The Latest: Biden campaign faults Warren's health care math


The Latest on Democrat Elizabeth Warren’s “Medicare for All” plan (all times local):

1:15 p.m.

Joe Biden’s campaign is dismissing as “mathematical gymnastics” Elizabeth Warren’s promise of financing a single-payer government insurance system without a middle-class tax hike.

A top Biden presidential campaign deputy said Warren’s plan understates the cost and overstates savings while obscuring the costs to the middle class.

Kate Bedingfield on Friday dismissed Warren’s idea of having employers transfer to the government almost all of the $8.8 trillion she estimates will be spent on private insurance for employees. Bedingfield argues that’s a “sleight of hand.”

Health care is perhaps the starkest policy difference between Warren and Biden. The former vice president backs a “public option” plan that would introduce a government insurance option to compete alongside private insurers.

Biden and other more moderate Democrats point to a public option’s lower cost and say it allows Americans more choice.

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11:25 a.m.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack says Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s increase in taxes on wealthy Americans to finance her health care proposal is unrealistic.

During a panel discussion on rural politics in Iowa Friday, Vilsack said Warren’s plan wrongly suggests voters will accept that an increase in her proposed tax on the wealthiest Americans won’t affect their own pocketbooks.

Vilsack, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, says “One sliver of society isn’t going to pay for the rest of us.”

Vilsack, who has not endorsed a candidate, also says it’s unlikely there will be sufficient support in the Senate to pass such a measure, even if Democrats take control of the GOP-controlled Senate after the 2020 elections.

Vilsack, who has consulted Warren on rural policy, adds “and then there’s the practical application of getting 60 people in the Senate who are going to vote for this.”

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8:44 a.m.

Elizabeth Warren is promising to spend more than $20 trillion over the next decade to provide government-funded health care to every American without raising middle class taxes.

The stakes are high since Warren spent weeks, and two straight Democratic presidential primary debates, refusing to provide a straight answer on if she’d have to increase middle class to pay for her “Medicare for All” plan.

The issue has meant sustained tough headlines for Warren, who had ridden a steady summer rise in the polls to catch former Vice President Joe Biden atop the crowded 2020 primary field.

Detailed in a 20-page online post, Warren’s proposal relies on employers transferring to the government nearly all of what they currently spend on private health insurance for employees.



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FTC sues to block promoters of bogus diabetes 'cure'


Federal regulators are suing to block pamphlet and newsletter publishers from marketing a purported cure for diabetes and advertising claims that consumers can collect $1 trillion in “Congressional Checks” or “Republican Checks.”

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Maryland, the Federal Trade Commission says publishers of “The Doctor’s Guide to Reversing Diabetes in 28 Days” are falsely promising a cure for the disease without dietary changes or exercise.

The FTC’s suit says other publications are duping consumers into thinking they can collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per month by following instructions in a book entitled, “Congress’ Secret $1.17 Trillion Giveaway.”

Five Baltimore-based companies, including Agora Financial LLC and NewMarket Health LLC, and two men identified as editors of the pamphlets and newsletters are named as defendants in the suit.

The FTC’s suit seeks a court order that would freeze the companies’ assets and provide restitution or refunds for consumers.

The publications’ editors, Zachary Scheidt and Richard Gerhauser, didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment. A woman who answered a telephone number for Agora Financial said she couldn’t take a message for Scheidt. A woman who answered the phone at a business listing for Gerhauser in Arizona said he was “on sabbatical.”

The FTC’s suit says the defendants’ products offer “health advice and moneymaking tips” targeted to senior citizens or retirees.

Gerhauser is the author of the pamphlets promoting a 28-day cure for Type 2 diabetes, according to the suit. Ads for the publication link to a video that says “mainstream solutions” to diabetes, such as dietary changes and exercise, are making patients’ diabetes worse. The publications also claim a “shocking, hidden cause” of Type 2 diabetes is exposure to electronic devices, such as computers, televisions and cellphones.

Scheidt is the author of “Congress’ Secret $1.17 Trillion Giveaway,” the suit says. Online ads for “Congressional Checks” or “Republican Checks” link to an hourlong video that Scheidt purportedly narrates. The video says lawmakers in 2017 added a “last-minute provision” to a “just-passed tax plan” that could allow consumers to collect thousands of dollars a month.

“Congressional Checks Defendants tell consumers that several members of Congress are already taking advantage of this ‘loophole’ and collecting thousands to millions of dollars,” the suit says.

Marketing materials for the ‘giveaway’ included doctored images of financial disclosure reports for former U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa to make it appear that the California Republican received a $410,000 “Congressional Check.”

“Congressman Issa’s actual Financial Disclosure Report is publicly available on the U.S. House of Representatives’ website and there is no ‘Congressional’ or ‘Republican’ Check identified anywhere in the report,” the suit says.



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Intersex Awareness Day 2019



By Isabella Yurman, 17, Staff Writer


October 25, 2019

Intersex Awareness Day started over 20 years ago on October 26, 1996 in Boston. That day several intersex people and their supporters publicly protested the countless, nonconsensual surgeries performed on intersex babies to make them “normal.” Being intersex doesn’t mean you’re not normal. It means a person was born with different traits, like hair or eye color. We don’t perform surgeries on babies so that they all have “normal” eye color. Why would we do the same if a baby doesn’t have typical genitalia?

What Is Intersex?

Not everyone is born with sex chromosomes or traits that adhere to the binary of either male or female. Some people are born with a visible variation in genitalia at birth, while others may lack certain internal sexual organs and not know it until they’re older (sometimes during puberty). And some people may have a variation in sex hormones or chromosomes. The umbrella term for cases like these is intersex.

There are a lot of misconceptions about people who are intersex. A lot of people think it’s a super rare condition, when actually around 1.7 percent of the world’s population is intersex. This is very close to the percentage of people in the world with red hair (2 percent), according to interACT, an organization dedicated to advocacy for children who are intersex.

Why It’s Important

Even if you’re not intersex, it’s important to know about Intersex Awareness Day. You might have a friend who’s intersex. Maybe someone close to you is afraid to tell you they’re intersex. The goal of Intersex Awareness Day is to make intersex people feel safe and accepted while educating others on what it means to be intersex and what they can do to help. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be open, aware and supportive. Let your friends know about this day and educate them if they don’t know what intersex is. If you’re intersex, remember that nothing is wrong with you or your body.

Want to learn more? Check out interACT and their project #4intersex to learn more about the community and what you can do to help and spread the word.



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Woman pleads to homicide in botched buttocks injection


A woman who fled from New York to London rather than face charges in a botched silicone injection that killed a Maryland woman pleaded guilty Friday to criminally negligent homicide, prosecutors said.

Donna Francis, 39, pleaded guilty to administering the buttocks injections that killed 34-year-old Kelly Mayhew on May 30, 2015, in a basement in Queens.

“In pleading guilty, the defendant has now admitted to causing the death of a young woman who sought a cosmetic procedure at a discount and paid with her life,” acting District Attorney John Ryan said.

Mayhew traveled with her mother from Suitland, Maryland, and paid Francis $1,600 for a buttocks augmentation procedure, prosecutors said.

Francis, who had no medical license, injected Mayhew with silicone gel bought from eBay in the basement in the Far Rockaway neighborhood that served as an illegal plastic surgery clinic, the district attorney said.

Authorities said the silicone entered Mayhew’s bloodstream and killed her.

Francis fled to London and was extradited in August.

Her attorney, Kevin O’Donnell, said his client is “incredibly remorseful” for Mayhew’s death and will address the victim’s family at her sentencing Nov. 14.

Under the terms of the extradition agreement, Francis will face no more than a year behind bars.

In another unusual condition of her extradition, Francis will not serve any time at Rikers Island, the notorious jail complex that New York’s City Council voted Thursday to close by 2026. Instead, Francis will be jailed in suburban Suffolk County.



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“Looking for Alaska” Shows How Porn Misinforms Teens About Sex



By Sarah Emily Baum, 19, Contributor


October 21, 2019

While porn might be easy to find, it shouldn’t replace sex education. This is something Miles “Pudge” Halter learns the hard way in Hulu’s adaptation of John Greens’ novel Looking for Alaska.

Pudge and his date, Lara, refer to a pornographic movie to help Lara figure out how to perform oral sex. As Miles and Lara watch the video, it doesn’t answer their questions about oral sex. But the exaggerated and even painful portrayal of sex in the movie does turn Lara off. That’s when they ask “an expert” on the topic, their friend Alaska, who is happy to give her classmates some pointers.

While it’s beneficial to have someone to talk to when you’re nervous or unsure about sex, many teens instead opt for a more accessible option: online porn.

The Fantasy of Porn

On average girls are 13 and boys are 14 when they first encounter porn, according to research conducted by Bryant Paul, Ph.D. of Indiana University. A national survey of teens conducted by Indiana University also found that the majority of young porn viewers believed the actors were legitimately experiencing pleasure. In reality, porn is a performance. It consists of actors and a script. As in any film or show, it’s important to understand what is authentic and what is fiction. Often, porn is a dramatized, fantasized version of sex that often depicts extreme sex acts, aggression and unrealistic body types. It also tends to view sex through a male perspective, where women’s wants and needs are second to a male partner’s.

Being curious about sex is healthy and normal. But keep in mind that if you turn to porn to satisfy that curiosity, you’re just watching someone’s exaggerated fantasy about sex and people’s bodies. And like any fantasy movie, it doesn’t represent real life.

All teens should have access to honest, medically accurate information they can trust about sex. But many states do not mandate sex education, and young people may feel like they have nowhere else to turn. Unlike Pudge and Lara, you can fortunately get accurate information about sex anytime, anywhere—right here at Sexetc.org.



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“Looking for Alaska” Sends a Message to Guys



By Parth Thakkar, 16, Staff Writer


October 21, 2019

In March 2005, author John Green published Looking for Alaska, a novel following the lives of high school students Alaska Young, Miles “Pudge” Halter, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi Hikohito, and all of their pranks, successes and struggles.

Fast-forward eight years: I, Parth, a scrawny 11-year-old, decide to pick up the book after reading one of Green’s other famous works, The Fault in Our Stars.

And I absolutely love it.

Fast-forward six more years: I find out that Hulu recently premiered an eight-episode television series based on the book.

I—being the avid John Green fan that I am—am absolutely stoked.

The screenplay actually stayed true to the original story. But as I was watching, I began noticing something that I hadn’t when I read the novel: traditional masculinity—on TV or in real life—is extremely limiting.

Weekday Warriors and Intellectuals

There seems to be a divide in the way the show portrays masculinity. On one end, you have the Weekday Warriors, the Colonel and father figures, who share more traditional ideas about masculinity. And while there’s nothing wrong with some traditional ideas about masculinity, these men share a masculine perspective that’s not always healthy. For example, these men advise their fellow male counterparts not to cry. The Colonel shares with Pudge that his father beat him if he engaged in “feminine” behaviors like reading. And Pudge—whose sex talk with his dad was simply, “Keep your pecker in your pants”—gets a completely different message about sex when he watches pornography that shows men objectifying women and actually “hurting them,” according to Alaska.

All of this is totally NOT O.K. It’s completely fine to cry as a guy. The whole idea of not having guys show emotion turns them into robots that can’t feel anything but rage! Things like reading and being intellectual aren’t “feminine.” They’re just some of the many activities guys can enjoy and ways guys can express themselves! And watching pornography that demeans women shouldn’t be the way guys learn how to act in sexual relationships.

On the other end of this “spectrum of masculinity,” you have characters like Pudge and Dr. Hyde, who express their masculinity through their intellect and peaceful natures. Pudge, for example, gets out of his first scuffle with the Weekday Warriors via the intellectual route. All he does to shoo away the big bullies and preserve the war is recite Millard Fillmore’s last words. And then there’s Hyde, a gay man who asks big questions and is always preaching harmony and benevolence to his students.

Be Your Kind of Man

As I look back on what I watched, it’s apparent to me that masculinity isn’t meant to dominate, demean or hurt other people. If Alaska’s dad didn’t feel the need to control and blame her, perhaps Alaska wouldn’t feel as depressed as she is and could actually feel safe to go home. Similarly, if the students of Culver Creek Academy didn’t feel the need to “flex their muscles” and pull off prank after prank, so much grief could be avoided.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the show, I won’t spoil it for you. But it takes a huge loss for the guys to come out of the bodies of their previously toxic characters. Tears are shed, emotions are shared and communication is opened up.

Looking for Alaska is sending us guys a message: no one can tell you how to “be a man,” whatever that means. Express your masculinity the way you want, and be a nice person while you’re at it.

I really hope you watch this show, and while you’re at it, guys, take some notes.



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Sex, Drugs and Alcohol in “Looking for Alaska”



By Sarah Emily Baum, 19, Contributor


October 18, 2019

In Hulu’s Looking for Alaska (based on the John Green novel of the same name), there is—as in most teen shows and movies—an emphasis on getting laid. In the first episode, Alaska tells Pudge, “I’ll get you laid,” as if it’s the be-and-end all. Later on in the series, when Miles gets intimate with Lara, his best friend proudly announces, “Our boy has a become a man!”

But that’s not necessarily what real life is like. Teens aren’t the sex-obsessed hormone machines that media has us believe, and having sex doesn’t determine your character, your popularity or your worth. Looking for Alaska did, however, accurately reflect another facet of teen life: substance use.

Impaired Consent and Communication

When Marya and her boyfriend Paul have sex, they’re drinking. When Miles and Alaska have sex, they’re drinking. Drugs and alcohol may help some people feel more relaxed during sex, but drinking and drugs can also be a complicating factor in terms of having consensual, safer sex.

Being intoxicated can not only affect a person’s judgment, but also their ability to communicate and capacity to read and interpret a partner’s communication. When someone is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, they are so intoxicated they cannot walk, may be incoherent or pass out for example. A person loses the ability to give consent altogether if they are intoxicated or incapacitated.

If someone does not or cannot consent to sexual contact and you have sex with them, then that is sexual assault. This can apply to all sorts of sexual contact, regardless of whether it’s groping, penetrative sex, a one-night stand or a long-term relationship. And it doesn’t matter what the gender of the initiator is.

It’s also important to keep in mind that different people react to different amounts of drugs or alcohol depending on a myriad of factors including height, weight and tolerance. Therefore, it may be hard to gauge exactly how much alcohol is “too much” to give consent. It’s also more difficult to talk about what feels pleasurable and have frank discussions about safer sex when you’re drunk or high.

Safe and Sober

In Looking for Alaska, Marya and her boyfriend talk about having sex all summer prior to their decision to have sex. Meanwhile, Alaska and Miles made a much more spontaneous decision. That’s why it’s important to have honest, open and proactive conversations about limits, comfort levels and boundaries while sober. This ensures all parties know what they’re getting into and how you plan to practice safer sex and/or prevent pregnancy. Everyone can then feel safe and empowered in their decision. It also means realizing when a partner is too intoxicated to consent and respecting those boundaries.



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“Looking for Alaska” Shows How Adults Can Fail Teens



By Sarah Emily Baum, 19, Contributor


October 17, 2019

Hulu’s television adaptation of John Green’s Looking for Alaska follows the wacky hijinks and coming-of-age struggles of high school student Miles “Pudge” Halter and his friends. The show portrays Miles’ first experiences with dating and sex, and it’s clear he has a lot to learn. But Miles isn’t the only one with a thing or two to learn about sexuality. The adults, including Miles’ teachers and parents, demonstrate they need a crash course in sex education too.

In a perfect world, all young people would have an adult in their lives they can go to for help if they have questions about sexuality or dating. But the reality is that many young people feel like they don’t have that option. In Looking for Alaska, the young protagonists faced two primary issues when it came to the adults in their lives and how they discussed sexuality: grown-ups in the show either made it painfully awkward or outright shamed them for having a natural and healthy interest in sex.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the very first episode. As Miles’ parents drive him to Culver Creek Academy, his new boarding school, they suddenly ask, “Do you know what STDs are, Miles?” It’s random, awkward and poorly timed, and Miles is clearly not having it. This one question about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which seems to be Miles’ parents first attempt to talk to him about sex, is seriously lacking. In an ideal world, this awkward conversation about STDs would not be the first time Miles’ parents had talked with him about sex.

Parents should start talking to their kids about their bodies and sex well before the teen years, which is when people begin dating or having sex. When these conversations start early, young people have time to process information. They also feel like they can talk to their parents and ask questions about sexuality well before they need to use this information.

Miles’ “birds and the bees” talk with his mother and father only gets worse when his dad follows up with, “Just keep your pecker in your pants, son.” The message: Just don’t have sex. It’s a sentiment clearly shared by the school principal, known by students as “the Eagle,” who later on in that episode barges in on two students having sex and expels them. (Although the fact that they were drinking underage may have contributed to that outcome, too.)

Teens are all-too-familiar with adults who are uncomfortable talking honestly about sex or who shame them for being curious about sex. In fact, Culver Creek Academy may be fictional, but its punitive policies about and fear of honestly addressing sexuality are based in reality.

Sex education in schools too often only addresses two factors of sex and sexuality—STD and pregnancy prevention. But sex is not simply some ticking time bomb of disease, nor an act solely performed for the sake of conceiving children. While it’s unclear whether Culver Creek Academy offers sex education classes, students should be receiving a quality sex education that includes discussion of consent, sexual orientation, gender identity, body image, healthy relationships and pleasure. But too many schools are steeped in a culture of shame where they don’t provide all of the information young people need.

Schools that provide abstinence-only programs, for example, promote the idea that waiting until marriage is the only morally sound and healthy sexual decision a person can make. Research has proven abstinence-only programs, which shame young people and use scare tactics, are ineffective at having young people wait until marriage to have sex. These programs can also be harmful because they provide inaccurate information about contraception. They also promote homophobia and transphobia. And yet abstinence-only programs receive millions of dollars in federal funding each year.

Time and time again, students—if they get sex education at all—are being shamed for their sexuality and/or sexual orientation, even though sexuality is a normal, natural and healthy part of growing up and being human.

Know that having consensual, safer sex doesn’t make you evil or bad. Try to find adults you can trust and talk with if you have questions about relationships and sexual health. Miles is able to get some sage wisdom on love and dating from his religion teacher, Dr. Hyde. If your teachers and parents won’t provide you with the sex education you need, consider talking to a guidance counselor, therapist or health care provider. You can also find more information here at Sexetc.org. Every young person deserves accurate and non-judgmental information about their bodies and their lives.



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Rwanda's president pardons 52 women jailed over abortions


Rwanda’s president has pardoned and ordered the release of 52 young women who were jailed for having or assisting with abortions.

Thursday’s decision follows Rwanda’s revision of its penal code, which previously imposed prison sentences for anyone who had an abortion or helped in terminating a pregnancy.

The revised law says abortion is allowed in cases such as rape, forced marriage, incest or instances where the pregnancy poses a health risk.

The law requires that abortions be carried out only after consultation with a doctor. Previously the decision was made only by a court.

Rwanda’s justice minister says the women will be freed on Saturday.

Some activists have criticized the penal code for prohibiting health professionals such as midwives from providing abortions since not everyone can afford to see doctors.



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National Coming Out Day: My Story



By Kira Eng, 16, Staff Writer


October 10, 2019

Did you know that October 11 is National Coming Out Day? A day to celebrate anyone who is LGBTQ, it honors those who have already come out and those deciding if coming out is right for them. In honor of the day, I decided to reflect on my own coming out story.

Over a year ago, my school had a back-to-school night showcasing different school clubs, including the LGBTQ club/support group, a safe space where students can openly express themselves and talk about the various aspects of identifying as LGBTQ. Friends I’d already come out to as bisexual encouraged me to stand at the table with them. Plus, I’d just found out a few days before that October was LGBT History Month—a whole month dedicated to LGBT pride and history. This fact, combined with my friends’ support, empowered me to come out to more of my friends and family.

Coming from a relatively conservative family, the thought of not being accepted or loved after I came out was scary, so I carefully considered who I would come out to and when. The family members I did come out to were extremely supportive of me and my choice to come out. Even though some didn’t quite understand what bisexuality means, they were eager to learn more. Knowing that my family supports and accepts me, regardless of my sexual orientation, allows me to feel more comfortable around them.

While I’m thankful to have had such a positive coming out story, it’s important for each person to consider their own situation when deciding what the safest choice is for them. Coming out is your choice and who you decide to tell is your right.

In recognition of National Coming Out Day, below are a few things to keep in mind.

Questioning your sexual orientation and/or gender identity is completely OK and completely normal. Identifying with a label or choosing not to label is about personal preference and comfort. With more experiences, we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, which may lead to identifying with different labels. Sexual orientation and gender identity exist on a spectrum and questioning even after coming out is normal.

LGBTQ people come from all different walks of life with different resources available to each of us. Sometimes the time isn’t right because it may not be safe or comfortable to come out. You shouldn’t feel pressured to come out. It’s OK to go at your own pace. Deciding when, where and who you want to come out to is completely up to you.

National Coming Out Day is also about celebrating everyone’s unique coming out stories! It’s a chance to feel proud of who you are, supported by those around you and connected to others in the LGBTQ community.

There’s bravery in deciding what is right for you, whether that is coming out or choosing not to. It can be a difficult decision but whatever you decide, you’re not alone.



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