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Weekly Audit: Government Shutdown Averted, But At What Cost?

9:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By
Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Congressional leaders
and President Barack Obama reached an eleventh hour budget deal on Friday
night, to fund the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and
avert a government shutdown for the time being.

The deal would cut
about $38 billion, Amy Goodman reports
for Democracy Now!, including $13 billion in cuts to the
Department of Health, Labor, and Human Services.

John Nichols
describes the nuts and bolts of the stopgap
plan
in The Nation:

The arrangement
worked out Friday night
averted the threatened shutdown with a
two-step process. First, the House and Senate passed a one-week spending
bill that addressed the immediate threat. That should give Congress and
the White House time to finalize a fiscal 2011 spending deal—on which
they have agreed in principle—before an April 15
deadline.

The Republicans will not be allowed to zero
out Planned Parenthood. Instead they were allowed a separate, largely
symbolic vote, which passed the House, but which is expected to die in the
Senate.

Planned Parenthood and ACORN

Nick
Baumann of Mother Jones argues that the deal is a case study in the priorities
of the Democratic Party. At the last minute, congressional Democrats
rallied to save Planned Parenthood. The venerable family planning
organization was under fire because of an undercover video sting by Lila
Rose, a onetime protegee of conservative propagandist James O’Keefe, who
himself pulled a similar stunt against the anti-poverty, pro-voter
registration group ACORN in 2009.

O’Keefe’s videos created a media
firestorm and Congress rushed to de-fund ACORN with little protest from
Democrats. Subsequent independent investigations revealed that the tapes
had been deceptively edited. Vindication came too late for ACORN, which
was forced to close its doors.

Baumann argues that Democrats spared
Planned Parenthood and sacrificed ACORN because ACORN didn’t have friends
in the right places:

Abortion rights affect everyone.
But to put it bluntly, big Dem donors care a lot more about abortion
rights than they do about community organizers in inner
cities.

Specious “victory”

In
the days leading up to the deal, the media created the expectation that
the budget was a game that one party would “win.” Paul Waldman of The
American Prospect
argues that in his eagerness to declare “victory” in the budget showdown,
President Obama is undermining his own political agenda.

It would have been nice if when announcing the budget deal,
President Obama had set aside the politician’s natural inclination to
declare victory and his own preference for casting himself as the adult
who settles things between the squabbling children. He could have said
something like this: “The deal we just made is preferable to a
government shutdown, which would have been truly disastrous. But nobody
should mistake it for anything but the tragedy it is. As a result of the
cuts Republicans have forced, people who rely on government services
will suffer, and the economy will lose jobs. The Republicans held the
government hostage, and we had no choice but to pay the
ransom.”

By rushing to champion the spending cuts,
Obama may be saving face, but he’s also setting a precedent that will make
the next round of cuts even easier. The truth is that Democrats conceded
under duress, they didn’t volunteer to cut spending because they thought
it would help the country.

Indeed, Democrats agreed to far more
cuts than the Republicans initially asked for. Cenk Uygur of the Young
Turks argues that the Tea Party and the ostensibly more mainstream
Republicans set up a very effective good
cop/bad cop
negotiating strategy in which the Democrats would offer
cuts and the mainstream Republicans would say, “I’d like to help you,
really I would, but you know my partner isn’t going to like that.”

Corporate taxes

Joshua Holland of AlterNet
explains how corporate American has successfully lobbied to shift an
ever-increasing share of its tax burden onto the backs of individual citizens:

Well, consider this:
in the 1940s, corporations paid 43 percent of all the federal income
taxes collected in this country. In the 1950s, they picked up the tab for
39 percent. But by the time the 1990s rolled around, corporations were
paying just 18.9 percent of federal income taxes, and they
forked over the same figure in the first decade of this century. We –
working people – paid the difference.

Something to
think about as we prepare to file our income tax returns.

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

Weekly Pulse: Florida Governor Wants to Drug Test All State Employees

7:20 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott plans to force public workers and welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing every three weeks. Why? Because he doesn’t like either group, Cenk Uygur argues on the Young Turks. “It’s an attempt to stigmatize, demonize, and punish those people,” Uygur says:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fhSYsb2Gtg[/youtube]

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains why Scott’s plan is almost certainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to take drug tests unless public safety is at stake. The government can impose random drug testing for bus drivers, but not clerks at the DMV. Scott wants to spend millions of dollars testing all state employees. The only beneficiary of Scott’s plan will be the drug-testing industry.

From vitamins to purity balls

Martha Kempner of RH Reality Check profiles Leslee Unruh, the eccentric vitamin saleswoman-turned-crisis pregnancy center maven and abstinence crusader who is spearheading the drive for increasingly draconian abortion restrictions in South Dakota.

Unruh founded a crisis pregnancy center in 1997. Gradually, she became convinced that cajoling unhappily pregnant women to give birth was backwards. What she needed to do was save women from sex in the first place:

As Amanda Robb explains in her 2008 expose on Unruh published in MORE Magazine: “after working with hundreds of women who got pregnant unintentionally, she says she began to realize that this kind of counseling put the cart before the horse in women’s lives. To truly empower women, she became convinced, you have to ‘save them from sexual activity.’”

Unruh’s Abstinence Clearinghouse is famous for sponsoring “purity balls” at which fathers promise to guard their daughters’ sexual purity until marriage.

My uterus is a closed shop

Last weekend the Wisconsin AFL-CIO held a rally with Planned Parenthood in Madison, Wisconsin, Mike Elk reports for Working In These Times. Elk writes:

The labor movement, at its core, is about class struggle – the working class overcoming the power of the owning class in order to take control over their own lives. For women, class struggle historically has centered on overcoming the oppression of men who want to have control over their lives.

It makes sense that organized labor and the reproductive rights movement are being drawn closer together. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has declared war on unions and reproductive health care. Walker’s notorious anti-collective bargaining bill also declared war on the state’s highly successful, money-saving family planning program.

The Walker administration declared the union-busting bill to be law last Friday, in defiance of a court ruling, Matthew Rothschild reports in The Progressive. A court had ruled that the legality of the bill was in question because it seems to have been passed in defiance of the state’s strong open meetings laws.

De-funding family planning

Some Minnesota Republicans are taking a page from Scott Walker’s playbook, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. A group of Republican state senators are working to de-fund the state’s family planning programs by cutting off state funding and refusing federal dollars to fund these initiatives. An estimated 40,000 people receive reproductive health care each year through programs that the GOP is trying to eliminate. Their position is surely not motivated by concerns about the deficit. Joint state-federal family planning programs have been shown to save money for the state and the federal government.

HIV/AIDS at 30

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At Colorlines.com, LaShieka Purvis Hunter profiles a distinguished community leader in the struggle against HIV, Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Sanders and his congregation have been engaged in the struggle for 26 years, ever since one of the founding members of this predominantly black church died of the virus.

Saunders says that, as far as he knows, his is the only African American congregation operating an HIV/AIDS primary care clinic:

“There are other congregations with primary care clinics that do other things, but ours is exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS,” he explains. “We were really fortunate to get a planning grant from the URSA Institute about 10 years ago, and have a fully operating clinic four years after that. Now we are able to serve a population in our community that represents those who are truly disenfranchised.”

The URSA Institute is a non-profit social interest consulting firm which supports HIV/AIDS-related research and prevention programs.

Dig for victory

Spring is here. Ellen LaConte of AlterNet explains why gardening is good for your health and your pocketbook. Produce prices are rising, thanks to increasing oil prices, dwindling soil reserves, monoculture, and other factors. LaConte predicts that gardening and small-scale collective farming will become an increasingly important source of fresh fruits and vegetables for average Americans in the years to come.

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

Weekly Pulse: Don’t Snort Bath Salts, Kids

9:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to Robin Marty of Care2.org, today’s young whippersnappers are snorting bath salts and plant food to get their kicks. I knew I was getting old when I had to check the media to find out about the latest youth drug menace.

But, before you go and blow your allowance at the Body Shop or the garden center, keep in mind that “bath salt” and “plant food” are just euphemisms that web-based head shops use to sell these amphetamine-like drugs , according to a 2010 report by the UK Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The active ingredients of this legal high are mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

Despite what the media would have you believe, these designer drugs are not ingredients in common household products. You cannot get high on actual bath salts or plant food. Sorry. Gardeners, if you bought exotic imported “plant food” online, and it arrived in an impossibly tiny packet, don’t feed it to your plants.

Anti-choice black op linked to James O’Keefe

At least a dozen Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have recently been visited by a mysterious, self-proclaimed “sex trafficker” who was apparently part of a ruse to entrap clinic employees. Planned Parenthood reported these visits to the FBI.

In each case, the man reportedly asked to speak privately with a clinic worker, whereupon he asked for health advice regarding the underage, undocumented girls he was supposedly trying to traffic.

Jodi Jacobson reports at RH Reality Check:

[Prominent anti-choice blogger] Jill Stanek and other anti-choice operatives, including Lila Rose of Live Action Films are effectively claiming responsibility for sending  pseudo “sex traffickers” into [Planned Parenthood] clinics, and also warn of “explosive evidence,” of which they of course present…..none. They appear to have no credible response to exposure of their efforts to perpetrate a hoax on Planned Parenthood.

As Jacobson points out, sex trafficking is a very real problem. And a sex trafficking hoax diverts time and resources that the authorities who could be hunting down real traffickers. She adds:

Victims of sex trafficking, after all, also need sexual health services because they are effectively being raped regularly and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and experience unintended pregnancies. Does this help them get treatment?

Lila Rose of Live Action Films is a former associate of right wing hoaxster James O’Keefe, who orchestrated a sting operation against the social justice group ACORN. O’Keefe was sentenced last year to three years’ probation for scamming his way into the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in January, 2010.

Sex, lies, and the classroom

To mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the National Radio Project presents a discussion of sex ed in American schools, federal funding for sex ed, and advocacy by interest groups and parents. Guests include Phyllida Burlingame of the ACLU and Gabriela Valle of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

Hot coffee!

Remember the woman who sued McDonald’s after she spilled a hot cup of coffee in her lap? Corporate interests made Stella Liebeck into a national joke, even though she won her suit. Hot Coffee is a new documentary that tells the story behind the one-liners. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Ms. Liebeck’s daughter and son-in-law.

McDonald’s corporate manuals dictated that coffee be served at 187 degrees, in flimsy styrofoam cups. A home coffee maker usually keeps the brew between 142 to 162 degrees, and most people pour their Joe into something sturdier than a styrofoam cup. If you spill that coffee on yourself, you have 25 seconds to get it off before you suffer a 3rd degree burn. Whereas if you spill 187-degree coffee on yourself, you’ve got between 2 and 7 seconds.

Companies are expected to produce products that are safe for their intended use. McDonald’s was serving coffee to go, through drive-through windows, with cream and sugar in the bag. By implication, it should be safe to add cream and sugar to hot coffee in a car. In the pre-cup-holder era, millions of Americans were probably steadying their coffees between their legs to add cream and sugar every day. A responsible restaurant would not dispense superheated liquids in flimsy to-go cups. Indeed, McDonalds’ own records showed that 700 people had been scalded this way.

In 1992, the plaintiff was a passenger in a parked car, attempting to add cream and sugar to her coffee while steadying the cup between her knees. When she opened the lid, the cup collapsed inward, dousing her with scalding coffee. The 79-year-old woman sustained 3rd degree burns over 16% of her body. She needed skin grafts to repair the damage. Initially she only sued to recoup part of the cost of the skin grafts. But the judge who heard the case was so outraged by McDonald’s disregard for customer safety that he urged the jury to award punitive damages.

Another theme of Hot Coffee is how medical malpractice caps are forcing taxpayers to cover the medical costs of people who are injured by negligent health care providers.

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: 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: Obama Signs Health Reform Bill, Backlash Begins

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, President Obama signed health care reform into law. As Mike Lillis explains in the Washington Independent, the bill now proceeds to the Senate for reconciliation. The whole process could be complete by the end of the week. Republicans and their allies have already moved to challenge reform in court.

Legal challenges

The fight is far from over, however. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that Republicans have already filed papers to challenge health care reform in court. The Justice Department has pledged to vigorously defend health care reform, according to Zach Roth of TPM Muckraker.

The legal arguments against health care reform center around the constitutionality of an individual mandate, i.e., the requirement that everyone must carry health insurance. This argument is specious. The bill characterizes the mandatory payments as a tax, and imposes a fine for those who don’t pay their insurance tax. There is no question that Congress has the authority to levy taxes in support of the general welfare and providing health insurance to the people easily meets that legal criterion.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent reviews some of the other formidable legal barriers to challenging health care reform in court. But take heart, teabaggers! Birther-dentist-lawyer Orly Taitz is on the case.

Violent outbursts from reform opponents

Some anti-reform activists have resorted to intimidation. Five Democratic offices were vandalized in the days surrounding the House vote, as Justin Elliott reports for TPM Muckraker. Someone hurled a brick through the window of the Niagara office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Slaughter is notorious on the right for drawing up the controversial "deem and pass" strategy for moving the bill forward. Her plan was never put into action, but she has become a target anyway. Another Democratic office in Slaughter’s district was damaged by a brick bearing a quote from conservative icon Barry Goldwater: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Elliott notes that a conservative blogger in Alabama is doing his best to incite similar attacks, though it’s not clear whether he instigated any of the original five:

…Blogger Mike Vanderboegh has been tracking the breaking of windows at Dem offices after issuing a call Friday: "To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

Reproductive rights take a hit

Anti-abortion extremist Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) failed to get his ultra-restrictive abortion language inserted into the health care bill, but the final bill does impede health insurance coverage for abortion.

For example, those who choose abortion coverage will have to write two checks: One for their regular premium and one for a dollar to go into a separate abortion coverage fund. Many analysts fear that the extra hassles will discourage private insurers from covering abortion at all. Pro-choice activists were in a weaker negotiating position because, unlike Stupak and his allies, they weren’t prepared to kill health reform if their demands weren’t met.

The greater good?

Now that health care reform is safely signed into law, the pro-choice movement is stepping back and asking itself some tough questions.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt argues that the pro-choice movement deserves to be rewarded for sacrificing its own agenda for the greater good. She suggests that the Democrats could reward the reproductive rights movement by fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, addressing maternal mortality and other policy changes to advance women’s health and freedom.

Jos of Feministing counters that with their go along to get along attitude pro-choice groups have only demonstrated that they can be ignored with impunity: "You don’t get rewarded for demonstrating a lack of political power, you get further marginalized."

At RH Reality Check, Megan Carpentier argues that national pro-choice organization like NARAL and Planned Parenthood ceded their leverage too easily. While anti-choicers were beefing up their lobbying presence in Washington, major pro-choice groups were scaling back. Pro-choice groups compromised early and easily, perhaps because they were overly confident that their service to the Democratic cause would be rewarded in the end.

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.