Thursday, October 11, 2012

The War on Women, a Primer: Part Two

Happy International Day of the Girl!

Strong Enough for a Woman

So I've neglected my woman warrior duties because of the interesting twists and turns in the campaign over the last few weeks.  But as promised, in The War on Women, A Primer: Part One, I am back to talk about more of the many ways the Republican Party has been going after us ladies like there's no tomorrow.

And I have to give a big thank you to Mittens for helping me find my way home.  Governor Romney said: 

"There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda," on Tuesday, to The Des Moines Register.  [Emphasis mine.]

Not so fast with that incredibly-diluted "promise" there, Mr. Romney.  I have a law degree, too.  I know how the verbal promise/dodge works.  It's similar to the non-denial-denial.  So let me break it down for you non-lawyers (and even just less-sneakily-inclined lawyers):

  • "Legislation" - You can impact abortion, birth control, and women's rights through methods other than legislation.  In fact, as president, it's as likely that you will impact those things through Supreme Court and lower court nominations (See e.g. Justices Scalia, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Thomas, and maybe Roberts and probably Alito), administrative actions (like the Obama Administration mandate on birth control coverage), and the occasional executive order thrown in (see e.g. the Global Gag Rule under just about every Republican president).

  • "That I'm familiar with" - You could drive a truck through this loophole.  

  • "Would become part of my agenda" - Define agenda.  Does the president only impact things that are on his agenda?  Nope.  Pretty much everything the President of the United States does has a large impact.

"But Emily, you're parsing this statement too closely, you're assuming he sat down and figured this out." - Dude.  He has a law degree.  He has been running for president FOR YEARS.  His own staff said he planned to "etch-a-sketch" his way back towards electability after the primaries.  This is exactly what you say when you want to get the votes of somebody who disagrees with what you will do in office.  It makes them feel better.  

And this isn't coming from nowhere - this is Romney's stock-in-trade.  He says whatever people want to hear, while trying to leave himself wiggle room to get out.  He routinely says things, definitively, that his campaign completely reverses as soon as he leaves the room.  It is his strategy.  Romney is not stupid.  

Or check out the lies/false claims he walked back after the debate.

Or check out the fact that he's now backing off of the 47% claim, after doubling down on it.

Or check out the fact that he's been for and against just about every part of Obamacare - on the record.

But I digress.  On account of being fighting mad.  Back to the Warfront.

The State of Fair Pay in 2012:

Women make 77 cents on the dollar that men make - for equivalent work.  Women make substantially less than men even when you take out some potentially-mitigating causes:

She works hard for the money.
After controlling for factors like major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status and children, a five percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates is unexplained. It is reasonable to assume that this difference is the product of discrimination.

Discrimination is difficult to measure directly. It is illegal, and furthermore, most people don’t recognize discriminatory behavior in themselves or others. This research asked a basic but important question: If a woman made the same choices as a man, would she earn the same pay? The answer is no. - p 74, AAUW testimony

So there are a couple of things here to talk about.

1. Is it okay that women make less than men?  Even if there does not seem to be a reason other than discrimination for 5 percent of that difference?  Just to put that in context, here's what the difference in earnings looks like, over a lifetime:

Figure 2: Estimated Cumulative Lifetime Earnings by Sex and Degree Level in the United States

2. As a society, do we want women to choose to have kids?  If we do want women to have kids, should we be punishing them for it by docking or freezing their pay when they have kids?  We don't have to make that choice.

3. Should we - as a policy matter - prefer work outside the home over work inside the home?  Again, it's a choice we make.  And the funny thing to me is that Republicans - who are the most likely to advocate women staying home with kids rather than working outside the home - are also the most likely to pass off gender pay disparity as being a symptom of "women's choices" to do things like... have kids and stay home with them.  Even when that's proven to be a false assumption, as in this study with doctors.

4. And here's a question that I may have some bias on: why is pay a private matter in most businesses?  My potential bias is that after law school I worked entirely as a public servant, and therefore I worked on a pay scale or on a publicly-available salary.  My salary was on the internet, for anyone to see.  So was the salary of every single person with whom I worked.  It never particularly bugged me.  I know that some people are testy or private about pay.  But if we had public pay or pay scales at all workplaces, there would be no argument for discrimination in pay - in fact, most pay discrimination would be gone.  No more law suits on pay discrimination.  Just worth a thought, people.

5. If we choose to keep pay private, why would we structure the law to make it very difficult for people to sue after they find out that they are making less than their colleagues (and think it's because they are being discriminated against for being a woman)?  That's what all but 10 Republicans in the House did in 2009 (including Paul Ryan).  In the Senate, it was closer - 17 Republicans (including all of the Republican women senators) voted for the bill, and 23 voted against.  The issue is how long women have to sue once they have found out - or according to a court should have found out - that they were being paid less than their colleagues.

We should make it easier to sue.  This is not an abstract issue.  Here is the story of Lilly Ledbetter (after whom the Fair Pay Act that President Obama signed as his first law was named):

6. And hey, did you know that in 2012 Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have built on the groundwork laid by the Lilly Ledbetter law, by helping women to find out if they are being paid less?  What does that mean?  Well, the Paycheck Fairness Act would help stop employers from retaliating against employees who tell women they are being paid less or who enquire about pay policies.  So in a society in which we keep pay private, and in which the majority of Republicans who voted on the issue thought we should keep strict limits (as set by the Supreme Court) on the timing of when a woman SHOULD know that she is making less, and therefore is able to sue, the Paycheck Fairness Act would make it so that employers could not punish employees for telling women they are making less, or women for asking if they are making less.  The vote was 52-47, and they needed 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.  Republican Senators blocked it in 2010, too.  

7. Last year, the conservative-heavy Supreme Court also made it more difficult for women to sue - by a 5-4 vote, making the bar higher for women to qualify as a group to sue, say... Walmart for alleged systematic gender discrimination.

8. It's not just at the federal level and in the courts that the fight against equal pay is being waged.  In April, Mitt Romney's favorite Governor, Scott Walker, repealed Wisconsin's weak Equal Pay Enforcement Act.

9. Mitt Romney's team, after being unsure what the Lilly Ledbetter act was, said that Romney would not look to change existing law, but would not comment on whether Romney would support the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Meanwhile, as I said above, his running mate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter law.

So here we go again: from Congress to the Courts to States to potentially the White House, Republicans are acting to block attempts to help women achieve pay equity.

The State of Violence Against Women in 2012:

I don't want to write the summary about this part.  I'm so upset about the way this issue has been politicized in the last couple of years that I just don't even want to research and share it.  But you ought to know about it, so here goes.

The Violence Against Women Act expired a year ago.  This law, drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden, was initially passed in 1994, and provides federal money for the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  VAWA supports specialized law enforcement units to investigate these crimes. "Since the passage of the act, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent."   Pretty important law.

*Side note: originally, VAWA contained provisions allowing private rights of action (civil cases) when prosecutors failed to act.  The Supreme Court invalidated those provisions in 2000 in US v. Morrison.  It was a 5-4 vote.  Elections matter, people.

VAWA was not a partisan bill when it was passed in 1994.  It wasn't partisan in 2000, when it was reauthorized with a 95-0 vote in the Senate.  But over the last two years, it has become partisan.

When VAWA came up this time, Democrats used the reauthorization process to include a couple of additions to help address victims who are not well-enough protected by the current law.  This isn't a new idea - every time VAWA has come up for reauthorization (every 5 years), Congress has tweaked and improved the law.  The new provisions broaden Native-American tribal ability to pursue prosecution in cases where the alleged attacker is not Native-American, made it easier for undocumented aliens to get protection from violence without fearing deportation, and they added in protections for gay and transgender victims of violence.

Why make these additions to VAWA?

1. The Native-American Provision:

Native American women suffer from violent crime at some of the highest rates in the United States. One regional survey conducted by University of Oklahoma researchers showed that nearly three out of five Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.  In addition, a recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found that 46 percent of Native American women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Tribal leaders say there are countless more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault whose stories may never be told. 

With non-Indians constituting more than 76 percent of the overall population living on reservations and other Indian lands, interracial dating and marriage are common, and many of the abusers of Native American women are non-Indian men.  Too often, non-Indian men who batter their Indian wives and girlfriends go unpunished because tribes cannot prosecute non-Indians, even if the offender lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member, and because Federal law‐enforcement resources are hours away from reservations and stretched thin.  

The provision maintains federal and state jurisdiction and allows defendants to appeal to federal court.  This provision would help combat violence where it is even more common than in other parts of the country: "The levels of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are shocking, and cannot be tolerated," said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. "Indeed, in some tribal land counties, murder rates for American Indian and Alaska Native women are 10 times the national average."

2. The Undocumented Provisions - 

The provisions of H.R. 4970 [the House VAWA reauthorization bill] that significantly undermine protections available to vulnerable immigrant victims of violence are of particular concern. Before enactment of VAWA, abusive U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) were able to use immigration laws as a mechanism to further abuse and control their immigrant spouses and children. Perpetrators of domestic violence routinely thwarted or threatened to stymie the visa petitioning process. In creating a special application process for battered spouses and children of U.S. Citizens and LPRs, lawmakers recognized that many victims of domestic abuse were unwittingly victimized by the immigration system as well.

The current VAWA green card application process involves a “self-petition,” so that the abuser is not involved at all in the process and prohibits the government from releasing information about the existence of a VAWA immigration case to the abuser or others. H.R. 4970 removes those critical protections. A forced choice between deportation or life with an abusive spouse or trafficker is the precise evil that the original self-petitioning provisions of VAWA were intended to eliminate. This proposed legislation creates obstacles for immigrant victims seeking to report crimes and increases the danger to victims by eliminating important confidentiality provisions.

Again, here we are talking about a community in which legal protections are harder to come by, and therefore the climate is more conducive to abuse.  So broadening the legal tools that law enforcement has to use is a good thing.  It's not about people sneaking their way into becoming citizens.

3. The LGBT Provision -

The rate of domestic violence among LGBT couples is about the same as for heterosexual ones — an estimated 25 to 33 percent experience abuse in their lifetimes, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. But LGBT victims are significantly less likely to seek out help: 45 percent of them have been turned away from domestic violence shelters, and only 7 percent call the police after an incident of domestic violence. LGBT women are particularly at risk: they’re victims of the majority of murders related to domestic violence in the gay community, the coalition says.

The provision in the Senate version of VAWA to help protect LGBT folks is about ensuring that law enforcement and domestic violence shelters do not discriminate, and to explicitly tell states to use the federal funds allocated to help LGBT victims.  Only 24 states do this today - there is inconsistent help at best for LGBT victims.

All three provisions were objected to by Republicans in the Senate, and Republicans wanted to open up the reauthorization process in the Senate to an open amendment process (which would allow any senator to try to change just about any part of the bill, and would potentially take a very long time).  On the House side, where there is a Republican majority (and therefore Republicans control the process), the reauthorization bill has none of the new provisions, and is being held up because the Senate version allocates additional money - all revenue measures must originate in the House, and under Speaker Boehner, the House doesn't want to help make the bill work.

In the States:  Then there's the lovely case of Governor Nikki Haley, who called aid to domestic violence and rape crisis centers pork:

She cut more than $400,000 used to help pay for the state’s network of 23 domestic violence and rape crisis centers. In her veto message, she angered supporters by calling that portion of the budget — which also included money for people with sickle cell anemia, kidney disease and hemophilia — a distraction from the state’s larger mission of providing public health care. 
She made matters worse when, in a Facebook post, she referred to rape crisis centers as a special interest. 
“This is not about the merit of their fights but the back door way of getting the money,” she said in the post. “It’s wrong and another loophole for legislators and special interests to use.”

The South Carolina legislature overrode Governor Haley and replaced the funding.

But again, we have Republicans in Congress and in the states fighting against (and in the case of Governor Haley, deriding) aid to victims of violence, and to the prosecution of violent offenders.

Okay, there will have to be a third War on Women post.  There is more to say - on the State of Moms - but as an actual mom, I'm going to go do some actual mothering now.  Go hug a girl on International Day of the Girl, and come back this evening for Mandi and my live-blog of the VP debate.

Oh, and pretty please...

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