Weekly Pulse: Giffords Shooting Reveals Flaws in U.S. Mental Health Services

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head at a constituent outreach event in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson on Saturday. In all, the gunman shot 18 people, killing 6, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED urges President Barack Obama to take up the issue of mental health care in his upcoming speech on the mass shooting. Several people who knew the alleged shooter came forward with stories of bizarre behavior and run-ins with campus police at his community college. College administrators ordered him to seek treatment before he returned to school, but he does not appear to have done so.

H. Clarke Romans of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona explained to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that mental health services in Arizona have been devastated by budget cuts.

In 2008 the state eliminated support services for all non-Medicaid behavioral health patients and stopped covering most brand-name psychiatric drugs. At least 28,000 Arizonans were affected. Arizonans with mental illnesses can expect even more cuts in the future as the state slashes spending in an attempt to address its budget shortfall.

In AlterNet, Adele Stan, argues that, while we don’t yet know the gunman’s motives, the right wing’s intensifying campaign of anti-government hysteria and violent rhetoric may have emboldened an already disturbed person:

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

Reform repeal vote on hold

The House Republicans had scheduled a vote to repeal health care reform this week, but the vote has been postponed in the wake of the Giffords shooting. However, the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its full weight behind the repeal effort on Tuesday, according to Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones. The Chamber is going back on its earlier pledge not to oppose health care reform outright.

CA insurer hikes rates by 59%

Nearly 200,000 policyholders in California are reeling from a 59% rate hike by Blue Shield, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. According to the company, the increase was not due to health care reform, but rather to “increased utilization.” State insurance officials are reviewing the rate hike, but they can’t reverse it unless they find that Blue Shield fails to meet the legal medical loss ratio (percentage of premiums spent on medical care).

Reproductive rights in the states

Rachel Gould and Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute recap reproductive rights in the states at RH Reality Check. Last year, 44 states and the District of Columbia considered 950 repro rights-related measures on issues ranging from abortion to sex ed. By year’s end, 89 new laws had been enacted in 32 states and DC. Of these, 39 were abortion laws.

The vast majority of new abortion laws served to further restrict women’s access to abortion. The passage of the Affordable Care Act spurred several states to pass laws restricting insurance coverage for abortions. The District of Columbia’s decision to reinstate public funding was one of the few exceptions to the trend of restrictive new laws.

Autism/vaccine study based on “deliberate fraud”

The author of a discredited study purporting to link autism and vaccines schemed to profit from his tainted research from the very beginning, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

It turns out that the lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was secretly working on a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers when he published a study in The Lancet that appeared to show a link between vaccines and autism. We now know that Wakefield falsified the findings that sparked a global panic over the safety of childhood vaccines.

The journal retracted the paper last year. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine.

Some observers think these revelations will finally put the debate over vaccines and autism to rest. Kristina Chew of Care2 is doubtful:

I am very sure that, even with all the facts, data, and evidence laid before them, those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused or somehow ‘contributed’ to their child becoming autistic will stand by their claims, and by Wakefield.  Some of these persons are my friends. They are parents, as am I, of autistic children.

Wakefield’s die hard supporters weren’t swayed by earlier revelations of shoddy research and unethical conduct. It seems unlikely that this new found conflict of interest will change their minds.

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 Mulch: At Cancun, Incentives Point Toward Incremental Progress on Climate Change

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

This year’s round of the United Nations-led climate change negotiations, ongoing in Cancun, Mexico, for the past two weeks, end today. No matter what the official outcome, the progress made on dealing with global climate change and carbon emissions will be incremental.

The problem, at base, lies with the incentives, or lack thereof, for the most powerful negotiators at the table. Morally, there are plenty of reasons for every country in the world to commit to drawing down carbon pollution. But economically? Politically? It’s easier to take small steps, make half-hearted commitments.

Going all-in

What would a brave policy stance look like? Something like the position the Maldives—an island archipelago—has taken: “We do not have to wait for everyone else to do this,” as the country’s environment minister, Mohamed Aslam said at the conference this week. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports:

Right now the country relies heavily on diesel fuel for much of its energy needs. The government has already conducted an audit of their emissions, much of which comes from the shipping sector, a fact of life in island nations. But Aslam envisions solar, wind, tidal power, and renewable transportation fuels driving the nation in the near future—even if islanders don’t have all the solutions now.

Aslam notes, Sheppard writes, that it’s in the country’s economic favor to take up these policies. So for the Maldives, at least, it’s not a tough sell.

Bribery?

The real dilemma for island countries like the Maldives, though, is how much wiggle room they should give larger countries, who are bigger emitters, in international agreements. Larger countries have more to lose, economically, so they’re less willing to commit to, say, legally binding goals for reduced carbon emissions.

But these larger countries also tend to have more money. And that’s where the problem for countries like the Maldives comes in: they’re going to need financial support to deal with creeping sea level rise and other consequences of climate change. Some of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, as The Guardian reported, revealed how countries like the United States use those needs to their diplomatic advantage. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman asked U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern to respond to these revelations, but didn’t get much of a response.

I’ve got the power

Ultimately, though, a country like the Maldives is always going to have a weaker negotiating position than bigger countries. Take, for instance, this account from Inter Press Service’s Darryl D’Monte on how to identify an important player at Cancun:

A rough yardstick for identifying which Asian countries make the biggest ripples in Cancun is the number of journalists who crowd around the spokesperson immediately after a press conference. … Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has certainly come into his own on this score. As the spokesperson for the BASIC group of countries, which includes Brazil, South Africa and China, he is articulate, well-informed and witty. Journalists swarm around him after a press conference, eager to get him make a scathing remark about another country or group of countries.

This profile of Ramesh is a fascinating window into how one negotiator manages to navigate these complicated talks. But, as D’Monte points out, even for India, financing is a key question: one of the “non-negotiables” for India, Brazil, South Africa and China is speedier delivery of promised mitigation monies.

Moral Highground

There’s one group at Cancun whose incentives line up impeccably with a faultless moral position: young people. They’re the ones most likely to suffer the consequences of a warming world, and they’re advocating for a draw-down of carbon-heavy industries. At Change.org, Jess Leber reports that about 1,000 young people are participating in some way in the conference this year. (Official attendance tallies, for participants inside and outside the building, estimate 22,000 people in total.)

Leber reports that young people did make some progress this year: “The negotiators agreed to ramp up support for climate education and training programs worldwide, but especially in developing countries, and agreed to give the youth delegation are larger official voice in the negotiating process,” she writes.

That’s good news for adults, as well. As the UN’s chief negotiator, Christiana Figueres, demonstrates in this video at Care2, it’s tough to face down the people who are actually going to suffer from your generation’s waffling. “Figueres tears up when speaking of why the talks are important; she also describes the inspiration that keeps her working toward a global agreement,” writes Nancy Roberts.

Figueres’ inspiration? “It’s you,” she tells young activists. “It’s not our planet. It’s yours…You will all take it over very soon…Nothing is going to be perfect…Everything here is going to be one step. But it is the best that this group of people under these circumstances…can do for the time being.”

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

Weekly Mulch: If Cancun Climate Talks Falter, Blame the U.S.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The most recent round of United Nations-led climate change negotiations began this week in Cancun, and although international expectations are muted this year, the stakes are still high. As Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains,”The 2010 meeting could make or break the future of global negotiations.”

This is the sixteenth Conference of the Parties, convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After the tepid results of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, when a last-minute, backroom deal produced a non-binding accord, participants and observers of the negotiations are beginning to question whether it is the best forum for these sorts of conversations. Central to the progress, or lack thereof, on international climate change policy is the United States’ intransigence. As one of the world most proliferate carbon spewers, it’s essential for the United States to commit to dramatic reductions in its carbon emissions.

But if American negotiators have always been reluctant to make those promises, even if they did this year, their promises would ring empty. The results of the 2010 midterms mean there’s little chance Congress would ratify a treaty. Republicans just eliminated a special House committee on global warming. They certainly aren’t interested in making the sorts of concessions that international negotiators want and need to convince their own governments to move forward.

Signing off

It’s unclear, at this point, if the UNFCCC framework will ever produce a worthwhile results. Inter Press Service’s Kanya D’Almeida reports that “the meeting in Cancún is foreshadowed by a deep pessimism.” D’Almedia offers, for instance, this take from Nigel Purvis, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States:

“Global climate talks have begun to resemble a bad soap opera,” Purvis wrote in an essay entitled ‘Cancún and the End of Climate Diplomacy. “They seem to never end, yet seldom change and at times bear little resemblance to reality. This is why climate diplomacy as we know it has lost its relevance.”

The last landmark climate treaty—the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never signed onto—will expire in 2012. The Copenhagen Accord, the agreement that came out of last year’s negotiations, does not bind countries to their commitments, as Kyoto did.

The next major step in tackling climate change could be for countries across the world to re-up their commitments to reducing carbon emissions through a Kyoto-like (i.e. legally enforceable) pact. The alternative is to base global action on an agreement along the lines of the one produced at Copenhagen, with less stringent standards for accountability.

Kyoto v. Copenhagen

Tina Gephardt writes at The Nation that “Serious tensions threaten to derail the UNFCCC process entirely. At the heart of these skirmishes are two camps: those nations who want to extend the Kyoto Protocol and those nations, including the United States, who want to ram through the Copenhagen Accord.”

The Accord’s mechanism for oversight and enforcement relies on countries monitoring each others’ progress on carbon reductions, but as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports, an early point of disagreement in this year’s session centers on how important it is to agree how that monitoring will happen.

Stubborn Americans

What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States. Tom Athanasiou lays out the case in Earth Island Journal:

It’s the US, after all, that reduced the Kyoto Protocol to a non-starter, and the US that led the Copenhagen charge to abandon top-down emissions targets in favor of bottom-up “pledge and review.” It’s the US that, in the words of chief negotiator Todd Stern, is looking for a “new paradigm for climate diplomacy” that asserts a world in which the developed countries are no longer presumed to bear the overarching, if inconvenient, obligations of the rich and the responsible.

It’s not that American leaders aren’t aware of the problems the world could face (although some on the right continue to deny they exist). As Nancy Roberts points out at Care2, “Up to one billion people could be displaced by rising sea levels this century.” To a certain extent, the United States is insulated from the impact of climate change. As this map, which ColorLines highlighted a few weeks ago, illustrates, America is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But it’d be foolish for American leaders to ignore the security and economic implications wrought by the migration of one-sixth of the world’s population.

Reaction

But Washington has shown time after time that it is willing to look past problems until they become unavoidable. The consequences of that attitude have been devastating in recent years. The BP oil spill is only the most recent example. This week the Obama administration announced it would not open up new coastline areas in the southeastern U.S. for offshore oil drilling—a decision that came only after it became clear just how much havoc a drilling disaster could cause (and would likely cause again).

With climate change, however, the tons of carbon already in the atmosphere can’t be mopped up or “dispersed,” or forgotten, within months. The consequences will linger on, and by the time they become clear, it will be too late to act, and international negotiators won’t be talking about emission levels, but food, water, and refugee crises.

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

 

Weekly Mulch: How to Avoid Gobbling Your Way Through the Holidays

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Tomorrow marks the day that, as a nation, we put aside our usual habits and begin a weeks-long push to eat, buy, and generally consume as much as possible in the spirit of the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Black Friday are only the first sprint, the gateway to latkes, holiday party hors d’oeuvres, Secret Santa shopping, and party-dress buying that will culminate in a hangover after a booze-soaked New Year’s Eve.

There’s really no escape, and to some extent, who would want to miss out? (Cranberry sauce! Christmas cookies!) But it’s not exactly a sustainable lifestyle, even for six weeks. Here are some guideposts to help light the way through.

Turkey trouble

A sad fact about commercially raised turkeys: Even the ones pardoned by the President are destined to live short lives. As Jill Richardson writes at AlterNet, “The Broad-Breasted Whites who receive presidential pardons have gone to Disneyland to peacefully live out the remainder of their lives since 2005, but as of last Thanksgiving, half of the pardoned turkeys did not survive long enough to celebrate a second Thanksgiving.”

It’s not news that commercial methods of raising poultry give rise to creatures that are more fit to die than to live. So think about buying a heritage bird this year.

Or, go veggie! Carol Deppe’s ode to potatoes, also at AlterNet, is enough to convince the most hardened meat-eater that tubers are one of the best ways to thrive. For a little more diversity of Thanksgiving-specific options, peruse this New York Times gallery which has veggie options good enough to make meat-eaters jealous.

But wait, there’s more!

  • In the past few weeks, reusable grocery bags have been tarred as germ-incubators. But before leaving canvas bags behind for epic Thanksgiving grocery runs, consider where those reports originated. As Jessica Belsky writes at Change.org:

Earlier this year, the ACC [American Chemistry Council]—which represents such upstanding citizens as Exxon and Chevron—paid for a study that concluded that unwashed reusable bags can be contaminated with bacteria. Let’s remember that these are the same folks who recently lobbied to keep the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles. Big Plastic is using fear-mongering tactics to get health-conscious environmentalists to switch back to disposable, single-use plastic grocery bags.

Plus, there’s a simple solution to germy bags: wash them.

Want to enjoy a real savings stampede? Consider celebrating Buy Nothing Day. Enjoy a day without buying. Give your cash and credit cards a day off with you. Store them in the refrigerator next to your Thanksgiving leftovers. Trade, barter, and share. Enjoy the luxury of living the money-free life for a day.

Of course, Christmas and Hanukkah presents have to bought at some point. Here are two green-friendly gift ideas: via Earth Focus, Fate of the World, a video game that challenges players to save the world from climate change; or via Care2, for those of us who must drive a car and have cash to burn, a Porsche. Apparently every single model will soon be available as a hybrid.

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

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Climate Deniers Set to Freeze Progress in Congress

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

A chill is coming to Washington. A wave of climate change deniers were elected to office this week, and come January, we can expect a freeze in all reasonable and productive discussion about the fate of the planet.

Last year, the political discussion about climate change and carbon regulation was complicated and bogged down, but at least it was happening.

Who are the deniers?

Grist has pulled together a list of the climate deniers headed into power in the Senate. “Overall, the Senate next year will be more hostile to climate action than ever before,” the site’s staff says.

If these climate-denying legislators came from deeply red states, Tuesday’s results might not be so shocking. But many of them represent swing states, or states that might be red in presidential contests, but that have previously elected Democrats to Congress.

Farewell, moderation

These latter states include North Dakota, whose new senator, John Hoeven, made Grist’s list, and Indiana. Also on the list are Marco Rubio, from Florida, Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps most disheartening is the replacement of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) with Senator-Elect Ron Johnson. Johnson is to the right of the independent-minded Feingold on a host of issues, but as Mother JonesAndy Kroll writes, “What landed Johnson in headlines earlier this year was his claim that climate change wasn’t created by humans but instead was the result of ’sunspot activity.’

The new climate “science”

Sunspot activity is just one explanation that newly elected Republicans have grabbed onto to explain the very real phenomenon of climate change. Care2’s Beth Buczynski has rounded up a few choice quotes from these new leaders:

“With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, nothing has had a worse year than global warming. We have discovered that a good portion of the science used to justify “climate change” was a hoax perpetrated by leftist ideologues with an agenda.” —Todd Young, new congressperson from Indiana

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.” —Roy Blunt, new senator from Missouri

There are more where these came from.

In denial

What does this shift mean? In short, that the United States and our environmental policies will be limping forward and falling behind the rest of the world as international communities try to deal with climate change. As Brian Merchant writes at AlterNet:

…the current crop of GOP politicians have adopted a somewhat united ideological front opposing not only climate legislation, but the general notion of climate science itself. Nowhere else in the world has a leading political party availed itself of a position so directly in opposition to science — indeed, today’s GOP is the only party in the world that incorporates climate change denial as part of its political platform.

On the domestic front, writes The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, that means that even unambitious legislation, like the renewable energy standard, stands little chance of passing. As it’s currently written, the renewable energy standard would require a certain percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources. In reality, it would not even push clean energy production to grow faster than market forces alone would. The main purpose of passing a standard would be to signal to clean energy investors that the government supports their work.

In other words, in the current legislative climate, our leaders wouldn’t even get behind legislation that is just a sign of support for clean energy and the jobs it would create.

Zombie Climategate

Instead, the House’s leadership plans on spending its time staging a show trial of climate science. The chief executor of this strategy will be Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is set to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Change.org’s Jess Leber explains:

From his new position, the former car-alarm company owner plans to raise false alarm about climate conspiracy theories. As Nikki Gloudeman wrote, just a few weeks ago Issa vowed to make investigating “Climategate”—the climate pseudo-scandal that’s already died 1,000 deaths—a top oversight priority should he win the committee.

In theory, Issa would be investigating a series of emails, sent by British climate scientists. Climate skeptics argue the emails prove that scientists are falsifying evidence of climate change. Extensive investigations have already debunked those claims.

In short, environmental leader Bill McKibben had the right idea back in September. Anyone who’s interested in advocating for climate change action in this country would do well to stop trying to convince Congress to do its job. Our leaders won’t be listening.

The best path forward may be to start convincing the American people, in the hope that, two years from now, they’ll vote for candidates who have a clue.

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

 

 

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