Weekly Audit: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

Lindsay Beyerstein

Unemployment benefits are running out, Paycheck Fairness dies in the Senate, and a must-see documentary on Wall Street and the economy.

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

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  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

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.

Abortion

Weekly Pulse: The New Hunger Epidemic, Making CPCs Come Clean, and Smoking Hipsters

Lindsay Beyerstein

More families are going hungry, the NYC Council will vote on requiring CPCs to disclose they are not health care facilities, CRR takes the FDA to court, and more.

This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member.

As some Americans obsess over whether to brine or deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, others are going hungry. Seth Freed Wessler reports for ColorLines that 50 million Americans went hungry in 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Astonishingly, more than 36% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity last year, in spite of a massive expansion of federal food stamp benefits as part of the economic stimulus. Forty-two million families received food stamps last year, 10 million more than the year before. Congress gutted the food stamp program this summer. If something isn’t done, families of four will lose $59 a month in food stamp benefits at the end of 2014. At the time of the cuts, House Democrats promised to restore food stamp benefits during the lame duck session of Congress, but Freed notes there’s been little sign recently that they plan to follow through on the promise.

Making Crisis Pregnancy Centers come clean

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The New York City Council is preparing to vote on the legislation to force so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities and that they do not provide birth control or abortions. CPCs are anti-choice ministries that deliberately mimic abortion clinics in order to trick women who might be seeking abortions. It’s all a ruse to bombard these women with false information about abortion under the guise of health care. As we discussed last week in the Pulse, CPCs also serve as incubators for more extreme forms of anti-choice activism, from clinic obstruction to violence.

In Rewire, Dr. Lynette Leighton explains why she supports New York City’s proposed bill to require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose that they aren’t real clinics staffed by health care providers:

As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.

New York CPCs are claiming that the requirement to disclose violates their freedom of speech, Robin Marty notes in Rewire. In other words, they are claiming a First Amendment right to bait and switch. The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is scheduled to testify before the City Council that the free speech claim is baseless.

See you in court!

In other reproductive rights news, the Center for Reproductive Rights took the FDA to court on Tuesday over access to the morning after pill. The FDA has been ignoring a court order to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women of all ages, and the Center is going to court to spur the agency to comply, Vanessa Valenti reports for Feministing.

Look at this smokin’ hipster

Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is courting hipsters with a new “Williamsburg” cigarette, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. “[Smoking Camels is] about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building… It’s where a tree grows,” according to the online ad copy. Mmm, kissing smokers.

It’s all part of an online marketing campaign in which users are invited to guess where brand mascot Joe Camel will show up next week. Interestingly, the contest’s name is “Break Free Adventure,” a twist on the Camel brand’s “Break Free” tagline. Odd that they’d pick a slogan usually associated with quitting smoking, rather than feeding the addiction. Those hipsters sure love irony.

Blowing the whistle on health insurers

On Democracy Now!, health insurance executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter predicts that the Republicans will back off their grandiose campaign promises to repeal health care reform and instead try to dismantle the bill’s provisions that protect consumers. Potter notes that health insurers are major Republican donors, and that parts of the law are very good for insurers, notably the mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

Apparently, some true believers haven’t gotten the memo. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that some Republican members of Congress are still gunning to shut down the government over health care reform and other spending.

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: Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Christine O’Donnell, Condoms and Concussions

Lindsay Beyerstein

Crisis pregnancy centers, Christine O'Donnell, condoms and concussions.  This week's Weekly Pulse is brought to you by the letter C.

This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in New York City may soon have to level with the public about their real agenda. At the Ms. Blog, Michelle Chen has an update on proposed legislation which would force CPCs in New York to disclose that they aren’t reproductive health centers.

CPCs are anti-choice ministries that masquerade as full-service reproductive health clinics. They typically set up shop near real clinics to trick unwary clients. Real clinics dispense medical advice from doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals. They are required to tell clients about the risks and benefits of all their treatment options. They don’t push clients towards abortion or adoption. CPCs are typically staffed by volunteers. Instead of medical advice, they hand out over-the-counter pregnancy tests and medically inaccurate information about the risks of abortion. They use pseudoscience and high pressure sales tactics to derail as many women seeking abortions as they can.

Chen reports that if the bill becomes law, New York CPCs will have to post signs disclosing that “they do not provide abortion services or contraceptive devices, or make referrals to organizations that do.” If the facility lacks licensed on-site medical professionals, the center would have to inform prospective clients of this fact. This is an excellent piece of consumer protection legislation. If CPCs are honest about who they are and what they do, they should have no problem with the law.

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Christine O’Donnell: not (just) a joke

In an essay for the Women’s Media Center, organizer Shelby Knox explains why Delaware’s Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell represents more than an anti-masturbation punchline:

Not ironically, O’Donnell is a loyal disciple to the religious agenda that equates sexuality, especially female sexuality, with evil and the decline of humanity. […] To most mainstream Americans, O’Donnell’s concerted battle against solo sexual pleasure in particular is so fringe, so bizarre, it’s laughable. Yet, those of us deeply familiar with the ideology of the extremist right wing have long understood the condemnation of sex and sexual pleasure for anything other than the purpose of conception within marriage to be the underpinning of public policies that invite (Christian) God and (big, big) government into our bedrooms.

Knox notes that the same underlying suspicion of human sexuality finds expression in more mainstream areas of American politics, like federally-funded abstinence-only education, which substitutes religious homilies and gender stereotypes for science-based sex ed. (I would add federal funding for some of the nation’s aforementioned “crisis pregnancy centers” to Knox’s list of examples of anti-sex religious ideology replacing science-based health services.)

This week, O’Donnell drew audible gasps from a crowd when she claimed that the separation of church and state isn’t part of the U.S. Constitution, as Monica Potts reports for TAPPED.

O’Donnell may seem bizarre to the average voter, but Knox reminds us that she’s pretty typical of a rising tide of anti-sex, anti-science conservatism that we ignore at our peril:

But more accurately she’s the poster girl for more than 78 candidates running this election season who share her anti-sex, anti-woman views. These candidates believe abortion should be illegal in all cases, without exception for rape and incest. Some have promised a GOP majority would signal a return to funding failed abstinence-only policies. Ken Buck, the GOP Senate candidate in Colorado, even went so far as to refuse to prosecute a rape because the accuser had “buyer’s remorse” over an abortion he alleged she’d had a year before the assault.

Condoms and porn

A porn actor in California became the latest performer to test positive for HIV last week. His diagnosis sent shockwaves through the San Fernando Valley’s porn industry because the actor was reportedly a star who worked with a lot of big names in an industry where condoms are the exception rather than the rule.

The case has reignited controversy over the fact that straight porn companies aggressively flout California law that mandates condoms on porn sets. The industry maintains that it doesn’t need condoms because it has a rigorous testing program for talent. As I report in Working In These Times the industry is being allowed to investigate the HIV outbreak on its own, which is a little like asking BP to monitor oil spills. The same industry-allied non-profit that administers the tests, and does PR about how great the testing program is, also investigates cases of HIV in the industry. Does anyone else see a potential problem?

Concussions in the NFL

Football season is in full swing, but for Dave Zirin of The Nation and many other football fans, it’s getting harder and harder to reconcile their love of the game with our growing awareness of the toll that it takes on players:

In August, to much fanfare, NFL owners finally acknowledged that football-related concussions cause depression, dementia, memory loss and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Now that they’ve opened the door, this concussion discussion is starting to shape how we understand what were previously seen as the NFL’s typical helping of off-field controversy and tragedy.

Zirin appends a list of over 30 players who have sustained concussions since the pre-season. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is calling for the NFL to start kicking excessively violent players out of the game, but Zirin says that’s not enough to stem the tide of concussions. Devastating brain injuries can come from routine, legal hits. A lot of the cumulative brain trauma leaves players demented in their fifties is actually sustained during practice.

The carnage is built into the game. Concussions are unavoidable given anatomy of the human brain and the physics of huge guys crashing into each other. Helmets only help so much because they can’t prevent the brain from smashing against the cranium. Zirin thinks football fans need to do a lot of soul searching. He argues that every fan should think hard about whether it’s really that much fun to watch guys get their brains pulped in the name of sport. Zirin’s not ready to give up football yet, but he thinks the gnawing guilt may eventually outweigh his love of the game.

Cephalon spokesdoc: “Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don’t know”

Mother Jones and Propublica have a blockbuster exposé of crooked doctors on pharmaceutical company payrolls. They found that a shocking number of “white coat sales reps” (doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs to other doctors) have checkered pasts and dodgy credentials.

For examples, in 2004, a court upheld a Georgia hospital’s decision to fire Dr. Donald Ray Taylor, an anesthesiologist who had a habit of giving vaginal and anal exams to young female patients without documenting why. According to court records, Dr. Taylor explained himself to a hospital official as follows, “Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don’t know.”

For reasons that are themselves murky, Dr. Taylor went on to become the highest paid speaker for the pharmaceutical giant Cephalon, earning $142,050 in 2009 and an an additional $52,400 through June. It turns out that Dr. Taylor is far from the only shady doc to make big bucks as a shill for big pharma. The investigators found 250 pharma docs with serious blemishes on their records for such offenses as inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care, or having sex with patients. Some were just playing doctor on the pharma circuit, having lost their licenses.

This update brought to you by the Media Consortium, and the letter C.

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.