The United States added an impressive 295,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent—the lowest it’s been since 2008, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Other factors show that the economy still isn’t working for many Americans after the recession. For instance, while women’s unemployment is at a six-year low, Black women’s unemployment level increased.
“February posted strong job gains and a decline in overall unemployment, but many women have yet to see a real recovery,” Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement.
The unemployment rate for all adult women fell from 5.1 percent in January to 4.9 percent in February. But Black women’s unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent, up from 8.7 percent in January and 8.2 percent in December.
And while the unemployment rate fell for Latinas and single mothers, the rates for these more vulnerable populations remain relatively high, at 6.1 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.
Four in ten women’s job gains were in the low-wage industries of retail and hospitality, compared to just 27 percent of men’s job gains. That’s an improvement over January, when about half of women’s job gains were in these low-wage industries. It’s still a concerning trend for women’s wage equality and ability to support their families.
The drop in the overall unemployment rate isn’t necessarily a good sign. That’s because the labor force participation rate—the percentage of all adults who are employed—fell slightly. That means more people simply stopped looking for work, and no longer were counted in the official unemployment rate that measures how many people are out of a job but still looking for one.
In February, more people stopped looking for work than found a job.
The other major systemic problem is that wages are still low—barely high enough to keep up with inflation. Too many people who want full-time work are instead working part time, like Walmart worker Fatmata Jabbie. The number of involuntarily underemployed people has fallen since the recession, but it’s still historically high.
These trends aren’t accidental. They are the result of policy decisions, from a cautious Federal Reserve to lawmakers hostile to the workers’ unions that could help bargain for better pay and benefits.
The post Workers’ Wages and Black Women Lose Out in February Jobs Report appeared first on RH Reality Check.
An Alabama house committee passed a bill Thursday that would prevent clergy and other religious officials from being required to officiate marriages they have religious objections to and protect them from being sued for refusing to officiate.
Opponents believe the bill is designed to discriminate against same-sex couples under the guise of religious freedom.
HB 56, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill (R-Springville), would amend state law so that anyone qualified to perform marriages in the state is not “required to solemnize a marriage for any person or persons.”
The bill includes immunity from “any civil claim or cause of action, or any criminal prosecution, based on a refusal to solemnize or recognize any marriage,” and it states that no state or local government or agency “may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, or refuse to contract” with an organization or person.
This comes just days after the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges across the state to defy a federal court order and stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After a federal district court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, Alabama had become the 37th state to recognize marriage equality. Since the ruling, a constitutional crisis has enveloped the state, as opponents of same-sex marriage have attempted to circumvent the federal court’s ruling.
HB 56 is part of a growing trend of bills introduced in state legislatures to protect so-called religious liberty by allowing discrimination against marginalized populations. One such bill introduced in Michigan would grant a “license to discriminate” for religious people across the state, according to civil rights advocates.
HB 56 is reportedly a priority for the Alabama House Republican Caucus.
During a house judiciary committee hearing Wednesday on the “Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act,” Hill said the legislation is meant to prevent clergy and probate judges from being coerced into conducting marriage ceremonies, according to reporting by the Montgomery Advertiser.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) reportedly questioned the necessity of the legislation during the hearing, and asked Hill for specific instances of coercion. Hill responded by saying that he was not aware of any.
“I have received calls from probate judges and ministers who were concerned there would be an effort to do that,” Hill said, according to the Advertiser.
Opponents of the bill claim that the legislative language is too broad. They say the legislation could allow judges to refuse to marry couples if they object to the couple’s religious beliefs or allow religiously affiliated hospitals to refuse visitation rights to same-sex couples.
Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, was among the four opponents of the bill who spoke during the committee hearing. Representatives from the Human Rights Campaign of Alabama and Equality Alabama also testified against the bill, according to reporting by AL.com.
Watson said the bill would “allow government officials to pick and choose who they serve,” reported the Advertiser.
“HB 56 does not represent Alabama values like fairness and loving your neighbor as yourself. The bill’s foundation is rooted in a motivation to discriminate,” Human Rights Campaign Alabama State Director R. Ashley Jackson said in a statement.
The bill was passed by committee members Thursday without discussion or debate. It now moves to a vote by the full house, where the GOP has a 72-33 advantage. Republicans hold 26 of the state senate’s 35 seats.
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The West Virginia legislature on Friday voted to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of a 20-week abortion ban, joining the dozens of states in the country to ban abortion before the point of viability protected by Roe v. Wade.
Tomblin, a Democrat, had vetoed HB 2568, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” this week after it was passed by the GOP-dominated state senate. In West Virginia, a simple majority vote in both chambers is necessary to override a governor’s veto. Both the state house and senate are majority-Republican, and voted 77-16 and 27-5, respectively, to override the veto.
The legislature’s vote marks the first time a governor’s veto has been overridden in West Virginia since 1987, according to the State Journal.
Tomblin vetoed a similar measure last year, calling the ban unconstitutional. Indeed, courts have blocked 20-week abortion bans in at least three states.
Conservative legislatures have been relentless in their attempts to push through such bans, which rely on bunk science and the dubious claim that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks.
Several states this year have introduced 20-week bans, including Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, and Oregon. Earlier this week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he would sign a 20-week ban measure if it came to his desk.
A 20-week abortion ban bill was introduced by Congressional Republicans in January, but was eventually pulled because of dissent over its too-narrow exception for rape.
The West Virginia law, which will take effect in late May, gives no exception for rape or incest.
Image: Earl Ray Tomblin / YouTube
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A New York Papa John’s franchise and its owner must pay delivery drivers more than $2 million for failing to abide by minimum wage laws, underreporting employee hours, and other abuses in the second high-profile wage theft judgment leveled against Papa John’s this year.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Kennedy ordered the business to pay employees just over $2.1 million in back wages, reimbursed expenses, damages, and interest. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in October sued the Papa John’s International Inc. franchisee, New Majority Holdings LLC, and its owner, Ronald Johnson.
Johnson, who owns five Papa John’s stores in Harlem, was named in 2002 as one of Crain’s New York Business’ “40 Under 40” rising stars in the New York business scene.
“Beyond making money, I’m getting to have an impact on other people’s lives,” he said in the profile. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
Schneiderman filed suit on behalf of 400 delivery workers who allege Johnson failed to pay them overtime, rounded their hours down to the nearest whole hour, and forced them to pay for their bikes and other delivery equipment, which costs workers as much as $500 per year.
The lawsuit was the result of a year-long investigation by the attorney general’s Labor Bureau into New Majority’s pay practices. That investigation found delivery workers were often paid as little as $5 per hour, much less than the $7.25 hourly minimum wage that was required for most of the time period covered by the lawsuit.
Luis Juarez, one of New Majority’s employees involved in the suit, described the working conditions in a statement released following the judgment.
“Although my employers only paid me to make deliveries, they assigned me work on everything,” Juarez said. “I had to make pizzas, pack up the food, and organize boxes, all for a salary of $5.00 per hour. And when my bike was stolen on the street, my employers threatened to fire me from my job if I did not buy another one immediately.”
This is the second judgment this year against Papa John’s in New York. Schneiderman’s office in February announced it had obtained a wage theft order for almost $800,000 against Emstar Pizza, which operates seven Papa John’s franchise locations in Brooklyn and Queens.
Schneiderman is reportedly considering legal action against the franchisor, Papa John’s International Inc., in at least one of these wage theft cases on the theory that it is a joint employer and thus shares the liability for the actions of its franchisees. It’s an emerging theory in the fight over wages and working conditions for food service employees across the country.
The National Labor Relations Board, in a first of its kind ruling made in July, found McDonald’s to be a joint employer and thus liable for wage and labor violations at its franchise locations.
Should Papa John’s International be found to be a joint employer, it would provide employees affected by these judgements the opportunity to collect their stolen wages directly from the franchise’s corporate parent.
“I call on all fast food franchisors, including Papa John’s, to take steps necessary to ensure that their workers—the backbone of their business—are treated fairly and paid the wages the law requires,” Schneiderman said in a statement following the order.
“We will continue to investigate wage and hour violations in the fast food industry,” Schneiderman said. “More broadly, franchisors need to step up to the plate.”
Image: Pizza boxes via Shutterstock
The post Papa John’s Once Again Pays for Wage Theft Practices appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released two scathing reports based on its investigations related to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. I spent the past 48 hours digesting the details of the reports—the first examined discriminatory practices in the Ferguson Police Department, and the second looked at why the federal department declined to bring criminal charges against Wilson. After reading through the reports’ findings, which included racist emails sent by city employees and horrific violations of individuals’ constitutional rights by the police and the Ferguson Municipal Court, I’m left wondering how there can be a finding of widespread racism and oppression but no real consequences for those who ran the departments or perpetrated these wrongs. I’m also at a loss as to how a law enforcement agency or city government can protect and serve a population they neither respect nor view as human beings. Beyond that, I’m struggling to process how so many people seem surprised by the findings, despite the fact that people of color have been speaking this truth—that Ferguson doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that Michael Brown’s death is a reflection of far-reaching racial bias—loudly for the past seven months.
My Twitter feed has been flooded with articles claiming to have found the ten most awful details from the report on the police department, or the 12 most racist incidents involving city employees and officers. What must not be lost in the exploration of those details is that the reports highlight a system-wide denial of reproductive justice. People in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area have been denied our right to raise our families in communities free of fear and violence. Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and his father, Michael Brown Sr., have forever been denied the right to parent their child in a community free of the oppression that has generated untold think pieces and op-eds since his death. And all of us who call the St. Louis metro region our home have been denied communities where people are empowered with the human right to make personal decisions about our lives. We have been kept deliberately segregated from the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions of our community are suitable for implementing those decisions—the law enforcement system has been constructed to treat us like sub-human suspects, the court system has been designed like a predatory loan outfit to treat us like money machines, and the political system has absolutely no motivation to fix any of this because its existence is dependent on the hustling of people of color. For some people this comes as a surprise. For others, it is simply reality.
The details of the report on the police department are disturbing: the fact that the city of Ferguson used the ticketing and arrest of African Americans as a revenue source, that it often targeted people of color for ticketing and/or arrest based on racial bias, that it used arrest warrants as threats to get payments, and that in every incident of a police dog biting a person, that person was Black. Then there are the racist emails sent by city officials and law enforcement. The one that most struck me was from May 2011. It stated:
An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, “Crimestoppers.”
As upsetting as these details are, they are not surprising to too many of us. I’ve heard stories like those listed in that report from people who live all over the St. Louis metropolitan area. The oppression documented by the DOJ is reality for many Ferguson and St. Louis area residents, yet local and national news outlets are reporting the findings as “shocking” and “stunning.” There’s something to that: Not only are people of color not taken at our word when we call out injustice, we are all too often not heard at all. People all over the St. Louis metro area and across the nation have been marching and demonstrating almost non-stop since August 2014, so I find it shocking and stunning that anyone could be shocked or stunned by these findings.
Ferguson residents have been saying the same things for months. Many of us who live in St. Louis County, and frankly any Black person who lives in one of the many racially segregated communities in the United States with a primarily white police force, have been fighting these injustices for years. (Anyone who tries to tell you Ferguson is an isolated situation is flat out lying.) So I was more than a little disgusted to see so many news reports presenting the findings and evidence cited in the report as if no one has ever mentioned these abuses before. But that’s par for the course when people of color call out injustice.
It feels as if we are shouting in a soundproof room, because our word isn’t judged worthy to be taken as fact. Now that the DOJ has been kind enough to back up what Ferguson residents have been saying with a detailed and fully sourced report, all of the sudden the same local officials who couldn’t give protesters the time of day are seeking out the media to talk reform.
That leads me the another challenge I’ve faced since the DOJ report came out. Ferguson’s mayor and police chief and many of its judges and court staff are still in power and getting paid. (Although one municipal court employee was fired and two other police department employees were put on leave for their irresponsible actions, those in leadership positions have yet to be held accountable for their role.) We’re supposed to expect the same officials who presided over the blatant violations of constitutional rights cited in the DOJ report to fix a system they gleefully managed even as it devastated the lives of countless residents? That dog don’t hunt.
Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer seven months ago. Residents of Ferguson and the broader St. Louis metropolitan area have spent these months demanding justice and reform through direct action, lobbying at the local and state level and at community forums. From the beginning, activists and concerned community members have tried to call attention to the fact that the killing of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed in Ferguson could have happened in any number of municipalities across Missouri and this nation because of the country’s centuries-old racial bias directed at people of color. The shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer, the over-the-top use of force in response to non-violent protests, and even the flawed grand jury process could have happened anywhere and to any one of us. Now, with the DOJ’s report in hand, some feel validated. Others are newly disturbed. I remain sick and tired of being sick and tired. But they call it a struggle for a reason. Onward.
Image: PBS NewsHour via YouTube
The post The Department of Justice Findings Were Not ‘Shocking’ to People in Ferguson appeared first on RH Reality Check.
This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.
Sex Toy Injuries on the Rise
According to estimates released last month from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, sex toy injuries have more than doubled in recent years. Based on a representative survey of hospital emergency room data from around the country, the agency estimates the number of injuries that are caused by all kinds of consumer products, including “massage devices and vibrators.” According to the estimates—and a Washington Post analysis—emergency room visits peaked in 2012, when 2,500 people were treated for sex toy injuries, compared to slightly more than 1,000 in 2003.
Men accounted for 58 percent of the visits, and the men who seek treatment were generally older (average age 44) than the women (average age 30). The oldest man to be treated was 81, the oldest woman 67. By far the most frequent reason for the visit was foreign body extraction, which was required in 83 percent of the cases.
Most of the injuries were pretty minor—of those patients who accepted treatment, 71 percent were released right afterward. Twenty-five percent, however, required hospitalization or a transfer to another facility. Nobody died.
Still, the sex educator in me feels compelled to note that it is important to be safe when using sex toys. A recent story of a sex toy lodged near a woman’s uterus for more than ten years notwithstanding, few things get stuck or lost in the vagina—it is only about six inches long and it stops at the entrance to the uterus, which would not let a sex toy go farther. Most of the extractions were likely necessary because toys that were not specifically designed for the purpose were inserted into the anus. This can be dangerous, as the anus is a muscle that expands and has no natural stopping point on the inside. Using butt plugs or other sex toys that have a wider base (that stays outside the anus) is the best way to keep yourself and your partner(s) off of the sex toy injury list.
The Growth of India’s Online Sexual Wellness Market
Buying a sex toy in India is not as easy as walking into the local Walmart—or even the sex shop in the sketchy part of town—because of age-old restrictive laws that limit what can be sold and how it can be marketed. Most sex toy crackdowns in the country rely on Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, which says that any book, drawing, figure, or object “shall be deemed to be obscene” if it fuels lascivious, or overtly sexual, thoughts and behavior. A newer law applies the same language to the Internet.
Sex toys are pretty much designed to fuel overtly sexual thoughts and behavior, but that doesn’t mean they are unavailable. In fact there’s a growing market for sexual wellness in the country, especially online. Healthkart, one of India’s leading online marketplaces, reports that the number of women buying lubricants, condoms, fertility supplements, and sexual accessories has grown by 75 percent in the last year alone. Some estimate this market to be worth $1.4 billion by 2020 (though this would be a gigantic leap from the $161 million it earned last year).
Whether these sales violate the law has everything to do with the products and the marketing techniques. Vaibhav Parikh, a partner at international law firm Nishith Desai Associates, explained it this way to Quartz India: “Some products fall into the grey area and depend on circumstances—a massager is legal, but one that is shaped like a private part is considered to be illegal.” When the courts decide these cases, he said, they usually look at whether a product or the way it was advertised made people act with a “depraved mindset.”
By offering these items under categories like personal health and care, online sellers try to be subtle about the purpose of their products.
Unfortunately, there is another challenge looming. An official in India’s Supreme Court filed a complaint against online retailers Snapdeal and Ohmysecret (which has already gone out of business) for selling anal lube and vibrators shaped like penises. Suhaas Joshi, who filed the complaint, is arguing that these products violate the country’s anti-homosexuality laws as well as the anti-obscenity ones. He told Quartz India, “There is a lot of confusion. Companies are selling products which are used for same sex activity, but at the same time, Indian government says such acts are illegal.” The police were asked to investigate and a report is expected this month.
In the meantime, people in India are finding ways to sell and buy sex toys. Ira Trivedi, author of India in Love, told Quartz India, “Yes there is censorship, yes it’s under the radar, but people are trying to get around that.”
Harnessing the Power of Masturbation
Remember back in middle school science class when you learned that you could power a lightbulb with a potato? Yeah, well this is like that. Kind of.
The latest in wearable technology is being brought to us by PornHub, a British site for adult entertainment. The site notes in a charming video that by providing reasons for people to stay online, it has contributed to our global power problems. However, it promises, it can now be part of the solution. Man power, as they call it, can be an endlessly renewable source of electricity.
To harness this power, they have developed the wankband, which is worn on the wrist. When said wrist is moved up and down repeatedly, the band creates and stores kinetic energy. The makers promise the band is unisex, though the motion required may not be quite as useful for people with certain parts as it is for others.
Once enough energy has been generated, users can charge their laptops, cell phones, and other devices by plugging them into the band’s built-in USB port. It’s that simple. And fun.
The device is in beta testing now, and PornHub has not yet said how many hours of masturbation equals an hour of cellphone charge—but we can already say we’ll never look at low battery warning the same way again.
Television fashion icon Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame joined supporters of Planned Parenthood South Texas for their annual fundraising luncheon on Thursday, with Gunn appearing with PPST’s president and CEO Jeffrey Hons on stage for a wide-ranging talk about human rights, mentorship, and Gunn’s own struggles with depression and a suicide attempt as a teenager.
Afterward, RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes had a chance to sit down with Gunn, a long-time faculty member at Parsons The New School for Design and current chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne, to talk more about how empathy can build bridges across the political spectrum, how to responsibly raise great kids, and—for a bit of fun—the hot looks for Andrea’s new puppy this spring.
Andrea Grimes: You covered so much ground today in your talk on stage. One of the things I was really struck by was your perspective on empathy. I find, in my own work here in Texas, that it can be really hard to talk to people about science-based, medically sound perspectives on reproductive health care. I run into that a lot, and it’s frustrating.
Tim Gunn: I don’t understand it, if you’re a parent and you’re raising kids, how can you teach them falsehoods?
AG: Sometimes people’s worldviews can be really difficult to shake, especially when there’s an aversion to intellectualism. But you know, activists have found that sharing personal abortion stories is one of the best ways to make inroads with people who are against abortion. It can be really effective to say, “This is why I had mine.”
TG: You find that it does open the door a crack? That’s good to know.
AG: But how can we be empathetic without allowing ourselves to be steamrolled, stepped on, pushed over?
TG: I’ve learned there are people, some people, who simply do not possess the capacity to experience empathy. They fall into a very particular category. I’ve learned this from psychologists and some people who are engaged in this with family members or friends: narcissists are not able to experience empathy. It’s fascinating.
AG: There may be some overlap there between people who run for office.
TG: Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. [laughing] And there’s no awareness on their part of what your issue could possibly be. And there’s no getting through. But it’s scary, isn’t it? Because I’d like to think that there are open-minded, well-informed, scientifically savvy narcissists too! I’m sure there are! We want more of those in political offices!
AG: We certainly could use some here. Have you ever been to Texas before?
TG: Oh yes! Many times. And I have to say, on the topic of empathy, those of us who share certain political points of view, societal and cultural points of view, my hat’s off to those of you who are in Texas. Because it’s got to be difficult.
AG: I’m a native Texan, and I went to college in New York City and I lived abroad for a little while, and I tried to leave, but I couldn’t.
TG: That’s good for you.
AG: But that’s certainly not true for everyone, many people in the LGBTQ community are not safe living here, there are many people who can’t live here for all kinds of reasons.
TG: Can I tell you? I haven’t mentioned this to anybody. I was downstairs in the bar last night, I just needed a drink, I didn’t get here until late. For the first time in my adult life, ever—This guy got up and came over to me and said, “You’re a goddamned homosexual!” I couldn’t believe it! I said, “Yes, I am! And I’m proud of who I am!” He said, “You’re a goddamned homosexual!” He kept repeating it. Anyway, I left the bar quickly.
AG: I’m so sorry. That’s terrible.
TG: Oh, no, no, no. But I was stunned. I thought, OK, these things aren’t behind us. And even the term “homosexual”—I haven’t heard that in forever! I thought, Gee, you’re a rather charming character. [laughs]
AG: But for those of us who can stay, I believe there’s a moral imperative to stay.
TG: I totally agree with you. The moral imperative rules. Can I ask you a question? Do you have siblings? What about your parents? In terms of politics?
AG: You know it’s funny, I thought they were tremendously conservative and my dad probably is, but once our lawmakers started passing all these really bad anti-abortion laws, I was talking about it with my mom one day, and she said she didn’t want to go back to before Roe, that women absolutely had to be able to make the choice on their own. I would never have thought.
TG: But that makes her position even better. That’s good.
AG: Again, it’s that one-on-one relating with someone.
TG: Actually, you’ve given me an epiphany saying that. That’s really a good point. Forget about the facts, it’s all about personalizing it.
AG: Many people think of an organization like Planned Parenthood as being some kind of behemoth that’s only about abortion care. But you spent a lot of time talking with Jeffrey Hons today about parenting and mentorship, and building healthy families. Why is that such an important subject for you?
TG: It makes us, in my view, responsible citizens of the world. And as citizens of the world we do have responsibilities. And there are qualities of character that I believe can be cultivated. I believe parents have a responsibility to behave a certain way around their children, or whoever these younger people are, and I really do believe that those qualities are founded at home. They can certainly be founded at school. And I’d love to say friends because they’re other young people. But as a parent, you can’t keep your child under a bell jar. You need to know and be responsible for with whom your children are interacting. What’s happening at school? At the playground? You just need to know. You need to be responsible. That’s why I feel, from a societal and cultural point of view, meals are important. Family meals. And conversation. Turn off that television! Put that computer away!
AG: Revolutionary, coming from a television star!
TG: Oh, you flatter me. But really, let’s talk about your day. Let’s talk about what happened. Because so much can be revealed. I feel like people tend to be so disengaged with one another, and we end up on a trajectory that is so isolated that we think it’s OK. I don’t think it’s OK. We can get used to it, but it doesn’t validate it.
AG: OK, now I’ve got silly questions for you. One of my best friends is a huge fan, and she wanted me to ask you what you wear when you’re not in a these great suits. Do you own shorts?
TG: Oh, grandpa has bad legs. I do own shorts. I’ll wear them on my terrace if I’m picking up leaves and things. But I will not wear them to the corner to get a cup of coffee. I’ll wear jeans, and I’ll wear a t-shirt. But I’ll put on a blazer.
AG: My next question is whether you’d advise me …
TG: Advise you?
AG: Well, my dog. This is her Hawaiian shirt:
TG: Can I be honest with you? The print is too big for her scale. She needs a diminutive print. This is overwhelming her. This is making her look like an ottoman.
AG: You’re probably going to say the same thing about her sweater, then. Same problem?
TG: No! I think it’s the palette. It suits her own coloring better. Which is not to say that the Hawaiian print isn’t fun on her. I like the turquoise color, but the scale of the print’s too big. But I like this. It has kind of an English, tweedy vibe. Any other dog clothes?
AG: Her favorite thing to wear is this little hoodie. It’s very casual.
TG: Can I also be blunt? I don’t think green’s her color!
AG: Oh no! It’s my favorite color, I want to put her in everything green.
TG: Because her face is so white, and her paws are so white. I think it kind of gives her a sickly cast. I’d go with jewel tones.
AG: Ah, OK. Well she has this red dress, it’s a Star Trek dress that she’s going to grow into someday.
TG: That’s a great color. It’s deeply saturated. You know what it is? I’d get rid of the pastels. And I say the same thing to adults. She is adorable. I’m already in love with your dog.
AG: Her name is Fizz. For a gin fizz. Because she’s bubbly.
TG: What a sweet name!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Image: Andrea Grimes
The post ‘Project Runway’ Star Tim Gunn Discusses Human Rights, Empathy, and… Dog Fashions appeared first on RH Reality Check.
When Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were murdered last month by their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, my skin crawled as I watched the public reaction. First, there was silence. Then, major outlets framed the incident to be about a parking dispute instead of calling it what it was: a hate crime. Then, slowly, a dominant trend began to emerge, both in mainstream and social media. At local vigils in Toronto, through my networks of the Muslim social media community, and in my own family, I kept hearing about how sad it was for these beautiful, educated people—a future dentist, his wife, and his sister-in-law—to be killed in a senseless act.
There is no doubt that Shaddy Barakat and the Mohammad Abu-Salhas were admirable individuals, and that their deaths were indeed a tragedy. But this kind of repeated focus on the victims’ academic and volunteering achievements reflects a narrative that Muslims in the West like myself have been taught from a young age: that we must become role models in our community to have value as humans.
This pressure to conform to an ideal was, for me, a direct consequence of coming of age in a post-9/11 world. Ever since September 11, the fear of being a “useless Muslim,” as the xenophobic, colonialist public stereotype went, has been integral to my existence on an individual and community level. In response to this damaging prejudice, older Muslims push a notion of the “perfect Muslim”: someone who excels in as many arenas as possible, achieves merit and wealth, and fulfills the American Dream they crossed oceans for. My parents, both explicitly and implicitly, illustrated to me from a young age that Muslims and non-Muslims allocate love and respect to only certain people who have succeeded academically and professionally. Other influential people in my life fed me this narrative, too, including community leaders and teachers. Even my non-Muslim teachers throughout primary and secondary school encouraged me to be a certain way: a contributing member of society, an overachieving brown kid who could be a token in diversity brochures.
I listened. I entered university a model of what so many hands had molded me into, having won multiple awards and racked up thousands of volunteer hours at the local hospital alone. People constantly used microagressions coded in praise to let me know I was doing well, “good for my community,” “a good kind of Muslim,” “a moderate progressive Muslim.” I was a version of myself I did not entirely understand, nor did I know why I hardly slept and worked so hard. It broke me, fragmented me into pieces. I sacrificed my own mental health and well-being to be the type of Muslim that would attain this romanticized public assimilation—and by extension, the approval of others in my community. I have splintered myself over and over into slivers to have some type of value in a Western society that will never return my love.
And it still wasn’t enough. I couldn’t keep up with that kind of life, not while watching non-Muslim white peers get to take a different path with the support of their families, communities, and strangers. Upon closer examination, my transcript has blemishes. I didn’t do well the first time I took the MCAT. I took a semester off of school. I volunteer, but it may not be at the “right” places—I’ve concentrated on feminist causes rather than continuing to spend time at the “honorable” hospital. I take controversial stances as part of my existence. I am human and filled with contradictions. My story is not perfect. So if I were killed in a hate crime, would there be such an outcry as there was with the three Chapel Hill victims? Am I impressive enough to be worthy to my community? Furthermore, am I valuable as a Muslim to the American media?
Plus, I am a young Muslim woman. I couldn’t help noticing that Deah Shaddy Barakat specifically seemed to get the most media coverage and space in discussions. His volunteer work and potential future status outweighed the experiences of the two young women killed—Yusor, who had been accepted into law school, and Razan, who was majoring in architecture. Both wore the hijab. I don’t wear the hijab at this point in my life, but I will forever be a defender of the role it plays for Muslim women. Many Muslim women have been targeted for violence and abuse while wearing the hijab; in a post-9/11 world, the symbol has even been reclaimed by many young Muslim women as a form of resistance, of resolve not to waver to appease the Western gaze. Its very existence is an unmistakable sign of anti-colonial solidarity and the Muslim identity. So I do not think it is a coincidence that the stories of two visibly Muslim women who wore the hijab were pushed to the margins, while that of Shaddy Barakat—a clean-shaven, light-skinned, basketball fan who fit the all-American “bootstrap” narrative—moved to the forefront.
These three people in Chapel Hill were special, yes. But what made them more special than my people killed during a drone strike? My people raped and killed during the invasion and occupation of countries?
A growing number of Muslims are dying without names or significant recognition of their deaths. They, too, have names. Rohingya Muslims are facing an ethnic cleansing in Burma. Many Muslim men have spent the prime of their lives uncharged in Guantanamo Bay Prison. Countless children have also died in Pakistan and Yemen—fellow Muslims, in whose death I am complicit because I live in the West and have paid taxes to a government that has sold us the notion that drones are precise even as we see multiple accounts of weddings and schools being targeted. These people have names. But they are simply labeled “collateral damage,” or maybe given it a brief mention at the bottom of a scrolling news feed.
In Canada, where many Somalis live in diaspora, dozens of Somali men have been murdered. The same week of the Chapel Hill shootings, a security guard named Mustafa Muttan was shot in Edmonton, Alberta, as he went to answer a knock on the door. In December, a 15-year-old Somali Muslim boy named Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein was killed in a hit-and-run in Kansas; his death was reported as a hate crime. Why was there no broad-ranging outpouring of rage and grief for them? Was it the fact that they did not have an impressive enough résumé? The darker color of their skin? I believe it was a combination of both.
All heinous and egregious deaths should matter, apart from this forced meritocracy. And it must be noted that being “respectable” requires privilege, too: Getting an education and having the time, energy, and opportunity to volunteer and “give back” does often require a socioeconomic level that some people cannot achieve, and that does not make them less worthy. Status and mobility play a pivotal role in the lives we are all able to lead—subsequently, it is erasure of context to only mourn and highlight those who “contributed” to a society, when some of us are set up for failure from birth.
These observations will continue to disturb me. These days, even as I try to fight the forced “good young Muslim” trope, I still find myself performing respectability to access privilege, spaces, and survival in North America. I do this by sometimes distancing myself from being “the other,” trying to draw on strategies like volunteering, participating excessively in the community, seeking approval, dragging myself through academic spaces that often aren’t safe spaces for identities on the margins. I would like to resist doing so, but this is the only way I know I will be acknowledged in both dominant Muslim and non-Muslim spaces. The coverage of the Chapel Hill shootings only further solidified my apprehensions about failing as a young Muslim.
I often find myself choosing between fear of rejection and working within this safer, “model minority” framework. Others don’t have the privilege to make this decision at all, even within our own communities. Colonialism has truly limited our ability to appreciate nuances and different forms of labor and contributions to society. Those who are not able to pursue academia, professional studies, monetary success—to navigate the Western and non-Western world as acceptable and approachable Muslims—remain expendable and unnoticed. They receive no name, no hashtag, no public outcry, no national vigils; their stories are untold.
This is the only strategy we are given. It means survival for those of us who can afford it, and erasure for those who cannot.
The post Would I Be Mourned in the Same Way as the Chapel Hill Shooting Victims? appeared first on RH Reality Check.
03.06.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Just days after West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a cruel and unconstitutional abortion ban at 20 weeks of pregnancy, both houses in the state legislature have voted to override the veto and enact HB 2568 into law. Today’s vote is the first time the West Virginia legislature has overridden a governor’s veto in nearly 30 years.
HB 2568—which allows abortion services after 20 weeks only in limited circumstances of medical emergencies and non-viable pregnancies, without any exception for survivors of rape or incest—is scheduled to take effect on May 26, 2015. The very few West Virginia women who may need to seek abortion services after 20 weeks already face extreme barriers to care, as there are only two clinics providing abortion services in the entire state.
This is the second time in less than a year that the West Virginia legislature has passed this unconstitutional abortion ban—and the second time the Governor has vetoed such a measure, both times citing concerns over the constitutionality of the law and the negative impact on women’s health and safety.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
"Governor Tomblin was right to veto this callous, cruel, and unconstitutional attack on health care for women facing complicated and sometimes dangerous situations in their lives and pregnancies.
"With this action today, the politicians behind this law have revealed how far they are willing to go to advance their ideological agenda at the expense of women's rights, lives, and safety. They should be ashamed."
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Last year, the Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and courts in Idaho and Georgia have also blocked similar pre-viability bans.
Bans on abortion at 20 weeks are as dangerous as they are unconstitutional, coming at a point at which a woman is just receiving the results of critical tests to determine the health of her pregnancy—and potentially the presence of severe and possibly life-threatening complications.
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like West Virginia from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.Center for Reproductive Rights Calls on West Virginia Governor to Veto Cruel and Unconstitutional Abortion Ban Supreme Court Refuses to Review Arizona Abortion Ban
Three Democratic women senators introduced an ambitious pro-choice bill on Thursday that aims to protect and build on the improvements to women’s health care made possible by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The 21st Century Women’s Health Act, introduced by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), has several provisions to both expand reproductive health-care access and improve research and public awareness on the topic.
“We’ve made so much progress when it comes to advancing women’s health and expanding access to reproductive care,” Murray said on a press call Thursday.
More needs to be done, she said, especially given the “laser-focused” attacks on women’s health by elected officials “who miss the Mad Men era.”
Contraception access and awareness are major focuses of the bill. The ACA already requires private insurance companies to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives—including methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants that are more expensive up front but more effective in the long term.
Yet some women still face barriers to accessing the type of birth control that’s right for them. Women on Medicaid can’t always access the full range of contraceptive methods, or services like breast pumps and breast feeding counseling.
The new bill would address that by extending the ACA’s preventive care standards for these services to all Medicaid recipients. New grants for nurse practitioners in Title X family planning clinics who specialize in women’s health would also expand access to care for low-income women.
Then there’s the issue that one in 20 women has been denied health care due to the religious, moral, or personal objection of a health provider. That might include denial of coverage IUDs or emergency contraception that some wrongly believe to cause abortion.
To combat this inequity, the proposed legislation would create a “women’s health ombudsperson” to help enforce women’s health-care rights and combat misinformation from insurance companies or pharmacies.
It wouldn’t go as far as fixing the problems that have resulted from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, though Murray said on the call that plans are in the works to reintroduce a bill that will do that.
The new bill would launch a public awareness campaign to educate women about their full rights and health-care benefits under the ACA, and it would create a database for women to inform the government when they are inappropriately charged a copay for birth control, as 11,000 CVS customers recently experienced.
The act also includes a requirement for all hospitals to provide rape victims with emergency contraception, which Murray has been trying to pass for years as stand-alone legislation.
Unlike another pro-choice bill in Congress, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), the new bill doesn’t do much to combat the hundreds of state-level restrictions that have made it increasingly difficult for women to access abortion services. It does, however, mandate a study of the harmful effects of those laws, which have become commonplace is state legislatures controlled by Republicans.
The 21st Century Women’s Health Act is a “very nice complement” to the WHPA, said Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government at Planned Parenthood. While the WHPA forbids state laws that restrict health care services, this bill expands health services and addresses women’s immediate health care needs.
“I know there are those who will say ‘no’ right off the bat” to the bill in Congress, Murray said. “And my message to them is: I’ve heard that before. It hasn’t stopped me.”
The post Congressional Pro-Choice Bill Would Expand Obamacare’s Women’s Health Gains appeared first on RH Reality Check.
South Dakota lawmaker Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea) was unable to revive a bill that would have banned a medical procedure that is commonly used for abortion care. Latterell has introduced three anti-choice bills during the 2015 legislative session, with every one failing to pass the Republican-dominated legislature.
Latterell introduced HB 1230, which would have banned dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, often used in second-trimester abortions as well as in treatment of miscarriage. The bill repackaged legislative language from a controversial bill he introduced last year.
During the South Dakota Health and Human Services Committee hearing, Latterell made a series of controversial statements, including comparing Planned Parenthood to the terrorist organization ISIS. House lawmakers eventually gutted the bill.
Republicans hold 58 of 70 seats in the South Dakota house, and 27 of the state’s 35 senate seats.
Latterell said that he planned to revive the bill, including even broader anti-choice language. “I am confident when the Senate committee is finished with its hearing, Planned Parenthood’s lies will be exposed. I look forward to banning dismemberment abortion once and for all,” Latterell told LifeSiteNews.
Latterell, during the committee hearing, offered an amendment that included the language from his original bill. He said he would leave it up to the discretion of the committee.
Lobbyists for both the anti-choice South Dakota Right to Life and the Eagle Forum testified that while their organizations supported Latterell’s bill in principle, it was not the right time to move forward with the legislation.
The committee members voted unanimously to table the bill.
Latterell also introduced HB 1155, which would require that upon delivering a screening test result that is positive for Down syndrome, any health-care provider or counselor must provide printed materials provided by the Department of Health. The printed materials must contain up-to-date and medically accurate information about Down syndrome and contact information for support programs.
After the bill was passed by the house by a 52-12 vote, it was tabled in a 4-3 vote by the senate health committee. During the hearing, committee members expressed concern with the broad language of the bill, and the lack of enforcement mechanisms.
Another bill introduced by Latterell, HB 1156, would prohibit physicians from performing an abortion with the knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion because the fetus has had a genetic screening indicating that the fetus might have Down syndrome.
Latterell introduced a similar bill during the 2014 South Dakota legislative session.
The bill would make violation of the law a class 1 misdemeanor, but no criminal penalty may be charged against the woman upon whom the abortion is performed or attempted to be performed.
HB 1156 was pending in the House State Affairs Committee, but Latterell withdrew the bill from consideration.
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03.05.15 - Anti-choice politicians have pushed hundreds of different sham laws over the last few years, but all are designed to do just one thing: Make abortion care more difficult to obtain. But for the many women who cannot afford the money or time to get past the many obstructions, these laws essentially ban abortion.
A thought-provoking article and infographic over at Think Progress demonstrates how.
Using statistics from the Guttmacher Institute and Think Progress’s own research, the piece tracks costs that women may incur in Wisconsin. A new sham law aimed at shutting down abortion providers is currently under review in that state.
Factoring in travel and child care costs, lost time at work, and lack of Medicaid coverage, the article finds that the total cost of abortion care could add up to over $1100.
For a woman on a low income, these costs—which are directly related to harsh state abortion laws—are prohibitive.
Jane Collins, a University of Wisconsin professor who testified against the state’s latest sham law at a hearing this past summer notes in the piece:“I think people have a hard time grasping that that $600 can be an absolute barrier. It can be the difference between having your civil rights and not having them. If you keep adding up the expenses of the extra miles, the need to pay for childcare, you’re going to reach a wall — a point when you’re not going to be able to pay.”
More than half of women across the country seeking abortion care cannot afford to pay for it on their own, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to block a change to labor laws that would make it easier for workers to form a union.
The 53-46 vote was mostly along party lines, with no Democrats voting to block the law and only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), voting with Democrats and Independents to let the law stand.
The change to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) law streamlines the process for private sector workers to vote on whether to join a union. It also reduces, from a median of 38 days to 11, the typical time between a union’s request for representation and the vote by workers on whether to form a union.
Labor advocates say this is necessary to reduce anti-union intimidation by employers. A 2011 study by labor researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the longer union elections are delayed, the more unfair labor practice complaints workers file against their employers.
This is because the longer delay gives employers more time to intimidate workers with tactics such as “captive audience” meetings to discourage employees from joining a union.
Furthermore, employers have tremendous power to delay the timing of a union election. Simply by demanding a pre-election hearing, employers can delay elections by a hundred days or more, leaving even more time to subject workers to anti-union campaigns.
“Too often, lengthy and unnecessary litigation over minor issues bogs down the election process and prevents workers from getting the vote they want,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said when the rule was issued in December.
Republican opponents of the rule change called it an “ambush election rule,” alleging that it gave employers too little time to respond to a union request and employees too little time to learn the facts.
To block the rule using a simple majority, Republicans invoked the Congressional Review Act, a seldom-used relic of the Newt Gingrich era that allows Congress to overrule new federal regulations issued by government agencies.
The resolution of disapproval has to be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president. It’s likely to pass the Republican-dominated House, but Obama has resolved to veto it.
“Trying to make government work better shouldn’t be controversial. But it is controversial. Why? Because some employers simply oppose union votes all together,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said on the Senate floor. “They don’t want the NLRB to work—they don’t want union elections to happen at all—so they are lobbying against these new rules. And Congressional Republicans are standing up for them.”
Research shows that the decline in union participation since the New Deal has corresponded with rising inequality in the United States.
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, shifting his abortion stance ahead of his expected 2016 presidential bid, has for the first time said he would sign a ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation and would support similar legislation at the federal level.
The Wisconsin governor has always identified himself as anti-choice, but typically declined to comment on his opinion of controversial 20-week bans being introduced in legislatures across the country. Walker, while running for re-election against Mary Burke, ran an ad saying he supports legislation that would leave “the final decision” of whether to end a pregnancy “to a woman and her doctor.”
And during an interview with Fox News Sunday last week, Walker, responding to a question about whether a woman “has a right to end a pregnancy at any point during those nine months,” said he recognizes that a person’s choice to terminate a pregnancy is protected by the Supreme Court.
“Legally, that’s what it is under the guidelines that was provided from the Supreme Court,” said Walker, who survived a recall election in 2012.
Following criticism from prominent conservative organizations over his comments, Walker wrote a letter to the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a prominent anti-choice group, clarifying his position on abortion, and in particular, on the 20-week ban in the works in Wisconsin.
“As the Wisconsin legislature moves forward in the coming session, further protections for mother and child are likely to come to my desk in the form of a bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks,” he wrote. “I will sign that bill when it gets to my desk and support similar legislation on the federal level.”
The letter, written on Scott Walker letterhead, was released by the SBA List.
Wisconsin Right to Life said in November that they would push a 20-week abortion ban through the legislature this session.
Under his leadership, the Wisconsin legislature defunded Planned Parenthood, prohibited abortion from being covered by health plans in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, and made ultrasounds mandatory before an abortion.
Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, has clarified several opinions as he appeals to conservatives in the run-up to the 2016 campaign, including his stances on anti-union right-to-work legislation and immigration reform.
Image: Wikimedia Commons