VIDEO: VOTE TODAY! Don’t Let the Liars Steal Your Right to Vote!

Scott Swenson

After two years of trying to get Americans to pay attention to the issues so they could make a decision, some people work even harder to keep their fellow citizens from actually exercising their right to vote, by lying. Gee, I wonder who?

It is amazing that after two years of trying to get Americans to pay attention to the issues so they could make a decision, that some people work even harder to keep their fellow citizens from actually exercising their right to vote, by lying. Gee, I wonder who?

If you are reading this and have not voted – GO VOTE.  If you have problems at your voting place call the people at Election Protection by dialing 866-OUR-VOTE. No matter how long the line, no matter the weather, no matter who you choose to vote for — GO VOTE. NOW! After all the political noise, don’t miss your opportunity to step into the quiet of the voting booth and participate in the most important act of being an American possible. Polls close today, check here to find times in your state.


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Commentary Politics

Trial Balloons and Hot Air: Don’t Let Biden and Schumer Fool You on ‘Mainstream’ SCOTUS Nominees

Jodi Jacobson

Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a "mainstream" nominee for the Court. I call foul.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

Over the last two days, both Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Vice President Joe Biden have weighed in on the kind of nominee they think President Obama should recommend to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

And as things go, it is no accident that these two men, leaders in the Democratic Party with direct access to the president, said basically the same thing within a couple of days of each other. They are either floating trial balloons—testing public reaction—for the White House or trying to influence the president’s decision. Either way, they are using their positions and their access to the media as a way of sending a message.

And either way, I call foul.

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Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need now is a “mainstream” nominee for the Court.

In an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects President Obama to nominate a “mainstream” justice, citing the potential to win support of “mainstream Republicans.”

“I think the president, past is prologue, will nominate someone who is mainstream,” Schumer stated. As the New York Times reported:

“When you go right off the bat and say, I don’t care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him — that’s not going to fly,” he said, criticizing the majority leader Mitch McConnell for pledging to block any nominee. “A lot of the mainstream Republicans are going to say, I may not follow this.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden echoed Schumer’s statement in an interview aboard Air Force Two:

“This is a potential gigantic game changer” for the philosophical makeup of the court, Biden said in an interview with The Washington Post and Politico. “And my advice is, the only way we get someone on the court, now or even later, is to do what we’ve done in the past…we have to pick somebody, as the president will, who is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda.

These comments are so full of potentially meaningless and yet potentially profound code and buzzwords, I don’t know where to start.

First of all, what exactly these days is a “mainstream Republican” and where do they live? Is Biden referring to the senators who joined a party-line vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act? Is he talking about the “moderate” GOP party-line vote to impose a 20-week abortion ban? Which of the Republicans that voted against Obama’s nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are the moderate ones? Which of the ones that have held up judicial nominees for over two years are “mainstream”? How is opposing all attempts by the White House and Democrats to pass paid family leave a “mainstream” position, especially in light of the fact that this policy is supported by a wide majority of Americans? Are the mainstream the ones that continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Second, does Vice President Biden mean to suggest that a justice who perhaps believes that women have rights to their own bodies cannot be “intellectually competent … a person of high moral character … a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind … a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda”? Is promoting public health an agenda? Are basic human rights a specific political agenda?

Is Biden suggesting, no matter how subtly and in meaningless Beltway-speak, that a jurist who pays heed to overwhelming medical and public health evidence on the role that both contraception and abortion play in improving public health, women’s health, and infant and child health is not “mainstream” and otherwise has an agenda?

Does a jurist with roots in a specific community and with an understanding of the law’s differential impact on people of different races, classes, and privileges come with an agenda?

Given that the white population will soon be the minority, who is “mainstream,” the white guy or the person of color?

Let’s face facts: What is considered “mainstream” for both of these men is not necessarily based on the needs and priorities of the average American. Schumer is only “mainstream” in that he is a white male senator in a legislative body that is dominated by white male senators (the Senate is 80 percent male and 94 percent white) and in that he takes huge amounts of funding from Wall Street. “Mainstream” for Schumer might well be translated to mean someone who won’t seek to curb the influence of big money in politics.

Likewise, Joe Biden is only “mainstream” on many issues insofar as they can be comfortably navigated within the Old Boys Clubs of which he is a longstanding member, one of which is the Senate and the other of which is the group of Catholic Democrats that remain beholden at some level to the most-conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was Biden, who as a Catholic is highly ambivalent about reproductive health care, played leading roles in the Obama administration’s decisions on the Stupak Amendment in the ACA, and in the “contraceptive accommodations” made to religious groups, among many other things.

The carve-outs never satisfied the rabidly right-wing bishops and led to continuing lawsuits and ever greater demands of exemptions. This is not a “mainstream” position, especially if you consider that 98 percent of Catholic women (and 99 percent of all women) who have ever had sex have used modern forms of birth control. The only mainstream position on birth control and abortion is the one that recognizes both the public health and social science evidence, the rights of women as people, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of women use birth control and one third of women in the United States have abortions. There is nothing mainstream about white, religious men ignoring that fact or pretending that they know better.

The only reason they suggest that someone who does not have any record of supporting evidence or rights might (and it’s a highly questionable assumption) get approved by the GOP-led Senate is because the Republicans themselves are not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, and are only interested in someone with an agenda to protect their interests.

In my definition, someone who, as Biden suggests, “is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda,” is a person who recognizes that human rights, evidence, and justice should be of central concern to the Supreme Court. When I hear Biden use these words, I hear echoes of his 2007 statement that Barack Obama was the first “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It sounds to me that “mainstream” is someone comfortable to the white men in power.

The word “mainstream” is now meaningless. The media won’t challenge it because most of the reporters are stuck in a white male corporate bubble and spend their time at parties at the vice president’s residence. You can’t depend on them to challenge the very notion of what it means.

When you hear a white male senator or a white male vice president—both of whom have vested interests in agendas that do not represent either the interests of the greater number of people in this country, and/or also ignore solid scientific evidence—use terms like “mainstream,” know one thing: They are not swimming in the same stream as the rest of us.

Commentary Sexual Health

Talking to Your Kids About Sex Is Good for Them, So Here’s How

Martha Kempner

No one is suggesting you give a rundown of the Kama Sutra to your middle schooler. In fact, the truth is these conversations are rarely about sexual behavior.

Talking to your kids about sex can be an awkward or intimidating prospect—but new research confirms that it’s very important to do so anyway. Kids whose parents braved these conversations are more likely to practice safer sex, which means they are less likely to face an unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined 52 studies, spanning 30 years and covering over 25,000 adolescents. It found a “significant positive association between parent-adolescent sexual communication and safer sex behavior among youth. This effect was robust across use of condoms and contraceptives, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, and younger and older samples.”

In plain language, that means that kids who talked with their parents about sex were more likely to use condoms and other contraceptive methods when they became sexually active.

There are a few caveats. The results were stronger for girls than for boys, and stronger when the parent involved in the conversation was the mother rather than the father. The authors point out, however, that these results may say more about the biases in how we behave rather than the actual limitations of parental communication. The research suggests that moms are more likely than dads to have the conversation (and more studies look at mother-child communication than father-child), and the way we address girls and boys about sex may be different based on societal concerns.

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The takeaway from this study is pretty simple, however: Talking to your kids about sex will protect them. Moms and dads should be talking to sons and daughters.

But if this sounds at all intimidating, here are some tips to get you going from my experience as a sexual educator and a mom.

It’s Usually Not About Sexual Behavior

The biggest barrier to parent-child communication may be a misunderstanding of what these conversations are going to entail. The idea of talking to your own child about intimate bedroom details is likely off-putting. But no one is suggesting you give a rundown of the Kama Sutra to your middle schooler. In fact, the truth is these conversations are rarely about sexual behavior.

They’re about bodies, health, relationships, and values. When children are young, you’re talking about who has what body parts, what we should call them, why we don’t show most people our penises or vulvas, and how babies are made. These conversations not only educate kids when they’re little, but can also be a good entry point into more explicit conversations as adolescents grow into teenagers. As they age, you’ll need to talk about puberty and how their bodies will change and hormones will take over their once-rational brains. Discussions about STIs, unintended pregnancies, and how to avoid them are also important, as are talks about what makes a relationship valuable and when the correct age is to start dating and have sex.

It’s Not a One-Time Thing

Parents should stop thinking about the awkward “birds and the bees” talk, which probably came too late anyhow, as the start and end to all conversations about sex. Instead, think of sex as one of the many topics that you discuss with your kids any time it happens to come up. If a friend’s mom is pregnant, you can tell your preschooler that the baby isn’t in her tummy (and she didn’t swallow it), it’s in her uterus. If your six-year-old isn’t doing a good job wiping after going to the bathroom you can point out that it’s important to keep our genitals clean, like we do any other part of our body. If you’re 10-year-old just made a new friend who has two dads talk about same-sex relationships, and if she asks how you can be born if you have two dads go ahead and discuss adoption and surrogate mothers. When your 14 year-old finds out that his crush has a crush on his teammate, you can talk about heartbreak and how the key to a good relationship is to find someone who really does like you back. 

Television is also a fabulous entry for giving information. Shows made for young people constantly portray relationship drama and at least hint at sex. Use the latest plotline to give your opinion. Ask if they think the CW hotties were using condoms, or if the Teen Moms are making young parenting look too glamourous.

Commercials work too. My 9-year-old and I watch a lot of HGTV. Though the shows are fine for audiences at any age, in the last few weeks I have had to explain erections lasting more than four hours and vaginal dryness, thanks to advertisers.

They’re Not Too Young

There is no reason that my 9-year-old needs to know about erectile dysfunction or lubrication after menopause, which won’t affect her for years, but there’s also no reason for me not to answer her questions and there are age-appropriate ways to discuss almost everything.

The first time we discussed contraception, for example, she was only 4 years old. We’d left her new baby sister at home with Nana and gone to town to pick up dinner. We ran into a woman who told us she had five kids. My daughter panicked (one baby sister was clearly enough) and asked if I was going to have more. I said no. She wanted to know how I knew that. So, I reminded her of the conversation we’d had when I told her I was pregnant and about the sperm and the egg, and then simply explained that I took a medicine that meant I didn’t make any eggs. She was relieved.

I think it’s important to note that she may have known about the pill at that point, but I had yet to tell her about vaginal intercourse. When we talked about how I got pregnant, she never asked how the sperm got to the egg, so I didn’t bother telling her. There’s no need to get all the information out at once, lest you overwhelm them or think some answers may be too complicated or explicit. In fact, it can be best to answer only those questions asked, and add only if your kid asks more. As I mentioned, most of the conversations aren’t about sex itself.

Starting young is great because then you can use each conversation as a building block for the next. By the time I was explaining what the Cialis commercial was about to my daughter we had already gone over the fact that penises get hard during sex. (Of course, I still had no explanation for why a long-lasting erection is okay at three hours and 58 minutes but needs immediate medical attention at four hours, or why the people are in separate bathtubs on a mountaintop.)

Give the Information Out Slowly

The building-blocks approach is also helpful because it means you don’t have to give too much information at one time. Regardless of age, kids glaze over after just a little while. Most of the time a simple and direct answer to a question is best; if the kid wants more information, he’ll ask for it.

If you’re asked what herpes is after a Valtrex commercial airs, you don’t have to go into a long discussion of cold sores or the difference between a virus and bacteria. All you have to say is that there are some infections that can be spread when people have sex, that these are called STIs, and that’s why it’s important to protect yourself. Then wait for questions. Depending on the child’s age and curiosity level, that may be enough. If it’s not, answer the next question and the next as simply as you can.

This way you don’t overwhelm your child or give more information than he or she can handle. More importantly, though, you establish yourself as someone who is willing to answer questions, so that as they get older and the questions become more complicated and more personal, you will be the go-to resources instead of the less trustworthy Internet or friends.

They’re Not Too Old

One of the good things the JAMA study showed is that kids listen to their parents even as they get older, which means that we have the opportunity to keep talking after they’re already having sex. These conversations can be awkward but they are a great opportunity to give more information and all-important relationship advice. I recently did a condom demonstration via Facetime for a friend’s teenager because my friend and I were worried that she was not using them correctly. And when she mentioned during that discussion that her partner had suggested taking the condom off completely on the grounds that it would “feel better”—we got to talk a little about why that was a bad idea and how to tell him it wasn’t going to fly.

Don’t worry if you haven’t had any conversations yet. No matter how old your children are, you can start talking today.

You Don’t Have to Know (or Share) Everything

The last piece of encouragement I will add is that nobody expects you to know everything, get it all right, or be perfectly comfortable. If you’re asked an informational question that you don’t know the answer to, offer to look it up on the Internet and share what you learn. My kids ask me science questions all the time—things I probably once knew about the Earth’s rotation or how our eyes really see colors—and I have to admit I have no idea. So I look it up and tell them later. Just be sure to follow through.

If you flub an answer or get caught off-guard, just keep going. When my oldest finally asked how the sperm got to the egg, and I did have to explain vaginal intercourse, I giggled. A lot. But I finished my explanation and answered her questions.

As for the scariest part of talking about sex—sharing details of your own sex life—that’s a personal decision. You can share when you think they’re ready, or if you think a story from your own life will help them in theirs. Or, you can tell them that you’d rather keep those details to yourself, but you’re happy to answer their questions in a more general way.

For now, all my kids know is what they’ve been able to piece together from our talks on reproduction—Daddy and I did that twice. Someday that will change but we’re taking it slow.