Palin, Protector of Children vs. Her Record

Lindsay Beyerstein

Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin styles herself as a fierce protector of children and families, but her record on health insurance for children and pregnant women raises doubts about her priorities.

Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin styles
herself as a fierce protector of children and families, but her record on
health insurance for children and pregnant women raises doubts about her
priorities.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican National
Convention, Palin had a special message for the parents of children with
special needs: "I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend
and advocate in the White House."

During last night’s vice presidential debate, Palin promised
to make special needs children one of her top three priorities, if she is
elected. She also told the audience that she and her husband know what it’s
like to raise children without health insurance.

"[There were times] in our marriage in our past where we
didn’t have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through
as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going
to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We’ve been there also so that connection
was important," Palin said.

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Yet for all her folksy winks and jokes about hockey moms,
Palin’s record as governor suggests that she may not remember the bad old days
as clearly as she claims.

As governor of Alaska,
Palin could have restored health insurance to 1200 Alaskan children and 530
pregnant women for less than one million dollars at a time when her state had a
$1.3 billion surplus. She did not do so.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has a similar
record of hostility towards government run health insurance for low income
children. When Democrats proposed in 2007 to expand the State Child Health
Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 10 million more children, McCain voted
against the plan and praised President Bush for vetoing the bill.

By contrast, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack
Obama and Sen. Joe Biden supported attempts to renew and expand insurance
through SCHIP, the federal program that pays 70% of the cost of state-run child
health insurance programs across the country.

SCHIP is credited with reducing the number of uninsured
children in the United
States by 2.7 million from its inception in
1997, despite rising unemployment and poverty levels.

In 2008, Palin had the opportunity to increase access to Alaska’s SCHIP program,
known as Denali KidCare, a program for families who make too much to qualify
for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.

Gov. Palin has been in office for less than two years. Her
track record on children’s healthcare is short; however, her failure to act on
child health insurance is very revealing. Despite significant public pressure,
Palin declined to support the bill that would have extended medical coverage to
an additional 1200 children and 530 pregnant women for a mere $875,000.

Palin claims to be an advocate for children with special
needs. Poor children are at heightened risk of disability and chronic illness.
So, any policy that pushes healthcare out of reach of low income families is a
double whammy for those with special needs.

The fight over Denali KidCare is about how poor you have to
be to qualify. The program originally covered children whose families made up
to 200% of the federal poverty level.

Under Gov. Frank Murkowski, the threshold was cut back to
175% percent of the federal poverty level. Eligibility was frozen at the dollar
figure that constituted 175% of the federal poverty line at the time the law
was signed with no adjustments for subsequent inflation.

These changes, spearheaded by Republicans in the state
legislature, took health insurance away from many lower middle class families.

By the time Palin took office, the effective cutoff was
about 150% of the current federal poverty guideline. During her first year in
office, the governor quietly signed a bill to unfreeze the eligibility
threshold, which meant that the the maximum income in 2008 would be 175% of the
federal poverty guideline for 2008, not 175% of what the poverty line was in
2003. In 2003 the federal poverty guideline was $23,000 for a family of four,
which meant the family could earn up to $40,250 and still qualify for benefits. Five
years later, the FPG had risen to $26,500, but the maximum income was still $40,250,
a mere 151% of the FPG.

Palin had little choice but sign the bill, because Alaska stood to lose SCHIP
funding for the entire program if the threshold fell below 150% of the 2008 poverty
line.

Children’s healthcare advocates welcomed the measure as a
small step forward. But even after unfreezing, Alaska’s SCHIP rules are among the most
restrictive in the nation.

In the second year of the Palin administration, State Sen.
Betty Davis introduced S.B. 212, a bill to restore the original 200% threshold
for Denali KidCare.

The bill had the support of a broad coalition of health and
social services groups. Planned Parenthood, Catholic charities, faith based
organizations, and the AARP found themselves on the same side of the Denali KidCare
issue.

Two hundred people rallied in Anchorage in support of the bill, a massive
turnout by local standards.

The bill passed the Senate and cleared all but the final
committee in the House.

Palin had a golden opportunity to restore health insurance
to 1200 Alaskans for less than a million dollars. All
she had to do was pick up the phone and convey her support, or even her
acquiescence to undecided state legislators.

The fence-sitters were looking to the governor for
reassurance, according a Juneau
lobbyist who pushed for the bill. (The lobbyist asked not to be named because
of agreements with unrelated clients not to be quoted in the media.)

These legislators were under intense pressure from
conservative Republicans and they wanted reassurance from Gov. Palin that she
would sign the bill. Members didn’t want to cash in political capital for a
bill that the governor was going to veto anyway.

Palin failed to act and the bill died in committee. It is
not clear why the governor opposed extending health insurance to poor children.
Some observers speculated that Palin let the bill die because the program
covers abortions.

The state of Alaska
does not cover most medically necessary abortions. Therefore, Denali KidCare is
an important source of funding for uninsured pregnant women seeking to
terminate their pregnancies.

Before receiving the vice presidential nomination, Palin had
promised to hold a special legislative session this fall to debate two abortion
bills. Denali KidCare hoped to get their 200% solution on the agenda during the
special session. With the governor off on the campaign trail, it is doubtful
that a special session will be held any time soon.

Palin’s attitude towards health insurance for poor children
is in step with that of her running mate, Sen. John McCain.

When the SCHIP program was set expire in 2007, McCain voted
against a Democratic-backed bill that would have reauthorized and expanded the
SCHIP program.

At the time, McCain said he opposed the bill because he didn’t
want to raise the federal excise
tax on cigarettes to pay for expanded coverage.

McCain is on the record as opposing expansion of SCHIP to
cover middle class children, which he believes would be a departure from the
program’s original intent.

SCHIP is designed to help families who make too much to be
covered by Medicaid, but not quite enough to buy their own health insurance.
Because health insurance costs have increased much faster than incomes since
the program started in 1997, the target group is getting larger because more and
more people are getting priced out of health insurance.

Democrats in Congress twice failed to achieve a veto-proof
majority for the enlarged SCHIP plan. President Bush vetoed the bills, which
would have extended health coverage to 10 million children. Congress eventually
passed Bush’s stopgap bill which funds the existing SCHIP program through March
2009.

It is interesting to note that McCain supports enhanced
medical insurance for embryo-Americans but not for born children. The Arizona senator voted
for a bill to extend SCHIP coverage to fetuses in utero. Obama and Biden voted
against that bill.

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to expand health insurance
to Alaskan children, but she chose not to. She and her running mate have
signaled that they are hostile to any expansion of government-funded healthy
insurance, even for uninsured children. For McCain/Palin, free market ideology
trumps practical solutions.

Commentary Contraception

The Promotion of Long-Acting Contraceptives Must Confront History and Center Patient Autonomy

Jamila Taylor

While some long-acting reversible contraceptive methods were used to undermine women of color's reproductive freedom, those methods still hold the promise of reducing unintended pregnancy among those most at risk.

Since long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), including intrauterine devices and hormonal contraceptive implants, are among the most effective means of pregnancy prevention, many family planning and reproductive health providers are increasingly promoting them, especially among low-income populations.

But the promotion of LARCs must come with an acknowledgment of historical discriminatory practices and public policy related to birth control. To improve contraceptive access for low-income women and girls of color—who bear the disproportionate effects of unplanned pregnancy—providers and advocates must work to ensure that the reproductive autonomy of this population is respected now, precisely because it hasn’t been in the past.

For Black women particularly, the reproductive coercion that began during slavery took a different form with the development of modern contraceptive methods. According to Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body, “The movement to expand women’s reproductive options was marked with racism from its very inception in the early part of [the 20th] century.” Decades later, government-funded family planning programs encouraged Black women to use birth control; in some cases, Black women were coerced into being sterilized.

In the 1990s, the contraceptive implant Norplant was marketed specifically to low-income women, especially Black adults and teenage girls. After a series of public statements about the benefits of Norplant in reducing pregnancy among this population, policy proposals soon focused on ensuring usage of the contraceptive method. Federal and state governments began paying for Norplant and incentivizing its use among low-income women while budgets for social support programs were cut. Without assistance, Norplant was not an affordable option, with the capsules costing more than $300 and separate, expensive costs for implantation and removal.

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Soon, Norplant was available through the Medicaid program. Some states introduced (ultimately unsuccessful) bills that would give cash rewards to entice low-income women on public assistance into using it; a few, such as Tennessee and Washington state, required that women receiving various forms of public assistance get information about Norplant. After proposing a bill to promote the use of Norplant in his state in 1994, a Connecticut legislator made the comment, “It’s far cheaper to give you money not to have kids than to give you money to have kids.” By that year, as Roberts writes, states had spent $34 million on Norplant-related care, much of it for women on Medicaid. Policymakers thought it was completely legitimate and cost-effective to control the reproduction of low-income women.

However, promoting this method among low-income Black women and adolescents was problematic. Racist, classist ideology dictating that this particular population of women shouldn’t have children became the basis for public policy. Even though coercive practices in reproductive health were later condemned, these practices still went on to shape cultural norms around race and gender, as well as medical practice.

This history has made it difficult to move beyond negative perceptions, and even fear, of LARCs, health care, and the medical establishment among some women of color. And that’s why it’s so important to ensure informed consent when advocating for effective contraceptive methods, with choice always at the center.

But how can policies and health-care facilities promote reproductive autonomy?

Health-care providers must deal head on with the fact that many contemporary women have concerns about LARCs being recommended specifically to low-income women and women of color. And while this is part of the broader effort to make LARCs more affordable and increasingly available to communities that don’t have access to them, mechanisms should be put in place to address this underlying issue. Requiring cultural competency training that includes information on the history of coercive practices affecting women of color could help family planning providers understand this concern for their patients.

Then, providers and health systems must address other barriers that make it difficult for women to access LARCs in particular. LARCs can be expensive in the short term, and complicated billing and reimbursement practices in both public and private insurance confuse women and providers. Also, the full cost associated with LARC usage isn’t always covered by insurance.

But the process shouldn’t end at eliminating barriers. Low-income Black women and teens must receive comprehensive counseling for contraception to ensure informed choice—meaning they should be given information on the full array of methods. This will help them choose the method that best meets their needs, while also promoting reproductive autonomy—not a specific contraceptive method.

Clinical guidelines for contraception must include detailed information on informed consent, and choice and reproductive autonomy should be clearly outlined when family planning providers are trained.

It’s crucial we implement these changes now because recent investments and advocacy are expanding access to LARCs. States are thinking creatively about how to reduce unintended pregnancy and in turn reduce Medicaid costs through use of LARCs. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative has been heralded as one of the most effective in helping women access LARCs. Since 2008, more than 30,000 women in Colorado have chosen LARCs as the result of the program. Provider education, training, and contraceptive counseling have also been increased, and women can access LARCs at reduced costs.

The commitment to LARCs has apparently yielded major returns for Colorado. Between 2009 and 2013, the abortion rate among teenagers older than 15 in Colorado dropped by 42 percent. Additionally, the birth rate for young women eligible for Medicaid dropped—resulting in cost savings of up to an estimated $111 million in Medicaid-covered births. LARCs have been critical to these successes. Public-private partnerships have helped keep the program going since 2015, and states including Delaware and Iowa have followed suit in efforts to experience the same outcomes.

Recognizing that prevention is a key component to any strategy addressing a public health concern, those strategies must be rooted in ensuring access to education and comprehensive counseling so that women and teens can make the informed choices that are best for them. When women and girls are given the tools to empower themselves in decision making, the results are positive—not just for what the government spends or does not spend on social programs, but also for the greater good of all of us.

The history of coercion undermining reproductive freedom among women and girls of color in this country is an ugly one. But this certainly doesn’t have to dictate how we move forward.

Commentary Politics

It’s Not Just Trump: The Right Wing’s Increasing Reliance on Violence and Intimidation as a Path to Power

Jodi Jacobson

Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.

This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.

To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”

Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.

Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daeshitself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of powerthey are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.

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Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.

Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.

Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.

The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.

A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.

Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.

In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”

In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”

One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.

Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.

These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.”  To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:

Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.

“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]

These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have gone unpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:

“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.

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