United Nations: U.S. Is Failing Women


(Gary Cameron/Reuters)


From health care to wages, America is failing women on every level, according to a new report.

Earlier this month, human rights experts from the United Nations visited a backwards country where women are paid significantly less than men, where women are drastically underrepresented in the national legislature, where the percentages of women living in poverty and dying during childbirth are rising, where pregnant women in prisons are shackled during childbirth, and where women face intimidation and harassment while trying to access health care.

When they returned from their trip, they said they were “shocked” by what they found and chided the nation for being one of just seven—including Iran, Somalia, and Sudan—that hasn’t yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t heard of this place before. It’s an obscure nation called the United States of America.

On December 11th, a UN working group on legal discrimination against women concluded its ten-day tour of the United States, which included meetings in Washington D.C. and visits to Alabama, Oregon and Texas. Between them, the experts in the working group, led by Eleonora Zielinska of Poland, have decades of experience in law, public policy, diplomacy, academia, and government.

What they found, essentially, was that the U.S. hypocritically fails to measure up to the very standards that it sets for other countries when it comes to women’s human rights.

“The United States, which is a leading state in formulating international human rights standards, is allowing its women to lag behind international human rights standards,” the group concluded in a statement, released to the press in advance of a full report coming in June 2016.

Their statement is an eye-opening description of the country from an outsider’s perspective that may recall that time you read “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” in grade school: When the U.S. is de-centered, it seems woefully unadvanced relative to its wealth.

“We acknowledge the United States’ commitment to liberty, so well represented by the Statue of Liberty which symbolizes both womanhood and freedom,” the statement began. The praise mostly stopped there.

Despite currently having “the highest level of legislative representation ever achieved by women” in the country, the U.S. still ranks at a mere 72 in the world in terms of the percentage of female lawmakers. With women holding just 19.4 percent of congressional seats, the U.S. falls well below Rwanda, Mexico, Uganda, Pakistan, and most developed nations.

The group also concluded that women play an essential role in driving the growth of the U.S. economy but suffer disproportionately from the global recession’s aftereffects and from persistent income inequality, with a wage gap of 21 percent. On top of these overarching disparities, non-white women, pregnant women, and new mothers face even more challenges in employment.

“[W]e are shocked by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers and persons with care responsibilities, which are required in international human rights law,” the experts noted.

Indeed, the U.S. consistently falls at or near the bottom of international parental leave rankings because it requires no paid leave, only 12 weeks of unpaid time off.

The working group was also discouraged by the fact that the percentage of women living in poverty had increased over the last decade from 12.1 to 14.5 percent, and that the maternal mortality rate increased by 136 percent from 1990 to 2013. Both of these figures vary by ethnicity: non-white women earn less than white women and African-American women die during childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women.

The statement listed off even more human rights violations and shortcomings in the United States: contraception exemptions in insurance plans courtesy of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the criminalization of women in prostitution, a lack of “adequate and quality sex education” with an inordinate focus on abstinence, and widespread discrimination against immigrant women.

What they found, essentially, was that the U.S. hypocritically fails to measure up to the very standards that it sets for other countries when it comes to women’s human rights.

“While all women are the victims of these missing rights, women who are poor, belong to Native American, Afro-American and Hispanic ethnic minorities, migrant women, LBTQ women, women with disabilities and older women are disparately vulnerable,” they concluded.

But the experts were especially concerned by the current state of reproductive rights in the United States. They visited abortion clinics in Texas and Alabama and witnessed firsthand that “many of the clinics work in conditions of constant threats, harassments and vandalizing.”

“Although women have a legal right to terminate a pregnancy under federal law, ever increasing barriers are being created to prevent their access to abortion procedures,” they observed.

The late November shooting of a police officer and two civilians at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center took place “just before the start of [their] visit,” they said, and “once again demonstrated the extreme hostility and danger faced by family planning providers and patients.”

“We urge the authorities to combat the stigma attached to reproductive and sexual health care, which leads to violence, harassment and intimidation against those seeking or providing reproductive health care, and to investigate and prosecute violence or threats of violence,” they advised.

Above all, the working group urges the U.S. to finally ratify CEDAW. As Amnesty International notes, the U.S. currently has “the dubious distinction of being the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only industrialized democracy that has not yet ratified this treaty,” first adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

Ratifying CEDAW would require the U.S. to commit “to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system.” The U.S. Senate has never voted on the treaty.

“We understand the complexity of federalism,” the working group noted, “but this cannot be regarded as a justification for failure to secure these rights.”

Published by Samantha Allen via The Daily Beast

NPR #News: No Government Shutdown Likely, But Here’s What’s In The Spending Bill

Published by Susan Davis via NPR


J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

House Speaker Paul Ryan reached a deal late Tuesday on two major pieces of legislation: a $1.1 trillion spending package and a $645 billion package of tax breaks.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill includes $548 billion in defense spending, $518 billion in non-defense spending, and $73.7 billion in additional funds for the Pentagon for ongoing combat operations.

The package is made up of the 12 annual spending bills, which have been bundled into one “omnibus” spending deal that provides funding for the next fiscal year, through Sept. 30, 2016.

Democrats had the upper hand in spending talks because their votes will supply the bulk of support to pass it. They successfully swatted down Republican efforts to effectively block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., defund Planned Parenthood, undo President Obama’s environmental regulations and repeal a campaign finance law.

The spending package includes two notable “riders” or unrelated policy provisions tucked into the must-pass bill.

The first overhauls the visa-waiver program, which allows foreign travelers from 38 nations to make short trips to the U.S. without a visa. The provision includes an added layer of security screening for those travelers if they have recently visited Iraq, Syria or other nations with significant terrorist activity. A stand-alone bill on the same provision passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support last week.

The second provision ends the 40-year ban on exporting U.S. oil. The provision is a victory for Republicans, although many Democrats from oil-friendly states, like North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, cheered its inclusion in the spending package.

Republicans rallied in support of the tax side of the deal. The package makes permanent many popular business tax breaks and delays new taxes on medical devices and high-end health insurance plans that are supposed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. Many Democrats, particularly in the House, are expected to oppose the tax package, which will, in turn, rely on GOP votes for passage.

The House is scheduled to vote on the measures separately. The tax package will get a vote Thursday, while the spending package will get a vote Friday. The Senate is expected to then bundle the two packages together for a final vote before sending it to President Obama for his signature.

Here are some additional highlights from the spending bill:

— A year delay on new menu labeling regulations for grocery stores and food retailers to give them more time to comply with new federal standards.

— $282 million in additional funds for the Census Bureau to prepare for the 2020 census.

— Extends the existing prohibition on the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.

— A 1 percent military pay raise and $300 million to address a military housing allowance shortfall.

— $111 billion for new military equipment, including 68 F-35 Joint-Strike Fighters, 102 Black Hawk helicopters, 64 remanufactured Apache helicopters, 3 littoral combat ships, 2 attack submarines, 2 DDG-51 guided missile destroyers, 7 EA-18G Growlers, 5 F-18E/F Super Hornets and 12 KC-46 tankers.

— It largely freezes funding levels for the Internal Revenue Service, which is receiving $1.7 billion less than President Obama originally wanted.

— $45 million for school improvement in Washington, D.C., including $15 million for scholarships to low-income students in the District to attend private schools.

— A pay freeze for Vice President Biden.

— $1.9 billion for the U.S. Secret Service, which is an increase of $268 million above last year.

— Cuts $15 million in spending for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, created under the Affordable Care Act.

— An additional $2 billion in funds for the National Institutes of Health for a total of $32 billion.

— An additional $175 million for a total of $5.6 billion for U.S. embassy security.

— Zero funding for high-speed rail, but Amtrak grant funding holds at $1.4 billion with $50 million provided to improve rail safety.

Here are some additional highlights from the tax package:

— It makes permanent the $1,000 child tax credit.

— It makes permanent the American Opportunity tax credit, which helps pay for college. It’s indexed to inflation and helps cover qualifying expenses in the first two years of post-secondary education.

— It makes permanent the earned income tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers. For 2009 to 2017, the EITC is temporarily increased for those with three or more children.

— It makes permanent a $250 deduction for elementary and secondary school teachers who pay out of pocket for school supplies.

— It makes permanent the research and development tax credit.

— It makes permanent a 20 percent employer wage credit for employees called to active military duty.

— It extends through 2016 an expensing provision that covers up to $15 million of qualified film, television and live theater productions.

— It extends through 2016 the $13.25 per proof gallon excise tax for Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands rum.

— It extends through 2016 the 10 percent credit for plug-in electric motorcycles and two-wheeled vehicles, capped at $2,500.

— It extends through 2016 the tax credit for manufacturers of qualifying energy-efficient residential homes.

— A provision that allows an individual to exclude from gross income any payment received as compensation for a wrongful incarceration.

— A provision defines hard cider for levying alcohol excise taxes as a beverage made from apples or pears, with an alcohol content of 0.5 to 8.5 percent, and a carbonation level that does not exceed 6.4 grams per liter.

— A provision prohibiting IRS employees from using personal email accounts to conduct any official business.