Weekly Pulse: New Anti-Choice Bill Suggests More #DearJohn Letters Needed

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Health advocate Eesha Pandit and blogger Sady Doyle join GRITtv host Laura Flanders for a discussion of the House GOP’s draconian abortion bill, H.R.3. The bill, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called a top priority, would permanently restrict federal funding for abortion, even beyond the already stringent guidelines set out in the Hyde Amendment.

Doyle launched the #dearjohn Twitter campaign to channel public outrage over H.R. 3, particularly its clause that changed the existing “rape and incest” exception for Medicaid funding for abortion to an exception for “forcible rape.”The GOP ultimately removed the word “forcible,” but the bill’s other far-reaching restrictions remain in place.

Getting the “forcible” proviso removed from the bill was a small victory, but Doyle notes the fight is far from over. H.R. 3 isn’t the only radical anti-choice bill on the GOP’s legislative agenda. Carol Joffe reports at RH Reality Check that H.R.358 (the so-called “Protect Life Act”) would give hospitals unlimited discretion to turn away women who needed abortions, even to save their lives.

Insure pregnant women

A California state senator is taking on insurance companies for denying pregnancy-related health care coverage, Brie Cadman reports at Change.org. State senator Noreen Evans has introduced a bill that would protect insurance coverage for pregnant women in the individual health insurance market. Unlike group insurers and HMOs, private plans in the state are currently not required to cover maternity care. In 2004, 82% of individual health insurance plans in California covered maternity care; by 2009, only 19% of individual plans did so.

Irony alert

The individual mandate component of health care reform, which will impose a tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, is the bete noire of conservative Republicans, and the target of multiple constitutional challenges working their way through the courts. Ironically, as Simeon Talley explains at Campus Progress, the mandate was originally proposed by a Republican as a bulwark againstsocialized medicine:

Indeed the individual mandate has its genesis on the right. Ezra Klein interviews ‘Father of the Mandate’ Republican Mark Pauly: “We did it because we were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance, which isn’t market-oriented, and we didn’t think [that] was a good idea. One feature was the individual mandate.”

Medicine and the public good

At truthout, Dr. Andrew Saal remembers what he said when a medical colleague asked him to sign a petition to repeal health care reform:

I centered myself and spoke in calm, measured phrases, with a warm smile. “I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I believe that caring for those unable to pay is a matter of civic duty and professional honor. And while a pinch of free enterprise may keep the system nimble and foster innovation, at the end of the day, medicine is a social commodity similar to police and fire services.”

Saal’s colleague argues that he should be entitled to charge as much as the market will bear for medical services. After all, he studied hard and went to medical school. Saal sees things differently. He argues that, while doctors are entitled to fair compensation for their skilled services, medical knowledge is social. The doctor who places a cardiac stent didn’t invent the procedure. Saal notes that federal tax dollars fund the basic research that makes medical breakthroughs possible. While the stent itself may have been developed by a private company, the company couldn’t have invented it if the government hadn’t invested untold millions of dollars on basic research.

What’s more, Saal notes, doctors don’t pay the full cost of their schooling. The federal government subsidizes medical education through low interest federal loans, the university system itself, and Medicare reimbursements for interns and residents (doctors in training).

Nail salon hazards

Nail salon workers are exposed to a miasma of formaldehyde, toluene, and other known and suspected chemical hazards. The National Radio Project takes a closer look at the potential health effects of working long hours in poorly ventilated salons.

In California, the issue is of special concern to the Vietnamese community. An astonishing two-thirds of nail salon workers in the state are Vietnamese immigrants, most of them women in their childbearing years. Epidemiologists have yet to definitively prove a link between nail salon exposure and chronic disease, but the suspect chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

The bottom line is that safer chemicals are available. Activists say that regulators should mandate healthier alternatives now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by membersof 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 AuditThe Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Ignorance Rages at CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place this week. Billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation, it is known for giving participants a chance to kick the tires of potential presidential candidates.

This year is no exception. The list of confirmed speakers reads like a primary ballot for 2012 or 2016, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rick Santorum.

When I read through these names, I realized that every single likely candidate in the early GOP field is claiming to believe that climate change does not exist or opposes doing anything about it. Climate denying has become a litmus test to the far right wing of the Republican Party – what a sad commentary when there is a tacit requirement for someone to REJECT SCIENCE in order to even be in the running to win the nomination.

Take Senator John Thune of South Dakota.  When asked his view on climate science, he said, “I guess the answer to the question is I’m not sure. I think there’s a real mix of data on that.” Representative Ron Johnson of Wisconsin goes farther. He claims that record spikes in temperature are the result of “sunspot activity” – an idea that scientists have checked and explicitly rejected.

And that’s just two CPAC speakers. The entire conference seems dedicated to walking America backwards.
 
Most of the conference speakers decried the comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that Congress abandoned last year.  It would have unleashed technological innovation and generated nearly 2 million jobs. Representative Michelle Bachman urged the people of Minnesota to be “armed and dangerous over this issue.” And most of them have spoken out against the EPA’s efforts to make our air safer by reducing carbon pollution. Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the agency altogether, while his fellow CPAC speaker Senator Barasso introduced a bill that would, in effect, prevent states and every federal agency from doing anything at all based on concern about climate change. That goes even further than Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill that would block EPA from limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  Inhofe – who infamously called climate change a “hoax” – has been joined in his effort by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the former moderate who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
 
This position may generate applause lines at CPAC, but it is out of step with what Americans want. According to a new poll  done by Opinion Research Corporation for NRDC, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.”

The folks at CPAC fail to see how cleaner air and climate solutions will take America into the future. Instead of embracing sustainable energy resources, they prefer burning black rocks like we’ve done since the 19th century. Instead of putting American companies at the forefront of the 21st century global marketplace, they prefer to keep us addicted to ever diminishing supplies of oil.
 
This U-turn into the past will put America in a dangerous position. Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed devastating floods in Pakistan that further destabilized an already precarious nation, we have watched Russia endure a punishing drought that economist Paul Krugman linked to both climate change and rising food prices, and we have seen Australians battle a flood that submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined. We can’t tie any single weather occurrence to climate change, but scientists have repeatedly stated that more severe weather events are a hallmark of what human beings are doing to the climate.

CPAC speakers like to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, but what the facts on the ground reveal are impossible to ignore. And the GOP can continue to build its house of cards on a bunch of deniers, but most Americans want to build a safer, more sustainable future.

This blog was originally posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark Up.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

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 Audit: We Welcome Our New Plutocratic Overlords

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Meet the new global elite. They’re pretty much the same as the old global elite, only richer and more smug.

Laura Flanders of GritTV interviews business reporter Chrystia Freeland about her cover story in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly on the new ruling class. She says that today’s ultra-rich are more likely to have earned their fortunes in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street than previous generations of plutocrats, who were more likely to have inherited money or established companies.

As a result, she argues, today’s global aristocracy believes itself to be the product of a meritocracy. The old sense of noblesse oblige among the ultra-rich is giving way to the attitude that if the ultra-rich could do it, everyone else should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Ironically, Freeland points out that many of the new elite got rich from government bailouts of their failed banks. It’s unclear why this counts as earning one’s fortune, or what kind of meritocracy reserves its most lavish rewards for its most spectacular failures.

Class warfare on public sector pensions

In The Nation, Eric Alterman assails the Republican-controlled Congress’s decision to scrap the popular and effective Build America Bonds program as an act of little-noticed class warfare:

These bonds, which make up roughly 20 percent of all new debt sold by states and local governments because of a federal subsidy equivalent to some 35 percent of interest costs, ended on December 31, as Republicans proved unwilling even to consider renewing them. The death of the program could prove devastating to states’ future borrowing.

Alterman notes that the states could face up to $130 billion shortfall next year. States can’t deficit spend like the federal government, which made the Build America Bonds program a lifeline to the states.

According to Alterman, Republicans want the states to run out of money so that they will be unable to pay the pensions of public sector workers. He notes that Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) are also co-sponsoring a bill to force state and local governments to “recalculate” their pension obligations to public sector workers.

Divide and conquer

Kari Lydersen of Working In These Times explains how conservatives use misleading statistics to pit private sector workers against their brothers and sisters in the public sector. If the public believes that teachers, firefighters, meter readers and snowplow drivers are parasites, they’ll feel more comfortable yanking their pensions out from under them.

Hence the misleading statistic that public sector workers earn $11.90 more per hour than “comparable” private sector workers. However, when you take education and work experience into account, employees of state and local governments typically earn 11% to 12% less than private sector workers with comparable qualifications.

Public sector workers have better benefits plans, but only for as long as governments can afford to keep their contractual obligations.

Who’s screwing whom?

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is calling for a sense of perspective on public sector wages and benefits. In AlterNet he argues that the people who are really making a killing in this economy are the ultra-rich, not school teachers and garbage collectors:

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

Signs of hope?

The economic future looks pretty bleak these days. Yes, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.4% from 9.8% in December, but the economy added only 103,000, a far cry from the 300,000 jobs economists say the economy really needs to add to pull the country out its economic doldrums.

Andy Kroll points out in Mother Jones that it will take 20 years to replace the jobs lost in this recession, if current trends continue.

Worse yet, what looks like job growth could actually be chronic unemployment in disguise. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people who are actively looking for work. Kroll worries that the apparent drop in the unemployment rate could simply reflect more people giving up their job searches.

For an counterweight to the doom and gloom, check out Tim Fernholtz’s new piece in The American Prospect. He argues that the new unemployment numbers are among several hopeful signs for economic recovery in 2011. However, he stresses that his self-proclaimed rosy forecast is contingent upon avoiding several huge pitfalls, including drastic cuts in public spending.

With the GOP in Congress seemingly determined to starve the states for cash, the future might not be so rosy after all.

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

 

Weekly Audit: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

By Lindsay Beyerstein,  Media Consortium Blogger

Congressional Republicans and the White House  struck an agreement in principle on Monday night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. The GOP agreed to the so-called “Lincoln-Kyl compromise” a partial 2-year extension of the Bush estate tax cuts on estates worth over $5 million. If the deal had not been struck, estate taxes on estates over $5 million would have gone back up from 0% to the pre-cut rate of 55%. Instead, the rate will be 35% for the next 2 years.

The GOP also agreed to a short-term “stimulative” 2 percentage-point cut off the 6.2% payroll tax we all pay on income up to $106,800. The good news is that a payroll tax holiday will provide the most noticeable tax relief to low- and middle-income Americans. The bad news is that payroll taxes fund Social Security, so cutting the tax means starving a program that most directly benefits average people. Social Security is not in crisis yet, but steps like these could push the program into worse financial straights where significant benefit cuts become inevitable. It’s almost as if the GOP, having failed to spark panic about an as-yet non-existent Social Security crisis, is determined to engineer one.

All these gimmes for the rich were the price of a partial extension of unemployment benefits. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. If Congress had failed to act, 2 million people stood to lose their benefits this month and another 7 million would have run out before the end of next year, reports Andy Kroll of Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise. The economy only added 39,000 jobs in November when analysts were expecting about 150,000. “At the beginning, some people just thought it was a printing error,” said reporter Motoko Rich on the New York Times‘ weekly business podcast. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 9.8%.

At ColorLines, Kai Wright argues that the time has come for President Obama to seize the opportunity to debunk conservatives’ bad faith arguments for tax cuts above all else:

At the same time, the anti-government crowd’s political hand—if forced—has never been weaker. A depressingly large number of middle-class and working-class Americans now know all too well what economists have long understood: You get a great deal more economic bang out of keeping lots of people from becoming destitute than you do by helping a few people horde wealth. People remain enraged about the no-strings-attached bank bailout, for instance, because they intuitively understand its ramifications. Wall Street is now enjoying a narrow, taxpayer-financed recovery while unemployment, hunger and poverty all continue climbing through the former middle class.

Extending UI makes sense

Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED tackles some of the bad arguments against extending unemployment insurance. Economist Greg Mankiw claims that extending unemployment insurance is just a surreptitious ploy to redistribute income to the poor from the wealthy. Actually, as Fernholtz points out, the point of a UI safety net is to prevent people, 3 million of them in 2009, from becoming poor in the first place. Poverty is very expensive for society at large. If we can keep the unemployed in their homes, spending their benefits in their communities, we can keep the socially corrosive effects of poverty at bay until the economy improves. The social costs of child poverty alone have been estimated at $500 billion a year, Fernholtz notes. The deeper we allow people to sink into poverty, the more difficult it will be for the economy to rebound. On this view, UI is a shared investment in a well-ordered society, not just a lifeline for jobless families.

Why corporate tax cuts won’t create jobs

Jack Rasmus of Working In These Times explains why tax cuts will not create jobs. Simply put, banks and big companies are sitting on over a trillion dollars. Among the nation’s biggest banks, lending to small and medium size businesses, the engines of job creation, has dwindled over 2009 and 2010. America’s biggest companies are sitting on a hoard of $1.84 trillion dollars, which they are not investing in job-creating projects. The Deficit Commission recommended slashing corporate taxes, ostensibly to spur investment and job creation, which would ultimately generate taxable income to help balance the budget. As Rasmus points out, this wishful thinking is predicated upon the assumption that if only corporations had more money, they would invest it to create jobs. The fact that companies are already sitting on huge piles of cash suggests that shoveling more moolah on the pile won’t change the basic dynamic. Perhaps companies are waiting to invest because they know that consumers aren’t keen to buy goods and services when they are unemployed or fearing job loss.

Economic disobedience

At In These Times, Andrew Oxford interviews sociologist Lisa Dodson about her new book on getting by in the low-wage economy. Her research shows that as economic instability mounts, many Americans are quietly taking matters into their own hands:

To understand how fair-minded people survive in an unfair economy, Dodson interviewed hundreds of low-wage workers and their employers across the country, examining what she terms the “economic disobedience” now pervasive in the low-wage sector. From a supervisor padding paychecks to a grocer sending food home with his employees, these acts of disobedience form the subject of her latest book, The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy.

Winner-take all economy

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Yale political science profesor and  Jacob Hacker explains why the Deficit Commission has it all wrong when it comes to tax cuts vs. unemployment benefits.

Hacker studies inequality. He has written a book on how the richest Americans cornered an unprecedented share of the country’s wealth for themselves over the past three decades. The richest Americans have never been in a better position to help the country grapple with the deficit. Yet, as Hacker points out, the Deficit Commission wants to balance the budget on the backs of middle- and lower-income Americans by cutting spending on programs that disproportionately benefit working people and readjusting the tax code to make it even more favorable to the rich.

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

 

 

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