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Arguing that the U.S. food supply is 99 percent safe, House Republicans cut millions of dollars Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget, denying the agency money to implement landmark food safety laws approved by the last Congress.
Saying the cuts were needed to lower the national deficit, the House also reduced funding to the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products. And lawmakers chopped $832 million from an emergency feeding program for poor mothers, infants and children. Hunger groups said that change would deny emergency nutrition to about 325,000 mothers and children.
The House also waded into a controversial issue pending at the FDA, forbidding the agency from approving the sale of genetically engineered salmon, a matter that has triggered an intense debate about the place of biotechnology in the food supply.
No Democrats voted in favor of the agriculture appropriations bill, which passed by a vote of 217 to 203. Nineteen Republicans joined the Democrats in opposition.
The White House opposed many of the cuts, saying they would force the USDA to furlough inspectors at meat and poultry processing plants and leave the FDA unable to meet the requirements of a food safety law passed in December. The legislation, which was the first major change to the nation’s food safety laws since 1938, calls for the FDA to significantly step up scrutiny of domestic and imported food and devise a system aimed at preventing the kind of contamination that sickens one in six Americans every year.
The law, which received bipartisan support, followed years of cutbacks at the FDA and waves of food-borne illnesses linked to foods as varied as spinach, peanuts and cookie dough.
To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million the FDA’s food safety program in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Republican leaders in the House pared back that to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the agency currently is receiving for food safety.
(Reuters) – In May, 2002, Jerome Mitchell, a 17-year old college freshman from rural South Carolina, learned he had contracted HIV. The news, of course, was devastating, but Mitchell believed that he had one thing going for him: On his own initiative, in anticipation of his first year in college, he had purchased his own health insurance.
Shortly after his diagnosis, however, his insurance company, Fortis, revoked his policy. Mitchell was told that without further treatment his HIV would become full-blown AIDS within a year or two and he would most likely die within two years after that.
So he hired an attorney — not because he wanted to sue anyone; on the contrary, the shy African-American teenager expected his insurance was canceled by mistake and would be reinstated once he set the company straight.
But Fortis, now known as Assurant Health, ignored his attorney’s letters, as they had earlier inquiries from a case worker at a local clinic who was helping him. So Mitchell sued.
In 2004, a jury in Florence County, South Carolina, ordered Assurant Health, part of Assurant Inc, to pay Mitchell $15 million for wrongly revoking his heath insurance policy.
In September 2009, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s verdict, although the court reduced the amount to be paid him to $10 million.
By winning the verdict against Fortis, Mitchell not only obtained a measure of justice for himself; he also helped expose wrongdoing on the part of Fortis that could have repercussions for the entire health insurance industry.
Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell’s case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.
She is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and she has launched a tea-party-linked group that could test the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court.
In January, Virginia Thomas created Liberty Central Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group whose website will organize activism around a set of conservative “core principles,” she said.
The group plans to issue score cards for Congress members and be involved in the November election, although Thomas would not specify how. She said it would accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court.
“I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country,” Thomas, who goes by Ginni, said on the panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.”
The move by Virginia Thomas, 52, into the front lines of politics stands in marked contrast to the rarefied culture of the nation’s highest court, which normally prizes the appearance of nonpartisanship and a distance from the fisticuffs of the politics of the day.
Justice Thomas, 61, recently expressed sensitivity to such concerns, telling law students in Florida that he doesn’t attend the State of the Union because it is “so partisan.” Thomas, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, has been a reliable conservative vote since he joined the court in 1991.
Via WaPo, Murray Hill, Inc, a corporate person with equal rights as breathing human beings will begin its bid to unsit Chris Van Hollen.
Murray Hill might be the perfect candidate for this political moment: young, bold, media-savvy, a Washington outsider eager to reshape the way things are done in the nation’s capital. And if these are cynical times, well, then, it’s safe to say Murray Hill is by far the most cynical.
That’s because this little upstart is, in fact, a start-up. Murray Hill is actually Murray Hill Inc., a small, five-year-old Silver Spring public relations company that is seeking office to prove a point (and perhaps get a little attention).
After the Supreme Court declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to funding political campaigns, the self-described progressive firm took what it considers the next logical step: declaring for office.
“Until now, corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence-peddling to achieve their goals in Washington,” the candidate, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement. “But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”
Via BBC, the internet is in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize:
The internet is among a record 237 individuals and organisations nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The number of nominations surpasses last year’s record of 205 nominations.
The internet’s nomination has been championed by the Italian version of Wired magazine for helping advance “dialogue, debate and consensus”.
The director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, told BBC News that the organisation had received “thousands of nominations” for the coveted prize.
“Some were nominated by one person, others by 10, others by 100,” he said.
The secretive organisation does not release the list of nominees, but nominators sometimes announce their choices.
Via BBC, President Yar’Adua has reappeared ending months of silence and specuation that he had passed away.
Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua has spoken publicly for the first time since going into hospital in Saudi Arabia in November for heart treatment.
In his first interview since then, he told the BBC by telephone that he was recovering and hoped with “tremendous progress” to resume his duties.
His long absence and speculation over his health have led to calls for him to hand over power to his vice-president.
And then there this awesome Onion piece on experts discussing the Nigerian situation.
I ran into this letter(?) in the Tennessean about President Carter’s race comments and Obama.
Kerry, a wealthy liberal from Massachusetts, had little charisma. Four years later, we got a fiery Democratic candidate, self-made, up-from-the-working-class Barack Obama.
And yet, Kerry in 2004 got 10-20 percent more votes than Obama in 2008 throughout Appalachia, and the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Kerry similarly fared far better in much of Alabama, Texas and Kentucky, compared to Obama.
Further, Obama only got 43 percent of all white people’s vote overall, in the wake of the last four disastrous years of Bush, and a weak Republican ticket.
NY Times has this interesting piece on the new J Street Jewish advocacy group that is pushing a more liberal agenda.
Wapo has an article on the Wisconsin hospital that was the unwitting birthplace of the whole death panel fooliness.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — This city often shows up on “best places to live” lists, but residents say it is also a good place to die — which is how it landed in the center of a controversy that almost derailed health-care reform this summer.
The town’s biggest hospital, Gundersen Lutheran, has long been a pioneer in ensuring that the care provided to patients in their final months complies with their wishes. More recently, it has taken the lead in seeking to have Medicare compensate physicians for advising patients on end-of-life planning
But the controversy has had most resonance where it arguably took root, in this town of 52,000 where nearly everyone of a certain age has an advance-care directive.
La Crosse became a pioneer in addressing end-of-life questions in the mid-1980s, after Hammes, a native of the city who has a doctorate in philosophy from Notre Dame, arrived at Gundersen as the director of medical humanities, charged with educating resident physicians about ethics. He noticed a “troubling pattern,” he said, in which family members struggled to make medical decisions, such as whether to continue dialysis after a stroke.
“We’d turn to the family and say, ‘We need your input. If your mother or father could speak now, what would they tell you?’ And the family would say, ‘If we only knew,’ ” said Hammes, 59. “I could see the distress. They were going to have to live with themselves, with the worry about making a mistake. This was unacceptable.”
The hospital began urging families to plan while people are healthy. For those who want help writing a directive, a physician will discuss the powers and limits of medicine and explain to family members what it means if they agree to serve as the “health-care agent.” They will also help people define the conditions under which they would no longer want treatment. Hammes said people often define this as “when I’ve reached a point where I don’t know who I am or who I’m with, and don’t have any hope of recovery.”
The directives are power-of-attorney forms that protect physicians and family members against liability, and the hospital makes clear to its doctors that they are expected to follow them. Today, more than 90 percent of people in town have directives when they die, double the national average.
The reliance on directives has an impact on the type of care people receive: Gundersen patients spend 13.5 days on average in the hospital in their final two years of life, at an average cost of $18,000. That is in contrast with big-city hospitals such as the University of California at Los Angeles medical centers (31 days and $59,000), the University of Miami Hospital (39 days, $64,000) and New York University’s Langone Medical Center (54 days, $66,000).
Those disparities are not explained just by the hospital’s end-of-life philosophy. Under Medicare formulas, Gundersen and other Upper Midwest hospitals receive lower reimbursements. The high-spending hospitals argue that they are also dealing with a more diverse and costly patient base.
I am young, very, very relatively speaking, and my wife and I have advanced healthcare directives. These directives are very necessary and more people should be encouraged to have them. However, with poiticians muddying the waters, we get this death panel nonsense.
Here’s a link to the Mayo Clinic’s page on Living Wills and Advance Directives. Then there’s this guide to Living Wills from a SUNY Buffalo page which looks fairly good. Of course, there’s Wikipedia on Advance Healthcare Directives. Also, any decent attorney will have a advance healthcare directive template and you can get one done fairly quickly. In fact, many bookstore have great books with all manner of forms that can help you get started with the process.
Time has a nice sweet article on Kerry looking to protect Kennedy’s legacy.
The first task will be the cause of Kennedy’s life: health-care reform. Kerry has been watching the coverage following Kennedy’s death, and he worries about progressives using Kennedy’s passing as an excuse to dig in their heels on the inclusion of a public option, a key point of contention. Senate Republicans have said they will not vote for a bill with one in it, arguing that the creation of a public plan to compete with private insurers is the first step to socialized medicine; House progressives have said they will not vote for legislation without such an option to ensure affordability.
“Teddy was in favor of a public plan and Teddy would’ve fought for a public plan on the floor of the Senate,” Kerry bristles. “Teddy would’ve probably found a way to have a vote, and if he’d lost the vote, he’d have moved on. That’s how you legislate. You don’t block. You don’t stop anybody from expressing their point of view. You’ve got to move on and then you live with the vote, I mean, that’s what Teddy would do. And if there were absolutely no way of getting it done, Teddy would find a road. If it meant changing it or working it through, he’d do that.”
Kennedy’s legacy, Kerry says, is one of reaching across the aisle, of not making the perfect the enemy of the good, as Kennedy liked to say. “I learned that really early on when I first got to Washington and Teddy would invite me over to the house and I would go to dinner and there’d be [Utah Republican Senator] Orrin Hatch and [Virginia Republican Senator] John Warner, [Alaska Republican Senator] Ted Stevens and a couple of other guys,” Kerry says. “And so hopefully people will go back to Washington with a renewed sense of focus of how we can get done what we need to get done and take the lesson of reaching across the aisle and bipartisanship that Ted brought with him.”