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Weekly Pulse: Sharron Angle Mocks Insurance for Autism; The Fight to Save Food Stamps

8:04 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The woman gunning for Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) job doesn’t believe that autism exists.

Yes, you heard right. Sharron Angle believes that the neurodevelopmental disorder know to medical science as "autism" is actually a government-backed hoax to redistribute wealth from hardworking health insurers to pesky kids and their greedy parents.

Angle was caught on tape promising to abolish mandatory insurance coverage for autism. "Everything that they want to throw at us is covered under ‘autism’," Angle told the American Association of Underwriters this summer, tracing scare quotes with her fingers as she said "autism."

Care2′s Kristina Chew, the mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism, responds to Angle’s airy dismissal:

…By saying that you don’t think there should be health care for autism, I take it that you don’t think that children, and individuals, with disabilities are in need of such things—living with their families and in their communities, healthy and safe, being loved and cared for? Being treated as we would all like to be?

The fact that Angle opposes mandated coverage for private insurers should concern voters, especially since she wants to privatize all government health care programs. In other words, Angle wants to turn health care over to the private sector and stamp out public competition. And yet, Angle’s campaign admits that the candidate and her husband receive both government health care and a Civil Service pension, according to Eric Kleefeld of TPM. If Angle is so morally opposed to government health care, she should set an example by declining the coverage.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones has more on Angle’s record: She once told impregnated rape victims to buck up and make "lemons out of lemonade" by bearing their attacker’s child. Angle also denounced people on unemployment insurance as "spoiled."

Food vs. health care

It may soon get even harder for poor families to make ends meet. The Senate is poised to slash the extra food stamp benefits in the stimulus before they expire. The Senate already raided $6.7 billion from the the so-called "food stamp cookie jar" to bail out Medicaid and save teachers’ jobs at the state level. Now they want to take even more money to fund the child nutrition bill.

The cuts would fund a marginal improvement in school lunches, notes Monica Potts of TAPPED. That’s all well and good, but why provide slightly better weekday lunches if the poorest children get less at every other meal?

Annie Lowery of the Washington Independent interviews anti-hunger activist Joel Berg about the cuts. Berg says that if the cuts go through, families will have to make do with considerably less than the current $4.50 per person per day. He notes that Congress wants to cut food stamp benefits in the face of rising food prices.

When families make do with less, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables will be the first casualty. Berg argues that it is economically short-sighted to prematurely terminate one of the most efficient economic stimuli in the entire stimulus package:

And we know that we aren’t only feeding people. We come at this from a moral position, a nutritional position, and an economic recovery position. This cut is so insane from an economic position as well — we know food stamps are the most effect form of stimulus. The jury is still out on parts of the stimulus — but the jury isn’t out on food stamps. It was a 1,000 percent, beyond home run grand slam success, if you’ll excuse me mixing metaphors. The money went to people who needed it, rapidly, and without a lot of bureaucracy.

In the Progressive, Ruth Conniff has a personal take on the politics of improving school lunches. Her kids’ school got a USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables grant to introduce more local produce into school meals.

"Bridalplasty"

The laws of Reality TV: 1) The most important thing in life is to be very beautiful so that a man will want to marry you; 2) You have until your wedding day to make yourself look like someone else.

The E! network is launching a new reality show in which brides-to-be receive free cosmetic surgery to make them look acceptable for their Special Day, as Stephanie Hallett reports at Ms. blog. Hallett notes that armchair psychiatrists are already diagnosing the contestants with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition that causes sufferers to become obsessed with imagined physical imperfections.

Hallett also argues that competitive plastic surgery shows like Bridalplasty and The Swan are dramatic exaggerations. Labeling the contestants as "sick" or "crazy" implies that they are limited-edition freaks, not individuals on the extreme end of a continuum of self-loathing that affects most women.

Ectopic pregnancy

Anti-choicers have already attacked hormonal birth control as crypto-abortion. Their next target may be lifesaving surgery for a deadly complication of pregnancy. At RH Reality Check, Lon Newman writes about a young woman that survived a life threatening ectopic pregnancy.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg takes root outside the uterus, nearly always in a fallopian tube. Tubal pregnancies are among the deadliest gynecological emergencies because the woman can rapidly bleed to death if the tube ruptures. Obviously, once a fertilized egg takes root outside the uterus, there is no chance that it will survive. However, some anti-choice extremists still maintain that treating ectopic pregnancies is a kind of abortion.

One of the ectopic pregnancy survivor’s friends actually told her that she should have respected "God’s will" and refused lifesaving surgery. “I have had friends who said that I should have ‘gone with God’s will,’ imposing their beliefs on my will to live,” the woman said.

Some friend.

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: Anti-Masturbation Crusader Christine O’Donnell is Master of Her Domain

10:00 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Christine O’Donnell is master of her domain. The deeply conservative Tea Party darling won the Republican senate nomination in Delaware last night with a stunning upset of establishment favorite Rep. Mike Castle.

O’Donnell rose to prominence as an anti-masturbation crusader in the 1990s. Jillian Rayfield of Talking Points Memo has video of O’Donnell’s 1996 appearance on MTV’s series "Sex in the Nineties" in which she and her colleagues from the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth Ministry. (SALT) O’Donnell warns teens that masturbation is adultery that will undermine their future marital sex lives: "You’re going to be pleasing each other, and if he already knows what pleases him and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?" she asks.

Lest you think the anti-masturbation ministry was a youthful indiscretion, O’Donnell was still listed as the contact person for SALT on a web directory last updated in 2009. Christina Bellantoni of TPMDC reports that O’Donnell remained an outspoken social conservative on the campaign trail.

Blessing in disguise?

Suzi Khimm of Mother Jones sees O’Donnell’s victory as a potential blessing in disguise for Democrats:

Ultimately, though, the biggest benefactor of an O’Donnell victory could be the Democratic Party, as she has a significantly weaker shot against the likely Democratic contender, lawyer and county executive Chris Coons. [...] If the GOP loses Delaware, it could completely blow its chance at getting enough seats for a Senate majority.

Adele Stan of AlterNet reports that, as of 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was still locked in a dead heat with Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne for the Republican Senate nomination. Does Ayotte’s name sound familiar? That’s probably because she made a name for herself as the anti-abortion Attorney General behind Ayotte vs. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Beth Saunders reports for RH Reality Check.

If either of these Republican nominee proves too extreme for the voters of New Hampshire, the Democrats could pick up the senate seat being vacated by Republican Judd Gregg.

Urban coal pollution is deadly

In other health news, Michelle Chen reports in Colorlines that coal pollution will kill 13,000 Americans this year, mostly in urban areas:

According to the study, fine particle pollution linked to the coal industry is “expected to cause over 13,000 premature deaths in 2010, as well as almost 10,000 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks per year.” The estimated death toll clusters in certain industrial cities, namely New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., affirming other research showing the racial and economic implications of these urban health impacts.

The bright side is that fewer people are projected to die of coal-related illnesses this year compared to last year. It’s not clear whether we have tougher regulation to thank, or the economic slowdown, or both.

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: Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Crusade Continues

10:01 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Though Arizona’s SB 1070 went into effect without its most controversial provisions, the legislation’s stated intent—attrition through enforcement—is nevertheless gaining traction among anti-immigrant legislators across the nation. In the wake of the law’s enactment, other states are coming out in support of Arizona, some developing policy modeled after SB 1070. Others even hope to alter the U.S. constitution to deny “birthright citizenship” to children of undocumented immigrants.

Arizona stands firm against injunction

After federal judge Susan Bolton blocked numerous elements of SB 1070, Arizona governor Jan Brewer wasted no time and swiftly filed an appeal against the injunction.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for his part, has assured the public that he intends to continue enforcing state and federal immigration laws through “crime sweeps” and immigration status checks. After Arizona’s 287(g) agreement expired last year, effectively stripping local law enforcement of the right to detain individuals on suspicion of their immigration status, Arpaio similarly refused to comply, brazenly maintaining his immigration enforcement campaign.

Jamilah King of ColorLines reports that on the day that SB 1070 went into effect, Arpaio and hundreds of deputies arrested 50 protesters before completing their 17th immigration raid. Those arrested included clergy, journalists, and attorneys. Local civil rights leader Salvador Reza – a particularly outspoken critic of Arpaio’s contentious enforcement tactics, was also taken into custody, as was former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez.

No citizenship to “anchor babies”

Meanwhile, Arizona legislators are taking anti-immigrant sentiment to a new level and coming out in favor of potentially repealing the 14th amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

At the Washington Independent, Elise Foley reports that Arizona senators Jon Kyl and John McCain are the latest to join the radical faction of Republican Party politicians calling for congressional hearings to reconsider the amendment. McCain’s new position is particularly curious given his historical support of comprehensive immigration reform, and past advocacy of deportees’ American children.

McCain’s about-face may be prompted by the impending election and, in particular, the considerable popularity of his Republican opponent J. D. Hayworth, who is running on a firm anti-immigrant platform.

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive argues that the Republican focus on birthright citizenship is a malicious attempt to visit the sins of the father onto the children. Rothschild also calls attention to the fact that a whopping 94 Republicans in the House support the extremist effort.

SB 1070 paves the way

Arizona has long been a testing ground for anti-immigrant measures in the U.S. and SB 1070 is no exception. Now that the new law has gained traction, other states are following suit.

At Talking Points Memo, Christina Bellantoni reports that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) issued an opinion stating that Virginia law enforcement, including state park personnel, have the same authority to investigate immigration status as Arizona police officers.

Written as an advisory letter to state Delegate Bob Marshall, the opinion has garnered intense opposition – in part because Virginia considers official opinions of the attorney general to be laws. Cuccinelli reinforced his opinion by filing an amicus brief to stand in solidarity with Arizona in its fight against the federal government.

He’s not alone, either. Going back to the Washington Independent Foley reports that three other attorney generals and nine states have filed amicus briefs in support of Arizona’s new immigration law.

Who profits when immigrants go to jail?

While SB 1070 is argued in the courts and debated in the media, Yana Kuchinoff at Truthout reminds us that 300,000 immigrants are languishing in detention centers under notoriously poor conditions. More than 100 deaths have been reported in immigration detention since 2003, sparking investigations by Human Rights Watch, Detention Watch, and even the Department of Homeland Security.

Moreover, private companies contracted to handle the rising number of detentions are making a fortune on the nation’s broken immigration system. Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private immigration detainer in the country, has made record profits since 2003 by billing the federal government an estimated $11 million per month and cutting costs at the expense of detainees’ health and well-being. Telecommunications companies like EverCom are also profiting from detention, charging immigrants in detention as much as $17.34 for a 15-minute phone call.

The irony of our dysfunctional immigration system, Kuchinoff concludes, is that the people who end up spending the most time in detention, are those with the strongest claims for staying in the U.S.

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: Prostate Health is Girly and Other Health Care Paradoxes

9:08 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Prostate health is girly

The Prostate Cancer Foundation recently rolled out one of the most bizarre and ill-advised public health advisories in the history of advertising. The takehome message? That there’s something sissy, or god forbid gay, about getting checked for prostate cancer.

The ad features a bunch of retired sports legends in a suburban living room, knitting. They proceed to quiz each other about their prostate exams.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1437ocq8-mU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Jessica Valenti of Feministing has the transcript:

Man 1: How did that prostrate exam go today?

Man 2: Very well, thank you for asking. (Looking to Man 3) Hey aren’t you due for one pretty soon?

Man 3: I guess.

Man 4: Whoa there, big guy.

Man 3: I’ll get around to it sooner or later.

Man 1: Sooner or later? 1 in 6 are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Man 3: Alright! I’ll do it.

Man 4: That’s all we wanted to hear.

Man 5: Dessert is served.

The tagline is "Why can’t men express themselves more like women?" No doubt, the copywriters thought they were complimenting women. But if they want men to be more comfortable talking about their health, they shouldn’t reinforce the myth that broaching the subject is emasculating.

Abstinence-only, until adultery

It’s official: abstinence-only education works by failing. When people fail to practice abstinence and go on to ruin their lives, it just goes to show how great abstinence would be if anyone took it seriously. More federal funding, please.

As TPM reports, former GOP congressman Mark Souder says he’s happy that the abstinence-only video he filmed with his mistress and erstwhile staffer Tracey Jackson is the butt of late night talkshow jokes.

"If some people see this abstinence video, I’m living proof of what we’re saying in it. If they actually listen to the words, maybe it’s worth it," Souder told an Indiana newspaper, adding, "You’ll go crazy if you don’t have some sense of irony." Indeed.

Sex ed activist Shelby Knox writes in AlterNet, "If we can thank Mr. Souder for anything this week, it’s putting failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the public crosshairs once again."

Rand Paul: Fairweather libertarian

Last week, the Republican senate candidate in Kentucky, Rand Paul, made headlines when he argued that Civil Rights unjustly infringed upon the right of private business owners to segregate their establishments by race. Astonishingly, some liberals rushed to defend Paul against charges of racism on the grounds that he was merely expressing "principled" libertarian views. On this view, Paul’s not a racist, it’s just that the country would be a lot more racist if he were in charge. Comforting?

Katha Pollitt of the Nation points out that Paul’s "principles" are very selective. He wouldn’t dream of restricting a Woolworths’ right to hang up a "whites only" sign, but he’s perfectly comfortable using government power to restrict a woman’s right to choose:

In countries where abortion bans are taken seriously, the prospect of performing even the most medically necessary abortion terrifies doctors and hospitals. Law enforcement treats miscarriages as possible crimes. Women and doctors go to prison. How does a police officer showing up at a patient’s hospital bed to question her as a possible murderer, with a mandatory investigation of the premises of the alleged crime—her vagina and uterus—square with libertarianism? Like his support for increased Medicaid payment to physicians, a profession he just happens to follow, the exceptions to Rand’s libertarianism miraculously track his own preferences. Somehow the market, which is supposed to miraculously produce food that doesn’t poison you, cars that don’t explode, oil wells that don’t pollute and mines that don’t collapse, is useless when it comes to forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and making sure doctors make plenty of money.

The only way Paul can keep the libertarian high ground is if he comes right out and says that women are the property of men.

Red tape effective barrier to abortion access

Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check reports on a new study by the Guttmacher Institute on why so many young obstetrician-gynecologists who are trained and willing to provide abortions don’t end up offering those services. The findings are based on interviews with 30 OB-GYNs who completed their residencies between 5 and 10 years ago. All received abortion training; 18 said they intended to provide elective abortions, but only 3 were actually doing so.

The doctors said that they were unable to offer the service because of formal and informal restrictions imposed by group practices, employers and hospitals. This small, qualitative study points to an unexpected conclusion: When it comes to abortion access, red tape can be a bigger barrier than the threat of violence, at least among doctors who have already decided to provide abortions.

Kagan Hearings Set for Late June

In other news, confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan are scheduled to begin on June 28. No doubt abortion issues will remain in the spotlight in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, pundits will remember that Supreme Court Justices wear robes to work and stop obsessing about Kagan’s wardrobe.

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 Pill at 50 and Oklahoma’s Extreme Ultrasound Law

8:51 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fifty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill. Needless to say, the repercussions of this medical and public policy breakthrough are still being felt today.

Catherine Epstein of the Women’s Media Center thinks it’s significant that we celebrate the date a U.S. government agency approved the Pill, as opposed to the anniversary of its invention. The Pill has been at the center of a power struggle from the very beginning:

The pill has been under ideological fire since the first tiny tablet hit a woman’s palm. And the impact it’s had on women’s autonomy and freedom has been – as decades have passed – nearly equal to the fear (and subsequent restriction) it’s instilled in those who believe in curtailing reproductive rights.

Which came first?

Michelle Goldberg of the American Prospect takes up an longstanding debate: Did the Pill liberate women, or did it take a feminist revolution to make the Pill relevant? Call it a chicken and ovum problem: American women were able to use the Pill to wrest control of their reproductive destinies because they had a certain level of autonomy to begin with.

Women didn’t immediately embrace the pill when it came on the market because the stigma of divorcing sex and reproduction was still too great. Arguably, society’s attitudes about sex and reproduction had to evolve before the Pill could catch on. As Goldberg notes, oral contraceptives are widely available in Saudi Arabia, yet they pose no apparent threat to the patriarchy. I would argue that reproductive freedom is a positive feedback loop. Women who control their fertility are in a better position to push for even more autonomy through education, paid work, and social activism.

Reproductive rights and the Supreme Court

The battle over reproductive rights is far from over. With the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, all eyes are on President Barack Obama as he mulls the shortlist to replace the Court’s leading liberal. Interestingly, the reputed front-runners are all white women: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit, and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

Paul Waldman of the American Prospect casts a jaded eye on the upcoming confirmation battle. He predicts a good, old fashioned culture war brawl. He notes that the Republicans are already preparing to paint Wood as an "abortion rights extremist," if she gets the nod, according to early opposition research obtained New York Times.

Everything is not OK

Speaking of abortion rights, Rachel Larris of RH Reality Check reports that the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s new law, which forces women to undergo ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortions. The Center argues that the law is unconstitutional because it violates a woman’s right to privacy by forcing unwanted information on her and impinging upon doctor/patient confidentiality.

Monica Potts of TAPPED floats the idea that, because these mandatory ultrasounds typically involve a vaginal probe, the Oklahoma law might violate the state’s rape laws.

WellPoint caves to House Dems

Finally, some good news on the women’s health front. Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo reports that health insurance giant WellPoint caved to political pressure from House Democrats and agreed to stop dropping sick customers.

WellPoint achieved nationwide notoriety in recent weeks when it was revealed that automatically reviewed the records of women diagnosed with breast cancer (and other ailments) to see if they had any unreported preexisting conditions that might justify terminating their coverage. This practice will become illegal when the health care reform legislation takes effect, but WellPoint has agreed to stop ahead of schedule.

Action Urged on Neglected Diseases

In the Progressive, Dr. Unni Karunakara and Dr. Bernard Pecoul urge the Obama administration tackle more neglected tropical diseases. Obama has already pledged unprecedented aid to fight five neglected ailments afflicting the developing world. Krunakara and Pecoul argue that this isn’t enough. The administration is fighting the good fight on malaria, but sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and Buruli ulcer, which affect a billion of the world’s poorest people.

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: Bayh-Partisanship=Giving Your Seat to a Republican

9:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

You will be shocked, shocked to hear that a Blue Dog Democrat who made a career out of undermining his own party is sucker-punching them on his way out. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana abruptly announced this week that he would not seek reelection in November. Bayh’s departure is ratcheting up insecurity in the Democratic caucus at the very moment they need to take decisive action to pass health care reform.

Bayh could easily have won a third term, but it’s unclear whether any other Democrat can hold the seat. To add insult to injury, Bayh waited until 24 hours before the filing deadline for Democratic primary candidates, sending Indiana Dems scrambling to find a candidate to run in his place. Bayh’s tardiness was calculated. Since no Democrats were ready to file by the deadline, the Indiana Democratic establishment will get to handpick Bayh’s successor.

In a call with state Democratic officials, Bayh said his abrupt departure is for the best, as Evan McMorris-Santo reports for TPMDC. According to Bayh, he’s doing the party a favor by sparing them a contentious primary process. Thanks a lot.

What does this mean for health care reform?

What does Bayh’s departure portend for health care reform? Monica Potts of TAPPED argues that replacing a conservative Democrat like Bayh with a moderate Republican won’t make that much difference. Bayh was never a reliable Democratic vote.

But Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED dismisses this view as naive. Fernholtz predicts that, for all of Bayh’s faults, the senate will be much worse without him: "In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, [GOP hopeful] Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh." Bayh voted for health care reform and the stimulus, no Republican, no matter how "moderate" is going to vote that way.

Anyone who expects a moderate Republican from Indiana to support any part of the Democratic agenda is deluded. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats already passed their bill, their only remaining task would be to pass a "fix" through budget reconciliation to make changes in the legislation that would be acceptable to the House. Of course, reconciliation will be a bitter political fight. One wonders whether the demoralized Senate Democrats will have the stomach for it.

About that health care summit…

Note that congressional Republicans have yet to commit to attending the "bipartisan" health care summit that they called for. Christina Bellatoni of TPMDC reports that yesterday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wondered why the Republicans were for the summit before they were against it:

"Right before the president issued the invitation, the—the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do, if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the—leap the chasm there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do," Gibbs said.

Busting the filibuster

On the bright side, the Democrats still have a sizable majority in the Senate, with or without Bayh. Republicans would have to beat all 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators in the next election in order to regain control of the Senate. The more immediate threat to health care reform and the Democrats’ ability to govern in general is the institutional filibuster. Structural reform is needed to break the impasse. Lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan talks with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on strategies for busting the filibuster.

Public option resurfacing

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that four senate Democrats have thrown their lot in with progressives clamoring for a public option through reconciliation. Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (CO) argue for the public option in an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The letter reads:

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….

Big pharma’s lobby

That’s nice, but let’s not forget who’s really in charge. In AlterNet, Paul Blumenthal recaps the sorry history of collusion between the White House, the pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA, and the Senate. According to Blumenthal the White House steered pharmaceutical lobbyists directly to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the powerful Finance Committee, who was entrusted with crafting the White House’s favored version of health care reform.

Abortion and health care reform

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is making abortion is an obstacle to passing health care reform through reconciliation. The NRLC is insinuating that Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats will vote against the Senate health care bill because it it’s slightly less restrictive of abortion than the bill the House passed. The good news is that it’s procedurally impossible to insert Stupak’s language into the Senate bill through reconciliation. The bad news is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needs every vote she can get to pass the Senate bill and anti-choice hardliners could be an obstacle.

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: Did Wiretappers Target Landrieu Over Health Care Deal?

10:00 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The conservative videographer who donned a pimp suit to embarrass the anti-poverty group ACORN was arrested in New Orleans, LA for allegedly conspiring to bug the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

It’s not clear why Landrieu was targeted, but many suspect that she was singled out because she played a pivotal role in advancing health care reform.

Filmmaker James O’Keefe and three other men have been charged with been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, according to Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker. At RH Reality Check, Rachel Larris notes that, if convicted, the four could face up to 10 years in prison.

Like chum in the conservative shark tank

Landrieu, a conservative Democrat, negotiated an extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Louisiana in exchange for allowing the health care bill to come to the senate floor. Accepting health care for the poor in the interest of health reform was like chum in the conservative shark tank.

Rush Limbaugh called her the most expensive prostitute of all time. "She may be easy, but she’s not cheap," crowed Glenn Beck. It got so bad that Democrats call on Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was called upon to denounce the chorus of conservatives attacking his fellow Louisiana senator as a prostitute. (Correction: Vitter did not call Landrieu a prostitute.)

O’Keefe must have realized that an exposé of Mary Landrieu would be a hot commodity.

"This is Watergate meets YouTube," said Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief

Health care reform in limbo

The arrests could not have come at a better time for the Democrats. Health care reform is in limbo as congressional leaders plan their next move after losing their filibuster-proof majority. The bugging scandal is deflecting attention from tense internal negotiations.

Brian Beutler of TPMDC reports that the House Democrats are converging on a strategy to get reform done: The House will pass the Senate bill and the Senate will fix it through budget reconciliation.

The Republican counter-strategy

While the Democrats agonize over what to do next, that senate Republicans are honing strategies to thwart any Democratic attempt to pass health care reform through budget reconciliation, as Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Independent. The reconciliation process allows both sides to vote on unlimited number of amendments. GOP leadership is hinting that if Dems take the reconciliation route, they will be forced to vote on every politically embarrassing amendment the opposition can dream up.

The stakes are high. In the American Prospect, Paul Starr reminds progressives that there’s till a lot worth fighting for, even without a public option. For all its faults, the Senate bill would still cover 30 million uninsured Americans, expand Medicaid, end discrimination based on preexisting conditions, and set up exchanges designed to keep rising insurance premiums in check.

A memo for reform

Finally, our sources tell us that Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly is making quite a stir on Capitol Hill with his memo advising the House Democratic caucus on the need to forge ahead with health care reform. In 1994, conservative commentator William Kristol wrote a health care memo to Republicans that became the backbone of their anti-reform strategy, even up to the present day. Benen hopes his memo will be a useful counterweight for Democrats. Benen warns the Democrats that it’s far riskier to fail than to pass reform that doesn’t please everyone.

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 Audit: Just Who is Obama fighting for?

8:46 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Progressives have waited a year for President Barack Obama to roll up his sleeves and fight for serious financial reform. Last week, he finally jumped in the ring, telling weak-kneed Senators to stand up to Wall Street and endorsing a critical ban on risky securities trading.

But while it was good to see Obama start throwing financial punches against the banks, this week he also started throwing them at workers. His recent rhetoric on implementing a spending freeze to reduce the deficit is an economic catastrophe in the making. It indicates that Obama is willing to sacrifice jobs to try and win over Republicans.

A spending freeze would kill jobs

A three-year spending freeze is crazy talk. It’s a right-wing ideologue’s dream that accomplishes nothing and drives millions of people out of work. John McCain campaigned on it during his 2008 presidential run. Our long-term deficit problems are tied to the rising cost of health care. If you want to fix the deficit, fix health care. In the short-term, there is no deficit problem. In fact, the U.S. fiscal position looks very good compared to many European nations.

As Matthew Rothschild notes for The Progressive, a spending freeze would kill any legislation to create jobs. With unemployment at 10%, the economy desperately needs another round of government spending to put people back to work. While the abrupt policy reversal is clearly a political ploy, voters care much more about results than they care about ideology. If Obama actively sabotages the job market to win over conservative deficit-hawks, he’ll be putting his political future in serious jeopardy.

And yet, as Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama’s recent, ramped-up rhetoric against banks still marks a significant change in tone. For most of the year, Obama hasn’t been involved in the financial reform debate at all, letting Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner capitulate to Wall Street and the politicians it owns. Benen highlights the end of Obama’s speech announcing his new banking rules on Jan. 21. Obama says:

So if these folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have. And my resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see soaring profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms claiming that they can’t lend more to small business, they can’t keep credit card rates low, they can’t pay a fee to refund taxpayers for the bailout without passing on the cost to shareholders or customers — that’s the claims they’re making. It’s exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary.

Saving the CFPA

Katrina vanden Huevel lays out Obama’s new financial reform agenda in a column for The Nation, praising a new $117 billion tax on the nation’s largest banks, a plan to cap overall bank size, and a proposal to ban high-risk trading by economically essential commercial banks (more on thatlater).

But vanden Huevel also rightfully denounces recent indications that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) may cave to lobbyist pressure and drop the measure to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) from the Senate’s financial reform bill.

The death of the CFPA would be a devastating blow to reform. Existing bank regulatory agencies see their primary job as protecting bank profits, meaning that any time the interests of the U.S. consumer conflict with those of bank balance sheets, the regulators have shafted consumers. Current federal banking regulators not only failed to enforce consumer protection laws, they went so far as to join the bank lobby in suing state regulators who were trying to protect households from predatory lending.

Fortunately, Obama isn’t taking Dodd’s bank lobby-induced cowardice sitting down. At Talking Points Memo, Rachel Slajda highlights a New York Times report that claims Obama met with Dodd and told him that the CFPA is a "non-negotiable."

Commercial banks are important

There’s a lot to like in Obama’s plan to bar commercial banks from participating in risky securities trading. As I emphasize in a piece for AlterNet, commercial banks form the backbone of the U.S. economy. They’re the institutions that accept your paychecks as deposits and keep businesses moving with loans. They also form the core of the economy’s payments system. Without commercial banks, nobody can pay anybody else for goods and services—the economy literally shuts down.

Nevertheless, in the late 1990s, regulators and lawmakers tore down the walls between commercial banking and riskier, complex securities trading, allowing these critical economic utilities to gamble in the capital markets like high-flying hedge funds. That kind of behavior puts the entire economy in jeopardy, and Obama’s proposal to end such behavior is very urgently needed.

But, as vanden Huevel and I both note, Obama’s cap on bank size is a little too timid. Obama indicated that he wants to prevent big banks from getting bigger going forward. That misses the point.

Bustin’ up "too big to fail"

Financial giants like Citigroup and Bank of America are already much too big and pose an economic threat. That’s why we refer to them as "too big to fail," and why the government had to devote over $17 trillion to saving them. Obama must cap bank size and break up our behemoth banks into companies that are small enough to fail without wreaking havoc on the economy. A good rule of thumb: 1% of gross domestic product.

Shouting down the bank lobbyists

In Mother Jones, David Corn emphasizes that Obama’s credentials as a serious reformer depend more on his policy maneuvering than on his rhetoric. While it has been extremely promising see Obama finally demanding something serious from the financial giants that taxpayers saved, he’ll have to shout down the bank lobbyists to secure meaningful economic—or political—gains. Corn writes:

If Obama aims to be widely regarded as a warrior for the middle class, he will have to take some mighty swings that cut through the clutter. Proclaiming ‘I am a fighter’ will not be enough. He will have to name his foes (financial institutions, insurance companies, Republicans, and perhaps recalcitrant Democrats) and truly exchange blows.

Obama’s stance on the CFPA alone should be enough to get the lobbyists into a lather, but he’ll have to keep up the fight on multiple fronts if he wants to protect our economy from the Wall Street recklessness that spurred millions of foreclosures and sent the unemployment rate soaring into double digits.

Last week, Obama finally told us he was willing to fight for economic change. Now it looks like he’s going to attack anyone who is looking for a job. Let’s hope he turns it around before it’s too late.

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: What Does Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

9:32 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

What Will Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Last night, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss puts health care reform in jeopardy.

With Coakley’s defeat, the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. However, as Paul Waldman explains in The American Prospect, Coakley’s loss is not the end for health care reform.

Remember, the Senate already passed its health care reform bill in December. Now, the House has to pass its version of the bill. The original plan was for House and Senate leaders to blend the two bills together in conference to create a final piece of legislation (AKA a conference report) that both houses would vote on. Once the Democrats are down to 59 votes, the Republicans can filibuster the conference report and kill health care reform.

But if the House passes the same bill the Senate just passed, there’s no need to reconcile the two bills. This so-called "ping pong" approach may be the best way to salvage health care reform. Some of the flaws in the Senate bill could still be fixed later through budget reconciliation. It would be an uphill battle, but nothing compared to starting health care reform from scratch.

The second option would be to get the bill done before Scott Brown is sworn in. According to Waldman, there could be a vote within 10 days. The House and Senate have already drafted some compromise legislation, which Waldman thinks is superior to the straight Senate bill. If that language were sent to the Congressional Budget Office immediately, the Senate could vote before Brown is sworn in.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement last night that Brown won’t be sworn in until the election results are certified, a process that could take two weeks. Historically, the winners of special Senate elections have taken over from their interim predecessors within a couple of days. If the Republicans were in this position, they’d use every procedural means at their disposal to drag out the process. The question is whether the Democrats have the fortitude to make the system work for them.

Remember how the Republicans did everything in their power to hold up the Senate health care vote, including forcing the clerk to read the 767-page bill aloud? They were trying to delay the vote until after the Massachusetts special election. If it’s okay for the GOP to stall, the Democrats should be allowed to drag their feet on swearing in Brown.

Also, remember how the Republicans fought to keep Al Franken from being seated after he defeated Norm Coleman? For his part, Franken says he’s determined to pass health care reform one way or another, according to Rachel Slajda of Talking Points Memo.

Incongruously, some Democrats are arguing that rushing to a vote would be a violation of some vague democratic principle. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) wasted no time in proclaiming that there should be no vote before Brown was sworn in. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), of all people, averred last night that the Democrats should respect the democratic process and start acting like they have 59 votes while they still have 60.

All this talk of "respecting the process" is hand waving disguised as civics. According to the process, Scott Brown isn’t the senator from Massachusetts yet. According to the process, you have the votes until you don’t.

Talk about moving the goalposts. It’s bad enough that we need 60 votes to pass a bill on any given day. Now, they’d have us believe that we also need 60 votes next week. Webb and Frank are arguing that Brown’s victory obliges Democrats to behave as if Brown were already the Senator from Massachusetts. Of course, if Webb won’t play ball, it’s a moot point. The whole fast-track strategy is predicated on 60 votes. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly thinks that Webb effectively took the fast-track option off the table with his strongly worded statement.

Katrina vanden Huevel of The Nation argues that this historic upset should be a wake up call to President Barack Obama to embrace populism with renewed fervor. I would add that Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change. There is no better way to fulfill a promise of change than to reshape the nation’s health care system and provide insurance for millions of Americans.

Ping pong, anyone?

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: Abortion Doctor’s Assassin Goes to Court

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The man who admitted to gunning down Dr. George Tiller in church last May went on trial in Kansas on Friday. Tiller was one of a small number of doctors performing late term abortions in the U.S.

Scott Roeder admitted to shooting the Tiller, but he is pleading not guilty to murder, as Robin Marty reports in RH Reality Check. Yesterday, Judge Warren Wilbert shocked observers by allowing Roeder’s lawyers to argue that their client is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder.

Kansas law allows the accused to plead "imperfect self-defense" if he had an "honest but unreasonable belief" that deadly force was necessary to protect innocent third parties. Roeder says he killed to protect the unborn. Pro-choice activists are alarmed that the judge allowed Roeder to use this defense. If he beats the murder rap, Roder could face just five years in prison. In the unlikely event that his legal gambit is successful, the precedent could be tantamount to declaring open season on abortion providers.

No doubt Nidal Hussein sincerely believed that he was protecting innocent lives when he murdered 12 soldiers at Fort Hood last November. Somehow, I doubt the Army will be as deferential to Hasan’s crazy religious ideas as Judge Warren Wilbert has been to Roeder’s.

In other health care news, Robert Reich of TAPPED asks whether the rich or the middle class will pay for health reform:

There’s only one big remaining issue on health care reform: How to pay for it. The House wants a 5.4 percent surtax on couples earning at least $1 million in annual income. The Senate wants a 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided “Cadillac plans.” The Senate will win on this unless the public discovers that a large portion of the so-called Cadillacs are really middle-class Chevys—expensive not because they deliver more benefits but because they have higher costs.

Reich cites a shocking statistic: Less than 4% of the variation in the cost of insurance coverage is based on differences in benefits provided. Most of the difference in price is based on the perceived riskiness of the beneficiaries. So, if you’re in a high risk pool comprised of, say, retired autoworkers, you’re going to pay a lot more for the same benefits than someone in a younger, healthier risk pool. When you look at it that way, it seems unfair to pay for reform on the backs of people who are already paying more for the same thing due to circumstances beyond their control.

President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are meeting with top labor leaders on the "Cadillac tax," as Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports. Obama and Sebelius are trying to hash out a compromise that would be acceptable to the unions, who so far, have been implacably opposed to taxing expensive health care plans. The unions are reluctant to give any ground on this issue because so many of their members have accepted expanded health care benefits in lieu of wage increases over the years. Taxing those benefits now would effectively erase some hard-won gains by workers. Obama and the unions are reportedly discussing some kind of grandfather clause proposal that would exempt existing plans and only tax new plans.

Elsewhere in our high-deductible democracy, it turns out that health insurers secretly steered more than $20 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health reform while publicly professing to support the effort, according to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones. The bagman was America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). While AHIP was soliciting donations to run attack ads, AHIP’s top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni penned an op/ed in the Washington Post assuring the public that AHIP supported reform.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly hopes that the scandal will give ammunition to Democrats in the last big push to pass health care reform: "Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: Don’t let AHIP’s duplicitous campaign win."

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.