George Zimmerman waits for the resumption of his second degree murder trial in Sanford, Florida, July 1, 2013. (Reuters/Joe Burbank)
Yesterday, the jury in the George Zimmerman murder trial heard, at length, Zimmerman describe in his own words what happened the night he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. He didn’t take the stand, but the prosecution played for the court three separate audio and video recordings of Zimmerman’s interviews with the police and read aloud his written statement from the night of February 26, 2012. His description of the events were generally consistent with the story he has repeatedly told. But to my mind, the case really comes down to what the jury will believe happened in one specific moment.
Zimmerman says that after the 911 dispatcher told him he did not need to follow Trayvon, he continued walking to find an address so that he could be more specific regarding his whereabouts. Then he got off the phone. It’s during this time that Zimmerman claims that Trayvon came out of either the bushes, or the darkness, and said something to the effect of, “What’s your problem, homie?” to which Zimmerman responded, “I don’t have a problem.” Says Zimmerman, Trayvon replied, “You’ve got a problem now” and proceeded to punch Zimmerman in the face. Zimmerman’s version of the story is contradicted by the state’s key witness, 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel, who took the stand last week. Jeantel, who was one the phone with Trayvon that night for the duration of this event, says Trayvon was attempting to elude Zimmerman, whom he had described as a “creepy ass cracker.” Trayvon, according to Jeantel, believed he had lost Zimmerman, only to then notice that he hadn’t, at which point he told Jeantel, “The nigga is following me.” Jeantel says she then heard Trayvon say, “Why you following me for?” to which Zimmerman replied “What are you doing out here?” She then heard what she described as a bump and wet grass before the call was lost.
Jeantel’s testimony is key because it directly refutes Zimmerman’s version of the event and calls into question who was the aggressor in the resulting tussle. It’s clear that Zimmerman sustained some injuries, while not necessarily consistent with his assertion that Trayvon punched him twenty-five to thirty times and slammed his head on the concrete. It’s likely that a fight took place. But who started it?
On her show Sunday morning, Melissa Harris-Perry asked a question that gets at the heart of why this case is of national importance. Talking with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, Harris-Perry said: “It does seem like part of what hinges here is whether or not Trayvon Martin hit George Zimmerman and whether or not he did so first…but why is it that if this person hit someone who was prepared to use lethal force against him…why wouldn’t he have a right to stand his ground? Is that not racialized?” Do black boys get to defend themselves?
Because it’s clear that, whoever instigated the altercation, Zimmerman followed Trayvon that night. He was instructed not to, but he did anyway. That Zimmerman fumbled for an answer when the lead investigator asked whether he thought Trayvon was afraid of him is emblematic of the way society has trained us to think about black manhood. Of course he didn’t think Trayvon could be scared. Young black men never are. They are the danger. Which is also why, for some, Zimmerman’s story, even with the cartoonish language he ascribes to Trayvon, doesn’t sound far-fetched. A black man jumping from behind the bushes to sucker-punch someone they don’t know and attempt to kill them only a short distance from their home. It makes perfect sense if you believe that black men are preternaturally violent.
The jury will have to decide who they believe in this instance, Jeantel or Zimmerman, and it is this that has me concerned. Brittney Cooper, writing for Salon, captured it succinctly: “…black womanhood, black manhood and urban adolescence are always on trial in the American imaginary.”
Zimmerman’s innocence rests on the notion of Trayvon’s criminality. And in this country, it’s not that difficult to convince six people of the criminality of a 17-year-old black boy.
Want more from the Zimmerman trial? Read Mychal Denzel Smith’s defense of Rachel Jeantel.
A protester, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, holds a book titled President Morsi Building a New Egypt in front of the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo’s Moqattam district July 1, 2013. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Two years after the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is teetering on the edge of an explosion.
President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood stand-in who was elected president a year ago, has now defied the military’s forty-eight-hour ultimatum that he give in to the demands of protesters, millions of whom have streamed into the streets. Despite growing international pressure, the resignations of most of the non–Muslim Brotherhood ministers of his government—including the foreign minister—and spreading protests, Morsi seems willing to call the army’s bluff. We’ll find out in the next day or so if the army is bluffing.
And the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a long history of paramilitary activity, is building its own defense force in preparation for what could become a civil war.
Though Morsi was reported to have met with General Sisi, the defense minister who issued the ultimatum, late on Monday night, no sign of a deal has yet emerged, and Morsi remained defiant on Tuesday morning. Not only the army, but the police and the interior ministry, too, are backing the opposition protesters. According to The Guardian:
As the night wore on, Morsi’s position seemed ever more untenable, with the Ministry of the Interior announcing its “complete solidarity” with Egypt’s armed forces, and the army taking control of local government headquarters in Fayoum, a governorship south of Cairo.
President Obama has called Morsi, from Tanzania, to urge him to listen to the protesters. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called General Sisi, the Egyptian defense minister and spokesman for the military council—although there’s no word on what Dempsey said. The United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, has also urged Morsi to make a deal.
Opposition newspapers, such as Al Watan, are proclaiming: “Last 48 Hours of Muslim Brotherhood Rule!”
Problem is, it isn’t clear that any deal that Morsi is willing to make would be acceptable to the opposition coalition, Rebel (Tamarod). Rebel has called for Morsi’s resignation, new presidential elections, and a new constitution. It appears that the army supports that plan. And, according to Al Ahram, the ultraconservative Islamist group, the Salafist Call and its affiliated Nour party—which had earlier called for compromise—now supports an early presidential vote. Says Al Ahram:
But after two days of massive protests against Morsi, [the Salafist Call] endorsed the opposition’s main demand (early presidential elections), and also called for a government of technocrats and a committee for constitutional amendments.
The opposition bloc, Rebel, has endorsed Mohamed ElBaradei as its leader and spokesman (and presumed presidential candidate), according to Al Ahram. ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, won international plaudits for his opposition to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and for his calm, measured approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. Says Al Ahram:
ElBaradei will also be mediating between state institutions and all political forces to draw a map for political transition.
Rebel has already announced that when the military’s forty-eight-hour ultimatum is up, it will assign a delegation to speak directly to the Supreme Military Council about what comes next, bypassing Morsi and Egypt’s elected government. Reports Reuters:
The coalition that backed Sunday’s protests said there was no question of negotiating now with Morsi on the general’s timetable and it was already formulating positions for discussion directly with the army once the 48 hours are up.
The army statement on Monday read, in part:
“The armed forces warns everyone that if the demands of the people are not met during this set time period, it will be obliged … to announce a roadmap and measures for the future, which it would oversee in collaboration with all the loyal national factions and movements, including the youth who were and remain the spark of the glorious revolution. No one would be ignored.”
According to Reuters, Morsi’s chief military adviser also resigned. The agency reports:
Mursi’s military adviser, U.S.-trained former chief-of-staff General Sami Enan, also resigned.
“The Egyptian people have spoken and as a result everyone must listen and implement, especially since this unprecedented (protest) was accompanied by the fall of some martyrs which is unacceptable because Egyptian blood is valued highly and must be preserved,” Enan told Al Arabiya television.
El-Watan quoted senior General Adel El-Mursi as saying that if there were no agreement among political leaders to hold early presidential elections, the alternative could involve “a return to revolutionary legitimacy”.
Under that scenario, the sole functioning chamber of parliament, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, would be dissolved, the Islamist-tinged constitution enacted under Mursi would be scrapped, and a presidential council would rule by decree until fresh elections could be held under new rules, he was quoted as saying. That is largely the opposition position.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous writes about why, one year after Morsi’s election, Egyptians are now demanding his resignation.
Riders walk from a Muni bus near the 24th Street Mission Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in San Francisco, Monday, July 1, 2013. Early Monday, July 1, 2013, two of San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit’s largest unions went on strike after weekend talks with management failed to produce a new contract. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
When teachers in Chicago went on strike last year, their demands sounded very reasonable. After just nine days on strike, CTU fought for and won a contract that included hiring more than 600 additional teachers in art, music and physical education, making textbooks available on the first day of school and bringing in the percentage of teacher evaluations that are decided by standardized test scores down to the legal minimum of 30 percent.
Yet the media presented both CTU and union president Karen Lewis as shrill, unreasonable, greedy forces more interested in razing the earth than rationally negotiating. The spin that the strike was really about greedy teachers hellbent on hurting kids quickly infiltrated the media’s vernacular.
The same thing is happening now as workers for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) strike while negotiating for a new contract. This is BART’s first strike in sixteen years.
Workers are asking for a wage increase (they haven’t received one in five years) and improved safety measures (bullet-proof glass in station booths, better lighting in tunnels, etc.). The union is asking for a 23 percent raise over four years, and BART countered with an offer of an 8 percent raise over four years, but the union says this offer falls below cost of living increases.
A BART spokesperson called the safety issues a “smoke screen” even though BART police have reported more than 2,400 serious crimes at just five stations in the last three years—crimes serious enough to require reporting to the FBI.
The union is also upset about a proposal for workers to pay more into their healthcare benefits.
Dr. Steven Pitts, a union expert at the UC-Berkeley Labor Relations Center, says that rising healthcare and retirement costs have affected everyone in the Bay Area, but BART is unusual in that it had a revenue surplus this year. Since BART employees endured wage stagnation during the recession, they expect more now.
“The unions have the capacity that says we helped you out in the past, and now we need you to pay us back,” Pitts said.
Antonnette Bryant, President of ATU 1555, says it’s difficult to negotiate with people who “deliberately distort the truth.”
BART does not have a “deficit,” as the Board says. BART faces a massive budget surplus of more than $1.2 billion over the next 10 years. And we don’t make half what they say we make. I’ve worked for BART for 22 years. My salary is $63,000 a year. If I were to retire today, I would get a pension of $2,100 a month—and we don’t get Social Security, just our pensions.
BART workers haven’t had a raise in 4 years, since BART imposed a hiring freeze in 2009. We also face a mounting wave of violence on the job. BART police have reported more than 2,400 serious crimes at just five stations in the last three years—crimes serious enough to require reporting to the FBI. Yet BART refuses to even discuss the issue of safety for workers and riders in negotiations.
All we want is a fair wage and a safe workplace. We don’t think that’s too much to ask. Please tell the BART of Directors to sit down and work out a contract that’s fair, equitable and honest, and gets this great system up and running.
For perspective on salaries, consider a family of four living in the Bay Area needs roughly $74,341 a year to get by compared to $62,517 in 2008. BART officials have released inflated salary figures of BART train operators and station agents, adding fuel to the greedy workers myth. The officials claim these workers make an average of $71,000 annually when in fact the San Francisco Examiner reports they make a maximum of $62,000 annually.
That might seem like an easy thing to fact check by talking to real-life workers, but then that would require reporters not taking officials at their word—a response many mainstream outlets seem to have trouble adopting.
The typical media consumer would have to do a lot of digging in order to find the union’s demands because the media is presenting the story as Greedy Workers Versus Hardworking Americans.
Here’s just a sample of some headlines:
“BART strike has transit, commuters scrambling,” “BART Strike Hits Commuters; No Word On Service Resumption,” “BART strike: Commuters find creative ways to get to work,” “BART strike: What are my commute options?”
In all of these instances, the striking workers are presented as a nefarious force fixated on disrupting other workers’ commute for… some reason. Probably greedy motives. Usually, these kinds of articles open with a profile of some poor unsuspecting sucker who can’t figure out how they’re going to get to and from work because of the evil BART employees.
Here’s the Los Angeles Times showing how it’s done:
Wayne Phillips did everything but swim as he struggled to get to his tech job in this city’s Financial District on Monday morning.
His usual smooth ride on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train was derailed by the system’s first strike in 16 years. So Phillips drove from the East Bay city of Concord to Oakland. He stood in a “quarter-mile-long” line for a ferry. Then he gave up and jumped on his own boat, a 30-foot Bayliner named Lovin’ Life.
Oh no! Poor Wayne! The reader is left feeling angry at those terrible BART workers who are on strike for… some reason. Probably for more gold chalices.
Eventually, the LA Times gets around to exploring the actual strike—something about a broken-down negotiation—without casting any blame or exploring the details.
That’s not to say the commuter side of events shouldn’t be covered, but by fixating on that one aspect of the story, readers never really hear from workers themselves. Furthermore, as Mother Jones points out, the BART strike is having a ripple effect across the region:
City of Oakland employees joined BART workers on the picket line Monday for a one-day protest. Union leaders rallied a crowd in front of city hall by saying they had made concessions during the recession and that they deserved better compensation now that the economy was improving.
AC Transit—a massive bus network which services cities east of San Francisco—had earlier threatened to strike as well once their contract expired on Sunday. Since AC Transit’s trans-Bay service shouldered much of the burden left by the BART strike Monday, the additional strike could have been disastrous. (The agency’s union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, announced Monday morning they would continue negotiating instead.) Workers for the East Bay Regional Park District say they are planning to walk out over the Fourth of July weekend, and, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday, three unions representing University of California employees are also planning protests this week.
Now, either all of these workers are greedy demons, or they have valid grievances and striking is their only means of recourse. It’s one thing for commuters to be angry about the strike. After all, it’s a natural human impulse to lose the ability to empathize once one is inconvenienced, but when the media joins in on the mob mentality, it skews the story into an unfair depiction of striking workers as history’s greatest monsters.
The impulse to villianize workers is another sign of a societal divide between those who run our buses and trains and teach our children and the people who believe organizing in the workplace and going on strike isn’t something for them. Movements like the BART strike shouldn’t make us question why workers would struggle for a living wage—they should make us wonder why this kind of organizing isn’t happening everywhere.
Non-union, federally contracted workers are also striking today in Washington, DC. Will they succeed in pressuring President Obama into enforcing higher labor standards?
(Courtesy of GoodJobsNation.org)
Two updates, including news of a letter from congressional Democrats to the President, and of a planned meeting between the GSA and Good Jobs Nation, appear below.
Beginning at 8:30 this morning, non-union, federally contracted workers plan to walk off the job at the Ronald Reagan Building and Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, DC. Today’s strike, and a “mock trial” and pair of civil disobedience actions planned for this morning, are designed to highlight alleged “wage theft,” and to pressure President Obama to use his executive authority to require higher labor standards for federal contractors. The work stoppage follows a previous one on May 21, and a recent wave of similar one-day strikesby non-unionretail and fast food workers around the country.
“The salary they pay isn’t good enough for us to live,” Reagan Building Subway worker Karla Quezada told The Nation in Spanish last night.
As The Nation has reported, the federally contracted worker campaign is being organized by Good Jobs Nation, a campaign unveiled in the spring and backed by the Service Employees International Union and other labor and progressive groups. A May report from the progressive think tank Demos estimates that about 2 million workers whose jobs are backed by public funds are paid $12 per hour or less. While The New York Times reported in 2010 that the Obama administration planned to announce a “high-road contracting policy” that would make it harder for companies with lower labor standards to secure federal contracts, the White House has made no such move. A spokesperson for the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) did not respond to requests for comment regarding the workers’ actions and allegations, including an inquiry yesterday.
Asked why he believes President Obama has not taken more executive action on standards for federal contractors, Congressman Keith Ellison told The Nation, “I think what’s preventing him is the people he puts around him…. If [GE CEO] Jeff Immelt is the head of your jobs thing, and somebody from Walmart is the head of your OMB, you know, what kind of advice are you getting around low-wage workers?” Ellison (DFL-MN), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was interviewed last month in San Jose at the Netroots Nation conference, where he and a handful of colleagues joined fast food workers to kick off a “Raise Up America” campaign whose goals include a minimum wage hike, support for workers seeking unionization and higher wages for federally contracted employees. Ellison told The Nation that he was against “villainizing” the president, adding, “It’s the system—it’s not the person…. I think we could almost fairly be described as a plutocracy now.”
(Courtesy of GoodJobsNation.org)
While the May 21 strike involved hundreds of workers at various federal buildings, today’s is confined to the Reagan Building and neighboring Old Post Office Pavilion. It comes one week after Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the federal Department of Labor accusing eight franchises operating in the Reagan Building of “willful violations of the minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” (The franchises have license agreements with Trade Center Management Associates, which has a contract with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the building.) Quezada told The Nation that while management sometimes requires her to work more than forty hours a week, “they never pay us overtime.”
In a statement reported by The Washington Post, the GSA responded that it “takes steps to ensure that our contractors follow the law, and we take allegations of violations seriously.” The Post noted that a GSA spokesperson “did not answer questions about the agency’s processes for ensuring contractor compliance with federal labor laws.” A spokesperson for the federal Department of Labor told Reuters last week that the department “has an open investigation of Trade Center Management Associates providing services at the Ronald Reagan building.” Congressman Ellison, CPC Co-Chair Raul Grilajlva (D-AZ) and DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton have also written to the GSA regarding contractors’ compliance with the law.
Like the May 21 strike and recent fast food and retail work stoppages, organizers contend that today’s action is an “Unfair Labor Practices strike”—a protest inspired by violations of labor law, whose participants could therefore qualify for greater legal protection from being “permanently replaced” by management. Good Jobs Nation has filed National Labor Relations Board charges against four employers alleging illegal surveillance, intimidation and retaliation.
As The Nation reported in May, organizers alleged that managers at four Reagan building food court outlets initially refused to let ten workers return to work after their strike, but relented following an emergency protest. Quezada told The Nation that her manager denied her and her fellow strikers two days of work as punishment for striking. And organizers say that after going on strike, three-year employee Antonio Vanegas was detained by Homeland Security, held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for four days and separately fired by Quick Pita—ostensibly for failing to prepare a sauce on time. Vanegas has an immigration hearing next month.
“I think SEIU’s approach is a good approach,” Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, told The Nation in a June 21 interview. A project of the Partnership for Working Families focused on privatization and contracting, ITPI is backed by major unions including the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the largest public sector union in the AFL-CIO. (SEIU, which represents public and private sector workers, is the largest union in the rival Change to Win federation.) Cohen said he’s confident that some of the 2 million jobs cited by Demos should ideally be performed directly by public employees. But while “we would like to start moving things back in” to the direct federal workforce, said Cohen, “we’re also realistic: we’re not going to double the size of government right now.” Cohen told The Nation that “good contracting” rules that “raise the standards to where they should be” also weaken the case for privatization by making it harder for private contractors to under-bid federal employment on labor costs.
Quezada, who’ll be striking for the second time today, said that in May, “I didn’t know what to expect. But there were so many people supporting us that I felt very good about it.” For her and her co-workers, she said, “It was scary, but we had to do it. Because otherwise no one would listen.”
Update (3:20 PM Tuesday): According to Good Jobs Nation, nearly fifty workers are on strike today, including about half of those employed in the Reagan Building food court. The campaign says that about thirty workers from those locations participated in the previous strike.
Along with the day’s protests and civil disobedience, and a press conference with DC City Council members, a group of workers paid an unannounced morning visit to the home of new GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini. In a video posted by Good Jobs Nation, Tangherlini can be seen standing in his doorway, telling the group on his porch, “I’d like to look at the issues that are involved. Obviously we’re interested in trying to find a solution to these problems.” One striker tells Tangeherlini, “We don’t want to, like, steal, you know. We just want what we’re supposed to get.” Tangherlini responds, “I completely understand. All right, take care.”
In a statement to MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff, a GSA spokesperson said the agency “takes allegations of violations very seriously,” and had referred the issue to the Department of Labor and also written to TCMA “reiterating that it must follow federal and local laws in their own contracts with the food court tenants. We look forward to reviewing the results of DOL’s investigation and will take appropriate actions where necessary.”
In an e-mailed statement, Trade Center Management Associates said that it "does not hire or employ the employees of the businesses operating in the food court, and their wages are determined by their employers." TCMA added that its license agreements with food court vendors "oblige vendors to comply with all applicable laws," and that "if the allegations asserted in the complaint by Good Jobs Nation are investigated and validated by the Department of Labor, then TCMA will consult with the GSA, as GSA’s trade center manager, on the appropriate steps to be taken."
In an afternoon statement, Councilmember Tommy Wells touted efforts to pass a non-binding council resolution “to support federal workers’ and contractors’ rights to a living wage.” “The federal government is the number one employer in the District,” said Wells, “and shouldn’t be using our tax dollars to pay its employees anything less than a living wage.”
Update (4:40 PM Tuesday): According to the GSA, Administrator Tangherlini has agreed to hold a meeting with Good Jobs Nation in the near future.
In a letter sent to President Obama today, seventeen congressional Democrats urge executive action on contracting standards. Citing meetings with workers as well as Demos' report, the representatives call the capital "the visible epicenter of federal collusion with vendors and contractors that pay low wages to their employees at federal sites." "Although these contractors enjoy the prestige and get revenue at prime federal locations," they write, "the federal government washes its hand of these workers, leaving them with exploitative wages."
The signatories, including CPC Co-Chairs Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, Chief Deputy Democratic Whip Jan Schakowsky, and freedom ride veteran John Lewis, ask the president to "take immediate action." "A working group of federal agencies," they write, "could extricate the federal government from its complicity in denying these workers decent wages and benefits." The Democrats note the "ample precedents for using federal contracting power to promote the general welfare," and suggest that a working group could "offer new approaches"; they offer the example of awarding potential concessionaires "significant points" in the contracting process if they offer a "living wage."
In GSA's letter to TCMA CEO John Dew, sent on June 26 and also provided to The Nation this afternoon, Contracting Officer Michael Vrobel states that the agency "take[s] these allegations of violations very seriously." Vrobel writes that the GSA "expects that TCMA will comply with all applicable laws," and "will cooperate with Federal and State agencies responsible for enforcing labor requirements." Vrobel adds, "In accordance with TCMA's licensing responsibilities, please ensure that licensees meet the terms of the license by complying with all laws relating to the premises and the Licensee's use thereof."
A spokesperson for the Office and Management and Budget did not immediately respond to an inquiry this afternoon regarding the congressional letter, and has not responded to prior inquiries regarding the contracted workers' allegations and demands.
BART workers in San Francisco are striking for the first time in sixteen years. What does this strike have in common with last year’s Chicago Teachers Union strike?
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Americans pay far more for maternity care and delivery than our peers in the developed world, as described in a lengthy article The New York Times published yesterday. But while the stories of the women in the piece end with delivered babies and enormous bills, the costs of having a child in this country continue after the hospital. All along the way, this country has made the cost of having children nearly prohibitive.
The costs of pregnancy have spiraled out of control in the United States. Charges for delivery have nearly tripled since 1996. Out-of-pocket costs have risen fourfold. The total price tag for a pregnancy and newborn care with a vaginal delivery is about $30,000, while it comes to $50,000 for a C-section. Women with insurance pay an average of $3,400 out of pocket, a large sum as it is. Yet over 60 percent of women with private plans that aren’t through their employers lack maternity coverage. Not to mention that nearly one in five women between the ages of 18 and 64 are uninsured. As one woman paying for private insurance told the Times, “I know that a C-section could ruin us financially.”
Two decades ago, the article points out, women didn’t usually pay anything except a small fee if they wanted extras like a private room or television. That’s more in line with what women in developed countries across the pond pay. Ireland guarantees free maternity care at public hospitals with the option to pay a fee for private deliveries. The average price for a vaginal delivery comes to about $4,000 in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, but mothers are on the hook for little of that. Yet American women and European women have access to about the same care. One of the bigger contrasts? That more babies die in the United States in their first day of life than in sixty-eight other countries. The US ranks at number fifty in the world for maternal mortality.
The real difference driving costs is our healthcare system. Here at home, we pay for each individual test, procedure and medication, including a $20 splash of disinfectant on the umbilical cord, a bottle of which goes for $2.59 at Walgreens. In most other developed countries, by contrast, hospitals and doctors receive a flat fee for caring for a pregnant woman.
Unfortunately, the sky-high costs of giving birth to a new child don’t end when a woman leaves the hospital and pays the bill. As I reported last year, the lack of paid maternity leave in this country means dire financial straits for many new mothers. Workers are guaranteed only twelve weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off for a new child or to care for a sick family member, and while some get paid leave through their employers, more than 40 percent of new mothers only have access to unpaid leave. Even worse, less than half of private sector workers are even covered by the FMLA because of restrictions in the law.
The financial choices are very challenging for those who take unpaid leave. The Department of Labor came out with a new report on the FMLA and found that among those who received partial pay or no pay at all, 30 percent had to borrow money to get by, 35 percent dipped into savings meant for something else, the same percentage put off paying bills and nearly 85 percent had to limit their spending. 15 percent had to go on public assistance, and in fact, a quarter of all “poverty spells”—when someone falls into poverty for two months or more at a time—begin with the birth of a child. This struggle can also lead to bankruptcy: a 2006 study found that 7 percent of those filing cited the birth of a child as the cause.
Of course, the costs don’t even end there. Thanks to our lack of universal preschool and the little help we extend to parents who struggle to pay for childcare, finding a quality, affordable place to leave children when parents go off to work is nearly impossible for many families. And the cost of childcare here is pretty outrageous: full-time center care for an infant can reach as much as $15,000 a year. The cost for an infant and a 4-year-old is more than annual median rent in all fifty states.
Our developed peers again best us when it comes to paid leave and childcare. The United States is actually an extreme outlier when it comes to paid maternity leave: we are one of just three countries out of a total 178 that doesn’t guarantee paid time off. Fifty countries offer paid paternity leave. Meanwhile, twenty-one other countries increased spending on childcare faster than the US over the past two decades, from .35 percent of GDP on average to .47 percent, while we’ve fallen far behind, just spending .11 percent today.
The rest of the developed world has figured out how to make having a child a reasonable expense. They control medical costs and have nationalized healthcare. They guarantee paid family leave. And they find ways to make quality childcare within reach for most families. By failing on all of these fronts, the US is putting an enormous financial burden on new families.
Should Texas State Senator Wendy Davis run for governor?
One year after his inauguration, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is already facing a mass uprising. Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with Democracy Now! from Cairo about how ordinary Egyptians’ lives have become much more difficult and why they are calling for Morsi’s resignation.
There is something happening in sub-Saharan Africa. While the continent’s traditional narratives focus on corruption and public health crises, a new story is beginning to emerge. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. Over the next decade, the continent’s GDP is expected to rise by an average of 6 percent.
With President Obama meeting officials in Johannesberg, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes talks with journalists Esther Armah and Dayo Olopade, and Nation contributor John Nichols about US engagement in this emerging market, China’ ambitions in the region, and the legacy of Nelson Mandela in Africa’s development.
It is the political party that defeated apartheid, but for many South Africans the ANC has lost its way.
Live feed courtesy of the Texas Tribune.
Thousands of people have descended on the Capitol in Austin today to rally against anti-abortion legislation being taken up again in the Texas legislature. After Senator Wendy Davis’s successful filibuster led to the defeat of the anti-abortion bill SB5 in the Texas legislature last week, Governor Rick Perry called a second special session to attempt to pass the bill again. That special session begins at 2 pm CDT today. From Reuters:
This time, anti-abortion lawmakers won’t put themselves in a position in which time is about to run out, said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, which advocates for anti-abortion policies and other conservative causes.
“It seems as close to a sure thing as you can get,” Saenz said of the bill’s passage. But he added: “As we saw during the first special session, until it’s completely done and the process is finished, there are no guarantees. That’s going to motivate both sides to do everything they can to ensure victory.”
While Republicans likely have the votes—and the time—needed to pass the bills, on ABC’s This Week yesterday Wendy Davis said, “I just refuse to say I believe it will happen, I’m an eternal optimist. I believe in people; I believe in the power of democracy. And I’m going to fight with every fiber I have to keep it from passing.” She’s joined in that effort by pro-choice activists who flooded the capitol during the daylong filibuster last Tuesday and have promised to return again during the second special session. For live updates on the special session and the continuing demonstrations in Austin, check out the hashtags #TXlege, #SWTW, #TXrally, #HB2 on Twitter.
Sarah Beth Alcabes (L) kisses girlfriend Meghan Cleary, both of California, after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on cases against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s gay marriage ban known as Prop 8, outside the court in Washington, June 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
There are 1,110 federal benefits, rights and obligations that, until last week, could only be claimed by heterosexual couples. That was clear until the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. United States.
What’s not as clear is how many of those benefits can be quickly extended to same-sex couples. In particular, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have some thorny rules that may leave elderly couples and gay veterans in a legal no-man’s land for years to come.
“These two areas are of quite a bit of significance,” said Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, the country’s oldest gay-rights firm. Sommer noted that it’s too early to say exactly what options the executive branch has for extending VA and Social Security benefits to all same-sex spouses in spite of the statutes. “It may well be a different process and higher hurdles.”
The key problem is that gay marriages are legal in only thirteen states, and complicated residency rules vary from federal agency to federal agency.
For some agencies, the transition to post-DOMA benefits will be fairly straightforward: at the Defense Department, for example, there is a “place of celebration” rule, meaning that if a couple has a legal marriage license from any state, their union is valid regardless of the law where they live. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel already announced that the Pentagon “intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses—regardless of sexual orientation—as soon as possible.”
Other federal agencies have a “place of residence” rule, which considers a marriage valid—and thus, spousal benefits valid—only if the union is recognized in the state where a couple lives.
For most agencies with a “place of residence” rule, same-sex benefits might take a little longer—but not by much. The administration has the authority to simply update or change agency rules independently, and President Obama has already directed the Justice Department to “ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.”
But the two exceptions are the VA and the Social Security Administration. Both use “place of residence” categorization—but both also have defined that in a statute. That means it will require an act of Congress to amend, and with the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, that’s unlikely to materialize. (House Speaker John Boehner spent millions of federal dollars fighting to keep DOMA in place.)
Veterans’ spouses—those that are recognized—can access health care, take out a loan on favorable terms in order to buy, build or repair a home and be buried with their partner.
From the Social Security Administration, a retired spouse can collect disability and retirement benefits, a one-time sum after the death of a partner, and, if they were the lower earner, exchange their payment for the deceased’s higher allotment.
So, say two couples get legally married at the same courthouse in Washington, DC. One pair return to their home in the district, where they grow old and are ultimately eligible for the Social Security benefits millions of other American spouses depend on for support.
The second couple, meanwhile, drives across the Potomac to their home in Virginia, where they are not recognized as one another’s spouse and so are denied the very same privileges. It’s a nonsensical discrepancy. As Sommers put it, “Marriage should stick.”
“It’s quite possible that in order to get spousal benefits under these two programs to people who have valid marriage licenses but live in a state that doesn’t recognize them, we may have to see action by Congress,” said Brian Moulton, legal director at Human Rights Campaign. Beyond amending the individual statutes, legislation instituting a uniform law across agencies that recognizes all marriages in all states would solve the problem.
The Respect for Marriage Act, reintroduced in both the House and the Senate last week, does just that, but again the House is likely to remain a roadblock for passage.
In that case, Justice Department’s ability to find a way around the statutes is crucial. Advocates say it would be difficult to stop the agencies from extending benefits to same-sex spouses if they chose to do so.
In order to establish standing in any legal objection, “someone would need to be concretely injured by that action happening, and I’m not sure who that would be,” said Moulton. “But I do think some of our opponents are paying attention to how this moves.”
“The federal government has had to navigate all kinds of determinations of peoples’ status, including marital status, over the years and it has worked it out,” said Sommers. “People who do not qualify under the statutes…would face a tough choice between forgoing benefits or, if they could, moving. And I think it puts that much more pressure on states that continue to deny the freedom to marry to get into step with these principles of liberty and equality.”
Now that the Supreme Court has voted on DOMA, what’s next for the LGBT movement?