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.

 

 

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: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

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 Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

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: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

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 Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

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.

 

 

Campaign Cash: Tea Party Vows to Block Campaign Finance Reform

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Welcome to the final edition of Campaign Cash, which tracked political spending during this year’s midterm elections. Stay tuned for more reporting on money in politics from members of The Media Consortium. To see more stories on campaign funding, follow the Twitter hashtag #campaigncash.

Anonymous millionaires just helped elect dozens of ultraconservative congressional candidates, by pumping millions of dollars into national Tea Party organizations. And guess what’s at the top of the legislative to-do list for those same Tea Party groups? Blocking campaign finance reform legislation.

As Stephanie Mencimer explains for Mother Jones, one of the nation’s largest Tea Party organizations, the Tea Party Patriots, is already coming out guns-a-blazing against any lame duck effort to crack down on secret corporate spending in elections.

And with good cause. The Tea Party’s appeal, after all, is based on its populist, grassroots image. If anybody knew that secret right-wing millionaires were bankrolling the entire operation, the “movement” would lose its luster.

But whether reformers are able to force front-groups to disclose their donors or not, the broader effort to eliminate undue corporate influence from the political process will take years.

Welcome to the plutocracy

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allowed corporations and deep-pocketed elites to spend unlimited amounts electing politicians of their choosing. So long as those expenditures are funneled through a front-group, nobody has to know who is buying an ugly attack ad or why. Instead ads are sponsored by groups with a innocuous-sounding names like “Americans for Prosperity” or “Americans for Job Security.” Nobody knows who ultimately foots the bill.

In organized crime, this process is called “money laundering.” And everyone is getting in on the game, from the Tea Party to Karl Rove to U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As Bill Moyers explains in this Boston University lecture carried by Truthout, it’s ravaging American democracy.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in fact created a “shadow party” … We have reached what … former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls “the perfect storm that threatens American democracy: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work. We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.”

That, ultimately, is what is at stake with campaign finance reform. Can democracy continue to serve as a check on elite power? Or will America simply dance to the tune played by the super-rich. Citizens United made an undemocratic mess of this year’s election—but the influence of corporate cash is not going to simply melt away. Without serious reforms, the very concept of American elections will become a quaint, naive relic of the past.

Wall Street wins big

And while the plutocracy plainly organized itself against Democrats in this election, democrats have not exactly been strangers to corporate largesse. As Laura Flanders emphasizes for GRITtv, while President Barack Obama occasionally offered rhetorical rebukes against the Wall Street establishment, so far as public policy was concerned, he rarely did anything to ruffle their feathers. Obama continued the Bush bailouts, praised the executives of firms would eventually be investigated for fraud as “savvy,” and aimed pretty low on financial reform. But as Flanders notes, all those favors didn’t end up helping either Obama or his party on Nov. 2:

Having soaked up the government’s largesse, those banksters repaid Obama by pouring millions of anonymous dollars into defeating Democrats.

It worked. The most vocal Wall Street critics in the House and Senate—Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) were bombarded with attack ads courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now they’re gone, along with the Democratic majority in the House.

Last-ditch effort on campaign finance reform

As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent, Congress can still limit the damage in the coming months before the officials elected last night take office. A modest law that would require corporations to disclose their political expenditures and force front-groups to publicly identify their donors would help limit the damage.

After that, as Moyers emphasizes, it’s a long, hard fight.

But wait! There’s more.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, 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, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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