Everybody can't know everything. Sometimes I actually read other people's work, even on the Internet, in order to learn things I didn't know. Thus, last week, I read Laura Bassett's and Jennifer Bendery's article on how a bill called the "Violence Against Women Act," or VAWA, passed the U.S. Senate but then died in the House. I learned something useful about last year's Congress. I'd like to pass the illumination on to this year's Congress.
As several readers already know, reading bills along with your state legislature means a lot of reading, but it's a cakewalk compared with reading Congressional bills. State laws stick to one issue and are generally straightforward, though written in "legalese." Congressional bills tend to start with one issue, then pick up lots of unrelated stuff as members of Congress try to cut deals with one another. Thus a bill that starts out with "Let's send money to New Jersey for hurricane relief" can get voted down because it has acquired add-ons like "And let's give $100,000 to Congressman Doe's nephew, who will actually use the money to pay his tuition, but let's call it something that sounds more public spirited, like 'educational programs'; Yale's educational, right?" (Note to foreign readers: add-ons intended to benefit only a few people are commonly known as "pork.")
Oh, forget about the theoretical, hypothetical stuff. We can read the history as it was made:
Here's the original problem fiscal conservatives--many of whom are women--would have with this bill. Why do we need it? Isn't violence already illegal? Does Congress need to enact new legislation about violence because some state government or other has legalized violence against women? What, exactly, was in this bill? I wish Bassett and Bendery had included a link to the full text of VAWA, as I've done with Virginia state bills.
Nevertheless, whatever it was, the original version passed the Senate. But, although its name specified women, in some way "three groups" of women weren't covered by it. How is that possible? Obviously, in order for any group or type of women not to be covered, the bill was not actually meant to apply to all women. So it was only for certain special groups of women, and the article as written leaves us to speculate on which groups those were; it only tells us that they did not include "30 million LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native American women."
Well, naturally substantial chunks of our law-abiding, voting, taxpaying population aren't very supportive of "undocumented immigrants," and apart from fundamental human feelings on the subject of violence I'm not sure why anyone would be. "LGBT individuals" leaves us wondering whether this category includes the men who claim that some combination of surgery and hormone treatments has made them women, or perhaps women who claim that reverse procedures have made them men...but again, what specific form of protection do these people need?
What do any of those special interest groups need? Are we talking about access to shelters? Legal aid? What, exactly, is not already covered by existing provisions for victims of violent crimes, regardless of their affiliations with any interest group or none? What, I begin to wonder, is so special about women anyway? If a victim of violent insanity gets his hands on a chain saw and attacks a man and a woman who are walking together down the street past his house, does the attack on the woman now come under a different federal law than the attack on the man?
What in Flint...(I'm tired of people picking on Hell all the time.) This report is leaving me with more questions than answers.
I commented: "If it's "to protect women," why does it mention all those special interest groups, and why does it demand so much money? I've not read it, but this discussion doesn't sound as if that bill would have protected me...me being a mere garden-variety woman, not a member of a special interest group."
I got a few charming responses like this one, which I'd ban if it were aimed at you, but, since it was aimed at me, made me laugh: "It's a bill that has been around since 1994 and was drafted by this dude named Joe Biden (D-DE,VP). I'm positive a lot of people have read that Bill, but that's irrelevant. What's important is the $1.6bil the GOP saved us. That really put a dent in the $7tril and all it cost was "all those special interest groups": community programs that teach violence prevention, protection for female victims of domestic violence, rape crisis centers, and Legal aid for beaten and battered women who survive the attack. *hooray* Everyone hates you. That comment was personal, just as Cantor's destruction of a good Bill with important services to women was personal.
The House GOP hate the White House so much they are willing to sacrifice beat and battered and abused women. This is much deeper than women vs men. This is about how far the House GOP will go attack the White House. And that is a major problem that has to be addressed. I don't care who Priscilla is... she sounds like a monster that has nice fingernails but tries to destroy Japan and lives in the ocean. She got mocked because of the stupid comment she made and because she should be doing dishes, not thinking." And we can tell that came from a real liberal who respects women...not!
Ah, now here's a clue. "Community programs that teach violence prevention." One of those things Congressman Doe's nephew does, but does it actually help anybody? No, well..."legal aid for beaten and battered women." Legal aid for crime victims is good, one thing I'd allow in the budget if I were Empress, but where's the difference between battered women and battered men? And if it's for any woman who's been battered, why would either the ethnicity or the sexual habits of these women need to be mentioned?
Now I'm feeling just a tiny bit endangered, because of the claim that this bill had not, at some point, covered Native American women. I am legally White, but can they (whoever they are) tell? I go to New York City, I get mugged, I drag my bleeding body to a shelter. "She says she's Irish-American. Let her in." "Look at her eyes! She's Native American I tell you!" "No she's not, look at that thin European-type hair." "Black hair." "Brown!" "No, it's going grey!" What can I say, I've passed out from loss of blood. We're seriously supposed to believe that any version of any law would allow that?
Another commenter said, no, the add-on about Native American women would have provided that if, let us say, an Iroquois woman is mugged in New York City by an Italian-American man, that man would be subject to trial in an Iroquois tribal court. I can see why reasonable members of Congress would oppose that. It would set a precedent for that sharia law we all supposedly hate.
Then there's this gem: "I really have a hard time believing that you're a woman. What are the special interest groups you consider a different variety than you? The raped, beaten, tortured and murdered groups? If you are a woman and for some reason you believe none of those things could ever happen to you, you are deluding yourself."
I'm a woman all right, although now I'm wondering about the commenter. I happen to have been one of the original group of fundraisers who canvassed to build the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, a job I took partly because it appealed to my adoptive sister, who had been sexually molested. But I also wonder what good VAWA would do me if I'd been beaten, tortured, or murdered (women older than I am have been raped, but the statistical probability is minute). What's all that language about special kinds of women doing in there? Why are they even talking about ethnic identities and sexual habits? My ethnic identity is mixed (Irish gluten intolerance is the part a shelter might need to know about); my sexual habits are none of your business. And yet: "Essentially, protections for 'garden-variety women' like you are being stripped away by Republicans who have a problem with LGBT couples."
So these "protections" are based on the story. We are not talking about medical care and shelters for any person who's been violently attacked--maybe one shelter for men and another for women, to minimize interpersonal problems, but equal and effectively similar shelters for everybody. We're talking about one kind of shelter for a woman who's attacked by a street criminal, another for a woman who's attacked by her husband, another for a woman who's attacked by a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend...maybe we need a whole'nother shelter, and set of regulations, for a woman who's attacked by her adult son? And would we need another shelter if some poor little woman out there was battered by her adult daughter? What if she's a home nurse whose patient managed to push her through an upstairs window? Per-lease.
At least I think we've arrived at a lesson for Congress, here: Keep It Simple. You want to help battered women, you leave out all the malarkey about different categories of battered women. Try something like "Let's authorize funding for one shelter for every 50,000 U.S. citizens, primarily for crime victims who are afraid of being stalked by their assailants, but allowing temporary shelter as available for homeless people. Shelters should house males separately from females, house those who show any homosexual interest in other occupants separately from either, and house anyone with a contagious disease in an isolated section of the building." You could go on about how much money to allocate per shelter, what kind of fundraising and self-supporting work the shelter could do, what kind of security system, how big each room should be, etc., but don't try to sneak in anything about any specific sub-group or any specific project.
As a fiscal conservative, I'd vote for that.
Last week we saw something similar with the vote for hurricane relief. Actually, after voting against one proposal for hurricane relief because it was "packed with pork," those same mean old Republicans turned around and voted for a leaner, cleaner one. Turns out even John Boehner's not as hardhearted--or as eager to be videotaped crawling around on a roof in tight jeans!--as some people wanted to make him sound. Turns out he and Peter King were friends again the next day.
In short: Lose the add-ons, create bills the public can understand and appreciate in their entirety, and bask in the glory of having won bipartisan support for your proposals. That's my advice for the U.S. Congress for this week.
And for you readers...By Monday, lis.virginia.gov ought to be displaying a list of bills in numerical order, instead of going "1, 5, 8, 41." If, however, youall get your comments in over the weekend, I'll try to find the full texts for you and discuss VAWA and/or Sandy Relief in detail.