On Wednesday, a Republican state senator in Alaska took to the floor to explain that the government should not pay for family planning services for low-income women, because anyone can afford birth control. "Even the most [sexually] active folks don't need to spend more than $2 or $3 a day for covering their activity," Senator Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) said. He explained that it's easy for women to get access to birth control in Alaska, given that they can get it delivered via Alaska Airlines' express delivery program.
Dyson was talking about birth control as part of the debate on a controversial abortion bill. He is one of six Republicans senators cosponsoring the fast-moving bill, which would stop low-income women in the state from using Medicaid to fund abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest, or to "avoid a threat of serious risk to life or physical health of a woman." The bill outlines a list of 22 conditions that would qualify a woman for a Medicaid-funded abortion, such as risk of coma or seizures. Under Alaska law, since 2001, a woman could still only use state Medicaid to pay for an abortion that was "medically necessary"—but the definition was left up to the woman and her doctor. Critics of the bill say that the bill's new definition is much more restrictive. (Last year, more than 37 percent of abortions reported in Alaska were covered by Medicaid.) Recently, Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services tried to enforce the same restrictions contained in the bill, but Planned Parenthood sued the state over that decision. A court put the regulations on hold as the case unfolds. If this bill passes, it is expected to be challenged as part of that lawsuit. And it's expected to pass—Alaska has a Republican majority in the House and Republican Governor Sean Parnell opposes abortion.
Democrats in the state have been trying to limit the bill's effects on women, successfully adding an amendment to this bill last year that would have allowed at least 14,000 low-income Alaskans without children to get their family planning services—including STD testing and birth control—covered by Medicaid. (Right now, Alaska has chosen not to accept money through the government's Medicaid expansion.) But in February, the House Finance Committee stripped the amendment from the bill. Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage), who proposed that amendment, says that if the state really wants to prevent abortions, lawmakers should focus on giving women access to birth control. "We know that the best and most efficient way to reduce abortions is to ensure that all women have access to contraceptive services. We do not understand the opposition to doing this," Gardner says, characterizing the Republican opposition as part of "the continuing war on women."
Debate has been ongoing about the bill, and whether the birth control amendment should be added back in. At a Senate floor meeting on March 5, Dyson explained that low-income women don't need their birth control paid for, because it's already easy to get: "No one is prohibited from having birth control because of economic reasons," he said, arguing that women can buy condoms for the cost of a can of pop and get the pill for the price of four to five lattes each month. He added, "By the way, you can go on the internet. You can order these things by mail. You can make phone calls and get it delivered by mail. You all know that Alaska Airlines will do Gold Streak, and get things quickly that way." (When reached by Mother Jones, Dyson says that he was referring to the fact that even women in tiny villages in Alaska can get their prescriptions delivered.)
Dyson's "latte" estimate is correct for the cheapest brands of the generic birth control pill—but it doesn't take into account the cost of doctor's visits to get a prescription, and alternative methods, such as IUDs. Additionally, according to our own birth control calculator, small co-pays on birth control add up to big expenses for women who don't have insurance, not including the costs of a doctors' visit associated with getting birth control. For example, a 25-year-old woman without insurance who takes the birth control pill until she hits menopause (estimated at age 51) will end up spending about $150 a month, or $46,650 over her child-bearing years (about $8,290 with insurance.) Dyson told Mother Jones, "My guess is that most of those women, if they weren't able to pay, their partner would be able to. I don't see the costs being that big of an issue, in reality," Dyson says.
According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, uninsured women are less likely to consistently use birth control due to high costs, and low-income women are four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy than their higher-income counterparts. (The Obama Administration's birth control mandate, which requires private insurers to cover family planning services, is changing that—it has increased the percentage of women who currently don't have to pay for the pill from 15 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013.)
"It is frankly shameful for Sen. Dyson to claim that low-income people are buying lattes instead of birth control," says Jessica Cler, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. " It’s truly puzzling that Dyson and his like-minded colleagues, including Governor Sean Parnell and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, think that they are responsible for making the personal medical decisions of Alaskan women."
Dyson disagrees, adding, "I don't think public money ought to be paying for Viagra, either."
Facebook is a great place to catch up with your friends—or at least, the shiny, perfect versions of them. On Facebook, every day is a good hair day, and no one ever admits to staying home on weekends to eat cookie dough and watch Downtown Abbey reruns. All of this idealization might be dangerous to those at risk for eating disorders. A new study from researchers at Florida State University and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that college women who use Facebook frequently are more likely to indicate disordered eating, and those who browsed the social network for just 20 minutes reported more body dissatisfaction than those who used the internet to research rainforest animals.
"Young people I work [with] say that overall, social-media platforms like Facebook have a negative impact on their body image," says Claire Mysko, who heads youth outreach at the National Eating Disorders Association, which advises both Facebook and Tumblr on these issues. "This is largely due to the way that social media fuels comparison and the pressure to present a 'perfect' version of yourself." (Their eating disorder hotline is: 1-800-931-2237)
In the first part of the study, 960 female college students, who received course credit for their participation, took a standard eating disorder test that asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as, "I give too much time and thought to food." The survey also asked the women how much time they spent on Facebook. The researchers noted that there was "a small but significant positive correlation" between duration of Facebook use and disordered eating among this group.
In the second part of the study, 84 college women from the first study who said they used Facebook regularly—and represented a random cross-section of eating habits—were then asked to get on a computer. Part of the group spent 20 minutes surfing their Facebook accounts, as they normally would. The other part spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia researching the ocelot, a type of rainforest cat, and watching a YouTube video about them. Both groups of students were told not to browse other websites. After they were done, they were then given a second set of questions regarding their eating habits and Facebook use.
In this study, college women who reported a higher risk of disordered eating were also more likely to consider receiving comments and "likes" on their Facebook statuses important, more likely to untag themselves from Facebook photos, and more likely to compare their photos with those of their female friends, according to the survey. Most significantly, the women who looked at ocelots were more likely to report a decline in preoccupation with their weight after a short period of time, while those who used Facebook maintained their preoccupation. The results also showed that women who surfed Facebook maintained physical anxiety, while internet surfers reported a decrease in anxiety.
"That these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of typical Facebook use in a laboratory setting raises concerns about how the use of the site throughout the day may impact eating disorder risk," the researchers concluded. They noted that their research did not address whether Facebook is any worse than say, using Twitter or reading Vogue, and suggested that further research be done. (Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment.)
This isn't the first time that Facebook has been implicated with eating disorders—researchers from American University in Washington, DC, determined last year that girls who scan Facebook photos are more likely to report body dissatisfaction. (Those researchers could not distinguish, however, whether girls with eating disorders are more likely to look at photos.) And last year, The New Yorker reported on a study done by a University of Michigan psychologist that suggested that people who used Facebook were more likely to indicate that they were unhappy. Psychologist Samuel Gosling told the magazine, "It may be that the same thing people find attractive is what they ultimately find repelling."
Update: On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized Ukraine's new leadership, calling the crisis an "unconstitutional coup." He said that Russia is not planning to annex Crimea and he would leave it up to citizens in the region to determine their future. He did not take the option of using military force off the table and said it would be used as "a last resort."
Last month, the world's eyes turned to Russia to see if President Vladimir Putin could manage to get hotel showers ready in time for the Sochi Olympics. Just a few weeks later, Putin once again has the international community waiting in suspense, but for a very different reason. The world is waiting to find out if Russia will launch a full-scale armed assault on Ukraine. After months of anti-government protests in Ukraine—sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a European Union trade deal—the rubber-stamp Russian parliament authorized Putin to send military forces into Ukraine on March 1. The action is reportedly being undertaken to protect the Russian population in the Crimean Peninsula, where, conveniently, Russia also has strong economic and political interests.
As Putin shoots spitballs into the faces of Western leaders—who, remembering the Cold War, aren't expected to take much action in response to the crisis—Ukraine is mobilizing forces, preparing to take on a military that is far better equipped than its own. The Obama administration has declared that it is prepared to enact sanctions and come up with other consequences if Russia continues to move forward; European Union leaders are having an emergency summit Thursday. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing crisis, in 26 numbers:
Update: $1 billion:US loan guarantees that Secretary of State John Kerry has promised Ukraine's new government.
6,000: The number of Russian ground and naval forces that have entered the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, according to US officials. (On Monday, Ukrainian officials told the UN Security Council that the number was higher, reaching 16,000.)
500,000: The number of anti-government protesters who flooded Ukraine's capital, Kiev, in December to demand the ousting of Yanukovych. Anti-government protests have since been held in the cities of Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and Kharkiv, according to the Washington Post. Thousands of protesters marched in Moscow on Sunday in support of Russian incursion, and there have also allegedly been pro-Russia protests in many Ukrainian cities. (According to theNew York Times, some of these may be staged by Russian "protest tourists" and Kiev officials say that Moscow is behind pro-Russia demonstrations in Ukraine.)
13: The number of websites blocked by the Russian government because they had links to the Ukrainian anti-government protest movement. Russia's internet monitoring agency accused them of "encouraging terrorist activity."
24 percent: The percentage of people across Ukraine who report Russian as their native language. In Crimea, that number rises to about 60 percent. According to the Brookings Institution, most Ukrainians speak and understand both Ukrainian and Russian.
845,000: The number of total armed forces in Russia. Ukraine has 129,950 troops, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the BBC, which notes that there is no chance of NATO assisting Ukraine militarily.
40: The age cap for men in Ukraine who have been called to defend the country as part of Ukraine's universal male conscription. According to Reuters, Ukraine will "struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for many of them." (Ukrainian women don't have the same obligation to serve.)
221: The number of combat aircraft owned by Ukraine, along with 17 combat vessels. Russia has 1,389 combat aircraft and 171 combat vessels, according to the BBCand IISS.
80 percent: The percentage of Russian gas exports to Europe that travel through Ukraine. Europe relies on Russia to supply 40 percent of its imported fuel. A regional expert told the New York Timesthat the primary gas pipelines passing through Ukraine supply Germany, Austria, and Italy. The global price of crude oil has risen 2 percent since the crisis began.
$60 billion: About the amount that Russian companies lost in a day after the Moscow stock market fell 10.8 percent on Monday, in wake of the crisis. The Central Bank of Russia has sold over $10 billion in US dollar reserves in order to revive the value of the Russian ruble.
37: The number of rubles needed to match the US dollar on Monday as the currency nose-dived in wake of the crisis.
8,500: The number of nuclear weapons that Russia has, according to a January 2014 report put out by the Ploughshares Fund. The United States has 7,700 nuclear weapons.
6: The number of Republican lawmakers who have criticized President Obama for how his administration has handled the crisis: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
0: US lawmakers who have suggested the United States send troops into Ukraine.
In 1999, as former First Lady Hillary Clinton was preparing to run for US Senator in New York, she was coached by Mandy Grunwald, a public relations consultant who also served as media adviser for Clinton's subsequent presidential campaign, before a speech. Back then, Grunwald had some words of wisdom for Clinton, who is now considered front runner for the Democrat's 2016 presidential nomination: "Be careful to be real." This is one of eight pieces of advice included in a July 1999 letter released today as part of a trove of documents from the Bill Clinton Administration.
Some of these tips could still be applicable for Clinton in 2016, if she chooses to run: "Don't assume anyone knows anything about you...New Yorkers generally know about healthcare, your work for children, and then a lot of tabloid junk." Here are the other tips:
Walt Disney has booted the Boy Scouts out of the Magic Kingdom, allegedly due to the national organization's discriminatory policies against gay members. Although the Boy Scouts began welcoming gay scouts in January, it dispels these members after they turn 18, banning them, as well as gay parents, from leading troops and packs. Florida-based Walt Disney World, the latest company to stop giving money to Boy Scouts in recent years, said that it cut off funding because the organization's "views" do not align with theirs, according to a letter sent from the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to the state's scout leaders and parents.
"In losing this grant money...we may have to cut back on activities, delay replacing aging equipment, or reduce 'high-adventure' camping. Unless the families can make up the difference, we will have reduced experiences for the boys available," said a Florida pack and troop leader, who wished to remain anonymous because of potential retaliation from the local scouting community. "My kids are losing money solely based on National BSA's moral judgment against gay people. It's not what I believe or teach my kids. Discrimination is not what we practice as a local scout unit."
Walt Disney World did not provide financial support to the national BSA council, but it did give grants to local scouting troops through a program called, "Ears to You," in which employees do volunteer work, and, in return, the company gives money to a charity of the employee's choice. The Florida scout leader told Mother Jones that many members of the Florida scouting community participate in this program, and some units were receiving up to $6,000 per year.
According to the letter sent by the BSA Central Florida Council, the national leadership of BSA reached out to Walt Disney World to address the dropped funding, but the company said that their "views do not currently align with the BSA and they are choosing to discontinue this level of support." Walt Disney World did not respond to comment as to whether those views specifically refer to the Scouts' LGBT policy, and BSA spokesman Deron Smith declined to comment on the rationale. But Brad Hankins, a spokesman for Scouts for Equality, which advocates for equal LGBT rights, said the group believes it's over BSA's anti-gay policy: "Beyond the membership policies, what other views does the BSA hold that are controversial?" According to its Standards of Business Conduct, Disney World permits no discrimination based on "sex, sexual orientation [and] gender identification" among its employees.
Smith, the Boy Scouts spokesman, did confirm that Walt Disney World has suddenly stopped providing these grants. "We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience and we are disappointed in this decision because it will impact our ability to serve kids," he said. Many other companies have stopped funding BSA recently over its anti-gay policy, including Lockheed Martin and UPS.
According to Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality, it's not the famous theme park that's hurting the scouts—it's the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policies. "We’re never happy to see scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy," he said, "but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive." The Florida scout leader agrees: "Because of the national decision to deny leadership opportunities to gay adults, my kids and other local units near Disney are penalized. If I were the decision-maker at Disney, I think I would make the same decision."