Weekly Pulse: 911 Is a Joke (Because It’s Broke)

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As the Great Blizzard of 2010 blanketed New York City, most residents were blissfully unaware that their city’s 911 system was on the brink of collapse. The system fielded 50,000 calls in a single day, and at one point the backlog swelled to 1,300 calls. The mayor was called to account for the slow service and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.

But David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick report in AlterNet that New York’s close call is an example of a much broader and deeper problem. Cash-strapped state and local governments are raiding funds set aside for 911 service, and the system is hurting badly:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are collected annually by states and localities to support 911 services and much of it is diverted to plug state budget holes and meet a host of other demands. Most disturbing, 911 services are technologically bankrupt, held together by duct-tape and workarounds.

States siphoned nearly $400 million earmarked for 911 between 2001 and 2004. The law demands that the money, raised by a tax on every phone line, has to be set aside for 911-related services. Some states fudge the definition of “911-related” to fund things that had nothing to do with emergency services, like raises for courthouse staffers. Others just brazenly redirected the money into their general funds. New York collected $82.1 million in 911 taxes on phone lines in 2007, but only 19 cents out of the $1.20 monthly fee was spent on 911.

At least New York can account for its misdirected funds. South Dakota simply has no idea where its 911 money went, Rosen and Kushnick report.

Walker: Hurry up and die

Seemingly determined to cast himself as a Dickensian villain, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker presented a budget last week that would slash millions in funding for health care for the poor and the elderly. However, as I reported in Working in These Times, Walker recommended an increase in funding for a program that buries Wisconsinites who die destitute.

Medicaid roulette

Some governors are clamoring for more control over Medicaid, the joint state/federal health insurance program for the poor, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones. Currently, Medicaid funding is allocated primarily by a matching system, with the federal government kicking in a certain number of dollars for every dollar the state spends. The states must abide by federal rules in order to qualify. Now, some Republican governors want to see Medicaid funding doled out in block grants. The states would get a fixed amount of money, which they could spend as they saw fit.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House, is a leading proponent of this new scheme. She claims it would increase “flexibility” for states. In this case, flexibility is a euphemism for “massive cuts.” Washington’s Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, has already convinced the Obama administration to exempt her state from certain Medicaid rules. McMorris Rodgers applauds the move.

Crisis Propaganda Centers

New York City City passed a landmark “truth in advertising” bill last Wednesday that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities. CPCs are anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics. Among other things, the law will require city CPCs to inform potential clients that they do not refer for abortions or emergency contraception, Noelle Williams reports for the Ms. Magazine blog.

The logic of our sex laws

The cover story of this month’s Washington Monthly is a provocative analysis of Dan Savage, America’s most influential sex advice columnist, as an ethicist of contemporary sexual mores. The author, Benjamin J. Dueholm, is a Lutheran pastor and a longtime fan of Savage’s syndicated column “Savage Love.” Dueholm does a good job of summarizing some of the core principles of Savage’s ethos: disclosure, autonomy, mutual pleasure, and personal commitment to achieving sexual competence. His central critique is that Savage’s attitude is too consumerist and businesslike.

I would argue that there’s nothing inherently capitalist about Savage’s ethics. Yes, Savage’s ideal sexual world is based on consensual, mutually beneficial exchanges, like an idealized free market–but that doesn’t mean that realizing one’s sexual identity, or finding true love, is on par with picking a brand of laundry detergent. In consumerism, the customer is always right. Savage is constantly urging his readers to be active participants in a mutually satisfying sex life, not passive consumers who expect their partners to cater to them without giving anything in return.

USDA hearts Michael Pollan

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues guidelines for healthy eating. Parke Wilde of Grist explains why this year’s edition is, in many ways, a radical and surprising document:

The new edition has a fascinating chapter on eating patterns, focusing on real foods and not just nutrients. This chapter on eating patterns provides a nice counterpoint to the reductionism — what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism” — of scientific discussion of diet and health. The guidelines’ healthy eating patterns may or may not include meat. For example, the USDA Food Patterns and the DASH diet each include moderate amounts of meat and plenty of low-fat dairy. At the same time, the guidelines explain clearly that meat is not essential, and near-vegetarian and vegetarian diets are adequate and even “have been associated with improved health outcomes.”

This is a big departure for an agency that has historically been criticized for acting as a propaganda outlet for the livestock and dairy industries. But Wilde notes that, despite its enlightened discussion of the perils of “nutritionism,” the USDA hasn’t broken the habit of referring to nutrients rather than foods. The guidelines still recommend that Americans eat less saturated fat, without dwelling at length on which foods actually contribute most of the saturated fat to the American diet.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her seminal book, Food Politics, this mealy-mouthed advice is measured to avoid offending any lobby group that might take offense at the suggestion that Americans eat less of their product. There is no saturated fat lobby, but there are plenty of lobby groups representing the interests of industries tied to the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which include cheese, pizza, bakery products, ice cream, chicken, and burgers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The New Hunger Epidemic, Making CPCs Come Clean, and Smoking Hipsters

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As some Americans obsess over whether to brine or deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, others are going hungry. Seth Freed Wessler reports for ColorLines that 50 million Americans went hungry in 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Astonishingly, more than 36% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity last year, in spite of a massive expansion of federal food stamp benefits as part of the economic stimulus. Forty-two million families received food stamps last year, 10 million more than the year before. Congress gutted the food stamp program this summer. If something isn’t done, families of four will lose $59 a month in food stamp benefits at the end of 2014. At the time of the cuts, House Democrats promised to restore food stamp benefits during the lame duck session of Congress, but Freed notes there’s been little sign recently that they plan to follow through on the promise.

Making Crisis Pregnancy Centers come clean

The New York City Council is preparing to vote on the legislation to force so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities and that they do not provide birth control or abortions. CPCs are anti-choice ministries that deliberately mimic abortion clinics in order to trick women who might be seeking abortions. It’s all a ruse to bombard these women with false information about abortion under the guise of health care. As we discussed last week in the Pulse, CPCs also serve as incubators for more extreme forms of anti-choice activism, from clinic obstruction to violence.

In RH Reality Check, Dr. Lynette Leighton explains why she supports New York City’s proposed bill to require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose that they aren’t real clinics staffed by health care providers:

As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.

New York CPCs are claiming that the requirement to disclose violates their freedom of speech, Robin Marty notes in RH Reality Check. In other words, they are claiming a First Amendment right to bait and switch. The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is scheduled to testify before the City Council that the free speech claim is baseless.

See you in court!

In other reproductive rights news, the Center for Reproductive Rights took the FDA to court on Tuesday over access to the morning after pill. The FDA has been ignoring a court order to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women of all ages, and the Center is going to court to spur the agency to comply, Vanessa Valenti reports for Feministing.

Look at this smokin’ hipster

Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is courting hipsters with a new “Williamsburg” cigarette, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. “[Smoking Camels is] about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building… It’s where a tree grows,” according to the online ad copy. Mmm, kissing smokers.

It’s all part of an online marketing campaign in which users are invited to guess where brand mascot Joe Camel will show up next week. Interestingly, the contest’s name is “Break Free Adventure,” a twist on the Camel brand’s “Break Free” tagline. Odd that they’d pick a slogan usually associated with quitting smoking, rather than feeding the addiction. Those hipsters sure love irony.

Blowing the whistle on health insurers

On Democracy Now!, health insurance executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter predicts that the Republicans will back off their grandiose campaign promises to repeal health care reform and instead try to dismantle the bill’s provisions that protect consumers. Potter notes that health insurers are major Republican donors, and that parts of the law are very good for insurers, notably the mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

Apparently, some true believers haven’t gotten the memo. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that some Republican members of Congress are still gunning to shut down the government over health care reform and other spending.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform, Government Cheese, and how CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Christine O’Donnell, Condoms, and Concussions

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in New York City may soon have to level with the public about their real agenda. At the Ms. Blog, Michelle Chen has an update on proposed legislation which would force CPCs in New York to disclose that they aren’t reproductive health centers.

CPCs are anti-choice ministries that masquerade as full-service reproductive health clinics. They typically set up shop near real clinics to trick unwary clients. Real clinics dispense medical advice from doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals. They are required to tell clients about the risks and benefits of all their treatment options. They don’t push clients towards abortion or adoption. CPCs are typically staffed by volunteers. Instead of medical advice, they hand out over-the-counter pregnancy tests and medically inaccurate information about the risks of abortion. They use pseudoscience and high pressure sales tactics to derail as many women seeking abortions as they can.

Chen reports that if the bill becomes law, New York CPCs will have to post signs disclosing that “they do not provide abortion services or contraceptive devices, or make referrals to organizations that do.” If the facility lacks licensed on-site medical professionals, the center would have to inform prospective clients of this fact. This is an excellent piece of consumer protection legislation. If CPCs are honest about who they are and what they do, they should have no problem with the law.

Christine O’Donnell: not (just) a joke

In an essay for the Women’s Media Center, organizer Shelby Knox explains why Delaware’s Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell represents more than an anti-masturbation punchline:

Not ironically, O’Donnell is a loyal disciple to the religious agenda that equates sexuality, especially female sexuality, with evil and the decline of humanity. [...] To most mainstream Americans, O’Donnell’s concerted battle against solo sexual pleasure in particular is so fringe, so bizarre, it’s laughable. Yet, those of us deeply familiar with the ideology of the extremist right wing have long understood the condemnation of sex and sexual pleasure for anything other than the purpose of conception within marriage to be the underpinning of public policies that invite (Christian) God and (big, big) government into our bedrooms.

Knox notes that the same underlying suspicion of human sexuality finds expression in more mainstream areas of American politics, like federally-funded abstinence-only education, which substitutes religious homilies and gender stereotypes for science-based sex ed. (I would add federal funding for some of the nation’s aforementioned “crisis pregnancy centers” to Knox’s list of examples of anti-sex religious ideology replacing science-based health services.)

This week, O’Donnell drew audible gasps from a crowd when she claimed that the separation of church and state isn’t part of the U.S. Constitution, as Monica Potts reports for TAPPED.

O’Donnell may seem bizarre to the average voter, but Knox reminds us that she’s pretty typical of a rising tide of anti-sex, anti-science conservatism that we ignore at our peril:

But more accurately she’s the poster girl for more than 78 candidates running this election season who share her anti-sex, anti-woman views. These candidates believe abortion should be illegal in all cases, without exception for rape and incest. Some have promised a GOP majority would signal a return to funding failed abstinence-only policies. Ken Buck, the GOP Senate candidate in Colorado, even went so far as to refuse to prosecute a rape because the accuser had “buyer’s remorse” over an abortion he alleged she’d had a year before the assault.

Condoms and porn

A porn actor in California became the latest performer to test positive for HIV last week. His diagnosis sent shockwaves through the San Fernando Valley’s porn industry because the actor was reportedly a star who worked with a lot of big names in an industry where condoms are the exception rather than the rule.

The case has reignited controversy over the fact that straight porn companies aggressively flout California law that mandates condoms on porn sets. The industry maintains that it doesn’t need condoms because it has a rigorous testing program for talent. As I report in Working In These Times the industry is being allowed to investigate the HIV outbreak on its own, which is a little like asking BP to monitor oil spills. The same industry-allied non-profit that administers the tests, and does PR about how great the testing program is, also investigates cases of HIV in the industry. Does anyone else see a potential problem?

Concussions in the NFL

Football season is in full swing, but for Dave Zirin of The Nation and many other football fans, it’s getting harder and harder to reconcile their love of the game with our growing awareness of the toll that it takes on players:

In August, to much fanfare, NFL owners finally acknowledged that football-related concussions cause depression, dementia, memory loss and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Now that they’ve opened the door, this concussion discussion is starting to shape how we understand what were previously seen as the NFL’s typical helping of off-field controversy and tragedy.

Zirin appends a list of over 30 players who have sustained concussions since the pre-season. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is calling for the NFL to start kicking excessively violent players out of the game, but Zirin says that’s not enough to stem the tide of concussions. Devastating brain injuries can come from routine, legal hits. A lot of the cumulative brain trauma leaves players demented in their fifties is actually sustained during practice.

The carnage is built into the game. Concussions are unavoidable given anatomy of the human brain and the physics of huge guys crashing into each other. Helmets only help so much because they can’t prevent the brain from smashing against the cranium. Zirin thinks football fans need to do a lot of soul searching. He argues that every fan should think hard about whether it’s really that much fun to watch guys get their brains pulped in the name of sport. Zirin’s not ready to give up football yet, but he thinks the gnawing guilt may eventually outweigh his love of the game.

Cephalon spokesdoc: “Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don’t know”

Mother Jones and Propublica have a blockbuster exposé of crooked doctors on pharmaceutical company payrolls. They found that a shocking number of “white coat sales reps” (doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs to other doctors) have checkered pasts and dodgy credentials.

For examples, in 2004, a court upheld a Georgia hospital’s decision to fire Dr. Donald Ray Taylor, an anesthesiologist who had a habit of giving vaginal and anal exams to young female patients without documenting why. According to court records, Dr. Taylor explained himself to a hospital official as follows, “Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don’t know.”

For reasons that are themselves murky, Dr. Taylor went on to become the highest paid speaker for the pharmaceutical giant Cephalon, earning $142,050 in 2009 and an an additional $52,400 through June. It turns out that Dr. Taylor is far from the only shady doc to make big bucks as a shill for big pharma. The investigators found 250 pharma docs with serious blemishes on their records for such offenses as inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care, or having sex with patients. Some were just playing doctor on the pharma circuit, having lost their licenses.

This update brought to you by the Media Consortium, and the letter C.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Progressive Whip Count IN, And We Have the Numbers...

We have some major developments on the Hill tonight. The whip count from CPC is complete and was shown to the leadership today. According to the Hill at least 150 House members have signed on to a Medicare tied PO. Of great NOTE -46 DEMS SIGNED A LETTER TO PELOSI STATING THEY WONT SIGN ON TO THE BLUE DOG NEGOTIATED RATE PO. Also, they stated they WILL NOT VOTE FOR A NON MEDICARE PO.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads