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Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

6:46 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria. The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

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: Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Takes Cash from Opponents

11:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Virginia federal judge who ruled against a key component of health care reform on Monday has ties to a Republican consulting firm. Judge Henry Hudson is a co-owner of Campaign Solutions, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports.

Hudson, a President George W. Bush appointee, has earned as much as $108,000 in royalties from Campaign Solutions since 2003. A cached version of the firm’s client roster lists such vocal opponents of health reform as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), the Republican National Committee and the American Medical Association.

In November, Collins and Snowe joined McConnell in signing an amicus brief to challenge the constitutionality of health care reform in a separate suit in Florida. Campaign finance records show that Campaign Solutions has also worked for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is spearheading the lawsuit. Tiahrt added an amicus brief to Cuccinelli’s lawsuit.

Today, the mandate. Tomorrow, the regulatory state?

Hudson ruled that the individual mandate of health care reform is unconstitutional. The mandate stipulates that, after 2014, everyone who doesn’t already have health insurance will have to buy some or pay a small fine. The judge argues that this requirement exceeds the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce between the states and international trade. Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains that this clause underpins the power of the federal government to regulate the economy in any way:

But the issues at stake in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius (Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative attorney general of Virginia; Katherine Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS) are actually far broader. Hudson’s ruling doesn’t just show how the Supreme Court could gut the health law—it shows how the court could neuter the entire federal government.

Is it constitutional?

Chris Hayes of The Nation interviews Prof. Gillian Metzger, a constitutional law scholar at Columbia University, about the merits of challenges to the constitutionality of health care reform. According to Metzger, “the argument that [the mandate] is outside the commerce power is also pretty specious given the existing precedent.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly accuses Judge Hudson of committing an “inexplicable error” in legal reasoning. There is a longstanding precedent that the federal government can regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause. Hudson acknowledges this, but he maintains that this power doesn’t cover regulations of “economic inactivity” (i.e. not buying health insurance). As Benen notes, people who don’t buy insurance aren’t opting out of the market, they’re opting to let society absorb their future medical costs. Everyone who does buy insurance pays more because freeloaders coast without insurance and hope for the best.

Luckily for the Obama administration, the judge did not bar the implementation of health reform while the case works its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will ultimately hear this case. In the meantime, the federal government can continue building the infrastructure that will eventually support health care reform.

This is the third time a federal judge has ruled on the constitutionality of health care reforms and the first victory for the anti-reform contingent.

Mandatory mandate

Paul Waldman reminds TAPPED readers why the mandate is critical to any health care reform based on private insurance. With a single-payer system, you don’t need a mandate because everyone is automatically covered. A mandate only comes into play when you have to force people to buy insurance.

Without a mandate, healthy risk-takers who don’t buy insurance will starve the system of premiums while they are well and bleed the system for benefits when they get sick. Meanwhile, people who already know they’re sick will sign up in droves, and the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to accept them.  Without a mandate, the private health insurance industry would collapse and take health care reform down with it.

Is expanding Medicare the answer?

Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive argues that the legal headaches over the individual mandate illustrate why it would have been legally and procedurally easier to achieve universal health care by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

At Truthout, Thom Hartmann argues universal health insurance in the form of “Medicare Part E” would spur economic growth and innovation because entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to provide health insurance for their employees.

Meanwhile, Brie Cadman reports at Change.Org, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is trying to defund health care reform by cutting funds for preventive health care. Coburn is urging his fellow Republicans to vote against a House-passed measure that would allocate $750 million for the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. Cadman notes the irony of a medical doctor like Coburn, who also claims to be a fiscal conservative,  trying to scuttle funds to control preventable diseases which would otherwise cost society billions of dollars a 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 Diaspora: DREAM Act Passes the House, Heads to the Senate

9:08 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A bill that would create a path to legalization for undocumented youth passed the House of Representatives Wednesday, and is now headed to the Senate. The DREAM Act, which has struggled for survival even amid steady and strong bipartisan support, could render more than 2 million undocumented immigrants eligible for conditional permanent residency if they attend college or serve in the military.

Making good on at least one pre-election promise, congressional Democrats succeeded in bringing the bill to a vote before Republicans assume control of the House in January—but not without plenty of contention. For two hours, House representatives rehashed the spectrum of party-line immigration talking points before finally clearing the DREAM Act, 216-198, reports ColorLines’ Julianne Hing.

Forging on a compromise

It’s a refreshing victory for DREAM advocates who saw major losses last October when the bill was momentarily defeated in the Senate, and last November, when the midterm election ushered in a spate of staunchly anti-immigrant representatives and governors who decry the bill as “amnesty.” But the stroke of success is bittersweet for many of the bill’s proponents, who take issue with some of the political concessions made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in an effort to bring the bill to the floor.

As Marcelo Ballvé reports at New America Media, the latest iteration of the act is more exclusionary than previous versions—to the point of possibly eliminating eligibility for as many as 140,000 individuals. In addition to reducing the maximum eligibility age from 34 to 29, the new version of the bill bars beneficiaries from accessing Medicare (or participating in health insurance exchanges under the health reform package) and draws out the citizenship process by several years.

But despite the rigidity of the newly revised provisions, Ballvé notes that the single greatest barrier to DREAM Act eligibility is not its design, but high levels of poverty within immigrant communities. While more than 2 million youths would theoretically be eligible for conditional legal residency under the DREAM Act, the educational barriers associated with poverty would reduce that number to 825,000, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

Debate suggests an uncertain future

Still, the DREAM Act makes both economic and political sense, as Katie Andriulli points out at Campus Progress. Even with the number of potential beneficiaries lowered, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the DREAM Act could reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next 10 years, simply by legitimizing scores of potential professionals. And—contrary to opponents’ claims that the act will encourage illegal immigration or reward illegal behavior—the measure only provides “a discrete one-time universe of individuals” the chance for legalization, while actualizing a return on the financial investments already made in the millions of undocumented youth who have completed public school in the United States.

Despite the DREAM Act’s victory in the House, however, its chances of clearing the Senate on Thursday remain somewhat slim. After successfully blocking the bill last October, Senate Republicans have been laying roadblocks ahead of Thursday’s vote—first vowing to stall any and all proposed measures until the controversial Bush tax cuts were extended and then spouting considerable misinformation about the DREAM Act (which Marshall Fitz soundly counters at Campus Progress). Moreover, a number of senators who once supported the measure now appear to be undecided in the face of competing political pressures.

The movement’s next steps?

But whether the bill clears the Senate on Thursday, progressive immigration reform advocates will find themselves in a politically hostile—and possibly unnavigable—environment come January, when a new line-up of right-wing lawmakers takes over the House.

Daniel Altschuler at The Nation argues that the movement must assess and address its greatest weaknesses if it hopes—at the very least—to weather the storm. While the reform movement has demonstrated its ability to “convert grassroots power into legislative pressure,” Altschuler argues, it has failed at “developing a unified legislative strategy and shaping the national debate.”

In terms of crafting a focused legislative strategy, activists will have to contend with a number of competing issues as opposed to focusing on a single target—such as passing the DREAM Act. The Obama administration’s continued enforcement push, anti-immigrant proposals by Republican House leaders, and state-level immigration measures all threaten to divide the movement’s focus, as they have in years past. In the meantime, Altschuler concludes, “the movement’s goals will be to fend off punitive enforcement legislation and lay the groundwork for” comprehensive immigration reform, through substantial—and perhaps disappointing—compromise.

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

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

9:16 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

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: The Coming War on Health Reform, Government Cheese, and how CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

8:26 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.

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 Diaspora: Immigrants Abused, Denied Social Services in Broken Immigration System

8:57 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

After decades of misguided policies and patchwork practices, the high human costs of our disordered immigration system are only starting to emerge. Stricter immigration policies and overcrowded detention centers aren’t making our streets safer or our social services more accessible.

Instead, mounting evidence shows that our immigration policies are just creating a space for immigrants to be brutalized—socially, financially and physically. From reports of sexual abuse inside of detention centers to news of legal residents being denied social services, the ineffectiveness of the prevailing system has never been more apparent, nor the need for reform so great.

Women and children sexually assaulted in detention centers

As Michelle Chen writes at Colorlines, allegations of sexual abuse within a Texas detention center have sparked investigations by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. According to reports, a guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center sexually assaulted several women while transporting them prior to their release.

Human Rights Watch, which this week released a comprehensive report on sexual abuse in detention, regards the incident as representative of a larger problem that affects both women and children caught in the web of the detention system. From the report:

Children, too, have apparently been subject to alleged abuse in Texas immigration detention facilities, although their care is overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), rather than ICE. Nine Central American children, one of whom was identified as 16 years old, reported sexual and physical abuse while in the custody of Texas Sheltered Care […] the children were fondled, groped, and forced to perform oral sex on one guard, and some were beaten by other guards.

While sexual assault is pervasive within the prison system, women in the immigration detention are particularly vulnerable. The threat of deportation and the lack of comprehensive oversight of detention centers (many of which are operated by for-profit corporations rather than ICE itself) both contribute to a culture of impunity. The fact that most individuals detained in ICE facilities are non-criminals only renders the situation even more reprehensible.

As Chen points out, it is likely many victims of abuse have already been deported, were offered no recourse, and have no incentive to report the crimes now.

Marginalizing undocumented victims of violent crime

Outside of detention centers, immigrant victims of violent crime are similarly handicapped by the justice system. While U-visas are available to undocumented crime victims who cooperate with prosecutors, Elyse Foley of the Washington Independent reports that such visas are issued inconsistently and at the discretion of local law enforcement.

In Maricopa County, Arizona (the land of Sheriff Joe Arpaio) former Attorney General Andrew Thomas allegedly ignored numerous requests for U-visas because he believed that undocumented immigrants were trying to use them to stay in the country.

Such politicking on the part of local law enforcement can have disastrous consequences, particularly in Arizona, where Arpaio’s aggressive policing of immigrants has created a culture of fear. Local immigrant rights groups now claim that migrants are refusing to report even violent crimes committed against them for fear of being arrested for their immigration status.

Criminalizing immigrants clogs the system

The impunity with which crimes are committed against immigrants, both in and out of detention, isn’t likely to end as long as our immigration system remains overcrowded and mismanaged. But, as Jim Loebe writes over at AlterNet, “real reform is still a long way off.” The government continues to increasingly criminalize immigration violations. Citing a new paper by the Global Detention Project, Loebe argues that more people, not less, are going to end up in detention in coming years, in spite of the president’s promise of reform.

Certainly, the Obama administration’s enforcement programs, from expanding the controversial Secure Communities program to the new border security bill, have been successful at detaining and deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants. But in spite of President Barack Obama’s assurances that his programs only target dangerous immigrants, the majority of those deported and in detention have no criminal records. Our broken system even penalizes refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom find themselves incarcerated for months or years while their cases are processed.

The unexpected impact of health care reform

In this anti-immigrant climate, legal immigrants and their American children are also facing unprecedented challenges, even as other citizens are enjoying greater security.

At The American Prospect, Maria C. Abascal argues that, while health care reform clearly excludes undocumented immigrants, it also hurts legal immigrants in less obvious ways. Not only are legal residents subject to a five-year waiting period to qualify for Medicaid (meaning low-income migrants and their children will likely remain uninsured), some analysts also believe that “health reform reduces the likelihood of immigration reform because it significantly increases the fiscal cost of amnesty.”

While the anti-immigrant sentiment that infused the health care debate earlier this year certainly suggested that reform wouldn’t be kind to the undocumented, few could have guessed that the Affordable Care Act would impact legal migrants and their American children so unfortunately. It begs the question: Should comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality, what kind of unintended consequences might it bring, and who might it ultimately hurt?

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

Weekly Pulse: Insurance, Dispersants, and Teen Botox

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Skocpal urges progressives to get over their disappointment over the lack of a public health insurance option and rally around the president to support health care reform in the midterm elections. Skocpol maintains that, for all its flaws and limitation, the Affordable Care Act will be a powerful antidote to rising inequality in American society:

[T]he White House certainly had to make choices about what to emphasize in the brief time it likely had to make headway. The administration chose comprehensive health care reform and a few other measures with profound economic import—and those will make an enduring difference for millions of ordinary Americans.

Keeping insurers in line

In the American Prospect, Jon Cohn warns of a potential loophole in the health care reform legislation. In theory, health insurers are now required to do various things they find unpalatable (read: less profitable), like making sure that all plans cover a basic array of treatments and limiting out-of-pocket expenses.

However, Cohn notes, the law allows for "grandfathering" of existing health care plans that don’t meet the new standards. It’s up to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to interpret what the grandfathering clause means in practice.

In June, the Secretary issued an interim ruling that existing health insurance plans will only be subject to the new rules if employers make significant changes in the coverage—such as dramatically increasing deductibles. If employers try to slash benefits or hike rates on their existing plans, they will lose the privilege of the grandfather clause and become subject to the tougher new rules.

The federal government can only do so much. Suzi Khimm of Mother Jones wonders who will keep insurers in line at the state level, the front lines of health care reform. She notes that 13 states don’t have the legal authority to scrutinize excessive rate hikes, like the 39% jump in premiums that insurer Anthem proposed last year.

Some states are taking the new regulations and running with them, but others are still fighting health care reform in the courts. This state-level recalcitrance is a major potential stumbling block. As Jonathan Cohn argued in his Prospect piece, above, health care reform will only work if it changes the behavior of insurers nationwide. State-level foot-dragging could be a serious threat to the success of the initiative as a whole.

Untested dispersants in the Gulf

You can’t see most of the 4 million barrels of oil that BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that 70%-79% of the oil is still in the Gulf, hidden in the water column or on the seabed. As Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, the oil is invisible because of chemicals known as dispersants.

So far, BP has released over 1.8 million gallons of these chemicals into the Gulf. These substances have never been tested for safety. Sheppard explains that the public isn’t even legally entitled to know exactly what’s in Corexit and other dispersants because the formulas are protected by trade secrets. When pressed, the maker of Corexit admitted that the fluid contains 2-butoxyethanol, a chemical that can cause kidney damage.

Teen Botox

Julie Zellinger of the Ms. Magazine blog reacts to the news that 12,000 American teenagers received botox injections last year, a 2% increase from 2008. Botox is used to paralyze muscles—sometimes for medical reasons like neck spasms and twitchy eyelids, but also for cosmetic purposes, like erasing wrinkles.

Teens don’t usually have wrinkles, but that doesn’t stop enterprising cosmetic surgeons from figuring out how to sell them botox injections to relieve other body image anxieties. Some teens are using botox to make their faces look less round.

As Zellinger says, it’s not so much the procedure itself that’s cause for alarm, but rather the underlying lack of self-esteem that these doctors are capitalizing on. I don’t know if teens are more insecure about their looks today than they were a generation ago, but cosmetic surgeons are busily developing techniques to exploit that insecurity.

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: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M10iraYa41o&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

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: The Religious Right vs. Birth Control

4:34 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Pulse: The Religious Right vs. Birth Control

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Does health care reform’s promise of preventive care extend to free birth control? Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have 18 months to decide whether to require insurers to provide oral contraceptives, IUDs, and other prescription birth control with no co-pay. With pro-choice Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the helm, HHS is expected to say yes.

[Update: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that birth control will not be on the White House's preliminary list of free preventive services, to be issued today. However, as Miriam Perez of feministing explains, HHS will ultimately have the final word. Observers, including Dana Goldstein who covers reproductive rights for the Daily Beast, are optimistic that the pro-choice side will carry the day at HHS.]

At this point in the HHS process, social conservatives are shut out in the cold, quaking with impotent rage. Now that the reform bill is law, HHS has to interpret the rules—and the Obama administration officials at HHS can’t be swayed as easily as elected officials.

Religious right on the warpath

Predictably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Abstinence Education Association, and the Heritage Foundation are up in arms. They’ve picked a deeply unpopular battle. Abortion remains controversial in some circles, but birth control is as American as baseball. The vast majority of sexually active women in the U.S. tell pollsters that they are not trying to become pregnant, and 89% of them are using some form of birth control.

"Seriously," writes Monica Potts of TAPPED, "a battle over contraceptives?" Over 15 million Americans currently use hormonal contraception. Studies show that the vast majority of Americans are morally comfortable with birth control.

Expanding access to birth control is smart policy because it reduces health care costs, as Suzi Khimm notes in Mother Jones. Birth control is a lot cheaper for insurers than pregnancy and childbirth. Free birth control could change women’s lives for the better. In this economy, $30-$50 a month for hormonal birth control can be a major obstacle for many. As Michelle Chen notes in ColorLines, women of color are among those hardest hit by out-of-pocket costs.

Birth control as common ground?

Many centrists hope that contraception will be a source of "common ground" between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps. The premise sounds reasonable. If anti-choicers oppose abortion, surely they will support measures proven to reduce the abortion rate, like expanded access to contraception. Political scientist Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED that conservative opposition to birth control coverage is further proof that the common ground hypothesis is wishful thinking:

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it ignores the broader set of assumptions about women and sexuality on which actual opposition to abortion is based. Consider anti-choice Republicans, who consistently opposed expanding contraceptive use: Given the choice between reducing abortion rates and controlling female sexuality, they will always choose the latter. Thus the idea that contraception can be a means of achieving a ceasefire in the culture wars has always been a fantasy. Liberals and conservatives aren’t just divided by abortion but by broader questions of female equality and sexual freedom.

The USCCB clearly understands that birth control is broadly popular. Its lobbyists aren’t even trying to argue that birth control shouldn’t be covered because it’s sinful. Instead, they are playing semantic games about what constitutes preventative health care. According to the USCCB, birth control shouldn’t count because fertility isn’t a disease. Be that as it may, pregnancy is a life-altering health condition that can kill you. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is on the record as saying that pregnant women must sacrifice their own lives for their fetuses. Ergo, pregnancy prevention is preventive health care.

Approving free birth control would go a long way towards restoring the trust between the Obama administration and its pro-choice base, at low political cost. It seems unlikely that the USCCB and its allies have the power to fuel a national backlash on this one. After all, three quarters of U.S. Catholics disagree with their own church’s teachings on birth control.

Conscience concerns

Speaking of the Department of Health and Human Services, Megan Carpentier at RH Reality Check wonders what happened to President Barack Obama’s early promise to repeal the so-called "conscience clause" rule that allows health care workers to opt out of providing reproductive health care that conflicts with their anti-choice principles. The rule is still on the books, over a year after Obama pledged to repeal it.

FEMA Foul

Finally, how did some BP oil spill cleanup workers end up living in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailers ruled unfit for human habitation? As I report for Working In These Times, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants answers from FEMA and the General Services Administration about how these trailers found their way back onto the market.

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: U.S. Social Forum Tackles Health Issues

9:04 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of progressive activists are converging on Detroit this week for the U.S. Social Forum to envision a better future. In the fight for social justice and sustainability, health and health care are at the forefront. During the meeting, the Washtenaw Reds plan to launch a free clinic in Detroit. They envision the facility as a center of healing and a nexus of political organizing. The USSF also features workshops on reproductive justice and drug policy issues. Urban farming and food justice are also key items on the agenda, Paul Abowd of In These Times reports.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Republicans are still scheming to overturn health care reform. The GOP leadership and its allies in the health care industry plan to use the upcoming confirmation fight over Dr. Donald Berwick, Obama’s nominee to run Medicare and Medicaid, as an opportunity to air their grievances about health care reform, Jamelle Bouie reports in the Washington Independent.

Deadly pollutants

As oil continues to spurt from the wrecked oil well in the Gulf, everyone is wondering how the disaster will affect human health. The scary part is, nobody really knows. The Climate Desk at Mother Jones says that more than 20,000 workers are slogging through as they attempt to clean up the mess. Fresh crude oil contains a many volatile chemicals, some of which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Over 100 workers have already complained of illnesses that may be connected to their work on the cleanup project, according to Louisiana public health authorities.

The Real News Network takes us on a tour of some of the deadliest pollutants in our air. Guest Michael Ash of the Corporate Toxics Information Project (CTIP) at Amherst University takes host Paul Jay on a guided tour of the nastiest gunk in our lungs. U.S.-based corporations emit over 4.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air every year. Bayer Aspirin and ExxonMobil are two of the biggest air polluters in the U.S., according to EPA emissions statistics. CTIP uses massive amounts of data that the EPA already collects to educate the public and investors about pollution. Ash hopes that socially responsible investors will decline to invest in dirty industries.

[youtube width="853" height="505"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cTgl_SZWEg[/youtube]

Over the counter birth control?

Finally, at RH Reality Check, Kathleen Reeves argues that the birth control pill should be available over the counter. Reeves maintains that anything a doctor might tell a woman about risk factors could be summarized on the package insert: Don’t smoke, use condoms to protect against STIs, and so on. I would argue that full OTC status might be a step too far. When it comes to hormonal contraception, one size does not fit all. Patients need to discuss their options with a health care professional who can explain the risks and benefits associated with each. Of course it’s silly to make a woman go back to her doctor every 6 months to renew a prescription she’s been taking every day for the last decade. A sensible compromise might to extend the length of prescriptions and the number of times they can be renewed following.

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.