Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Legislators Gone Wild

While we continue to debate recent events, the Deficit Reduction Act nears its passage. The potential results will be far-reaching.

Amongst these will be substantial cuts to the student loan program, farm subsidies and Medicaid funding.  (The Senate has already approved it.)  Medicaid, for the first time, will have associated premiums and copayments.  Millions will have increased health care costs and it is likely that many will go without, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report.

NYT Link

Over all, the bill is estimated to save $38.8 billion in the next five years and $99.3 billion from 2006 to 2015, with cuts in student loans, crop subsidies and many other programs, the budget office said. Medicaid and Medicare account for half of the savings, 27 percent and 23 percent over 10 years.

So here's an equitable plan.  Funds are needed to keep up the Global War On Terror and they're needed soon.  The deficit continues to grow ever larger.  Hmm, where can we steal, err, borrow some money?  Oh, how about from Medicaid recipients?!!!  They have no discernible voice in government, and even if they do complain who will listen?  And many of them are only kids anyway.

"In response to the new premiums, some beneficiaries would not apply for Medicaid, would leave the program or would become ineligible due to nonpayment," the Congressional Budget Office said in its report, completed Friday night. "C.B.O. estimates that about 45,000 enrollees would lose coverage in fiscal year 2010 and that 65,000 would lose coverage in fiscal year 2015 because of the imposition of premiums. About 60 percent of those losing coverage would be children."

But let's face it, if you had the lack of wisdom to choose poor parents, then you probably fucking deserve this anyway.  Oh, and how about this friendly little provision.

Under the bill, states could end Medicaid coverage for people who failed to pay premiums for 60 days or more. Doctors and hospitals could deny services to Medicaid beneficiaries who did not make the required co-payments.

See, the only potential problem is that Medicaid was intended to assist those most in need.  But that's just ancient history, right?  

And if you fucking poor people still have the audacity to demand health insurance, King George II will have advice forthcoming. (Please bow down!)

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Bush plans to recommend a variety of steps to help people obtain health insurance and cope with rising health costs. ...

That ought to provide perhaps several milliseconds of "valuable" information.

Call your congress critter @ 888 355 3588 and register your continuing disgust

Thursday, January 26, 2006

EPA: F*ck the Kids

In August of last year, a moratorium was put into place that prohibited EPA use of humans in pesticide testing until the time that standards could be established and put in place.  Strong bipartisan support saw an easy passage.

Now, a copy of a draft rule has been leaked that contains provisions that would permit pesticide testing on humans, including pregant/nursing women and children, in direct contravention of Congress' earlier actions.

WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2006 (ENS) - Three U.S. legislators are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw a planned rule to permit pesticide experimentation on humans, including pregnant and nursing mothers and children.

The aforesaid three legislators are Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Henry Waxman and Representative Hilda Solis.

Apparently the EPA sees no problem as long as the test results are not intended for submission, at least at the outset, to the agency.

But the leaked final draft rule would allow manufacturers to conduct testing of pesticides upon pregnant women and children so long as there is no "intent" at the outset of the study to submit the results to the EPA.

Why this would matter is not clear.  Expose whoever you like, babies, the poor or the infirm.  Just don't submit the results to the EPA.

And if your're a damned foreigner, well, you are beneath contempt.

The EPA final draft rule introduces new loopholes that will allow for ethical abuse, the legislators warn. While the plan would require researchers to document their ethical compliance in the United States when the plan applies to them, it waives overseas researchers from having to prove a study was ethically conducted - even when the researcher intends to submit the study to EPA.

I'm surprised that the plan doesn't make special provision for white versus non-white testing subjects.  Why mince words when there are worthwhile corporate interests to protect?

One very large omission in the proposed EPA rule is any prohibition or check against paying poor people amounts that would induce them to sign informed consent papers or falsely certify that they

were already exposing themselves to the chemical under study
, Ruch said.   (Attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

And the potential adverse effects of testing?  Well here's a start.

People with high levels of pesticides in their blood are far more likely to develop genetic mutations linked with cancers, birth defects, and neurological disorders peer-reviewed scientific studies across the world have documented.

Officially sanctioned testing on humans.  It does remind one of a certain Teutonic administration of the past.

At least the kids can entertain themselves here.

EPA Kids Link  


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Alito, Roe and the Chipping Away

Much has been said about Alito's confirmation and the effect it would have on
the long-standing precedent of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct 705,
U.S. Tex., 1973.  The popular view is that Mr.Alito's confirmation will
provide the means for a cadre of right-leaning Supreme Court justices to
overturn Roe and send it off into the trashbin of legal history. I
would respectfully disagree with this result.

While it is clear that Roe will be under siege, I believe that the path
of that attack will take a different route.  (Recent events seem to
provide confirmation of this view.)  It is my belief that Roe will
continue to stand as precedent, but in a severly diminished form. Instead, subsequent court decisions will chip away at Roe until it becomes a nearly-useless precedent.

There are two principal reasons for the right to avoid an outright overturning
of Roe.  Although each alone might prove sufficient reason to keep Roe viable, they provide a strong impetus when taken together.

First, the imminent overturning of Roe will mobilize the left like
nothing else, and in turn generate even more attention.  It will provide a
rallying point, causing unity amongst a laundry list of groups not always so
inclined.  (Certain do-little Congress critters might even find themselves
getting involved in the fray.)  In any event, a furor will result. I
would expect that the right would seek to avoid  such a scenario. Instead, chipping away at Roe and slowly reducing the availability of abortion would accomplish a similar result without great "fanfare". Just yesterday the Supreme Court dealt with a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification. href="http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/01/18/scotus.abortion.ap/index.html">CNN Link  The decision received relatively little notice.  While this was a unanimous decision in favor of the limitation of notification, the point here is that the gradual narrowing of Roe will gain considerably less attention than overturning it.  And gradually narrowing its application would be a far easier task.  (note that the decision returns the matter to the lower court for further proceedings.)

Secondly, maintaining the viability of Roe will prevent the abortion
issue from returning to state control where there would be potentially 50
separate battles in 50 separate state legislatures.  (Although some states
have existing laws which would come back into operation upon the demise of
Roe.)  With this in mind, it becomes clear that the right would
benefit by keeping in place a greatly weakened Roe, while continuing to
reduce its range of application.

Overturning Roe would send the country back to the crazy quilt of laws
that existed previously.  Laws might then follow the blue state/red state
map, with certain exceptions.  (Colorado, being one possibility.)
 Clearly, abortion would be illegal in some states.  But for other
states and a large portion of the population, there would likely be little
change.  I believe that the right has more to gain in the scenario set out

Friday, January 13, 2006

Judge Kicks Bushco's Butt, Trees Win

In a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration's changes to existing National Forest policy, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman has deemed the modifications illegal.

SEATTLE, Washington, January 11, 2006 (ENS) - In a victory for environmental groups, a federal court has declared illegal a Bush administration's decision to eliminate safeguards for old growth forests and the rare plants and animals that inhabit them.

The Survey and Manage plan had served the purpose of controlling logging to protect the multitude of species living in the old growth forests.    

In March 2004, the Bush administration eliminated the Survey and Manage standard - a central part of the Northwest Forest Plan, since it was adopted nearly 10 years ago. The Plan was declared to be legal in 1995 in part because the Survey and Manage standard gave federal officials some assurance that wildlife in the forests would be adequately protected from logging.  A fundamental principle of the survey and manage rules is to protect habitat for threatened wildlife to prevent the animals and birds from becoming endangered.

Over one thousand species living in the forests would be protected by the standard.  But limits on logging gave rise to a lawsuit by the logging industry.  And Bushco answered the call.

Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center:

Frost says the Bush administration attempted to eliminate the Survey and Manage standard along with other safeguards as part of a settlement agreement with the logging industry over a lawsuit logging interests filed in 2001.

Before a judge could rule on the merits of the case, the Bush administration agreed to the demands of the logging industry by removing the Survey and Manage standard.

Industry calls and Bushco answers the need.  Have we heard this theme before?  Oh, once or twice.

In rendering the present decision, Judge Pechman ordered sales stopped that could be potentially dangerous to numerous species.      

The judge ordered a halt to 144 timber sales in California, Oregon, and Washington that might jeopardize about 300 species of animals and plants.


So this week, Judge Pechman wins immunity and Preznit Dubya gets voted off the island. The tribe has spoken.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pat Robertson, The Go To Guy?

It seems as if the Reverend Pat Robetson always has some memorable words about current events. And media attention always follows. Or, is it really the other way around?

His latest expoloits are consistent with those of the past. Coming under the heading of kicking them when the're down is the good Reverend's latest shocker statement. Reverend Robertson suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's current medical difficulties are retribution from god for messing with the holy land.

CBS News Link

He also said, however, that in the Bible, the prophet Joel "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land."' ...

Sharon "was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said

(Of course, it's all god's land, isn't it? One wonders what would god think about having drilling in his/her pristine ANWR?)

Of course, Reverend Robertson has made more than a few outrageous statements, so this was not totally unexpected. Let us not forget his suggestion, in August of 2005, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez should be executed by American agents. Reverend Robertson subsequently apologized. CBS News Link

And then in November there was his warning to residents of Dover, Pennsylvania regarding the issue of "intelligent" design. CBS News Link

And in November, he warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town that disaster may strike there because they voted to oust school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.

"If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God," he told residents of Dover, Pa. "You just rejected him from your city."

An interesting concept, a school board election as a referendum on god. But I digress.

These incidents (as well as many others) prompt one to question for whom exactly does the good Reverend speak? And why is he still getting prominent media attention. While he apparently still speaks for his fans and regular viewers of the 700 Club, others are not necessarily in accord.

CBS News Link

The above link to a CBS PublicEye piece makes some very interesting points about journalism vis-a-vis Robertson. Although he may not speak for the majority of evangelicals, television news producers will still look to Robertson (and others) because he gives a memorable quote and is still a familiar face. (In all fairness, Reverend Robertson still draws about 1 million viewers to the 700 Club daily.)

Gal Beckerman, who wrote a piece asking why journalists don’t “get” religion for Columbia Journalism Review, says figures like Robertson and Jerry Falwell are overcovered. "They have the most bombastic thing to say. It's like anything else – you go to the guys who give you the best quotations," he says. "They make for good TV. ...
Beckerman says that the media's reporting on Robertson's extreme comments "does evangelicals a disservice." Other, more representative evangelical leaders, he says, are more likely to "give nuanced answers – and from a media perspective that makes them less interesting."

CBS newsanchor Bob Schieffer offers further insight. It's the old point/counterpoint model that apparently still holds sway.

This isn't, ultimately, just a religious issue, says Schieffer. It's rooted in larger questions about the way the media functions. "One of the problems we have in TV is that we too often go to the first person who has something to say – and that's often the person we should be paying the least attention to," he says. "We go out and find the people who are on the most extreme sides and let them scream at each other."

From where I sit, if Pat Robertson is the face that the traditional media cares to put on evangelicals, it's fine with me. Having the more extreme elements as the most visible ones is no bad thing.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

All That Glitters

Water. The stuff of life.

Standing in New York's Hudson Valley region, water is the last thing from my mind. Here, We are literally inundated by water. Wikipedia defines the phrase water table as the upper limit of abundant groundwater. Link Here, the water table remains steady at a level about 4 feet or so below my feet, as we discovered during a recent construction project on my home. In fact, freshwater resources make up perhaps a third of the total area of my town, at least part of which is included in the New York City water system.

But of course not all regions are so well endowed. And it's not just dry climate that is the problem, or at least not the entire problem.

In Nevada, a state already saddled with a dry climate and the fastest growth in the nation, mining interests have compounded the problem.

NYT Link

Nearly 10 million gallons a day draining away in the driest state in the nation - and the fastest growing one, propelled by the demographic rocket of Las Vegas - is just one of the many strange byproducts of Nevada's tangled love affair with gold

These vast quantities of water are utilized in open-pit mining, diluting the cyanide used to free the small particles of gold from the ore.

The scope of the problem is staggering. Words really can't do the problem justice, but the following regarding the 20 or so major mines in the state is illustrative.

...When they are gone, the vast pits they leave behind will create a deficit in the aquifer equivalent to 20 to 25 years of the total flow of Nevada's longest river, the Humboldt, according to state figures tallied by independent scientists. That is three times as much water as New York City stores in its entire upstate reservoir system. "When they stop pumping, what you're going to hear is a huge sucking sound," said Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has written on water issues in the West. "The impact on the Humboldt River will be catastrophic."

But problems arising from mining activity is not limited to water shortages. Toxic waste is generated in large quantities.

... Nevada's gold mines will bequeath more toxic mercury waste in their mountainous rock piles than any other industry, about 86 percent of the nation's total in 2003, according to the most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. ...

While there is tangentially related federal legislation, it is only antiquated state statutes that directly address mining activities.

But mining experts, legal scholars and historians say that prosperity was also built on the basis of a law drafted in the age of the horse and buggy - the General Mining Law of 1872 - which declares mining the best use of public land, gives miners access to that land for bargain-basement prices, and makes no mention of a cleanup. ...

The effects of mercury dispersion are widespread. The state of Idaho has been studying increased mercury levels in its waterways.

Michael DuBois, an analyst with the Idaho State Department of Environmental Quality, was assigned this year to figure out why the Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, on the Nevada border, had mercury levels 10 times higher than any body of water ever tested in the state.

The more Mr. DuBois and other scientists looked, the more they became convinced that airborne mercury, which has been linked to impaired neurological development in fetuses, infants and children, was coming north from Nevada's gold mines. ...

Regulation of Mercury is only a recent development. Prior to 1998, it was essentially an issue of trust. Of course, one is always on shaky ground where trust and big business is concerned. (Nevada is the third largest producer of gold in the world, generating some 6.94 million ounces in 2004. Link

Yes, this is big money. The year 2004 yielded some $2.8 billion. And we can't have too much in the way of regulation where big business is concerned. Only South Africa and Austalia produce more gold. Of course, Nevada mining activities also include silver and other items to a lesser degree.)

Why the seeming reluctance to amend the existing 1872 law? Could it be because mining interests have povided much in the way of campaign funding for state races. Perhaps. These two links show the contributions totalling some $163,000.000 for two divisions of Barrick for the year 2004. Link Link

Meanwhile, the mercury generated remains in the environment, entering the bodies of fish through water contact. The amount of mercury produced by the mines is unknown as reporting was not required prior to 1998. Prior to that there was only reassurances.

Before then, simple reassurances were regulation enough. In a 1997 agency report on mercury, gold was left off the list as a source because, the report's authors said, an "industry representative" had told them mercury was not a problem.

And still there is a vacuum of unified laws directly addressing these issues. Instead, different strands of law must be pulled together.

"The fact that the 1872 mining law had no environmental provisions was significant, because it means that those rules had to emerge from other places," said James McElfish, a senior lawyer at the Environmental Law Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington that advocates sustainable development and environmental protection. "The upshot of this is that it's a process of experimentation and diffuse authority and no one is really leading the way."

But the scariest part are the large lakes that will remain long after the mines are abandoned, some of which will contain concentrated toxins.

In the future, in the years after the mines are closed, the 40 or so pits will fill with water. It is only then that the full story will be told.

The lakes will store an estimated 500 billion gallons or more, according to estimates by Dr. Miller at the University of Nevada and other scientists. The Betze-Post, the center of Barrick's operations, is expected to become the largest artificial lake located wholly in the state, holding about 114 billion gallons - or more than 100 times the size of the Central Park reservoir in New York.

... Some of the lakes are expected to be poisonous, laced with arsenic and selenium. Others may have metal and acid concentrations toxic to fish but safe for humans. Some will be relatively benign.

And of course, the evaporation of precious water will go on, continuing the drain on the aquifers deep below.