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“The State Of Where We’re At”: Lizz Winstead Delivers ‘State Of The Uterus’ Address

It wasn’t an official response, but it was probably the most colorful.

After President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, comedian, author and “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead delivered to the world the “State of the Uterus,” a progressive response complete with a uterus hand puppet.

“I thought, ‘Well, maybe the uterus needs to do a recap of the state of where we’re at,'” Winstead told Whispers. “So instead of being like vitriolic or ‘we’re so angry,’ we decided to take the satirical page of celebrating how great it is that government has gotten so involved and the great plans that they have for all the uteri in the country.”

So what did the Uterus have to say?

The Uterus thanked “Republicans and Republicans alike” for “tirelessly fighting so the uteri of America will have the same rights as the uteri of Saudi Arabia.” The Uterus name-dropped former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, two anti-abortion conservatives who’ve voiced controversial positions on abortion and the Democratic Party, respectively. And, at the end of the video, the Uterus tipped over a Deer Park water bottle as an homage to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“There’s not really a whole lot of comedy rapid response – in fact, there’s none,” Winstead said. “And so we kind of want to carve out our space there.”

The State of the Uterus was posted on the website Lady Parts Justice, which Winstead helped create. The site already got some attention because of a video comedian Sarah Silverman made for it, where she talks to Jesus Christ about birth control.

“So it went out and then all of a sudden our project exploded a month before we were actually getting our staffing in place and getting our people on board,” Winstead laughed. “It’s fine, it’s really fun actually.”

In the coming months, Winstead will have other famous faces – including “Girls'” creator Lena Dunham – participate in her progressive, pro-abortion rights videos. The spots will shine light on what lawmakers are up to on a more local level in the areas of abortion and birth control. And a big event, entitled “V to Shining V” is being planned for Sept. 27, where women will gather in every state capital to have a gay pride-like celebration for reproductive rights.

“We’re really, really, really focused on local and state legislatures, that’s really our thing,” Winstead said. “Because no one is and those are the feeder programs where we go, ‘Oh, my God, somebody needs to dam up this horrible, horrible river because it is spawning people who are absolutely not invested in compromise or the truth or science or education or anything else.'”


By: Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 29, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | State of the Union, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Alternative To Obamacare”: Pay More, Get Less, Put The Insurance Companies Back In Charge

Boy, can Democrats have fun with the new Republican alternative to Obamacare. It puts the health insurance companies back in charge and raises costs for almost all Americans. In particular, it substantially raises costs and threatens to cut coverage for the half of all Americans who get health insurance at work. Seniors, the group that Republicans have scared witless about Obamacare, would lose the real benefits they receive under Obamacare. The proposal from three Republican senators is a golden opportunity for Democrats to contrast the specific benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with what a repeal-and-replace agenda would really mean for Americans’ lives and health.

When it comes to the politics of health care reform, my first adage is “the solution is the problem.” That is because once you get past vague generalities, like lowering costs and making coverage available, to proposing specifics, people will look to see how the proposals impact them personally. This is why health reform is such a political nightmare. Unlike most public policy issues, the impact is very understandable and real.

With the ACA as the law of the land, in analyzing the Republican proposal we must compare its impact to the law it would repeal. The pre-ACA model of health insurance is irrelevant. Here is how the Republican plan would impact people, compared with the ACA:

People who get health insurance at work – bottom line: pay more for worse coverage.

Almost half of all Americans (48 percent), or 148 million people, obtain health insurance at work. The Republican plan would tax 35 percent of the average cost of health insurance benefits at work. This is a big tax increase on working people and is extraordinarily unpopular, as the Obama campaign used to devastating impact on John McCain. And while people would pay more, they would get less coverage, as the GOP plan would allow insurance companies to once again limit the amount of benefits they will pay out in one year and return to the day when employers could offer bare-bones plans.

While taxing health benefits would apply to all employer-provided coverage, the Republicans would give the 30 percent of people who work for businesses who employ fewer than 100 workers a tax credit. That might balance out the increased taxes for some people. However, doing so would create a huge set of economic distortions, as employers might seek to keep firm size under the 100-employee threshold.

Individuals who buy coverage on their own or who are uninsured – bottom line: insurance companies could again deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and offer bare-bones coverage, while the cost of decent coverage would go up for most people.

This is the group that the ACA is most aimed at helping, including the 5 percent of Americans who buy private health insurance and the 15 percent who are uninsured, totaling 64 million people. The ACA offers income-based subsidies to these people when they earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and enrolls people under 133 percent of FPL in Medicaid, when states agree.

The Republican plan is toughest, in comparison with the ACA, on the lowest-income people and on the higher-income middle class, compared with Obamacare. But many families in between will do worse too.

The Republican plan would wipe out the expansion of Medicaid to people earning less than 133 percent of FPL, a provision the Supreme Court has made optional. It would cut back on Medicaid, ending the federal government’s offer to pay 90 percent of the cost of expanded coverage and replacing that with the federal government paying what it has paid historically, which is between half and three-quarters of the cost of Medicaid, with poorer states getting a bigger share. Crucially, the funding would only be for pregnant women, children and parents with dependent children who earn under the poverty level, as opposed to the ACA’s funding of all adults up to 133 percent of FPL. That means many fewer people covered and states getting less Medicaid money. Republican governors may not complain, but you can bet hospitals will. Adults without dependent children would not be covered by federal Medicaid, which means millions will stay uninsured or lose coverage they now have, unless states pay for coverage without federal support.

For individuals not covered by Medicaid or employees of firms with fewer than 100 workers, the Republican plan would replace the ACA’s sliding-scale subsidies, which now go to 400 percent of FPL, with a subsidy that is the same for everyone of the same age who is under 200 percent of FPL and lowersubsidies for people from 200 percent to 300 percent. In addition, the subsidies would be higher for older people than younger. The Republican plan also would take away the requirements that insurance plans offer decent benefits and free preventive care and charge women the same prices as men for coverage, along with every other consumer protection, with the exception of keeping in place no lifetime caps for covered benefits.

Comparing the value of the Republican plan subsidies vs. the ACA subsidies for the people who would still qualify depends on income, age, and family size. Generally, it appears that the Republican subsidies are much less than the ACA for people under 150 percent of the FPL ($35,000 for a family of four) and much less than the ACA for younger people, but more for older people. However, insurance rates for younger people would go down some at the expense of older people, who insurance companies could charge a lot more than under ACA. And families with incomes above $70,000 for a family of four would lose subsidies entirely.

Seniors and the disabled on Medicare – bottom line: seniors would pay more for prescription drugs and preventive care.

By repealing the ACA, the Republican plan would take away its two concrete benefits for seniors. One is that preventive care services are now free under Medicare (as they are under all insurance). The other is that the ACA is lowering drug prices for seniors by slowly closing the “donut hole,” under which seniors must pay the full cost of prescription drugs even though they are paying premiums for drug coverage. In other words, the Republican plan is simply bad news for seniors, the constituency that they have scared the most about Obamacare… groundlessly.

It is not surprising that Republicans have been reluctant to come up with a replacement for Obamacare. It’s much easier to throw darts – or bombs – at the ACA than to come up with a replacement that meets Republican ideological tenets of less regulation and less government. Any plan that meets the ideological test will be much worse for people in ways they can understand. It is our job to explain it to the public clearly: pay more, get less, put the insurance companies back in charge. This debate is not simply the political game Republicans want to make it. It is about our health and our lives.


By: Richard Kirsch, The National Memo, January 29, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Name Of Freedom”: How To Spot A Paranoid Libertarian

In a recent essay in the New Republic, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz contends that Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange reflect a political impulse he calls “paranoid libertarianism.” Wilentz claims that far from being “truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors,” they “despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.”

Wilentz gives credit to Richard Hofstadter for the term “paranoid libertarianism,” but he is being generous. Although Hofstadter wrote an influential essay called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” he didn’t call special attention to its libertarian manifestation. Wilentz has performed an important public service in doing exactly that.

Most of Wilentz’s essay focuses on Snowden, Greenwald and Assange, and he offers a lot of details in an effort to support his conclusions about each of them. But let’s put the particular individuals to one side. Although Wilentz doesn’t say much about paranoid libertarianism as such, the general category is worth some investigation.

It can be found on the political right, in familiar objections to gun control, progressive taxation, environmental protection and health care reform. It can also be found on the left, in familiar objections to religious displays at public institutions and to efforts to reduce the risk of terrorism. Whether on the right or the left, paranoid libertarianism (which should of course be distinguished from libertarianism as such) is marked by five defining characteristics.

The first is a wildly exaggerated sense of risks — a belief that if government is engaging in certain action (such as surveillance or gun control), it will inevitably use its authority so as to jeopardize civil liberties and perhaps democracy itself. In practice, of course, the risk might be real. But paranoid libertarians are convinced of its reality whether or not they have good reason for their conviction.

The second characteristic is a presumption of bad faith on the part of government officials — a belief that their motivations must be distrusted. If, for example, officials at a state university sponsor a Christian prayer at a graduation ceremony, the problem is that they don’t believe in religious liberty at all (and thus seek to eliminate it). If officials are seeking to impose new restrictions on those who seek to purchase guns, the “real” reason is that they seek to ban gun ownership (and thus to disarm the citizenry).

The third characteristic is a sense of past, present or future victimization. Paranoid libertarians tend to believe that as individuals or as members of specified groups, they are being targeted by the government, or will be targeted imminently, or will be targeted as soon as officials have the opportunity to target them. Any evidence of victimization, however speculative or remote, is taken as vindication, and is sometimes even welcome. (Of course, some people, such as Snowden, are being targeted, because they appear to have committed crimes.)

The fourth characteristic is an indifference to tradeoffs — a belief that liberty, as paranoid libertarians understand it, is the overriding if not the only value, and that it is unreasonable and weak to see relevant considerations on both sides. Wilentz emphasizes what he regards as the national- security benefits of some forms of surveillance; paranoid libertarians tend to see such arguments as a sham. Similarly, paranoid libertarians tend to dismiss the benefits of other measures that they despise, including gun control and environmental regulation.

The fifth and final characteristic is passionate enthusiasm for slippery-slope arguments. The fear is that if government is allowed to take an apparently modest step today, it will take far less modest steps tomorrow, and on the next day, freedom itself will be in terrible trouble. Modest and apparently reasonable steps must be resisted as if they were the incarnation of tyranny itself.

In some times and places, the threats are real, and paranoid libertarians turn out to be right. As Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Societies can benefit a lot from paranoid libertarians. Even if their apocalyptic warnings are wildly overstated, they might draw attention to genuine risks, or at least improve public discussion. But as a general rule, paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy, even if it operates in freedom’s name.


By: Cass Sunstein, The National Memo, January 30, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Government | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All Right, There Are Two Republican Parties”: From The Comically Rote To The Grimm Series

Republican pundits have been arguing recently that immigration reform could splinter the party ahead of the 2014 elections. They shouldn’t be worrying about immigration. The Republicans’ response to President Obama’s State of the Union showed that the G.O.P. is actually two parties, or perhaps even more.

There were three organized responses — one official, one Tea Party, one libertarian — and one impromptu response involving the buffoonish behavior of a Congressman from Staten Island. (More about that in a minute.)

The Stepford Response: The official rebuttal, delivered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, was comically rote and devoid of real content.

Ms. Rodgers started with the obligatory summation of her humble beginnings — a “nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s Drive Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.” These tired stories — which Mr. Obama also tossed into his speech — are nearly as old as the republic.

She then went on to say: “The most important moments right now aren’t happening here. They’re not in the Oval Office or in the House chamber. They’re in your homes. Kissing your kids goodnight. Figuring out how to pay bills. Getting ready for tomorrow’s doctor visit. Waiting to hear from those you love serving in Afghanistan, or searching for that big job interview.”

Everyone with a heart values those moments. They happen to be exactly the same kind of moments that Mr. Obama evoked in his State of the Union. The difference is that the president offered a series of proposals about how to improve the lives of Americans and address the fundamental inequality in the country. Ms. Rodger offered none, just the usual misty-eyed evocations of the “real America” that are meant to imply that the rest of us do not belong.

The Storm the Castle Response: Representative Mike Lee of Utah delivered a spirited Tea Party rebuttal. He launched an attack on “ever-growing government” and celebrated the way that the original Boston patriots, who held the Original Tea Party, did not just stop there.

“It took them 14 long years to get from Boston to Philadelphia, where they created, with our Constitution, the kind of government they did want,” Mr. Lee said, glossing over what happened during those years — a full-blown, bloody revolution. I guess he’s not preaching that for now.

Mr. Lee talked a lot about inequality, which he blamed entirely on Washington, and mostly on Democrats, as if the kind of de-regulation that he presumably favors did not produce an out-of-control financial industry whose irresponsibility and excesses almost destroyed the economy.

The Non-Threatening Insurgent: Senator Rand Paul, the self-appointed leader of libertarians, delivered an extremely amiable speech.

He started, of course, with what seems to be his all-time favorite quote, Ronald Reagan saying that “government is not the answer to the problem, government is the problem.” And he salted his speech with folksy sayings. We should not “reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said, although I wasn’t entirely sure what he was talking about. Listening to Mr. Paul is entertaining. “It’s not that government is inherently stupid,” he said, “although it’s a debatable point.”

But he has an odd sense of cause and effect. He said the recession, mass unemployment and the stock crash of 2008 were “caused by the Federal Reserve,” because it encouraged banks to give money to people who could not pay it back.  But he left out the fact that it was the lifting of financial regulations on the banks that actually spurred them to do dangerous things, like offer risky loans. So when Mr. Paul talked about nixing other “burdensome, job killing regulations,” I got worried.

The most interesting thing about his comments was how much milder they were than last year, when he said that the true bipartisanship of Washington was the failure of both of the main political parties in pretty much every area. Is he running for president?

The Class Clown Response: Although not an official or even unofficial rebuttal, Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island’s comments after the State of the Union seem to say…something…about the Republican Party.

In a post-address interview, Michael Scotto of NY1 dared to stray from the topic at hand, asking Mr. Grimm about a federal investigation into his campaign fund-raising.

Mr. Grimm grew so irritated that he threatened to throw Mr. Scott off the balcony, or alternatively to “break you in half. Like a boy.” He tossed in at least one profanity and informed Mr. Scotto that “you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough.” It’s not clear what for.

Mr. Grimm at first tried to explain his behavior by saying that it wasn’t fair to add questions about the criminal case to an interview on the State of the Union. After several hours of everyone pointing out how ridiculous that was, NY1 said Mr. Grimm finally apologized.


By: Andrew Rosenthal, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, January 29, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Much For Checks And Balances”: Welcome To Tennessee, Where Lawmakers Are Trying To Kneecap Judges

In state houses around the country, January often brings the emergence of many of the year’s most dubious legislative proposals. January is the month of patently unconstitutional bans on “sharia law.” It is the month of promoting the unlawful practice of jury nullification. But mostly it’s the month for legislators to attack the independence of the judiciary.

Again this year, all over the country, state lawmakers have introduced bills to curb their cousins in the judicial branch. In Oklahoma, lawmakers want to remove from the Code of Judicial Conduct references to judicial independence. In Kansas and New York, state lawmakers want to force trial judges to render their decisions within a certain time or be forced out of office. But perhaps the most egregious of this year’s crop of ill-advised measures comes from Tennessee, where lawmakers have introduced a bill that combines many of these bad measures from other states into one big ball of scorn for the state’s judiciary.

SB 2322, as the Tennessee bill is known, seeks to replace the administrative office of the state courts with the treasurer’s office, which is part of the executive branch of state government. The state Supreme Court would no longer be able to “direct” the work of the court administrator but rather “urge” executive branch officials to take certain action. The bill would shut down the state’s judicial disciplinary board, now under the auspices of the judicial branch, and replace it with a new review board that would answer, again, to the state treasurer. That board would be made up of political appointees from the executive and legislative branches of government. Judges would be prohibited from serving on a board evaluating the work of the judiciary.

If that were all SB 2322 did, it would be bad enough. Each of the above components of the pending legislation violates separation of powers principles and constitutes impermissible encroachment upon basic judicial functions. It is axiomatic that judges should have the power and authority to administer their own affairs, as they do in every other jurisdiction in the nation, and should not be precluded from evaluating the disciplinary issues that arise within their profession. You don’t need to be a political scientist to understand the pressure the executive branch would be able to wield over Tennessee’s judiciary if the legislature were to enact this bill.

But there is more. SB 2322 seeks to dramatically alter the nature of death penalty procedures in a way that undermines core judicial functions. Judges would not be able to extend filing deadlines in capital cases — even if such extensions were justified and necessary to ensure the constitutional rights of defendants. And judges also would be forced to meet their own deadlines for resolving capital cases, even if they were not ready to do so. Meanwhile, lawyers representing indigent capital defendants would be required to reimburse the state if they were later found to have rendered “ineffective assistance of counsel,” a requirement that would make it materially harder for indigent defendants in the state to get a court-appointed lawyer willing to take the case.

These proposed measures, too, are patently unconstitutional incursions into the judiciary’s work. But they also happen to be bad ideas beyond their constitutional dimensions. Forcing judges to rush their decisions won’t make those decisions more accurate or justifiable — and that won’t ultimately save Tennessee taxpayers from the costs of appellate work. And precluding capital defendants from seeking more time to file their court papers — so they can better evaluate evidence, for example — won’t help root out instances of false confessions, or flawed eyewitness testimony, or prosecutorial misconduct.

Experts who study these sorts of bills are, quite naturally, both alarmed and disappointed. “There’s a reason no other state in the country has such a system, Bert Brandenburg, the executive director of Justice at Stake, told me Monday. “It denies the courts the most basic of administrative functions and seeks to make our courts of law answer to politicians instead of the law.”

Tennessee’s judicial branch is not perfect. No branch of government anywhere is perfect. But it is reckless to think that the best solution to perceived problems within this state’s judiciary is to turn control of it over to the executive branch. There is a reason that our systems of government have three branches that are asked to provide checks and balances upon each other. What SB 2322 would do is upset that balance, and preclude those checks, in a way that surely would end up harming the people of Tennessee.


By: Andrew Cohen, The Week, January 29, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Judges, State Legislatures | , , , , | Leave a comment

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