Entries by Debra Fitzpatrick

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Betsy DeVos, Focus on the Family, and our Public Schools

From 1998 to 2010, Betsy DeVos and her family’s foundations donated millions dollars to Focus on the Family. A decade earlier, she and her parents gave the organization funds to launch its political lobbying firm, the Family Research Council. Their donations helped transform Focus on the Family from a small organization centered on James Dobson’s conservative Christian parenting books into a multimedia empire with syndicated radio broadcasts, a publishing house, and an extensive online presence that promotes and echo-chambers its conservative Christian worldview. The immense investments in Focus by DeVos and her family reveal her deep connection to the ideals of the organization and to Dobson himself, who was its CEO until 2009. When DeVos states, “If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child . . . we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative,” we should not assume that she agrees with most educators on the definition of what constitutes a “great public school” or an “unsafe” one. Due to her financial support of Focus on the Family, it is reasonable to believe that her priorities align closely with Dobson’s. A closer look at Dobson’s public efforts to bring conservative Christian perspectives into the public conversation about schools will make the differences in these pivotal definitions more apparent.

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Gender Bias in Policing: Will Sessions Continue Progress?

On January 12, 2017, the United States Department of Justice and the City of Baltimore adopted a settlement agreement, known as a consent decree, governing changes to policing in Baltimore. On February 2, 2017, representatives from the Department of Justice and Baltimore City officials assured U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar that they remain committed to enforcing that agreement. But will Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions commit to the consent decree’s enforcement?

The consent decree was the culmination of a Department of Justice investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department, an investigation triggered by the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015 and the uprisings that followed. The investigation was wide-ranging, looking not just at police misuse of force, but a number of other deficits in policing alleged by the citizens of Baltimore. Included in those complaints was the contention that Baltimore City Police engaged in gender biased policing. The Department of Justice ultimately found evidence of gender bias in the Baltimore City Police Department’s handling of sexual assault cases: in the treatment of victims of sexual assault, particularly transgender victims, and in the failure to adequately investigate reports of sexual assault, including the failure to routinely request testing of rape kits.

Federal Block Grants Are Not Budget Neutral

Although President Trump has not yet proposed any specific policy plans regarding American safety net programs, he will need to build a collaborative, if not intentional, relationship with leading Republican officials such as House Speaker Paul Ryan in this policy area. Speaker Ryan’s signature interest focuses on safety net spending reform, and his 2014 Poverty Plan and his 2016 Better Way plan call for the creation of block grants: a strategy of welfare reform that we have significant experience with dating back to the 1960s. This history tells us that block grants are not budget neutral; people of color and those with low to moderate incomes are likely to be disproportionately negatively affected by block grants, and within these groups, those most affected will be single women-headed households with children.

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New President, Old Anti-Abortion Policy

On his third day in office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that prohibits reproductive health NGOs that receive US family planning assistance from providing abortion services, information, or referrals, or participating in advocacy to liberalize abortion laws. Since its introduction by President Reagan’s administration in 1984 at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Mexico City, this policy been reinstated by Republican presidents (George H. Bush and George W. Bush) and rescinded by Democratic presidents (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama). In other words, it represents a way of signaling, during the earliest days of each new administration, the government’s stance on global and domestic abortion politics.

Defending Human Rights in an Era of Retrogression

Given the misogynistic tenor of the discourse used by the President throughout his campaign, as well as the trend toward repudiating established supranational spaces, many of us are justifiably concerned about the roll-back of the legal and policy advances that we have won in the global arena over the past three decades in terms of women’s human rights and gender equality. In this section of the Report we will be watching how U.S. federal laws, policy, and diplomacy under the Trump administration will interact with various international systems related to the protection and promotion of human rights and gender equality and the direct and indirect impact on human rights on the ground.