Republicans Fake Healthcare

‘This more egalitarian vision of healthcare freedom may sound utopian, but it is entirely achievable.’ Photograph: Mark Makela/Getty Images

aul Ryan is promoting Trumpcare as if it were some sort of medical Magna Carta – a brave declaration of healthcare freedom. “We’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it [healthcare] if you want it. That’s freedom” he recently said on Face the Nation. Freedom to die uninsured, that is.

It’s not that House Republicans are proposing some libertarian healthcare promised land wherein open heart surgeries and rounds of chemo are bartered and traded like tubes of toothpaste – far from it. Instead, the bill largely relies on Obamacare’s blueprint, although it mangles its details for the benefit of the rich while stripping coverage from a staggering 24 million people by 2026 (according to Monday’s estimates from the Congressional Budget Office).

Ryan’s healthcare bill would, like the Obamacare, provide subsidies (or tax credits) for the purchase of private insurance policies. Yet these tax credits would be comparatively more regressive and less generous than those in the Affordable Care Act (ACA); many Americans would thus be freed from having affordable premiums.

The Republican bill also discards Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies for low-income individuals, who would henceforth have the freedom to pay higher copayments and deductibles. Additionally, it prevents tax credits from being used for the purchase of plans that cover abortion, freeing more women from control over their own reproductive systems.

The bill would also punish those with low incomes by squeezing federal funding of Medicaid beginning in 2020, effectively emancipating millions of poor people from the ranks of the insured.

Trumpcare would at the same time cut the ACA’s taxes on the wealthy, which, as the New York Times recently reported, would redistribute upward some $144bn over a decade to millionaires. Now in fairness, this provision would increase freedom for some: freedom, for instance, to buy a second vacation home, or a first yacht.

And finally, what Ryan seems to see as Trumpcare’s greatest emancipatory element – the elimination of the ACA’s unpopular individual mandate – would simply be replaced by a 30% premium penalty, assessed by insurers, for those who spent time uninsured. As Patrick Henry might have put it: give me a continuous coverage premium surcharge as opposed to a tax penalty, or give me death.

Unbelievably, Ryan sees “freedom” in all of this devastation.

For Ryan and those in his ideological camp, freedom in healthcare is basically the freedom of the consumer, who should be free to buy – or not buy – the particular insurance plan that suits his or her needs and tastes. Hence the bewilderment of Representative John Shimkus who recently asked why, exactly, men should be compelled to buy plans that cover maternity care (Trump’s pick to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, has said something similar).

Ryan thus offers a peculiar vision of healthcare freedom. For the medical literature tells us – to no one’s surprise – that the uninsured are more likely to die. And as noted, the CBO has now estimated that Trumpcare will increase the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million in a decade from now.

The bill would thus increase our freedom to die of health conditions that are amenable to modern medical care, and thereby liberate tens of thousands of people a year off of the face of the planet.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump’s Cabinet Looks For Healthcare Solutions.

 

Vibrator maker ordered to pay out C$4m for tracking users’ sexual activity

The We-Vibe is marketed as a way to ‘allow couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart’. Photograph: Emily Berl for the Guardian

Following a class-action lawsuit in an Illinois federal court, We-Vibe’s parent company Standard Innovation has been ordered to pay a total of C$4m to owners, with those who used the vibrators associated app entitled to the full amount each. Those who simply bought the vibrator can claim up to $199.

The We-Vibe 4 Plus is a £90 bluetooth connected vibrator, which can be controlled through an app. It is marketed as a way to “allow couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart”. Its app-enabled controls can be activated remotely, allowing, for instance, a partner on the other end of a video call to interact.

But the app came with a number of security and privacy vulnerabilities, which added up to produce something that many would feel uncomfortable about using.

The app that controls the vibrator is barely secured, allowing anyone within bluetooth range to seize control of the device.

In addition, data is collected and sent back to Standard Innovation, letting the company know about the temperature of the device and the vibration intensity – which, combined, reveal intimate information about the user’s sexual habits.

The flaws with the We-Vibe sex toy were first revealed at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas in 2016 by New Zealand-based hackers “goldfisk” and “follower”. Speaking there, the pair argued that the problem was a “serious issue”: “unwanted activation of a vibrator is potentially sexual assault”, follower said.

In practice, given the C$4m total settlement and the requirement to pay various legal fees first, most We-Vibe owners are likely to receive somewhat less than the full $10,000 they are entitled to.

Source: Article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

 

Texas lawmaker cocksure upcoming anti-masturbation bill won’t come to fruition.

An abortion rights activist holds placards outside of the US supreme court last year. The Texas state representative Jessica Farrar has filed a bill parodying anti-abortion measures. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A Texas lawmaker has filed a satirical bill to regulate “masturbatory emissions” as a riposte to a slew of anti-abortion measures advocated by the state’s Republican politicians.

The bill from Jessica Farrar, a Democratic representative from Houston, is called the Man’s Right to Know Act – a reference to legislation known as the Woman’s Right to Know Act which previously passed into Texas law. That forces doctors to perform a sonogram, make audio of the heartbeat available, and describe the fetus to women considering an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure takes place.

It is also the name of a state health department pamphlet that emphasises – and, according to critics, exaggerates and misleads readers about – the risks of abortions, and steers women towards alternatives.

Farrar’s bill requires the creation of a booklet which must be reviewed by doctors with male patients and which “must contain medical information related to the benefits and concerns of a man seeking a vasectomy, Viagra prescription, or a colonoscopy. The booklet must contain artistic illustrations of each procedure.”

It also demands an attending physician “administer a medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam … before administering an elective vasectomy or colonoscopy procedure, or prescribing Viagra”.

Farrar said in a statement: “Although HB 4260 is satirical, there is nothing funny about current healthcare restrictions for women and the very real legislation that is proposed every legislative session.

“Women are not laughing at state-imposed regulations and obstacles that interfere with their ability to legally access safe healthcare, and subject them to fake science and medically unnecessary procedures. Texans deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect when making healthcare decisions, regardless of their gender.”

Texas’s attempts to limit abortions attracted national attention in 2013 when the then state senator Wendy Davis mounted an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to block a bill that caused many of the state’s abortion clinics to close. Last year, the US supreme court struck down key parts of the law, but conservatives swiftly returned to the subject.

In January, a federal judge blocked a new state rule requiring healthcare providers to conduct burials or cremations of fetal remains, writing that it seemed to be a pretext for restricting abortion access.

Among the proposals from Texas politicians in the current legislative session are bills to abolish abortion and make it a felony; ban abortions after 20 weeks even if the fetus has a severe abnormality; limit the types of legal abortion procedures and tissue donations; pass another burial rule; and enhance the rights of embryos and fetuses.

The proposed act takes the language and concepts used by conservatives to limit abortions and swaps the sexes.

It calls for a $100 fine for “emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility”, which “will be considered an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

‘Trump lies all the time’: Bernie Sanders

has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.

In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions.

He warned that Trump’s most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.

“Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.”

Bernie Sanders on the resistance movement in Trump’s America – video

Sanders’ warning comes 50 days into the Trump presidency at a time when the country is still reeling from the shock elevation of a real estate businessman and reality TV star to the world’s most powerful office. In that brief period, the new incumbent of the White House has launched attacks on former president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy; on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, refugees and undocumented immigrants; and on trade agreements and environmental protection programs.

Speaking to the Guardian in his Senate office in Washington DC, Sanders said that he was concerned about what he called Trump’s “reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class”. But he reserved his most excoriating language for what he believes are the president’s authoritarian tendencies.

He charged Trump with devising a conscious strategy of lies denigrating key public institutions, from the mainstream media to judges and even the electoral process itself, so that he could present himself as the sole savior of the nation. The aim was to put out the message that “the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the president of the United States, Donald Trump”.

Trump’s fragile relationship with the truth has been one of the distinguishing features of his fledgling administration. He astonished observers by calling a judge who issued a legal ruling blocking his travel ban a “so-called judge”, accused Obama without producing any evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower, and claimed falsely that up to 5 million votes had been cast illegally in the November election.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

 

 

 

International Women’s Day around the world – in pictures

Vancouver, Canada
Women participate in a flash-mob dance.
Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Istanbul, Turkey
Officers from Istanbul’s motorcycle police unit wait to search vehicles during a roadside checkpoint operation. The rapid response unit nicknamed Dolphins is used primarily in crime prevention operations and has 25 female officers. Six per cent of Turkey’s 250,000 strong police force are women
Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

View all the other International Women’s Day pictures on The Guardian web site

House Republicans reveal bill to repeal and replace Obama’s healthcare law


‘Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,’ Paul Ryan said despite health advocates’ criticism of bill. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

American Health Care Act would shrink government role in healthcare and could leave more people without insurance despite Trump administration promises.

Called the American Health Care Act, the bill would eliminate the individual mandate, which required Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine; cut the number of people insured under Medicaid; and allow insurance companies to charge the elderly up to five times more than the young.

The bill would require insurers to cover so-called pre-existing conditions, but would allow them to add a 30% surcharge to premiums if people go without insurance for too long.

“The American Health Care Act is a plan to drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance,” said House speaker Paul Ryan. “It protects young adults, patients with pre-existing conditions, and provides a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them.

“Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare. This will proceed through a transparent process of regular order in full view of the public.”

But several Republican senators remained skeptical. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Assuming all Democrats hold firm in opposition to the Republican bill, three defections would be enough to deny Obamacare repeal a majority.

The legislation has not been fully scored by the congressional budget office and debate in the House will proceed without members having a clear accounting of the mechanics of implementing it. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who has proposed his own Obamacare alternative, expressed skepticism about the lack of this information.

“What I would say is I would want to know the score, what is the coverage, what is the cost absolutely,” said the Louisiana Republican. He added that proceeding without this policy detail “seems problematic”. Cassidy added: “I am trying to be diplomatic.”

Other issues in the Senate for the House bill include the proposal to roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Four Republicans senators, Rob Portman of Ohio, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wrote publicly that they could not support the draft bill’s current provisions to eliminate the expansion of a program that provides healthcare to the working poor.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

 

Did Trump’s tweet admit ties to Russia are true?

Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

On Saturday morning, without presenting evidence, tweets by Donald Trump accused former president Barack Obama of illegal wiretapping.

On Saturday, the president launched a series of tweets that began at 5.35am. In one he wrote: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

He followed up with a string of tweets in the next half-hour that claimed Obama had defied a court rejection to tap his office, and invited a “good lawyer” to make a case against the alleged process.

The president then compared the alleged surveillance of his communications to Watergate – the scandal in which a 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters led to revelation of crime and cover-up at the highest level of government and, ultimately, the resignation of Richard Nixon.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump tweeted. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, tweeted back at Trump: “No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”

No evidence was provided to substantiate the president’s claims that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, and it was not clear on what information Trump was basing his allegations.

A US official told the Guardian there was “no evidence to support that claim” of Obama ordering Trump to be wiretapped.

Just before last November’s election, the British former MP and novelist Louise Mensch reported that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) court had granted a warrant to enable the FBI to conduct surveillance of “US persons” in an investigation of possible contacts between Russian banks and the Trump Organization.

These two tweets follow days and weeks of news articles questioning ties between Trump and his associates and Russia, the resignation of General Flynn for lying about his connections with Russian and Jeff Sessions recusing himself due to lying about his meetings with Russians.

It would not be legal for a sitting president to unilaterally order surveillance; a federal court would have to approve the surveillance. Trump seems to acknowledge this in an oblique way, with an allusion to the report that the Fisa court at first turned down an initial request for a warrant.

Though Trump claimed he “just found out” about reported surveillance, he is privy to intelligence briefings in which officials would have informed him about such operations. Both Obama and Trump received these briefings during the transition, for instance, reportedly, about an unsubstantiated dossier regarding links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

One has to ask oneself why Trump would invoke the possibility of wiretaps of Trump Tower at this time.

By suggesting wiretaps of Trump Tower isn’t Trump implying wiretaps are the source of leaks about Russia? Isn’t Trump then also tacitly admitting Trump and his associates did indeed have multiple contacts with Russians and that those contacts were included in the alleged wiretaps of Trump Tower?

Some newspaper reports suggest Trump is tweeting about wiretaps in order to turn attention away from investigations into Trump White House and Trump organization. This may be true. It may also be true Trump’s tweet inadvertently told the truth about Russia and Trump.

Read more here and here.