Tuesday, April 30, 2013



To End Extreme Poverty, End Extreme Wealth

The world’s wealthy gathered in the Alps again last week to discuss how to ‘solve’ the world’s problems. The world’s biggest problem, suggests one top global anti-poverty outfit, may be their fortunes.

By Sam Pizzigati
IMF chief Christine Lagarde told the world’s business elites last week that “the economics profession and the policy community have downplayed inequality for too long.”
Apologists for inequality have a standard retort to anyone who calls for a more equal distribution of the world’s treasure. If you took all the wealth of the wealthy and divvied it up equally among all the poor, the retort goes, no one would gain nearly enough to accomplish much of anything.
Oxfam International, one of the world’s premiere anti-poverty charitable organizations, would beg to differ. The world’s top 100 billionaires now hold so much wealth, says a new Oxfam report, that just the increase in their net worth last year would be “enough to make extreme poverty history four times over.”
“Oxfam’s mission is to work with others to end poverty,” Oxfam analyst Emma Seery noted last week. “But in a world with limited resources, this is no longer possible without an end to extreme wealth.”
Oxfam timed its new analysis, The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all, to appear right on the eve of last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This earnest “issues” confab annually brings together a glittering array of global business and political leaders.
The world’s corporate and financial elites began this January trek into the Alps back in 1971. But the Davos sessions really didn’t start grabbing big-time global media attention until the go-go 1990s.
“Throughout the boom years,” as a UK Guardian profile last week noted, “chief executives would gather every winter high up in the Swiss Alps to discuss in a lordly fashion the world economy and how it could be revised to suit their objectives and views.”
The power suits that frequent Davos now feel pressured to address the global economic inequality they’ve so long tried to sweep under the rug.
But in these days of deep global economic uncertainty, the power suits that frequent Davos have lost their mojo — and even feel pressured to address the global economic inequality they’ve so long tried to sweep under the rug.
That pressure last week came from figures like Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister who now directs the International Monetary Fund. Lagarde blasted outsized executive pay in high finance, attacked bankers for lobbying against new regulation, and called for more “robust social safety nets.”
Oxfam, for its part, is calling for much bolder steps to narrow the stunning gap between the global uber rich and everyone else. The group is urging world leaders to “commit to reducing inequality to at least 1990 levels.”
Meeting that goal, the new Oxfam report relates, would require a wide range of measures, everything from far more steeply graduated income tax rates to actual pay caps that limit how much corporate executives can take home to a multiple of what the lowest-paid workers in the firms they run are making.
Oxfam is also emphasizing the importance of cracking down on offshore tax havens. As much as a quarter of global wealth now sits shielded offshore.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Davos crowd to buy into any of this bolder agenda. Even the modest reforms that the IMF’s Lagarde urged last week found no wide support among the corporate and banking movers and shakers who ambled up to the Alps for this year’s Davos gathering.
Oxfam is urging world leaders to ‘commit to reducing inequality to at least 1990 levels.’
One American on hand for the 2013 Davos festivities, JPMorgan Chase chief exec Jamie Dimon, made no move to hide his distaste for reformers. Bank regulators, he charged, were “trying to do too much, too fast” — and spreading “huge misinformation” about the noble work underway at banks like his.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Dimon assured his fellow Davos notables.
Other global corporate notables at Davos sang a similar tune. Azim Premji, the chairman of the Bangalore-based Indian high-tech giant Wipro, admitted that the new Oxfam data — on how the richest 100 people in the world are earning much more than enough to end the world’s worst poverty — do “sadden” him.
But Premji declined in an interview to term the incredible concentration of the world’s wealth in any way “unethical.” We need not waste time, he suggested, worrying about “redistribution.” We need instead to help the rich grasp their “obligation,” their “trusteeship responsibility,” to wield their wealth for good.
Trust the rich, in other words, to solve our problems.
Not on your life, says Oxfam.
Sign up for To Much“In a world where even basic resources such as land and water are increasingly scarce,” Oxfam’s Jeremy Hobbs sums up, “we cannot afford to concentrate assets in the hands of a few and leave the many to struggle over what’s left.”
Veteran labor journalist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, writes widely about inequality. His latest book, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, has just been published.



Virginia health board adopts regulations likely to shut down abortion clinics

By Kay Steiger
Friday, April 12, 2013 15:54 EDT
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) screenshot via YouTube
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In an 11-2 vote, the Virginia Board of Health passed regulations likely to threaten the state’s remaining abortion clinics, according to the Washington Post.
The regulations come out of legislation the Virginia State Assembly passed in 2011 to regulate women’s health clinics that provide abortion like outpatient surgical centers, which would include expensive building alterations like widening hallways and doorways. The final regulations now go to anti-choice Republicans Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for approval. Once approved, clinics will have two years to comply, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Initially the Board of Health exempted most existing abortion clinics from the new law, but Cuccinelli sent the regulations back, threatening the board that the state department of justice wouldn’t defend the board in any future lawsuits regarding the regulations and the board members would be personally responsible for legal costs.
Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director for Planned Parenthood Advocates for Virginia, warned the new regulations would likely shut down some of the state’s 20 abortion clinics and called the new rules “onerous and unnecessary architectural requirements.”
Katherine Greenier, director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia, testified before the vote, “These burdensome construction requirements have no relation to the safety of the services that women’s health centers provide. … Clearly, the aim here is not to protect women’s health but to shut down clinics that provide essential health services, including abortion.”
These regulations are part of an anti-choice strategy is known as the targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP laws, which aim to burden abortion clinic with such expensive an onerous regulations that they’ll be forced to closed due to the cost. Alabama and Indiana have each passed bills similar to Virginia’s in one legislative chamber so far in 2013.
Update, 5:15 p.m. EST: National Abortion Federation president and CEO Vicki Saporta criticized the board’s decision in a statement on Friday, saying it had caved to political pressure despite a lack of evidence that regulations of this type helped women’s health.
“Abortion has an outstanding safety record: fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization, and more than 90% of all abortions in the United States are provided in outpatient facilities,” Saporta said in her statement. “Abortion providers in Virginia are already highly regulated and comply with a variety of strict federal and state regulations. These unnecessary building requirements have been denounced by the Virginia medical community and the majority of Virginia residents.”



Federal Judge Prevents Mississippi From Shutting Down Its Last Abortion Clinic

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi, has been fighting to stay open for more than a year — ever since Republican lawmakers enacted burdensome regulations solely intended to force the clinic to close its doors. Fortunately, thanks to adecision handed down from a federal judgeon Monday evening, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic will be able to remain open.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III’s ruling is not final. But it does effectively block part of the new state law, HB 1390, that posed an imminent threat to the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. HB 1390 requires the clinic’s doctors to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital, an arbitrary and medically unnecessary rule that doesn’t actually have anything to do with ensuring women’s safety. All seven of the area’s hospitals have denied those privileges, and the abortion clinic faced penalties for failing to comply with the state law. In fact, a hearing was scheduled for later this week so the state’s Department of Health could consider revoking the clinic’s license.
Thanks to Jordan’s ruling, however, that hearing will be canceled — and state officials won’t be able to halt operations at the Jackson clinic just because its doctors can’t get admitting privileges. According to the Mississippi judge, requiring abortion doctors to obtain those privileges from a local hospital represents a direct threat to women’s reproductive rights, since it may “result in a patchwork system where constitutional rights are available in some states but not others.”
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been the sole abortion provider for Mississippi women since 2002, and it has served the Jackson community for the past 17 years. Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights — the group representing the clinic in its lawsuit against the state — said in a statement that the judge’s decision will allow “the women of Mississippi to breathe a collective sigh of relief.”
But Northrup also cautioned that the fight over these types of abortion restrictions is far from over. “The battle doesn’t stop at the defeat of this one law,” she pointed out.
The over-regulation of abortion providers is an incredibly effective attack on women’s reproductive freedom — rather than banning the procedure itself, abortion opponents hope to make it virtually inaccessible by forcing clinics to close their doors — and it’s advancing in states across the country. At least six other states are currently pushing legislation specifically intended to target abortion clinics. Just earlier this month, Alabama approved new restrictions that are directly modeled on Mississippi’s.




Physician and Hospital Requirements: 39 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician. 20 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and 18 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point. 

Gestational Limits: 41 states prohibit abortions, generally except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health, after a specified point in pregnancy, most often fetal viability. 

“Partial-Birth” Abortion: 19 states have laws in effect that prohibit “partial-birth” abortion. 3 of these laws apply only to postviability abortions. 

Public Funding: 17 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases when federal funds are available: where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only. 

Coverage by Private Insurance: 8 states restrict coverage of abortion in private insurance plans, most often limiting coverage only to when the woman’s life would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term. Most states allow the purchase of additional abortion coverage at an additional cost. 

Refusal: 46 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion. 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions. 

State-Mandated Counseling: 17 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (12 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the woman (8 states). 

Waiting Periods: 26 states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when she receives counseling and the procedure is performed. 9 of these states have laws that effectively require the woman make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. 

Parental Involvement: 38 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion. 22 states require one or both parents to consent to the procedure, while 12 require that one or both parents be notified and 4 states require both parental consent and notification.