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AIDS Advances May Be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

9:34 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

 

AIDS Life Cycle

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure—there still has to be several years of clinical trials— but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates. Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.] Read the rest of this entry →

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No Honor in Killing God’s Dog

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

A week before the opening of the Olympics, 759 Pennsylvanians paid $25 each to participate in a sport that would never be a part of any international competition.

These Pennsylvanians carried shotguns, whistles, and electronic calls; most also used dogs to search out their prey.

The prey was coyotes. A “reward” of $100 was paid for each coyote killed; whoever killed the biggest coyote in each of the three-day hunt received $250. Most of the coyotes killed weighed 30–40 pounds, about the size of a Brittany Spaniel; the largest weighed 51 pounds.

This hunt was organized by District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which covers seven counties in the north-central part of the state. Other hunts are organized by community organizations and volunteer fire companies in several states. January and February, the months when most organized hunts take place, is when the coyotes breed; gestation period is about two months.

Decades ago, hunters killed off the wolf population. Ever resourceful, coyotes filled the void. In Pennsylvania, as in most states that have coyotes, every day is open season. Last year, more than 40,000 coyotes were killed in Pennsylvania, about half of all coyotes killed throughout the country. However, eliminating coyotes is impossible. When threatened by predators, including humans, coyotes will breed and overproduce. When not threatened, they maintain the size of their packs.

In literature, the coyote is the trickster, not unlike Br’er Rabbit who could out-think (and scam) any other animal. Among Native Americans in the southwest, the coyote was revered as “God’s Dog.”

Those who trap rather than shoot coyotes use leg-hold traps and neck snares, which causes severe injuries, pain, and suffering,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Another problem with traps is they often capture domestic animals. But there is even a greater problem than the traps.

“Because coyotes are nocturnal animals, and look like dogs at night, people hunting coyotes will kill domestic pets,” says Sarah Speed of the HSUS. She says there are “thousands of cases” of what is dismissed as “mistaken identity.”

Coyotes pose no threat to humans, and will avoid human contact when possible.  Contrary to hunter claims, coyotes usually avoid killing deer and elk, except in extreme winter when food is scarce. To the coyotes, size does matter, and scoring dinner of mice and berries is far easier than taking down an eight-point buck.

Those who kill coyotes claim coyotes, one of the most intelligent and resourceful of all animals, kill fawns, causing severe stress to the deer families. So, like the true humanitarians they are, these citizens of a state founded by a man opposed to killing, spin the fiction they are not only preventing an overpopulation of coyotes, but are also saving fawns, cottontails, mice and, apparently, fruits and berries, coyote favorites in the summer, from the coyote population. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is no evidence coyotes have any significant impact upon the deer population.

Farmers say they don’t like coyotes because they kill hens, which produce eggs and then are slaughtered. Coyotes deprive not only Colonel Sanders from income but also sports fans from the thrill of slobbering barbecue sauce over their hands and mouths during “Wing Nite Mondays.”

Most hunters who kill deer say they do so to provide their families with meat; they say the skin provides for warmth. They don’t say why they have a testosterone-fueled need to stuff a buck’s head, complete with antlers, and display it like a trophy. Nevertheless, coyotes have no meat value. Although their fur can yield a maximum of $40 a pelt, women aren’t salivating for a Valentine’s Day gift of a coyote stole.

Hunters whose intelligence and ability to survive in the woods aren’t as good as a coyote’s can still kill them. Several game farms offer special hunts. For $399 a day, pretend-hunters can sign up with Kansas Predator Hunts for “guided and all-inclusive” hunts that includes lodging, food, and a guide to do everything except to take the actual shot.

Many hunters refuse to kill coyotes. Mark Giesen of Northumberland, Pa., a hunter for 40 years, refuses to hunt coyotes or anything that does not have meat value. He says he believes incentivized killing, where people are paid to kill animals, “whether it’s coyotes or pigeons, is wrong and very unsportsmanlike.”

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, composed of part-timers who earn a minimum of $82,026 a year plus as much as $159 a day when they are actually in Harrisburg, passed a bill, 111-78 in December, which would pay a $25 bounty for every coyote killed. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation. Because there is open season on coyotes, more than 40,000 a year are killed, and numerous wildlife officers are on record as saying that bounties are not effective in controlling the coyote population, the bill appears to be little more than a special welfare program to benefit hunters and trappers. The cost to the state, which is already in financial distress, will be up to $700,000 a year for the bounties, plus additional administrative costs to process a program that adds another layer of bureaucracy and still not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Camilla Fox of Project Coyote told The Wildlife News that “Killing coyotes and wolves for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, and ecologically indefensible. Such contests demean the immense ecological and economic value of predators, perpetuating a culture of violence and sending a message to children that life has little value.”

For whatever reason people say they kill coyotes, it has nothing to do with sport or ecological necessity, and everything to do with the sheer joy of killing.

[Dr. Brasch has been an award-winning journalist for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the effects of the shale gas industry upon economics, health, and environment.]

Photo by Jim Nix, used under Creative Commons license

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Jumping Aboard Fracking’s Fossil Fuel Carousel

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

Two Pennsylvania legislators who have taken money from—and enthusiastically supported—the natural gas industry have teamed up to now praise coal.

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), chair of the Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, and Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Canonsburg, Pa.) are co-chairs of the newly-established Coal Caucus.

It’s a strange move on their part, since both have praised natural gas as the economic future of Pennsylvania.

Yaw, in his first run for the Senate in 2008 accepted only $3,700 in campaign contributions from energy companies; the largest were $1,000 donations from Anadarko Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy. In his first re-election campaign in 2012, he received no contributions from the shale gas industry. He didn’t need it. Yaw leased 148 acres in Lycoming County to Anadarko, and was receiving royalty checks.

In March 2013, now in his second term, Yaw introduced two bills to expand natural gas usage in the state. When asked by WNEP-TV about a possible conflict-of-interest, Yaw replied he had signed his lease with Anadarko in 2006 before he was elected to the Senate; but in 2011, he renewed that lease for an additional five years.

“Conflict of interest is the most easily-thrown-about concept when you can’t think of anything else to say,” said Yaw.  However, Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, a watchdog on state government, countered Yaw’s cavalier attitude. “You can not simultaneously promote and regulate an industry, if you have the ability to pass and sponsor legislation that will increase your quarterly dividend.”

A week later, outside a meeting closed to the public to discuss issues related to Anadarko’s request to drill in Loyalsock State Forest, Jim Hamill of WNEP-TV again asked Yaw to discuss his ties to the shale drilling industry and about his possible conflict of interest. “No, and I don’t know what part of N-O you don’t understand. Last week we talked and you turned it into a totally negative article, something that should have never been done,” Yaw testily replied.

Among Democrats, Solobay received the most money from Big Energy, $60,325, according to Common Cause.

Act 13, which pretends to regulate the natural gas industry and the recently-developed process of hydraulic horizontal fracturing, better known as fracking, was signed on Feb. 14, 2012, by an enthusiastic Gov. Tom Corbett. It was a Valentine’s Day gift to Big Energy. The law is largely based upon language created by the conservative lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), and supported by Big Energy, the Republican-controlled state legislature, Gov. Corbett (who had taken more than $1.8 million in campaign donations from Big Energy),  and the state’s conservative Chambers of Commerce. It was largely opposed by the Legislature’s Democrats, environmentalists, and persons in the health professions.

Fourteen months after Act 13 was passed, and with citizen protests increasing against fracking, Solobay declared he was frustrated “when people spin and challenge every bit of information and action out there with the sky-is-falling mentality.” He said the protestors “enjoy spreading fear and uneducated comments,” and erroneously stated, “A majority of the negative voices out there are paid activists [who] do nothing but spread false rumors and scare people.” He could easily have been talking about Big Energy, which has developed a massive public relations campaign that is adept at use of the mass media to spin the benefits of fracking while overlooking its health and environmental effects.

Some of those “false rumors” Solobay had claimed were spread by environmentalists might have come from the coal industry, which had been the primary provider of fuel for more than a century before being challenged first by nuclear energy and then by natural gas when horizontal fracking allowed gas extraction and distribution to became profitable in the Marcellus Shale.

Because of all the praise and attention state legislators were giving the gas industry and the attacks upon coal, coal executives had to believe they were now relegated to the role of an orphan in a Dickens novel. But they still had some influence, and that influence soon became apparent.

Never missing opportunities to seize votes and political contributions—and possibly realizing that the Marcellus Shale was becoming less profitable—Yaw and Solobay spun around and founded the Coal Caucus. First praising the gas drillers, Yaw then gushed, “Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has also fueled our economy having created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Collaboratively, we can change the dynamic of coal as an energy resource. . .  . This Coal Caucus will serve as a champion for increased investment in coal and coal-driven technology.”

Solobay—who had received room and transportation from Consol Energy to the SuperBowl in 2011, not long after he had announced a grant to Consol for $529,156—was equally effusive in praising the coal industry: “Coal is critically important to our effort to reduce dependence on foreign fuels. In addition to being a major employer in Pennsylvania, the industry provides consumers with protection from energy shortages and price spikes.” Substitute “gas” for “coal” and you have almost a duplicate of Solobay’s views before he became the co-chair of the Coal Caucus.

Dory Hippauf, whose “Connecting the Dots” series details political and financial ties between politicians and the oil and gas industry, says Pennsylvanians have been shoved onto a Fossil Fuel Carousel and are now supposed to believe that the “dirty” coal energy that politicians said would be replaced by “clean” natural gas energy isn’t so dirty any more.

What is really dirty is the hypocrisy of politicians who fly like moths to the nearest financial light.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the economics, health, and environmental effects of fracking, and the connections between the oil/ gas industry and politicians.]

 

 

by brasch

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

6:53 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Two gray pigeons, one at rest the other in flight.

Photo by Frédéric BISSON.

A national animal welfare organization has filed ethics charges against a Pennsylvania district attorney.

SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) charges Bucks County DA David Heckler with conflict-of-interest, favoritism, and failure to fulfill his professional responsibilities. The ethics charges were filed with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

SHARK, an Illinois-based charity, has been more active in Pennsylvania following a $1 million donation by Bob Barker to stop pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that has open and regularly occurring pigeon shoots.

The conflict-of-interest charges date from 2010 when Heckler refused to allow Johnna Seeton, a humane officer, to have an attorney and then blocked her from filing summary citations of animal cruelty against the Philadelphia Gun Club of Bensalem, Pa. “I showed him the evidence, and that’s the last I heard from him,” says Seeton. But it wasn’t the last of the case. “The next thing I know is that I read in the paper that Mr. Heckler had brokered a deal with the gun club,” she says. That deal was for the club to pay court costs and make a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA. Seeton was never consulted. Heckler, however, prior to working out a deal had gone to the media to denounce Seeton’s citations as nothing more than “hot air.”

The deal was worked out with Sean Corr, attorney for the PGC. Corr, says Steve Hindi of SHARK, “was one of the biggest individual donors to the Bucks County Republican Committee [which had] heavily funded Heckler’s election campaign.” Heckler had been a state representative and senator and then a judge of the Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Corr, who was shooting pigeons at the PGC in December 2009, was convicted of harassment for shoving a camera into Hindi’s face; Hindi was not on PGC property at the time of the incident, according to the Doylestown Intelligencer. Corr is currently a part-time solicitor for the county.

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