Davis Continues to Speak Up For Reproductive Rights

Image of Wendy Davis and Kurt Hochenauer

Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis was in Oklahoma Saturday speaking up for Planned Parenthood.

That’s a good thing because in a crass, anti-women political move Friday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to defund the health organization for a year.

It’s GOP political theater and part of a risky political strategy as the presidential election looms in 2016. The disingenuous and stated idea behind the one-year suspension of funding is that it will give conservative politicos time to “investigate” Planned Parenthood. House Republicans also passed an absurd, meaningless bill that would make it a criminal act if medical workers don’t try to save the life of a child born during an attempted abortion. This is a bill also based completely on absurdities and misinformation.

Both bills pander to low-information conservative voters and further fuel myopic ideologues, the cultural scourges and haters, who have devoted their lives to dangerous and threatening levels of religious extremism.

Women have a right to control their bodies. Women have a right to ALL reproductive health procedures, tests and checkups. Women have a right to go to a Planned Parenthood.

Oklahoma U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe have helped to lead the ongoing attack on Planned Parenthood in the Senate even though the organization doesn’t perform abortions in the state. The entire attack on the organization is based on heavily edited and fraudulent videos manufactured by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The videos are clearly fabrications about how fetal tissue is obtained and used in stem cell research. This coordinated attack on Planned Parenthood is a political ploy by conservatives, a doubling down on taking away a woman's right to have an abortion in order to score political points.

But it’s goes much further than that, and the GOP might even try to shut down the government over the issue, an issue which is much larger than one organization.

The defunding measure, of course, will not make it through the U.S. Senate. If it does, President Barack Obama will veto it, and Republicans don’t have enough votes to override it. The companion bill won’t make it through the Senate either, and even if it did and even if it was signed into law by Obama, it wouldn’t matter. Like the fabricated videos, it’s based on a lie, which the corporate media doesn’t stress enough. The idea of a kicking and crying healthy baby “born” as if in a regular childbirth during an abortion might make everyone cringe, but it doesn’t happen. Unscrupulous Republicans just want everyone to think it does.

The ongoing attack against Planned Parenthood, which receives $450 million in federal money primarily in the form of Medicaid payments for providing services to low-income women, is more than a typical anti-abortion stunt as I mentioned. It’s about opportunistic white men, for the most part, a worn out, aging patriarchy, trying to deny women equal rights, equal health care and equal pay. It’s a ploy to infantilize women, to put them in their place, to control, denigrate and abuse.

Think for a minute about the relationship between women’s basic reproductive health and their economic stability and opportunity. These two things are inextricably intertwined.

Here’s how Florida U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat, described the bill to defund Planned Parenthood:

This bill is dumb, it’s foolish, and it’s mean-spirited. The bill is based upon lies and exaggerations. If you want to have a truthful debate, then let’s talk about the 400,000 Pap smears, the 500,000 breast exams, the 4.5 million STD and HIV tests that Planned Parenthood does each year.

All this makes it increasingly important that Davis, a former Texas Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate, continues to speak up for women’s rights and support organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Davis, who is widely know for filibustering a draconian Texas legislative anti-abortion bill in 2013, was the featured speaker Saturday night at an annual fundraising dinner for Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma. I was fortunate to hear the speech and to talk personally with Davis, pictured with me above, at the event.

In her speech, Davis spoke up against the “demigods” like presidential candidate Donald Trump who demean women and lamented “sadly” the division of women on issues like reproductive health. She brought up the struggles of single women and mothers, who clearly need organizations such as Planned Parenthood for basic health reasons.

These women used by demigods for political gain are not the fictions created by conservatives. To drive home her point, Davis repeatedly used the refrain, as she described various women, “She’s real. I met her.” It was perhaps the most powerful part of her speech because the reality of what Planned Parenthood does is always lost in the political and media spectacle.

Davis talked about the struggles her grandmother and mother faced in their lives, and talked about her own journey. Davis graduated with a law degree from Harvard University, and held political office as a Fort Worth councilor and Texas state senator, but she faced her own financial and personal obstacles as a single mother along the way. In 2014, she lost her bid to become Texas governor, and now practices law in Austin and Fort Worth.

Her filibuster in 2013 of a bill that placed draconian restrictions on abortion in Texas drew worldwide media attention. She was able to stop Senate Bill 5 temporarily, but the restrictions were later passed and signed into law. What made her filibuster important, however, was Davis’ courage in standing up for women’s reproductive rights in an extremely conservative state where she was sure to face ridicule and personal attacks, which she did. This, in turn, empowered other women and men to speak up, and the momentum continues.

In her speech, she urged women to tap into their collective power, and said the “ballot box” is where change happens. She said the Goddess of Liberty statue on top of the Texas Capitol building dome continues to stand for “freedom and justice” for women in our neighboring state to the south.

Republicans have demonized Planned Parenthood as a political ploy, banking on visceral responses from voters not paying attention to outright lies and doctored videos. It’s a desperate and immoral strategy to win the presidency and to implement laws restricting the rights of women even further.

Wendy Davis gives us courage to stand up against this onslaught against women. She’s real. I met her. Maybe she will run for office again. Let’s hope so.

Glossip Case Exposes Flaws In Death Penalty Logic

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 from Flickr The Commons

The stark disconnect between the responses to Richard Glossip’s pending execution by high-level state leaders compared to the responses by well-known and influential people outside the government creates another huge image flop for Oklahoma.

It’s a reality issue. The huge canyon separating the opposite perspectives alone, even though it seems counter-intuitive on a local level because of conservative support for capital punishment, means the beginning of the end here for the death penalty in Oklahoma. Good riddance. We don’t need it here, and we don’t need the worldwide condemnation that goes with it.

Here’s the narrative about Oklahoma to the outside world created by leaders such as Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater:

Oklahoma is the home of burn-them-at-the-stake zealots who worship the death penalty as a sort of ideological and litmus-test idol that goes far beyond a simple belief that it deters crime. It’s not even eye-for-an-eye justice, which would make more sense in a right-wing state filled with Christian fundamentalists. It’s much more perverse than that. It’s borderline ritualistic killing for its own sake, an ordinary practice here, a grotesque yet routine political tic, rather than a deterrent. It’s a human sacrifice to honor the sickness of self-righteous hubris.

CNN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have published editorials against proceeding with the execution. Actress Susan Sarandon, well-known anti-death penalty activist and Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean and British billionaire businessman Richard Branson have spoken out against the execution. Locally, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and, of all people, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn have asked for a stay of execution. That’s such a small sampling of the highly visible protest the case has generated.

As Scott Martelle, writing in the Los Angeles Times, puts it about the case, “This is where the death penalty gets its full exposure as a ludicrous practice.”

Here’s a review of the case containing significant links from my last post. My purpose here in this specific post is not to go through the case again. Anyone following the case knows that on Wednesday Glossip was granted a last minute stay of execution by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for two weeks. He’s now scheduled to be killed by lethal injection Sept. 30 unless a court can be swayed otherwise for a murder no one has ever accused him of physically committing.

The response to Glossip’s pending execution and the murder case itself from the state leaders I mentioned earlier has been telling. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who didn’t even prosecute the case, called the effort to stop Glossip’s execution a “bullshit PR campaign.” Gov. Mary Fallin has stoically and repeatedly used a version of this generic sentence in her statements: “After carefully reviewing the facts of this case multiple times, I see no reason to cast doubt on the guilty verdict reached by the jury or to delay Glossip’s sentence of death.” Pruitt’s response to Glossip’s temporary stay of execution contained similar generic, stock-photo language:

“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals indicated it needs more time to review the filings. I’m confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese’s murder.”

Confidence reigns when it comes to deploying the death penalty in Oklahoma. State leaders are utterly certain of Glossip’s guilt; by default, we can assume they entirely endorse his death sentence and the death penalty in general. No reason to do anything then, the reasoning goes, among THE leaders. Anyone who argues otherwise is, well, they’re full of BS, as Prater puts it. This is what the world is hearing these days and will continue to hear in the days to come about Oklahoma, which leads the nation in executions on a per capita basis.

People throughout the world are shaking their heads in disgust at the cavalier treatment of a person’s life in this irrational legal case.

The counter argument we hear is that in 1997 Van Treese was beaten to death by a man with a baseball bat in a motel room in Oklahoma City, and he was treated the worst of anyone in this quagmire of blood, loss and media spectacle. But it goes without saying his death was a terrible tragedy. Here’s the important caveat: It wasn’t Glossip who killed him. The murderer was Justin Sneed, who received life in prison instead of death for the killing in exchange for testifying that Glossip asked him to do it.

Fallin, Pruitt and Prater don’t claim Glossip physically killed Van Treese. No one does. Yet these three leaders want Glossip to die while conceding implicitly at least that Van Treese’s actual killer should live. In other words, they believe justice will be served under this frame of illogic.

Not one of these state leaders has fully addressed the issue of why someone can be put to death in this country based almost exclusively on the testimony of a murderer who is trying to save his own life. Such plea bargains might make sense in dealing with non-death penalty punishment crimes, such as armed robbery, burglary or fraud cases, especially when there is extensive corroborating evidence, but the death penalty is irrevocable, and thus such bargains in these cases are immoral, unethical and unconstitutional.

Glossip’s attorneys are presenting new evidence they hope will show he wasn’t an accomplice in the murder. Whatever the outcome of this case, this is the beginning of the end for the death penalty here in Oklahoma and perhaps elsewhere in this country. It might take a while, but this is a turning point. Too many people are paying attention now.

The Glossip case shows starkly that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily, capriciously and unfairly. Its legal application is so illogical, as historical documentation clearly shows, that it defies any semblance of rationality. The government consistently and mistakenly kills innocent people charged with murder. It’s blatantly immoral because of this documented fact alone. Most Western and enlightened countries, and many states in this nation, have banned or don’t practice the death penalty. Even Nebraska banned it in May.

The only government-sanctioned execution that needs to happen should be inflicted on the practice itself. Death to the death penalty. Meanwhile, Oklahoma leaders and those in the criminal justice system here should show some basic mercy and apply some basic logic. Let Glossip live.

Worldwide Outcry: Stop The Glossip Execution

Image of Richard Glossip

The main legal and ethical question debated in years to come may well be NOT whether Oklahoma executed an innocent man today, but why the state killed a man almost exclusively based on the testimony of an actual confessed murderer who received the lesser sentence of life in prison in the case.

The murderer, Justin Sneed, received life in prison for his testimony against Richard Glossip in a plea deal with prosecutors. His supposed accomplice in the case, Glossip, pictured above, who has never been charged with committing the actual physical act of murder or even been alleged to have witnessed the brutal beating death take place, will die unless Gov. Mary Fallin issues a temporary stay of execution or an appeals court steps in and stops it.

The murder case in a legal sense is a twisted, illogical quagmire. The outcome at trial was twice immoral. This particular death sentence is as barbaric as it gets. It exposes a major flaw in our justice system. For these reasons, and for the very real chance Glossip wasn’t an accomplice in the case at all as argued by his attorneys and supporters, the execution should be stopped.

The pending execution of Glossip, who before the murder had no criminal record, has drawn worldwide attention and intense condemnation. Among the disparate group, which wants Fallin to issue him a 60-day stay of execution, are actress Susan Sarandon, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. When Sarandon and Coburn, in particular, are in agreement on an issue Fallin should take notice.

The 1997 Oklahoma City murder case has been described in the local, national and worldwide media in various and contradictory ways over the last several weeks, which only reveals the ambiguity of language, which is important because it was language and its limitations, not physical evidence, that convicted Glossip and resulted in his death sentence.

Glossip, who has maintained his innocence, received two trials, which actually clouds the facts even further, raising the issue of who said what and when, who told the truth then and tells it now, and what were and are the underlying motives of authorities, those prosecuted in the case and those who testified in the case.

The case is a muddle and morass of language and plural interpretation. It’s also very much about authorities in a law-and-order conservative state, which has the highest execution per capita rate among states in the nation, deploying the circular anti-life ideology of killing people in order to stop the killing of people. It reveals everything wrong about the death penalty, a punishment now prohibited or not practiced in most Western and enlightened countries and many states in our nation. Nebraska—NEBRASKA of all places—abolished the death penalty last May.

Here are the basic facts without embellishment as reported in the media over the last weeks: In 1997, Glossip worked at a motel in Oklahoma City owned by Barry Van Treese, who was found beaten to death. Sneed, who also worked at the motel, admitted to murdering Van Treese. He testified that Glossip offered to pay him to kill Van Treese. Glossip was eventually convicted and sentenced to death. Sneed received life in prison in exchange for his testimony against Glossip.

Once we go beyond this basic frame of these facts, the questions of intent, importance and reliability get raised. Here are some important questions: Even if Glossip did ask Sneed to kill Van Treese, does he deserve to die while the actual murderer gets to live? Is our justice system unjustly weighted in favor of people accepting plea agreements even in something as important as a death penalty case? Did Glossip get penalized with “death” because he asked for a jury trial? Is that how our justice system in Oklahoma and in our country should work?

Here’s a pro-death penalty version of the case from The Oklahoman. Here’s an anti-death penalty version of the case.

Glossip’s attorney and many of his supporters say there is new evidence in the case that could exonerate him. His attorney yesterday also filed an emergency request with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to stop the execution. Let me be clear: A 60-day stay of execution issued by Fallin wouldn’t hurt her or the Republican Party here politically. It’s not too much to ask of her. No one is asking authorities to release Glossip from prison. The appeals court could also act in Glossip’s favor, and it should.

The execution is scheduled for 3 p.m. today. Fallin still has time to act. The appeals court still has time to act. It’s not too late. No one, and that includes Fallin, will lose face or their conservative strong-on-crime credentials here if Glossip doesn’t die today.

There’s no such thing as consolation in this case, but if the execution happens it may well become the beginning of the end for the death penalty in Oklahoma. I believe that sincerely. Let the bell of justice ring out loud and clear if Glossip is killed under the auspices of the state of Oklahoma today for a murder no one claims he physically committed.

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