Weekly Pulse: DADT, Vampire Bees, and Other Hazards to Your Health

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Dr. Kenneth Katz recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Health Hazards of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This week, he penned an op/ed for RH Reality Check about his experiences treating U.S. military at an STD clinic in San Diego. Dr. Katz sees the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule for LGB members of the military as a huge roadblock to good medical care. He’s pretty confident that his military patients feel safe divulging their sexual histories to a civilian doctor like himself. But when those troops go overseas, they are cared for by military doctors. Technically, doctor-patient communication is exempt from DADT, but many patients don’t realize that they can tell their military doctors about gay sex without fear of reprisals (at least in theory). Dr. Katz’s patients have told him that they won’t go for recommended follow-up STD screening after they ship out because they’re afraid to be honest with their doctors. He worries about how many troops are suffering from treatable infections in war zones because they aren’t allowed to serve openly.

Food stamp use skyrockets, swordfish sales unaccountably flat

Monica Potts of TAPPED points to the alarming statistic that in the last month alone an additional 500,000 Americans went on food stamps. She notes that the right wing website Daily Caller is alarmed not by the fact that fellow citizens can’t afford food, but rather that there’s no gruel-only foodstamp program available:

Meanwhile, the conservative news site The Daily Caller is shocked, shocked, to learn that you can use food stamps to buy all manner of food. The government, apparently, doesn’t restrict you from purchasing an $18-per-pound swordfish steak from Whole Foods. But that kind of discovery, like almost everything else in the “debate” over food stamp use, is the sort of ridiculous one that comes from a person who’s never been hungry.

The Hyde Amendment

In Campus Progress, Jessica Arons and Madina Agénor call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment for being an assault on the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color. The Supreme Court declared abortion to be a constitutional right in 1973, yet nearly 40 years later, the Hyde Amendment still prohibits nearly all federal funding for abortions. In practice, the women most affected by the Hyde Amendment are those who depend on government health care programs like Medicaid and the Indian Health Service:

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), the law’s sponsor, admitted during debate of his proposal that he was targeting poor women because they were the only ones vulnerable enough for him to reach. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.”

Meanwhile, ultra-conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is calling on Congress to de-fund the reproductive health provider Planned Parenthood, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. In an interview with a conservative news site, Bachmann doubled down on that idea, suggesting that all of health care reform be de-funded because it funds abortions. This is not true. The aforementioned Hyde Amendment guarantees as much. Furthermore, even though health reform never would have funded abortions, President Obama signed an eleventh-hour executive order guaranteeing that health care reform would not fund abortions.

Brooklyn bees gorge on maraschino cherry run-off

Home beekeeping is the hottest new trend for health-conscious locavores. New York City recently changed the law to accommodate beekeepers in the five boroughs. Just because you live in an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn is no reason to miss out on this sweet action, right? Well, actually, there is a catch. That nice honey at the farmers’ market tastes like lavender because that’s what those rural bees ate. What do bees in Red Hook, Brooklyn eat? Run-off from a maraschino cherry factory. The overindulgent bees “look like vampires” according to one local keeper and their honey runs bright red. Maraschino honey sounds like a delicious mash-up of high and low culture. Unfortunately, Sarah Goodyear reports in Grist that the end product doesn’t taste nearly as good as it looks. Arthur Mondella, the owner of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, wants to do right by the beekeepers. He initially suggested putting out vats of different colored syrup to “help” the bees make rainbow honey. His proposal was not well-received by the crunchy set. Instead, he has agreed to work with the beekeepers to keep the bees out of the vats next year.

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: Bloomberg Shaking up Soda Pop with Politics

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking the USDA to approve a pilot program that would prevent his city’s residents from buying sugar-sweetened soda with food stamps. Some have called the proposal paternalistic. However, at In These Times, Terry J. Allen argues that Bloomberg’s proposal makes sense.

Allen notes that New Yorkers may spend up to $135 million in food stamp benefits on sodas. Nationwide, the food stamp program funnels about $4 billion into the pockets of soda manufacturers. Sugary carbonated drinks are artificially profitable for Big Pop because they are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a heavily subsidized by-product of our broken agricultural system.

There are already restrictions on what you can buy with food stamps. Nobody thinks it’s patronizing that alcohol is off-limits, even though alcoholic beverage are a potential source of calories. A little discussed benefit of ending the soda subsidy within the food stamp program would be the incentive it gives to small storekeepers in poor neighborhoods to devote less floor and refrigerator space to carbonated drinks and more room to real food. Many low income New Yorkers struggle to buy healthy food in their neighborhoods. Soda subsidies only make the “food desert” problem worse.

Impatient to die

Prisoners on Death Row in Texas spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The death house in Texas is one of the most restrictive in the nation. Conditions are so bad that many inmates are actively looking forward to their execution day to put an end to the crushing isolation, Dave Mann reports in the Texas Observer. There is a growing consensus among psychiatrists that solitary confinement is a form of torture. Some experts, and many inmates, believe that solitary confinement is literally driving Texas death row inmates insane.

Daniel Lopez is in a hurry to die: “I don’t see no point in waiting 20 years for them to finally decide to execute me.” That’s the first thing he tells me when I sit down to interview him. We are seated in the Polunsky Unit’s visiting room. Lopez is encased in a small booth. We are separated by thick, soundproof glass and talk through phones. [...] [Lopez] says he has no desire to remain on death row. He says he’s looking forward to execution day. He doesn’t want to live much longer in his small cell. “I don’t think that’s a life for somebody,” he says.

Health reform and the courts

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones takes a closer look a the legal challenges to health care reform. Republicans in Virginia have been given the green light to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate in court. In October, a U.S. District judge in Detroit refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the implementation of health care reform in Michigan. On Monday, a U.S. District judge in Lynchburg, VA, dismissed Liberty University’s anti-health reform lawsuit. Another Virginia judge says he will rule on a similar suit by the State Attorney General by the end of the year.

The current crop of politically motivated lawsuits challenging the individual mandate are legally tenuous at best. Aziz Huq wrote in The Nation: “Among constitutional scholars, the puzzle is not how the federal government can defend the new law, but why anyone thinks a constitutional challenge is even worth making.”

As Columbia law professor Gillian Metzger explained to Chris Hayes of The Nation earlier this year, the constitutionality of the individual mandate is basically a “no-brainer.” The way the Affordable Care Act is written, everyone who doesn’t have health insurance from some provider has two options: Buy subsidized health insurance or pay a tax. The federal government obviously has the right to collect taxes. The case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely to prevail. The real fear is that a lower court will paralyze the implementation of health care reform while the decision is pending.

Crisis pregnancy center bill

Shakthi Jothianandan of Ms. Magazine has the latest on proposed legislation that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in New York City to disclose that they are not real reproductive health clinics. The New York City Council held a hearing on the proposed legislation in mid-November, which brought together officials from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Planned Parenthood, Concerned Clergy for Choice and staff from CPCs around the city. The representatives for the CPCs claimed that the bill violates their free speech rights, but the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union testified that requiring organizations to disclose that they are not real health care facilities and don’t provide a full range of services does not infringe on any First Amendment right.

CeCe Heil, senior counsel with the Christian anti-abortion group American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the legislation was unnecessary because women are already smart enough to know that “abortion alternatives” means “alternatives to abortion.” Many of the CPCs have “life” in their name, which should signal to potential clients that they do not provide abortion or abortion referrals. But if it’s really so obvious that CPCs are just anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics, why oppose a law that simply requires all facilities to disclose the obvious?

Boehner meets with anti-choice extremist

Future Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) met with anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, as Miriam Perez of Feministing reports. Terry is the founder of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which has a long record of advocating violence against abortion providers. After Dr. George Tiller, one of the country’s last high-profile late-term abortion providers, was assassinated, Terry called Tiller a “mass murderer” who “horrifically, reaped what he sowed.”

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.

 

 

The Weekly Audit: One Nation With No Jobs

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of Americans rallied for jobs and justice at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Organizers say that 175,000 people turned out for the One Nation Working Together rally, which was organized by labor unions, the NAACP, and other progressive groups. In an interview with GritTV's Laura Flanders, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, a leader of the One Nation coalition, summed up the agenda: "Jobs, jobs, and more jobs."

America isn't working

In total, 8 million jobs have been lost in this recession and 2.5 million homes have been repossessed. According to the official figures, about 10% of Americans are unemployed. The true number may be much higher because the official stats don't count those who have given up looking for work. In AlterNet, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, another featured speaker at One Nation, points out that the black unemployment rate is nearly twice that of whites. Another 11 million Americans are underemployed, according Trumka.

No end in sight

An already bleak job market is about to get even bleaker. Last week, Senate Republicans scuttled a popular emergency fund to create jobs and an extension of long-term unemployment insurance benefits, as Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly offers more details on the now-defunct job creation program known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency fund. The fund provided cash to create jobs in the public and private sectors. Over 240,000 people in 32 states and the District of Columbia worked at jobs created with TANF subsidies. Last week, Senate Democrats lost their fight to extend the program for another 3 months. With the TANF money gone, layoffs will soon follow.

The Department of Labor will release the its monthly unemployment statistics on Friday. One group of independent analysts predicts that September's unemployment rate will be higher than the previous month, according to Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo. Unemployment rose from 9.6% in July to 9.7% in August and experts surveyed by Bloomberg News expect the trend to continue. It's doubtful that the economy produced enough new jobs to make up for all the census workers whose temporary jobs ended.

Job skills for America

On the bright side, President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil a new job training program this week, Annie Lowrey reports in The Michigan Messenger. The program is called Skills for America’s Future. The goal of the project is to encourage partnerships between community colleges and corporations. Colleges and companies will work together to identify areas of rapid job growth and train students to fill those jobs. So far, five companies have agreed to participate in the program, including the Gap., Accenture, United Technologies, PG&E and McDonald’s.

Lowrey argues that this kind of training program will do little to help unemployment in the short term. Right now, companies aren't hiring because there's an economy-wide lack of demand, not because they can't fill positions for lack of trained workers. Demand is low because unemployment is high. Quite simply, people buy less when they don't have jobs, or fear that they will lose their jobs. It's a Catch-22. The jobs won't come back because not enough people have jobs.

Food stamps are stimulus

At the most basic level, an economic stimulus package is designed to break the no jobs/no demand/no jobs impasse by injecting large amounts of cash into the economy. Extending unemployment benefits makes for very effective stimulus because the unemployed typically spend their money quickly. Food stamps are another very efficient stimulus because recipients redeem them right away. To give you some indication of how quickly, consider the Wal-Mart at Midnight effect, which Lowrey discusses in the Washington Independent.

Wal-Mart managers are noticing that increasing numbers of customers are buying staples like bread, milk, and baby formula at midnight on the first of the month. That's because state governments directly deposit welfare and food stamp benefits into debit accounts at midnight. Wal-Mart says it brings in extra staff to keep up with the influx of customers during this period.

By contrast, tax cuts are an inefficient stimulus, especially if the cuts go to people who are already wealthy. In tough times, people who already have everything they need may prefer to save their extra money instead of blowing it on luxuries. Rich people will not throng Best Buy at midnight on tax refund day, no matter how big their checks are.

The high cost of economic inequality

It would be nice to think that unemployment is part of a cyclical downturn, but there is mounting evidence that short-term unemployment is a symptom of a deeper problem: pervasive and growing inequality. Sam Petulla of the American Prospect interviews economist Jacob Hacker and political scientist Paul Pierson about their new book, Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned its Back on the Middle Class.

The authors note that the U.S. has greater inequality than other industrialized countries. Since the 1970s, the richest Americans have gotten much richer while the rest of us lagged further behind. The authors found that almost 40% of household income gains from 1979-2007 went to the richest 1% of households. The trend is accelerating: the top 1% of households pocketed over half of the economic gains of the 2000s. Hacker and Pierson blame tax cuts for the wealth, lax financial regulations that allow the wealthy to rake in unprecedented profits, and stagnating middle class wages for the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of society.

This brings us back to the old demand/jobs paradox. Contrary to the platitudes of trickledown economics, shoveling an ever greater share of society's resources to the ultra-rich doesn't make everyone else better off. Shocking, right?

Right wing economists say that letting the ultra-rich accumulate still more wealth is good for the economy as a whole because the rich have more money to invest in businesses, which are the main source of jobs. The ultra-rich aren't stupid, however. They aren't going to start businesses unless they foresee demand for goods and services; and everyone knows that demand is flat because there are no jobs. Trying to stimulate the economy by making the rich richer is like shoving money into a black hole. The tried and true way to end a recession is to create jobs and provide social services for people who need the money enough to spend it.

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.

Record Number of Americans Seeking Government Help

That the private sector has failed should be obvious but the takeaway that conservatives will draw from the news that one in six Americans, or 17 percent, is now aid-dependent for some or all of their needs is that these Americans are somehow lazy. 

The four government social safety programs most being accessed are Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare. USA Today breaks down the numbers:

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.

Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits.

"This program has proven to be incredibly responsive and effective," says Ellin Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center.

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The necessity of jump-starting the economy should be obvious. Conservatives worry that government programs won't contract after the recession and that we're creating some of sort lasting dependency to government assistance. "They're much harder to unwind in the long term," says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. I guess Mr. Tanner and his libertarian ilk would prefer that Americans line up for private charities and soup kitchens. This isn't just the poor that we are talking about. Increasingly those accessing these social safety net programmes are those who formerly comprised the middle classes.

In 2006, the SEIU and the Center for American Progress published a report entitled Middle Class in Turmoil (pdf) that warned that "despite an economic recovery well into its fifth year, middle class families are struggling to pay for a home, health insurance, transportation and their children’s college education due to a weak labor market and sharply higher prices. To pay for these necessary expenditures, middle class families are borrowing record amounts of money, leaving them unable to put away hardly any cash for a rainy day."

Well, guess what that rainy day is here and it's not just a deluge but a monsoon.

Record Number of Americans Seeking Government Help

That the private sector has failed should be obvious but the takeaway that conservatives will draw from the news that one in six Americans, or 17 percent, is now aid-dependent for some or all of their needs is that these Americans are somehow lazy. 

The four government social safety programs most being accessed are Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare. USA Today breaks down the numbers:

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.

Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits.

"This program has proven to be incredibly responsive and effective," says Ellin Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center.

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The necessity of jump-starting the economy should be obvious. Conservatives worry that government programs won't contract after the recession and that we're creating some of sort lasting dependency to government assistance. "They're much harder to unwind in the long term," says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. I guess Mr. Tanner and his libertarian ilk would prefer that Americans line up for private charities and soup kitchens. This isn't just the poor that we are talking about. Increasingly those accessing these social safety net programmes are those who formerly comprised the middle classes.

In 2006, the SEIU and the Center for American Progress published a report entitled Middle Class in Turmoil (pdf) that warned that "despite an economic recovery well into its fifth year, middle class families are struggling to pay for a home, health insurance, transportation and their children’s college education due to a weak labor market and sharply higher prices. To pay for these necessary expenditures, middle class families are borrowing record amounts of money, leaving them unable to put away hardly any cash for a rainy day."

Well, guess what that rainy day is here and it's not just a deluge but a monsoon.

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