Republican Grrrl

Commentary by a Feminist Republican

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Immigration Debate

Immigration is a hot and heavy topic on Capitol Hill and in the media. The Washington Post even has a special section dedicated to “The Immigration Debate. What is so ironic about this section heading, though, is that the one thing that has been lacking is an actual debate. The House passed their bill in December with very little discussion, and the Senate leadership is enforcing a rigorous timetable that stifles debate of the real immigration issues facing America—the estimated 11.5-12 million illegal immigrants, the backlogged temporary visa and green card systems for highly skilled workers, and the important role immigrants play in shaping the United States.

First, let’s backtrack a little. On December 16, 2005, the House passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437) with a vote of 239 to 182. What’s interesting to note about the vote is that this vote has shaped the debate outside of party lines—36 Democrats and 203 Republicans voted for the bill, while 17 Republicans, 164 Democrats, and 1 independent voted against it. HR 4427 contains strict enforcement proposals that would increase fines and create criminal penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, as well as the undocumented workers and their families themselves.

Even though the House passed their bill in December, the problems and the protests really began in response to Senate action. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist(R-TN) set tight deadlines for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to finish crafting a bill and for the Senate to vote on the legislation, making it impossible for the Senate to hold a debate around immigration reform. Before the Committee had a chance to do much more than make opening statements on their bill, Frist introduced his own immigration enforcement bill (S. 2454), which contains provisions similar to the House-passed bill. This situation forced the Committee to expedite their process in order to make sure that they have a bill to replace S. 2454.

Thank goodness that Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is an effective Judiciary Committee chairman. While drafting his bill, Specter worked closely with members of the committee and with other Senators, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who developed a plausible guest worker program. The final result was Judiciary Committee bill that includes provisions that not only help the undocumented workers by would allowing them to apply for a six-year temporary worker program after paying a $1,000 fine, which then could put them on the path to permanent residency status or U.S. citizenship, and creating a three-year temporary work visa for guest workers, but also fix the visa problems facing many students and skilled workers who are recruited by American companies. On March 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved this bill with a strong bipartisan vote of 12-6—the 6 dissenting votes were all Republican members. Specter offered the committee bill as a substitute amendment to S. 2454, and the Senate is expected to approve the amendment next week.

The fate of the bill is still unknown, especially because the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert (R-IL), seems to be wavering in his reluctance to consider a guest worker program. The Republican Party remains split on the idea, with Conservative Republicans unwilling to consider a guest worker provision because they equated the idea to giving amnesty. However, it is important to note that Democrats are split on the issue as well. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) categorized the situation accurately by saying "The debate is misfocused in some ways when the word 'amnesty' becomes the hot button, nomenclature versus the more substantive question."

So, what is the substance of this debate? The focus should be on the reality that America is a country made up of immigrants and the ancestors of immigrants, and in a global market place, the American economy thrives on the skills of its native residents as well as its immigrants. In addition, the reality is that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, account for most of population growth in the United States. The reality is outlined in a November 2005 Congressional Budget Office report saying that, in 2004, one out of every seven people working in the United States was foreign born. The reality is in the anticipated retirement of the baby boom generation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of workers ages 25 to 34 is projected to increase by only three million between 2002 and 2012, which means that nearly all of US workforce growth over the next 20 years will be due to immigrant workers.

Ultimately, isn’t it better to make sure that the 11.5-12 million illegal immigrants are accounted for and incorporated into a legitimate American society where they can be encouraged and trained to become part of a productive workforce? Enforcement-only measures like HR 4437 & S 2454 are ineffective bills that will exacerbate the illegal immigration problem. These bills will push illegals deeper into the underground economy, exposing them to the worst types of people who are more than happy to take advantage of their situation. Enforcement-only bills will only encourage the ‘coyotes,’ people who transport illegal immigrants over the border, to become more creative in their techniques, which means an increase in the abuse and death rates of those crossing the borders. In addition, enforcement-only bills do nothing to encourage those who are educated in American colleges and universities to stay and work for American companies after they graduate. We are all immigrants or the ancestors of immigrants, so erecting walls to keep people out or creating legislation to make immigration more difficult stands against the core of American values. Enforcement only bills do not support and protect the people who make this country truly a successful and unique place—Americans.



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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Kudos to Duke

The racial, class, and gender tensions between Duke University and the surrounding city of Durham came to a forefront on March 13th when members of the Duke Lacrosse team hired an exotic dancer for a party—the guys were are all white and specifically requested an African-American dancer. The party turned ugly when the young black woman, a student at North Carolina Central University, was beaten, strangled, raped, and sodomized by three of the men at the party. Videotapes and pictures taken during the party, four of the woman’s red fingernails from the bathroom where the alleged attack occurred, a rape kit and statements from the nurse and doctor who treated the victim, and DNA samples from 46 members of the lacrosse team will help Durham police quickly investigate the attack. In the meantime, the Duke University’s Director of Athletics Joe Alleva suspended Duke University’s nationally-ranked lacrosse team’s season, and the school’s president, Richard H. Brodhead, is proactively handling the situation by reaching out to the media and to the student body.

Duke’s approach to the attack is very different from the way past incidents at various colleges and universities have been handled. All too often, when athletes abuse women at parties, the schools protect the athletes by trying to keep coverage of the scandal to a minimum, fearing the bad publicity and the impact on the athletic department. The 2001 incident at the University of Colorado, where football recruits were greeted during school visits with sex, alcohol, and drugs, is a perfect example. Two women claimed they were raped during one of these team parties, but when the allegations surfaced, Coach Gary Barnett never suspended the team and the University’s response was very indignant. The women filed a lawsuit citing a violation of federal Title IX gender equity laws, but the court denied their claim. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn ruled that the "There is no doubt that some of the harassment, abuse and assaults reflected in the record are shameful at best and criminal at worst, ” but that does not meant that there was a Title IX violation. The case was dismissed and was recently denied a reopening. Ultimately, the University of Colorado changed the oversight process of their athletic department, but the response did not deal with the specific incident and did not involve an effort to reach out to the student body to address the issue of sexual assault on campuses.

In stark contrast, Duke University’s approach is particularly important. The campus news site has numerous notices to the media giving updates on the incident, the investigation, and the efforts taking by the University to reach out the students, the parents, the alumni, and the community. According to the Chicago Tribune, Brodhead sent an e-mail to 86,200 people, mostly alumni and parents of students, to let them know that the school was handling the incident in an "honest and forthright way." The university not only posted a FAQ page on their website addressing the specific incident, but reiterating Duke’s policy on sexual misconduct. When the 911 tape containing a racial slur was released, Brodhead issued a statement saying, “Racism and its hateful language have no place in this community.” In order to respond to students who were protesting outside of the news conference announcing the season’s suspension, Brodhead arranged a meeting with concerned students at the Mary Lou Williams Center in the West Union building. The list of outreach efforts goes on and on, and Duke’s administration, their student body, and the City of Durham community should be applauded for not trying to hide the issues that this unfortunate incident brings to light.

Obviously, this is a difficult time for the woman who was assaulted, and all that can be done is for her family, her friends, and the community to stand by her and support her. While the players deny the criminal allegations, and charges have yet to be filed, clearly something inappropriate and traumatizing happened at the party that night. It would be very easy to follow the path institutions like the University of Colorado followed, but Duke University has decided to come together as a community and address the broader issues surrounding the incident need attention. Yet, media outlets like the LA Times, USA Today, and ESPN focus solely on the turmoil created by the attack instead of recognizing that the University and the Durham community are handling the situation in the best way the can—investigating the allegations and opening a dialogue about the problems they are facing. Is the response perfect? No. But, they should be praised for their attempt to address the issues, not condemned.



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Friday, March 24, 2006

The Endangered, Moderate Elephant

While they are small in number, moderate House Republicans are well placed to have a significant impact on the 2006 legislative agenda. With more and more regularity, these moderate Elephants are breaking away from the pack, which places them in key positions, especially because the Democrats are pressured by their own party not to cooperate with the Republican majority in the House and the Senate. At the end of the day, this positioning might be what saves the Republican Party from being tossed out of power in November, and the moderates from decreasing in number.

Mainstream Republicans, who are large in number, but quiet on issues, continue to be alienated by the vocal, conservative wing of the party. Groups like The Republican Majority for Choice are organizing grassroots efforts and initiating letters-to-the-editors campaigns to make sure that the centrist vote is heard in November 2006. The Republican Mainstreet Partnership Coalition is working with and supporting centrist GOP members of Congress to bring attention to important issues like expanding embryonic stem cell research, integrating technology into the management of medical records, and improving the public perception of government. The WISH List, a political action committee dedicated to helping pro-choice Republican women win elections on the local, state, and federal level, claims that this year’s mid-term elections offer the chance to “double the number of pro-choice Republican women governors and increase the number in the U.S. Congress by 50 percent.”

These groups are working hard to get the independent voters, who notoriously do not vote during the mid-term elections, voting in November 2006. People in Washington sometimes forget is that Independents, and the centrists of both parties, who are increasingly becoming part of the independent voter category, ultimately sway the election. Support from the party base is always important, but it is the middle-of-the-road voters who live outside of the Capitol Beltway that control the election results. There is no question that the 2006 mid-term election season will be a difficult road for Republicans, but if the shrinking number of moderate members can continue to holder their own, there is still hope for a more mainstream Republican party.



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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Do You Know Where Your EC Is?

As of Monday, March 20th, Wal-Mart Pharmacies around the country were supposed to start carrying emergency contraceptive Plan B pills. However, when a Planned Parenthood volunteer went into a Roanoke Wal-Mart, the pharmacist said that he did not know when the Wal-Mart would carry the Plan B pills and that he had not received a memo from the company requiring that he carry them.

After hearing about the incident, a reporter followed-up with the pharmacist. He then told the reporter that the Wal-Mart pharmacy has stocked emergency contraception for about three weeks, and that he really told the volunteer that he hadn’t seen the pills come in himself, not that the pharmacy didn’t carry them.

This is a critical time in the fight for access to emergency contraception, and Wal-Mart pharmacists are being allowed to be evasive with customers who have a right to know what EC options are available to them. Wal-Mart pharmacists and executives need to be made aware that consumers want them to adhere to their new policy and that they will be held accountable.


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Retirement Gender Gap

In one Senate office building, the staff working for the Members of Congress who are participating in the pension bill conference began meeting to work out the differences between the House bill, H.R. 2830, and the Senate bill, S. 1783, (see March 4th posting for background on the pension bills), while in another Senate building, the Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on “Bridging the Gender Gap: Eliminating Retirement Income Disparity for Women.” The timing couldn’t have been better for discussing the issues!

The Committee heard from a number of experts who submitted testimony that emphasized the financial problems that women face as they get older. When talking about what policy makers could do to fix the problem, witnesses said that important defined contribution provisions like automatic enrollment into 401k plans or permanence of the Saver’s Credit, which is geared towards helping low-income workers, but set to expire at the end of 2006, should be passed into law. The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), said he is dedicated to putting together a bipartisan working group to draft legislation aimed at narrowing the income gap between retired men and women.

This is a great idea, and I hope that the group is able to develop long-lasting reform. Senator Smith is also writing a letter to his colleagues who are in the process of negotiating what provisions should remain in the current pension bill. He is encouraging the inclusion of the automatic enrollment provisions, although he suggests some changes to the current Senate language. He is also asking for the inclusion of language that would allow the Secretary of Labor to set up a taskforce on older workers. But what about the EGTRRA permanency, which was applauded by many of the witnesses at his hearing? What about investment advice to help workers become involved in their retirement decisions? And where are his collegues who sat at the March 15th hearing and listened to two panels of witnesses talk about the need for defined contribution and cash balance pension plan reform? The time to acts is now, and hopefully Congress won't let the opportunity slip away. They have the chance to really encourage the growth of retirement savings, while eliminating the financial gap that exists between men and women.


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Monday, March 20, 2006

Sex in the City…For Money

I thought that Jessica Cutler’s 15 minutes of fame were finally over. It all started almost two years ago when The Wonkette found Cutler’s blog and exposed her as embodying every bad stereotype of a young, pretty woman working on Capitol Hill. After the story broke in the blogosphere, Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) fired Cutler for "unacceptable use of Senate computers" because she blogged about her sexual escapades using government computers. DC was buzzing about the sex scandal. The Washington Post did a feature story on Cutler, revealing that her sexual exploits in DC were part of a larger way of life that followed her from her failed days as a Syracuse University college student, to life as a squatter in New York City, and, finally, as a low-level Capitol Hill staffer for Senator DeWine.

However, instead of letting the story fade away or scorning her behavior, the media couldn’t get enough of the gossip. Even worse, instead of getting Cutler the therapy it sounds like she desperately needs, Playboy did an interview and publishers offered her a book deal, both of which allowed her to share her story as if it were an accomplishment. I was sure, though, that after her book, The Washingtonienne, was released, the Cutler talk and the new blog would fade away. But no, it was just announced that HBO is working on a sitcom based upon her escapades.

Sarah Jessica Parker's Pretty Matches production company is putting the TV show together, so naturally there are comparisons being made between the casual, “Sex in the City” approach to sex and Jessica Cutler’s approach to sex. What seems to be missing from the comparison, though, is that Cutler was not just promiscuous, she was prostituting herself. Her sexual acts were performed in exchange for fancy clothes, expensive dinners, and actual money. That is not the carefree, sexual attitude of the Carrie Bradshaws or the Samantha Joneses of the world. Are women in DC sexually liberated in the “Sex and the City”-type of way? Of course they are. So, instead of fantasizing and idolizing the life of a girl who clearly has emotional problems and spent her time in DC whoring around the Capitol, why not search out one of the successful, independent, women who have enough self-respect and confidence to know the difference between sexual freedom and prostitution.



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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Inexcusable Leniency

One of the many wonderful things about the United States of America is that we have an all-volunteer military. That is why it is particularly disappointing when service members are given leniency, solely based on their military service, after committing a crime. This does an injustice to the brave men and women who fight for their country and deal with the many emotional, mental, and physical repercussions of combat life.

In a particularly heinous case, an Italian judge found Sgt. James Michael Brown guilty of raping a Nigerian woman in Vicenza, Italy. However, becuase Brown served in Iraq and faced "a guerrilla war against an invisible enemy, conducted using all means, to which there is still no end in sight, which is extremely wearing for the occupation troops," the judge decided that Brown suffered psychological repercussions that made him less aware of the suffering of others. Brown’s lawyer, Antonio Marchesini, did not use this as a defense, yet the judge felt it played a key role in Brown’s actions.

There is no question that veterans of the Iraqi War suffer from the unique effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it is a diagnosable disease that professionals are trained to recognize and treat. There is no mention in the court’s findings that Brown suffers from PTSD, the ‘diagnosis’ was made at the discretion of the judge. In addition, if Brown is really suffering from psychological stress that renders him incapable of understanding another person’s suffering while they are handcuffed, beaten, and anally and vaginally raped, why is he not being forced to get mental help?

A look at Brown’s appeal, however, gives us some insight into the real problem. The Nigerian woman was a prostitute who was refusing to have sex with Brown, even though he was out celebrating his return from Iraq. Brown’s justification for his behavior was that she was a prostitute, a fact she denied, but the court confirmed, so she obviously wanted to have sex.

Ultimately, the judge lessened Brown’s sentence from eight years in prison to five years in prison. Neither period seems long enough for someone who rapes, sodomizes, and abandons another human being, leaving them naked on the streets in search of help. The outcome of this case does a disservice to women, especially those are victimized, and a disservice to our military heroes who really do come home suffering from PTSD and really do have difficulty coping with life after Iraq.



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Monday, March 06, 2006

HAPPY WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH!

While I think it’s important to celebrate being a woman all of the time, this month is a wonderful opportunity to look back through history at some of the amazing women who have really made a difference.

In case you are interested in some of the events happening around the country, The National Women’s History Project has some wonderful information and some interesting 2006 events. Also, the National Register for Historic Places has a special website dedicated to the impact women have had on America’s history. Lastly, throughout March, the History Channel will be running special programs about women.



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