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« Reply #14610 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:32 AM »


Somalis speak out against female genital mutilation – audio slideshow

Since 1996, the UN children's agency has been working to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of the practice in the world. A recent survey of Somali women revealed that 98% of respondents had been been circumcised, a procedure that can result in infection, infertility and even death. Unicef's campaign has tackled FGM from a religious, community and cultural perspective. Here, a former 'cutter', a community leader, and a teenager who narrowly escaped being cut explain why the practice should be eradicated

Kate Holt   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 July 2014 14.01 BST   

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/audioslideshow/2014/jul/22/female-genital-mutilation-somalia-fgm-audio-slideshow

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FGM and child marriage: grandmothers are part of the problem and the solution

Girls on their own can't change the norms that endanger them. Understand the role of the other women in a girl's life

Fatimah Kelleher
Guardian Professional, Thursday 17 July 2014 16.25 BST      

Child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are firmly under the spotlight at the UK government's Girl Summit this month, with both practices gaining increased recognition as barriers to both women's rights and sustainable development. But we need to move beyond the girl-centred dialogue often dominating these discussions and gain greater understanding of the role of mothers and grandmothers.

Found in diverse cultures across the globe, child marriage statistics show that one in three girls in the developing world are married by age 18, while one in nine are married by age 15. Some girls are married as young as eight or nine. FGM is found mainly in parts of Africa and the Middle East and the World Health Organisation estimates between 100 and 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to at least one of the first three steps of female genital mutilation.

Older women are sometimes at the core of such practices because they have been socialised into the patriarchal systems that uphold detrimental gender norms. "Decision-making processes for FGM are often led by older female relatives, including mothers and grandmothers, as they have the sole responsibility of making this happen as a sign of fulfilling their social responsibility", explains Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of Forward, whose work on FGM specialises in community engagement.

The centrality of mothers and grandmothers role means that they also have the potential to be disrupters. The Grandmother Project works in Senegal to strengthen communication between generations of women and also to empower grandmothers to influence male and community members towards stopping such practices. "In some cultural contexts where family decision making is collective, grandmothers play an influential role given their experience," says executive director Judi Aubel. "Conversely, it is extremely difficult for younger women, and especially for adolescent girls, to influence those decisions. It is in fact, a grandmother's culturally designated responsibility to pass on such traditions."

Girls not Brides has reported on the dangers of demonising families for continuing these practices. "Families practicing child marriage are not 'evil,' sending their children away because they don't care," says the campaign group. "Rather, they are operating within a system in which these early marriages are meant to protect the daughters they hold dear. Focusing on reasons that families practice child marriage opens up a range of possibilities to stop it." Child marriage and FGM are underpinned by a range of triggers from poverty to codes of honour and unquestioned norms integral to community identity.

Empowering girls directly has been a focus in much programming to combat these practices, and indeed, strengthening the agency of girls is central to ending them. However, girls do no not exist in a vacuum; they reside within familial relationships that have nurtured them, and the consequences of acting alone in a manner considered deviant cannot be ignored.

"We can't talk about empowering the girl child without involving the society she grows up in," says Rainatou Sow, founder and executive director of Make Every Woman Count. "It is very important to involve the community as a whole, so we need a holistic approach that addresses harmful practice and makes sure that the girl child can grow healthy and empowered within her community."

Indeed, this juxtaposition between a girl's individual sovereignty to resist harmful practices and a community's importance as a home and lynchpin of a girl's identity is difficult enough in a country like the UK, where at least emergency services, the force of law and greater access to information can to a certain extent offer some support. For many girls across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the circumstances are shakier.

"Many laws prohibiting FGM and child marriage in Africa coexist alongside customary laws therefore nullify the effectiveness of those laws," says Naana Otoo-Oyortey, who also highlights the importance of governments committing to human rights frameworks to address this tension.

At the community level, ensuring that girls are not left isolated is critical. Just as working with men and boys is pivotal to bringing about sustained change on these issues, ignoring or underestimating the role of older women would be extremely naïve.

"The alienation of those who are viewed as being cultural authorities can lead to the further entrenchment of those same harmful traditional practices," cautions Judi Aubel. "We believe that girls cannot change norms on their own and that one of their greatest needs is to have a supportive social environment around them, and that those who can best support them are other women."

The speedy transience of girlhood alongside what are often short-term girl-empowerment interventions also needs acknowledgment. Girls become women quickly in these contexts, and some will pass beyond the reach of targeted programming even before completion of the baseline research. Many will become mothers and even grandmothers themselves in short spaces of time. With that in mind, enabling women to form a compact of protection for their daughters and granddaughters is a powerful way forward.

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Criminalisation will not stop FGM in east Africa

An Oxford University study has found that criminalisation of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia has lead to underground circumcisions. Social norms, not just the law, need to change

Kirrily Pells and Lorriann Robinson
Guardian Professional, Tuesday 15 April 2014 16.03 BST   
   
Since female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Ethiopia, some rural families have been holding clandestine circumcisions, said parents at confidential focus group discussions in Ethiopia for Oxford University's Young Lives study. Often, the ritual takes place at night in order to evade prosecution, with girls at even greater risk due to poor lighting or the use of less experienced practitioners.

As a 10-year-old, Ayu, who lives in the rural Oromia region, wanted to complete her education and become a teacher instead of getting married young. But at the age of 14 she underwent FGM and by 16 she had left school and got married.

Ayu's mother explained that the cutting was done at Ayu's request. "After she heard a girl insulting another who was not circumcised, my daughter came home and asked me to organise her circumcision. She told me she does not want to be insulted in the same way." And while her mother thought Ayu was not ready for marriage at 16 she was much more concerned about the risks her daughter would face as a young woman without the protection of a husband. "We live in corrupt and dangerous times," she said. "It is better that she is married early."

In Somaliland, the health messages about the risks associated with FGM (sometimes referred to as FGC, female genital cutting) have led to more girls undergoing clitoridectomy (the removal of the clitoris) instead of the more extreme infibulation (which involves the removal of the clitoris as well as the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal). But a forthcoming World Vision study, Examining the links between the practices of FGM/C and early marriage (available from 28 April on World Vision's website), found that since the pressure to stop infibulation has increased, the pressure on girls to marry young has intensified because they fear being perceived as more open to premarital sex if they have not had the procedure. As 15-year-old Faiza explained: "It is better for my dignity to have a husband and children now."

Martha Tureti, World Vision's gender and development co-ordinator in Kenya, believes criminalisation has failed to eradicate the practice in the country. And stand-alone interventions, such as setting up rescue centres or introducing alternative rites of passage, have not been enough to alter deeply imbedded attitudes that put a high premium on girls' sexual reputations and premarital virginity.

"If you only focus on the girls, the community still go ahead with the cutting anyway," Martha told us. "We realised the importance of including boys so that they understand the dangers of FGM because otherwise they still demand to marry girls who have been cut."

In northern Kenya, World Vision has sponsored the development of rites of passage that retain traditions like teaching the girls about their future adult roles, but replace FGM with reproductive health education that includes knowledge about the effects of genital cutting. One key to success has been persuading communities to identify their own adaptations to old traditions instead of trying to impose change from outside; holding ceremonies that include public endorsements from community leaders; and offering alternative income sources to the cutters. For example, a World Vision-sponsored ceremony involving 10-year-old girls in the northern district of Naivasha included the public endorsement of a local politician, as well as pledges from former cutters that they would abandon the practice in return for the gift of some goats that would provide them with alternative means of earning a livelihood.

A clear message from both the Young Lives and the World Vision research is that legal prohibition and intensive advocacy campaigns have not been enough to eradicate FGM. This is often because families feel unable to take the social consequences of making changes that go against the norm in close-knit traditional communities. So work towards the abandonment of FGM and early marriage must engage with the whole community and address the social norms that underpin the practices.

It is difficult for outsiders to predict what unintended consequences might arise in each circumstance as every community responds to change in different ways. But the Young Lives' focus group findings demonstrate the importance of understanding from community members why some continue practicing FGM despite prohibition. World Vision's experience has been that change is more likely if all the different interest groups in a community are involved in a non-judgmental dialogue about which solutions will work for them.

Ultimately, strategies to prevent FGM need to engage with the root causes of both FGM and early marriage: namely the unequal status of women and men, the desire to control female sexual activity and limited economic opportunities for women and girls.

Names have been changed at the request of World Vision.

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How to eliminate FGM: follow Africa's lead

DfID should focus on supporting existing programmes across Africa where countries are making progress in banning the practice of female genital mutilation

Efua Dorkenoo
Guardian Professional, Monday 22 April 2013 11.16 BST

Last month the UK Department for International Development (DfID) announced that £35m would be provided to help eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa and elsewhere. This is a clear indication that the UK is committed to ending violence against women and girls (VAWG), in line with the eradication of extreme economic inequality. This also reflects the high-level panel's aim of ensuring that wealthier countries play a direct role in benefitting developing countries and is a step in the right direction towards integrating human rights into foreign policy.

In engaging with countries on FGM, it is vital that at a policy level, DfID does not convey a sense of carrying 'colonial baggage' by treading on 'egg shells' on the issue. Instead, it should recognise that the campaign to eliminate FGM has already come a long way in Africa – from the 1980s when FGM was highly politically charged and was literally a 'no-go area' – to today when African women are speaking out for themselves against the practice and leaders are calling for a global ban.

With this new source of funding, the UK has positioned itself as a true global leader. However, it is not starting from scratch and should take the lead from Africa. The protocol of the African charter on human and peoples' rights on the rights of women in Africa, which is currently in force – spells out the comprehensive approach to address FGM and other forms of VAWG. It says states should take all necessary child protection, legislative and education measures to eliminate such practices and provide support to survivors. To achieve these objectives the African Union has declared 2010-2020 the 'Decade for African women'.

FGM prevalence has been falling among the young in some countries – albeit not as quickly as desired. According to recent demographic and health surveys data, Burkina Faso has seen a 27.5% reduction in FGM between older and younger women. The Burkina Faso model employs multiple strategies. The government has had an 'end FGM' policy since 1983 and continues to advocate strongly against the practice.

At national level, it has created a secretariat, which is government-funded, to oversee work on FGM. It has a specific law banning FGM, which is enforced. It uses a multiplicity of interventions by involving religious leaders, members of the police force, medical professionals, teachers, youth and women's organisations. This has ensured that messages on FGM are communicated to the wider public and included in development programmes.

The country has also focused on disseminating information through awareness campaigns by the police and army teams, information, education, and communication projects, media exposure and a free Child Line hotline for both the public to report suspected cases and for survivors or other affected parties to receive counseling. In addition to integrating FGM into reproductive health programmes, Burkina Faso is developing a specialist clinic to address the complications of FGM. It also provides up-to-date information on FGM to monitor and evaluate the progress.

The UK is now in a privileged position and can make real progress in the elimination of FGM and other forms of VAWG along with the eradication of extreme global poverty. The two objectives go hand in hand; in many ways, they are the same thing. If we move carefully, the development advances we can now make will provide long term benefits. However, it is essential that we follow Africa's lead and recognise successes where they are already taking place.

Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, is a Ghanaian campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM). Efua is currently advocacy director of the FGM programme for Equality Now.




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« Reply #14611 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:34 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/23/2014 02:58 PM

A Damned Paradise: Does Haiti Need Tourism? Or Does It Need Justice?

By Samiha Shafy

Human rights attorney Mario Joseph and Tourism Minister Stéphanie Villedrouin are both trying to improve Haiti, but they are following radically different paths. The one wants justice, the other wants tourism.

The attorney stares at a hut next to the grave. It's made of wood and mud, and is covered with a plastic tarp. "I used to live like that," Mario Joseph says quietly, more to himself than to the three women crouching behind him in the shade of a tree.

The women are keeping watch over a rectangle of freshly dug up earth, surrounded by loose stones. One of them, Itavia Souffrant, says it is the grave of her mother. Two weeks ago, the mother had diarrhea and was vomiting, but because of heavy rains the family was unable to take her to the doctor. The mother died of cholera, the same fate suffered previously by Souffrant's three-year-old daughter and by so many others in the vicinity of Mirebalais, north of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

The three women at the gravesite have also had cholera, but they survived. They knew that they shouldn't have been drinking from the river, they say, but it was the only water available. The tablets to disinfect it are unaffordable, and they don't have enough charcoal to boil it.

Attorney Joseph believes that he has found a way to help them and all other victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. About 750,000 people have been infected with the disease and the death toll now stands at 8,500. Officials expect there to be about 45,000 new cases in 2014.

The culprit is the international community. A few months after the earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal emptied their latrines into the Artibonite River, and thus introduced the pathogen to Haiti. Until then, cholera was one of the few plagues that this poor country had been spared.

This explains why the attorney is now standing in front of a mud hut on a humid green hill, from which vapor rises in the heat. He has returned to the world from which he came in the hopes of changing it.

Joseph, 51, is a burly man with a moustache. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, a straw hat and sunglasses, he takes large gulps from his Diet Coke. He is asking the women questions in the search for information could help him realize his plan. It is as obvious as it is ludicrous: He wants to take the United Nations to court.

Justice for Haiti's Victims

It isn't actually possible to sue the UN; the organization invokes the principle of immunity, which seems cynical in this case. Nevertheless, Joseph, a well-known human rights attorney in Haiti, has filed a class action lawsuit in a federal court in New York, where the UN has its headquarters. "The peacekeepers knew that Haiti is a poor country without a waste water system," says Joseph. "They should have been extra careful, instead of dumping their fecal matter into the river!"

Joseph wants justice for Haiti's victims. In addition to his fight against the UN, he wants to see former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier brought to trial in Port-au-Prince. He also represents women who were raped in tent cities in the capital after the earthquake.

Joseph believes that for wounds to heal, they need to be examined and cleaned -- so that his wounded country can eventually recuperate. He wants to prevent the world from forgetting Haiti's suffering.

Joseph's adversary is sitting in her office in a yellow government building in Port-au-Prince. Stéphanie Villedrouin, Haiti's tourism minister, doesn't want the world to constantly hear any more tales of suffering coming from her country. She wants a Haiti that looks to the future and markets itself more effectively.

Four PR consultants are gathered around a table in Villedrouin's office. They have flown in from France, Great Britain, the United States and the Dominican Republic to hear about Villedrouin's vision of Haiti as the next vacation paradise in the Caribbean. The minister wants the marketing specialists to campaign for this vision in their respective countries.

"Which language should we speak?" asks the minister, smiling at her guests. She is fluent in English, Spanish, Creole and French. At 32, Villedrouin is the youngest and undoubtedly most attractive minister Haiti has ever had.

On this afternoon, she is wearing a pink silk blouse, black trousers, pumps, a diamond ring and diamond earrings. She has slightly wavy, caramel-colored hair, a smooth face and light skin. In Haiti, skin color is still a sign of social status. The poor are mostly black while the country's few white citizens usually have money and influence. Villedrouin is from the upper class.

Changing the Image

"The first thing people always tell me is that Haiti is a devastated country," she says. "We have to change that image."

The earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January, 2010, was the worst in a series of natural disasters that have ravaged vulnerable Haiti, a country torn by regime changes and civil wars. More than 220,000 people died.

Still, something bordering on hope emerged for a short time after the tremor. Might it this time be possible to build a better country out of the ruins? When, if not now -- now that Haiti was in the global spotlight and governments and private donors alike were promising billions of dollars for reconstruction? Aid organizations had muddled along in Haiti for decades. This time, though, they pledged to do everything differently -- and everything right.

More than four years later, most Haitians have given up hope. The tent camps in Port-au-Prince have all but disappeared, but they have been replaced by new slums on the surrounding hillsides. They look as if the next heavy rain could flush them into oblivion. The government had some of the shacks painted in bright colors so that the view from new hotels in Pétionville wouldn't be quite so depressing.

And yet, despite everything, does hope still exist in Haiti?

Villedrouin embodies the way she would like to see Haiti: dynamic, modern and elegant. She grew up in Venezuela, where her father served as the Haitian ambassador under the Duvalier regime. When the dictator was ousted in 1986, the family returned home, where it owned restaurants and hotels. Villedrouin attended a tourism school in the Dominican Republic, returned to Haiti and began convincing important people to support her vision. The fact that she became a cabinet minister at 29 is partly due to her connections, but also a result of her talent to fill people with enthusiasm for ideas that sound almost as audacious as Mario Joseph's plan to take the UN to court.

"We have to start with France," says Villedrouin. France, she notes, has a large community of Haitian immigrants who could easily be won over as tourists. She also points out that the French have a historic connection to their former colony and might be interested in visiting the country.

The next stops in the marketing campaign are Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Russia.

Saving Haiti

Villedrouin believes that her plan could help Haiti pull itself out of poverty. Tourist attractions and hotels create jobs. Hotel owners can support Haitian farmers by buying local meat and produce. And the general population also benefits from the roads and airports built primarily for tourists, such as the Hugo Chávez International Airport in Cap Haïtien, modernized with Venezuelan aid. Once the tourists arrive, says Villedrouin, things will begin looking up for Haiti.

From listening to Villedrouin and Joseph, it becomes apparent that although they represent contradictory approaches, they sometimes have the same goal: to save Haiti. Many have failed at the task. Indeed, everyone who has tried has failed, and some have even spent their entire lives in the process. Haiti was once the richest colony in the world. Today, countless tragedies later, it is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

The current list of the "25 most interesting people in the Caribbean," published by the magazine Carib Journal, lists names such as Usain Bolt and Rihanna, but it also includes two Haitians: Mario Joseph and Stéphanie Villedrouin. After being made aware of that fact, Joseph is so amused that he almost chokes on his Diet Coke. "The government would be overjoyed if the minister were the only Haitian on that list," he says.

Joseph walks down the path leading from the shack and the old woman's grave to the road, where his car is parked. One of the three women, whose name is Lizette Paul, walks behind him so that he can give her a lift. Joseph drives past a gray shell of a building without windowpanes. Inside, small children are sitting on wooden benches, singing at the top of their lungs.

Looking grim under his straw hat, the attorney says that missionaries built the school. Only a 10th of all schools in Haiti are government-run, he explains, while foreign aid workers operate the rest -- a shameful state of affairs, Joseph says. Lizette Paul concurs. In fact, she says, she voted for singer Michel Martelly in the presidential election because he had promised free schools for the poor. But now, three years into Martelly's term, she still cannot send her three children to school.

Paul, 43, first met Joseph in a church. He had come to Mirebalais to speak with victims of the cholera epidemic and tell them about his plan to file a class action suit on their behalf. Paul's one-and-a-half-year-old daughter died in the epidemic, as did her father and her brother, who had supported her and the children financially.

"At least there is someone like him in the government, someone who does his job," says Paul, pointing at the attorney. She says that she very much hopes to receive her compensation from the UN soon. Joseph shakes his head. He looks tired. "I'm not part of the government, Lizette, you know that," he says. "I'm an opponent of the government." The woman looks at him uncomprehendingly and says nothing.

'This Is About Emotions'

Joseph's Haiti, the land of the wounded, is everywhere. One would have to be blind to ignore it. Villedrouin's promising Haiti also exists, but it isn't immediately apparent.

The minister has sent her PR advisers on a tour. "This is about emotions -- either you love Haiti or you hate it," she told them as they left. "To find out, you have to see it, sense it, taste it and feel it."

The four men are now sitting in a white, air-conditioned minibus as it rattles along hellish roads throughout the country. They say nothing as the bus passes piles of debris, mountains of garbage and slums. Finally, they arrive in gated oases of calm: hotels with private beaches that charge between $15 and 20 (€11-15) for their use.

Most Haitians live on less than $1 a day. Most of the people basking in the sun on the hotel beaches are aid workers, UN employees and groups of American missionaries. They are no tourists yet.

Two of the tourism experts, the Frenchman and the Dominican, visit a place that is normally off-limits to anyone arriving by land: the Labadie Peninsula. It lies 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Port-au-Prince, and is hidden behind a tall, black, barbed-wire fence patrolled by security guards.

About two dozen men are loitering outside the fence. They watch silently as a gate into the restricted zone opens for the visitors. Royal Caribbean, the American cruise line, has leased the peninsula and developed it into a sort of high-security playground for cruise-ship passengers. Those who go on land here remain behind the fence, where they can swim, snorkel and go jet-skiing.

The two men are taken along the coast in a boat. Wild, green and untouched mountains rise from the blue waters of the Caribbean. Citadelle Laferrière, a 19th-century fortress on the UNESCO World Heritage list, sits atop a 970-meter (3,180-foot) mountain in the distance.

He sees potential, says the Frenchman. What a gorgeous landscape, and what a pretty little spot of sand, that tiny island back there, he exclaims.

One-Eyed Among the Blind

That's Amiga Island, says the skipper. Christopher Columbus supposedly landed on that spot of sand in 1492 during his voyage of discovery to the New World, and gave it its name. The Frenchman looks at the captain with amazement.

Tourism? In Haiti? Attorney Joseph shakes his head. "You'd have to sprinkle sand in the tourists' eyes so that they'd see a different reality," he says. But his next words are surprising: The minister's ideas aren't all that preposterous. Perhaps she can achieve something positive, he says, even if she is part of an incompetent government. "She's a one-eyed person among the blind."

On his way back to Port-au-Prince, Joseph travels along dirt roads filled with potholes, past scrawny horses carrying heavy loads and garishly painted vehicles to which too many people are clinging. Joseph drives an air-conditioned SUV with bulletproof windows, which he had installed because of the death threats that come with his work.

The road passes through the village of his childhood. Frail goats wobble around, and there are mud huts, but there are also small concrete houses and a small school. Joseph slows down to look out the window. "My life here wouldn't be any different that Lizette's," he says, "if I hadn't been lucky enough to go to school."

Raised by their mother, Joseph and his three siblings grew up in a mud hut. Their father left the family when they were small. His mother took in washing for a living and sometimes sold rice. "The primary school cost nine Gourdes a year, and my mother could hardly scrape together the tuition for us," he says.

As one of the most gifted pupils, Joseph was permitted to attend secondary school and a group of missionaries paid his tuition. Beginning in the 10th grade, he started working as a teacher, which enabled him to continue going to school, graduate and study law.

"Baby Doc" ruled Haiti at the time. Nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude Duvalier came into power in 1971 after the death of his father and he ruled the country the way he had learned from "Papa Doc" François. Joseph remembers how the Tontons Macoute, Duvalier's paramilitary force, would beat farmers in his village. His aunt's husband was arrested one day and then disappeared, he says, and the family never found out what had happened to him.

Indifference and Friendliness

Joseph began campaigning for human rights. In 1996, he joined the Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, which had been founded a year earlier with the support of American attorneys, and Joseph now runs the institute's office in Port-au-Prince. "I was really excited when Duvalier returned," he says. "His return could be an opportunity to show the world that abuse of power will no longer remain unpunished in Haiti."

"Baby Doc" accumulated an estimated $800 million before he was forced to flee in 1986. Some 25 years after his ouster, he returned unexpectedly from French exile, where he had squandered much of his fortune. Since then, he has been seen dining with politically influential friends in the better restaurants of Port-au-Prince.

The political elite received the former dictator with reactions ranging from indifference to friendliness. Joseph, however, announced on the radio that he was searching for witnesses to Duvalier's crimes. More than 50 people contacted him, he says, and told him about people who had been arrested for no reason, spent years in prison without trial and were tortured.

Since then, Joseph has been spending a lot of time in court. The trial was already suspended once and now it is proceeding very slowly. Still, the dictator was at least summoned once to appear in court, where Joseph and other lawyers were allowed to question him. It was a historic victory, says Joseph, but not enough. "We cannot build a country without principles."

Joseph has a wife and three children. Ten years ago, they fled to Miami because life had become too dangerous in Haiti and he visits his family once a month. "My wife understands me, sometimes," Joseph says with a smile.

Stéphanie Villedrouin hasn't seen her husband and three children very often in recent years, either. She travels around the world, searching for partners to convince of Haiti's potential as a vacation destination. She has been traveling in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic in recent days. In the spring, she spent a day at the International Tourism Exchange in Berlin. A travel agency in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg now wants to attempt to "bring Haiti closer" to its customers, as an employee puts it.

Keep Investing

When the minister is in Haiti, she frequently attends the openings of new luxury hotels, like the Royal Oasis and the El Rancho. There are plans to build a luxury resort on an island in the south. A Marriott is under construction in Port-au-Prince, signs are being made for the city's chaotic streets so that tourists can find their way around and a tourist police force of 110 officers patrols the areas around hotels and sights. Villedrouin is developing a strategy document for the next 15 years although she has less than two years remaining before a new government is elected, provided the current administration can remain in power until then.

Villedrouin is sitting in a suite in one of the new hotels in Pétionville, enjoying a quiet moment between appointments. The El Rancho, part of a Spanish chain, has pleasantly bland rooms and a pool, and it's easy to forget where you are if you don't leave the premises. Villedrouin says that she hopes to attract private investors. "I always say to them: You guys have to keep investing in tourism in this country."

And what about her? She smiles. "Well, three years ago I had no idea that I would assume such an important position for my country." She says that she is grateful for the opportunity to promote her vision. Then she abandons the attempt at modesty, which doesn't suit her. "In any case, I also want to be in a leadership position in the future. That's just the way I am," she says.

Villedrouin seems to be winning her personal battle. But can she change Haiti? She says that she respects Mario Joseph for the fact that he wants to help his country, in his way. "The Carib Journal honored him because he is apparently a capable attorney," she says. "He is doing something that he believes is helping his sisters and brothers."

The minister has no budget to build roads and she has no power to make poverty and disease disappear. The question is how far optimism goes in making things happen in Haiti's reality.

The Perfect Photo

On the tour of Haiti, Villedrouin's PR advisers visit a former sugar plantation on the Côte des Arcadins that is now a hotel. With them are two French travel writers, guests of the ministry who have been invited to write a promotional article.

A museum in the garden commemorates a bloody colonial history. Haiti is the only country in the world where slaves were able to depose their tormentors and establish their own country. The PR agents learn how brutally the country was victimized, exploited and occupied by foreign powers. To this day, Haiti has never had a chance to become a healthy country.

To lighten the mood, the hotel owner takes the group out to a reef in a speedboat, and they splash around in the water and drink chilled fruit punch. And then, just once during their tour, the two Haitis collide, that of the minister and that of the attorney.

A fisherman in a dilapidated little boat paddles up to the group. He looks like the old man in Hemingway novel: toothless and with leathery skin, calloused hands and cracked fingernails. He says nothing. He merely gazes in astonishment at the scene and waits. The group on the speedboat looks down at the fisherman, equally astonished. The foreigners ask the old man to hand them a fish, and then they take pictures and hand it back to him. It's the perfect photo, they say.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #14612 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:57 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Crises Cascade and Converge, Testing Obama

By PETER BAKER
JULY 22, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — Not long after a passenger jet exploded in midair and plummeted to the ground in Ukraine last week, escalating a volatile crisis pitting the United States and Europe against Russia, President Obama’s thoughts turned to Syria.

The Malaysia Airlines flight seemed to have been shot down by a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft system provided to insurgents who mistook the airliner for a military transport. In a conversation with aides, the president said this was why he refused to send antiaircraft weapons to Syrian rebels. Once they are out of a government’s control, he said, the risk only grows.   

Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once — in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but making the current upheaval more complicated for Mr. Obama is the seemingly interlocking nature of them all. Developments in one area, like Ukraine, shape his views and choices in a crisis in another area, like the Middle East.

The crosscurrents can be dizzying. Even as Mr. Obama presses Russia to stop fomenting a virtual civil war in Ukraine, he is trying to collaborate with Moscow in a diplomatic campaign to force Iran to scale back its nuclear program. Even as he pressures Iran over its nuclear program, he finds himself on the same side as Tehran in combating a rising Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Even as he sends special forces to help squelch those insurgents, he is trying to help their putative allies against the government in Syria next door.

And then there is the mushrooming conflict in Gaza, where Mr. Obama seems to be losing patience. While backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets, he sent Secretary of State John Kerry to work with Egypt to force a cease-fire. This is the same Egypt to which Mr. Obama cut financial aid for a time because its leaders came to power after the military overthrew the previous government.

“It’s a very tangled mess,” said Gary Samore, a former national security aide to Mr. Obama and now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group. “You name it, the world is aflame. Foreign policy is always complicated. We always have a mix of complicated interests. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is there’s this outbreak of violence and instability everywhere. It makes it hard for governments to cope with that.”

Little wonder then that in recent days the president seems almost to be suffering geopolitical whiplash. “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time,” he said wearily last week after making a statement in which he addressed Ukraine, Gaza, Iran and Afghanistan, all in the space of seven minutes. “And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions.”

A few months back, Mr. Obama argued that foreign relations is not a chess game. But at times, it seems like three-dimensional chess. Admirers said Mr. Obama’s strength was seeing those connections and finding ways to balance them. Critics said he allowed complexity to paralyze him at the expense of American leadership in the world.

President Obama said Israel has the right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas, but he expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in the conflict.
Publish Date July 21, 2014. Image CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

His approach to foreign policy has become more of a political liability, the subject of sharp criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted last month, 58 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of world affairs, a 10 percentage point jump in a month and the highest such number during his five and a half years in office.

Yet polls find that Americans do not want Mr. Obama to get the country enmeshed more deeply in places like Ukraine and Iraq, suggesting that he is more in touch with a broader public desire for disengagement than many of his critics even though his leadership is in question.

“Just because there are lots of global challenges doesn’t mean you have to overreact on one just to make a point,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, his deputy national security adviser. “They each have to be managed carefully in their own right. We have longer run plays that we’re running. Part of this is keeping your eye on the long game even as you go through tumultuous periods.”

Others said that long game was sometimes hard to detect in what seemed an ad hoc foreign policy. “If they had a strategy that allowed allies to understand what we’re likely to do — the principles guiding our choices — they could take coordinated and strengthening actions,” said Kori Schake, a former aide to President George W. Bush now at the Hoover Institution. “But their unpredictability discourages others from acting, which is where ‘leading from behind’ runs aground.”

The confluence of crises seems to confront Mr. Obama almost with each passing day. He has been pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to force a more robust European response to Russian aggression just as the relationship ruptured again over a new report of American spying in her country.

As the death toll rises in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, a look at the Obama administration’s strategy for reaching a cease-fire.
Video Credit By Christian Roman and Carrie Halperin on Publish Date July 22, 2014. Image CreditWissam Nassar for The New York Times

Hoping to smooth things over, Mr. Obama dispatched his White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, to Berlin, where they met with German officials on Tuesday, even as European foreign ministers were meeting separately to consider new sanctions on Russia.

As Mr. Obama tries to corral the Europeans on Russia, he must manage their discontent over Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza. He is also trying to keep Afghanistan from falling into new disarray over a disputed election while arguing that he is not making the same mistake critics believe he made in Iraq by pulling out all troops there as well.

At the same time, he has summoned Central American leaders to the White House on Friday to press them to stop the flow of children heading illegally to Texas. And some in the administration worry that with everything else going on, not enough attention is being paid to the bloody civil war in Syria.

The cascading crises reflect larger trends, according to Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. While the Cold War made for clear relationships, there is no such structure anymore. “So what you have are relationships where you may cooperate with certain countries on certain issues on certain days of the week, while on other issues on other days of the week, you may compete or simply go your own way,” he said.

R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state now at Harvard, said Mr. Obama should prioritize by focusing on forging deals in two areas in the next week, a unified response to Russia and a cease-fire in Gaza. “This is an unusually challenging time with all these overlapping crises,” he said. “The president has an opportunity here to put us back in a leadership position by responding effectively to a few of these things.”

Mr. Rhodes said that so far, the White House had not noticed much spillover from one crisis into another. Germany has been cooperative on Ukraine, Russia has not tried to torpedo the Iran talks, and Egypt has asserted itself as a peacemaker, he said.

“It’s mutual interests,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a former State Department official under Mr. Obama. “You have to assume these other leaders are grown-ups making decisions in their own interests and their cooperation is rooted in mutual interests to some degree. It’s not favor trading, international diplomacy. On this big stuff, this is about interests.”

********************

New Questions on Health Law as Rulings on Subsidies Differ

By ROBERT PEAR
JULY 22, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — Two federal appeals court panels issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for millions of Americans, raising yet more questions about the future of the health care law four years after it was signed by President Obama.

The contradictory rulings will apparently have no immediate impact on consumers. But they could inject uncertainty, confusion and turmoil into health insurance markets as the administration firms up plans for another open enrollment season starting in November.

By a vote of 2 to 1, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down a regulation issued by the Internal Revenue Service that authorizes the payment of premium subsidies in states that rely on the federal insurance exchange.
   
If it stands, the ruling could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace. It could also undercut enforcement of the requirement for most Americans to have insurance and the requirement for larger employers to offer it to their full-time employees.

The Justice Department said the government would continue paying subsidies to insurance companies on behalf of consumers in the 36 states that use the federal exchange, pending further review of the issue by federal courts.

Critics of the law, who said the ruling in Washington vindicated their opposition to it, did not have much time to celebrate. Within hours, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., issued a ruling that came to the opposite conclusion.

The Fourth Circuit panel upheld the subsidies, saying the I.R.S. rule was “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

The language of the Affordable Care Act on this point is “ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations,” the Fourth Circuit panel said, so it gave deference to the tax agency.

In a separate case, the Justice Department informed a federal appeals court in Denver on Tuesday that the Obama administration would issue new rules within a month revising a compromise on contraceptive coverage under the health care law in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The court ruled this month that Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, did not have to fill out certain forms that would result in birth control being provided by insurers. The administration is studying options for ensuring that women still receive the coverage. The court suggested that Wheaton could notify the government of its religious objections rather than send the opt-out forms to insurers.

Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are a major element of the health care law. Without them, many more consumers would be unable to afford coverage and could be exempted from the “individual mandate” to have insurance.

The employer mandate is enforced through penalties imposed on employers if any of their workers receive subsidies, so it could become meaningless in states where subsidies were unavailable.

The White House rejected the ruling of the appeals court panel in Washington and indicated that the Justice Department would ask the full court to review it. The Obama administration has consistently underestimated court challenges to the health care law, including one decided in 2012 by the Supreme Court, which upheld the individual mandate.

At least two other cases on subsidies are pending in federal district courts, in Oklahoma and Indiana.

In the case decided in Washington on Tuesday, Halbig v. Burwell, the appeals court panel said that the Affordable Care Act made subsidies available only to people who obtained insurance through exchanges established by states.   

The law “does not authorize the I.R.S. to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal exchanges,” the panel said. The law, it said, “plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states.”

Aides to Mr. Obama said the ruling seemed to fly in the face of common sense.

“You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “I think that is a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”

Reacting to the ruling, a Justice Department spokeswoman, Emily Pierce, said, “We believe that this decision is incorrect, inconsistent with congressional intent, different from previous rulings and at odds with the goal of the law.”

Under this ruling, many people could see their share of premiums increase sharply. Subsidies reduced the average premium to $82 a month from $346, according to the administration.

The majority opinion in the case here was written by Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, with a concurring opinion by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a senior circuit judge, who was appointed by the elder President George Bush.

“Our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly,” Judge Griffith said. “But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still.”

Another member of the appeals court panel, Judge Harry T. Edwards, a senior circuit judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter, filed a dissent in which he described the lawsuit as an “attempt to gut” the law. The majority opinion, he said, “defies the will of Congress.” He said that the Obama administration’s reading of the law was “permissible and reasonable, and, therefore, entitled to deference.”

A similar approach was taken by the Fourth Circuit panel in its case, King v. Burwell. Judge Roger L. Gregory, who received a recess appointment from President Bill Clinton and a permanent appointment from President George W. Bush, said that the rival interpretations of the law by the plaintiffs and by the Obama administration appeared to be “equally plausible.”

But, Judge Gregory said, the administration’s position helps achieve “the broad policy goals” of the Affordable Care Act. “The economic framework supporting the act would crumble if the credits were unavailable on federal exchanges,” he said.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Andre M. Davis, a senior judge on the appeals court, said the plaintiffs’ argument “would effectively destroy the statute.” It would, he said, “deny to millions of Americans desperately needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction” of the law. Judge Davis and the other judge on the panel, Stephanie D. Thacker, were appointed by Mr. Obama.

The health law authorized subsidies specifically for insurance bought “through an exchange established by the state.”

When the law was adopted, Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats assumed that states would set up their own exchanges. But many Republican governors and state legislators balked, and opposition to the law became a rallying cry for the party.

The lawsuit in Washington, championed by conservative and libertarian groups, was filed by people in states that use the federal exchange: Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. They objected to being required to buy insurance, even with subsidies to help defray the cost.

One of the plaintiffs, David Klemencic, who has a carpet store in Ellenboro, W.Va., said: “If I have to start paying out for health insurance, it will put me out of business. As Americans, we should be able to make our own decisions in matters like this.”

Democrats said the Fourth Circuit ruling validated the law, which they passed in 2010 without any Republican votes. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said the plaintiffs’ reading of the law was “obviously false.”

By contrast, Speaker John A. Boehner praised the ruling of the appeals court panel in Washington. It showed, he said, that “President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable.”

******************

An Ominous Health Care Ruling

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
JULY 22, 2014
NYT

Millions of low- and moderate-income people who signed up for health insurance with the help of federal tax-credit subsidies could find themselves without coverage or facing big premium bills if a destructive decision handed down by a federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday is not reversed. It would be a crippling blow to the ability of the Affordable Care Act to reduce the ranks of the uninsured with grievous consequences for vulnerable customers.

For now, consumers are expected to retain their coverage and tax credits while this and similar suits in other jurisdictions wend their way through the court system. Just hours after the ruling in Washington, a federal appeals court panel in Richmond, Va., ruled the opposite way, finding that Congress intended to make the tax credits available nationwide.

Under the decision of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, people living in 36 states, mostly led by Republican governors or legislatures, would be in jeopardy because their states refused to set up “exchanges” or electronic marketplaces on which individuals can shop for insurance plans and apply for subsidies based on their incomes.

For the most part, the political leaders in those states wanted nothing to do with what they deride as Obamacare, and left it up to the federal government to set up exchanges for their residents. People fortunate enough to live in the 14 states and the District of Columbia that have set up their own exchanges would escape the effect of this mindless and harmful ruling.

The 2-to-1 decision issued by the panel hinged on how to interpret language in the Affordable Care Act that most experts agree was poorly drafted and would ordinarily have been corrected by a Congressional conference committee. In this instance, there was no conference committee because the law was passed on a take-it-or-leave-it vote in the House to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Two Republican-appointed judges on the panel, taking an incredibly narrow and blinkered view, concluded that the language in the law allows the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax-credit subsidies only on exchanges established by the states. They decided that the statute’s wording does not allow subsidies on federally created exchanges — even though those exchanges carry out exactly the same purpose and, in effect, act on behalf of the states. The administration had expected most states to create their own exchanges, but most handed that task to the federal government.

The third judge, a Democratic appointee, called the majority opinion what it clearly was, a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” the health care law. He argued that the law sought to achieve “near-universal coverage” of all Americans and that this could only be achieved with the help of subsidies working in tandem with a mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. It defies common sense to think that Congress really intended that there be no subsidies at all in 36 states.

The Obama administration is expected to appeal the decision to the full appellate court, whose 11 members include seven Democratic and four Republican appointees. What is needed is common sense in interpreting the law, not ideological opposition to Obamacare.

The three-judge appeals panel on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, while acknowledging ambiguities in the language of the law, unanimously and properly upheld the subsidies as a permissible exercise of discretion by the I.R.S.

*****************

Federal Court Ruling That Obamacare Subsidies Are Illegal Expected To Be Overturned

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 12:37 pm

Today, in a 2-1 split decision, the Republican judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals embraced a controversial interpretation of the ACA that believes all subsidies issued through the federal marketplace are illegal. The decision is expected to be overturned.

The ruling depended on a narrow reading of the statute to conclude that subsidies are only legal for state exchanges, “Because we conclude that the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges ‘established by the State,’ we reverse the district court and vacate the IRS’s regulation.”

The only way that this ruling makes any sense at all is if one ignored the legislative intent of Congress when the law was drafted.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during his daily briefing, “While this ruling is interesting to legal theorists, it has no practical impact” on individuals’ ability to currently receive tax credits for their health care. You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand Congress intended” for qualified individuals to receive tax credits regardless of who was administering the exchange.

Two courts had previously ruled in favor of the administration. This is the first ruling that has gone against the ACA.

The likely outcome here was described by Ron Pollack of Families USA:

    It is most likely that today’s split decision, which would take away premium subsidies for almost five million low- and moderate-income people, will never go into effect.

    It will inevitably be placed on hold pending further proceedings; will probably be reheard by all of the 11-member active D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals members, who predictably will reverse it; and runs contrary to an expected ruling on a similar case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
    Today’s decision represents the high-water mark for Affordable Care Act opponents, but the water will recede very quickly.

The Republican victory today was fairly meaningless. It is extremely unlikely that it will hold up on appeal, and it is questionable as to whether or not that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case. Republicans are celebrating something that in the big picture will not change anything.

Ironically, this “victory” will end up politically backfiring on the GOP. Over 18 million people have health insurance thanks to the ACA. Republicans are now arguing that those people should lose the subsidies that help cover the cost of their insurance. Democrats can argue that Republicans are trying to raise the cost of health insurance.

Republicans want to make the 2014 election about Obamacare, but thanks to this ruling, Democrats will be forcing them into a discussion that they don’t want to have. The Republican Party continues to rejoice over the prospect of Americans being denied affordable healthcare. This is why the GOP is will pay at the ballot box in November

*****************

John Boehner Makes A Fool Out of Himself Trying To Use ACA Subsidy Ruling To Push His Lawsuit

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 4:27 pm   

After the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that Obamacare subsidies were illegal for the federal marketplace, Speaker Boehner jumped the gun with a statement that pushed his lawsuit against President Obama.

Boehner said:

For the second time in a month, the courts have ruled against the president’s unilateral actions regarding ObamaCare. The president has demonstrated he believes he has the power to make his own laws. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. That’s why the House will act next week to authorize a lawsuit to uphold the rule of law and protect our Constitution. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats; it’s about the Constitution versus unconstitutional and unilateral actions by the Executive Branch, and protecting our democracy.

Today’s ruling is also further proof that President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed. The American people recognize that ObamaCare is hurting our economy and making it harder for small businesses to hire, and that’s why Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower health care costs and protect American jobs.”

The problem is that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA handed down a ruling that disagreed with everything that Boehner said. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the subsidies were legal. By jumping the gun with his statement, Rep. Boehner looks like a fool. Boehner’s office has not commented on the second ruling, which leads one to believe that he is simply going to pretend that it does not exist.

Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit has nothing to do with the issue that was ruled on today. The court’s ruled on whether the law covers subsidies for the federal marketplace or is limited to state-run exchanges. It is the height of dishonesty for the Speaker to suggest that these lawsuits have anything to do with his claim that President Obama is making his own laws.

One lawsuit that does directly relate to Speaker Boehner’s was not mentioned in his statement. Boehner doesn’t want to discuss the fact that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) tried to sue President Obama for making his own laws on Obamacare and had his suit thrown out of court because he lacked standing.

John Boehner demonstrated that he is a terrible Speaker of the House, but he excels at making a fool out of himself. The second ruling killed the Republican talking point that Obamacare is illegal and doomed while Speaker Boehner is on another planet still trying to sell his bogus lawsuit to a disbelieving public.

***************

Outrageous Ruling On Obamacare Subsidies Is A Call To Arms For Liberals

By: Eric Shapiro
PoliticusUSa
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 8:35 pm   

In a major blow to the Affordable Care Act, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled this morning in Halbig V. Burwell that states without their own insurance exchanges cannot receive federal subsidies to pay for healthcare. If this ruling stands – the Obama Administration will challenge it and stands a very good chance of winning – middle- and low-income Americans who have reaped the benefits of subsidized healthcare under the Affordable Care Act will be subject to higher prices than they can afford. While last month’s Hobby Lobby ruling was a travesty, this ruling is more wide-reaching and potentially devastating to the Affordable Care Act as a whole. Without subsidies, the GOP can claim, as it has all along, that the Affordable Care Act renders healthcare more expensive for Americans. The mandate will backfire, forcing Americans who are no longer entitled to subsidies to shoulder greater costs, potentially creating a backlash against a law that has expanded coverage to millions of Americans so far. It is tempting to dismiss longshot rulings like today’s as empty GOP desperation, but each and every joke of a case is symptomatic of a broader threat to progressive legislation: conservative judicial activism. After all, it only takes one successful ruling, upheld by conservatives on the Supreme Court, to cripple a law. And today’s is just one of many.

Take a look at the decision here

There is tremendous hypocrisy in the GOP’s constant claims of an “imperial presidency” for relatively minor executive actions even as they use the judiciary to cripple a law passed in both houses of Congress. Think about this for a second: two un-elected judges playing word games with quotes lifted out of context from a long, extremely complex piece of legislation could theoretically decide the nature of America’s healthcare system. Before we laugh off rulings like today’s, we should consider how a quack like Scalia might react to a ruling that we consider ridiculous.

The media has focused on high-profile and fruitless challenges to Obamacare in Congress, such as Ted Cruz’s petulant government shutdown and John Boehner’s frivolous lawsuit. However, Republicans cannot currently inflict lasting damage on Obamacare through Congress because Democrats still have enough seats to block challenges and, if worst comes to worst, Obama can wield the veto pen. Boehner, meanwhile, lacks the standing and precedent to challenge the president’s discretion to enforce a law in accordance with changing conditions. The courts pose the real danger, as they need neither electoral majorities nor standing to tear apart the law.

The conservative movement that came to power with Reagan’s election in 1980 and held the presidency for most of the next three decades (with the exception of Bill Clinton’s presidency) allowed the Republican Party to stack the courts, both federal and local, with activist judges bent on imposing a reactionary vision on the country. The Obama and Clinton Administrations have done their best to reverse this disaster, but the damage is not yet undone. As long as conservatives control the courts, all liberal accomplishments in the legislature are subject to crippling sabotage. The Supreme Court already struck down Obama’s Medicaid expansion, depriving millions of Americans of healthcare. If, on top of this, federal subsidies are denied to more than half the states, the Affordable Care Act as it was passed will be unrecognizable. All that without the GOP winning a single vote in Congress. With such a precedent established, will future Democratic presidents dare risk taking on healthcare reform and other ambitious goals?

All is not lost if today’s ruling serves as a lesson for liberals. It is not enough to vote in presidential elections, watch Congress pass ambitious progressive legislation, then stay at home in the midterms and hope for the best. If we do not elect durable majorities in Congress that allow our president to appoint and confirm judges to the Supreme Court, the DC Court of Appeals and other key judicial posts, all of our grassroots activism, all of our get-out-the-vote efforts will be for naught. We should not see today’s ruling as cause for despair, but rather a reminder of just how much is at stake moving forward. Obamacare still stands, but we cannot assume that it will inevitably survive as the one, shining example of Obama’s legacy; that kind of self-satisfied complacency can only lead to disaster. The composition of our Congress in 2015 could very well determine whether liberals build a strong judicial presence that will last for a generation or allow Republicans to maintain their dominion over the courts. The composition of our Congress in 2015 will determine President Obama’s ability to appoint a progressive voice to the Supreme Court. With Ginsberg likely to retire soon, we cannot allow the GOP to stall the confirmation of a progressive justice or perhaps worse, force Obama into appointing someone who does not bring a progressive vision to the bench.

Today’s ruling isn’t just about Obamacare. It’s about the capacity of government to pass ambitious, complex, multi-faceted progressive legislation to benefit the American people. In other words, its about liberalism as a tenable political philosophy. If courts can pick away at every government program piece by piece for blatantly political reasons, how can we accomplish any liberal priorities? After all, dealing with climate change, inequality and other pressing issues will, if anything, require even more ambitious legislation than the Affordable Care Act. In terms of healthcare alone, can we ever have a single-payer option if Obamacare, a relatively modest attempt to improve healthcare in America, fails? Healthcare subsidies may not seem as sexy or pressing to average voters as a blatant attempt to deny women their reproductive rights, but it is incumbent on liberals to explain what’s at stake before it’s too late. Regardless of whether it stands, let today’s ruling be a call to arms.


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