One of the casualties of the Republican resistance to expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor is Charlene Dill, 32-year-old mother of 3 who earned $11,000 last year cleaning houses and babysitting. That’s too much for her to qualify for health care under Florida’s Medicaid program but not enough to pay for health insurance on her own. The federal Affordable Care Act would have paid for her insurance if she made more than $23,550, but its framers assumed that workers earning less than the poverty level could get care under the Medicaid expansion, which was almost entirely paid by the ACA. However, Republicans in 25 states, including Florida, have refused to accept the federal expansion.

In 2012 Dill went to a hospital emergency room and was told that she had a heart condition that needed medication and monitoring. But she couldn’t afford it after she paid household bills and put food on the table for her children. Last December she went again to the emergency room because of abscesses in her legs. Shortly after that she picked up another job as a vacuum cleaner saleswoman, on top of babysitting and house cleaning, to help provide for her family and to pay for her ER bills. Dill died during one of her vacuum cleaner sales appointments (3/21), a friend wrote at DemocraticUnderground.com (3/24).

“Charlene died because multimillionaire Republican and Florida Gov. Rick Scott chose to play politics, rather than protect the lives of the Florida citizens he is supposed to be serving,” syndicated talk show host Thom Hartmann wrote at ThomHartmann.com (3/25). “And unfortunately, if Republicans across the country continue playing politics with peoples’ lives, Charlene won’t be the only one to die.

“A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the City University of New York found that as many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of Republican states refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare,” Hartmann wrote. He noted that Samuel Dickman, one of the authors of the study, told the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call in January, “The results were sobering. Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.”

Hartmann added, “Some things are more important than politics, and life is certainly one of them. Republicans say that they’re pro-life, but that’s a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid. If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they’re going to burn in hell. Deservedly.”

VOTERS SHOULD KNOW WHO’S HOLDING UP THEIR HEALTH CARE. Republican litigation to prevent implementation of the Affordable Care Act has included a lawsuit against a group that criticized Louisiana for refusing to provide health care for the working poor. Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation noted that on 3/14, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor sued the progressive group MoveOn.org over a billboard criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state. The billboard uses Louisiana’s tourism slogan — “Pick Your Passion!” — and adds: “But hope you don’t lose your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.” The lawsuit claims that the MoveOn ad will “result in substantial and irreparable harm, injury, and damages” to the Louisiana tourism office — as if denying health insurance to the neediest will not cause the state “substantial and irreparable harm.”

Legal experts say Jindal’s ploy has no chance of succeeding, thanks to the First Amendment. (This would be the same First Amendment that the governor passionately invoked in defense of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s right to spew racist and homophobic vitriol, vanden Heuvel noted.)

“Jindal’s reason for refusing to expand Medicaid is as specious as his reason for suing MoveOn. He claims, falsely, that the expansion would divert funds that now go to disabled individuals under traditional Medicaid. In reality, the health-care law doesn’t harm the existing program. It creates several programs to improve care for the disabled receiving Medicaid; Jindal enrolled Louisiana in three of them. But this hasn’t stopped him from blaming the ACA for his own bad policies, including cuts he made to state Medicaid funding for pregnant women,” vanden Heuvel wrote for the Washington Post (3/25).

“Louisiana isn’t the only state where Republicans are preventing thousands of low-income Americans from receiving health care. In Virginia, where state lawmakers refuse to expand Medicaid, hospitals will face higher costs and reduced services as a result. One million Texans will be denied access to coverage if the state continues to reject the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is willing to leave 300,000 of his neediest citizens uninsured. His reasoning? He’s afraid that the law might be repealed, leaving his state no way to meet its commitments — an ironic stance for a Republican to take, since they’re the ones trying to repeal it!

“The 19 states that are refusing to expand Medicaid aren’t just leaving low-income Americans out to dry — they’re also leaving billions of health-care dollars on the table. While Bobby Jindal busies himself over a billboard, his state’s internal analysis found that Medicaid expansion would save Louisiana as much as $134 mln in 2015 alone.

“The real cost of Republican cruelty, however, cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in people’s lives. Researchers at Harvard and the City University of New York concluded that without the Medicaid expansion, individuals will go without checkups, cancer screenings and treatment for diseases such as diabetes and depression — leading to thousands of premature and preventable deaths. So much for compassionate or fiscal conservatism.

“Amid the misinformation and fear-mongering, however, lies a real opportunity for Democrats to increase support for the ACA and win more races in November.”

DEMS PUSH BACK ON SENATE RACE FORECAST. Republicans are slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the Senate majority in a US Senate forecast by numbers cruncher Nate Silver.

“The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45% before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions,” Silver wrote at fivethirtyeight.com (3/23).

In a pushback, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil insisted that Democrats are “up for the challenge” this fall. “We don’t minimize the challenges ahead. Rather, we view the latest projection as a reminder that we have a challenging map and important work still to do in order to preserve our majority,” Cecil wrote.

The DSCC’s pushback notes that Silver’s projections, made well ahead of an election, sometimes turn out to be wrong. A year ahead of the 2012 presidential election, Silver’s forecast showed Romney a slight favorite over Obama, but we now know, of course, that the president was re-elected by a relatively comfortable margin.

Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog.com (3/24) that similarly, in August 2012 – roughly three months before the election – Silver’s model showed Republicans with a slight edge in taking the Senate majority, though when the votes were tallied, Democrats actually expanded their majority.

“But to see this as evidence of Silver being “wrong” is to misunderstand what his forecasts intend to do. These FiveThirtyEight projections are not supposed to tell us what will happen in the 2014 midterms, rather, they’re offering a snapshot about what’s probable based on current conditions. Conditions change, as do the projections.”

At this point, Benen noted, Silver’s forecast shows the potential for a Democratic electoral bloodbath. The projection shows Republicans very well positioned to flip three blue seats (West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana), likely to win the two competitive red seats (Kentucky and Georgia), favored to flip two blue seats (Arkansas and Louisiana), and have even odds to flip another blue seat (North Carolina).

On top of this, there are three more blue seats (Alaska, Michigan, and Colorado) where the Democratic incumbent is favored, but not by much. “Republicans need a net gain of six seats in the midterms to have a majority in the next Congress, and given the landscape as it currently exists, that’s quite realistic.”

Democratic pollster Celina Lake warned that Democrats have a big turnout disadvantage in the midterm elections. “There is always a challenge in turnout in an off year, but it’s really dramatic this time,” she said (3/25), according to CNN. She cited a new George Washington University poll that found that 64% of Republican voters say they are “extremely likely” to vote in the 2014 midterm elections in November while 57% of Democrats say they are “extremely likely” to vote in the same elections.

Lake cited the recent Florida 13th special election, where Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink, as an example of the turnout problems facing Democrats.

“I think we saw it play out in the Florida special,” Lake added. The GOP turnout efforts in that race, Lake said, were “darn effective.”

Lake said Democratic candidates must weave their policies and day-to-day campaign messages into a larger frame “solely focused on middle class populist economics.”

“Democrats need to articulate a bigger economic agenda to really solidify this election,” she said. “We talk about minimum wage, child care, and these are very popular policies. But we need a more muscular bigger economic agenda laid out there. “

Lake later said that “Democrats need to be on the side of small business. We need to be more aggressive and comfortable being on the side of small business.”

ENVIROS DEFEND TARGETED SENATE CANDIDATES. Five environmental advocacy organizations are buying $4.95 mln in ads to help three Democratic Senate candidates who have been targeted by right-wing groups and one Republican senator, Kate Sheppard reported at HuffingtonPost.com (3/24).

The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund and Mom’s Clean Air Force, will be supporting Dems Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina; Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa, who is seeking to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin; and Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan, seeking to full the seat of retiring Sen. Carl Levin. Ads are also being bought backing Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Conservative groups have been running ads against Hagan since last year, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch Brothers, American Crossroads, Americans for a Conservative Direction and the Senate Conservatives Fund. The media buyer for the environmental group estimates that the conservative groups together have spent $9 mln on ads in the state in 2013 and 2014. The American Petroleum Institute and the American Energy Alliance have spent another $313,000, according to the environmental group’s calculations.

“Each member was chosen because each has taken a courageous stand recently on clean energy and jobs, pollution protection or public health related votes,” said David Di Martino, a consultant working with the environmental groups. “They were there for us, and now we are here for them.” Di Martino said the ad campaign is “the tip of the spear on what is coming from the clean energy community this year.”

The coalition also will be running on-the-ground campaigns for climate change action in 11 states: Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Meteor Blades notes at DailyKos.com (3/24) that the coalition is backing Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine because of her stance on clean energy and for, miraculously, not being a climate-change denier, unlike so many of her colleagues. But Blades notes that Collins’ 69% lifetime score on the League of Conservation Voters’ annual scorecard of environmental votes, while good for a Republican, still ranks her at D+. “If she is elected to a fourth term, she’ll back the same bad Republican leadership as she has previously while occasionally separating herself from the GOP pack. The three Democrats, on the other hand, rate 85% or above on the LCV scorecard.

“Nonetheless, the coalition’s ads support Collins instead of Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, a progressive on a wide range of issues who has made climate change a key part of her campaign and opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, which Collins has voted for twice. This may be an attempt by the coalition to be bipartisan-y to make some of the constituent groups’ more conservative donors happy. But it’s short-sighted given that there is little to no bipartisan emanating from the modern Republican Party that favors the environment. Collins hasn’t been able to change that during her nearly 18 years in the Senate.”

99.9% OF CLIMATE RESEARCHERS AGREE: HUMANS TO BLAME FOR GLOBAL WARMING. After going through every scientific study of climate change published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2013, noted geochemist James Lawrence Powell found 10,885 articles that examined global warming and climate change, and only two of the articles rejected anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming.

Since 1991, he has found, 25,182 scientific articles have been published on the subject, with 26 of them rejecting anthropogenic global warming. So he estimates that the going rate for climate denial in scientific research is about 1 in 1,000.

“Instead of coalescing around a rival theory to anthropogenic global warming, the rejecting articles offer a hodgepodge of alternatives, none of which has caught on,” Powell noted at jamespowell.org. “The dissenting articles are rarely cited, even by other dissenters. A groundswell this is not. The 26 rejecting articles have had no discernible influence on science.”

Powell added, “Very few of the most vocal global warming deniers, those who write op-eds and blogs and testify to congressional committees, have ever written a peer-reviewed article in which they say explicitly that anthropogenic global warming is false. Why? Because then they would have to provide the evidence and, evidently, they don’t have it.”

QUARTER OF MISS. RESIDENTS STRUGGLE TO AFFORD FOOD. Mississippi is the state with the highest share of residents who struggle to afford food, according to a Gallup report. Just over a quarter say there was at least one time over the past year when they didn’t have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed, Bryce Covert noted at ThinkProgress.org (3/24).

West Virginia and Louisiana were close behind, both with 23% of residents struggling to get adequate food. In 16 states total, at least one in five residents couldn’t afford the food they needed, twice the number as the year before. Alabama, where 22.9% of resident had a hard time buying food, “has been among the 10 states most likely to report struggling to afford food in each of the six years Gallup and Healthways have tracked this measure,” the report notes. “Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia are also frequent visitors on this list, with each state appearing five times since tracking began.”

Overall, 18.9% of Americans struggled to afford food last year. That’s a slight uptick from 2012, when the figure was 18.2%, and an increase from 17.8% in 2008, the year it began tracking the figure and the lowest rate so far. Hunger has spiked since the recession, and more than 50 mln Americans are now food insecure.

These numbers come just after Congress passed a farm bill that reduces Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits for 850,000 households by about $90 a month. Some will be spared from that cut, as the governors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are using a complicated formula involving assistance for home heating to keep benefit levels the same, and others are looking at whether to follow. But that reduction came on top of an automatic one for all recipients in November, which reduced benefits by about $9 per person each month.

The high rates of food insecurity coupled with food stamp cuts have put an unbearable strain on the country’s food pantries and kitchens. Among the mayors of 25 cities, 83% say the demand on these private charities has increased by an average of 7%, but in two-thirds of the states they had to turn needy people away because they didn’t have enough resources, and in every city they had to reduce the quantity of food they gave out.

Congress has other options if it’s looking to reduce spending on the food stamp program without hurting Americans struggling to get adequate nutrition. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce spending on SNAP by $46 bln over a decade. Or it could just wait, as the program is projected to shrink by half in the same timespan.

AIR POLLUTION KILLS 7M PEOPLE EVERY YEAR. Air pollution is responsible for 7 mln deaths around the world each year, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The health agency says that pollution has now become the single greatest environmental health risk, contributing to one out of every eight global deaths, Tara Culp-Ressler reported at ThinkProgress.org (3/25).

According to the WHO report, outdoor pollution contributes to 3.7 mln deaths each year, about 80% of which result from incidences of stroke and heart disease that are linked to pollution. Meanwhile, indoor pollution, which tends to result from cooking over coal or wood stoves, contributes to another 4.3 mln deaths. Since some people are exposed to both types of pollution, WHO took the overlap into account to reach the overall seven million number.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” WHO’s Dr. Maria Neira said in a statement. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.

In 2008, the last time WHO officials attempted to calculate the number of deaths resulting from air pollution, the agency estimated that outdoor pollution killed 1.3 mln people and indoor pollution killed 1.9 mln. Research methods have advanced since then and now allow WHO to collect better data, particularly in rural areas.

Although it’s clear that pollution is a big contributor to strokes and heart disease, it’s been linked to several other health issues as well. Long-term exposure to dirty air is connected to asthma, kidney damage, and autism. Last fall, WHO officially classified air pollution as a carcinogen, concluding that it puts people at a higher risk for lung and bladder cancers.

GLOBAL ENERGY THIRST THREATENS WATER SUPPLIES, UN SAYS. A United Nations agency reported that energy production will increasingly strain water resources in the coming decades even as more than 1 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people already lack access to both.

“There is an increasing potential for serious conflict between power generation, other water users and environmental considerations,” said the UN World Water Development Report that focused on water and energy, Tara Patel reported for Reuters (3/21).

Shale gas and oil production as well as biofuels “can pose significant risks” to water resources, pitting energy producers against farmers, factories and providers of drinking and sanitation services, the agency said.

Water-related needs for energy production have tripled since 1995, according to GE Water, while more than half of the global cotton production is grown in areas with high water risks. Electricity demand is forecast to rise at least two-thirds by 2035, driven by population growth.

Infrastructure upgrades, smart meters and clean technologies would help conserve resources as “billions of gallons of water are leaked each day, and energy is required to clean and transport that water,” said Sensus, a US developer of water-metering systems. “When water is wasted, so is energy.”

The energy industry “needs to understand that if they don’t take water into account, they will have problems,” Michel Jarraud, who heads the UN-Water agency, said from Paris. “Water supply is already a constraint for energy projects in some countries, especially in Asia.”

FLORIDA MOVES TO RESTRICT ACCESS TO ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ CASE RECORDS. After a Tampa Bay Times review of 200 cases that involved the controversial “Stand Your Ground” defense found an “uneven application” and “shocking outcomes,” a Florida legislator is seeking to impede the media’s ability to scrutinize the law, Janie Campbell reported at HuffingtonPost.com (3/24).

State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) filed an amendment that would “severely limit access to court records in the self-defense cases,” the Times’ Michael van Sickler reported (3/19).

The amendment would allow those found innocent in a Stand Your Ground case to “apply for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the associated criminal history record.”

Gaetz said his amendment was unrelated to the Times’ Stand Your Ground investigation, the Associated Press reported. “The point is to ensure that someone who appropriately uses a Stand Your Ground defense doesn’t have their life ruined by the use of that defense,” he said.

Gaetz’s amendment has sparked concern among journalists, who say the loss of access to public records could have damaging effects, Media Matters reported (3/21).

“Closing records and putting controversial cases that involve violence into the dark is a bad idea, it is against democracy,” said Neil Brown, Times editor and vice president. “This would have inhibited our work further. Our work was done based on court records as well as the stories of the incidents when they occurred.”

The Times coverage was named a finalist for the Online News Association’s Knight Award for Public Service and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism’s Taylor Award for Fairness in Journalism. The investigation has played a key role in informing other outlets’ coverage of cases relating to Stand Your Ground statutes.

It utilized hundreds of court and arrest records to reveal that the law was being interpreted in many different ways and being applied without a uniform approach, according to Kris Hundley, one of the three Times reporters who worked on the project.

“If those were expunged, I don’t know how you would ever do any kind of meaningful look back at the law,” Hundley said. “I think it was important because it gave people a sense of how it was applied across the state, how judges made different decisions faced with similar cases and the wide variety of cases in which it was employed. It showed the law was being expanded to far beyond what the legislators anticipated and (was) applied unevenly.”

US NATURAL GAS BOOM JUST CAUSED MORE COAL EXPORTS. Thanks to the natural gas boom, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped in the US. But those emissions savings were probably completely undone by US coal exports. That’s the finding from new research by CO2 Scorecard, which looked at how the US coal industry increase its exports in order to deal with the rise of natural gas in the nation’s power market, Jeff Spross noted at ThinkProgress.org (3/26).

Many, including the White House, have touted natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable power, since burning it only releases about half the carbon emissions as coal. One problem with this argument is methane leaks, which could make natural gas every bit as bad as coal in terms of climate change. But even if the leaks aren’t an issue, the coal that natural gas replaces in the US would need to stay in the ground for the climate to benefit.

According to CO2 Scorecard, that didn’t happen. Instead, the coal just went to other countries. Researchers used data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) to find that US exports of coal spiked after 2007, following the arrival of America’s natural gas boom. The rise of natural gas in America’s energy mix cut our carbon emissions by 86 mln tons over that time period. But the spike in exports increased carbon emissions from US coal burned abroad by around 149 mln tons.

As CO2 Scorecard notes, US coal is relatively cheap on the global market. So it’s possible coal exports from other countries declined in reaction because they couldn’t compete. Unfortunately, EIA data also shows that global coal consumption rose steeply over the 2007-2012 time period, suggesting the primary effect of US coal exports was to drive down the fossil fuel’s global price and encourage demand.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2014


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