Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

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: South Dakota’s Legislative Attack on Abortion Providers

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The South Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing to protect the life of a fetus. The plain language of the bill would appear to legalize the murder of abortion providers for performing legal abortions on women who request them.

Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones:

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Foundation told Mother Jones.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, vehemently denies that his bill would legalize the murder of abortion doctors, Sheppard reports in a follow-up post. Jensen did not return Mother Jones’s calls for comment before the original story ran, but he now claims that he simply wants to update the state’s fetal homicide legislation.

Jensen’s stated intent is irrelevant, however. The plain language of his bill expands the category of “justifiable homicide” to protect certain people who kill to save a fetus.

There is no question that many radical anti-choicers will interpret this legislation as a license to kill. If this bill becomes law, it is only a matter of time before one of these terrorists travels to South Dakota to test that interpretation.

As Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes, the bill codifies the same legal argument that anti-choice terrorist Scott Roeder deployed unsuccessfully at his trial for the assassination of the prominent late-term abortion provider and pro-choice activist Dr. George Tiller. Technically, the bill would only protect people who killed to “protect” a fetus being carried by their partner or family member, not strangers like Roeder who killed to “protect” fetuses in general, but the veiled threat to abortion providers is clear.

The bill cleared the legislature’s judiciary committee by a party-line vote of 9-3. The legislation is co-sponsored by 22 state legislators and 4 state senators. The full state house is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly sees the legislation as a sign of a “radical turn” in the culture war.

“Birth or Die Act” advances

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the anti-choice bill H.R. 358 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Miriam Perez reports for Feministing. H.R. 358 is controversial on two fronts. First, it appears to create an opening for hospitals to refuse abortion care and abortion referrals, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Second, the bill would effectively end private insurance coverage for abortion as we know it.

Fruitwashing

You’ve heard of “greenwashing,” the marketing trend where companies repackage their old polluting inventory as planet-healthy products? The latest corporate marketing gambit is to convince consumers that sugar, starch, and red food dye are good for us, a process dubbed “fruitwashing,” by Brie Cadman of change.org.

Cadman takes food giant Kellogg’s to task for touting the “real fruit” in its frosted mini Pop Tarts, now available in 100-calorie packs. Of course, these rosy toaster pastries contain only a minuscule amount of fruit.

Kellogg’s is a repeat offender when it comes to fruitwashing. The box of the company’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin cereal features photos of real blueberries, but the actual “blueberry crunchlets” in the box are made of sugar, soybean oil, red dye #40 and blue dye #2.

Play with your food

In an article called “Why Playing With Your Food is Serious Business,” Carol Deppe of Grist argues that processed fare is driving us to overeat by cheating us out of our instinctive drive to interact with our foods before we eat them:

I also tend to overeat the delicious bean soup on that day I effortlessly thawed a portion from the freezer, compared with the day that I made the soup from scratch myself. The act of preparing food seems to actually be one of my satiety mechanisms. That is, to avoid overeating, to feel satisfied with normal, healthful amounts of food, I have to play with my food.

A highly processed diet enables us to practically inhale our calories, leaving us unsatisfied.

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.

Campaign Cash: Corporations Get More Power, Political Parties Get Less

 

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

War chests from right-wing billionaires and corporate titans are funding tremendous portions of political activity, from the so-called grassroots activism of the Tea Party to the streamlined lobbying assaults of the nation’s largest corporations.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s wildly unpopular ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, secret election financing by elites is exploding, even as the public visibility of such electoral purchasing power evaporates.

 

Corporations get more freedom as political parties get less

As Jamelle Bouie emphasizes for The American Prospect, election funding from political committees and non-profits is already up 40 percent from 2008 levels. But the oft-cited the liberation of the corporate purse was accompanied by less-well-known constraints on political parties themselves. While corporations like Wal-Mart and Bank of America are free to spend as much as they want attacking or promoting specific candidates, the political parties themselves cannot.

As Bouie notes, this scenario further rigs the electoral game in favor of the wealthy and corporations. Candidates who know that their party can’t help them out become even more dependent on corporate cash during elections. And while few entities are less popular right now than the Republican and Democratic parties, they are ultimately accountable to their voters. They reach out to a broad array of individuals across the country, while corporations merely advance their own interests.

Political parties—however imperfect—can serve as a check on such destructive corporate influence. Citizens United has made that check much weaker. As Jesse Zwick writes for The Washington Independent, political parties used to dominate independent election spending. This year, for the first time, thanks to Citizens United, front-groups and corporations have taken the lead.

The Tea Party “grassroots” movement is anything but

Billionaires are on the attack, exploiting campaign finance loopholes to prop-up phony “grassroots” political movements. The most egregious—and successful—effort has been waged by David Koch, a long-time GOP fundraiser who is now backing major Tea Party organizers. Koch is the executive vice president of Koch Industries, Inc., which refines and distributes petroleum and other raw materials.

As Adele Stan details in her latest in-depth expose for AlterNet and The Nation Investigative Fund, Koch has found ways to funnel money to the Tea Party in just about every way imaginable. But it’s most sinister maneuver was the establishment of two right-wing front groups that keep their donors anonymous. After Citizens United, we’ll never know how much money Koch is funneling to the Tea Party, and his front groups—FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity—provide the same cover for other elites.

How much cover? Americans for Prosperity brags that they’ll spend at least $45 million on the 2010 elections, while FreedomWorks plans to throw in another $10 million.

As Stan emphasizes, these two groups are the major organizers of all things Tea Party. They provided logistical organizing for Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally, held over 300 rallies against health care reform and hosted “voter education” workshops pushing the glories of deregulation to anyone who would listen. They even have an unofficial partnership with Fox News, hosting conservative Fox personalities at their rallies, which are, in turn, promoted by Fox programming. Glenn Beck is even featured in advertisements and fundraising pitches for FreedomWorks.

The anonymity provided by Koch’s front-groups is critical to the Tea Party’s appeal. In popular media, the Tea Party is often described as a grassroots coalition of ordinary, mad-as-hell citizens. That image is hard to sustain in the face of a wildly expensive top-down campaign orchestrated by billionaires. As Stan explains:

The armies of angry white people with their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, the actual grassroots activists, are not the agents of the Tea Party revolt, but its end users, enriching the Tea Party’s corporate owners just as you and I enrich Google through our clicks.

Of  course, Koch isn’t the only man operating anonymous front-groups. The Citizens United decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their own cash directly influencing elections. But so long as that money is laundered through a third-party, they can keep these expenditures out of the public eye.

Oil giants dominate U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Nobody has exploited this loophole more aggressively than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying clearinghouse for the nation’s largest corporations.

The Chamber doesn’t just rely on domestic donors. It also accepts cash from dozens of foreign corporations. As Kate Sheppard explains for Mother Jones, no less than 14 foreign oil giants belong to The Chamber, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual dues alone. This is important, because as sweeping and destructive as Citizens United was, it did not grant foreign corporations the right to spend on U.S. elections.  There’s nothing xenophobic about that—it’s a U.S. election, after all, and foreign firms don’t have to live with many of the social and ecological consequences of U.S. deregulation. The Chamber insists it has accounting devices in place to separate its funding and keep its operations within the law, but so far, it hasn’t explained how these work.

But ultimately, as Sheppard and her MoJo colleague Nick Baumann note, the influence of domestic corporations on the American political process is equally sinister as foreign corporate influence. If the narrow interests of a U.S. corporation hijack our democracy with campaign war chests, that can be just as bad as subjecting our democracy to the whims of a foreign corporation. Whether the Chamber’s foreign funding follows the letter of the law or not, the organization is still running a destructive campaign to further entrench corporate power in our political system—and shield those same corporate titans from public accountability.

And the existing campaign finance regulators aren’t even enforcing the meager laws that do exist to curb legalized bribery. As Jesse Zwick explains in another piece for The Washington Independent, three recent appointees to the Federal Election Commission have waged an all-out war to mire the agency in gridlock, preventing it from cracking down on straightforward abuses.  President George W. Bush actually named former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX)’s campaign finance lawyer to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). His term has expired, but getting new FEC commissioners confirmed by the Senate in the face of Republican filibusters appears nearly impossible. So Delay’s lawyer, Donald McGahn, is still working to keep campaign finance laws from being enforced, and succeeding.

Democracy is not a corporate bidding war. Corporate cash belongs in the board room, not the voting booth.

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.

 

Weekly Mulch: Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama announced this week that his administration would open areas from Delaware to Florida and in Alaska to offshore drilling for gas and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation also released new guidelines for auto emissions to cut carbon emissions, and the EPA said new benchmarks for issuing mountaintop mining permits would prevent damage to waterways in Appalachia.  The environmental community welcomed these last two announcements but both were overshadowed by the off-shore drilling decision, which green groups largely condemned.

Off-putting off-shore drilling decision

Although as a candidate President Obama began by opposing off-shore drilling, by the end of the campaign he said he would support an expansion of drilling areas.  Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains the series of decisions that made this week’s announcement possible:

“In October 2008, amidst calls of “drill, baby, drill” from conservatives, Congress failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling. Months earlier, George W. Bush had lifted an 18-year-old executive ban on offshore drilling, which had originally been imposed by his father in 1990. Obama, of course, could have issued his own order, but didn’t.”

The administration had been considering the decision to go ahead with drilling for about a year but kept deliberations quiet. Key senators, however, knew the decision was coming, and it’s pushing Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to warm towards energy legislation, TPMDC reports.

Cars’ carbon emission

The EPA’s announcement on auto emissions, on the other hand, comes as no surprise. It marks the first big step the Obama administration has taken to limit carbon emissions through regulation. Auto regulations are a relatively easy sell.  A chunk of Congress wants to keep the EPA from taking these sorts of actions, but in this case, the auto industry supports the federal regulations. At the Washington Independent, Aaron Wiener notes that “the guidelines drew immediate praise from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has long advocated national emissions and efficiency regulations rather than patchwork state-by-state rules.”

Mountaintop removal mining

The coal industry will be less happy about the EPA’s announcement on mountaintop removal mining. The agency admitted that the practice causes significant damage to streams and said its new guidelines would lead to significantly less harm.

The new policies, Jeff Biggers writes at AlterNet, will “effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways).” It could be, he says, “the beginning of the end of mountaintop removal.”

One sign that mountaintop removal’s doomsday is nigh? Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of coal’s staunchest and most powerful advocates on the Hill, praised the EPA’s decision, reports Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent.

Green groups groan

Green groups are lauding the EPA’s two announcements. (The Sierra Club called the mining announcement “the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining,” for instance.) But the push for off-shore drilling has environmental advocates squirming.

“As the president extends olive branches to his critics, he’s alienating allies in the environmental community, who say his policies are reminding them more and more of those of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” says Mother Jones’ Sheppard. “Some enviros are even likening Obama to Alaska’s oil-loving ex-governor, Sarah Palin.”

On Democracy Now!, Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the decision “horribly disappointing” and said, “Obama is essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy of: we can drill our way to energy independence.”

The Obama administration’s energy and environmental policy is creeping ever further towards the center. Ken Salazar, Secretary for the Interior, said this week that “Cap-and-trade is not in the lexicon anymore,” TPMDC reports. It’s no wonder that progressive members of Congress are starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction their climate bill is taking, as Sheppard reports. The president may be using up his reserves of political support from his allies as he stretches to meet conservatives and centrist Democrats on some shaky middle ground.

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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