the tough but beautiful frontier woman with a gun in one and and a baby in the other.

SPIEGEL: Still, Republicans are hoping to use Sarah Palin to attract female voters who were carrying Hillary Clinton’s torch …

Pollitt: I don’t think there are so many of these women, and I have looked pretty hard for them. You have a small group of Hillary fans who are extremely vocal. They really believe that Hillary Clinton was robbed of a nomination that was rightfully hers. These women have a whole narrative that puts the blame for Hillary’s loss on some combination of party skullduggery and media sexism. But most female Palin voters will be conservative white women who haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the race so far, and who identify with Palin. But they would have voted Republican anyway, if they had voted at all.

SPIEGEL: Well, did Hillary Clinton lose because of media sexism?

Pollitt: No, she made crucial mistakes in her campaign, and she bears responsibility for that. Still, one has to acknowledge that she had to face incredible sexism in public discourse. Jokes were made about her voice, and about her laugh, which was described as a “cackle.” There was a nutcracker in the shape of Hillary that crushed walnuts between its steely thighs, which was good for many a laugh. And when her eyes misted up for a moment on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, there were comments about whether she was fit to be commander in chief. They would never ask that about a man! You have to say that male fear of female power was very much on view with Hillary.

SPIEGEL: What about Sarah Palin?

Pollitt: There is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the Republican party right now as far as their relationship to women is concerned. They complain constantly about the sexism that they had claimed didn’t exist where Hillary was concerned. Before John McCain chose Sarah Palin, a journalist friend of mine said he would never choose a woman — sexism is too deep in the Republican Party DNA. But he did pick her, so now we have seen that even the Republicans who are quite anti-feminist, can encompass having a woman in quite a powerful political position. But it was a strategic nomination which passed over many more qualified women, like the Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who happen to be pro-choice.

SPIEGEL: Hillary Clinton is two years your senior, and you both belong to the first generation of American women who were raised with feminist ideas. How has the women’s movement shaped American society?

Pollitt: It has changed the country very profoundly. When I went to Harvard in 1967, there was a five-percent quota on women in medical and law schools, there were ads in the newspapers, “jobs for men” and “jobs for women,” a married woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name, there were states where a woman had to take her husband’s name, and for an unmarried woman it was very difficult to get birth control. Abortion was illegal — hundreds of women were killed or injured every year in back-alley or self-induced procedures. In just a few years, the women’s movement dismantled a whole legal structure of inequality, and, equally important, challenged the social practices and cultural assumptions behind those laws. It was an amazing historical moment.

SPIEGEL: How did you profit from it?

Pollitt: When I was a freshman, I saw the seniors get ready for their weddings. They would graduate, and then their weddings would be the next week. They had no moment to enjoy their freedom, to find out who they really were, to travel, and to learn to manage their own affairs. It was a lockstep life: college, marriage, kids …

SPIEGEL: … depression, divorce.

Pollitt: Exactly! All that had changed by the time I graduated four years later. Only a few of my classmates got married right away — instead, they went to medical school or law school or graduate school, they became activists or writers, like me. The lesbians came out of the closet. The women’s movement gave a lot of women — and men, too — the freedom to lead a different kind of life from their parents, to ask themselves, “What do I want to do with my life?” Feminism created a new normal.

Women Against McCain-Palin have released this short, emotionally blunt advertisement in which a young woman relates how Sarah Palin’s policies could have played out in her life, to her detriment.

    “I was raped, and then I got pregnant. Sarah Palin believes the government should be able to force me to carry the pregnancy to term. Sarah Palin believes that the government should make that choice. Not me. Governor Palin, I didn’t have a choice about being raped. But I should have a choice about this.”

It’s a fitting reminder of how McCain and Palin would extend the intrusive hand of government into affairs in which it should hold no sway. I’d also remind you that McCain thinks that the those who are concerned about the health and well-being of women are “extreme.” I’d remind you that when McCain and Palin disclosed Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy, they took pains to state that Bristol “made the decision on her own to keep the baby,” which makes no sense, since they do not in any way acknowledge that Bristol’s choice in the matter, matters. I’d remind you that Sarah Palin believes that rape victims should bear the cost of investigating their own cases. And I’d remind you that when asked to consider what a rape victim should do, given Sarah Palin’s antipathy to her plight, a die-hard McCain/Palin supporter said, “She should die.” All of these things are worth remembering.

Source: HP