Monday, June 30, 2008

No Girls Allowed In Golf

It turns out that the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia isn’t the only “no girls allowed” golf club. Veronica at WorkItMom points to a New York Times article about Phoenix, Arizona country club, where women’s weren’t allowed in the men’s dining room.
Women at the club are not permitted to have lunch in the men’s grill room with their husbands after a round of golf; they have been barred from trophy ceremonies after tournaments, even ones they have sponsored, and may not participate in one of the most sacred rituals of the men’s grill room — sealing a deal over a beer with a client.
Of course separate but equal, right?
“The ladies’ grill is a very small room where a bunch of little old ladies gather to play cards,” said Wanda Diethelm, a health care executive. “And if you make any noise, they shush you.”
The fact is most so-called "private clubs" aren't private at all -- and instead benefit from companies that get tax benefits to underwrite the clubs. As Veronica writes:
These clubs may not have to be fair, but the companies that we work for do. They should not be allowed to pay for memberships to any group that discriminates and certainly should not encourage workers to take clients to discriminatory places either. We’re not that far from the time when business meetings were held at strip clubs too.
Martha Burk of course has been writing and protesting about this injustice for years but few people have been listening. It seems that even the spouses of the women of Phoenix Country Club, can’t even advocate for change without having their lockers defaced. The spouses should consider themselves lucky. Martha's gotten death threats.

--Rachel Joy Larris

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bias in Cocaine Sentencing Remains

By Kara Gotsch

Willie Mays Aikens was not a drug kingpin, but he received a kingpin-sized sentence for selling crack cocaine. A former Kansas City Royal and 1980 World Series record holder, Aikens received a 21-year sentence for selling 63 grams of crack. At the end of his baseball career he had become addicted to powder cocaine but had no previous record for drug distribution when an undercover officer asked him to sell the drugs that led to his lengthy incarceration in 1994. This month Aikens received a sentence reduction after 14 years in prison -- authorized due to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s determination that penalties for crack cocaine offenses are unnecessarily harsh. He returned to his major league hometown, Kansas City, to enter a halfway house, and hopes to soon reunite with his daughters, who live in Mexico with their mother.

Aikens’s release coincides this month with the 22-year anniversary of the death of Len Bias, another prominent sports figure who played basketball at the University of Maryland. His legendary cocaine overdose on the night he was drafted by the Boston Celtics launched the punitive legislative reaction by Congress that would later subject Aikens to a stiff mandatory sentence for selling crack cocaine.

The federal law that Bias’s death inspired, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, established a five-year mandatory sentence for offenses involving as little as five grams of crack cocaine, the weight of two sugar packets. Offenses for powder cocaine, a similar yet more expensive substance, only receive that penalty for 100 times the amount of the drug. The harm caused by the excessive crack cocaine sentences prescribed under the law has been decried by judges, civil rights groups, faith-based organizations and many others.

At the time Len Bias died it was assumed that his killer was crack cocaine. When the truth later emerged that his drug of choice was in fact powder cocaine the legislative damage had already been done. Policymakers’ rush to make ill-considered reforms to the laws during the 1980s did not end the war on drugs or stop crack cocaine addiction. Indeed, the harsh penalties are responsible for breaking up many families and wasting the lives of many youths who did not require a decade in prison to learn that their crime was wrong. The penalties also created an assumption among communities of color that equal justice does not apply to them.

Each year about 5,000 people are convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense, the majority of whom are low-level operators -- typically they sell drugs on street corners or act as look-outs or couriers. But by focusing on low-level cases, federal prosecutors divert resources from pursuing the "kingpin" operators who are responsible for importing and trafficking drugs. And large-scale incarceration of low-level sellers only results in their being replaced on the streets by other young men and women seeking to make quick money in the drug trade.

The enormous racial disparity in who goes to prison also surrounds the crack cocaine sentencing debate. Over 80 percent of the men and women serving time for federal crack cocaine offenses are African American, despite the fact that two-thirds of crack users are white or Hispanic. The strategy of the war on drugs has largely targeted black and minority communities, so Congress’s mandatory penalties have a disproportionate impact on people of color. The Sentencing Commission’s own findings conclude that reducing the mandatory sentences for crack cocaine would lessen racial disparity in federal prisons and improve public perceptions of fairness within the criminal justice system.

Momentum has emerged over the last year to address the hastily passed law. At the end of last year, a U.S. Supreme Court decision acknowledged the legitimacy of the crack cocaine sentencing controversy and the U.S. Sentencing Commission amended the sentencing guidelines governing crack cocaine offenses. As a result of the Commission’s action, 7,000 prisoners have received sentence reductions since March 2008. Some members of Congress understand the futility of the crack cocaine sentencing law and reform legislation has been introduced by both Democrats and Republicans. But despite the fact that hearings on the issue were held in February, 22 years later justice is elusive. Let us not allow another anniversary to pass without Congress correcting its mistake.
Gotsch is the director of advocacy at the Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 6/08

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Anti-Family Planning Movement: Coming to a Bedroom Nearest You

By Cristina Page

Like lawn ornaments in summer, protesters outside the local abortion clinic are fixtures in many places in the United States today.

Their presence and message have long been so predictable that, without looking or listening, people believe they understand the point. And so you might not notice that the protest taking place outside your local clinic today has fundamentally changed.

It is no longer about abortion. June 7 is the anniversary of Griswold v Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that granted married people the right to use contraception. To mark the day, anti-abortion groups are taking to their normal posts outside clinic entrances not to convince Americans to oppose abortion but rather to stop using contraception.

The national campaign is called "Protest the Pill Day 08'" and it is organized by several leading anti-choice groups including the American Life League and Pharmacists for Life. The groups’ website is full of unscientific, medically inaccurate information.

Anti-contraception activism has been working its way up the priority list of the anti-choice movement in the United States in recent years and today's campaign is one of the most organized and visible displays of this broadening agenda.

Currently, there is not one pro-life organization in the U.S. that supports contraception. In fact, the multi-pronged attack against the right to use contraception is led entirely by anti-abortion groups. Their initiatives (to name just a few) include opposing health insurance of contraception, urging pharmacists to deny women's birth control prescriptions, and attempting (with no scientific rationale) to reclassify the birth control pill, and all other hormonal forms of contraception, as abortion methods with the goal of banning them. This represents an important and frightening shift in focus by the anti-abortion movement.

Despite the fact that contraception is the only proven way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and reduce abortion rates, anti-choice groups would forgo these benefits, and even risk dramatically increasing abortion rates, in favor of a larger, more insidious goal: changing Americans' sex lives.

As the American Life League, the nation's largest pro-life educational organization, explains in its materials, "The American Life League denies the moral acceptability of artificial birth control and encourages each individual to trust in God, to surrender to His will, and to be predisposed to welcoming children." The American Life League prefers to put the choices in the hands of God, a choice they want to impose on everyone. "It must be clear that couples understand that when they ask God to not send them another child just now they are also saying, ‘If it is Your will to send us another child at this time, we praise You for Your divine providence,’” the group says.

Buoyed by their success in rolling back abortion rights, these groups seek nothing less than a complete American lifestyle makeover: sex can't ever exclude the possibility of procreation. But instead of convincing Americans to see things their way, groups like the American Life League have decided the more expeditious path is to attack the right to use contraception.

The right to use contraception is relatively new: the Griswold decision was rendered in 1965 and Supreme Court granted single people the right to use contraception as recent as 1972. But the changes these decisions set in motion now form a list of what Americans won't live without. Today, 95 percent of people have sex before marrying. Indeed, studies show that most Americans in a relationship are having sex, on average, once a week. The typical American female is fertile for approximately 30 years of her life. For about 23 of those years she is trying not to get pregnant. Much of our lifestyle, and the architecture of our most intimate relationships, is rooted in family planning. And we should be grateful for this.

In the 1950s, when there was no sex education, no birth control, no legal abortion (the exact legislative agenda of today's pro-life movement!) teen birth rates soared and have not been equaled since. Today, the rate of teen motherhood, not coincidentally, has been reduced by more than half.

The right to plan your family to the size you want and can support is a cherished, and frequently exercised, American family value. So, the next time you pass by the protest outside your local clinic listen carefully: their real target is your way of life.
Page is the author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex and spokesperson for
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 6/08

Food Policies Leave People Hungry

By Yifat Susskind

This week the U.N. convened world leaders in Rome to hammer out solutions to the food crisis. Once again policy leaders are forgetting that food is about people. Over the past few months, 30 countries have been wracked by food riots. The government of Haiti has been toppled. Rice reserves in the Philippines are now under armed guard. And U.S. corporate agribusinesses have a starring role in this disaster. Farmers in poor countries have gone broke by the millions because they can't compete with the artificially low prices of U.S. food imports.

Take Mexico, for example. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. demanded that Mexico open up its markets to cheap U.S. corn. Since NAFTA took effect, U.S. corn exports to Mexico have tripled, flooding the Mexican market and causing domestic corn prices to drop by more than 70 percent. As a result, most of the country’s 15 million corn farmers have gone from being poor -- but getting by -- to watching their children go hungry. Mexican President Felipe Calderon explains the food crisis in his country as a direct outcome of U.S. food policy.

The same story is repeated in nearly every country where the food crisis is raging. Millions of rural families from Colombia to Cameroon have been forced to go from growing their own food to buying imported staple items, putting them at the mercy of global markets. In the past year, the costs of basics like corn, rice, and wheat has doubled and tripled. Farming families whose livelihoods were destroyed by U.S. agribusiness can no longer afford to buy food from these same companies. That injustice -- not any absolute “food shortage” -- is at the heart of today’s crisis.

Meanwhile, U.S. agribusiness is making a killing. Last month Cargill announced that its third-quarter profits were up 86 percent. They’ve already raked in over $1 billion this year, in about the same amount of time that another 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty (surviving on less than $1 a day) because of rising food costs.

Clearly, our global food system is broken. So what would fix it?

It seems that small-holder, sustainable agriculture -- precisely the type of farming that’s been devastated by agribusiness -- has the best potential to resolve the global food crisis. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of a four-year United Nations study by 400 experts on agriculture and development released in April.

But if local, sustainable agriculture is the way to go, there’s another, overlooked dimension to solving the food crisis: the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers are women. In the poorest countries, where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and produce 80 percent of all food.

That means that policies aiming to resolve the food crisis need to also weed out the widespread discrimination that bars women farmers from owning land and from accessing credit, seeds, tools, and training. Agricultural subsidies were originally conceived to protect small-scale farmers from poverty. We still need to do that -- and on a global scale. Today, subsidies can play a positive role in building the capacity of women farmers to grow food sustainably.

It’s high time to put the human rights and productive capacity of small farmers at the center of agriculture policy. The Rome summit presented us with an opportunity to rethink food policy. Unfortunately the outcome continues the same misguided polices of free trade instead of investing in local food production. It’s time to realize that the world’s small farmers – especially women -- are our best hope for feeding people and protecting the planet.
Susskind is the communications director of MADRE: Rights, Resources and Results for Women Worldwide.
Copyright © 2008 by the American Forum. 6/08

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Immigration Raids Lead U.S. to a Moral, Legal Crisis

By Raquel Aldana

Postville, Iowa has been turned into a ghost town. Nearly a third of its residents, mostly undocumented workers from Guatemala and Mexico, sit in jail convicted of identity crimes or awaiting deportation. Hundreds more hide in fear. Their children, too scared to go to school, have left the town’s classrooms nearly empty. For this, Postville should thank their local police, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), and a failed immigration policy.

Aided by local law enforcement, ICE arrested 389 workers during the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history at the Postville meatpacking plant, the area’s major employer. In an unprecedented move, ICE criminally charged 302 of these workers with aggravated ID theft and/or using false social security numbers. Within days, ICE resolved their fate: 297 men and women pled guilty and were sentenced to prison and subsequent deportation. Only a few await criminal trials or immigration hearings.

Postville is one of the latest in a series of immigration raids that have intensified in the past three years. These raids are leading our nation to a moral, legal and humanitarian crisis.

ICE’s heavy handed enforcement against undocumented workers in the wake of failed immigration reform is shameful. Under current immigration laws, no more than 10,000 of the backlogged visas for unskilled workers and 66,000 temporary visas for seasonal workers are available each year. In contrast, an estimated 2,000 persons cross the Southwest border into the U.S. daily and an estimated 12 million undocumented persons live in the U.S.

Global economic realities push willing workers out of their nations, where they have no means to earn even a subsistence living and pull them into low wage jobs in the U.S., where the lack of labor protection leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. U.S. employers and we as consumers benefit from their cheap labor, but these workers and their families bear the brunt of a broken immigration system.

Few employers face civil and criminal sanctions for violating immigration and labor laws. So far, no one from Postville plant has been charged despite overwhelming evidence that the company helped workers procure false documents, paid substandard wages, failed to pay overtime, and seriously mistreated its workers. All the while, Congress continues to kill proposals granting even temporary legal status to agricultural workers, while doling out large subsidies to U.S. farmers without regard to their effect on future migration of rural workers from developing nations into the U.S.

Legally speaking, ICE and federal prosecutors overstepped their powers when they criminally charged the workers. Congress specifically exempted from prosecution workers who use false Social Security numbers to engage in otherwise lawful conduct, such as to procure jobs.

This unprecedented criminalization of undocumented workers also has not been accompanied by a comparable infusion of constitutional guarantees in the handling of these cases. ICE conducted the investigation leading to the Postville raid with easy access to immigration databases and employee documents. ICE then executed the raid with easily-procured administrative, not criminal, warrants.

Thus, the protection of stricter Fourth Amendment search and seizure, Fifth Amendment due process, and Sixth Amendment right to counsel constitutional guarantees available to most criminal defendants were unavailable to these workers. Nearly all waived any rights they might have had under extreme prosecutorial pressure. The uncharacteristic speed and efficiency of the Postville raid left workers without adequate opportunity to consult with defense counsel, and none or few had access to immigration lawyers to learn about the immigration consequences of their pleas.

The involvement of local law enforcement in these raids is also worrisome. Distrust of police keeps many immigrants from reporting crime. This increases their vulnerability as victims. Moreover, the drain on limited resources from these additional responsibilities on local police takes away from their primary duties as community caretakers.

The courts must be vigilant in protecting the rights of workers and their families and insist on stricter constitutional guarantees when criminal charges are involved.

These raids should be halted immediately. The prospect of future raids should certainly create a sense of urgency for the U.S. to adopt immigration policies that allows employers to hire migrant workers, and include strong labor protections that offer a path to legalization for workers and their families. If workers are legal, we are all better off.
Aldana is a board member of the Society of American Law Teachers and a professor of law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Law.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 6/08