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The Post-Legal Abortion Reality

[ 41 ] June 20, 2015 |

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It’s somewhat unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade entirely in the future and certainly highly unlikely in the next few years. But as Scott always points out, the courts and conservative states are making it almost impossible for most women to actually access abortion providers. This creates a scenario where the daughter of a governor or businessman will be able to have that abortion, but not some 16 year old poor person or 35 year old married couple who don’t want to have a 7th child.

When we make abortion illegal or nearly illegal, what happens to women’s medical care? We can look to Latin America to answer that question. And it’s horrible.

In Paraguay, a 10-year-old rape victim is denied an abortion—even though her stepfather is her attacker. In El Salvador, suicide is the cause of death for 57 percent of pregnant females between ages 10 and 19. In Nicaragua, doctors are anxious about even treating a miscarriage. All of these instances are the result of draconian abortion laws that have outlawed critical reproductive care in nations throughout Latin America. If stories like these seem remote to American readers, it’s because they’ve been largely eliminated through widespread access to basic abortion services beginning in the 1970s. But with the Republican Party now chipping away at our right to make our own reproductive health choices, these realities could become commonplace in the United States once again.

In El Salvador, a 1998 law went into effect that made abortion illegal with no exceptions—including rape, life of the mother, or incest. Women who are found guilty of having an abortion face two to eight years in prison. Punishment is widespread as well. Anyone found guilty of assisting in the abortion also faces two to eight years in prisons. Doctors and nurses who assist and perform abortions face six to twelve years behind bars.

With harsh consequences for obtaining an abortion, women in El Salvador and other countries often turn to clandestine—and sometimes dangerous—methods. The drug misoprostol, often referred to as just “miso” and used for treating ulcers has become a popular abortion drug. But without access to dosage information and no supervision, using miso can lead to complications or even death. Yet, as Andrea Grimes documented at RH Reality Check in March, the use of misoprostol is gaining traction, even in the United States. And when used correctly, miso is safer than other self-inducing options.

Kenlissia Jones from Albany, Georgia, ordered pills online to end her pregnancy. After ingesting them, she gave birth to the fetus in a car on her way to the hospital. She was arrested on charges of murder and illegal drug possession and taken to county jail. The prosecutor dismissed the murder charges, but Jones still faces charges of drug possession. In Georgia, 58 percent of women live in a county with no abortion provider.

In Indiana, Purvi Patel suffered a miscarriage and put the fetus in a bag in a dumpster. At the hospital, while suffering from heavy bleeding, law enforcement arrived to question her. During the investigation, local police found text messages that indicated Patel had ordered drugs online to end her pregnancy, but a toxicologist testified at her trial that no drugs were found in her blood sample. In March, Patel was sentenced to 30 years in prison for neglecting a dependent as well as six years for feticide.

When abortion is illegal, even miscarriages can end in prison sentences. Purvi Patel’s story mirror the stories of the 17 women jailed in El Salvador whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage or complications during birth. Many of them were charged with murder and sentenced to decades in prison. A woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care can be reported to authorities if medical professionals suspect that the woman induced an abortion.

We are already seeing the impact of impossible to achieve abortion with women in the United States. The criminalization of pregnant women by the Republican Party is a violation of human rights. We are already seeing the mistreatment of pregnant women that is so common in Latin America seep into the United States and with laws like Texas H.B.2 making abortion an impossible choice for most women, the broader impact can include a decline in reproductive care generally.

A Day’s Playlist

[ 36 ] June 19, 2015 |

Given the utter depression of the news in last two days, I thought a music thread would make people feel better. So here are the albums I listened to today:

1. Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1967, Disc 2
2. Patti Smith, Horses
3. St. Vincent, St. Vincent
4. Tinariwen, Aman Iman
5. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
6. Drive By Truckers, Go Go Boots
7. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get
8. Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
9. Wussy, Funeral Dress II
10. Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess

Unusually Honest Energy Industry Advertising

[ 9 ] June 19, 2015 |

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I do love truth in advertising.

From 1962

A Glimpse Into the Black, Shriveled Hearts of the Republican Class Warriors

[ 60 ] June 19, 2015 |

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When you think that maybe the hearts of Republican leaders aren’t actually that closed to compassion, you are always proven wrong:

Kasich’s temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP’s wealthy benefactors. Last year, he traveled to Southern California to appear on a panel at a conference sponsored by the Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. At one point, according to accounts provided by two sources present, Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he’d expressed the view it was what God wanted.

The governor’s response was fiery. “I don’t know about you, lady,” he said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. “But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

The exchange left many stunned. About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has not been invited back to a Koch seminar — opportunities for presidential aspirants to mingle with the party’s rich and powerful — in the months since.

A Kasich spokesman, Chris Schrimpf, declined to comment on the episode.

Like in the first Gilded Age, the poor are seen with total contempt and hostility, as is even the mildest suggestion that we should do something for them. This is the open position of the Republican Party, a position they are able to take with a combination with appeals to racism and a well-funded propaganda machine about the values of the free market and self-reliance.

Today in Brilliant Jurisprudence

[ 28 ] June 19, 2015 |

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Clarence Thomas hit a new high in Supreme Court decision writing:

Thomas’ case in point: Warrick Dunn, the author of the 2008 memoir Running for My Life: My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond. Dunn, formerly a star NFL running back, is a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Brumfield murdered Dunn’s mother when Dunn was 18. Here’s how Thomas sets up the case:

This case is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have Kevan Brumfield, a man who murdered Louisiana police officer Betty Smothers and who has spent the last 20 years claiming that his actions were the product of circumstances beyond his control. On the other hand, we have Warrick Dunn, the eldest son of Corporal Smothers, who responded to circumstances beyond his control by caring for his family, building a professional football career, and turning his success on the field into charitable work off the field.

Thomas spends several pages in his 27-page dissent contrasting Brumfield with Dunn. In case his meaning isn’t clear enough, Thomas adds a footnote, saying, “Like Brumfield, Warrick’s father was not a part of his life. But, unlike Brumfield, Warrick did not use the absence of a father figure as a justification for murder.” Thomas goes on to spend another few paragraphs detailing all of Dunn’s charitable contributions and activism, before taking a dig at Brumfield for filing too many appeals. Thomas accuses the majority justices of being insensitive to the horrific nature of the crime and for ignoring the victims in this case. To drive the point home, he attached a photo of Dunn’s mother (copied from Dunn’s memoir) to his dissent.

Several pages! Photos!

Can this please start a trend of citing NFL players’ lives in Supreme Court cases? A few possible examples:

1) How about Alito citing Kurt Warner’s autobiography about how turning to Jesus and hard work to support your dream is constitutionally superior to relying on government programs if you are poor? Seems like a great cite for eliminating the Fair Labor Standards Act!

2) Or perhaps Anthony Kennedy citing Brett Favre’s brilliant autobiography on why drug sentences should be reduced. For certain people anyway.

3) And maybe, just maybe, Scalia will cite the life of OJ Simpson to show how poor African-Americans rise to have successful careers and therefore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is unconstitutional.

Really the possibilities are endless.

Rhodesia 1976

[ 63 ] June 19, 2015 |

A friend of mine pointed me toward this 1976 Australian TV documentary about the nation of Rhodesia in its last years of trying to maintain its white nationalist government. Very sadly, this has taken on a new relevance in the last 48 hours. The “best” part comes at the 18-20 minute mark, when Ian Smith insists he is not a racist. Because as we know today, the only real racists are people of color oppressing white rights to dominate said people of color. Amazing stuff.

Jack Rollins, RIP

[ 38 ] June 18, 2015 |

The legendary producer of Woody Allen’s 70s films and incredibly influential figure in the comedy of that era has died at the ripe old age of 100. Among his many achievements was working with Woody Allen to make him into the brilliant comedian and director he became.

The Most Glorious Sight I’ve Ever Seen

[ 113 ] June 18, 2015 |

Burn baby burn.

Charleston: The Latest Example of White Terrorism against African-Americans

[ 54 ] June 18, 2015 |

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Ku Klux Klan rally, South Carolina, 1951

Heather Cox Richardson places the Charleston shooting in its proper historical context:

Congress stood against Klan terrorism with an 1871 law making their political intimidation a federal offense, a distinction that enabled President Grant to stop the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan by imposing martial law in parts of the South and by having federal courts, rather than local courts, try offenders. For the next twenty years, white southerners controlled black political voices by finding ways either to work with black voters or to silence them. This was imperative, they insisted, for black voters were only interested in social welfare legislation that would cost tax dollars and thus “corrupt” the American government.

In 1889, the threat of a new Republican administration to mount a federal defense of black voting brought a new construction to the idea of the corruption of government. A new generation of white Democrats worried far less about political than about social issues. They insisted that black men must not vote because if they voted, they would take local political offices. This would give them patronage power, for in the nineteenth century, local positions depended on the goodwill of local politicians. Black men would, for example, become school principals. There, they would use their power to hire teachers to force young innocent white girls to have sex with them in exchange for jobs. This political exchange very quickly turned to the idea that black political power meant widespread rape. By the early twentieth century, lynching black men was almost a civic duty for white citizens: only by purging the government of black voices could the nation be made safe.

When Roof said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he was echoing the fear of black political power laid down in the aftermath of the Civil War, when white American men had to face the reality that this nation is, in fact, made up of far more women and people of color than it is of white men. That fact inspired terror – and terrorism – among white men in the late nineteenth century. It did so again after 1954, when Brown v. Board warned white Americans that they would again have to share their country with African Americans. Then, as in the late nineteenth century, white Americans turned to terrorism against black political voices as, for example, when four Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and murdered four little girls.

South Carolina could at the very least take steps to undermine this white supremacist terrorism. First, it could take down the Confederate flag from the statehouse. Second, it could pass hate crimes legislation. It is highly unlikely to do either because white supremacy is still deeply embedded in the moral compass of much of the state’s population.

The Pope, Climate Change, and American Conservatives

[ 92 ] June 18, 2015 |

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It’s very interesting to watch American conservatives, including conservative Catholics, freak out over the Pope talking about issues that are not their own. With the pope deemphasizing the fight against abortion and gay marriage and talking about poverty and, now, climate change, one can almost feel conservative Catholics wanting to call Pope Francis illegitimate. We should hardly be surprised that American conservatives are only interested in institutions that reinforce their current policy positions, i.e. Rick Santorum saying “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.” Theology and morality. Right. Because poverty and climate change is not moral issues to Santorum, but are to the leader of his church, they are not moral issues.

Given how often these very people threw terms like “cafeteria Catholic” at pro-choice Catholics who were unhappy with the direction of the church, one wonders if we might see a move the other way, with conservatives temporarily distancing themselves from the Catholic Church because the Pope doesn’t want the world’s environment transformed in catastrophic ways.

How the Obama-McConnell-Boehner Coalition Moves Forward

[ 48 ] June 18, 2015 |

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This how Obama and his Republican trade friends are going to try and pass fast track.

The process is likely to begin in the House Thursday, when the chamber plans to vote to give Obama fast-track trade authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade agreement in history. If it passes, McConnell would then take up the measure next week, hoping to win the support of at least a dozen Senate Democrats to send it to the president’s desk. The Senate would then amend a separate trade bill with Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to aid workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals.

The convoluted process is needed to surmount opposition from House Democrats, who last week blocked a program they support — TAA — in order to stop the larger trade package from getting to Obama’s desk. The Senate had passed a bill last month that included both the worker aid and negotiating authority, but further changes in the House have forced senators to take up the proposal again, prompting a whole new round of negotiating and posturing ahead of decisive votes in the coming days.

The entire process hinges on support from Senate and House Democrats who support free trade but insist that the government also provide aid and job training to help workers hurt by foreign trade. House Democrats, led by veteran Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, were eager to get the trade deal done, and were looking for assurances from their Senate counterparts. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, wanted a pledge from McConnell that he would clear TAA before they commit to voting for the fast-track bill.

In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, McConnell and Boehner began to provide some of those assurances.

“We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “And it is our intent to have a conference on the customs bill and complete that in a timely manner so that the President can sign it into law.”

At the White House Wednesday, pro-trade Democrats and Obama discussed the possibility of sticking together as a bloc so they can get TPA, TAA, a customs enforcement and perhaps an extension of the Export-Import Bank charter, which lapses at the end of the month.

“I and all the other members there are looking for a guarantee … for a deal to be good it’s got to have enforcement, TAA, I think it’s got to have Ex-Im reauthorization,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “A lot of [the meeting] was to talk about that very question of: What is a sufficient assurance?”

Yes, there’s a lot of votes that need to be delivered and yes a lot of Democrats don’t trust Republicans. But this feels like a familiar script, where Republicans are able to bring just enough votes with Democrats who really do want to support the president’s position and are more comfortable with supporting their corporate funders than American workers. I do have trouble seeing this many votes flipping today though.

The best move the anti-TPP coalition has is rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies. It’s considered the latter, by seeking to primary Democratic congressman Jim Costa, who comes from a district that should support workers but instead he is a pro-corporate and pro-TPP. If labor and greens want to express political power, punishing enemies who can be defeated is an important way to do it. Let’s see how it goes.

This Day in Labor History: June 18, 1954

[ 26 ] June 18, 2015 |

On June 18, 1954, the CIA-trained coup against democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz began, an event that crushed Guatemalan labor, happened with the complicity of the American labor movement, and significantly destabilized Guatemala, helping to create the violence that afflicts that nation and the large-scale undocumented migration to the United States today.

Born in 1913, Jacobo Árbenz became a top military officer under the leadership of the United Fruit (and thus U.S.) supported dictator Jorge Ubico. Árbenz was forced to escort chain-gangs of prisoners, which disgusted and radicalized him. In 1944, he assisted in a coup against Ubico and was offered the position of Minister of Defense from the democratically elected new president of the nation, Juan José Arévalo. After Arévalo died in 1950, Árbenz won the election to replace him.

United Fruit had a significant presence in Guatemala from the first decade of the twentieth century, using its power over that poor nation to suppress any labor activity on its banana plantations. For example, in 1923, UFCO had the strong support of the current military dictatorship to violently repress a strike; said dictatorship had come to power with the company’s support after a government opposed its interests. In 1928, Guatemala nearly went to war with Honduras on UFCO’s orders over a disputed region on the Honduran border, with the latter nation doing the bidding of UFCO rival Cuyamel Fruit. By the mid-1940s, Guatemala had around one-fourth of the company’s Latin American operations. United Fruit had been major supporters of Ubico, who effectively followed its orders. Ubico and other presidents gave significant concessions to United Fruit, robbing the nation of both its land and tax revenues that could have built infrastructure and social programs for the nation’s poor. In fact, Ubico actually asked UFCO to lower its wages to 50 cents a day as to not cause other employers to have to pay workers more. You can guess UFCO’s response to that request.

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United Fruit plantation in Central America

Árbenz’s primary goal was modernizing Guatemala. To do so, he needed to wrest control of his nation’s future from the single corporation that controlled it: United Fruit. So Árbenz made his number one priority land reform, which through much of Latin American history has been the major goal of left-leaning movements against the church, conservatives, and outside corporations. He issued Decree 900, giving the government the right to expropriate unused land from agricultural corporations, compensating the owners. That included United Fruit, which had a lot of land now out of production thanks to banana monocultures leading to diseases that kill trees. During the 18 months of the program’s existence, 1.5 million acres were distributed to 100,000 families.

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Jacobo Árbenz

Árbenz had significant support from labor unions in Guatemala for his reforms. He had started forging links to the Guatemalan labor movement early in his rise. The Guatemalan labor movement had significant ties to the Communist Party and the CP supported Árbenz, thus helping to deliver that rank and file labor support. With United Fruit and conservative elements of the Guatemalan industry shouting that Árbenz was a communist, even though he was just a nationalist, he embraced the idea of it since the policies the U.S. supported in his nation were so awful that being a communist could not be all bad.

United Fruit had urged the U.S. to overthrow what it claimed were communist-led governments in Guatemala going back to 1945. Those calls were heard when the Eisenhower administration took power in 1953. United Fruit had very close connections to Eisenhower’s foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA head Allen Dulles. The Dulles brothers had both done legal work for United Fruit before joining the administration. They and Eisenhower were aggressive about using the CIA to undermine left-wing movements in the developing world and quickly moved to eliminate Arbenz. The CIA went so far as to personally select his replacement, Carlos Castillo Armas. The initial CIA-funded invasion was pathetic and made little impact, but Árbenz was afraid that an overwhelming victory over these forces would provoke direct American action. That happened anyway through airpower and the use of napalm against ships exporting goods out of the nation. By June 27, the CIA won through creating a crisis of confidence against Árbenz in the military, who forced him to resign.

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Castllo Armas entering Guatemala City. CIA agent at wheel.

Always vociferously anti-communist at home, the American Federation Labor happily worked with the CIA during the Cold War to undermine left-leaning labor unions in the developing world and foster politically conservative unionism that would promote the goals of American foreign policy. Shortly before the coup, the AFL’s Latin American Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT) established an organization in Mexico called Guatemalan Workers in Exile. Effectively, it was an operation to create a right-wing labor movement for the post-coup government. Ten days after the coup, Serafino Romualdi, the AFL’s ambassador to Latin America, was in Guatemala City with the figurehead of ORIT and the leader of the right-wing labor movement in Batista’s Cuba to take over the former Guatemalan trade union building and reestablish the labor movement on lines friendly to the U.S. government and United Fruit. This attempt to create a moderate anti-communist trade union that would be a respected member of a U.S.-friendly government failed completely as the new military regime didn’t care less about the roots of unions and sought to crush all organized labor.

Guatemala suffered under decades of military dictatorships supported by the United States and its corporations, culminating in the rule of Efraín Ríos Montt, the Reagan supported military leader in the early 1980s who engaged in a genocidal campaign against the nation’s indigenous population, defining them as communists for being indigenous.

For years, Árbenz floated around Europe, trying to find a place to live. The CIA muscled western European nations to deny him. The Czechs didn’t want him because they were nervous he would seek financial remuneration for the shoddy guns they sold him before the coup. The Soviets took him for awhile but he wanted to return to Latin America. He eventually ended up in Cuba after the Revolution. Later he moved to Mexico. Over all this time, he sunk into desperation and alcoholism before drowning in a bathtub in 1971.

Today, Guatemala is one of the world’s most violent and dangerous nations thanks in no small part to the destabilization caused in 1954. The U.S. continues to engage in a post-colonial relationship with Guatemala and its workers, including the exploitation of the poor by apparel industry sweatshops who will just jump 20 miles to Honduras or El Salvador if the nation enforces labor regulations or allows its workers to form strong unions. Repression of labor has been the hallmark of Guatemala governments in the 21st century.

I borrowed from Deborah Levenson-Estrada, Trade Unionists Against Terror: Guatemala City, 1954-85 and Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer, and John Coatsworth, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala in writing this post.

This is the 147th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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