Tag Archives: anti-woman

Ill omens: Hate crimes, voter suppression, appointment of Bannon

As civil rights leaders working for racial justice and economic opportunity, we join much of the nation in our apprehension about the incoming administration.

We cannot ignore that the campaign was characterized by divisive racial rhetoric and has emboldened white supremacists across the country.  The wave of hate crimes sweeping the country, with perpetrators invoking the name of the President-elect, is an ill omen, as is the appointment of a chief strategist with an appalling record of promoting racial, anti-Semitic and anti-woman rhetoric.

We were appalled by the calls for intimidation of voters at urban and rural polling places and will not forget.

Voter suppression had a measurable effect on elections in a number of states. While racial voter suppression was widespread, voter suppression was generational as well. Millennials, as a multiracial demographic, also were targeted by strict ID laws and poll closings affecting millions of youth, college and high school students, as well as young professionals. Addressing this  threat to our most vulnerable citizens and our still young democracy will be a top priority for our organizations in the coming weeks and months.

We have a responsibility to vigorously oppose any policies or actions which are inconsistent with our agenda or would serve to turn back the clock on hard-fought gains.  America’s advance toward diversity is not interrupted by the results of the election.

We will continue to battle discrimination, racial injustice and barriers to equal opportunity as we have done for decades. As always, we will advocate for the next President of the United States to honor and prioritize the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection, due process and full citizenship for every American. The President-elect needs to begin by repudiating hate crimes and attacks undertaken in his name and by announcing a commitment to abandon the divisive rhetoric and policy proposals of his campaign that are inconsistent with equality and opportunity for all.

Having earned a minority of the popular vote, elected with the support of only about a quarter percent of the adult population, the President-elect must recognize the challenge of his extremely narrow appeal to the American people. His obligation is to be President for All Americans.

Other important races on the ballot were significant for the advancement of the nation.

While Congress remains in control of leaders with a demonstrated history of obstructionism, we take encouragement from the election of the most diverse Congress in United States history.  When the 115th United States Congress is seated in January, it will include 100 women — notably Kamala Harris among the 23 elected to the Senate — and the largest-ever Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

We encourage every American to stand firm in the fight for the protection of civil rights and in opposition to racism and hate.

The statement was issued jointly by the following:

Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Melanie Campbell, President and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

The Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President, National Action Network

Ryan disinvites Trump from event, ‘sickened’ by tape of Trump vulgarities

Republicans on Friday grappled with a bombshell 2005 audiotape published by The Washington Post in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasted in vulgar terms about trying to have sex with an unnamed married woman and groping women, saying “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

The disclosure threatens Trump’s already shaky standing with women.

Trump’s leaked comments spurred a flood of indignation and came at what some have seen as a potentially pivotal point. Sunday’s presidential debate, a town hall-style event, is seen as critical as Trump tries to rebound from a dip in some opinion polls after a rocky performance in the first debate with Hillary Clinton.

“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Preibus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican elected official, said he was “sickened” by the comments and said Trump would not attend a campaign event in Wisconsin with him on Saturday.

“I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests,” Ryan said in a statement

Trump in a statement shrugged off the leaked tape as “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.”

In the recorded conversation, Trump was wearing a microphone and chatting on a bus with Billy Bush, then host of NBC’s “Access Hollywood,” ahead of a segment they were about to tape.

“I did try and f**k her. She was married,” Trump said. “I moved on her like a b**ch, but I couldn’t get there.”

Trump talked about his attraction to beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” he said.

“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” he said.

“Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.”

Trump, who has brought up former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a criticism of Hillary Clinton, calling her a “total enabler,” responded to the audio.

“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended,” Trump said.

“Access Hollywood” confirmed the video in its own report, saying it discovered the comments in its library.

Billy Bush, in a statement to Variety, said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” of his comments.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries — and who is a cousin to Billy Bush – tweeted that the comments were “reprehensible.”

Mitt Romney, who was the Republican candidate in the 2012 election – and who has long opposed Trump, said his comments were “vile degradations” that “demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”




Boko Haram strikes Nigerian city, at least 50 dead

Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri for the first time in months Monday with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers, witnesses said. At least 50 people were killed and the death toll could go higher.

Another twin suicide bombing killed at least 30 people in Madagali, a town 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of Maiduguri, witnesses said. Danladi Buba said two women detonated at a market near a busy bus station at about 9 a.m. Brig. Gen. Victor Ezugwu, the officer commanding in northeast Adamawa State, confirmed the attack but said casualties have yet to be established.

In Maiduguri, capital of neighboring Borno state, at least 30 were killed and more than 90 wounded in overnight blasts and shootouts, and another 20 died in a bombing outside a mosque at dawn Monday, said Muhammed Kanar, area coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency.

The military said there were multiple attacks at four southwestern entry points to the city.

In another blast, two girls blew themselves up in Buraburin neighborhood, killing several people, according to civil servant Yunusa Abdullahi.

“We are under siege,” Abdullahi said. “We don’t know how many of these bombs or these female suicide bombers were sneaked into Maiduguri last night.” He said some residents have found undetonated bombs.

The attack appears to be a challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration last week that Boko Haram has been “technically” defeated, capable of no more than suicide bombings on soft targets.

Acting on information provided by a captured insurgent, Nigerian troops “intercepted and destroyed” 13 suicide bombers and arrested one female suicide bomber in repelling the attackers, Maj. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun, the commander prosecuting Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram, told reporters.

Maiduguri, the city under attack, is the birthplace of Boko Haram, which emerged as a much more radical entity after Nigerian security forces launched an all-out assault on their compound in the city, killing 700 people in 2009.

Militants firing indiscriminately from the back of three trucks attacked the outlying village of Dawari, soldiers engaged them, and as people were fleeing, a woman ran into the area yelling “Boko Haram, Boko Haram.” When people gathered, she detonated herself, according to village head Bulama Isa.

A rocket-propelled grenade then exploded, setting alight grass-thatched huts, and a second woman blew herself up, according to Isa. Among those killed was the village chief and 10 of his children, according to residents Ahmed Bala and Umar Ibrahim.

A soldier said the insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades into four residential areas on the outskirts of the city. Soldiers fired back, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire, according to the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up at a home near Bakassi Estate, killing 18 people Sunday evening, another soldier told The Associated Press.

A nurse at Maiduguri Specialist Hospital said dozens of critically wounded, mainly children and women, may not survive. The nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to reporters, said the hospital was so overflowing with patients that some had to be cared for in the maternity ward. About 60 people had wounds from bullets and shrapnel from explosive devices, she said. Other wounded people had to be sent to other hospitals in the city.

Among them was a baby found dead, still tied to the back of her mother, who survived after being hit by shrapnel, the nurse said.

It was hard to do a body count because so many had been blown into pieces, she said, describing torsos and dismembered arms and legs.

Maiduguri, a city of about 1 million people, now hosts almost as many refugees, among 2.5 million people driven from their homes in the 6-year-old Islamic uprising. About 20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria and hundreds others elsewhere as the insurgents have carried their conflict across its borders into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Gunman in theater shooting terrified family, went into racist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic rants

The stranger clenched his fists and shook his head, recounting a time when he tried and failed to beat a cat to death with a steel rod.

His audience, two women lunching at a Lafayette bistro on a Saturday afternoon, sat across from him, shocked and silent. The man in a Hawaiian-print shirt had pulled a chair up to their table minutes earlier. He stroked their dogs and started to ramble: People spend too much money on their pets. There should be a cheaper way to euthanize an animal.

This stranger told them he once took in a stray cat and it got sick, so he bashed its head with the rod but failed to kill it.

“He was hurt that the cat lived,” recalled Bonnie Barbier, who listened in horror to the bluster for 30 minutes. “It was this twisted sense that he was doing the right thing.”

Days later, John Russell Houser’s photograph flashed onto television screens across America as the man who opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater.

“My stomach dropped,” Barbier said of the moment she saw his photo, stern and unsmiling. “That was the man from Saturday.”

At the bistro, the man seemed unhinged and self-righteous, Barbier remembered. He had written letters to newspapers about conspiracies, he told her. But he was too smart for the world and had to dumb down his missives so the masses might understand them.

“I’m just sitting there thinking, `There’s something wrong with this. He’s out of his mind because normal people don’t talk about this kind of thing,'” she said. “He was just so odd, and I felt really weird feelings with him. Something inside was like, `Just don’t set him off. Just smile and nod.'”

She and her friend found an excuse to slip away.

Houser, a mentally ill 59-year-old, terrified his own family and ranted in online forums about African-Americans, Jews and gays. He had lost his wife and his house and left behind a paper trail documenting a long history of seeking vengeance.

Five days after the chance meeting at the bistro, Houser walked into the theater, bought a ticket to the 7 p.m. showing of “Trainwreck” and picked a seat two rows from the back. Twenty minutes into the movie, he stood up in the darkness and, according to those who knew him, let loose a lifetime’s reserve of rage.

Five hundred miles away in Houser’s hometown of Columbus, Georgia, some former neighbors say his life was a decades-long collision course with disaster.

“He’s been known as a lunatic and a fool around this neck of the woods for years,” said Patrick Williams, an antiques dealer who once filed a police report alleging Houser sold him a stolen iron fence at a flea market. “He was a highly intelligent guy but mean as a snake and dangerous. I wasn’t a bit surprised when I saw his picture on TV. And no one else that knew him was surprised either.”

Houser, who went by Rusty, was known as odd and eccentric in the cluster of towns near the state line between Georgia and Alabama where he lived nearly all his life.

Neighbors said he filled his in-ground pool with hundreds of koi. He flew a Confederate flag, passed doomsday fliers around his neighborhood, pounded out angry online missives about corruption and injustice and spouted admiration for Adolf Hitler.

He fit the familiar mold of mass shooters, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, author and prominent expert on massacres. Houser was paranoid, blamed everyone but himself, alienated his family and survived in a world of self-imposed isolation.

“If you gave me a list of names, I would have picked his out as the one that done it,” said Vince Woodward, who was then active in local Republican politics.

But many towns have a resident crackpot. And hindsight is an inaccurate lens, Fox said.

“There’s a very large haystack of people who have these characteristics, but very few needles that will indeed carry out a rampage,” he said. “They’re not red flags. They’re yellow. The only time they turn red is after blood is spilled on them.”

Mass shooters often sound a lot like Houser, he said. But thousands of men who sound a lot like Houser don’t become mass shooters. Fox compared the relationship to another sort of tragedy: most planes that crash do so in bad weather. But most planes withstand storms without plunging from the sky.

By 1989, Houser imagined himself as a crusader for righteousness.

Then 34, he tried to pay a man $100 to burn down the office of a lawyer who represented a pornographic movie theater to “save the world, bring law and order,” The Advocate newspaper reported, citing a court transcript.

But his intended arsonist turned out to be a police informant, and Houser was hauled into court.

The judge questioned whether “the presence of a delusional compulsion overmastered his will to resist committing the alleged act,” according to court records. He ordered that Houser be evaluated at the psychiatric unit at a Columbus hospital.

The case was later dropped. But Houser’s sanity would remain in question for more than two decades.

He soon became a regular guest on a local television show, where he held forth about the evils of abortion and women in the workplace. He was known as the black sheep of a well-regarded family. His father was the town’s longtime tax commissioner.

In 1996, Houser too ran for public office. But he was caught stealing his competitor’s yard signs and backed out of the race. Woodward said Houser was something of a “fringe member” of the party, known for spouting wild accusations.

He was often nice, then his mood would suddenly darken.

“He wasn’t just depressed,” Woodward said. “He was angry depressed.”

Houser earned a degree in accounting, then went to law school. But he never took the bar exam and for a while ran a tavern instead.

In 2001, the city of LaGrange, Georgia, revoked Houser’s liquor license, citing a series of convictions for selling beer to minors.

He railed to the LaGrange Daily News that he’d been set up, that the police lied. He challenged city officials to take lie detector tests to prove their case, the newspaper reported at the time. But the city declined.

So Houser unfurled a banner as big as a bedsheet on the side of his downtown tavern, the newspaper reported. It displayed a swastika with the phrase “Welcome to LaGrange.”

He said at the time he was against Nazi philosophy and described the flag as an effort to mock a government willing to trample its citizens’ rights. But Houser changed his mind a few years later. He wrote in online message boards that “Hitler is loved for the results of his pragmatism” and “decent people can retake the entire world, as Hitler proved.”

“He was a little odd,” said Jeff Hardin, the former mayor of Phenix City, just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus. “He was pretty even keeled until you disagreed with him or made him mad. Then he became your sworn enemy.”

In 2005, he caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and lone-wolf extremists, when he registered for former KKK leader David Duke’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization conference in New Orleans.

In April 2008, his 23-year-old daughter was planning to marry her fiance the following month. But Houser believed they were too young. He made “ominous as well as disturbing statements,” his family wrote in seeking a court order to keep him away. His wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, wrote that she was so worried about his unraveling mental state, she removed all his guns from the house.

He stormed into his daughter’s office, then to another relative’s house, where police were called and intervened. Houser’s wife told officers he had a history of depression and bipolar disorder.

“She said he sometimes forgets to take his medication and sometimes he forgets to eat, which affected his behavior as well,” an officer wrote in the report. A judge agreed he should be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

Despite his history, Houser was able to walk into an Alabama pawnshop and buy a Hi-Point .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in February 2014, just as his life began its final downward spiral.

His wife of 30 years filed for divorce in March and wrote they had been separated since 2012. Their home had gone into foreclosure when they split, and she had not been able to find him.

He called her, she wrote in a court filing.

“He told me if I wanted to play games with him, I’d better watch out because he always wins.”

Norman Bone bought the house at a 2014 foreclosure auction. He asked Houser, a man he knew from church, how long it would take him to leave. Houser became angry and slammed the door, Bone said.

He poured concrete down the toilets and drains and threw paint and feces around the house, Bone said.

The day Houser was evicted, Bone walked into the house to find the gas fireplace logs were removed and the gas starter tube was twisted out and ignited.

“He was hoping the house would catch on fire. That’s what the investigators told me,” Bone said.

“He was trying to blow the house up,” his wife, Pat, chimed in.

Then Houser disappeared.

His estranged mother gave him $5,000 to get back on his feet.

She lived in a retirement home and had told his wife months earlier that she hadn’t seen him in years, according to court records. Security at her home had forbidden her son from entering.

In the first days of July, he rented a room at the Motel 6 in Lafayette. Police are now trying to piece together what brought him to this college town and what he did once he arrived.

Johnny Ha, the owner of KD Seafood, said Houser came into his store at least twice and begged for money. Ha refused and offered him food instead. Houser declined.

“He just left. He did not get angry or get a bad attitude,” Ha said.

People saw him rambling around town, said Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft.

Houser drank. He talked to people about opening a two-minute oil-change service. He went to a food bank in Lake Charles, an hour’s drive east. And he went to the Grand 16 movie theater several times, Craft said.

“Maybe he was testing. Maybe he was checking. Maybe he was determining, you know, is there anything that could be a soft target for him.”

He settled into the back of the theater on July 18, alongside 25 people there for the movie. Then he stood silently and fired 20 times.

He killed two young women and wounded nine people.

He had apparently planned to escape. Police searched his motel room and found wigs and glasses and other disguises, and he had swapped out the license plate on his blue 1995 Lincoln Continental.

But police closed in, thwarting his route to safety.

So he put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Rebecca Santana in Lafayette and Ray Henry in Carrollton, Georgia contributed to this report.

GOP presidential candidates scramble for anti-abortion voters

Trying to distinguish themselves in front of an important group of social conservative activists, Republican White House hopefuls used the National Right to Life Convention to share personal stories and detail the abortion restrictions they’ve helped write into law.

The question now is whether the scramble helps or hinders an anti-abortion movement seeking unity as Republicans look to win back the presidency next November.

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in January and February found that 51 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases.

At NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights advocacy group, Sasha Bruce said that means Republicans “are fighting over a slice of the minority,” putting them at a disadvantage in November.

National Right to Life political director Karen Cross urged the assembly to “make a decision right now that the issue of life trumps all else.”

“There is no such thing as the perfect candidate,” she warned.

Carol Tobias, the group’s president, argued in an interview that President Barack Obama benefited in both of his national victories from social conservatives who didn’t back John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012.

“The quickest way to defeat a pro-lifer,” Tobias said, “is to fall in love with your candidate and then get your feelings hurt when they don’t win the nomination.”

The candidates gave repeated nods to those sentiments, praising each other and hammering Democratic favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, a strong pro-choice candidate. Still, they spent most of their energy asserting their own conservative supremacy on the issue.

Santorum boasted of how he sponsored the federal law that bans certain late-term abortion procedures after initially soft-pedaling his abortion stance because of Pennsylvania’s closely divided electorate.

“You know me; there’s no quit in this dog,” he said. “Go ahead and nominate somebody who’s just going to go along. Then try to convince yourself you’ll make a difference.”

Rick Perry predicted the next president will nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices — who could presumably overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationally. “If I have the opportunity to put justices on the Supreme Court, they will not be squishy,” the former Texas governor said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio explained his abortion opposition as “inseparable from the effort to reclaim the American dream … for every child,” and recalled abortion restrictions he helped pass as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Jeb Bush, whose tenure as Florida governor overlapped Rubio’s speakership, mentioned some of the same laws in a video presentation. He did not physically attend the convention.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has never held elected office, but he blasted abortion providers as “evil.”

Tobias said her group doesn’t wade into primaries in part because it’s hard to find meaningful distinctions between candidates, though she acknowledged the campaigns will find them.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supported abortion rights earlier in his career, something he generally avoids talking about now.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrated passage of a new state ban on most abortions beyond the 20th week of pregnancy.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has sponsored a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. But some conservatives blast him for voting to confirm Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees.

Rubio and Perry talked about seeing their children on ultrasounds during pregnancy. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, talked about how he gravitated to pediatric surgery because of how much he values children.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talked about having to defend his anti-abortion stance in his interviews for medical school.

Santorum tells the story of doctors advising that his daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, would not have a good quality of life and could die as an infant. “There is no better way to preach the gospel of life,” Santorum said Friday, than to have school-age Bella “in the White House.”

Federal appeals court upholds Texas anti-abortion restrictions

A federal appeals court this week upheld Texas’ strict abortion restrictions that could soon leave only seven abortion clinics open in a state of 27 million people.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows Texas to enforce Republican-backed restrictions that require abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards, a checklist that includes rules on minimum room sizes, staffing levels and air ventilation systems. The restrictions, approved in 2013, are among the toughest in the nation.

Owners of the abortion clinics say they would be forced to close because the new rules demand millions of dollars in upgrades they can’t afford. That would mark the second large wave of closures in as many years in Texas, which had 41 abortion clinics in 2012, before other new restrictions took effect that require doctor admitting privileges.

“Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision had the potential to devastate access to reproductive health care on such a sweeping scale,” said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We now look to the Justices to stop the sham laws that are shutting clinics down and placing countless women at risk of serious harm.”

Texas will be able to start enforcing the restrictions in about three weeks unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to halt the decision, said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the center. Only seven abortion facilities in Texas, including four operated by Planned Parenthood, meet the more robust requirements.

Abortion-rights groups said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which temporarily sidelined the law last year.

If the law takes effect, some women in the state would live hundreds of miles away from a Texas abortion provider. But that argument didn’t sway the three-judge panel making the decision for the New Orleans-based appeals court, which is considered one of the most conservative in the nation. The judges noted that a New Mexico abortion clinic was just across the Texas border, and said clinic owners in Texas failed to prove that a “large fraction” of women would be burdened.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office argued before the appeals court in January, praised the ruling.

“Abortion practitioners should have no right to operate their businesses from sub-standard facilities and with doctors who lack admitting privileges at a hospital,” Paxton said.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and other conservatives say the standards protect women’s health. But abortion-rights supports say the law is a thinly veiled attempt to block access to abortions in Texas, which has been the site of one of the nation’s largest abortion fights for two years. Toti said roughly a half-dozen other states require similar standards for abortion clinics, but unlike in those states, the Texas law doesn’t allow clinics to be grandfathered or seek waivers.

About 18 abortion clinics are currently open in Texas, though the number fluctuates depending on whether a facility has a doctor with hospital admitting privileges.

Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in Texas would be in major cities. One exception would be a Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, which the 5th Circuit exempted from some restrictions – but Toti said even those exemptions are so limited that it may not be practical to keep that clinic open.

For women in El Paso, the closest abortion provider in Texas would require a 1,200-mile round trip to San Antonio, or they would have to cross state lines. The appeals court found that option suitable, noting that a clinic was just across the border in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

“Although the nearest abortion facility in Texas is 550 miles away from El Paso, there is evidence that women in El Paso can travel the short distance to Santa Teresa to obtain an abortion and, indeed, the evidence is that many did just that,” the court wrote.

Attorneys for the state also dismissed opponents’ arguments about women being burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying that nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider.

The restrictions are the same ones that Democrat Wendy Davis temporarily blocked with a 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Legislature in 2013, which attracted national attention and propelled her to an unsuccessful run for governor.

News analysis | Despite right-wing media smear, Burke and Walker still tied

Three days before Wisconsinites head to the polls to elect their next governor, two final public polls show the race between controversial Gov. Scott Walker and business leader Mary Burke remains a virtual dead heat.

Walker leads by only one point in both polls, well within their margin of error. Both campaigns have acknowledged that their success on Election Day — Tues., Nov. 4 — depends on who turns out to vote.

Public Policy Polling released a survey yesterday that found Walker with a 48–47 lead over Burke. The poll is operated by Democrats and often criticized for favoring that party. But a respected Fordham University study following the 2012 elections showed that PPP was the most accurate pollster in the nation for that year’s races.

Also released yesterday was the final poll from YouGov, which showed Walker leading Burke 42–41. Both polls are consistent with the results of repeated polls over the last two months.

“The final public polls released over the last few days confirm what we’ve known for months — the race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is all going to come down to turnout,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said today. “Wisconsin voters need to know this race is incredibly close and their vote will make a difference between four more years of Scott Walker’s failed policies or a new direction with Mary Burke.”

Burke is fighting back with new ads addressing a smear campaign by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Reporter, a right-wing publication with ties to the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation. The foundation’s leader Michael Grebe is also the chairman of Walker’s reelection campaign.

In the 2012 recall election of Walker, the Bradley Foundation was widely condemned for placing billboards in Milwaukee’s predominantly African-American neighborhood that warned voter fraud is a felony. The billboards were seen as part of a coordinated right-wing effort to legitimize the unproven myth that voter fraud is an actual problem.

The Wisconsin Reporter’s smear piece on Burke quoted three GOP operatives who once worked for Trek Bicycle Corp., owned by Mary Burke’s Family. All three said she was fired in 1993 as head of Trek’s European operations.

Denounced as patently false by Mary Burke, current Trek CEO John Burke and others who worked at Trek during those years, the story was nonetheless picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has endorsed Walker in the past and seemed to endorse him again last Sunday in an article that was not tagged as an endorsement. The newspaper used it as one of two top cover stories, placing it in a prominent position above its fold and next to a story about an unlikely poll from Marquette University Law School showing Walker surging ahead by seven points among likely voters.

Today, the Journal Sentinel placed a story about Burke’s campaign firing back against the GOP’s smear campaign on the cover. But the story read like an attempt to reignite the false claims for readers who missed the first smear piece. It made no attempt to update readers on negative information about Burke’s accusers that has come to the forefront in the past few days or to speak with former Trek employees who disagree with her critics.

The same pro-Walker Marquette poll headlined by the Journal Sentinel a few days ago had, only a week prior, showed Burke ahead among likely voters; and even the more recent poll showed only one point separating the two candidates among registered voters, although the paper’s editors decided to go with the pro-Walker angle in its headline. That led many Burke supporters to dismiss the most recent Marquette poll as either an outlier or as intentionally manipulated to help its favorite son (even though he failed to graduate) out of a tight spot.

In the Journal Sentinel’s smear piece against Burke, the three bylined reporters spoke only to John Burke to defend his sister, creating the perception that no one else disputed the assertions of the Republican operatives. While the Journal Sentinel article revealed that one of the Republican Burke critics — Gary Ellerman — has posted on Facebook comparisons between President Barack Obama and Hitler, the piece did not mention that he believes Michelle Obama is really a man and that the president is, in his words, a “homo.”

Ellerman, who chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party, quickly deleted his Facebook page after receiving media calls. Ellerman ran as a “fake” Democrat in the 2011 state Senate recall elections.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has called on Walker to fire Ellerman from his chairmanship.

Trek dismissed Ellerman for incompetence in 2004, giving him a personal axe to grind, as John Burke charged. Another of the Burke detractors also had reason to retaliate: In addition to being a volunteer on Walker’s campaign, he heads one of Trek’s primary competitors — Specialized Bicycle Components.

All three of the Burke critics who were given a splashy, uncritical treatment in the conservative press are staunch Republicans and Walker supporters who have longstanding political involvement with him. That led Burke to accuse Walker of being behind the smear.

Walker famously acknowledged that he’d considered planting fake protesters to incite violence in the demonstrations outside the Capitol in 2010, and there’s video of him bragging to a mega-wealthy donor that his political strategy is based on “divide and conquer.” Such statements demonstrate his willingness to participate in dirty tricks, such as the 11th-hour revelations from Burke’s right-wing former colleagues at Trek.

In the “divide and conquer” video, he suggests that his goal is to make Wisconsin a “right to work” state, a subject he’s been coy about on the campaign trail as he tries to woo moderates and independents.

Six companies in five years

“The fact is, my track record, is I created six companies in less than five years (at Trek).  I grew sales from $3 million to over $50 million and I did all of this before I was 35 years old,” Burke said on the campaign trail yesterday.

John Burke confirmed that his sister left during a corporate restructuring and that the work she did remains a profitable asset to the company today. In fact, far from firing Burke, Trek asked her to come back to the company two years later to head global forecasting.

None of that was mentioned in the Journal Sentinel story, which took her to task over a snowboarding sabatical that she took as if it was a criminal activity. Burke has repeatedly stated that she worked part time creating trade shows during the two years in question, but she acknowledged that she wanted some time off as well. In forcing her on the defensive over such an odd story that occurred more than 20 years ago, the Journal Sentinel succeeded in trivializing her business achievements, especially since the coverage was not accompanied by side-by-side comparisons with Walker’s activities during that period. Those activitiesincluded being disciplined by Marquette University for breaking its campaign rules in his bid for student body president, quitting college and dealing rumors that he got a Marquette student pregnant around the time he left. That last rumor was initially reinforced by comments posted by Daniel Bice, one of the writers bylined on the Journal Sentinel’s  smear piece on Burke. Bice later said he investigated the charges and was convinced they were not true.

The head of Trek’s German operations joined John Burke and others in praising Burke’s performance in developing the company’s European operations. Both said she established a profitable market, complete with supply-chain and marketing operations, from scratch.

“Mary built the foundation of a business in Europe that continues to pay dividends today,” John Burke told the Wisconsin State Journal. “What’s happening here is people are trying to discredit what Mary accomplished. What I’m saying is ‘No, I was there, Mary accomplished an amazing thing.’ ”

John Burke described the media-coordinated, last-minute smear of his sister as “a highly orchestrated move by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.”

“This is what you get with Scott Walker-style politics,” said Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki. “Convictions, arrests, shady donations, secret email systems. This is what the people of Wisconsin are going to reject next Tuesday.”

Among the many related issues missing from all of the right-wing newspaper attacks on Burke’s credentials is the fact that Walker has no business management experience, has run up a budget deficit despite huge cuts in government spending, failed to create more than 40 percent of the 250,000 jobs he pledged in his 2010 campaign, turned down $4 billion in federal aid to the state and made a shambles of both the Milwaukee County Executive’s office and his flagship job-creation organization — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Ironically, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contends that WEDC was a smart idea that was terribly managed, and the paper cited the business-experienced Burke saying she would keep the agency but overhaul it as proof that it dosn’t deserve the wrecking ball.

The ‘anti-woman’ card

Burke’s three GOP detractors accused her not only of being fired for incompetence but also of having a difficult “management style,” which is often used as euphemism among misogynists to describe strong, confident women. That characterization, given the lack of high-level women executives in 1993, suggests to many Burke followers that her white male critics didn’t like answering to a young woman with an MBA from Harvard University Business School.

Neither Burke nor her campaign would talk about that hot-potato aspect of the story, illustrating how difficult it is for women to run for public office. If they behave with the same aggression that a male candidate would, they offend men. If they complain about the unequal treatment they’re given due to their gender, then they face backlash for “playing the woman card.”

Numerous anti-Burke comments that Wisconsin Gazette has had to remove from its Facebook page have attacked the candidate for her appearance, while only two commenters out of the more than 30,000 who’ve seen WiG’s supportive Burke posts on Facebook in recent days have slammed Walker over his looks, specifically his large bald spot, which one commenter said is big enough to host a Burke campaign sign.

While no woman candidate wants to play the “woman card,” the “anti-woman card” gets played frequently and sometimes and it can create a backlash of its own. The Republican Party — both nationally and in Wisconsin — is widely accused by progressives for waging what they call a “war on women.” The result has been a wide gender gap among voters.

Walker’s record is as hostile toward women as any governor’s in the nation. He vetoed legislation mandating equal pay for women doing the same jobs as men. He and Assembly Republicans eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides poor women with STD testing and pre-natal care. Wisconsin Republicans have also eliminated many pre-kindergarten programs, making it impossible for many mothers to work.

Perhaps the most draconian measure that Wisconsin Republicans have taken against women is a state law forcing women who want to terminate their pregnancies to undergo medically unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds that involve placing wands in their vaginas and then forcing the women to look at pictures of the fetal cells in their wombs. Virtually all women’s health experts and groups that oppose government interference with personal freedom have condemned the law in the strongest terms possible.

Walker has denied any involvement in the smear campaign against Burke. He even released a TV ad calling himself sympathetic to women on the issue of abortion, despite opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.

The question is will voters fall for the desperate anti-Hail Mary pass to save Walker, who’s divided the state perhaps more than any other governor in history while and presiding over the worst job-growth rate of any governor in the region? Or will voters rally on Tuesday against such sordid tactics and give Burke the edge by showing up to vote in a race so razor-thin that every single vote counts.


Officials: Immigrants assaulted by border patrol agent were surrendering

An immigrant woman, her daughter and another girl who said they were kidnapped and assaulted by a border patrol agent were in the process of surrendering to the agent when their ordeal began, according to officials.

Agent Esteban Manzanares, who officials say committed suicide last week, is accused of driving the three away from the river after they surrendered and assaulting them. The other agent said Manzanares cut the wrists of the adult woman, assaulted one teenager in the group, and then fled the area with a second teenage girl.

The Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three are a mother, her underage daughter and another girl not related to them. The FBI has said the three were in the U.S. illegally.

The woman who had escaped the attack and walked upriver tripped a camera at the border fence shortly after 5 p.m. last Wednesday, according to federal officials.

They said in the camera image a woman can be seen walking toward a gap in the fence. The border agent said there was blood covering her wrists. Within 10 minutes of the camera image being taken, agents responded to the woman and began a search for the others.

One federal law enforcement official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk about the case because the FBI was leading the investigation. Another border agent spoke on condition of anonymity because the agent was not allowed to speak to the media because of the ongoing investigation.

Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency of which the Border Patrol is part, has said that when it found the woman she told them she had been attacked by a man. The federal official said the woman described the man as wearing green fatigues. Border Patrol agents wear green uniforms. She also described a vehicle that the federal official said authorities believed to be a Border Patrol vehicle.

The official and the agent said a search was quickly launched in the area for the other two victims. One of the teenagers was found near the border in the brush, and hours later the second girl was located in Manzanares’ home in Mission, the federal official and the agent said. Mission is a suburb of McAllen, close to the Texas-Mexico border about 350 miles from Houston.

When authorities approached the agent’s apartment, they heard gunfire. A short time later, when investigators went into the apartment, they found him dead and rescued the other girl.

A CBP official told The Associated Press that the agent was on duty when he encountered the females and that his shift had ended by the time authorities showed up at his house and he shot himself. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing investigation by the FBI.

Karol Escalante, a spokeswoman for the Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three Hondurans are recovering at a hospital in McAllen. She would not elaborate on their injuries.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement that such acts are not representative of Border Patrol agents. He added that the agency is working to make sure the victims receive proper care.

“I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again,” he said.

The Border Patrol agent who participated in the search said Manzanares was assigned to Anzalduas Park. The FBI said it is awaiting an autopsy report on Manzanares, who the Border Patrol said had been with the agency since 2008.

In a statement in Spanish, the Honduran foreign ministry condemned the assaults and kidnapping and asked the U.S. government for a thorough investigation, for psychological and medical assistance for the victims, for financial compensation and for legal immigration status for the victims.

“Lastly, the government of Honduras calls on the U.S. government to protect the human rights of immigrants, whatever their migratory status might be because all countries – their authorities in particular – are obligated to respect the dignity of human beings,” the statement concludes.

The number of apprehensions by the Border Patrol – a figure commonly used to gauge the ebb and flow of illegal border crossers – rose by 16 percent last year to 420,789 people detained. More than half of those arrests were made in Texas.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said last October that much of the increase was due to a rise in the number of people from Central America trying to enter the U.S. in South Texas.

While apprehensions of Mexican nationals remained fairly steady, arrests of immigrants from other countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, rose 55 percent. Limited economic opportunities and widespread gang and drug cartel violence in Central America have driven tens of thousands north along a dangerous route through Mexico.

Opponents to target Michigan anti-abortion law in 2014

Incensed Democrats and abortion rights advocates are vowing that Republican lawmakers overreached so much with new restrictions on abortion coverage in Michigan’s public and private health insurance plans that it will cost them in the 2014 elections.

A ballot drive to repeal or override the law is being considered. If enough signatures are collected, the statewide vote would coincide with November legislative races and keep the issue fresh in the minds of voters in 11 months.

While it’s not unusual for emotions to remain raw in the days immediately after passage of any abortion law, the GOP struck a nerve that critics say will resonate long after the holidays.

Democratic women in the male-dominated Legislature felt compelled to tell their own personal stories during the floor debates, in part because no committee hearings were held on the initiative that allows primary insurance plans to cover elective abortions only when a woman’s life is at risk. Starting in March and once policies renew, an optional rider will have to be bought in advance to cover all other abortions, including those resulting from rape and incest.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, in a heart-rending plea against the bill, disclosed that she had been raped. She said she woke up the day after the vote feeling down but her spirits were lifted with a barrage of supportive calls, emails and Facebook messages from Democrats and Republicans, women and men, those who live in Michigan and elsewhere.

“The vast majority of people in this state don’t want this ugly policy,” the East Lansing Democrat said. “A lot of them are extremely offended by it.”

Those who unsuccessfully lobbied majority Republicans to sidestep the initiative and let voters approve or reject it next year say internal polling is on their side.

Legislators voted for it despite some representing GOP-leaning districts where 60 percent to 70 percent of respondents were opposed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation a year ago, calling it an interference with the private marketplace and saying it would have been inappropriate to tell a rape victim that she needs to have extra insurance to terminate her pregnancy. But he had no say this time because it was a citizens’ initiative for which anti-abortion activists gathered more than 300,000 signatures.

“Abortion is not true health care and people who object will not have to contribute their own tax dollars or insurance premiums for elective abortions,” said Right to Life of Michigan president Barbara Listing.

GOP political strategist Jeff Timmer, a partner with The Sterling Corp. in Lansing, said the die is cast for a battle between forces on both sides of the abortion debate. But he questioned whether it will have much broader bearing next November, adding that in 1988 Michigan voters upheld a Right to Life-initiated law prohibiting public funding of abortion services for welfare recipients.

Republicans hope the federal health care law will prove unpopular in the elections. A thrust behind the abortion law is keeping taxpayer-subsidized plans on Michigan’s new insurance marketplace from covering abortions, an option for states under the federal health care law.

But the measure also applies to employer plans and coverage sold to individuals outside the exchange, something opponents say shows how extreme it is.

“This initiative injects the cold, bureaucratic hand of government into the room when women and their doctors are making medical decisions — very difficult and personal medical decisions,” said Rep. Kate Segal, a Battle Creek Democrat.

Poll: ‘Just kidding’ doesn’t make online slurs OK

In a shift in attitude, most young people now say it’s wrong to use racist or sexist slurs online, even if you’re just kidding. But when they see them, they don’t take much personal offense.

A majority of teens and young adults who use the Internet say they at least sometimes see derogatory words and images targeting various groups. They often dismiss that stuff as just joking around, not meant to be hurtful, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV.

Americans ages 14 to 24 say people who are overweight are the most frequent target, followed by gay people. Next in line for online abuse: blacks and women.

“I see things like that all the time,” says Vito Calli, 15, of Reading, Pa. “It doesn’t really bother me unless they’re meaning it to offend me personally.”

Even then he tries to brush it off.

Calli, whose family emigrated from Argentina, says people tease him online with jokes about Hispanics, but “you can’t let those things get to you.”

He’s typical of many young people surveyed. The majority say they aren’t very offended by slurs in social media or cellphone text messages — even such inflammatory terms as “bitch” or “fag” or the N-word.

Yet like Calli, most think using language that insults a group of people is wrong. The high school sophomore says he has tried, with difficulty, to break his habit of calling anything uncool “gay” or “retarded.”

Compared with an AP-MTV poll two years ago, young people today are more disapproving of using slurs online.

Nearly 6 in 10 say using discriminatory words or images isn’t all right, even as a joke. Only about half were so disapproving in 2011.

Now, a bare majority say it’s wrong to use slurs even among friends who know you don’t mean it. In the previous poll, most young people said that was OK.

But the share who come across slurs online has held steady. More than half of young users of YouTube, Facebook and gaming communities such as Xbox Live and Steam say they sometimes or often encounter biased messages on those platforms.

Why do people post or text that stuff? To be funny, according to most young people who see it. Another big reason: to be cool. Less than a third said a major reason people use slurs is because they actually harbor hateful feelings toward the groups they are maligning.

“Most of the time they’re just joking around, or talking about a celebrity,” Jeff Hitchins, a white 24-year-old in Springfield, Pa., said about the insulting references to blacks, women and gays that he encounters on the Vine and Instagram image-sharing sites. “Hate speech is becoming so commonplace, you forget where the words are coming from, and they actually hurt people without even realizing it.”

Some slurs are taken more seriously than others. Racial insults are not that likely to be seen as hurtful, yet a strong majority of those surveyed — 6 in 10 — felt comments and images targeting transgender people or Muslims are.

Almost as likely to be viewed as mean-spirited are slurs against gays, lesbians and bisexual people, and those aimed at people who are overweight.

Maria Caprigno, who has struggled with obesity since childhood, said seeing mean images on Facebook stings. But she thinks the online world reflects the rest of U.S. society.

“It’s still socially acceptable to comment on someone’s weight and what someone is eating,” said Caprigno, 18, of Norwood, Mass. “We need to change that about our culture before people realize posting stuff like that online is going to be offensive to someone.”

Erick Fernandez of West New York, N.J., says what people share online reflects the influence of song lyrics and music videos and movies.

Fernandez, 22, said he was “probably very loose” about that himself before he was chosen for a diversity summer camp in high school that explained why phrases like “That’s so gay” are hurtful. Now a college student, he routinely sees insulting language for women and people of color bandied about online.

“I try to call some of my friends out on it but it’s really to no avail,” Fernandez said. “They brush it off and five minutes later something else will come out. Why even bother?”

In the poll, young people said they were less likely to ask someone to stop using hurtful language on a social networking site than face to face.

Alexandria Washington said she’s accustomed to seeing men who wouldn’t say offensive things to her in person post pictures of “half-naked women in sexual positions,” followed by demeaning comments and slurs like “whore” and “ratchet.”

“They’ll post anything online, but in person it’s a whole different story,” said Washington, 22, a graduate student in Tallahassee, Fla.

There seems to be a desensitizing effect. Those who report more exposure to discriminatory images and words online are less likely to say it’s wrong than those who rarely or never encounter it.

Context is crucial, too. Demeaned groups sometimes reclaim slurs as a way of stripping the words of their power — like the feminist Bitch magazine or gay rights activists chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”

Washington, who is African-American, said that on most days she doesn’t come across racial slurs on social media. But she stumbles upon bigoted words when race is in the news, such as surrounding President Barack Obama’s re-election, and finds them hurtful in that serious context.

Likewise, Calli, the high school student originally from Argentina, said he could stomach almost any name-calling but gets upset when someone uses a falsehood to denigrate immigrants.

Jeffrey Bakken, 23, a producer at a video game company in Chicago, said the bad stuff online, especially slurs posted anonymously, shouldn’t overshadow what he sees as the younger generation’s stronger commitment to equal rights for minorities and gays than its elders.

“Kids were horrible before the Internet existed,” Bakken said. “It’s just that now it’s more accessible to the public eye.”

The AP-NORC Center/MTV poll was conducted online Sept. 27-Oct. 7 among a random national sample of 1,297 people between the ages of 14 and 24. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Funding for the study was provided by MTV as part of “A Thin Line” campaign to stop digital abuse.

The survey was conducted by GfK using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel. Respondents are recruited randomly using traditional telephone and mail sampling methods. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.