U.S. Government

Health Insurers Have Had Their Chance

Vermont Governor Peter ShumlinOf the many supporters of a single-payer health care system in the United States, some of the most ardent are small business owners who have struggled to continue offering coverage to their workers.

Among them are David Steil, a small business owner and former Republican state legislator in Pennsylvania who earlier this year became president of the advocacy group Health Care 4 All PA.

Another supporter is Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who last Thursday signed a bill that sets the stage for the country's first single-payer plan. If all goes as Shumlin and the bill's many backers hope, all 620,000 Vermonters will eventually be enrolled in a state-run plan to replace Blue Cross, CIGNA and other private insurers whose business practices have contributed to the number of Vermonters without coverage -- approximately 60,000 and growing.

Wisconsin Special Election Seen as a Bellwether for Future Recall Elections

Yesterday three special elections were held in Wisconsin to fill the
seats of legislators tapped by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to fill
vacancies in his administration.

In a special election, Democrat Steve Doyle defeated Republican John Lautz for the Wisconsin District 94 Assembly, flipping a seat held by Republicans for 16 years. The hot topic in the race was Gov. Scott Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Faster Than a Speeding Mainstream Media

Sohaib Athar's Twitter photoA 33 year old Pakistani computer programmer who lives near Osama bin Laden's hideout unknowingly first broke the news about the U.S. raid on bin Laden's compound after he tweeted about hearing a helicopter hovering over the area at 1:00 a.m., saying it was an unusual event for his town, Abbottabad. Sohaib Athar subsequently tweeted that he heard a "huge window shaking bang" which turned out to be a U.S. helicopter crashing nearby. The copter apparently had mechanical difficulties and was intentionally blown up by its crew. Athar reported on the location of the crash site and posted a photo and video of bin Laden's compound. Athar describes himself on his Twitter page as "An IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops." His tweets about the incident began a full seven hours before the mainstream media broke the story of the raid, demonstrating how ordinary people can now offer real-time, blow-by-blow coverage of important gobal events far ahead of the mainstream media simply by virtue of being in the right place at the right time and being connected via social media. 

No

Action Item: Draft Executive Order Would Promote Election Disclosure, Call the President!

The White House is circulating a draft Executive Order requiring disclosure of contributions to "third party" or "independent" expenditure groups by corporations receiving government contracts. During the 2010 elections, much of the unlimited election spending made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was kept secret by groups taking advantage of the 501(c) section of the tax code. The President's proposed order would lift the veil on secret spending in time for the 2012 elections.

Boost Aquaculture, But at What Cost?

Fish farmThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees aquaculture, or fish farming, in the U.S., both in freshwater and marine environments. Since the U.S. imports 84 percent of its seafood, about half of which is farmed, there is need for growth in the domestic fish-farming industry. Thus the NOAA has proposed a set of policies to guide American aquaculture. But a group of about 30 organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy, has sent comments to the NOAA (pdf) expressing dismay that the proposed aquaculture policies fall short, in part by failing to maintain a neutral view of aquaculture. The draft policies seem more aimed at boosting the aquaculture industry at any cost than rationally and scientifically evaluating the pros and cons of this type of development in any given circumstance, place and time.

AP Pranked by Hoax Press Release Saying GE Will Repay its $3.2 Billion Tax Break

GE logoThe Associated Press published a story based on a fake, emailed press release that said General Electric would respond to criticism over the amount of taxes it avoids by repaying its entire $3.2 billion tax refund for 2010 to the U.S. Treasury Department.

No

Fukushima and the Happy Talk About Nuclear Power

Dr. Arjun MakhijaniGeorge Kenney's Electric Politics (EP) podcast is one of the top ten political podcasts in the country. Produced once a week on Friday mornings and boasting a theme song written by BJ Leiderman (who also writes the music for NPR radio shows), EP is more than just a wonky political theory show. Kenney has informal, timely conversations with fascinating guests on hot topics. Recently Kenny spoke with Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and a leading authority on nuclear fusion who has 37 years of experience in nuclear energy issues.

For people who assume that older nuclear plants in the U.S. are being replaced with safer, newer designs and that nuclear waste is now being safely and securely disposed of off-site, think again. The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant -- and this interview with Dr. Makhijani -- will change your mind.

Who Blocked the Whistleblower Protection Act?

Secret SenatorLast January, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and New York radio station WNYC sought help from the public to find out which senator put an anonymous secret hold on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, killing the bill at the end of the last congressional term. The bill would have assured protection for government workers who expose illegal activities, waste and corruption. It was tremendously popular with the public and had won unanimous approval in the House when a single, unnamed senator put a "secret hold" on the bill, preventing it from going to the full Senate for a vote. The Government Accountability Project vowed to conduct "a relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers." WNYC asked listeners to call their Senators and ask if they were responsible for the secret hold that killed this important bill. Finally GAP narrowed the field to two possibilities: either Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), or Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). In January, the Senate voted 92-4 to change the rules governing the secret hold to make it harder to use, and GAP's project to expose the senator who used it against the Whistleblower Protection Act has made senators more hesitant to use it. It also brought new attention to the Act, which will be reintroduced in the Senate in the current session.

No

The (Menthol) Elephant in FDA's Room

FDA Panel finds menthol may enhance nicotine addictionA U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that  tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.

No

Harsh Treatment of Wikileaks' Bradley Manning Prompts Firing

The world recently discovered that 22 year old, alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning was subject to inhumane and degrading conditions while being held in military prison. Were his wardens fired? No, the head on the chopping block is State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who denounced Manning's treatment in an off-the-cuff remark on a college campus.

Obama's acquiescence over the status of Guantanamo Bay has brought attention back to the detention facility and the controversial information extraction and confinement practices which are carried out behind its walls. While most Americans probably think that these harsh procedures are reserved for violent "enemy combatants," they would be surprised to learn that some of the same techniques are used on American citizens on U.S. soil.

But that is precisely what seems to be happening to Manning, the Army Private accused of supplying WikiLeaks with sensitive information.

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