As Presidential Bid Takes Off, Scott Walker Takes Aim at Women’s Rights?

Governor signs abortion ban that was opposed by several medical and reproductive rights groups, who say that ‘fetal pain’ claim is unfounded

by: Nadia Prupis

In a move that was blasted by reproductive rights groups and the state’s medical community, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Monday signed a bill that bans abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with only a narrow allowance for medical necessity.

The ban makes some exceptions when the woman’s life is in danger, but not for cases of rape, incest, or when the fetus has severe abnormalities.

Walker, a Republican who is running for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, said he signed HB179 because he believes that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks—a controversial notion that is often held up by the pro-life sector and which has little medical or scientific basis.

According to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, the law is set to go into effect next year. It will make it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks. Doctors who perform the procedure could face up to 3 1/2 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

As the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) pointed out in a statement on Monday, the bill was opposed by groups like the Wisconsin Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Wisconsin politicians have criminalized safe, legal abortion services at the same time they are attempting to eliminate all abortion services by shutting down clinics with sham laws and red tape,” said CRR president and CEO Nancy Northup. “With this law, women in Wisconsin will soon face a catch-22 of shrinking options earlier in pregnancy and a complete ban on services later in pregnancy. Women deserve to make their own health care decisions with the medical professionals she trusts, not interference from her governor or legislature who presume to know better.”

Opponents sent a letter to the Wisconsin legislature urging them to vote against the bill, which passed the state assembly earlier this month. “This bill would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time,” the letter, signed by 100 obstetrician-gynecologists, stated.

In addition, they said, U.S. Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade have consistently held that states cannot ban abortion before viability.

But their appeal went unheard.

Abortions after 20 weeks make up less than one percent of all abortions and is most often undertaken by women who discover a fetal abnormality that was not previously detectable.

According to RH Reality Check, similar bans “with varying exceptions have been enacted in 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. Laws banning abortion at 20 weeks have been blocked in three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho. As a result of litigation, therefore, a total of 12 such bans were in effect as of April 29, 2015.”

Source: As Presidential Bid Takes Off, Scott Walker Takes Aim at Women’s Rights? | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Creative Hoax Asks Why Free College Tuition Not Up for Discussion

Anti-debt campaigners falsely announce receipt of award from student “aid” industry for proposal to make higher education free

by: Sarah Lazare

A group of anti-debt camaigners pulled off a creative hoax on Monday by falsely announcing it had won a coveted prize offered by the nation’s student “aid” industry with this innovative proposal: “end student debt for good by making higher education tuition free for all.”

Debt Collective, which is a new debtors’ union that formed as an offshoot of Strike Debt, created a fake Twitter handle, blog post, and image announcing the group’s receipt of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Big Idea award.

The announcements were released right in the middle of a New Orleans conference of the NASFAA, which says it represents “20,000 student financial assistance professionals at approximately 3,000 colleges, universities.”

While Debt Collective’s award announcement was fake, their proposal was completely real.

“You may be asking how we can afford to completely fund public education,” said the organization in a blog post. “Our research shows that after stripping off the amount that the government already spends to subsidize higher education—including at predatory for-profit institutions—the total amount of new money necessary would be as little as $15 billion a year. Fifteen billion is a fraction of one percent of yearly government spending; it is merely a rounding error in the federal budget, less than the government currently spends on tax breaks for just 20 corporations.”

Debt Collective’s publicly available proposal, which was not formally submitted to the conference, declares: “Free higher education is possible. In fact, many countries around the world fund public universities, and college was low-cost or free in the United States for much of the 20th century.”

“Our message is that there is this huge industry, with thousands at the conference and all talking about supposedly innovative solutions and student debt. But they are ignoring the most simple and affordable option: make college free.”
—Ann Larson, Debt Collective
The Big Idea prize is advertised by NASFAA as “a game show-style event where financial aid administrators, researchers and other interested stakeholders will have the chance to present their innovative policy ideas to reform and improve federal student aid programs and policies.” The conference itself is sponsored by numerous big banks and student loan companies.

NASFAA, which claims to advocate for “public policies that increase student access and success,” was not amused by the trick. “NASFAA has not given any awards to the organization Debt Collective, despite its false claims on a phony Twitter account,” NASFAA told Common Dreams over Twitter.

Ann Larson, a New York-based organizer with the Debt Collective, told Common Dreamsthat the spectacle was aimed at “countering the narrative” of the conference.

“The narrative is that they are coming up with innovative solutions and payment plans, allowing people who couldn’t go to college to afford to do so,” said Larson. “Our message is that there is this huge industry, with thousands at the conference and all talking about supposedly innovative solutions and student debt. But they are ignoring the most simple and affordable option: make college free. The fact that there is an entire industry built around ignoring that solution strikes us as astounding.”

Source: Creative Hoax Asks Why Free College Tuition Not Up for Discussion | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

As Cuban Flag Rises in U.S. Capital, ‘Antiquated Policies’ Still in Place

The ‘removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade… the return of occupied territory in Guantánamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,’ must come next, said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

by: Nadia Prupis

The Cuban embassy on Monday officially opened in Washington, D.C., exciting the many who support restoring diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation for the first time in 54 years.

But another raised flag in the U.S. capitol should not signify the end of the American effort to reestablish official ties with the country, Cuban officials and human rights activists said.

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, who visited the U.S. capital for the first time on Monday for the flag-raising ceremony, said the U.S. must now lift its comprehensive trade embargo against the Caribbean nation and return the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay to the Cuban people.

“The historic events we are living today will only make sense with the removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes so much deprivation and damage to our people, the return of occupied territory in Guantánamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,” Rodriguez said.

For its part, the peace activist group CodePink on Monday is hosting a party outside of the Cuban embassy during its opening ceremony, both to celebrate the normalizing of relations—announced in December by U.S. President Barack Obama—and to call attention to the important steps that must follow.

“[D]espite this encouraging act of diplomacy, more work needs to be done, including lifting the travel ban and the embargo, and returning the Guantánamo Naval Base to the Cuban people,” the organization said in a statement.

“Congress should ignore the few representatives who are opposed to normalization, and immediately pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act to allow Americans to travel to Cuba just as they are allowed to travel anywhere else in the world. This should be followed by the passage of the bill to lift the embargo, finally putting to rest the Helms Burton Act that codified the failed American policy of isolation and hostilities,” CodePink continued.

The U.S. broke off relations with Cuba in 1961 following two years of crumbling diplomacy in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, which saw the overthrowing of the U.S.-backed authoritarian government of President Fulgencio Batista.

Netfa Freeman, an organizer with the Campaign for a Just Policy Towards Cuba for the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in an op-ed published at Common Dreams that Obama’s announcement in December recycled much of the same language that has been used by previous U.S. officials to justify ignoring Cuba’s right to self-governance.

Freeman wrote:

One need only listen closely to the announcement made by U.S. President Barack Obama — which was couched in language about “promoting change” on the island — to realize that while the strategy of undermining Cuba’s sovereign right to national self-determination has changed, the goal remains the same: regime change.

While the Obama administration insists that it’s just changing a U.S. policy that was “not working,” it remains an essentially disrespectful position against Cuba.

Better relations between Washington and Havana are a good thing, but they have to come from a place of respect. Both the Cuban and the American people have to see past the hypocritical rhetoric of the U.S. government to realistically determine their best interests in this new and unprecedented rapprochement.

CodePink’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, cautioned that the “opening [of] the embassies in Havana and Washington is a great and historic step, but everything that President Obama has done can be undone by the next president. Congress must now step up and pass the needed legislation to finally put an end to the antiquated policies towards Cuba that have failed for 54 years.”

Those ideas were also discussed in an interview with Democracy Now! on Monday. Benjamin and actor and activist Danny Glover reiterated the need to lift the sanctions.

“Viva la Cuba,” Glover said. “It is an important day for the Cuban revolution, it is an important day for the Cuban people, an important day for the American people, and for the world as well…. But it’s just the beginning, because the embargo is still in place.”

Responding to a growing concern over granting U.S. corporations free rein to establish businesses and trade in Cuba, Benjamin noted that the decision to enter into those relationships would be “up to the Cubans.”

“We can be very critical of the companies that are going to Cuba… but Cuba’s had 50 years to be worried about this,” Benjamin said. “I think we should trust that they’re going to make the decisions that they feel are best for them, and I think we can do things like support the co-ops, support the very small businesses, do things that kind of shape the economy that our friends in Cuba would like to see.”

In addition to the economic climate, Benjamin spoke briefly about the growing call for the U.S. to close Guantánamo Bay and return the land it sits on to Cuba. CodePink will travel to the U.S. military prison in November to stage actions on the ground of the naval base.

Source: As Cuban Flag Rises in U.S. Capital, ‘Antiquated Policies’ Still in Place | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community