The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 12 2017 4:23 PM

Right-Wingers and People on Twitter Spent More Time Defending Bill Cosby Than His Lawyer Did

After Norristown, Pennsylvania prosecutors spent a week arguing Andrea Constand’s sexual-assault case against Bill Cosby, Cosby’s defense team got a turn to lay out its case on Monday morning.

Brian McMonagle, Cosby’s lawyer, was done in six minutes.

According to reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere, McMonagle called just one witness to the stand: a detective, who confirmed that Constand had indeed filed a police report after the alleged assault in 2004.

The dearth of any substance whatsoever in Cosby’s defense offers observers a damning impression of the sexual encounter that Cosby insists was consensual. Prosecutors questioned Constand, who offered a chilling testimony of being drugged and assaulted while she couldn’t move. They also questioned a second woman who’s accused Cosby of sexual assault—the only other accuser the judge allowed to testify—as well as witnesses in whom the alleged victims confided after their alleged assaults.

The defense’s inability to produce any testimony that challenges the accounts offered by the alleged victims speaks to a glaring contradiction in the defense narrative. This isn’t a case of he said–she said, as the defense claims. It’s Cosby saying one thing, and dozens of alleged victims—plus their parents, friends, and co-workers—saying another.

With no one who’d take the stand to corroborate Cosby’s innocence, all McMonagle could do in his closing statement was try to discredit Constand and the prosecution’s other witnesses in his own words. Constand told a “stone-cold lie,” he said. She was Cosby’s “lover,” and they were in a year-long “relationship.” (Constand, who is gay, was dating a woman at the time of the alleged assault.) Cosby is a victim of the Dr. Phil show and CNN, who aired the stories Cosby’s accusers have told, McMonagle said. These women were motivated by a desire to appear on TV, he said. He implied that because Constand contacted a lawyer who does civil sexual-assault suits soon after contacting the police, she must have been lying to get money. McMonagle told the jury that Cosby was nothing worse than a man with infidelity issues who made the world laugh and smile as a comedian.

But when Cosby got his chance to finally prove that Constand—and, by association, the other four dozen women who’ve accused him of sexual assault—might be making it all up, he punted. The prosecution presented 12 witnesses; Cosby presented none.

He does have some advocates outside the courtroom, though. They include right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh who say Cosby is being targeted by lying women because he told black people to pull up their pants; people on Twitter still begging the world to leave Cosby alone; and this guy, who told Vice that what happened to Constand doesn’t constitute rape. These people have each spent more time defending Cosby than Cosby spent defending himself. It must have been easy for them to mount a case to social media and the press on his behalf. Unlike the dozen witnesses who testified against Cosby last week, these devoted defenders weren’t under oath.

June 12 2017 12:43 PM

The Success of the GOP’s Health Care Bill May Hinge on Abortion Politics

Senate Republicans are in a tough spot right now. Obamacare repeal in the form of the American Health Care Act is in their hands, and anti-abortion advocates are pushing for its success. In addition to depriving 23 million more Americans of health insurance coverage, the bill would defund Planned Parenthood for a year and effectively dismantle private insurance coverage for abortion by incentivizing insurers to drop their coverage of abortion procedures.

But these very provisions, beloved as they by the anti-abortion right, may be the bill’s downfall. A rule rarely discussed outside legislative circles could keep the AHCA from coming to a vote through reconciliation, the process by which Republicans could pass the bill with just 50 votes instead of a filibuster-proof 60.

The Byrd rule states that a reconciliation bill can only include provisions directly related to the budget and deficit reduction, such as changes to the tax code. It cannot make adjustments to already-authorized discretionary spending programs or include provisions meant to advance a certain policy that is “extraneous” to budgetary concerns.

The anti-abortion provisions in the AHCA appear to violate the Byrd rule, potentially dooming the bill to failure. According to the Senate parliamentarian (a nonpartisan official who interprets the rules of the legislative body and advises legislators on their implementation), the part of the AHCA that would prevent Americans from using tax credits to buy private insurance plans that cover abortion care conflicts with the requirements set forth by Byrd. In other words, this AHCA provision is primarily related to abortion policy, not the budgetary concern of how much the health-care subsidies would cost.

The parliamentarian hasn’t weighed in on the provision to defund Planned Parenthood yet, but by the same standards used to assess the prohibition on using tax credits for plans that cover abortion care, the Planned Parenthood provision would violate Byrd, too. The Congressional Budget Office has affirmed that this AHCA provision only affects Planned Parenthood—even though the organization isn’t named—making it a policy move rather than a budgetary one. Even an analyst from the right-wing Heritage Foundation has written that the Byrd rule would prevent the Senate from limiting the discretionary Title X funds or Medicaid reimbursements that Planned Parenthood receives, since it would be incidental to the primary purpose of the bill: making budgetary adjustments.

Republicans need to pass the AHCA as a reconciliation bill if they’re going to pass it at all, because they’d never be able to get 60 votes to defund Planned Parenthood. (To be fair, getting all Senate Republicans and eight Democrats to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act at all, even without the anti-abortion provisions, would be next to impossible, too.) So, the Hill reports, senators could try to find a way around the Byrd rule by, for example, re-routing the sources of health-care subsidies to go through federal programs that already prohibit funding for abortion care. More moderate members of the Senate GOP may also use the parliamentarian’s concern as cover to advocate against the AHCA.

The easiest way around this mess would be to drop the anti-abortion provisions altogether. But legislators who depend on the support of anti-abortion advocacy groups can’t afford to anger that base. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List has called these AHCA provisions “non-negotiable” and pointed out that a previous Senate vote against Planned Parenthood ended in a 50-50 tie, broken for the GOP by Vice President Mike Pence. In other words, advocates say, reconciliation is the only way to get this bill through. It’s up to Republicans to decide whether anti-abortion purity is worth throwing away their shot at keeping their years-long promise to get rid of the ACA.

June 9 2017 2:26 PM

The U.K. Sets New Records for Representation of Women and LGBTQ People in Parliament

The U.K. elected a record number of women to its House of Commons on Thursday night in an election that cost Prime Minister Theresa May her Conservative majority in the legislature. A total of 207 women will serve in the 650-person body, up from the current 196.

The country set its previous record during the last election, in 2015, when 191 women won seats in the House of Commons. (The other five won subsequent elections held to fill seats that later became vacant.) It wasn’t until that year that the total number of women who’d ever been elected exceeded the number of men serving in the current parliament, 454. With Thursday’s election, the female proportion of the elected parliament has climbed from 30 to nearly 32 percent. For comparison, women make up 19 percent of the U.S. Senate and 21 percent of the House of Representatives.

That still puts the U.K. behind many of its European peers in terms of legislative gender representation. This week’s election moved the country up from 46th to 40th place on the world’s list of most-equal legislative bodies. Rwanda currently tops that list with the help of a system of electoral gender quotas; of countries without quotas, Iceland has the most gender-balanced federal legislature, with 48 percent of seats filled by women.

On Thursday, female members of parliament made significant gains in the Liberal Democrats, where they used to make up 11 percent of the party’s tiny delegation and now make up one-third, and the Labour Party, where they comprise 45 percent of the party’s 261 MPs. One of Labour’s new members is Preet Gill, the country’s first Sikh woman to serve in parliament. The Conservatives lost three women, though their 21-percent proportion remains the same, and the Scottish National Party lost six.

But while U.K. voters elected a record number of women into the House of Commons, their swing away from the Conservative Party can be read as a referendum against one woman in particular: May, who will now face major difficulty leading the government through Brexit negotiations and getting any governing done without a parliamentary majority. May took office after Brexit under circumstances often described as a “glass cliff,” wherein women only gain leadership positions after male leaders have made a big mess. (See also: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer; Baylor University President Linda Livingstone.) Thrust into post-Brexit chaos with the whole world watching, the prime minister then hurled herself off that cliff by calling a snap election and then blowing a 20-point lead. After Thursday’s election, Cambridge University politics professor David Runciman assessed May’s situation thus: “She had nothing.”

One other demographic won big on Thursday: gay men. U.K. voters elected eight new gay male MPs, setting a new record for out LGBTQ people in parliament. The 45 LGBTQ MPs, 36 of whom are men, make up one-fifth of the Scottish National Party delegation and 7 percent of the entire House of Commons, the largest proportion of all the world’s legislative bodies.

June 9 2017 10:12 AM

Members of Oregon Faith-Healing Sect Charged With Murder in Death of Infant

Two members of an Oregon sect that believes in faith healing have been charged with murder in the death of their premature infant daughter. Sarah and Travis Mitchell, 24 and 21, have been under investigation since Sarah gave birth to twin girls at her grandparents’ home in March. The birth was attended by three midwives, church members, and family members. But when one of the twins, Gennifer, struggled to breathe, no one called 911. A church elder contacted the city’s medical examiner only after the baby died.

The Mitchells are members of a Christian sect called the Followers of Christ Church, which has a history of infant deaths. Adherents reject traditional medical care in favor of prayer, and believe that if a person dies, the death was God’s will. An Oregonian investigation in the late 1990s found that 21 of the 78 children in the church’s graveyard could have been saved by medical intervention. Sarah Mitchell’s own sister, Shannon Hickman, and her husband were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in 2011 for the death of her infant son, who was born two months premature and weighed less than four pounds. The church, which is influenced by Pentecostalism, has about 1,000 members in Oregon and Idaho.

There are larger, better known religious traditions that also reject elements of modern medicine, of course, but in recent years they have made attempts to reconcile their objections with the law, technology, and compassion. Christian Science, which rejects medical science, has made moves to emphasize its approach as supplemental; leaders have said that the church now quietly allows members to seek a doctor's care if necessary. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who object on religious grounds to blood transfusions, have allowed parents to acquiesce to court orders requiring their children to receive life-saving transfusions, reasoning that in such cases the parents themselves technically avoid making the decision. Meanwhile, that tradition’s objections to blood transfusions have led to significant advances in the area of “bloodless medicine”; the New Yorker reported in 2015 that many doctors have now begun using transfusions more conservatively in response. Both Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have seen dramatic declines in membership in recent years.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of states allow no religious exemptions for parents who decline necessary medical treatments for their children. The Mitchells are being prosecuted in Oregon thanks to a 2011 law that rolled back legal protections for parents who reject life-saving medical care based on their faith. Sixteen states, including Texas, Tennessee, New York, and Massachusetts, now have similar laws on the books, often passed in the wake of appalling preventable deaths. In Idaho, which currently allows religious exemptions but also allows courts to order treatment, one sheriff recently formed a unit to investigate every death of a child associated with the Followers of Christ. A previous task force in Idaho found that the child mortality rate among the group was 31 percent, about 10 times the rate in Idaho children overall.

Federal law on faith-healing parents, meanwhile, is relatively weak. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which Richard Nixon signed in 1974, was designed to help states fund programs to combat child abuse and neglect. But it also required states to include exemptions for parents who reject mainstream medical care for religious reasons. Those provisions were crafted and promoted by Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman—both Christian Scientists.

June 8 2017 2:55 PM

Watching the Comey Hearing at a D.C. Bar

Heartburn was the order of the day at Washington, D.C.’s Union Pub on Thursday morning. By 10:30 a.m., patrons were already downing old-fashioneds and steaming bowls of chili, watching televisions in near-silence as the fired director of the FBI, who was speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee just a few blocks away, stopped just short of implicating the president of the United States in an obstruction of justice.

The pub had promised customers a free drink for every time Donald Trump tweeted about James Comey during the hearing, drawing a couple hundred residents and tourists to pack the Capitol Hill bar and fill a covered patio by the sidewalk. Out front, projectors cast sun-bleached video onto giant screens that customers squinted to see. Inside, a dozen TVs all tuned to Fox News blared loud enough to be heard over the shhhhhhhs that started every time a table got too chatty. These people did not come to fraternize. They were here to witness the mechanisms of democracy—to see whether the checks would check and the balances would balance.

“I figured I’m either going to watch it get better or watch the country go down in flames,” said Autumn Nance, a 23-year-old graduate student in George Washington University’s public health program. “And I figured either way, I should have a drink in my hand while I do it.”

Nance and her classmate Max Souders paid for their first round of whiskey drinks, since Trump’s Twitter feed was uncharacteristically quiet on Thursday morning. They’d decided on Wednesday night that a bar pouring free drinks was a place they wanted to be during a hearing that might end up inching the president toward impeachment, an end they both support. “I know he’s under oath, but still, I love that Comey’s coming out guns blazing, all sassy this morning,” Souders said. “It’s great to hear somebody from government who’s nonpartisan just flat out say what everyone knows”—that Trump tried to persuade Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

With the monotonous hum of legislator-speak coming through the sound system and an audience of rapt young professionals pressed blouse-to-button-down the entire length of the bar, the scene at Union Pub felt like a cross between a totally lit college lecture and overflow seating for the world’s most boring concert. “It’s the nerdiest, most amazing thing you could do in D.C., ever,” said Matt Gang, a 22-year-old recent college graduate who’s looking for work in international affairs. “I couldn’t think of a more D.C. thing than having brunch while watching CSPAN testimony. I don’t know if there’s going to be a bombshell today, but if there was, it would be cool to say that all of D.C. went to a bar to get free drinks if the president tweets.”

The crowd got livelier as the testimony got more brutal for Trump. When Comey made an unflattering remark about the president, noting that he’d never felt the need to keep encyclopedic notes of each conversation he’d had with Barack Obama, the crowd let out a gleeful ooooh in unison, like their teacher had just sent a troublemaker to the principal’s office. “Yeah, cover your ass, Comey!” one woman in a shift dress cried when Comey testified that he did write detailed reports after every time he spoke to Trump. Comey’s quip that he wished there were tapes of his conversations with Trump, as Trump has threatened, got a big laugh. That was “the equivalent of a touchdown,” according to Gang.

Gang is a longtime Democrat who came to the bar with a friend who’d recently left the GOP in protest of Trump. He joined in a round of applause that broke out after Comey testified that there was “no fuzz” on the fact that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election. “Honestly, he’s being a lot more candid than I would have thought,” Gang said. “Today is a good lesson against firing someone who has a gun to your head.”

Out on the patio, 50-year-old James Johnson, a plainclothes Metropolitan Police Department officer on his lunch break, had a burger and fries with his eyes on the screen. Johnson keeps up with politics, he said, but “sometimes I have to slow it down, because it’s just so much information daily.” He wasn’t going to miss the hearing, though. “Trump does a lot of questionable things,” Johnson said, “and I’m interested in finding out more about what’s going on with the way he’s leading us.” A few tables down, Sean Jeffries, a 49-year-old New Orleanian in town for D.C. Pride and Sunday’s Equality March for Unity and Pride, sipped a drink in rainbow jewelry. He’d turned his week in D.C. into a jam-packed political jaunt. In addition to planning for the march, Jeffries and a few friends had met with their senators to advocate for local environmental concerns. Now, Jeffries said, he was “watching history take place.”

Watching the overburdened and rather heroic Union Pub servers push through the throngs with platters of drinks and totchos (nachos, but tater tots), Rocky Twyman, 69, stood on the sidewalk holding up a hand-lettered poster. “Stop. Join me in prayer for President Trump and America,” it said. “Pray 3 times a day—URGENT.” Twyman is affiliated with Pray at the Pump, an activist group that started in 2008 to ask God for lower gas prices. (Their prayers were answered.) “I’m here to tell all these people that all this drinking won’t do nothing,” Twyman said. “We need divine intervention right now. I’ve never seen this kind of confusion, and I was in the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s. Trump is trying to take away everything we went to jail for.” Twyman and his cohort started their Comey-pegged protest outside the Capitol Thursday morning, but Twyman got hungry, so made his way to Union Pub. He figured he’d try to convince some of the Comey hearing viewers to trade their beers for meditation and prayer while he was there.

There weren’t any visible signs of patrons appealing to higher beings at Union Pub, but there was a common thread of cautious hope that the testimony they were straining to hear might just move heaven and earth. “I called my mom last night and told her, ‘Imagine if you could have been at a bar with your friends when Watergate was happening,’” Nance said, stirring her cocktail. “That’s what this is like.”

June 8 2017 1:54 PM

James Comey, Bewildered Underling, Is Just Like Us

“Director of the FBI” is not a role that traditionally screams “relatability.” James Comey is a man of high-stakes responsibilities, high-level security clearance, and high-minded rhetoric. But his dramatic testimony on Thursday in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee made clear that Comey is not just the country’s (former) top law enforcement officer. He’s also every poor sap who’s ever had an epically bad boss and had to endure one agonizing conversation after another that he is powerless to escape. Comey, in other words, is Just Like Us. And Donald Trump, of course, is both the bad boss and the annoying acquaintance who just will not get off the freaking phone already.

Comey seems to have realized quickly that he was working for an untrustworthy loose cannon. “I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting,” he wrote. “Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.” When you know HR can’t help you, all you can do is take notes. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey also said. “It led me to believe I've got to write it down.”

One of the most striking scenes Comey described was the meeting in which Trump badgered him to drop the investigation into disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Out of seeming desperation, Comey conceded Flynn was a “good guy” and said he would “see what [he] could do” about dropping the case. He described his response as a “slightly cowardly way” of telling Trump he would not drop the investigation. Who among us has not used this tactic as a way of saying “Not a chance in hell”? Variations include “Let me look into that,” “It’s possible,” and, a personal favorite, “I’ll ask my editor.”

Unfortunately for Comey, ignoring social cues serves Trump’s interests. “I need loyalty,” the president told him in one Marx Brothers–worthy exchange. “You will always get honesty from me,” Comey replied. “That’s what I want, honest loyalty,” Trump said. Comey finally relented. “I tried ‘honest’ first,” he testified on Thursday. “It got very awkward…I acceded to that as a way to end this awkwardness.”

Comey also had a deeply uncomfortable “gut feeling” about being alone with his superior, an experience that will be familiar to many working women. At one point, he testified, Trump invited him to a last-minute dinner that he assumed included others, but turned out to be a table set for two. “Two Navy stewards waited on us,” he wrote, “only entering the room to serve food and drinks.” His desperation not to be alone with Trump is palpable.

Why didn’t Comey simply tell President Trump that this kind of pressure was inappropriate? Here again, Comey’s account of his relationship with Trump is devastatingly real. “Maybe if I were stronger, I would have,” he told the committee on Thursday. “I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.”

There’s one way in which Comey is nothing at all like those of us who have been wronged by bad bosses and irritating acquaintances: He got to kvetch about his nemesis under oath with the whole nation watching. Thursday’s testimony, then, was the ultimate revenge fantasy for anyone who has ever been cornered at a party by an idiot or hung out to dry by an incompetent superior. (The analogy deepened in resonance during Sen. John McCain’s incoherent hectoring of Comey.) With a bit of luck, there will be more comeuppance in the future. “Lordy,” he said Thursday, “I hope there are tapes.” That’s as close as someone like James Comey gets to saying: “Receipts.”

June 7 2017 7:08 PM

Televangelist Found Liable for Covering Up Her Granddaughter’s Alleged Rape

A jury in California has awarded $2 million to a woman who accused her grandmother, a powerful televangelist, of ignoring her sexual assault as a child by an employee. Carra Crouch says she was raped by a 30-year-old Trinity Broadcasting Network staffer when she was 13. When she told her grandmother, Jan Crouch, the network’s cofounder, the older woman allegedly blamed her for the incident and never reported it to police.

The events Carra Crouch described in her civil suit are chilling. Crouch, who is now 24, said she was attending a fundraising telethon in Georgia with her grandmother when the attack took place. The employee, who has not been named, “coerced himself” into her room and pressured her to drink alcohol and a glass of water she believes was laced with a sedative. When she woke up, she said, there was blood on the bed and she believed she had been raped. Soon afterward, she told her grandmother about the incident, but Jan Crouch only lashed out at the girl. “Why would you have that man in your room?” she said, according to Carra Crouch’s testimony. “Why would you let this happen?”

Crouch’s suit argues that Jan Crouch, who died in 2016, was legally obligated to report the accusation to police because she was a minister. The lawyer for Trinity Christian Center, TBN’s parent organization, countered by arguing that Jan was told about the incident in her capacity as a grandmother. The jury agreed with that distinction, but still faulted her for her callous response, and held Jan Crouch and Trinity responsible for $900,000 of the $2 million verdict. Trinity’s lawyer also said that Crouch only told Jan that the employee had made advances on her, but not that an assault had taken place. The employee was fired quickly and has never been charged with a crime.

Jan Crouch may seem like a relic from the 1980s, with her enormous cloud of purple hair and Tammy Faye Bakker-style eye makeup. But her network, cofounded with her husband, Paul Crouch Sr., remains hugely influential. TBN, which claims to be the world’s largest Christian TV network, boasts a roster that includes big names like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and—coming this fall!—Mike Huckabee. When then-candidate Donald Trump arranged a meeting with pastors at Trump Tower in 2015, Jan Crouch was among the televangelist-heavy group that assembled to pray for him.

The Crouches belong to the “prosperity gospel” tradition, in which adherents are assured that God materially blesses those who please him. A 2004 story in the Los Angeles Times describes Paul Crouch looking into the camera during a “Praise-a-thon,” and urging viewers to make a $1,000 pledge to help raise $8 million to evangelize India. Even those who couldn’t afford it should “take a step of faith,” and trust that God would repay them. “Do you think God would have any trouble getting $1,000 extra to you somehow?” Paula White, Donald Trump’s once-obscure spiritual advisor, is also a regular presence on TBN. Her church uses similar tactics to cajole her low-income audience to open their wallets. A reporter who recently visited White’s church near Orlando found a guest preacher urging parishioners to give “your first $200 seed” on the spot. “Money will not be a problem,” he said. “Please hurry up.” These predatory tactics and false promises are disdained by mainstream evangelicals, who often label prosperity gospel teachings as heresy.

It’s easy to make cynical guesses about why Jan Crouch did not go to the police with her granddaughter’s shocking story. Going public with such a tale would surely have done little for the reputation of her lucrative ministry. But her theology offers an even darker explanation for her allegedly cold-hearted response: In the world of the prosperity gospel, people get what they deserve.

June 7 2017 5:51 PM

Watch Two Republican Men Shush Kamala Harris in a Senate Hearing

Two Republican senators did their best to hush up Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, at Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence hearing, as the first-term senator from California tried to get a straight answer out of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Harris pressed Rosenstein, whose memo about former FBI DIrector James Comey the White House has used as justification to fire Comey, about whether he’d give Robert Mueller, the special counsel tapped to investigate Trump, independence from Rosenstein’s potentially biasing influence. In a yes-or-no question, Harris asked if Rosenstein would write a letter conferring independence to Mueller.

“Senator, I’m very sensitive about time and I'd like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that all to you,” Rosenstein said.

“Could you give me a yes or no answer, please?” Harris asked.

“Well, it’s not a short answer,” Rosenstein said.

“It is. Either you are willing to do that or not,” Harris said.

Then, Sen. John McCain interrupted Harris, asking committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, to stop Harris from continuing her questioning. Rosenstein went on stalling. When Harris pressed him again, Burr interrupted, telling Harris to give Rosenstein “the courtesy” to answer or not answer her question as he saw fit.

Rosenstein refused to either accept or reject Harris’s demand. “I am confident, Senator, that Director Mueller, Mr. McCabe, and I … will protect the integrity of that investigation,” Rosenstein said. “That’s my commitment to you and that’s the guarantee that you and the American people have.”

“So, is that a no?” Harris asked. Rosenstein just sipped his water.

Progressives on Twitter noted that two long-serving white male legislators working together to stop a new female senator of color from getting an answer to a simple question was not a good look. Burr has been applauded by people from all across the political spectrum just for doing his job by holding hearings that may expose wrongdoing within his own party. Today, he undermined the substance of those hearings by silencing a persistent legislator.

The last time a Republican did that, it ended up being an early Christmas present for the Democratic Party. When Mitch McConnell blocked Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King during Senate debates over Jeff Sessions’ nomination, “nevertheless, she persisted”—McConnell’s disparaging description of what Warren did—became an instant feminist catchphrase. The Democratic National Committee used the quote on fundraising materials and currently sells it on an enamel pin. Chelsea Clinton stole the phrase for the title of her children’s book about “American women who changed the world.” There’s no obvious quote for reclamation in the similar silencing of Harris. But “So, is that a no?” will make a great GIF.

June 7 2017 5:26 PM

Black Women in America Really Do Work Harder for Less, New Report Shows

It’s a familiar adage that black Americans have to work twice as hard to get half as far as their white counterparts—and that black women, oppressed by the intersecting forces of sexism and racism, have to struggle even more. Now, a sweeping new report from the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, funded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, provides the data to back this up.

Released Wednesday, the report shows black women working more and getting less in return across all areas of American life. Black women voted at higher rates than any other group in 2008 and 2012 (and in 2014, more than any other group except white men and women)—but they remain drastically underrepresented in both state and national politics. The share of black women with a college degree has increased by almost 24 percent since the early 2000s, but they graduated with more debt and worse prospects than white students. And black women participate in the workforce at higher rates than other women, yet they're among the most likely to live in poverty, second only to indigenous women.

In part, this is because black women have remained trapped in the worst-paying sectors of the economy—caretaking and service jobs—while white women have ascended to better-compensated professions. This is no coincidence, as Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and the special projects director at the NDWA, writes in the forward to the report. “Without Black women’s labor inside of white households, white women would not have been able to break (some) of the barriers of sexism that relegated the value of women’s contributions to the sphere of the home,” she writes. “The result is a racialized economy where Black women are losing ground.”

About 28 percent of employed black women work in the service sector, caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, according to the report, which does not break out data about black immigrant women or transgender women. With stagnant wages and stingy protections, these jobs ministering to other people’s families make it hard for service workers to look after their own loved ones. More than a third of all working black women have no access to paid sick days. Many struggle to afford childcare: While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines 10 percent of a family’s income as the appropriate amount to spend on childcare, full-time infant care eats up at least 20 percent of the median salary paid to a black woman, and nearly 50 percent in expensive areas such as the District of Columbia.

In 2015, the median hourly wage for a childcare worker was calculated at $10.31 an hour; several years before, a national survey found a similar wage for non-live-in domestic workers. These female-dominated industries contribute to a wage gap for women, especially women of color: Research shows that white women make about 77 cents on a white man’s dollar, black women are paid only 65 cents, and Hispanic women take home just over half a comparable white man’s salary. The gap persists even for college-educated black women, who make a median income of $50,000 a year to a white woman’s $56,000.

Often absent from conversations about the wage gap is the fact that black women are far more likely than white women to work full time. While white women have entered the economy in greater and greater numbers since the 1920s, they remain likely to have higher-earning husbands or partners, reducing the impact of their lower pay and shorter hours. Black women’s participation in the workforce has remained consistent, meanwhile, and consistently higher than white women’s—in 2014, 57 percent of white women worked as compared to 62 percent of black women—in part because of black men’s lower earning power. Eighty percent of black mothers contribute at least 40 percent of their households’ incomes; fewer than half of white mothers carry that level of financial responsibility.

As the report highlights, despite bearing more of the economic burden for their families than any other demographic of women, black women are also among the most engaged in pushing for social change. Black Lives Matter was founded by three black women—Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. The Women’s March on Washington was organized by women of color. And even in 2016, when turnout among minority voters was low, black women voted at a rate almost three points higher than Americans overall. There’s no reliable way to tell what that figure might be if not for rampant voter suppression: As the report notes, “[o]f the ten states in which Black women compose the largest proportion of the female population, nine states had implemented voter identification laws as of March 2016,” with gerrymandering and district packing further diluting their influence. Black women are underrepresented at every level of U.S. politics, comprising 6.4 percent of the population but only 3.4 percent of seats in the United States Congress and 3.5 percent of seats in state legislatures, with one black woman currently in the Senate.*

The report cites a 2006 study of the Mississippi legislature, in which black women representatives introduced more bills to promote both gender equality and racial equality than either white female or black male lawmakers, to illustrate the importance of supporting black women in running for office. “While black women are working hard, democracy isn’t working for us, and hard work isn’t paying off,” Garza said on Wednesday. “It’s time for an agenda that puts black women at the center, for the sake of all of us.”

*Correction, June 8, 2017: This post originally misstated that there are no black women in the U.S. Senate. There is a black female senator, Kamala Harris.

June 7 2017 2:47 PM

President Who Bragged About Extramarital Sex Appoints Top Abstinence Advocate to HHS

Donald Trump has appointed another foe of evidence-based health information to the Department of Health and Human Services. Valerie Huber, a longtime leader of abstinence-only education advocacy groups, will be the chief of staff to the assistant secretary of health, who manages the Office of Adolescent Health among other HHS offices.

For the past decade Huber has served as the president and CEO of Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association. Before that, she led Ohio’s abstinence education programs, a job from which she was suspended after being found guilty of ethics violations for trying to give a state contract to a company she had ties to. Research from Case Western Reserve University found that the programs Huber ran in the state contained “false and misleading information” about abortion, contraceptives, and sexually transmitted infections, in addition to perpetuating “destructive, inaccurate gender stereotypes” and presenting “religious convictions as scientific fact.” One curriculum said that teenagers who have sex before marriage should “be prepared to die.”

Huber will join a woman who thinks birth control doesn’t work (the new head of the government’s largest birth-control program) and a woman who insists against all medical evidence that abortion causes breast cancer (the new HHS public affairs officer) at her new department. Together, they will implement Trump’s intended public-health strategy for the nation: ignoring science to score political points among conservatives, while women and young people suffer the consequences.

The department Huber is about to join once commissioned a study comparing abstinence-only sex education with comprehensive sex education. Students in both programs ended up with the same number of sex partners and the same age of sexual debut. Another major study published in 2011 found a significant correlation between pro–abstinence education state policies and higher rates of teen pregnancy and births, even when correcting for socioeconomic status, teen ethnicity, and level of educational attainment. Meanwhile, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is still by far the highest of any developed nation, but it's rapidly declining. So is the national teen birth rate, even though teen sex rates remain constant and the teen abortion rate is dropping, too. That shift, a 2016 study showed, is almost entirely attributable to greater access to and education about contraceptive methods. Confronted with that data, Huber told PBS that “we must normalize sexual delay more than we normalize teen sex.”

In addition to Huber’s appointment, Trump has indicated plans to push an abstinence-only HHS agenda by eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, a set of evidence-based sexuality education programs that Huber’s organization has targeted in the past. The program will be under Huber’s purview in her new role. Trump’s budget proposal calls for replacing TPPP with a $277 million investment in abstinence-only education and “personal responsibility education.”

The president’s $277 million commitment to the abstinence-before-marriage worldview stands in striking contrast to the image he’s promoted in his own life. Masquerading as spokesman “John Miller,” Trump once told a People reporter that he was cheating on second wife Marla Maples, with whom he cheated on first wife Ivana, with “three other girlfriends.” The president told Howard Stern that the 1970s were “the best time for sex” because HIV was no concern—unlike the 1980s, when having promiscuous sex was “dangerous like Vietnam,” leading Trump to feel “like a brave soldier.” He said he was sleeping with “a million” women, because “that was pre-AIDS, and you could do things in those days that today you’re at risk doing.” (Good thing he happened upon some comprehensive sex education and learned about that risk!) The now-infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked before the election found Trump bragging about trying to have sex with a married woman and forcing sexual contact on other unwilling women who were not his wife. Trump also bragged about having sex with other married women in The Art of the Comeback and told a gossip columnist he’d had sex with the writer’s girlfriend, saying, “any girl you have I can take from you if I want.”

The closest thing to sex education Trump has ever personally participated in were the multiple softcore porn videos that featured him in cameo roles. By electing a president who’s built his image around promiscuous extramarital sex and open sexual objectification of women, Republicans have ensured that any efforts to convince teens not to have sex will be undone by the leader they’re falling all over themselves to justify. For kids growing up in the Trump era, Trump’s example will send a clearer message than any scolding school materials could.

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