Fodder and Folderol: Election Integrity in Nevada

Ballot BoxNow! Fodder for the right wing Vote Suppression crowd — evidence of voter fraud in Nevada! Well, sort of.  The Las Vegas Review Journal tells us that one person was arrested in April on voting registration fraud charges, and another was arrested this week.  What makes these cases interesting is that the charge in April concerned an ineligible voter who registered as a Republican, and the more recent allegation concerns a person who decided to register with both major parties.

There are two ways of looking at these prosecutions. (1) They are the tip of the iceberg concealing massive election fraud; or (2) They are two instances out of 1,434,946 registered voters in the state of Nevada. [SoSpdf]  The Tip of the Iceberg/Vote Suppression advocates will, necessarily, see an obscure epidemic, and may allege that the laws aren’t working because the statutes should have prevented these possible incidents.

The preventionist argument is a stretch. As noted previously, (here, here) you have a Right to Vote.  The burden of proof rests where it always does in a criminal prosecution, with the government.  It’s been said before, and now will be repeated:

“The burden of proof always rests with the state — in any prosecution for anything.  If a person is alleged to have voted once in Clark County and again in Nye County that would call for a prosecution of a crime under NRS 293 — but the burden of proof rests with the state.   If a person is alleged to have voted using an assumed identity, then this calls for prosecution, and once again — the burden of proof rests with the state.

Any suggestion that the citizen be required to “show proof of citizenship” at the polls is not only redundant, but shifts the burden of proof from the state to the individual.  That’s not the way the American system of jurisprudence works.  It’s not the way the American judicial system has ever worked.” [DB]

What the voting suppression advocates are promoting is not only the restriction of voting in local, state, and national elections, but the fundamental shift in the burden of proof from the government to the individual by requiring multiple and progressively more stringent identification procedures. Procedures which are calculated to suppress the vote of ethnic minorities, the young, and the very old.

The preventionist argument also falls apart because most of the proposals don’t prevent fraud — they just prevent voting.  But, hey, if you can’t vote then you can’t commit voter fraud?  Whoa, not necessarily.  If a person were to steal another person’s identity, complete with all the appurtenances like a phony Driver’s License, then that fraudulent ‘voter’ would still be able to cast a ballot.  The ‘government issued ID’ prevents nothing.  It’s merely an inconvenience (or impossibility) for someone young, old, or an ethnic minority.

There’s always that old standby — the Election Integrity Argument. It isn’t any more substantial than the preventionist one.  The Republican Platform calls for “election integrity,” and this, too, has been discussed previously. There would be nothing the Nevada GOP would like more than to regain control of the State Senate, and install legislator Barbara Cegavske as Secretary of State.  Then we’ll be hearing all manner of proposals for vote suppression in this state.  Why?

Because “illegal voting” calls our elections into question, it minimizes our “election integrity.” And, people have to “trust our elections.” This argument works best among those who devoutly believe that any election outcome other than the one they desired must be fraudulent.  For example, there’s this analysis of the 2012 election from a conservative publication:

“So how did Romney lose a race that numerous reputable polls and pundits predicted would be an easy win, based on historical patterns? The most realistic explanation is voter fraud in a few swing states.”

Surely, it wasn’t because of candidate Romney’s highly unfortunate remarks about 47% of the population? His connection to vulture capitalists? His dubious campaign organization? His attention to invalid polling? The economy was improving under the incumbent? Nupe. The least realistic explanation must be transformed into the most realistic explanation.

There were 994,490 votes cast for the Presidency in the 2012 Nevada elections. [SoSNV]  That one person may have voted illegally obviously wasn’t going to make a difference. In short, it’s far more difficult to amass a critical number of illegal votes to control election results than it is to continually disparage those election results, and by the medium of continual publicity sow seeds of doubt into the minds of the electorate.

The ‘election integrity’ campaign is a carefully phrased, meticulously tuned, propaganda effort to justify vote suppression activities.  ALEC loves it, the Koch Brothers love it, and we’re going to hear more of it.

Both the Tip of the Iceberg and the Election Integrity arguments also fall when their supporters argue that “the law doesn’t work.”  How could the current statutes not be working when the state was able to identify 1 person out of the 994,490 who voted for President in the last election who may have voted illegally?  The only way this allegation works is to adopt the patently ridiculous rhetoric of right wing chauvinists who refused to acknowledge election results, and to join the Tip of the Iceberg crowd of extremists.

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Think of the Children

ChildrenSpare me the piteous cries of, “Think of the children and grandchildren!” emanating from the right wing when any allocation of resources is mentioned which could possibly help darn the holes in our social safety net programs.  IT (whatever it might be) will burden them with the horrible no good awful national debt — unless, of course we’re talking about reducing taxes for millionaires, billionaires, oil companies, hedge fund managers, and ….  Nevada’s managed, yet again, to hit the bottom in the Child Well Being category. [RGJ]

One of the nice things about thinking in ideological generalities is that one’s not required to consider the practical, all too real, consequences.  For example, that Nevada ranks 48th in the child well being category in the Kids Count analysis. (pdf)

That would be 48th in overall ranking, 47th in economic well being, 50th in education, 47th in health, and 44th in family/community rank.

These rankings aren’t something to dismiss out of hand. First, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private philanthropy based in Baltimore, MD, that specializes in compiling statistics on children’s environments, and promoting cost effective solutions for legislative and community consideration — and it’s been doing this since its inception in 1948.

Nor is the Foundation merely a font of doom and gloom, when speaking of trends in child welfare, they note some progress in the overall safety and well being of children since they started their Data Book project in 1990:

“There also is a positive trend in parental education that benefits kids: A smaller percentage of children live in families in which no parent has a high school diploma — from 22% in 1990 to 15% in 2012. In addition, the teen birth rate is at a historic low and the death rates for children and teens has fallen as a result of medical advances and increased usage of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.”  [AEC]

So, how did Nevada get into negative territory? In 2008 the number of children in the state whose parents at least 35 hours per week for 50 weeks per year (classified as employment insecurity) was approximately 173,000, or about 26%.  By 2012 that number increased to 226,000 or 34%.  In 2008 there were 54,000 children living in Nevada homes in which at least one parent was unemployed.  In 2012 the number was 79,000, or about 12%.  [AECF]

Measuring by the number of children living in homes in which the family income was less than twice the official federal poverty level and at least one parent was working at least 50 weeks per year (defined as low income working families), Nevada had 68,000 children in that category in 2008, a number which increased to 88,000 four years later. [AECF]

Have we been mentioning that what this state needs are JOBS? Once more, spare me the “we can’t afford it” wailing when we speak to the necessity of maintaining and improving our state infrastructure — and thus creating JOBS.  When the 2007-08 Recession pounded the state of Nevada, Las Vegas lost 1,053 public sector jobs, while the state pared down a total of 2,170. [CEPR] In the Pie/Sky ideological generalities of the right wing this would be a good thing — fewer public employees — but when the brass tacks are counted this means fewer teacher’s aides, librarians, educational special services, kitchen employees, road maintenance workers, parks and recreation employees, police officers, firefighters, and so on. In other words — these aren’t the “bureaucrats” so belittled by the conservatives, they are the people who do jobs which improve communities.

We’ve lost about 4.08% of our state workforce, another 10.77% of our local workforce, and 9.03% of those classified as “state/local” since the Recession. [Governing]

Another grating refrain is the moan that we are “transferring money from the private sector to the public.”   In the rarefied atmosphere of ultra-conservative thinking this means that tax revenue is collected from private sources and used for public services, which is somehow determined to be a “bad” idea.  Since when was it “bad” to have well maintained roads, well stocked libraries, pleasant and useful parks, good schools, safe neighborhoods, responsive fire departments, and all those features which real estate agents tout as part of the “excellent location” of the houses they are trying to sell?

Or, to look at it from the other angle — what effect does it have on a person’s property value to have failing schools, unkempt parks, inadequate libraries, and slow response times from fire and police services?  In this realm, the ultra-conservatives fall easily into the Something for Nothing crowd; they certainly don’t want declining property values, but they don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to keep the value of their property increasing.  They want the assets which factor into their property value — they just don’t want to pay for them.

Private sector employment has done better in the Silver State. Nevada’s climbed up from a dismal 10% unemployment rate this time last year to a 7. 7% unemployment rate as of June 2014. [BLS] That’s a nice 2.3% increase, putting us in the running for the most private sector jobs created in the last year.  If we’d decide to do something about our 149 high hazard dams, our $2.7 billion worth of drinking water infrastructure needs in the next two decades, our $2.9 billion in waste water treatment needs in the same period, our 40 structurally deficient bridges, and the 20% of our roads which are classified as in poor or mediocre condition [ACE] perhaps our employment numbers would be even better?

Perhaps if more parents were working we’d not see the disparity in the numbers of youngsters attending pre-schools?  The number of children from families functioning on less than 200% of the federal poverty level who are not getting some sort of early childhood education increased from 24,000 in 2005-07, to 31,000 between 2010-12.  The number of preschoolers from families in which the income was above 200% of the federal poverty line who were enrolled in some form of early childhood education increased. In 2005-07 about 67% of the kids were not enrolled, a percentage which improved to 60% by the 2010-12 period. [AECF]

The specific indicators on which Nevada’s rankings were based are available online at this location.   As with all compilations, there’s good news and bad news, gaps and spaces.

However, finding indicators of improvement should not divert us from trying to do something about those miserable national rankings.

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The Toy Soldiers’ Tantrums

Bundy RidersThey aren’t just amusing toy soldiers, costumed and ready for a puerile re-enactment of childish gun-games.  The ‘protestors’ who showed up waving their banners and showing their guns in Las Vegas, want us to know they are “seriously” opposing immigration reform, and against applying current law to the refugee children and families from Central America. [Photos @ NVProgressive]

As with the childhood game narratives of days past, these toy soldiers in the war to win America have their own story. The story doesn’t have to make sense — what improvised tale of Cowboys and Indians ever did? — it simply has to provide an opportunity for them to feel good about expressing their opinions and reinforce their distorted view of patriotism.

The dissonance between their claim that the ‘government is lawless’ while denouncing the application of existing law to Central American migrants doesn’t bother them.  Their point isn’t centered on rational inquiry and disquisition into immigration policy, it’s an expression of how they feel, their emotional reaction to their circumstances.

There are many threads woven into the fabric of their banners. (1) Good old fashioned racism, (2) Imperiled sense of entitlement, (3) Discouragement about economic prospects, and perhaps (4) the Tendency to adopt simplistic conspiracy theories in lieu of protracted, complicated, and often nuanced policy arguments.  However, when they act, it might not matter what the origin might be — their proclivity toward violence is what makes them dangerous.*

Myths Are Dangerous

They are an amusing sideshow, promoted by a sensationalist press and not worthy of public attention.   While the incidents do tend to promote “If It Bleeds It Leads” journalism, the violence wrought by these groups and their affiliates isn’t child’s play. Witness the recent execution of two law enforcement officers in Las Vegas, NV. [LVRJ] Right wing extremists killed 34 victims between September 11, 2001 and April 2014. [CNN]  Further, while the groups may not be organized in traditional ways, they are coordinated.  Those who believe that the incidents related to the stand off at the Bundy Ranch were spontaneous would do well to review the information available from the SPLC’s “War in the West,” report. (pdf) And, it bears repeating, there was nothing ‘sideshow’ about the deadly attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and associates.

The right wing extremists are only trying to ‘do their own thing’ and the government should leave them alone.  Doing their own thing doesn’t necessarily mean they are law-abiding when not actually shooting at someone.   In 2010 two Sovereign Citizens in Sacramento, CA, cooked up an insurance scam in which they sold policies which did not come close to satisfying the requirements for insurance sold to the public in that state — or for that matter, in any other.  Numerous accidents, paltry payments, and several court cases later, the two were indicted and convicted of fraud and money laundering. [FBI]  Extremists from Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada launched a “Diplomatic Identification” scam; the three found themselves convicted of fraud in 2009. [FBI] Other sales schemes have included vehicle license plates, phony driver’s licenses, and even currency. [FBI]  More Sovereign Citizens have been sentenced for their fraudulent “treasury scheme.” [RS 7/14]

They’re just interested in protecting their 2nd Amendment rights and keeping the values of a Christian nation.  Fine, except when we notice that the number of militia groups has grown from 149 in January 2009 to approximately 1,274 today. What’s changed? Could this have something to do with the fact that the President of the United States happens to be an African-American?  As for “values,” the number of hate groups has seen a similar increase, from 604 in 2000 to about 1,000 today. [Grio] The SPLC puts the number at 939. [SPLC]  Neither racism, nor exclusionism, is a traditional American value.

What to do?

Support your local sheriff.  Most extremists come to the attention of local law enforcement officials before they rise to the awareness of national agencies.  Local law enforcement budgets should be augmented to include adequate funding for the surveillance of domestic terror/hate groups.  Local jurisdictions should have adequate resources to investigate, and prosecute, offenders for related crimes (fraud, assaults, etc.). When local candidates for law enforcement positions tout their budget restraint positions, make certain this doesn’t mean cutting funding or allocations for watching/prosecuting the extremists among us.

Support efforts to coordinate law enforcement activities.  NRS Chapter 239C authorizes the creation of a Nevada Homeland Security Commission, which reports to the Governor.  Enacted in the wake of the 9/11/01 attacks, it focuses on threat assessment and communications inter-operability.  The current mission statement appears to be trapped in this time slot:

“The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) acts as the Cabinet-level State office for the prevention of and preparation for a potential terrorist event. Nevada OHS directs and coordinates a comprehensive counter terrorism and “all threats-all hazards” approach in its prevention, preparedness and response strategies.”

The thrust of the public documents available offers the perspective of an organization focused on major events, without actually defining what such an event might be — perhaps it is understood given the origin of the group that it would prevent or respond to foreign acts of aggression such as attacks on infrastructure, facilities,  or communications.   On the other hand, it does publish an “active shooter” booklet (pdf) the contents of which emphasize common sense: Evacuate or Hide.

Without knowing what activities might be garnering the attention of the organization, and the penalties for unauthorized disclosure of Commission materials are stringent, it’s hard to gauge how effectively the Commission is attending to home grown extremist organizations and their activities.

A Commission which is taking in a full view of the potential threats to the security and safety of Nevada residents should (1) promote the active assessment of domestic threats,  (2) periodically report to the public on its threat assessment, and (3) inform the general public what measures it is taking to secure Nevada residents, their infrastructure, and their facilities from both domestic and foreign sourced threats.

The minutes of the March 21, 2014 meeting (last available online pdf) indicate decreased funding for the Commission activities, and a ranking of priorities which places cyber-security first, and “Intelligence and Information Sharing” second.  Not to be looking askance at the need to prevent cyber-security problems, but in light of the activities at the Bundy Ranch, and the propensity of lone wolf  extremists to target law enforcement officers in this state, the gathering of intelligence concerning extremists and sharing that throughout the law enforcement community would seem to be of more immediate concern.

Support private and non-profit groups which address and publicize the problems associated with domestic extremism.  For example,  objections to programs which promote tolerance in schools and other institutions should be met with equal levels of  advocacy.  Any efforts made by educational institutions to mitigate the toxic combination of ‘entitlement’ and ‘victimhood’ should be promoted. Programs which seek to alleviate bullying, racial discrimination, and sexism should be encouraged.

Local programs promoting civic pride, from all segments of the community, should be a priority.  Whether these events and activities are large and highly organized or small and relatively informal, local broadcast and other media should be encouraged to give these as much publicity as possible.

The most effective way to diminish the threat of domestic terror is to support local efforts to identify the sources, coordinate investigations and prosecutions, and take advantage of any and all opportunities to alleviate the forces which drive the toy soldiers into their frenzy of emotional reactions to a world in which they feel uncomfortable.

——-

*Christian Right secession fantasy, Salon, July 1, 2014. Anti-government extremists stir an unhealthy political brew, Newsday, June 18, 2014. Sources of anti-government extremism, Consortium News, May 27, 2013.  What drives anti-government extremists?, Huffington Post, June 10, 2014, from CNN, June 10, 2014.  The Sovereign Citizen Movement, FBI, April 13, 2010.  Statement before Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI, September 19, 2012.  Focus on Militia Extremism, FBI, September 22, 2011.  U.S. right-wing more dangerous than jihadists, CNN, April 15, 2014.

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Burdensome Regulations

Titanic Life BoatsAnswer here.

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The Do Almost Less Than Nothing House?

FYI: There are only a few more days until the Congress of these United States takes off for the August vacation.  If they’d like to catch up on the legislation actually enacted — or even voted on — best they hurry.  Here’s what a quick chart looks like of the 113th:

Congress Calendar Legislation

Even Speaker Dennis Hastert got more to the floor during the 109th than Speaker John Boehner has managed thus far.

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VA Health Care: “Postponed Proceedings”

The bills to improve the performance of Veterans Administration operations have passed the House and the Senate, in fact they’ve been waiting for a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills since mid June. That’s why it’s disappointing to find the following update on the progress of the final bill posted as follows:

“7/17/2014 POSTPONED PROCEEDINGS – At the conclusion of debate on the Barber motion to instruct conferees on H.R. 3230, the Chair put the question on adoption of the motion to instruct conferees and by voice vote, announced the noes had prevailed. Mr. Barber demanded the yeas and nays and the Chair postponed further proceedings until a time to be announced.”

No instructions from the House, no conference, no conference no conclusion.  What are the differences between the House and Senate versions?

# The House bill specifically bans the use of bonuses for VA employees, while the Senate version does not. The VA has already suspended performance awards of this nature.

# The Senate bill would allow the VA to lease 26 new facilities for veterans’ health care and would allocate $500 million for hiring new staff.  The House version doesn’t contain these provisions.

# The Senate bill provides for guaranteed in-state tuition for veterans at public colleges and universities; the House version of the bill does not.

# The Senate version of the legislation provides for expanding access to care for military sexual assault victims. The House version does not include this provision.  [WaPo]

# The House version assumes a maximum wait time of 14 days, the Senate version could allow up to 30 days. [CBO]

# The CBO analyzed the costs of implementation for securing private health care services when VA service could not be provided

“The Senate bill would require that all privately provided care be implemented through contracts. CBO expects the costs of contracted care to be closer to commercial rates, which are generally higher than Medicare rates. Although such contracts would probably be used under the House bill to cover some care, CBO estimates that the average payment rate under the House bill, including both contractual and non-contractual payments, would be lower than that under the Senate bill.” [CBO]

# The House version would allow direct reimbursement to private facilities, while under the terms of the Senate version as analyzed by the CBO the VA would negotiate contracts with providing facilities.  Thus, the access might be faster under the House version, but with less expense predictability than if the terms of the Senate version were applied.

Unfortunately, the situation is reduced to a battle over money.  The CBO released its appraisal of the costs on June 17, 2014:

House Version: “Based on that preliminary assessment, CBO estimates that implementing sections 2 and 3 of the House bill for that two-year period would have a net cost of about $44 billion over the 2014-2019 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts. That net amount comprises increased costs of about $51 billion for VA, less a reduction of $7 billion in federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid.” [...] All told, CBO expects that if the bill was fully implemented, some veterans would ultimately seek additional care that would cost the federal government about $54 billion a year, after accounting for savings to other federal programs.”

New “scoring” from the CBO reduced the figure from the original $54 billion to approximately $30 billion, but the negotiations were still stalled. [Hill]

Conferees from the House have been looking to cover the costs by using discretionary funding, those from the Senate are supporting a mandatory funding formula.  The House sponsor, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), argued: “The Senate wants to throw money at a situation that is not defined, in an amount of money that is not defined. We’re re trying to define the issue and figure out how to pay for it,” Miller said.” [MilTimes]

Miller’s assessment may be overlooking the differences in the cost predictability between the provisions for paying private entities for health care services for veterans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expressed his impatience with the protracted timeline of the conferencing, “We’re having a little trouble getting the House to help us complete the conference,” Reid said.. “You know … just because we want something done when we’re in conference doesn’t mean it gets done.” [The Hill]

In the mean time — proceedings are postponed.

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May the Force Abandon You: Heller and S. 2578

Heller 3Face it ladies, Senator Heller’s (R-NV) just not that into you.  As noticed by the NRDC, Senator Heller was one of those who voted in favor of sustaining the GOP filibuster of the Hobby Lobby Decision fix.  Here it is, big as “Pro-Life” itself, on Senate vote 228, Senator Heller’s opposition to a bill that would have:

“Affirmed requirements, notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, that: (1) an employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees must provide coverage of a specific item or service for the employees or their dependents where the coverage is required under federal provisions or regulations pursuant to those provisions; and (2) group health plans sponsored by an employer or employee organization, and any health insurance coverage, must provide coverage required under the Public Health Service Act, including preventive health services.

Authorizes the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury to modify regulations concerning coverage of contraceptive services by group health plans of religious employers consistent with the purposes and findings (regarding coverage of birth control services and the Supreme Court decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell) of this Act.” [S 2578]

Simple, if the employer offers group health insurance plans as part of the earned benefits in the employee compensation package, the plans must meet federal standards; if the employer is a non-profit religious organization the rules can be modified.

But, but, but… The Republicans have another plan — yes, and it doesn’t address the problem. The GOP version of the legislation merely states that “no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives.” [TP]  All this does is reiterate that contraceptive medications are legal.  We already know they are legal, and there’s  a big difference between “Access” and “Affordability.”  For some individuals Affordability determines whether or not there is Access.

There appears to be a singularly silly bit of balderdash on offer from the Right Wing that contraceptives are available at the corner convenience store. [NBC]   They are, if your definition of ‘contraceptives’ is what we oldsters called a Rubber.  They aren’t, if we’re discussing The Pill, actually several kinds of pills, which are available only by prescription.  This means, of course, that there is an appointment with a physician required, and a prescription to be filled.  Honestly, I never thought I’d ever have to explain this to anyone, but in case Nevada contains some troglodytes only recently emerged from the cave, here goes:

#1. Contraceptives require a prescription, and a prescription requires a visit to a physician.  Physicians want to be paid.  In Massachusetts, for example, the cost for a female exam ranges from $185 to $240 per visit. [BCMa pdf]

#2. The notion that any woman can get prescription Pills for $9 per month is a myth.  Yes, there are some contraceptives which can be purchased in a pack of 28 for $9.00. However, some women are prescribed specific pills for specific purposes, and to address specific symptoms.  Jezebel explains:

“Birth control pills are made of hormones—sometimes just one hormone and sometimes a combination of two hormones (progesterone and estrogen). The combinations and sequences vary and are selected for each patient to distinctly meet her needs. For example, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) will need a different level of hormones than other women and thus, her prescription needs to be carefully managed under a doctor’s care. The same goes with women suffering from irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, vaginal bleeding, ruptured cysts, or hemorrhagic cyst. That being said, birth control can cost a woman up to $129.99 per pill pack.” (emphasis added)

By the way… women don’t take Pills the way men take Viagra, when the “mood is right.”  So, the range spans the low end $9 form to the $130 per month packets, every month.  Some of the simpler compounds (estrogen/progestin) can be in that lower price range, but when folate is added (estrogen/progestin/folate combinations) the price tag hits the $116.00 per month for a 28 pill packet. [GoodRx]  The type of prescription medication is determined by the physician, and there are at least 57 types of birth control pills ranging from $18 to $130 per month. [GoodRx]

Remember, not so long ago, when the Republicans were bellowing that any federal reform of our health care system would be putting a third party in between a person and the physician?  That’s exactly what the Supreme Court did in the Hobby Lobby decision. It inserted an employer between the woman and her doctor, in essence telling the doctor, “We’re sorry if in your best professional judgment an IUD is the best option, because we’re not going to offer coverage for that in our group health insurance plans.”  By the way, an IUD costs between $500 and $1,000 and must be inserted by a health care provider — not the guy at the counter at the Gas ‘N Go.  And, NO, it doesn’t cause abortions.

Cheesy Whines

Why should an employer have to pay for something he doesn’t believe in?

Because — He’s providing an earned benefit (group health care insurance plans) as part of the total employee compensation package. Employee compensation packages are regulated.  There are minimum wages, there are overtime provisions, and there are rules for what must be covered in employer sponsored group health insurance plans.

Why do we have to give women free birth control?

Because — it isn’t free.  Employer sponsored group health insurance plans are usually set up such that both the employer and the employee are paying into them.  Why should an employee have to pay into a plan that doesn’t meet the federal standards for comprehensive health insurance coverage for basic medical services? However, there’s more to this argument isn’t there?

Send the children out, it’s time to talk about sex.

There are at least 5 million reasons for a comprehensive health care insurance plan being required to cover some contraceptive prescriptions — that’s the number of women in the country who suffer with endometriosis.  That’s a ball park figure because the NIH estimates that from 6% to 10% of all women in this country have this condition. [NIH]  Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects about 5% to 10% of the female population, especially those between the ages of 18 and 44.  [NIH] Serious menstrual irregularities plague about 9% to 14% of the women in this country. [NIH]  Add all these numbers up and there are more than enough medical reasons contraceptive medication is covered in comprehensive health insurance plans.  But we know why many couples use contraceptives…

Contraceptives are used when partners want to have sex and don’t want more children.  To the Talibanic among us this is “sex without consequences.”   This sounds a bit silly because most sexual intercourse comes without those little consequences.

“..women who are 25 and have been trying to get pregnant for three months have an 18 percent chance of getting pregnant in their next menstrual cycle. By contrast, women who are 40 and have been trying for three months have only a 7 percent chance. After one year of trying, 25-year-old women have a 10 percent chance of getting pregnant in their next cycle; 40-year-old women have a 3 percent shot.” [HuffPo]

Obviously, if the woman has an irregular menstrual cycle it’s harder to “lower” those chances, but the odds of producing a little consequence are still rather low, even for healthy, young, females in their prime child bearing years.   Therefore, let’s leave the odds-making part of the procreation argument and move on to the recreational part — which has more health benefits than one might expect.

The Health Information Database provides this happy news:

“Frequent, pleasurable sex in marriage has countless emotional and physical benefits for both partners. In fact, sex, marriage, and well-being are closely related.  Studies show that frequent sex can help you live a longer and healthier life. For men, it can lower the risk of prostate cancer. Sex improves blood circulation and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also has a positive effect on the immune system, which helps to protect you against diseases of all types.”

But wait, there’s more — posture improvement, muscle tone, functioning as a sleep aid, chemicals released in the brain assist in memory and mental functions, sexual activity burns off cortisol which in turn reduces appetite (weight loss anyone?) — with the added bonus: “The chemicals released in the brain during sex – oxytocin, serotonin, phenyl ethylamine, endorphins – all play a role in diminishing both chronic and acute pain.” [HID]

But for all the scientific wonders of sexual activity, perhaps the best reasons are emotional and psychological, and good for sustaining the marriage:

“Feelings of commitment and affection between partners are heightened by sexual activity. Sex boosts your self-esteem, reduces insecurity, and causes you to feel better about yourself. It makes you more optimistic and helps to combat depression. It is also one of the greatest stress relievers imaginable.” [HID]

With all this in mind, why would anyone oppose the use of contraception if it made marriage partners more likely to engage in the intimacy which produces all these good results?

Misogyny

Patriarchal religions, and that includes most of the major ones, devalued women.  There are Biblical references to women as property, as inferior beings, as subservient to male partners, but interestingly enough neither Jesus nor Mohammed was quite as strict on the subject as their followers. [RatWik]  Couple this with a common interpretation of Genesis 2 and we have the quotidian put down.

God planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:9), and the Serpent advises Eve to eat the fruit because “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4)  The First Couple eats the fruit and God tosses them out of the garden.

What do they realize when they awaken? They are naked. The rest of the animal kingdom doesn’t care.  Note, it’s not God who has a problem with nakedness — all the rest of the creatures aren’t sewing fig leaf fashions.  But then, all the rest of the creatures haven’t decided they have the god-like capacity to pronounce judgment about what’s good and what’s not.  Somehow, the message that mankind lost the innocence of the natural state, and set itself apart from the rest of Creation got transformed into Eve Bad Adam Good  But for Her.

Just how far this transformation can go is illustrated in John Knox’s  1558 “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Knox was particularly displeased with female monarchs,

“To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; contumely to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.”  [BBC]

What Knox got for his trouble was the succession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England.   However, his 16th century sentiments still have their followers.  The idea that nakedness = sex, and sex = bad, and women tempt men, ergo women are bad, requires some mental gymnastics, but we appear to have an abundance of those who find this plausible.

The Victorian Era promoted motherhood and domesticity, and the unfortunate notion that sex was something to be endured while “closing one’s eyes and thinking of England.” Fast forward to women in the 1930a, and the advice is essentially the same, “nothing destroys the happiness of married life more than the lazy slovenly wife.” [Telegraph]  Notice, that’s not philandering, or lazy and slovenly,  husbands.  Fast forward once again, and we have Republican mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh proclaiming that men who support the contraceptive mandate only want sex.

“But the thing I have learned is that men are totally supportive. Today’s young men are totally supportive of somebody else buying women their birth control pills. Make sure the women are taking them, ’cause sex is what it’s all about.” [Politicususa]

From John Knox (and others) to the advice columns and treatises of the modern era; right down to the atrabilious Limbaugh, the old canard that sex = sin, maintains its force.

That force was in evidence yet again in Senator Dean Heller’s vote to filibuster X. 2578.  May this force leave us.

*Update & Mea Culpa for mis-identifying the bill number in the original, a mistake deeply regretted.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights