Posts tagged with 'pollution'

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

Posted Apr 27, 2011 @ 10:52 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jobs with JusticeBy 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: Michael Pollan’s Rules for Thanksgiving, Plus Whole Foods’ Healthcare Lies

Posted Nov 24, 2010 @ 11:43 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, Lawrence OPEditor’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

Wednesday is the heaviest travel day of the year in the United States, as millions of Americans head home to celebrate Thanksgiving. Some of you are probably reading this dispatch on PDAs as you wait in an interminable line at airport security. Here’s some food for thought.

At Grist, food writer Michael Pollan officially declares himself a Rules Guy. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he won’t accept a Friday dinner invitation offered after noon on Wednesday. Pollan thinks that our healthy eating skills are passed down to us as part of food culture. In this era of drive-through windows and meal replacement bars, a lot of the old wisdom is falling by the wayside and Americans are finding themselves adrift in a sea of calories. On the eve of Thanksgiving, Pollan provides some helpful guidelines for avoiding the food coma:

[M]any ethnic traditions have their own memorable expressions for what amounts to the same recommendation. Many cultures, for examples, have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of proposing we stop eating before we’re completely full: the Japanese say “hara hachi bu” (“Eat until you are 4/5 full”); Germans advise eaters to “tie off the sack before it’s full.” And the prophet Mohammed recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink, and one-third air. My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, “I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • Unions representing airline pilots and flight attendants are advising their members to avoid the the TSA’s new backscatter x-ray scans because of concerns about the long-term health effects of x-ray radiation. Crew members who refused scans have been subjected to new “enhanced” pat-down searches. This week, the TSA granted an exception to pilots, but not to flight attendants. As I reported for Working In These Times, all crew members go through the same FBI background check and fingerprinting process. “Don’t touch my junk!” has become a rallying cry for passengers, particularly white men, who are not accustomed to being asked to give up any part of their body’s autonomy for the greater good. Is it a coincidence that 95% of pilots are men and three-quarters of flight attendants are women? [Update: The TSA has relented. The agency announced Tuesday that flight attendants will now get the same exemption as pilots.]
  • Adam Serwer argues in The American Prospect that it’s easy to demand tough security measures when the presumed targets are faceless Muslims in a distant country. When air travelers are asked to compromise their own privacy in the name of security, the tradeoff suddenly seems very different.
  • Employee health insurance deductibles are skyrocketing at Whole Foods and CEO John Mackey is trying to blame the increase on health care reform. “This is very important for everyone to understand: 100% of the increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums in 2011 compared to 2010 are due to new federal mandates and regulations,” Mackey wrote in a corporate memo. In fact, as Josh Harkinson reports in Mother Jones, Mackey’s memo is pure, organic BS. The provisions in the Affordable Care Act that might increase costs won’t go into effect until 2014, so it’s hard to figure out how federal policies could be responsible. Health insurance costs were rising by about 5% per year, year after year, before the Affordable Care Act passed. The truth is that health insurance is getting more expensive because health care is getting more expensive. As Harkinson points out, one of the reasons that health care is getting more expensive is because corporations like Whole Foods are pushing more of their employees into part-time work to avoid covering them. Of course, when those workers get sick, someone has to pick up the cost of their care. So those who have insurance, including some of Whole Foods’ own employees, have to pay more to make up the difference.

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

Weekly Mulch: When Will Our Water Be Clean?

Posted Oct 15, 2010 @ 10:35 am by
Filed under: Sustain     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr user SkyTruthby Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Ed. Note: The Mulch is participating in Blog Action Day 2010, an initiative led by Media Consortium member Change.org that asks bloggers around the world to publish posts on the same issue on the same day. This year’s topic is water.

Last week, rivers in Hungary ran red with toxic sludge, creating the perhaps most powerful image of water contamination possible. Imagine, for a second, if every chemical leaching into waterways in this country had such a brilliant hue. What color would our water be?

Less than crystal clear, certainly. We still don’t know, for instance, what chemicals the government and BP poured into the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon spill, as Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard reports. Beyond one time dumps, American industries and consumers are steadily polluting our water system. Energy companies contaminate waterways. So do massive, industrial farms. Sewer systems overflow, and landfills leach waste. Even household chemicals — pesticides applied to suburban lawns, for instance — contribute to the problem. (more…)

Weekly Pulse: Killer Summer Heatwaves, Air Pollution and Winger Docs

Posted Aug 11, 2010 @ 11:16 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtest of Flickr user Lori Greig, via Creative Commons License.“The average death rate in the city during normal times is between 360 to 380 people a day. Today, we have around 700. This is no secret. Everyone thinks we are trying to keep it secret. Look, it is 40 degrees Celsius on the street,” Andrei Seltsovsky, head of Moscow’s public health department, quoted on Democracy Now!

Russia is in the grip of the worst heatwave in its history. The country hasn’t seen temperatures like this since record-keeping began 130 years ago. Months of drought have turned the countryside into a tinderbox and wildfires are burning out of control. Moscow is besieged by acrid smoke and soaring temperatures.

Meteorologist Jeff Masters tells Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that the heat wave could kill tens of thousands of Russians. A similar smoky heat wave in France in 2003 killed 40,000 people, most of them elderly.  Even in the U.S., heatwaves kill more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. (more…)

Weekly Pulse: A Timetable for Reform

Posted Apr 22, 2009 @ 11:10 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) have set a timetable for healthcare reform by this fall–a major step on the road to passing legislation this year. The Senators’ plan, set out in a letter to President Obama, calls for a bill by June, committee markups over the summer, and a final vote in the fall. (Just in time for delayed-action budget reconciliation, should the Republicans prove recalcitrant.)

As Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes, timetables matter, politically. Furthermore, as Ezra Klein explains at TAPPED, a pact between Baucus and Kennedy is a big step forward: these two key committee chairs now have a plan to avoid the turf wars that stymied reform in 1994. This time, the two Senators have pledged to work together to write similar bills, instead having their respective committees produce very different legislation, like they did last time.

Experts agree that successful healthcare reform must work on two fronts: Paying for care while simultaneously keeping the cost of care in check. Elsewhere on TAPPED, Klein discusses why American healthcare costs so much compared to other countries. He points to a study by the famous McKinsey consulting company showing that the extra cost is not because we’re sicker, nor because we consume more healthcare:

The answer, in the end, is that we’re getting a bad deal. You know how when you go shopping you look for sales? America sort of does the opposite of that. We pay more for each unit of care, more for health system operations, and more for health system administration. McKinsey found that “input costs—including doctors’ and nurses’ salaries, drugs, devices, and other medical supplies, and the profits of private participants in the system—explain the largest portion of high additional spending, accounting for $281 billion of spending above US [Estimated Spending According to Wealth]. Inefficiencies and complexity in the system’s operational processes and structure account for the second largest spend above ESAW of $147 billion. Finally, administration, regulation, and intermediation of the system cost another $98 billion in additional spending.”

Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center outlines what’s at stake for women in the healthcare reform debate at RH Reality Check. She writes:

In our broken health care system, nearly one in five women is uninsured. Even for those who have health insurance, women are more likely than men to have health coverage that has too many gaps, including large co-pays, life-time limits, and exclusions or limitations in needed services like mental health care or prescription drugs. Since women, on average, have lower incomes than men, they are at particular risk of financial barriers to care; one in four women says that she is unable to pay her medical bills, and women are more likely than men to delay or go without needed health care because of cost.

Speaking of raw deals, Martha Rosenberg describes how big pharma distorts science to get approval for yet more drugs of questionable safety and efficacy in AlterNet. Rosenberg notes that the Justice Department is cracking down on AstraZeneca and Forest Laboratories for hiding key scientific evidence that called the safety of their products into question.

What pharmaceutical companies aren’t dumping onto the market, they’re dumping into the water supply, according Lauren Kirchner of Air America Radio: 271 million pounds of drugs, from antibiotics to tranquilizers, have been legally dumped into the U.S. water supply over the past 20 years.

The Vatican keeps nixing Barack Obama’s picks for ambassador to Vatican City for being pro-choice, according to the American Forum. Carolyn Kennedy was a front-runner until she was disqualified for being personally pro-choice. I would note that there’s something of a Catch-22 here. Minor ambassadorships are, after all, rewards for big time political backers. The only reason anyone is in line for this job is because they helped the pro-choice Barack Obama get elected. This could take a while.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Audit: Budget Good, Bailout Bad

Posted Mar 3, 2009 @ 9:38 am by
Filed under: Economy     Bookmark and Share

President Barack Obama rolled out his highly anticipated federal budget proposal on Thursday, and while the plan represents a dramatic departure from the priorities of the Bush administration, its ultimate impact may be crippled by a counterproductive bank bailout.

First, the good news: The budget is awesome.

“Obama would raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for healthcare for the uninsured; cap pollution emissions; put billions more dollars into infrastructure and new technology; … invest in new education programs; and roll back the U.S. troop presence in Iraq,” Mike Madden writes for Salon. “There were proposals to save money by modernizing the healthcare system … and by eliminating federal farm subsidies to the biggest and wealthiest recipients.”

While it’s refreshing to see a set of priorities that put economic stability ahead of entrenched corporate interests, Obama’s call to reduce the federal deficit comes as a bit of a surprise. He has inherited a massive recession and defecit. Over at The American Prospect, Ezra Klein highlights an analysis of spending by Media Consortium alum Brian Beutler. Both bloggers agree that government debt is not a major problem, provided that borrowed funds are used to invest in something meaningful.

“Debt can be good if you expect that spending will offer a greater return than saving,” Klein writes. “And right now, because Treasury bonds are the last safe investment, it’s the cheapest it’s been for the government to borrow money in 50 years.”

Republicans are screaming about the enormous deficit that Obama’s budget requires, but most of that debt was passed down by President George W. Bush. Obama has actually taken cues from Congressional Republicans to find funding for financial shortfalls. Steve Aquino of Mother Jones notes that Obama’s move to raise premiums on Medicare received by wealthy Americans is a longstanding Republican priority. Additionally, Obama’s move to cap the itemized deduction tax subsidy at 28 cents on the dollar would re-establish Reagan-era levels.

But the line items missing from Obama’s budget are just as noteworthy. The Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen dissects the Republican angst over Obama’s refusal to push for cuts in Social Security benefits. During his speech before Congress last week, Obama breezed right by the alleged Social Security crisis without asking elderly Americans, who have already seen their 401k plans cut in half over the past year, to take further cuts in their retirement income.

That’s a good thing, because as Matthew Rothschild explains for The Progressive, Social Security’s looming implosion is a Republican myth. “Social Security isn’t going bankrupt,” Rothschild writes. “It’s fully funded until 2041, and could remain so for many more years simply by making the wealthiest Americans kick in their share.”

The income limit for Social Security taxes is $105,000 a year, so billionaires pay the same Social Security as those making $105,000 annually. If Social Security ever does run into trouble, it can be easily fixed by charging rich people more for the program.

On to the bad news.

The government bailed out Citigroup and its shareholders for the third time on Friday, converting $25 billion in preferred stock into ordinary, run-of-the-mill, we-own-this-company common stock. But while Citi’s stock market value was hovering around $13 billion at the time, taxpayers only received a 36% stake in return for their largesse.

The Real News has a great interview with economist William Engdahl about the banking lobby’s ability to exercise control over public policy, despite the industry’s self-inflicted collapse. Engdahl argues persuasively that it is time for the government to stop propping up bank shareholders under the hope that “market prices” will magically appear for worthless assets. “Write those assets, those toxic assets, down to zero,” Engdahl says. “Only the state can do that at this point. You don’t find the market price for these things.”

The government has been playing for time for the last 18 months in hopes that the financial crisis could iron itself out. Rather than reward investors who put money into bad companies, Engdahl says Obama needs to wipe out the shareholders of failed banks and kick out the management teams that steered their companies into catastrophe.

Playing for time was the central economic strategy of Henry Paulson’s tenure as Treasury Secretary, but as Lagan Sebert and David Murdoch make clear in the below video for The American News Project, Paulson also managed to slip in major giveaways to big U.S. banks in the process.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) allowed the government to inject capital into banks, but Paulson charged them a much lower than market rate of return on the investment. As a result, taxpayers missed out on about $78 billion that they could have expected to receive in interest payments had their money been managed by, say, Warren Buffett instead of Paulson. To put that number in perspective: President Obama’s entire plan to avert foreclosures will cost taxpayers $75 billion.

The U.S. banking system is completely broken and will need an enormous taxpayer commitment to return to any semblance of health. But there are good ways and bad ways to go about doing that. A bailout should be accompanied by control over how a bank is managed.

The banking industry is working very hard to portray TARP as something other than a bailout. When Northern Trust, for example, throws decadent parties after receiving taxpayer funds, its executives justified those lavish expenditures by claiming that their company was not “bailed out,” but merely received capital which it is paying for. The pricing of TARP was so favorable to banks and so disadvantageous for taxpayers that this claim cannot be taken seriously. Northern Trust got a bailout, and even if they pay back their TARP funds ahead of time, the interest they are paying is so far below market rates that the company will still be coming out ahead.

Obama’s budget shows that he knows what it takes to turn the economy around, but his financial policy indicates that he lacks the political will to shake off the banking lobby and do what is necessary to save ordinary Americans from disaster.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.