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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

for this, I will sound the alarm

Adam Felber also knows the pain of American emergency rooms. Just a few days previously, he outlined US-Iranian relations for us. Forget the Daily Show; I'm getting my news from this guy from now on.

Monday, April 24, 2006

states' rights and personal freedoms: if you don't like it, leave.

As someone who moved a lot as a kid, I was generally in favor of letting states decide their own policies. It's a big, wide country, and every town we lived in had its own quirks and its own way of doing things. It just made sense to let the people who lived in each state decide what they needed, and those who didn't like the policy could move. Now, as an adult with a lot more stuff and a city that I love so much I refuse to leave, I am about to officially switch sides.

As you probably heard, earlier this month Massachusetts passed a bill requiring its citizens to obtain health care--a "universal health care" plan that was hailed as an ambitious and inventive landmark. It states that every MA resident will have health insurance; extremely low-income residents will receive health care from the state, those below 300% of the poverty level will recieve a subsidy to help pay for health care, and those above 300% of the poverty level are expected to be able to pay out of pocket for individual health insurance if they don't get it through work or family. Companies with more than ten employees will be required to offer health insurance or pay a fine of $295 per employee per year. The $295 fine was negotiated carefully with the business community, down from about $800 per year; Gov. Romney used his line item veto to negate it, but his vetoes are expected to be overridden by the state congress. Everyone seems to like this plan, from health care advocates to employers. I find it alarming, and other states are pretty alarmed at the idea as well. Romney says, "We insist that everybody who drives a car has insurance. And cars are a lot less expensive than people." This plan seems like it might be reasonable for someone who lives in suburban or rural MA. However, my friends in Boston pour most of their income to rent. As for Mr. Romney's comparison with car insurance, it's a bad analogy. People who don't feel like they can afford car insurance (especially those who live in an urban area) aren't required to own a car. No one who lives in MA seems to be exempt from this health insurance plan. And although the folks who crafted this legislation predict that insurers will lower their rates when more healthy people sign up, there's no evidence that anything of the sort will happen. In fact, if insurers know they have a captive audience in MA, why won't they raise their rates? I'm extremely concerned that this "universal health care" plan will give rise to more stripped down health insurance plans that fail to cover basic preventive care, particularly reproductive care for women. The bottom line: if you are a taxpayer in MA, you are now required to find health insurance.

More frightening (and far less likely to happen) is the recent drafting of legislation that would prohibit abortions in Ohio, and prohibit any Ohio woman from getting an abortion. The proposed abortion ban isn't really news, as 11 other states besides Ohio--Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia--are jumping on the bandwagon behind South Dakota. The unusual bit is that it would be a felony for a woman to seek to terminate a pregnancy, even if she didn't follow through, and she's just as liable if she obtains an abortion outside state lines. Anyone assisting her could also be charged with a felony. (The article doesn't go into specifics of the law, such as whether there's an exception for the woman's life or whether we would be like El Salvador and have to wait for fetal death or tubal rupture to fix an ectopic pregnancy.) Again, this is not legislation that describes a state's own action or prohibition, but directs the actions of residents. How do we determine residency in this situation? Would one of my college friends, paying taxes in Michigan, be bound by this law if she chose to get an abortion outside Ohio but lived there for much of the year? What about my mother, who retained her Ohio residency while the military was shipping our family to six different states? (And since my parents were Ohio residents, would I have been prohibited from obtaining an abortion even though I didn't physically live in Ohio until I was mostly grown?) Ohio seems to want to get one better on all the other states preparing abortion restrictions. Fortunately, this law is restrictive enough to jeapordize the rich folks who would otherwise be able to travel to IL or NY, so I'm hopeful that it has little chance of ever seeing daylight.

Aside from your views on abortion law or health insurance costs, these are shocking attempts by a state to mandate certain behavior from its citizens, both inside and outside state lines. Suddenly, my state residence seems much more important, and the phrase "if you don't like it, you can move" seems both more ominous and more probable from many of the states I've lived in and loved.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sympathy? No.

This is the best news on the Dan Ryan reconstruction project that I've read... well, ever. Non-Chicagoans may be living in blissful ignorance; the Dan Ryan project is knocking the southern half of Chicago's 90/94 highway out of commission for the next three years or so, removing four express lanes and leaving only two lanes of highway during construction. The ad slogan proclaims: "There is a way out! Re-route!" Re-routing has indeed kept the construction from becoming a major crisis, as travel times are still within somewhat reasonable limits for most of the alternate routes. The transportation department has spent so much time scaring us about the inconvenience of this construction project that the reality is not so bad.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that some commuters are pretty miserable using public transportation, however. The lede states, I kid you not, "Commuters Bemoan the Loss Of Quality Time in Cars." When taking public transit, the miserable commuters say, they have to deal with crowds! And weather! And (gasp) walking to and from train stops! They can't lug around 45 pounds of stuff! Occasionally people walk up and try to sell them things! Oh, the humanity!

Ann Schue chokes up when saying that she misses her car. She has been driving to a faraway mall on the weekends, instead of the mall close to her suburban house, because she misses driving so much.
Frank Pierson lives five blocks from an el stop. However, he used to drive to work and pay $18 every day to park in the city. He's unhappy about the peddlers on the train.
Jack Sloan is a regular on the train and hates that there are so many new riders using cell phones. (Okay, I can feel a little sympathy for his plight.)

Suddenly I'm starting to see this project as shock therapy for some of our suburban neighbors: we live in a city, we have to accomodate each other, and it's incredibly wasteful and selfish to drive in a town where public transit is a viable option. The travel times have gotten much worse, yes. But if you really hate to lose another fifteen minutes of your commute, you could move into the city. There are still some big houses left on the Green Line going for pretty darn cheap.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Showtime at the Smithsonian

I've been a bit behind on the news lately, but I saw this article over at Kos and couldn't help by post the article here, Smithsonian Deal With Showtime Restricts Access By Filmmakers.
As part of a near-exclusive deal with Showtime Networks, the Smithsonian Institution is restricting filmmakers' access to its scientists and archives, prompting another outcry over the museum's attempts to make money.

Filmmakers who have relied on the vast holdings of the Smithsonian, and typically pay to use historic film or copy an artifact, have raised objections to the new policy of limited access to the public collections. Now most filmmakers will not have in-depth use of Smithsonian materials unless they are creating work for the Smithsonian/Showtime unit.

I don't like this at all, archives should be for public use and this looks too much like the privatization of one of our most important cultural and historical institutions. Even if you disagree with me I find the fact that they won't release the details of the contract to be troubling. But as the article points out, there have been a series of moves that have been met with skepticism
In recent years the Smithsonian has signed controversial agreements with donors for large gifts for the restoration of buildings and other needs. In return it has frequently given the donor a prominent name on a piece of Smithsonian real estate. The American History museum added "Behring Center" to its title in acknowledgement of an $80 million gift from businessman Kenneth Behring. At the National Air and Space Museum, the name of the movie theater was changed after a donation from Lockheed-Martin Corp. Those moves have all been criticized from within and outside of the Smithsonian.

Anyway, obviously I am worried about these treasures being exlusive...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lovely and less-than-lovely quotes

"Tax law should stop perpetuating the fairy tale that husbands and wives are equal partners." --The IRS's shotgun marriage, by Shari Motro, ass't professor at University of Richmond School of Law.

"I have no problem with the demonstration, but this is a business. Couldn't they have protested in the morning before work? Couldn't they have protested in their hearts?" --fishmarket owner in Florida, commenting on immigrant rallies.

And now to cheer you up:
"Scientists who undertake the work of theologians are as reckless as theologians who pretend to be scientists." --Raymond J Lawrence, Episcopal priest who is not surprised or alarmed by research indicating prayer does not improve medical outcomes.

Happy Easter, y'all.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How Much Fun is This?

Beynd Delay is a great website that everyone should check out. This elected representative/high powered lobbyist gig sounds like a really fun career! I had no ideal. This is from the site's profile of Rep. Bob Ney:
In late 2001 through early 2002, now infamous Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with his friend and business partner Michael Scanlon, as well as with Christian activist Ralph Reed, to close the Speaking Rock Casino run by the Tigua Tribe of El Paso, Texas. Once the casino was shuttered, Mr. Abramoff convinced the Tigua to hire him and Mr. Scanlon to lobby Congress to re-open the casino, without ever telling the tribe of the mens' role in closing the casino.

On March 20, 2002, Mr. Abramoff sent Mr. Scanlon, a former staffer for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, an e-mail stating that Rep. Ney had agreed to assist the pair by pushing legislation that would re-open the casino. A mere six days after Rep. Ney agreed to push the issue, Mr. Abramoff sent the Tigua's political consultant, Marc Schwartz, an e-mail asking that Mr. Schwartz Fed-Ex $32,000 worth of checks to Rep. Ney.

In early June 2002, Rep. Ney asked Mr. Abramoff to arrange a golf trip for him and some of his staff. Mr. Abramoff complied, sending an e-mail to Mr. Schwartz explaining that Rep. Ney had asked the Tigua to help pay for a luxury golf trip to Scotland on a private plane to play at the legendary St. Andrews course. The e-mail states "our friend" "asked if we could help (as in cover) a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff . . . I anticipate that the total cost . . . to be around $100K or more."

On July 25, 2002, Rep. Ney met with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and was surprised to learn that Sen. Dodd was unwilling to attach the Tigua's legislation to pending election reform legislation, the vehicle Rep. Ney was hoping to use to re-open the casino. Although he shared the news with Mr. Abramoff, no one, including Rep. Ney, delivered this piece of bad news to the Tigua.

That August, concerned about the inaction on the legislation, Mr. Schwartz requested a meeting between tribal representatives and Rep. Ney. Mr. Abramoff cautioned Mr. Schwartz not to discuss Rep. Ney's golf trip to Scotland stating, "BN had a great time and is very grateful, but is not going to mention the trip to Scotland for obvious reasons. He said he'll show his thanks in other ways which is what we want . . . "

Later that month, when Rep. Ney met with Tigua tribal leaders, not only did Rep. Ney fail to mention his conversation with Sen. Dodd, he assured the tribe that he would fix the Tigua's problem through a conference committee report.

It was not until October that the Tigua learned that Rep. Ney would not solve their problem. Rather than telling the Tigua the real story -- that Sen. Dodd had never agreed to legislation -- Rep. Ney lied and told the tribe that Sen. Dodd had gone back on his word. In a written statement submitted to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which eventually held a hearing on this situation, Sen. Dodd stated that he never told Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Scanlon, or Rep. Ney "that [he] would in any manner work legislatively to recognize the Tigua Tribe."

Wow, I'm in the wrong field! Why should we pay to go to Scotland while other people just use extortion to get Indian tribes to do it for them! How do I cash in on this exciting field? Kids, don't just assume that the only way to make your fortune in today's competitive economy is securities fraud, suing a major corporation, manipulating real estate prices, or, um, hard work or something. Too many talentless young people today do not consider a career in public service, mostly because they don't realize how profitable it can be. This fantastic website shares the personal stories of 12 other members of Congress who have leveraged their political office for fun and profit!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The New York Times switches teams

I read a couple weeks ago via Bitch Ph.D. that the New York Times, ostensibly pro-choice, has an op-ed page that has become the bastion of skeptical or anti-choice gentlemen (in 83% of essays!). Then Wells came independently upon the original source material, and I was persuaded to take a second and more thorough read. There was discussion in both the American Prospect and Bitchville over whether the NYTimes is beginning to skew anti-abortion, or whether they are overcompensating for their known and continued support of abortion rights in the unsigned articles.

This Saturday I discovered that it's not just the op-ed page. I was reading their online digest and found two separate articles dealing with choice issues: In Senate Race, Republican Candidate Questions Mrs. Clinton's Abortion Message, and Some Doctors Voice Concern Over Abortion Pills' Safety. The former is an article outlining the attack strategy of possible Repub candidate John Spencer, who is using a bill sponsored by one of Mrs. Clinton's colleagues to direct pointed questions about her stance on abortion. He wants to set up a situation where if she votes for or supports the bill, he can claim she's too militantly pro-choice. This bill "would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on any pregnancy center that suggests in its advertising that it provides abortions", which sounds more like marketing regulation than a choice bill. But the NYTimes is there, and giving lots of sound bites to Spencer.

The latter is more problematic; it interviews doctors who are expressing concern over the use of Mifeprex and mifipristone to induce early (less than 9 wks) abortions. Comments from doctors published in the article:

"[Pills] are a lousy way to perform an abortion."
"None of these women should be dying; it's shocking."
[One doctor who provides medication abortions] "was uneasy about agreeing with abortion opponents on anything. 'But the truth is the truth,' he said."
"One needs to tell patients that the medical procedure, even though it seems more natural, may be more likely to result in death."

This fuss is being raised because two more women have recently died shortly after taking a medication abortion regimen, bringing the grand total in the United States to six. Assuming that their deaths are all linked to the pills,* that would make the real-life mortality rate six out of 560,000, or slightly over 1 in 100,000. It's yet to be shown that these deaths have anything to do with the abortion of the women's pregnancies, but no one is reporting the rate of sepsis for surgical abortions or miscarriages. It's a slanted article that overstates the risk of Mifeprex and piggybacks on a story that's already overreported. Of course, to get more information on medical misstatements in the news, go check out Ema on The Well-Timed Period, who is making a part-time job out of callling the AP on their bullshit.

So as pro-choice publications go, I think the NYTimes may have lost its stripes on both the op-ed and the general reporting fronts. Or perhaps they're so inundated with messages that abortion is dangerous that they believe talking about abortion might become dangerous unless the publication is careful to state its grave concerns. Either way, this American Prospect article has really encouraged me to go check out the LA Times.
*PPFA has released a statement about their protocol change, which may or may not address the cause of the risk. Their decision to switch protocols seems to be the spark for this recent wave of stories.