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10/30/2013 - Outrage Over Kenya Rape Grows
People around the world are calling for justice for a 16-year-old Kenyan girl who was brutally beaten, gang-raped, and thrown into a 20-foot latrine by six men in June.
The girl, whom media outlets are calling "Liz," was walking home from her grandfather's funeral in Kenya's northwestern county of Busia when the men attacked her. The attack caused severe spinal cord injuries and fistula, leaving her reliant on a wheelchair to get around and unable to control her bowels.
Liz was found crawling out of the latrine and crying for help by villagers nearby. She knew some of the attackers, so she gave the people helping her their names. They then chased three of the men down and took them to the local police station. There, police ordered the men to to cut grass as their only punishment; the men were then let go--even though under Kenya's Sexual Offences Act they should receive no less than 15 years in prison. In addition, Liz's mother was told to clean her off, destroying potential forensic evidence.
In a statement, the Kenya Coalition on Violence Against Women called the situation "yet another example of blatant impunity and repeated noncompliance by the police and other government authorities. Rape and other gender crimes have consistently been treated as lesser crimes--this is unacceptable."
The attack came to the world's attention thanks to Jared Momanyi, the director of a Kenyan clinic that specializes in treating victims of sexual violence. He was so outraged when Liz's case was referred to him that he called a reporter at the Daily Nation in Nairobi. He said of this case, "This was an attempted murder and it's not an isolated case; it's one among many."
Since then, 4,000 pounds has been raised to pay for an operation to repair Liz's internal injuries, and the global campaigning network Avaaz launched an online petition calling for immediate arrest and prosecution of the rapists and disciplinary action for the police officers. It currently has over 1,270,000 signatures, and that number grows every second. The director of public prosecutions in Kenya has ordered the national police to investigate why the local force did not investigate the rape, but so far there have been no updates.
"My wish is to see justice done," Liz said.
Domestic violence survivors, advocates, and members of Congress will convene today in Washington, DC to mark the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to urge passage of federal gun reform laws to protect domestic violence victims. They are calling especially for background checks for all gun sales.
For many victims of domestic violence, whether their abusive partner has a gun or not is a question of life or death. There is a five-fold increase in the risk of women being murdered by an intimate partner when that partner owns a firearm [see PDF]. In states that require background checks for all sales of handguns, 38 percent fewer women are murdered by intimate partners.
Even more women could be protected if loopholes in background check laws were closed. Abusers can easily avoid background checks by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers at gun shows or online. Efforts to close those loopholes have been unsuccessful. In April, the national gun lobby defeated bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks.
The Supreme Court will soon consider the scope of a federal law that bans people who have been convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.
Just one day before restrictive abortion laws in Texas were to take effect, a federal district court struck down a provision of the law that would require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and ruled that restrictions on medication abortion could not be enforced in certain circumstances.
Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional after finding that the provision had no rational relationship to improving patient care, treatment, or outcomes [see PDF]. The court also found that the requirement would force abortion clinics to close as the majority of providers do not have admitting privileges and would, for a variety of reasons, be unlikely to get them. As a result, the provision would place an undue burden on women seeking abortion services in Texas.
The court also considered the law's restrictions on medication abortion, which would force physicians to follow the FDA protocol on the use, dosage, and administration of mifepristone. The court found that the FDA protocol, written in 2000, no longer represents the medical standard of care for abortion providers, and that physicians have developed a new standard - endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - that requires a significantly lower dosage of mifepristone [see PDF]. This new standard of care, the "off-label" protocol, also allows medication abortion to be used "safely and reliably" up to 63 days following a woman's last menstrual period (LMP), versus the FDA protocol which limits medication abortion to 49 days LMP.
Although finding that the new off-label protocol is safe, effective, and more comfortable for women, the court determined that "individuals do not have a constitutional right to a preferred medical option, so long as a safe, medically accepted, and actual alternative exists" - in this case, surgical abortion.
But, Judge Yeakel also found that surgical abortion is not a medically sound option for certain women who are between 50-63 days LMP. For these women, the Texas law would be an undue burden on their ability to obtain an abortion. The court therefore ruled that the medication abortion restrictions were unconstitutional "to the extent those provisions prohibit a medication abortion where a physician determined in appropriate medical judgment, such a procedure is necessary for the preservation of the life or health of the mother," meaning that the law cannot be enforced in these situations.
"Today's decision has averted a catastrophic health crisis for women across the state of Texas," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Politicians, not doctors, pushed for both of these unconstitutional restrictions - despite the best medical standards for women's health care."
Judge Yeakel was appointed to the federal district court by President George W. Bush in 2003 on the recommendation of Republican Senators Kay Bailey-Hutchison and John Cornyn. He previously served, at the appointment of then-Governor Bush, as a justice on the Texas Third Court of Appeals.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether an Oklahoma law that forces physicians to use the FDA protocol for medication abortions is constitutional. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the law late last year. The Supreme Court has asked the the Oklahoma justices to provide more information on the state law before the case proceeds.
Afghan journalist Najiba Ayubi will be honored with a 2013 Courage in Journalism award at a second awards ceremony hosted today by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in Los Angeles.
Najiba Ayubi is the managing director of The Killid Group in Afghanistan, a public media group made of eight local radio stations and two weekly, national magazines. She also co-founded the Afghan Independent Media Consortium and the Freedom of Expression Initiative to promote free expression in journalism.
During Najiba Ayubi's 25 years as a journalist, she has faced threats from every direction, including from members of Afghanistan's parliament, the country's secret service, warlords, and anonymous aggressors, but she courageously continues reporting on politics, women's rights, and other sensitive issues. "Every time I confront a threat in journalism, I feel some sort of satisfaction in my heart, and I recognize I am doing something very important that I am being threatened for," Ayubi said.
Despite the challenges facing journalists in Afghanistan, Ayubi has said that media has grown in the country. "When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, all journalists, raised their voices and created a new Afghanistan media," she said, "and with the support of the international community Afghanistan media has become as extensive as it is today."
IWMF will also honor Nour Kelze, a photojournalist for Reuters in Syria, and Bopha Phorn, an investigative reporter for The Cambodia Daily, with Courage in Journalism awards. Edna Machirori, the first black female editor of a newspaper in Zimbabwe - considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists - will also be honored with the IWMF annual lifetime achievement award.
You can watch the livestream of the award ceremony here.
A North Carolina GOP activist and county GOP executive committee member resigned after making racist comments in an interview on The Daily Show last week. In the interview, Don Yelton unabashedly makes racist comments and reveals that the true purpose of the state's new voting laws is not protection against voter fraud but voter suppression. A video clip of the interview immediately went viral.
In the interview, Yelton says that the recently enacted voter suppression law is "going to kick the Democrats in the butt," and if the law hurts college kids too "lazy" to get photo IDs or "lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it." He shares more offensive opinions about race for several minutes. Yelton then suggested that although he has been "called a bigot before," he is actually not racist because "one of my best friends is black."
North Carolina's new voter suppression laws reduce the number of early voting days, prohibit same day voter registration, and prevent 16 and 17 year olds from pre-registering. Voters will also be required to show government-issued photo ID at the polls before being allowed to vote, but college and university IDs will not be accepted.
These restrictions on voting significantly constrain the ability of certain groups to vote, including racial minorities, women, and students. According to the Brennan Center for Justice [PDF], 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.
The North Carolina GOP has distanced itself from Yelton, saying in a press release that his comments were inappropriate and that he does not speak for the local or state GOP.
10/28/2013 - Saudi Women Campaign Against Driving Ban
Over 60 women claimed to have driven in Saudi Arabia this weekend in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive. Some 35 women filmed and uploaded videos of themselves driving on Youtube. Although there is no official traffic law that bans women from driving, women are not allowed to get licenses, and the government issued a decree just last week making it illegal for women to drive.
Because of the ban, women must rely on male relatives or drivers to get around. This unjustifiably limits women's mobility and constrains them economically, especially because there is no mass transit system in Saudi Arabia. Women need to drive to get to schools and jobs, making this an economic issue as well as a human rights one.
The freedom to drive is an important part of the right to mobility, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive. This prohibition directly conflicts with the commitments the Kingdom has made to protect the human rights of Saudi women, including those in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
This is the 3rd of this kind of campaign since 1989, and it has been the most successful effort so far. Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she drove on Saturday. "I'm very proud," she said. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign."
The campaign went ahead despite some obstacles. Several prominent women leaders received phone calls last week from the Interior Ministry warning them not to drive Saturday. One woman, Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Yousser, also had two "suspicious cars" following her for the whole day. Roadblocks were set up in Riyadh and police checked cars to make sure that women were not driving.
Some news outlets report that there were no arrests, but a few women have come forward to say they were stopped and held briefly. In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany said she had been taken into detention and was later forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again. Saudi news website sabq.org reports that six women had been stopped for driving in Riyadh.
In Washington, DC, several feminist leaders, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, gathered at the Saudi Embassy to show their support for the women driving.
The World Economic Forum recently released its 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks the US 23rd in women's equality. The Global Gender Gap Index is a framework for depicting gender-based disparities around the world and tracking progress on gender parity by using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria. Each country's ranking is determined by measuring internal gender-based gaps in the ability to access resources and services.
Eighty-six out of 133 countries improved their global gender gap between 2012 and 2013, with women's political participation experiencing the most progress. But according to the report [PDF], although the US is doing well in women's education, the country is still struggling to make major progress in closing the gender gap in politics and economics. The US ranks 60th--below India, China, and Uganda--in terms of political empowerment, which takes into account indicators like the ratio of women to men in congress and ministerial positions. Currently, women only make up 18 percent of Congress, having risen only 1 percent since last year. US women also still struggle with a significant wage gap, making an average of 77 cents to every dollar that men make. African-American women make an average of 64 cents to a man's dollar, and Latina women make 55 cents.
One factor negatively affecting women's economic equality in the US is the lack of mandatory paid maternity leave and other supportive family services. The US is one of only three countries that has no mandated paid maternity leave. In contrast, Pakistan has 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and Canada has 50 weeks. In the US, federal law requires businesses to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but many women can't afford to take time off unpaid.
10/25/2013 - Head of US Global AIDS Program to Step Down
United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby is expected to step down from his position by the end of the year. As the head of the US Global AIDS program, Ambassador Goosby leads the implementation of PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - which funds HIV/AIDS programs around the world.
PEPFAR has supported HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people. Under Goosby's leadership, PEPFAR has created partnerships to support countries' efforts to implement HIV prevention programs and care services and has focused efforts on reaching particularly vulnerable populations.
While PEPFAR has had unprecedented success in fighting HIV/AIDS globally, the problem remains staggering - particularly for women. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
Prevention efforts, however, have been marred by politics and the misguided influence of conservative religious ideologies on science. As reported by Jeanne Clark in the Summer 2013 issue of Ms., despite official guidance supporting comprehensive sex education, PEPFAR continues to be held hostage to abstinence programs, which are not proven to be effective in preventing HIV transmission. Research also shows that integrating HIV counseling and testing into family planning and maternal health services can improve service delivery. Yet, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, and providers receiving PEPFAR money can refuse to offer family planning services. Persistent condom shortages in the global south have also made women more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill have urged that the next leader of PEPFAR must ensure that women's rights are at the center of the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS. They also call on President Obama to appoint a woman in the post. "The majority of people living with AIDS in countries receiving U.S. assistance are women," they write. "Women are critical in the fight against HIV, and must have a place at the decision-making table."
New information released by the United States Department of Education reveals that a record high number of public school students were homeless last year.
Over 1.1 million students enrolled in preschool or K-12 during the 2011-12 school year were homeless, comprising two percent of all public school students. The data (see PDF) shows a 10 percent increase in the number since the previous year, and a 72 percent increase since the recession started in late 2007. North Dakota is the state with the largest increase in its homeless student population, with a 212 percent increase from last year. But overall, California, New York, Texas, and Florida have the highest numbers of homeless students.
At night, 75 percent of these students double up in places with other families, while 15 percent stay in homeless shelters, 6 percent stay in hotels or motels, and 4 percent are unsheltered--meaning they may stay in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers, or abandoned buildings.
Federal investments in children and families significantly help to keep kids out of poverty and at a lower risk for homelessness. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, currently in use by over 47 million Americans, reduced childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million children. Despite these benefits, the House of Representatives recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, totaling a $40 billion loss for the program
"Headlines are filled with indicators that the economy is improving, but the record numbers of homeless students show that children and their families are still feeling the effects of a tough economy," Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions, said in response to the data. "We can protect our homeless children by protecting investments in their housing, education, nutrition, and health in upcoming federal budget debates."
This data does not reveal the full extent of homelessness in the US. It is estimated that around 3.5 million individuals overall experience homelessness in a given year, though exact numbers are hard to come by.
An independent United Nations human rights expert called on the U.S. this month to stop the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.
Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, referenced the Angola Three in his remarks condemning the practice. The Angola Three refers to three inmates sent to solitary confinement in Louisiana's Angola Prison after the killing of a prison guard. Robert King spent 29 years in solitary before he was exonerated and released. Herman Wallace spent more than four decades in solitary before he was granted a new trial and released at age 71. Wallace died shortly thereafter from liver cancer. Albert Woodfox, who maintains his innocence, is still incarcerated.
"The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola Three clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the US penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law," said Mendez.
Mendez has asked to visit U.S. prisons in California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania, but has not been able to schedule the visits, which must be cleared by the U.S. State Department as well as the state governors. Solitary Watch estimates that across the US there are around 80,000 prisoners being held in some form of solitary confinement on any given day. California in particular currently holds around 11,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades (Watch a video here). Prisoners are held for around 22 hours per day in tiny cells with no sunlight. If their stay is prolonged, they may experience many adverse psychological effects, including high rates of self-mutilation and suicide [PDF].
Mendez this week briefed the UN General Assembly's Third Committee--it's main social, humanitarian, and cultural body--that solitary confinement should never be indefinite or prolonged for any person. He also emphasized that under no circumstances should minors, people with mental disability, or pregnant or breastfeeding women be kept in solitary confinement.
In addition to the U.S., Mendez plans to visit several countries to investigate their prison systems, including Mexico, Thailand, and Georgia, among others.
Online marketplace Etsy is currently under fire from activists for allowing a shop, called "FyourT," to sell T-shirts that make light of and encourage rape. One shirt read, "Autumn is perfect for date rape," and another read, "I'm a sensitive guy. I only rape pregnant women."
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) created a petition on Change.org to remove the shirts yesterday afternoon. It has over 5,000 signatures today and continues to gather more.
"What we're really trying to do is striving to change the way Americans think about sexual violence," said Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN. "We've been using social media to encourage our supporters to take a stand against these t-shirts and against sexual violence."
Etsy has removed the shirts, but the shop remains open with other offensive and sexist items.
Facebook is similarly facing criticism for allowing users to post graphic images and videos of violence against women. A video of a woman being beheaded by a man in a mask has recently made the rounds on the social media site. While some people shared it to criticize the violence, others did so to glorify it.
Facebook decided to pull the video only after receiving complaints that they need to do more to protect children and teenage users. It wrote in a press release about some changes it will make to protect users from this kind of content: "When we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence."
However, BBC reports that at the time of their investigation into the matter, there were still other beheading videos on the site without any warnings to viewers. In addition, some people still question why Facebook's policies allow for graphic violence to be shown, but ban images of a woman's "fully exposed breast."
Kansas judge James Beasley heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether to dismiss a protection order that an abortion clinic director filed against anti-abortion extremist Mark Holick.
Julie Burkhart, director of the South Wind Women's Center in Wichita and executive director of Trust Women, an organization dedicated to protecting women's access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, won the temporary protective order in March against Holick, the Wichita regional director of extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. As reported in Ms., Holick distributed WANTED-style flyers with Burkhart's picture and home address on them, and in February 2013 he positioned a large sign at Burkhart's home, which she shares with her husband and young daughter, that said "Where's your church?" - interpreted as a reference to the 2009 assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church. Burkhart had worked closely with Dr. Tiller and considers him a mentor. Burkhart's clinic is located in the same building that housed Dr. Tiller's clinic, and Holick has said that he meets and corresponds with Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. Tiller.
Holick argues that his behavior is constitutionally protected free speech.
"Anti-abortion extremists using violence, stalking, and threats should not be able to hide behind the first amendment," said Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "These intimidation tactics must end."
Anti-abortion protestors are also using free speech arguments against a Massachusetts clinic buffer zone law. Buffer zone laws have been enacted - and constitutionally upheld - in several states and localities to protect doctors, patients, and clinic staff from anti-abortion intimidation and violence. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this term whether the Massachusetts law is constitutional.
Virginia Attorney General and current candidate for Governor Ken Cuccinelli recently filed a summary of his tax returns, revealing that he has given over $4,000 to crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) in the past few years. Crisis pregnancy centers have been found to purposefully use inaccurate medical information, false statements, and emotional manipulation to dissuade women from receiving abortion care.
Cuccinelli gave $1,340 to a Manassas-area CPC called AAA Women for Choice, and he helped them raise an additional $4,000 by letting them raffle off a Gadsden flag that he had autographed. An investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia found that employees at AAA Women for Choice incorrectly informed visitors that abortion could cause infertility and breast cancer, gave misinformation about surgical abortion, and told one woman that the decision to have an abortion would "haunt" her for the rest of her life. The AAA Women for Choice website, however, does not reflect its anti-choice practices. The website misleads online visitors by listing abortion as an option for pregnant women.
Cuccinelli also gave $2,678 to Divine Mercy Care, the fundraising component of the pro-life medical center Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, and $20 to EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, an organization that runs CPCs in New York City and has been found to tell patients there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.
Cuccinelli's support for crisis pregnancy centers goes beyond individual charitable giving and into the realm of politics. As a state senator, he amended a bill to make the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles offer "Choose Life" license plates to drivers. Each time a license plate is purchased, $15 is donated to a CPC. Since the plates have become available, they have raised $223,000 for state CPCs. As the state's attorney general, Cuccinelli has also tried to prevent a women's health clinic's appeal of unnecessary and onerous TRAP regulations from proceeding in court. The regulations have already forced two clinics to close.
The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today about whether state law permits same-sex couples to marry in the state.
Currently, the state's law is silent on the issue. As a result, some counties in the state have allowed same-sex couples to marry, while others have refused. To date, same-sex couples have married in eight of the state's 33 counties, and at least two judges have upheld marriage equality under the state constitution. Over 900 marriage licenses have been issued across the state, but some Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition.
A group of same-sex couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and several local attorneys sued in March after initially being denied marriage licenses. A New Mexico judge ruled in favor of the couples in September. Thereafter, the New Mexico Association of Counties, joined by every county clerk, requested that the New Mexico Supreme Court immediately review the decision in order to settle several open cases around the state.
Although the Court has not expressed when it will make its decision, it will allow same-sex marriages to continue pending the outcome.
A recently released report from the Guttmacher Institute reveals that births resulting from unintended pregnancies cost federal and state governments $12.5 billion in 2008 - but without current publicly supported family planning services, those costs would double to $25 billion.
According to the report, the "authors warn that chronic underinvestment and ideological attacks on the programs and providers that make publicly supported family planning services accessible to millions of women have been counterproductive," actually causing increases in public spending. The authors recommend that "substantial new public investments in family planning services and comprehensive sex education" would help to reduce the $12.5 billion in public costs.
Mississippi had the highest percentage of publicly funded unplanned births at 83 percent. This is the same state that expanded abstinence education in March 2011.
The Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of former state Attorney General Phill Kline for launching a fraudulent legal prosecution against Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita abortion provider. Tiller was murdered in May 2009 - shortly after being acquitted of all charges - by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.
Over the course of six years, Kline had subjected Dr. Tiller and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park to a baseless and politically motivated criminal investigation and prosecution, in which Kline alleged that Dr. Tiller had performed illegal abortions and failed to report the sexual abuse of minors who had sought abortions. Over 100 criminal charges were filed in all. A jury found Dr. Tiller not guilty of all charges against him. All charges against Planned Parenthood were also dismissed or dropped.
In 2010, disciplinary proceedings commenced against Kline for professional misconduct related to his investigation and prosecution of Dr. Tiller and the Planned Parenthood clinic. Among the charges against Kline were mishandling patient medical records, misleading the court, misrepresenting the law, disobeying a court order, and providing false testimony.
The Kansas Supreme Court found that Kline had committed 11 violations of the rules of professional conduct and had breached his duty to the public by engaging in dishonest conduct. The Court also found that Kline had acted with a selfish motive, had exhibited a substantial pattern of misconduct, and had refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his actions.
Appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show after the decision was rendered (Watch here), duVergne Gaines, Legal Coordinator of the National Clinic Access Project at the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the decision to suspend Kline "a moment of justice." Gaines later commented, "The damage caused by Kline's personal vendetta against Dr. Tiller was significant because it contributed to a climate of extremism that helped lead to Tiller's murder. Kline's unethical prosecution provided a veneer of legitimacy to anti-abortion zealotry."
"The murderer Scott Roeder thought the injustice was that Dr. Tiller wasn't convicted," said President of the Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal, "but the real injustice was that Tiller was tried at all."
As Attorney General, Kline had subpoenaed medical records of 90 women and girls who had sought late-term abortions. The court issued the subpoena but directed the redaction of patient-identifying information. Shortly thereafter, Kline lost his reelection bid for state Attorney General and went on to serve as the Johnson County District Attorney. It was later revealed that Kline had the medical records, which were in the possession of the state Attorney General's office, copied for his use as District Attorney, without receiving approval from the court. The medical records were also not kept in a secure location - copies were kept in a staffer's apartment - and Kline directed staff to prepare handwritten "summaries" of medical files that contained specific information about each patient. In addition, Kline used other records subpoenaed for his investigation to identify patients by name.
Phill Kline is currently a law professor at Liberty University, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
10/22/2013 - First Gay Pride March Held in Montenegro's Capital
About 150 people participated in the first gay pride march held in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, on Sunday.
Violence threatened to mar activities as 1500 anti-gay protesters rioted, throwing rocks and firebombs at police officers who were attempting to keep the peace. Two thousand police officers were on duty for the march. Officers responded to the protesters with teargas and other means. About 60 officers and rioters were injured. No marchers were reported to have suffered any injuries.
Despite the show of opposition, march organizer Danijel Kalezic, head of Queer Montenegro, saw the gay pride march as a positive step. "We were up against enormous challenges but we did it," Kalezic told Al Jazeera. "From this day we are no longer invisible. This was the first Pride and every year there will be more and more of us."
The march was the second gay pride event to be held in the country. A previous march, held in the coastal town of Budva in July, was interrupted by violence and protesters yelling "kill the gays." Anti-gay extremists also threatened a march organizer, posting fake death notices with the organizer's name and photograph on public buildings. Violence forced organizers to shorten the route, but several marchers were injured.
10/22/2013 - Texas Voter ID Law Took Effect Yesterday
A restrictive voter identification law took effect in Texas yesterday - the same day that early voting for the state's November 5 elections began - despite an ongoing lawsuit by the Department of Justice to stop it. The law will require Texans to show one of a narrow list of acceptable government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. The list includes expired gun licenses from out of state, but does not allow voters to present student IDs or social security cards.
These laws are enacted under the guise of protecting against voter fraud--which is extremely rare--but in reality they strip voting rights from students, women, people of color, and low-income voters who are less likely to have an eligible ID.
In an Op-Ed for MSNBC, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine discussed how the war on voting is part of the war on women. "Given the potential impact of minority voters in the next election, and the persistence of a gender gap in voting that tends to favor progressive candidates, Republican-controlled state legislatures have resorted to using voting laws to dilute the voices of women and people of color," they wrote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice [PDF], 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.
10/21/2013 - Same-Sex Couples Marry in New Jersey
Dozens of gay couples across New Jersey are holding wedding ceremonies and applying for marriage licenses today as the state becomes the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. Mayors began officiating weddings this morning at 12:01 AM.
"We are very excited that now, finally, we get to marry," New Jersey resident Allen Kratz, who plans to marry his partner of 28 years on Thursday, told Reuters. "I know some political leaders think it's too soon. But civil rights always come too soon for those in a position of power and never soon enough for those who have been denied, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The state's Supreme Court ruled Friday against a request by Governor Chris Christie to delay a lower court's September ruling allowing gay marriage until the top court could hear the state's appeal and make a final decision. "The State has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today," wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."
The earlier ruling stated that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law, and that gay marriages could start on October 21. It is the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman in June.
The state's appeal of the ruling was scheduled to be heard by the state Supreme Court in January, but Christie dropped the legal challenge after the Court issued its decision allowing marriages to proceed.
10/21/2013 - Shackled Pregnant Woman Receives Settlement
An undocumented woman who was shackled before and after giving birth in Tennessee will receive $490,000 in a settlement and now has the prospect of a U-visa.
Juana Villegas, a mother of four - all U.S. citizens - who moved to the United States from Mexico in the 1990s, was arrested in 2008 after she failed to show a driver's license during a traffic stop in Nashville. She was detained for being in the United States illegally by police officers who had immigration enforcement powers as part of a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program - called the 287(g) program - that allows local police departments to question people about their immigration status and detain them until ICE can take custody.
Villegas gave birth only three days after her arrest and was taken back to the jail without her newborn son. She was not allowed to use her breast pump in the jail, and she developed a painful breast infection.
Villegas filed a lawsuit in 2009 asserting that her eighth amendment rights to protection from cruel and unusual punishment were violated. In 2011, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in Villegas' favor on the basis that the officers were deliberately indifferent to her medical needs, but the government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN appealed. A dispute over the amount of damages was making its way through court when officials decided to settle.
Villegas will receive $100,000 from the settlement and the rest will go to her lawyers. The U-visa she may receive is usually reserved for victims of crime, but the judge said it was in order because her civil rights were violated. It will allow her to live and work legally in the country for four years and apply for permanent residency in her third year.
Other families in similar situations have not been as lucky with the legal system. Approximately 5.5 million children in the U.S. have an undocumented parent, and about 4.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government deported over 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children. The Applied Research Center has estimated that there are at least 5,100 children living in foster care whose parents have been either detained or deported, and in counties with 287(g) agreements - like the kind operating in Villegas case - children in foster care were about 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported parent than in other counties.
Davidson County has since discontinued the 287(g) program, and the Obama administration has reduced it nationwide after criticism by immigrant advocate groups.
10/18/2013 - Nearly 30 Million in Slavery Worldwide
The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based organization, released its first Global Slavery Index Report Wednesday estimating 29.8 million people live in various forms of modern slavery worldwide.
Ten countries account for 76 percent of the total number of slaves. India has the most slaves in total - some 14 million people - nearly half of the world's slavery population. China and Pakistan have the second and third largest enslaved populations. Mauritania has the highest number of slaves per capita. Slaves in Mauritania are treated as property inherited by previous generations, "masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants," according to the report [PDF].
Although the greatest numbers of slaves are found in Asia and Africa, modern slavery - defined as forced labor, human trafficking, and treatment of individuals as property to be bought, sold, or destroyed - exists on every continent. The United States, for example, has an estimated 57,000-63,000 enslaved people.
"It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent," said Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation. "This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world."
The Walk Free Foundation intends to update the Index every year. The report also looks at government response to slavery. The analysis includes an examination of the criminal justice response, victim services and support, government accountability, budget allocation, and the strength of targeted responses in vulnerable populations, like migrant workers or workers in the informal economy.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Malawi government launched a new national campaign to promote condom use among young people as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure.
HIV prevalence among people aged 15-49 in Malawi is at 10 percent, according to the Malawi 2012 Global AIDS Response Progress Report [PDF], with higher prevalence rates among women than men. HIV prevalence for young people with multiple partners is around six percent. The government attributes the problem, in part, to low condom use. The campaign therefore aims at increasing public awareness of condoms and combatting perceived stigma around using condoms.
Although aiming to increase condom use, the UNFPA and Malawi government announcement did not address a major challenge to HIV/AIDS prevention in that country - low condom supply. The Malawi government has previously indicated that condom shortages and stock-outs have impeded efforts to control HIV.
Persistent condom stock-outs in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of all people living with HIV reside [PDF], have long been a problem recognized by international experts. In 2011, Carolyn Ryan, MD, MPH, Director of Technical Leadership at the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator called the problem "really quite disturbing," as condoms are a major tool for HIV prevention. Lack of condoms can be attributed, in part, to inadequate donor support from the international community and the influence of conservative religious ideologies on international family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.
A new study by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley reveals that 52 percent of fast-food workers are forced to enroll their families in public assistance programs to get by, costing American taxpayers almost $7 billion annually.
Funded by Fast Food Forward, the report shows that fast food workers in front-line positions, like cooks, are enrolled in public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at more than twice the rate of the overall workforce.
"This is the public cost of low-wage jobs in America," said UC Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics. "Yet it remains hidden in national policy debates about poverty, employment and public spending."
The fast food industry is a $200 billion-a-year industry, but most jobs pay at or near minimum wage, and only 13 percent of jobs provide health benefits. The low wages and benefits, combined with an average workweek of only 30 hours, contribute to the need for public assistance--although even full-time fast food workers working 40 hours per week or more have to turn to assistance programs.
On top of that, two-thirds of fast food workers are adults over the age of 20, with 68 percent acting as the main wage earners in their families, and a quarter raising at least one child. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are women, and 43% are black or Latino.
The report was based on an examination of industry workers not in management positions who worked at least 10 hours per week for at least 27 weeks a year between the years of 2007 and 2011. It comes at a time when fast food workers around the nation are campaigning for $15 hourly wages.
A new report by the Southern Education Foundation reveals that for the first time in 40 years, a majority of public school students throughout the Southern and Western United States are low-income.
The analysis is based on the number of preschool through 12th-grade students who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year, which requires that a family of four earn no more than $40,793 annually to qualify.
Around 48 percent of the nation's 50 million public-school students qualify for the program, but the number reaches 53 percent in southern states and 50 percent in western states. Mississippi has the highest percentage, with 71 percent of students in the state qualifying for the meal program. In contrast, 25 percent of New Hampshire students qualify.
Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have low test scores and dropout of school. While programs have been implemented over the past few years to improve education, such as No Child Left Behind, they focus too much on standardized test scores and teacher accountability, leaving poverty and its detrimental effects on academic performance unaddressed.
"We have an education system that continues to assume that most of our students are middle class and have independent resources outside the schools in order to support their education," said Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. "The trends and facts belie that assumption. We can't continue to educate kids on an assumption that is 20 years out of date. We simply have to reshape our educational system."
The report explains that the 2008 recession likely contributed to the growth in the number of low income students, especially in areas where the housing markets and local economies collapsed, but there has been a steady increase in the number of low income students for a longer period of time.
10/16/2013 - Personhood Measure Will Be on Colorado's Next Ballot
Anti-abortion activists have collected enough signatures to include a "personhood" measure on Colorado's next state ballot in November 2014, even though Colorado voters have twice rejected personhood initiatives.
This latest initiative will appear on the ballot as Amendment 67. It is worded misleadingly, not mentioning the word abortion. The measure would amend the definition of "person" and "child" in the Colorado Criminal Code and Wrongful Death act to include "unborn human beings." Supporters claim that the measure will help pregnant women get justice if crimes committed against them cause them to miscarry. However, Colorado already has a law, the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, that addresses that very issue.
Women's rights activists worry the language in Amendment 67 could lead to investigations of any woman who has an abortion or miscarries. "The 2014 ballot initiative, again, has slightly different language than years past in an effort to deceive the voters," said Cathy Alderman of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. "But it has the same dangerous outcomes which would lead to more government intrusion in our personal lives, including: getting into our medical records to investigate miscarriages, dictating the kinds of birth control we use, and interfering with medical decisions made by women with their doctors in treating fertility problems."