When President Obama said that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it, he was clearly taking some liberties with the strict truth.1But as Ezra Klein points out this weekend, the reason he pressed this point so hard is that Americans have an understandable fear of losing their health insurance. And why not? You can lose it if you lose your job. Or if you lose access to Medicaid. Or if your insurance company decides to effectively eliminate your plan by jacking up its price. And that's not even counting the millions of people who don't have health coverage in the first place.
So, yes, it's true that Obama was wrong when he guaranteed that every single person could keep their current plan if they wanted to:
What Obamacare comes pretty close to guaranteeing, though, is that everyone who needs health insurance, or who wants health insurance, can get it.
It guarantees that if you lose the plan you liked — perhaps because you were fired from your job, or because you left your job to start a new business, or because your income made you ineligible for Medicaid — you'll have a choice of new plans you can purchase, you'll know that no insurer can turn you away, and you'll be able to get financial help if you need it. In states that accept the Medicaid expansion, it guarantees that anyone who makes less than 133 percent of poverty can get fully subsidized insurance.
Health insurance isn't such a fraught topic in countries such as Canada and France because people don't live in constant fear of losing their ability to get routine medical care. A decade from now, that will be true in the U.S., too. But it's not true yet, and paradoxically, that's one reason health reform is so difficult. The status quo has left people rightly fearful, and when people are afraid, change is even scarier.
Yep. I want to add one more point to this that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves: Hospitals routinely charge uninsured patients rates that are 3-4x higher than those paid by insured patients. A heart attack that gets billed—profitably!—to Blue Cross at $50,000, can end up costing you $200,000 if you're unlucky enough to suffer that heart attack while you're uninsured. Think about that: for decades, the health care industry has deliberately taken ruthless advantage of the very people who are the weakest and most vulnerable—those who are poor or unemployed—and seems to think that this is a perfectly decent and moral way to conduct business.
It's not. It's shameless and obscene. It's like kicking a beggar and stealing his coat just because you know the cops will never do anything about it.
This is something that Obamacare goes a long way toward fixing. If you're covered by private insurance through an exchange, you're not just protected against catastrophic illness. You're also protected against being charged outrageous rates for non-catastrophic problems—broken legs, asthma attacks, etc.—just because hospitals have the brute power to do so.
Because of Obamacare, you no longer have to fear being shut out of the insurance market. But that's not all. You no longer have to fear being gouged and possibly bankrupted because you've been shut out of the insurance market. Access to reasonable rates2 is one of the key benefits that Obamacare delivers to millions, and it deserves more attention.
1Though, let's be honest, not that big a liberty. The vast, vast majority of people will see little or no change in their coverage thanks to Obamacare, and of the ones who will, most will be able to buy similar or better coverage at a lower price. The problem of rate shock isn't an invented one, but it is a much exaggerated one.
2Reasonable by American standards, anyway.
Contrary to what Goldberg has written, I believe that the only version of BDS that can be defended is one that is compatible with principles of academic freedom.
The Washington Post has a long piece today titled "An effective eye drug is available for $50. But many doctors choose a $2,000 alternative." It's the story of Avastin vs. Lucentis, and it's been making the rounds for years. Oddly, despite the length of the story, the writers never clearly explain precisely what's going on.
You may recall the name Avastin because it's been the subject of numerous unflattering news stories. It was introduced in 2004 as a cancer treatment, but it turns out to be mega-expensive even though it usually provides only a few months of extra life. For an average-size person, a single injection runs about 500 mg or so, and injections are required every two weeks. Genentech sells Avastin in vials of 100 and 400 mg priced at around $6 per mg, so a single dose costs around $3,000 and a full treatment can end up costing anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 or more.
It turns out, however, that the Avastin molecule seemed like it might also be promising for treating Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness in older patients. So Genentech created a modfied version of the drug and started testing it. While that was going on, however, a few opthalmologists got impatient and decided to just give Avastin a try. AMD treatment requires only slightly more than 1 mg of Avastin, so they'd buy a 100 mg vial and then have it reformulated into smaller doses. It seemed to work great, but the evidence of a few one-off treatments wasn't as convincing as a full round of FDA clinical testing. So when Genentech brought its modified drug to market under the name Lucentis, it quickly became the treatment of choice for AMD. And even though the required dosage was even smaller than the equivalent Avastin dose, Genentech priced it at about $2,000.
Genentech, for obvious reasons, was very aggressively not interested in testing Avastin for AMD. But others were, and over the next few years several clinical trials were run. The results were pretty clear: Avastin worked great. Genentech claimed that the clinical trials showed that it was less safe than Lucentis, but virtually nobody bought that. In some of the smaller trials, Avastin showed a slightly higher incidence of adverse effects, but they were things that seemed completely unrelated to the drugs themselves. It was most likely just a statistical artifact. The opinion of the medical community is almost unanimous that Avastin works just as well as Lucentis.
Last year, Medicare's inspector general released a report on this subject and concluded that the average physician cost for Lucentis ran to about $1,928 vs. $26 per dose of Avastin (including drug and compounding costs). Needless to say, since Medicare is prohibited from negotiating prices or turning down treatments, there was nothing much they could do about this. If Genentech wanted to sell Lucentis for $2,000, it could do it. If doctors wanted to prescribe it, they could. And even though Avastin worked just as well, Medicare couldn't insist that it be used instead.
You can draw your own conclusions from all this. In one sense, you can sympathize with Genentech: they spent a bunch of money on clinical trials for Lucentis, and they want to see a return on that investment. The fact that AMD requires only a tiny dose doesn't do anything to lower their research and testing costs. On the other hand, they could have done those trials a whole lot more cheaply using Avastin, but chose not to since that would make it clear that Avastin worked just fine—and Avastin, unfortunately, was already on the market at a price that was very low in the small doses needed for AMD. Likewise, doctors could have rebelled and refused to prescribe Lucentis, which would have benefited their patients since Medicare beneficiaries pay 20 percent of the cost of pharmaceuticals. But why would they? Lucentis is more convenient; doctors don't bear any of the higher cost themselves; and, in fact, since Medicare reimburses them at cost plus 6 percent, prescribing Lucentis earns them about $100 more per dose than prescribing Avastin.
Quite the pretty picture, isn't it? And here's the most ironic part: Avastin continues to be widely used for cancer treatment, where it's extraordinarily costly and of only modest benefit, but is less widely used for AMD, where it's quite cheap and works well. This is lovely for Genentech, but not so much for the rest of us. Isn't American health care great?
UPDATE: In the last paragraph, I said that Avastin "isn't" used for AMD. That's not right. In fact, it's used more often than Lucentis. But as the Post documents, even with a smaller market share, Lucentis accounts for 73 percent of the cost of treating AMD nationwide. I've corrected the text.
Snow-induced pileup on Interstate 94 shuts down highway for hours.read more
"Would you like to go to prison with Nelson Mandela?"
The question from a press aide left me momentarily speechless. It was October 1996, and I was in South Africa reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and working on a book about the country's tumultuous transformation from apartheid. I had covered a number of Mandela's public appearances, but this one was different. The president had decided on short notice to pay a visit to the last of the three prisons where he had been incarcerated for 27 years.
This trip was personal. For Mandela, that was the best kind of politics.
The narrative about Mandela as a peacemaker often obscures how shrewd and hard-nosed he was as political operator. A trip to an apartheid prison promised to show how Mandela could weave images of division and reconciliation into a seamless cloth.
Yes, I replied, I would be glad to go to jail with the president.
"VICTOR VERSTER PRISON BIDS YOU WELCOME PRESIDENT MANDELA!" The banner hanging over the heavily guarded entrance to the sprawling maximum-security prison represented just another head-spinning contradiction of the new South Africa. This was, after all, a prison, and Nelson Mandela its most famous prisoner. Mandela spent the last two years of his confinement at this facility near Paarl, a bucolic town in South Africa's wine country.
From the moment Mandela walked out the gates of Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990, he took every opportunity to engage in political aikido, harnessing the visceral power of apartheid symbols to his advantage.
White leaders used apartheid to try to break Mandela. In the end, Mandela used apartheid to break white rule.
Unlike President Barack Obama, who often sidesteps the racism of his adversaries, Mandela relished engaging South Africa's tortured past. He had tea with Betsy Verwoerd, the widow of former prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the reviled "architect of apartheid." For the occasion, Mandela donned the jersey of the captain of the Springboks, the South African national rugby team beloved by whites.
Inside Victor Verster Prison, I found Mandela's "cell"—actually a pretty cottage tucked among trees. A rose bush gave the place a sweet scent. A prison official explained that this house was built for Mandela as his release neared, "as part of reintroducing him to civilized society."
Mandela stepped through the archway and flashed a broad smile of recognition. He had hearing aids in both ears, and his gait was more a shuffle than a stride. His pace was slowed due to chronic knee pain. Yet he seemed upbeat and happy.
"Some of the best years of my life were spent here," he declared. It was a curious claim for an ex-prisoner to make, but, as he explained, "the negotiations with the government intensified here, and this was where I met many of the top ANC leaders for the first time."
I asked if he'd ever considered escaping.
"No," he said. "That would not have been consistent with what we were trying to accomplish." He had repeatedly refused the government's conditional offers of release during his 27 years in jail.
Mandela was a prisoner, but he held his jailers hostage. As long as he was in jail, the apartheid government was a pariah on the world stage.
A poignant moment came when Mandela asked what had become of Warrant Officer James Swart, the guard who lived with and cooked for him. "He's outside," replied one of his aides.
The next moment, a tall, thin mustachioed man in a jacket and tie walked in. Mandela smiled and greeted him warmly. As he often did with guests, Mandela held Swart's hand as he spoke. "I'll never forget the kindness you and your wife showed me while I was here," he said, looking directly into his eyes.
"Thank you very much," Swart mumbled nervously.
As Mandela finished, his press aide motioned for me to come over. She introduced me to the president and explained that I was an American journalist. Mandela instinctively reached for my hand, but not for a perfunctory handshake. He began walking with me, hand in hand, chatting as if we were old friends going for a stroll. "Mr. Goodman, thank you for coming to South Africa," he said in his gravelly voice. "What do you think of it here?"
I fumbled for words at first—Mandela was an icon to me, a man whose name I'd chanted as a protester in college, and here he was holding my hand and wanted to know what I thought. South Africa was the most exciting country in the world, I said, a place where remarkable change was happening. I said it was an honor to meet him. He smiled warmly, his eyes twinkling. "It is an honor to meet you too," he replied. He released my hand, and shuffled to his waiting car.
Mandela finished his visit by attending a function for the prison staff, who packed a small auditorium. He told his former guards how people often asked him how he had avoided growing bitter about his time in prison.
"This place contributed to my own approach in this country," he went on. He said that most of the staff had treated him with dignity, though "some Afrikaner guards were very crude and cruel. But when an Afrikaner changes, he changes 100 percent and becomes a real friend."
Then, beaming with delight, he posed with the euphoric guards and their families, holding babies and draping his arms around some of the men in uniform.
This was the essence of Mandela. He challenged his country while embracing his countrymen. In doing so, he liberated himself, his former tormentors, and his nation.
Media Matters staff: Eric Boehlert on MSNBC's Disrupt : Media Spinning All News About Hillary Clinton Into Bad News
From the December 8 edition of MSNBC's Disrupt with Karen Finney:
The Wall Street Journal used a positive jobs report to urge Republican lawmakers to block an extension of unemployment benefits, ignoring the ongoing need for extended benefits and the harm that cutting them would have for the ongoing economic recovery.
A December 6 Journal editorial highlighted the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) November jobs report which found that the "jobless rate hit 7% in November" and that "nearly every statistic pointed in a stronger direction." The Journal used the news to push Republican policymakers to reject a proposed extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, concluding that the positive news "underscores that Republicans should hold fast against another expansion of federal jobless benefits," and claiming that jobless benefits have not been shown to have a positive economic effect:
The November report also underscores that Republicans should hold fast against another expansion of federal jobless benefits. Democrats and the White House want to include this in a House-Senate budget despite a cost of as much as $25 billion that would go straight to the deficit.
Their amazing economic rationale is that every $1 in jobless benefits yields $1.80 in higher GDP. This is the famous Keynesian "multiplier" that didn't work in the 2008 or 2009 stimulus binges. The basic argument is that if the government pays more people not to work, then more people will end up working. If you believe that, you probably also think ObamaCare will shrink the deficit.
But despite the positive jobs report, the need to extend unemployment benefits remains high. In a November 7 report, the Economic Policy Institute found that the "ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is 2.9-to-1, as high as the highest the ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn," [emphasis original] making the extension "[a]bsolutely" necessary." It noted that congressional failure to extend the benefits would have a devastating macroeconomic effects, resulting in the loss of "roughly 310,000 jobs that would be supported by continuing UI benefit extensions through 2014," -- a loss that would increase the overall unemployment rate by around 0.2 percentage points. In an email to The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase chief United States economist Michael Feroli stated that failure to extend UI benefits "could shave 0.4 percentage point off growth in the first quarter next year."
Extending unemployment benefits does not create a disincentive to work, especially during periods of high unemployment. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) called such claims "seriously overblown, especially in the current jobs slump." As the CBPP noted in November, "arguments that emergency UI benefits are an important contributor to today's high unemployment have cause and effect backwards" [emphasis original] and "EUC benefits help create that additional demand and contribute to job creation." The November EPI report similarly disputed claims that extended unemployment benefits encourage unemployment:
In the two most careful studies available on the effects of UI extensions on job search in the Great Recession ... both find a very small increase in the duration of unemployment arising from the extensions, but they find that this is primarily because workers who receive UI benefits are less likely to simply give up looking for work.
On Friday, singer-songwriter Elton John dedicated his concert in Moscow to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old gay man tortured to death in southwest Russia in May. He also took a moment during the show to address Russia's new anti-gay law, which allows for fining and detaining gay and pro-gay individuals, and bans what is deemed homosexual propaganda to minors. Via Joe Jervis, here's the transcript:
You took me to your hearts all these years ago and you've always welcomed me with warmth and open arms every time I visited [Russia]. You have always embraced me and you have never judged me. So I am deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia. In my opinion, it is inhumane and it is isolating. Some people have demanded that because of this legislation, I must not come here to Russia. But many, many more people asked me to come and I listened to them. I love coming here.
I want to show them and the world that I care and that I don't believe in isolating people. Music is a very powerful thing. It brings people together irrespective of their age, their race, their sexuality, or their religion. It does not discriminate. Look around you tonight. You see men, women, young and old, gay and straight. Thousands of happy Russian people enjoying the music. We're all here together in harmony, and harmony is what makes a happy family and a strong society.
The spirit we share tonight is what builds a future of equality, love and compassion for my children and for your children. Please don't leave it behind when you leave tonight. Each and every one of you, please, keep this spirit in your life and in your heart. I wish you love and peace and health and happiness. And this show is dedicated to the memory of Vladislav Tornovoi.
Russian gigs by pop stars Madonna and Lady Gaga—who both expressed support for the LGBT community during their performances—were met with legal backlash and controversy. The artists' St. Petersburg shows in August and December 2012, respectively, resulted in court cases. A $10 million lawsuit against Madonna was thrown out; Russian concert promoters of Lady Gaga's show were fined a symbolic $614. It is not clear at this time what the legal consequences will be for John.
Here's more footage from his Friday performance in Moscow:
It looks like we have a new winner in creepy, non-self-aware surveillance logos. The previous all-time great, on the left, is the 2002 classic from London Transport, "Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes." The new champion, on the right, is the 2013 mission patch for satellite launch NROL-39 from the National Reconnaissance Office, "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach." The short-lived logo for Total Information Awareness has now been relegated to third place.
Do you feel safer now?
CREDIT: Australian Bureau of Meteorology
2013 is well on its way to becoming the warmest calendar year on record in Australia. The country has just set a new record for the warmest spring ever.
Mean temperatures for Australia’s spring (which occurs during the U.S.’s fall) were 1.57°C above the 1961-1990 average. September was especially hot, with an average temperature of 2.75°C or nearly 5°F above normal. October came in at 1.43°C above average, while November came closer to normal, at 0.52C above average. And in addition to being unusually warm, spring also came early. On August 31, the last day of winter, average temperatures reached 85.9°F. It was the warmest last day of winter recorded since Australia started collecting temperature data 104 years ago.
To date, the year is 1.23°C above average and 0.18°C above the previous record year, 2005.
Australia’s record-breaking spring follows a generally wet winter and a summer that was also the country’s hottest on record. Temperatures soared so high in January that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology added new colors to its temperature maps. Deep purple now represents temperatures in excess of 50°C, or 122°F. The new high end of the scale tops out at 129 °F.
Thanks to the wet winter that helped vegetation flourish, followed by a hot spring that sucked out all the moisture, the east and west coasts of Australia may have to contend with another above-normal bushfire season this summer. Bushfire season in Australia has already gotten off to an early start as four major fires ravaged western Sydney and the surrounding Blue Mountains area of New South Wales in September.
The newest record broken in Australia comes just as the Australian Senate is debating the repeal of its carbon tax. Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who ran on an anti-climate agenda, has been making good on his campaign promises, much to the dismay of the climate conscious at home and abroad. He is hard at work dismantling the country’s carbon emissions scheme, and publicly shunned the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw by declining to send a senior elected member of his government. Abbott has also confirmed that his government has no intentions of reducing Australia’s emissions by more than five percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and has cut funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Funding for ARENA over the next two years will be about one fifth of current levels.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed in this weekend’s flood of coverage of the life of late South African anti-apartheid movement and President Nelson Mandela. But if you’re interested in engaging more deeply with Mandela’s legacy and South African history than an obituary or two will allow, here are five articles and five books that will get you started on your study.
1. “Disappointment in Successors to Nelson Mandela, a Revered Father of a Nation,” Lydia Polgreen, New York Times: All of Polgreen’s reporting from South Africa feels essential this week, but this piece is a good place to start. As we remember Mandela, it’s both easy and dangerous to think of the negotiated end of apartheid and Mandela’s election as South Africa’s president as the end of the country’s problems. But the country he inherited was one of savage economic inequalities. And Polgreen’s piece is a good jumping off point for exploring Mandela’s decision to prioritize racial reconciliation over redistribution, the failures of the leaders who followed him, and the Mandela family’s varied approaches to politics.
2. “Mandela And The Politics Of Forgiveness,” Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker: “If the American reverence for Mandela is at least partly self-interested, the country has not just wandered into someone else’s story. Prior to becoming Prime Minister of South Africa, Jan Smuts had studied the issues of race and federalism at the heart of the American Civil War in hopes of avoiding the same outcome. Years later, the architecture of apartheid was explicitly modelled on America’s Jim Crow system of segregation,” Cobb explains, in a concise and upsetting history of the ways in which the United States and South Africa mirrored each other, and the very wrong choices the U.S. has made about how to engage with South Africa.
3. “As We Memorialize Mandela, Remember Those Who Stood With Him,” Scott Simon, NPR: Nelson Mandela became the most visible political figure in South Africa, but he was part of a larger movement. Simon doesn’t have a lot of space here to go into depth about Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, and Stephen Biko, three important anti-apartheid activists, but the piece is a good jumping off point. If you’re curious, I’d also recommend reading more about Oliver Tambo and Joe Slovo and Ruth First, who was assassinated by the South African Police while in exile in Mozambique.
4. “The Angry Man,” Eve Fairbanks, Foreign Policy: Fairbanks, whose work I love, examines the desire to remember Mandela as a primarily peaceful, kind, forgiving figure, even though anger was a huge driver of his work against apartheid–even after he was released from prison. “People involved in the negotiations to end white rule in South Africa — after Mandela was released from prison — have often told me how unbelievably ‘stubborn,’ even disposed to flashes of rage, he could be, and how that stubbornness contributed to the ANC’s gains at the bargaining table just as much as his newfound warm-heartedness,” she writes. “They sort of whisper it, like it is a dirty secret.”
5. “Be Nelson Mandela,” Timothy Burke, Swarthmore: This is a personal essay by a professor, but it does better than almost anything else I’ve seen at working through the ways the memorialization of Mandela tries to avoid going to a place that makes a lot of mainstream commentators awfully uncomfortable. ” At best, they occasion the grudging admission, ‘I thought he was a terrorist or a revolutionary, but it turns out he was a great man,’” Burke writes of Mandela’s former critics, who are now apologizing for their errors. “But put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door: the next step might be to recognize that he was a terrorist and a revolutionary and a great man.”
1. Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela: If you want to know more about the life of Nelson Mandela, his memoirs are a terrific place to start. Not all autobiographies by great men are worth reading, but Mandela is self-aware, self-critical, and at times, very funny. Re-reading large sections of it for my piece on his cultural legacy, I was struck by how often Mandela talks about music, for example. It’s genuinely a life story, not just a political document.
2. A History Of South Africa, Leonard Thompson: As I’ve tried to communicate in this post, the struggle against apartheid didn’t begin, nor does it end, with Nelson Mandela. The history of South Africa doesn’t either. Thompson’s sturdy little survey history starts with South Africa’s environment and archaeology and a reminder that “Modern Western culture is inordinately present-minded. Politicians are ignorant of the past.” If you’re going to read more than one book about South Africa, it’s worth your time to back up and start from as close to the beginning as we can get.
3. Country Of My Skull, Antjie Krog: Krog is a journalist, poet, and teacher who covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Country Of My Skull is a combination of memoir, reportage, and poetry that deals with both the facts of the commission and the emotional impact of sitting through the process, which included encounters with figures like Joe Mamasela, who was a spy and assassin for the apartheid government. “Mamasela says he had no choice but to join–he was a mere child of nineteen and up against the brutal might of the apartheid state,” Krog recalls of his testimony. “But the sums in my head tell me that in the early eighties Mamasela was nearly thirty.”
4. No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu: If you’re going to read Krog’s book, I highly recommend reading it with Tutu’s account of chairing the commission. Not only is it a useful look inside the extraordinary process, but Tutu’s deep engagement with the spiritual roots of forgiveness are a good accompaniment to many of the platitudinous things that you’ll read about Mandela and reconciliation in the weeks to come. Whether Mandela was primarily or angry or both is only so useful a debate to have. Tutu takes us deep inside what forgiveness actually means and requires beyond anecdotes like Mandela inviting one of his jailers to his inauguration.
5. Great Soul, Joseph Lelyveld: Great Soul isn’t about Nelson Mandela at all. Rather, it’s a biography of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who spent some of the formative years of his life in South Africa. The book isn’t perfect. But reading it enriches our understanding of race in South Africa, where the law recognized Blacks, Whites, Coloureds and Indians as separate racial groups. And as we consider the relationship between the anti-apartheid struggle and movements like Communism, it’s a useful primer in how liberation struggles became a South African export that bore lasting fruit in India before South Africa ended apartheid.
SpaghettiOs, a children’s snack of canned tomato sauce and circle-shaped spaghetti that’s owned by Campbell’s, sent out a tweet on Friday night in honor of Pearl Harbor. Meant to be a tribute to the thousands who died of December 7th, 1941, SpaghettiOs’ tweet depicted a smiling cartoon spaghetti waving an American flag:
This is one of many recent examples where companies have tried to capitalize on public holidays — sometimes even national tragedies; 2,386 Americans died in Pearl Harbor — to promote their product. On Veterans’ Day, the movie Man Of Steel tweeted out a picture of the movie with a message thanking the troops. And during the revolution in Egypt, Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new Spring collection is available online.”Update
SpaghettiOs deleted the tweet and apologized on Saturday. “We apologize for our recent tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day. We meant to pay respect, not to offend.”
The post Uh-Oh: Campbell’s Honors Pearl Harbor Anniversary With Tweet Of Smiling Cartoon SpaghettiO appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CNN's Jake Tapper issued a correction for a segment that misleadingly took comments by Vice President Joe Biden out of context. Tapper's decision to correct the record is commendable, but has yet to be imitated by Newt Gingrich, who first brought the bogus story to the network.
On December 3, Biden visited the Toyko headquarters of the Japanese company DeNA. According to the Wall Street Journal, that firm "is known for encouraging its female employees to continue working through motherhood," and Biden was there to "meet with its female employees to chat about achieving a work-life balance in a country where 60% of women don't return to work after giving birth." As part of that dialogue, Biden asked a group of five young female employees, "Do your husbands like you working full time?" Illustrating the vulnerability of journalists working in the current media environment, numerous media outlets ripped Biden's comments from their context and presented them as a sexist gaffe.
That dishonest framing reached CNN the same day, when Crossfire's Gingrich tried to use them to diffuse criticism of the GOP's toxic rhetoric on women. He commented: "Democrats like to complain about a Republican war on women. That was before Vice President Joe Biden started his current tour of Japan. Today, while touring a Japanese game company, he walked up to a group of women and asked them, 'Do your husbands like you working full-time?'" Gingrich used Biden's comments to ask, "How do you explain Biden's inability to stay in touch with reality?"
The next day on his CNN program, Tapper played the same clip to illustrate the media's propensity to highlight the Vice President's gaffes and asked if Republicans are right to say there is a double standard about sexist comments.
Tapper issued a full correction on the December 6 edition of his show, apologizing for doing the vice president and the viewer "the exact same ill service" of focusing on Biden's gaffes without "providing the proper context":
Emily Baxter is the Special Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at American Progress.
It’s a recurring theme among opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control provision: women can either be for religious liberty or for reproductive health care, but they cannot support both.
On Monday, USA Today published an op-ed from a George Mason University law professor that suggested, among other things, that the White House paternalistically patronizes women by assuming they care more about birth control and “their sex lives” than they do about religious liberty. Because women practice religion in greater numbers than men, author Helen Alvare argues that “government’s attack on religious freedom hurts women more than men.” Alvare decries the Administration for treating all women as a uniform bloc, but she has no issue asserting that all women must be hurt by these alleged attacks on religious freedom.
This article plays on an underlying premise of mutual exclusivity — of “either-or” — between a woman’s faith and her right to access health care, especially reproductive health care. It’s an uneasy trope that crops up in other conservative articles and resources.
For example, in a video produced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we see the affecting imagery of three women speaking on conscience rights relating to health care. Another article suggests that the Affordable Care Act infantilizes independent young women. Another notes that since some “single moms working two jobs” are willing to work for Hobby Lobby, the craft chain whose challenge to Obamacare’s birth control mandate is headed to the Supreme Court, things just can’t be that bad.
These authors’ and spokeswomen’s opinions are theirs to hold. Their experiences are valid and theirs to speak to, and their beliefs are theirs to live out as far as the law allows. But the same goes for women on the other side.
In fact, this adversarial relationship between religious conscience and reproductive justice is a false one — and it doesn’t hold up under religious-moral or feminist scrutiny.
From a religious point of view, this either-or argument subtly suggests that “good” women or “real” women must choose religious beliefs that require them to stand by the for-profit corporations that are fighting the Affordable Care Act. It is a difficult leap from church to commerce that requires a strange understanding of the First Amendment, in which corporations have consciences and business owners — who are legally separated from their corporations — are empowered to exercise religion in a way that includes imposing their beliefs and will onto their employees’ consciences and needs.
But there are faithful men and women who recognize a more nuanced understanding of the First Amendment and the law. They believe that people, not corporations, have consciences and exercise religious beliefs, and that the law is meant to protect society’s less powerful from the will of the more powerful, especially from compulsory participation in religion. For those religious people, allowing business owners to impose their consciences on their employees’ actions raises many uncomfortable issues. As has been argued elsewhere, could a Christian Scientist business owner stop offering insurance altogether to their employees? Could Quakers stop paying all of their taxes because some of them fund wars or the prison industrial complex?
More importantly, there are men and women whose religious beliefs compel them to see the necessity of reproductive justice as grounded in their faith and, even, scriptural understandings. Many faith leaders have recognized that reproductive health care is part of a larger, contextual frame of “justice and dignity for all God’s people.” As Rabbi Dennis Ross recently explained, “…the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and other groups, endorsed the moral good in access to birth control some 80 years ago.” Many people don’t know that the the Catholic Church nearly lifted its ban on contraceptives in the 1960s. Even America’s colonial puritans were more accepting of abortion than modern conservatives are of contraception.
And more broadly, not all church groups are opposed to the health law — many have been vital partners in spreading the word about Obamacare enrollment — and activists of faith have fought for reproductive justice at the state level. That’s because reproductive justice is not inherently in conflict with organized religion. In fact, it melds with the sacred and the moral when it allows men and women’s lives to flourish more fully for themselves and their families.
From the feminist perspective, conservatives pushing an adversarial relationship between women’s religion and a belief in reproductive justice twist some of the basic ideals of those who work every day for women’s rights. They attempt to speak for all women, even claiming that women’s religiosity means that their religious liberty is being hurt more than men’s. In doing so, they ignore the voices of the 99 percent of American women who have used birth control, the almost 60 percent of women who use it for reasons beyond preventing pregnancy, and the 82 percent of Catholics who say that birth control is “morally acceptable.” Those personal experiences are just as valid as the experiences of the women advocating for their own, problematic version of religious liberty. They don’t make women less committed to preserving religious freedom, but rather speak to the fact that the First Amendment protects everyone’s conscience, not just a few.
And at the end of the day, the purpose of the Affordable Care Act isn’t paternalism. Expanding access to health care allows equality and opportunity to thrive — the same purpose that drives feminists and reproductive justice advocates, and the same purpose behind the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. When conservatives argue that women must choose between religion and access to health care, they simplify the complexity and flatten the depth of many women’s — and men’s — religious beliefs and commitment to American religious pluralism.
The post Despite The Fights Over Religious Liberty, Obamacare Doesn’t Have To Be ‘Girl Versus God’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Nancy Gibbs was named Time magazine’s first-ever female managing editor in September of 2013. When her title was announced, she joked with reporters that she was “the first managing editor to wear pumps — so far as we know.”
But it turns out that Gibbs is taking her first-woman title more seriously than that. A profile of her in Capital New York reveals that she used the opportunity of her new job to make sure women at the company weren’t getting short-changed on their salaries compared to their male coworkers:
In a previous interview with Capital, she said that being the first female top editor of Time wasn’t something she had given much thought to until it happened, and that her two daughters seemed so proud of her historic role.
She’s embraced it, by now. One of the first things she did after being named managing editor was to assess the salaries of women within the organization and make sure those salaries were comparable with what men of equal stature were making.
Pay inequality is still a major problem at companies across the United States, and high-profile publications are no exception. On average, American women earn just 77 cents on a man’s dollar, but those numbers can be worse in certain fields. In art, media, and design, women make up just about half of jobs — 47 percent — but their average salaries are significantly lower: While a man earns a little over $50,000 per year, a woman makes a bit over $35,000. That means on average, female media members earn less than 70 cents on a man’s dollar.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, helped make it easier for a woman to sue if she finds out she is getting paid unfairly by expanding the statute of limitations on such lawsuits. But it doesn’t go far enough to ensure that women aren’t being discriminated against. Democrats in Congress have pushed for the passage of another law, the Paycheck Fairness Act, that would make strong penalties for employers who discriminate, and make it easier for women to investigate whether they were being discriminated against.
Republicans have called the Paycheck Fairness Act a racket, simply a way for lawyers to make more money. Because of this opposition, progress on the bill has stalled. But as New York Magazine’s The Cut put it, Gibbs is serving as a “One-Woman Paycheck Fairness Act.” By showing the leadership to ensure pay equity herself, Gibbs reminds us that executives can step up and do something about pay discrimination, even when Congress can’t.
The post How One Woman Is Closing The Gender Pay Gap On Her Own appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Like most government agencies, the NSA lacks a sense of humor; instead, it has paranoia, which can be unintentionally comic. Case in point: The agency's recent cease-and-desist letter to Dan McCall, an online vendor whose parody t-shirts raised NSA hackles. The agency, along with the Department of Homeland Security, cites copyright infringement—it's illegal to appropriate the NSA logo for commercial use (especially after it's been "mutilated"). Depending on your mood, the crackdown on satire is either disproportionate enough to be amusing, or totalitarian enough to be, well, totalitarianism.
Simon Menner's new photobook, Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archive, reminds us that the difference between terror and kitsch is mostly one of proximity. Per the book's subtitle, the images were culled from the vast archives of East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, which spied on, bugged, interrogated, intimidated, murdered, and otherwise bullied its citizenry for 40 years. According to Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor turned Nazi-hunter, the Stasi was "much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people."
Indeed, the numbers are staggering: When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Stasi records show that it had 91,000 employees on the payroll, along with around 173,000 unofficial collaborators. Given East Germany's population of 17 million, this amounts to one informer per 6.5 citizens—or, as author John O. Koehler more viscerally puts it, "It would not have been unreasonable to assume that at least one Stasi informer was present in any party of 10 or 12 dinner guests." In Koehler's book Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, former Stasi Colonel Rainer Wiegand estimated that the total number of informers was as high as two million.
Think about what that means. Phones were tapped, mail was intercepted and read, families betrayed each other, apartment buildings and hotels crawled with informers, surveillance cameras abounded. A special division was tasked with inspecting garbage, while holes drilled into walls became the unofficial calling card of Stasi spooks. On the threshold of German reunification, approximately six million people were under surveillance.From the Stasi's catalog of disguises. Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
All of this was part of a more systematic program called zersetzung ("decomposition") that wreaked psychological havoc across East Germany. The idea was to disrupt people's sense of normalcy by employing "soft torture" techniques. "Tactics included removing pictures from walls, replacing one variety of tea with another, and even sending a vibrator to a target's wife," noted the Guardian. "Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible. Many thought they were going mad; some suffered breakdowns; a few killed themselves."
Repressive regimes around the globe turned to the Stasi for its surveillance bona fides: The secret police of Angola, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Syria, Uganda, and Yemen were all clients. In the 1980s, the Stasi and the KGB collaborated to spread propaganda that HIV/AIDS originated in US government laboratories (PDF). And an investigation leaked in 2011 suggested a link between the Stasi and Horst Mahler, a founding member of West Germany's Red Army Faction (also known as Baader-Meinhof), raising questions about just how deeply the spy agency had infiltrated its anti-communist neighbor.Agents learned to trail a target without being noticed. Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
From a film showing agents how to shadow suspects. Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Once it became apparent that the Iron Curtain was fraying, Stasi agents scrambled to destroy incriminating documents, including thousands of photographs. On January 15, 1990, protestors stormed Stasi headquarters and prevented a complete wipeout. That October, a newly reunified Germany established a government agency, BStU, to preserve the old records, which were declassified two years later. Millions of Germans have been able to share the surreal experience of perusing their own surveillance reports.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
An image damaged in the Stasi purge.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Menner spent two years combing the vast archives—a combined 50 miles of shelving that included 1.4 million photographs, slides, and negatives. His book is divided into chapters with innocuous titles such as "Wigs and their Application," "How to Apply Fake Facial Hair," and "Disguising as Western Tourists." There's a tension—which these titles exploit—between our inclination to read the photos as kitsch and the ominous history they represent. The photos were rehearsals for surveillance, arrest, interrogation, and blackmail; they are unnerving mementos of a government intoxicated by control. And what seems quaint or campy or mundane at first blush is harrowing in retrospect.
Case in point: the Polaroids that Stasi agents took during their routine home break-ins. These shots of kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms, which depict life in a typical East German apartment, have a bland predatory quality—a knowingness—that's disturbing. Equally so is Menner's note that agents used the Polaroids as a reference for returning a room to its prior state after ransacking it. The artlessness of the images only intensifies their eeriness.
Elsewhere, the book offers a field guide for espionage. Agents demonstrate secret hand signals, shadow suspects, and rendezvous on desolate roads. Mock arrests are staged in dismal rooms, the agents' faces inexpertly redacted with a black Sharpie. Houses are searched and possessions cataloged. Unease tinges a photo of a teenager's bedroom wallpapered with Madonna clippings—Western sympathies, if simply of the pop-culture variety, could be cause for an investigation, or worse.An agent transmits a secret hand sign.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
A mock arrest.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Contents of a confiscated package.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Top Secret is a timely rejoinder to those who argue that the NSA is a necessary evil, and it's even more timely in light of the revelation that the NSA targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel for eavesdropping. The US is not East Germany, and the NSA is not the Stasi, but they share a common taproot of fear. While the NSA may not resort to the Stasi's cruelest methods, it lords over one of the most sophisticated and pervasive intelligence apparatuses on the planet. Would it be surprising if, decades from now, someone found similar relics in the NSA archive?
But the NSA recently offered this comforting nugget to the Washington Post: "The notion of constant, unchecked, or senseless growth is a myth." So relax, your secrets are safe.Stasi agents amused themselves by dressing up as their enemies—in this case, the Church.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
From the Stasi handbook of disguises.
Simon Menner and BStU, 2013.
Saturday is the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the surprise strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which left more than 2,400 Americans dead and forced the United States to enter World War II.@SpaghettiOs/Twitter
Weird, right? For what it's worth, @SpaghettiOs celebrated Thanksgiving in a far more tasteful manner.
UPDATE: On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Campbell's emailed Mother Jones the following statement:
We apologize for our recent Tweet as we meant no harm and felt it was best to remove it from Twitter.
@SpaghettiOs also tweeted this:
We apologize for our recent tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day. We meant to pay respect, not to offend.— SpaghettiOs (@SpaghettiOs) December 7, 2013
And you thought letter writing was a lost art? Mother Jones still receives handwritten letters every day, and not all of them are from prisoners or crazy people. In any case, they just pile up. We no longer publish letters in the print magazine, and our communications are largely digital these days. We also don't have the staff bandwidth (if you'll pardon the internet jargon) to respond to our digital trolls, let alone our snail-mail ones. And yet every day I walk past that stack of letters and wonder what it contains. I decided to read a handful each day, or skim them at least, and share some choice excerpts with all y'all.
Mother Jones Snail Mail, Volume 1
Dear Mother Jones,
I haven't heard anything again in the news regarding the "house in a residential neighborhood" that neighbors (CA) complained had a lot of Chinese pregnant women paying to have their babies there so they would have US citizenship. It sounded to me like a sure-fire way to build sleeper cells. Worth investigating?
—JPH, Washington, DC
President, Foundation for National Progress,
The "Truth" is that despite your Assertions/claims that "your hard hitting investigative journalism" is Accurate and Factual—you are delusional self congratulating Fools. When I see distortions and outright lies being printed about firearms, firearm owners, 2nd amendment Rights Groups and organizations, your credibility about other issues you print material about becomes untrustworthy as to veracity. Good bye you San Francisco "Tootie Frooty" Assholes located in the "land of Fruits and Nuts" (California).
Carlos Jusino grew up a typical kid in Harlem, rollerblading near the Hudson River, eating at the McDonald's on 145th Street and Broadway, hanging out with friends in his building. Also typical was the fact that many of Jusino's neighbors and family members, including his mother, had asthma. "When I was growing up, she went to the hospital about once a month for asthma," he says. Although he didn't know it at the time, more than 30 percent of the kids in Harlem have asthma, one of the highest rates in the country.
Jusino's family was worried about the air quality around Harlem, but most of its attention was directed to a sewage treatment facility built in 1985 along the West Side Highway next to the Hudson, where a foul-smelling settling tank lay exposed. The plant galvanized the community, including a group of environmental justice activists known as the Sewage Seven. They sued the city and won a settlement in 1994 that helped establish air-monitoring stations around the plant.
Deloitte Touche is one of the globe's "big four" auditing and consulting firms. It's a player in the Big Food/Ag space—Deloitte's clients include "75% of the Fortune 500 food production companies." The firm's US subsidiary, Deloitte & Touche LLP, has a shiny new asset to dangle before its agribusiness clients: It has hired the US Department of Agriculture's Undersecretary for Food Safety, Elisabeth Hagan. She will "join Deloitte's consumer products practice as a food safety senior advisor," the firm stated in a press release. The firm also trumpeted her USDA affiliation:
"Elisabeth will bring to Deloitte an impressive blend of regulatory level oversight and hands-on experience, stemming from her role as the highest ranking food safety official in the U.S.," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and Deloitte's U.S. consumer products practice leader.
Last month, Hagan announced her imminent resignation from her USDA post, declaring she would be "embarking in mid-December on a new challenge in the private sector." Now we know what that "challenge" is. It's impressive that Deloitte managed to bag a sitting USDA undersecretary—especially the one holding the food safety portfolio, charged with overseeing the nation's slaughterhouses. Awkwardly, Hagan is still "currently serving" her USDA role, the Deloitte press release states. I'm sure the challenge of watchdogging the meat industry while preparing to offer it consulting services won't last long. The USDA has not announced a time frame for replacing Hagan.
Hagan won't be the only member of Deloitte's US food-safety team with ties to the federal agencies charged with overseeing the food industry. You know those new poultry-slaughter rules that Hagan's erstwhile fiefdom, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, keeps touting, the ones that would save Big Poultry a quarter-billion dollars a year but likely endanger consumers and workers alike, as I laid out most recently here? Craig Henry, a director within Deloitte's food & product safety practice, served on the USDA-appointed National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection, which advised the FSIS on precisely those rules, as this 2012 Federal Register notice shows.
Then there's Faye Feldstein, who serves Deloitte as a senior adviser for food safety issues, the latest post in what her Deloitte bio call a "33-year career in senior positions in the food industry and in federal and state regulatory agencies." Before setting up shop as a consultant, Feldstein served a ten-year stint at the Food and Drug Administration in various food-safety roles. Before that, she worked for 12 years at W.R. Grace, a chemical conglomerate with interests in food additives and packaging.
Apart from Hagan's new career direction, some food-safety advocates have offered praise for her tenure at USDA. They point out that, under her leadership, the FSIS cracked down on certain strains of E. Coli in ground beef, an an important and long-overdue move explained in this post by the veteran journalist Maryn McKenna. On his blog, Bill Marler, a prominent litigator of food-borne illness cases on behalf of consumers, called Hagan "one of the very best who has ever held that position," adding that she'll be "sorely missed."
But if the USDA does make good on its oft-stated intention to finalize those awful new poultry rules, I think Hagan will be remembered most for pushing them ahead, to the delight of the poultry industry and the despair of worker and consumer-safety advocates.