Kagan Confirmed; TANF Penalties Increase

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Cheers

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The Senate confirmed Elena Kagan as the 112th justice and fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court on Aug. 5, reported The Associated Press. The vote was 63-37 for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens. She is the first Supreme Court nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge, and her swearing-in will mark the first time that three women will serve on the nine-member court at the same time.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Mexico’s Supreme Court upheld a law–in an 8-to-2 decision–that permits same-sex marriage in Mexico City Aug. 5, rejecting an appeal from the federal attorney general’s office, reported Ms. Magazine. The same-sex marriage bill was approved in December and explicitly granted married same-sex couples all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including adoption rights. Since the law went into affect in March, over 300 same-sex couples have been married, reported the article. The Mexican Supreme Court will decide next week whether or not to extend the law beyond Mexico City.
  • A federal judge in San Francisco ruled that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions, reported the Los Angeles Times Aug. 4. U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said that Proposition 8, passed by California voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians. Sponsors of Proposition 8 filed an appeal shortly after the ruling; the case is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • A 9/11 widow who began a foundation for widows in Afghanistan–as well as 12 other honorees–received the Presidential Citizens Medal on Aug. 4, reported the Boston Globe. Susan Retik and Patti Quigley founded Beyond the 11th, a foundation that has raised over $600,000 during the last six years for job skills training, literacy classes, small business development and other programs to help Afghan widows. The two women hope this medal will help them further promote their cause. The award is the second-highest honor that can be bestowed upon a U.S. citizen, the article says.
  • Baltimore’s top prosecutor and City Counsel President, Bernard C. Young, called on Aug. 4 for an outside agency to investigate complaints of rape previously dismissed by the city’s police department, reported the Baltimore Sun. An analysis by the newspaper indicated that for at least five years the city led the nation in the percentage of rape allegations that police found to be "false or baseless." Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke praised the city and police department response so far, which has included creating a hotline for victims, changing policies and forming a task force to oversee wholesale changes in the way that sex crimes are investigated. Officials are pursuing grant money to improve case-management systems and outreach efforts to assist victims.
  • Modern-Orthodox rabbis, educators and mental-health professionals from the United States and Israel issued a statement promoting tolerance toward gays and lesbians in a document called the "Statement of Principles," reported Ms. Magazine Aug. 3. The document was issued on the eve of the one-year anniversary of a deadly shooting at a Tel Aviv gay club and Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade. Those who signed the statement hope to create safe environments for gay and lesbian residents at synagogues and schools, condemning disrespectful behavior, but the statement did not express support for same-sex marriage, the article reported.
  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has offered refuge in his country to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, a move which raised hopes that her life will be spared, reported The Guardian Aug. 1. Lula offered Ashtiani asylum at a political rally in Curitiba, southern Brazil. Her son, Sajad, told The Guardian that Brazil and Turkey, Iran’s allies, are the only countries that can make an impact on Iran to save his mother’s life. Specific details of the asylum proposal, such as where Ashtiani might live in Brazil, have not yet been revealed.
  • The Indonesian government announced on Aug. 2 it would fund deliveries performed by skilled birth attendants for three million low-income women in 2011, as part of a proposal to reduce the maternal mortality rate, reported Integrated Regional Information Networks. Under the current health system, only five percent of Indonesia’s five million low-income pregnant women receive government assistance for deliveries, according to the ministry. The nation is off-track in meeting its target to reduce the maternal mortality rate to 102 per 100,000 live births by 2015, the Indonesia Maternal Health Assessment reported. The current rate is 228 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  • The Midwifery Modernization Act passed unanimously in the New York Senate July 30 and was signed into law the same day, according to press reports. The act removes the requirement for a midwife to have a written practice agreement with an obstetrician, allowing midwives to practice independently as primary care providers. Under the new law, midwives may continue to refer women to obstetricians, gynecologist or physicians on an as-needed basis.
  • The International Museum of Women, located in San Francisco, was selected to receive a prestigious $100,000 grant award from the American Association of Museums to fund a forthcoming global exhibition, "Young Women Speaking the Economy." The exhibit will debut online in spring 2011. Groups of women ages 18 to 25 from Denmark, the Philippines, the United States and Sudan will contribute to the exhibition and share their perspectives on the economy, careers, well-being and professional life with each other and with the museum’s global online audience. The aim is to empower young women and help connect women around the world who might have similar stories to share about their experience during the economic crisis.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment authored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., to the Fiscal Year 2011 State and Foreign Operations funding measure that would permanently overturn the global gag rule and provide access to family planning services for women around the world, reported Medical News Today Aug. 2. The rule denied financial aid from the United States for contraception and family planning services to any organization–even those using their own funding–that performs or promotes legal abortion or lobbies to change its country’s abortion laws. Several advocacy groups, including the Center for Health and Gender Equity and the American Civil Liberties Union, support the efforts.
  • President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, aimed at strengthening safety and reporting standards, reported The Crime Report Aug. 2. Addressing concerns over cruise ship safety and transparency, the law will mandate crime reporting, require aid for rape victims and force all ships to have cabin peep holes and guard rails of a certain height. Each ship must carry equipment and materials to perform sexual assault medical exams and to collect forensic evidence. Ships must also have drugs available to prevent sexually transmitted diseases after an assault. The Department of Homeland Security will make cruise line crime statistics available to the public.

 


 

Jeers

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A new report, entitled "The Sanction Epidemic in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program," addresses how penalties or "sanctions" faced by recipients of this welfare program can cause serious harm financially. Released on Aug. 4 by the New York City-based Legal Momentum, the report says these penalties–whether they withhold some or all of the aid a family would receive–are very common and many are imposed erroneously or for extremely minor violations. The report says 85,000 families a month received reduced benefits due to a partial sanction in 2008, and there were 219,000 full family sanctions that year, contributing to a decline in program participation. Currently, only about two million families are receiving TANF although probably at least five million families are eligible.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • A phone application in Saudi Arabia allows male guardians to receive text message notifications from the foreign ministry when their female charges leave the country unaccompanied, reported The Guardian Aug. 4. Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi Arabian female activist whose husband received a notification after she left the country for a holiday with her family, said in the article, "In Saudi Arabia, technology brings more restrictions and misery. They use it to have more control over people’s lives, especially women."
  • A federal grand jury in New York City returned an indictment charging Joseph Yannai with forced labor, violation of immigration laws and other crimes, including sexual abuse, a press release by the Media-Newswire reported Aug. 4. The indictment alleges that the defendant engaged in a scheme, using lies, intimidation and manipulation, to induce young women, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, to travel to the United States from abroad so that he could sexually abuse them.
  • Continued war, insecurity, immigration and other problems have led to a rise in the rate of suicide among Afghan women, said Faizullah Kakar, advisor to Afghan president on health affairs, reported Xinhua News July 31. Approximately over 2,400 Afghan women commit suicide each year, the article reported. Kakar said that fears and concerns over the continued conflicts, continued instability, forced and under-age marriage and the handing over of a girl’s hand in marriage to the rival side as compensation to settle a dispute in murder cases are the main factors behind women’s decisions to end their lives.
  • The Center for Reproductive Rights, a United States-based rights group, urged the Philippines on Aug. 2 to reform an anti-abortion law that the organization claims has spawned widespread underground procedures that kill about 1,000 women each year, reported The Associated Press. An estimated 560,000 women in the Philippines in 2008 sought abortion involving such methods as intense abdominal massages by traditional midwives or inserting catheters into the uterus, said a report by the rights group. About 90,000 women suffer from abortion complications and an estimated 1,000 die each year in the Philippines, the report said, adding that complications are among the top 10 reasons women seek hospital care.
  • Plainclothes officers seized Chinese activist for sex workers’ rights Ye Haiyan at her office on Aug. 2 and told her she would be held for two or three days of "studies," her sister Ye Sha told The Associated Press. The arrest came a few days after she publicly called for prostitution to be legalized, her sister said. Last week, Haiyan and a few other supporters asked people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where Haiyan is based, to sign a petition in support of legalizing prostitution. She also called for Aug. 3 to be marked as "Sex Workers’ Day." Dissidents in China are often detained by authorities with the explanation that they are "going for studies" or "taking a vacation" and kept at a guesthouse to prevent them from moving about freely during sensitive dates, the article reported.

Noted:

  • Supermodel Naomi Campbell testified at the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on Aug. 5, reported the New York Times. Campbell, who had been subpoenaed to the trial after refusing to cooperate with the prosecution, said that she received a few "very small, dirty-looking stones" from two unknown men at her door after she met Taylor at a dinner in South Africa 13 years ago. But she did not keep the stones. In a setback for prosecutors, Campbell said she did not know who had sent her the uncut stones, which she said had been delivered to her room late that night. Despite media attention, Campbell was not a crucial witness at the trial, which began two years ago and has involved testimony from more than 90 people, including aides from Taylor’s inner circle, former child soldiers and weapons smugglers, the article reported. Taylor is accused of war crimes, including murder, conscripting child soldiers and terrorizing and mutilating civilians.
  • A study indicates that women who conceive within six months of a miscarriage have the best chance of having a healthy, successful pregnancy, reported the Los Angeles Times Aug. 5. The study was published online in the British Medical Journal. Researchers found that women who conceived again within six months were less likely to have a Cesarean section, preterm delivery–a birth before 36 weeks–or an infant of low birth weight, compared with other pregnant women.
  • Mohamad Ali Rustam, chief minister of southern Malacca in Malaysia, encouraged Muslim teenagers to get married if they cannot resist having sex and promised money to help them start a family, reported The Associated Press Aug. 5. The stance drew criticism from women’s rights activists. Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women’s Aid Organization, said laws that allow marriage below the age of 18 should be eliminated because they might encourage pedophilia and undermine the physical and emotional health of teenagers. Rustam said Muslim girls who have sex out of wedlock risk being thrown out of their homes by their parents, with some becoming prostitutes to make a living. Officials in Malacca plan to start providing $160 in financial help to young couples who want to get married. They are also considering building a special school for girls who become pregnant, since regular schools would expel them, Rustam said.
  • A study indicates that hormones have a direct impact on women’s shopping behavior, causing them to buy sexier clothes during ovulation, reported the U.K.’s Telegraph Aug. 5. The research, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, claims that an instinct tells women when they are most likely to conceive and they unknowingly set out to make themselves look as appealing as possible in an attempt to outdo potential love rivals.
  • Women who put on too many pounds during pregnancy are at risk of having a heavier baby, which may increase the child’s chances for long-term obesity, reported The Wall Street Journal Aug. 5. The researchers, whose findings were reported in the Aug. 5 issue of The Lancet, found that women who gained more than 52 pounds were 2.3 times as likely to have a high-birth-weight baby as women who gained 18 to 22 pounds, within the recommended range of weight gain for overweight women.
  • A think tank in England asserts that the role of the family doctor in helping women before, during and after pregnancy has "all but disappeared" over the last 30 years, reported the BBC Aug. 4. The group, called The King’s Fund, suggested general practitioners should be paid more as incentive to take on more responsibility and work alongside other services. In response to the suggestion that general practitioners could work with midwives and obstetric services, Cathy Warwick, head of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "We would argue that if GPs are to have a wider role in maternity care, they must be able to demonstrate an up-to-date knowledge of maternity care and be actively engaged with their local maternity services." The King’s Fund compiled the report as part of a larger investigation into general practitioners’ care, which will be published later this year.
  • Jobs in the sex industry that could lead to exploitation, such as strippers and lap dancers, will be banned from being advertised on the government employment search Web site Jobcentre, the United Kingdom government announced on Aug. 2, reported the UKPA. Employment Minister Chris Grayling said the ban, which will come into effect immediately, is aimed at protecting jobseekers from feeling they have to consider work they aren’t comfortable with. The ban follows a public consultation that revealed significant public concern about Jobcentre advertising jobs in the sex industry. The consultation also revealed that the people who work in the sex industry could be vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
  • A large part of human milk cannot be digested by babies and seems to have a purpose quite different from infant nutrition–that of influencing the composition of bacteria in the infant’s gut, reported The New York Times Aug. 3. Three researchers at the University of California, Davis, working on the details of this relationship between breast milk and bacteria have found that a particular strain of bacterium that thrive in the indigestible component of milk coats the lining of the infant’s intestine, protecting it from noxious bacteria that could attack intestines, the article reported.

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