As Halloween approaches, certain Republican lawmakers are insisting on selling more scary stories about Obamacare.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-La.) appeared on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend to tell voters that fixing Healthcare.gov's technical glitches is "the easy part" and "the real critical issue is when it comes time to schedule your grandmother’s cancer surgery, what's going to happen then?” But healthcare experts say that Jindal's fear is 100 percent unfounded—Americans over 65 are covered under Medicare—and according to the American Cancer Society, Obamacare will provide lots of benefits for cancer patients by decreasing costs and beefing up preventative care.
"This is typical right wing scare mongering," says Dr. Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Obamacare has no effect on Medicare, the government program that will cover your grandmother. Indeed, your grandmother is now less likely to need cancer surgery because Obamacare provides her with a free annual checkup that can now catch the cancer before it needs surgery."
According to the American Cancer Society, the law provides a host of benefits to cancer patients, including preventing insurers from dropping patients because they are diagnosed with cancer and providing immediate coverage to cancer patients who were uninsured for six months or more. Under Obamacare, health plans also can't set "lifetime" limits on how much coverage patients get, and out-of-pocket costs will be eliminated for preventative screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services also told Mother Jones that before Obamacare, insurers weren't required to provide coverage for prescription drugs for cancer patients. Under the Act, patients will no longer face limitless costs for prescription drugs, and "a diagnosis no longer means choosing between facing bankruptcy or ignoring care." (Jindal's office did not respond to comment for this story.)
Jindal also appears to be giving a nod to another Republican meme—that if the government pays for healthcare, there will be rationing, long lines, and people won't see a doctor in time. Obamacare requires health insurance companies to maintain provider networks that have enough doctors to ensure that services will be accessible without unreasonable delay. Additionally, the law includes incentives to get more providers into the healthcare system, such as establishing scholarships and loan repayment programs.
Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, acknowledges that "if you make healthcare available for everybody, what that means is that some people who already have good access to healthcare, may find it a little less convenient...But is the Governor's solution to tell millions of people they can't have healthcare, so people with lots of money can have access?"
Tony Carrk, a policy director for the Center for American Progress, says the claim "is surprising because Gov. Jindal is trying to be the leader of the GOP and he's resorting to Sarah Palin attacks. This is all part of the relentless GOP campaign to sabotage the law by attempting to repeal, defund, delay, misinform and misdirect, and throw anything at the wall to see what sticks."
Women have been allowed to vote in the United States since 1920, after the passage of the 19th Amendment. But fast-forward to 2013, and plenty of states' laws have a provision that makes it harder for women who are married or divorced to cast a ballot.
When Americans all over the country head to the polls on November 5 to vote on mayoral candidates, ballot initiatives, gubernatorial races, and even members of Congress, they will be up against a new kind of voter ID law that has mostly cropped up in 2012 and 2013 and disproportionately affects women—as well as transgender voters and anyone else with a name change.
Controversial voter ID laws, which GOP proponents say are intended to prevent the (pretty much nonexistent) crime of voting fraud, are nothing new, and they have been criticized for targeting low-income voters, young people, and minorities. But Texas's newly enforced voter ID law has put a spotlight on another group of voters that will be disproportionately affected by these rules. Not only must Texas voters present government-issue photo IDs to vote, but now poll workers are required under the law to check these IDs against an official voting registry to determine if the two names "substantially" match. That means that a woman who updated her voter registration when she got married, but not her driver's license or passport (and vice versa), could face additional hurdles in getting her ballot counted.
The Texas law may have drawn extra scrutiny because of the state's reputation for being a battleground in the "war on women"—but it's just one of many to adopt this type of provision. At least 9 other states' voting laws, most enacted in 2012 or 2013, use similar language. That doesn't count the 24 additional states with other kinds of voter ID laws, including some with looser photo ID rules that are still potentially problematic for women. In 2006, the Brennan Center found that 34 percent of voting-age women do not possess a proof-of-citizenship document that reflects their legal name, although updated statistics on photo IDs are hard to come by. And Slate points out that the law doesn't just affect Democrats, as Republican women are more likely change their names.
"We need Americans to understand that even though this particular 'war on women' isn't out in the light, women are quietly being disenfranchised in the dark—they just might not know it yet," says Judith Browne Dianis, codirector of the the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization.
Voter ID laws can be sorted into three categories—ones that require non-photo ID, like a bank statement, ones that require a photo ID (usually government-issued); and ones that require photo ID and include language about how the name on that ID must match the name in the voter registration database (like Texas). Here's a map showing all of these categories and whether or not the laws are in place for this upcoming election. (For even more in-depth information on your state, head over to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
In every single one of these states, minorities, low-income voters, and young people—who tend to vote Democratic and are least likely to have up-to-date identification—are targeted. But married or divorced women who have changed their names are also affected in the states above that require photo identification—since the name on their ID, which women often wait to update until it expires, has to match their voter registration. The Advancement Project's legal team told Mother Jones that the states that require poll workers to check the voter registration list for a match make it the most difficult for women, since poll workers have more explicit legal instructions.
Regardless of what's on the books, interpretation is largely left up to the poll workers, who have a lot of power over whether someone gets a ballot. In less strict states, for example, poll workers can choose to have someone sign a sworn affidavit rather than show ID. In Texas, if the voter registration list reads "Jane Smith" but the woman's ID says "Jane Doe Smith"—then that qualifies as a "substantial match" and the voter only has to sign an affidavit swearing to his or her identity for her vote to be counted. But if Jane's ID still has her maiden name, "Jane Doe," and the poll worker isn't sure, the ballot will only be counted if, within six days, Jane can dig up a $20 marriage or divorce certificate and find time to get a new ID that matches the name she registered with. (In Dallas, poll workers have been bending the rules so that voters can re-register under their married names.) Pennsylvania also gives six days to obtain a new ID, and Mississippi only gives five.
These scenarios aren't merely hypothetical. In 2011, a 96-year-old Georgia woman was denied the right to vote because she didn't have her marriage certificate. And in Pennsylvania, the state's ID law is on hold until a pending lawsuit is resolved. One of the plaintiffs is a woman who couldn't vote because her marriage certificate was in Hebrew, and she couldn't get a new ID that reflected her changed name, thus, her name didn't match the voter registration list. (Women who obtained common law marriages could have similar problems.) Another plaintiff is a transgender man who presented both a driver's license and passport, but was rejected because of his photograph.
"Voter ID laws discriminate against trans communities and many marginalized communities who struggle to obtain access to consistent, accurate and updated identity documents," says Sasha Buchert, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center. "Often there are huge barriers for updating documents." In Texas, for example, a transgender person needs to bring a court order to the DMV.
For those heading to the polls, Kelly Ceballos, a spokesperson for the League of Women Voters, says the most important thing is for voters to get educated—Texas, for example, is reducing or eliminating the cost of getting a birth certificate copy in some counties—and not get discouraged. "It is important to participate in the democratic process and the way to do that is to go to the polls and cast a ballot," she says.
Judith Browne Dianis hopes that women voters will start realize that "you're being disenfranchised because you weren't paying attention. Maybe you thought this was something that was just affecting people of color, or low-income people, but it's impacting your voice and your ability to participate on the issues that matter to you."
For more data on voter ID laws and who they affect, click here.
"There is a sense of increased stress and reduced morale among LLNL technical employees in the weapons program, stemming from a (perceived, at least) combination of reduced resources and increased work requirements," notes the August 2013 assessment of the lab. "We recommend attention to the potential danger that activities that are important for long-term stockpile stewardship may be dropped in favor of seemingly urgent near-term requirements."
There's always the chance that nuclear scientists might be sitting on warheads reading "The Hollow Men" and listening to Josh Ritter (below), depressed that they're babysitting aging weapons that could destroy humankind. But it's more likely that America's "great speedup" has managed to make its way to US nuclear labs. As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, while overall American productivity has skyrocketed since the 1970s, only the top one percent of earners are seeing the gains. For everyone else, wages have remained frustratingly stagnant. Naturally, the potential consequences of an administrative assistant at McDonalds feeling overworked are not quite the same as a guy in charge of the US nuclear stockpile.
"This reminded me of the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when there was some danger that engineers might be tempted to shop their expertise around and take it to other governments, which posed a proliferation hazard," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. He adds that "I wouldn't overstate its significance, but it's out of the ordinary and I don't recall seeing these concerns about morale before."
While this is only a brief evaluation of one nuclear site, it's hard to imagine that things have gotten much better since August. During the government shutdown, 6,000 employees at LLNL were forced to suspend their research and several other nuclear labs shut down. There has also been a series of cost overruns and a high-profile, embarrassing security breach at a different nuclear site last year, which involved an 82-year-old nun. LLNL did not respond to a request for comment.
"All the sites are having trouble," Aftergood adds. "This is a small window into a world that we don't normally see."
With Healthcare.gov plagued by technical difficulties, the Obama administration is bringing in heavyweight coders and private companies like Verizon to fix the federal health exchange, pronto. But web security experts say the Obamacare tech team should add another pressing cyber issue to its to-do list: eliminating a security flaw that could make sensitive user information, including Social Security numbers, vulnerable to hackers.
According to several online security experts, Healthcare.gov, the portal where consumers in 35 states are being directed to obtain affordable health coverage, has a coding problem that could allow hackers to deploy a technique called "clickjacking," where invisible links are planted on a legitimate web page. Using this scheme, hackers could trick users into giving up personal data as they enter it into the web site, potentially placing Americans at risk of identity theft or allowing fraudsters to file bogus health care claims. And it's not just the federal exchange that has security problems. Some of the 15 states that have established their own online exchanges aren't using standard encryption throughout their Obamacare websites—leaving user information at risk.
"I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones in a statement. "The legislation will...still maintain necessary privacy protections." NSA's Alexander threw his weight behind this kind of bill in September: "If we can't work with industry, if we can't share information with them, we can't stop [cyber attacks]" he told the Washington Post.
Privacy advocates aren't happy to see that the "zombie bill" is returning—it's been killed and resurrected twice since it was originally introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) in 2011. "This summer has confirmed that any information that goes into the NSA will be shrouded by secrecy and there will be no oversight," says Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel with the ACLU. "Since this is a domestic issue, the NSA is more likely to get involved...and companies haven't provided concrete examples that they even need this legislation, especially when it's this broad."
The way CISPA was written earlier this year, it would have given US companies the legal protection to share cyberattack incidents with the government, which could then help companies better defend sensitive information, such as the design for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and US electrical grids. The way the law stands now, cyber attack information is only supposed to be shared in emergencies, otherwise it can be a violation of laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Wiretap Act. Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have quietly supported CISPA in the past—possibly because, according to Snowden, they were already being forced to share user information with the US government, anyway, and CISPA would protect them from lawsuits.
Privacy advocates and many Senate Democrats took issue with the bill's broad language, which set no limits on what the government could do with the personal information it obtained as long as it fell under the national security umbrella. "CISPA would've allowed NSA to get its hands on even more private and sensitive data," says Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noting that he hasn't seen the latest draft of the bill so can't comment on it.
Feinstein's office told Mother Jones that the new version of the bill will have "tight limitation on what kind of information is shared" and "the goal is to allow and encourage the sharing only of information related to identifying and protecting against cyber threats, and not the communications and commerce of Americans." She also said that she believes "the lead responsibility within the federal government should be with a civilian department or agency"—not the Department of Defense.
However, Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, could not confirm that two of the biggest privacy problems raised in the House version of CISPA—that personally identifiable information would be shared and the NSA could get it—had been written out of the new bill. There is "no final language" yet, he said. Richardson from the ACLU notes that "some of the Republican's proposals have been very anti-privacy, and there's been a pretty big gap between the Senate Republican approach and [Feinstein's.]" (Chambliss's office confirmed they were working on the bill, but did not provide any additional details.)
Even if the bill makes it to the floor, it could still be a tough sell—Obama threatened to veto the House version of CISPA earlier this year and almost 400 websites staged an online blackout in protest in April. "I think it will be very difficult to move information-sharing legislation forward given the events of the last several months," says Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at Mandiant, a company that offers cybersecurity services for Fortune 100 companies. He also notes that his firm's big report on China's secret-hacking unit was effective without listing personally identifiable information.
"It would have been complicated to pass a bill before the leak and nows it's even harder," Richardson agrees. "That being said, I think we need to keep a very careful eye on it to make sure a deal isn't struck in the Senate. Sometimes these things suddenly start moving."