After an amazingly encouraging week or two, we head into the July 4th weekend with a whole bunch of stuff we've been trying to clear off our desk. Plus: Lots of breaking news and an encouraging ending for the weekend...
Missouri's Democratic Governor Jay Nixon had an opportunity to encourage people to quit smoking. He didn't take it. In fact, he actually made the choice to help encourage people to continue smoking, despite the fact the deadly habit kills nearly half a million people in the U.S. alone each year.
On Monday, the Governor vetoed Senate Bill 841. While the legislation would have restricted the sale of nicotine vaping products such as e-cigarettes to minors, and required sellers to receive a license from the state, it also exempted the non-lethal devices and products --- which are quickly becoming very popular as a method to quit smoking --- from existing laws and taxes levied against harmful tobacco products.
"This bill appears to be nothing more than a thinly disguised and cynical attempt to exempt e-cigarettes from taxes and regulations protecting public health," Nixon said in his veto message.
This sort of dangerous short-sightedness, unfortunately, is not unusual for Democrats, of late. It also flies in the face of both science and common sense...
It was a very independent and very activist-y BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio this week, on a whole bunch of levels.
First up: Christina Tobin, Founder & Chair of The Free & Equal Elections Foundation --- and co-moderator, with Larry King, of the 2012 Presidential Debate where all of the major candidates were invited (as opposed to to just two of them). We discussed her group and their upcoming United We Stand Fest at UCLA on May 10th, which is set to feature a ton of very cool politicians (of all parties), journalist, musicians...and me.
Next: Why Tuesday's landmark decision in a federal court in Wisconsin, striking down that state's GOP polling place Photo ID restriction law is so important to the entire nation, and why Scott Walker and a whole bunch of Republicans across the country aren't gonna like it at all.
I discussed some of these points on Wednesday's BradCast, but wanted to quickly highlight each of them a bit here, since these important data points are easy to lose track of in the blizzard of news noise of late.
There remain some (many?) Democrats who are still running scared as they head into the 2014 mid-terms, cowering with fear about Rightwing attacks on "Obamacare". Evidence continues to demonstrate that those Dems should be running on what is clearly the tremendous success of the law, as written and intended (even as the Affordable Care Act itself has always been a flawed law.)
If there's any question about the success of the law on its most basic terms, as far as what it was meant to accomplish (help more Americans have access to health care), here is a very quick round-up of the law's most noteworthy milestones from just the past week, along with some rather remarkable polling numbers --- from three different surveys --- that buttress the nation's increasing approval for both the effects of the law and the Democrats who brung it to 'em...
Also on this week's show, the continuallygrowingevidence of the success of "Obamacare" (and a caller who self-identifies as "full on Left. I'm not even liberal, I'm further Left than that", who takes me to task for citing the facts) --- and why it's time for Dems to grow a pair and start running to not just retain the Senate but also take the U.S. House.
A word or two on home-grown Rightwing extremist terrorism and the fecklessness of the Dept. of Homeland Security which, thanks to bullying from Republicanists and Fox "News", cowered from and retracted their report on same back in 2009 despite the mounting death toll ever since.
Also, a bunch of good callers and more that you'll just have to tune in to hear about, including a visit by Desi Doyen with the latest Green News Report and some other stuff. Enjoy!
That's what's happening to the 9th Street Mission Clinic in Mena, Arkansas, in any case, where the Director of that charitable outlet has announced that, thanks to "Obamacare", the number of clients at the once bustling clinic have dwindled to almost nothing.
"Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore," the clinic's Director, Stacey Bowser RN, told The Mena Star. "We've gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won't be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission."
The paper reports that "the free medical clinic at 9th Street Ministries was started to reach out to those who could not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, and did not have any other health insurance policy."
"There was such a need for many years that we would have people coming through the medical clinic from the time the doors opened early in the morning all the way until 4:00 in the afternoon," Bowser said about the clinic where a crew of 25 to 30 volunteers was said to always been on hand to meet the needs of those without health care in rural Polk County.
"This complete dropoff of numbers of people coming to the clinic is a result of all those who have successfully enrolled in an insurance policy now," she said.
After being open since 1998, the clinic's final day of operation will be April 24th. "Obamacare" is clearly destroying America as we know it.
There are a number of reasons why it's difficult to stomach the claim that New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie is concerned about "public health". His newest proposal for a pricey new excise tax on e-cigs is just one of them.
In 2010, Christie slashed $7.5 million --- virtually all of the state's investment --- in smoking prevention and cessation support from the state's "Comprehensive Tobacco Control Program". As a result, the American Lung Association (ALA) now ranks NJ as 50th in the nation on this issue, recently noting, they are "the only state in the country to provide no state funding" for such programs.
Christie's gutting of the state's once-robust program has resulted in an "F" grade from the ALA on both "Tobacco Prevention" and "Cessation Coverage", leading them to write: "This lack of funding to help tobacco users quit is a stark contradiction with New Jersey's high tax rate of $2.70 per pack generating over $700 million each year in revenues."
Thus, it's all the more absurd to hear the "fiscally conservative" Christie administration now calling for a massive new "sin tax" on e-cigarettes, which are known to be a far safer alternative to smoking, since "vaping" includes none of the deadly toxins, such as tar and carbon monoxide, found in combustible tobacco.
But "conservative" hypocrisy aside, what makes Christie's new tax and spend plan even more absurd is that his state Treasurer is now claiming their "main concern is public health."
It was a roller-coaster of a news day today, so it was a roller-coaster of a BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio.
First, I was joined by Katie Klabusich of KatieSpeak.com and Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL). Klabusich was recently "targeted" by PLAL on their website, for her work as an abortion clinic escort trying to help women seeking cancer screenings, termination of pregnancies, prenatal care or birth control as they face a gauntlet of anti-choice protesters.
Klabusich wrote an "Open Letter to Legislators From a Clinic Escort" this week at Truthout, calling for buffer zones around such clinics, so women can visit their doctor without harassment. Scheidler, who says he supports buffer zones around voting precincts, disagrees that buffer zones should be allowed around reproductive medical facilities. He also feels that his organization did not threaten Klabusich by posting her name, photo and the city where she lives and works and asking supporters to share it far and wide under the guise of "praying" for her.
It was an enlightening conversation with the two of them.
Well, this is fun. Today, a report out from the LA Times details a wide range of sources finding that "at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gotten health insurance since Obamacare started."
That's 9.5 million Americans who previously had no reliable access to health care now having such access thanks to the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare").
And, before we hear complaints from progressives, for those don't recall, while we've been very critical of the ACA over the years (we prefer a single-payer, "Medicare for All" time plan, versus the obsenity of private insurers profiteering off of sick people), as we noted late last year (when the ACA allowed me sign up for a new plan with my same insurer and save $300/month or $3,600/year in the bargain), more people now having access to health care --- the overall goal of the Republican-conceived "Obamacare" law --- is certainly a good thing, no matter how one slices it. That's true even if it's bad law (and it is.)
But, as noted, don't tell Fox. For that matter, don't tell the Democrats who, for some unknown reason (perhaps because they are delicate, quivering, easily-intimidated flowers?) still haven't figured out how to run for office on their positive accomplishments, such as the ACA.
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UPDATE 8:59pm PT: Moments before midnight on the east coast, just before the March 31, 2014 deadline for signing up for health care insurance without a penalty under the ACA, AP is reporting that the "Obamacare" health care exchange is "on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance." That number was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) when the bill was first passed into law and has been seen as the administration's initial goal for signups. That target was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous opening of the website late last year (despite the misleading Fox "News" graphic indicating otherwise above). But if the AP is right, ACA has now exceeded its initial target...
On Thursday I was invited to discuss the issue with Ian Levitt of the Daily Report, the afternoon drive time show on KTNF, Minnesota's great Progressive AM950. Minnesota now joins the growing list of places where legislatures are considering a ban on vaping in public spaces because...well, I guess because they want more people to keep smoking rather than quitting via the non-smoking alternative of vaping. (I'm sure there must be some other reason --- and we discussed that a bit during the show --- but whatever that reason is, as is the case here in Los Angeles, it sure isn't based on science or public health benefits, as my interview with L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, who sponsored and voted for the ban here, made very clear a few weeks ago!)
It's time that Progressives (not to mention Democrats, but I don't necessarily hold out much hope for them) get on the right side of this issue. Here's my conversation about e-cigs and ill-considered bans against them, with Levitt yesterday...
To his great credit, according to the Star Tribune, MN's Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has signalled the state's proposed ban goes "too far". So the bill has been sent back to committee in the state Senate.
"Dayton said he would sign a bill to restrict children's ability to buy e-cigarettes and to keep the product out of schools, but he would likely oppose making them subject to the indoor air law," the paper reports. "Dayton told the Star Tribune that he's not convinced there is definitive evidence that secondhand vapor poses a danger similar to secondhand smoke."
Here in Los Angeles, while the City Council voted to ban e-cig use like cigarettes, in public spaces such as parks, beaches, restaurants, bars, clubs, work spaces etc., Mayor Eric Garcetti has yet to approve the new ordinance. He can be contacted here, if you'd like to ring in with your thoughts on the new ban which is sure to make it harder for smokers to vape and, therefore, to quit smoking entirely.
If you have any questions about the effectiveness of e-cigs, feel free to ignore my own testimonial (vaping has allowed me to stop smoking immediately after decades of being a smoker) and take a look at some of the almost identical testimonials from former smokers in that Star Tribune article I linked to previously on the Minnesota ban now being considered.
I haven't gotten to go to the phones for weeks on the KPFK/Pacifica RadioBradCast, so that's what we did on this week's show. No guests. Just me, a few rants, lots of callers (and, of course, Desi Doyen and the latest Green News Report).
The rants included more on the mad media misinformation/neo-con war-baiting over Ukraine (which, thankfully, it appears Obama no longer seems to be falling for or taking the bait on); the Democrats woeful 2014 campaign plans and --- the one that got ALL the phone lines ringing off the hook --- the rapidly increasing media disinformation about e-cigs.
Lots of good calls, but my favorite on that last was from "David in Los Angeles". I think his opinion may be a nearly perfect distillation of the entire, insane backlash against the public health miracle that is vaping. David describes his concern: "We don't want to encourage the behavior of smoking, even if its not harmful." My question to him is, "Why?" He explains: "because it's the perceived behavior that is negative." You'll have to tune in to see how that call, and all the others, worked out.
It was a very lively show this week. Hope you'll enjoy it...
For all of the long-time smokers who are quitting or have now quit the deadly habit (myself included) thanks only to the miracle of e-cigs (which offer none of the thousands of known, harmful byproducts of smoking tobacco), it's remarkable to see anti-smoking zealots actually fighting against their use in myriad ways.
Several weeks ago on my KPFK/Pacifica Radio show, I interviewed Paul Koretz, one of the L.A. City Councilmembers who, beyond all reason --- and without a single shred of scientific data to back up his reasoning --- recently voted to ban vaping in all the same places where smoking is banned (on beaches, public parks, inside work places, restaurants, bars, etc.) Those who vape, if L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti decides to approve the City Council's ridiculous and dangerous ordinance (as other mayors have done in other cities) would be consigned to having to go outside to a smoking area to use their safe, odor-free vaporizer.
As one caller to the radio show pointed out, that ill-considered policy is akin to forcing recovering alcoholics to go sit in a bar. It's almost assured to keep more people smoking rather than quitting. That, even though, as Koretz admitted to me on air, there's a "99% possibility" that vaping is "much safer than smoking" and the former. (And he was low-balling that number, no doubt.) The former President of the American Lung Association describes the L.A. ban on vaping as "misguided" and "a public health disservice".
Which brings us to Monday's New York Times, where the Idiotic War on Quitting Smoking continues with a misguided hit piece on e-liquid --- the "juices" used in e-cig vaporizers --- headlined "Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes"...
WASHINGTON (AP) --- With just three weeks left to sign up under President Barack Obama's health care law, a major survey tracking the rollout finds that the uninsured rate keeps going down.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released Monday, found that 15.9 percent of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months --- or calendar quarter--- of 2013.
That translates roughly to 3 million to 4 million people [who previously did not have health insurance, now] getting coverage.
Gallup said the share of Americans who lack coverage is on track to drop to the lowest quarterly level it measured since 2008, before Obama took office.
The survey found that almost every major demographic group made progress getting health insurance, although Hispanics lagged.
The Gallup poll is considered authoritative because it combines the scope and depth found in government surveys with the timeliness of media sampling. Pollsters interview 500 people a day, 350 days a year. The latest health care results were based on more than 28,000 interviews, or about 28 times as many as in a standard national poll.
The survey can be an early indicator of broad shifts in society. Gallup saw a modest decline in the uninsured rate in January, and now two full months of data indicate a trend is taking shape.
Gallup said the drop coincides with the start of coverage under the health care law on Jan. 1.
While The BRAD BLOG has been no particular fan of ObamaCare, and has long advocated for a "Medicare for All" type single-payer system, (we've long been loud supporters of a much better and more moral system than that offered by "ObamaCare", and still are) the facts about ACA are the facts.
In addition to the continuing fall in the number of uninsured Americans, we also noted last November that the rise in the cost of health care has been the flattest in U.S. history during the three years since the passage of the law. And, on a personal note, last December I detailed the ObamaCare "nightmare" I suffered by spending less than an hour on the CA state exchange website to sign up for a new plan with the same health care provider I had previously, and saved $300/month ($3,600/year) in the process.
Yes, if I was a Republican I'd want to pretend "ObamaCare" was a disaster and do everything possible to repeal it as well.
Occasionally --- almost as frequently, if not more so, than actual corporate mainstream news outlets --- The Daily Show produces real journalism.
One such example (among many) was Aasif Mandvi's stinging 2010 report on Nevada's United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union paying temporary non-union workers minimum wage and no benefits to protest Walmart's low wages, lack of benefits and blocking of unions.
Last night on The Daily Show, Mandvi did it again, this time offering a scathing, must-see report on "third-world" health care conditions in...Knoxville, Tennessee...and some stunning Rightwing hypocrisy about it...
On Tuesday, the L.A. City Council voted to join cities like New York and Chicago by banning e-cigarette use in the same public spaces where tobacco use is banned, such as "farmers' markets, parks, recreational areas, beaches, indoor workplaces such as bars and nightclubs, outdoor dining areas and other places where lighting up is banned."
On this week's BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio I spoke with L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) about why they voted to impose the ban, despite the dearth of evidence that e-cig 'vaping' is harmful to either the user or anyone else, and the evidence (include my own personal story) that vaping is, hands down, the most effective way for smokers to stop smoking. In fact, as I describe during the show, I view it as a "miracle" that will save countless lives and that banning it --- or making it harder to vape in any way, without good reason --- will, quite frankly, result in countless unnecessary deaths.
Even Koretz admitted during my interview that there's a "99% possibility" that vaping is "much safer than smoking".
But he was low-balling it, frankly. As you'll hearing during the show, this is a very personal issue for me. But you can decide for yourself if Koretz makes the case for the L.A. City Council's ban. Either way, the ban will only go into effect if Mayor Eric Garcetti approves it. Garcetti can be contacted here.
My great thanks to Koretz for joining us at the last minute, and for sticking around for tough questioning from both me and callers.
UPDATE 3/7/2014: PandoDaily's David Holmes pulls together a lot of the known (and unknown) information about e-cigs and describes the L.A. City Council's ordinance "to treat e-cigarettes like conventional cigarettes" as "irrational and bad policy."
[T]his proposal is misguided because it would do a public health disservice, discouraging smokers from switching to less-harmful electronic cigarettes that do not combust tobacco and therefore, do not create second-hand smoke.
As a former president of the American Lung Association, I have seen how e-cigarettes have become the subject of much confusion and misinformation, which has led to a classic case of guilt by association.
E-cigarettes may deliver nicotine and look like cigarettes. But there the similarities end.
Including e-cigarettes in the city's smoking ban would be a step in the wrong direction. It would send the unintended message to smokers that electronic cigarettes are as dangerous as traditional cigarettes, locking many smokers into traditional cigarette use. This is a public health outcome we do not want.
E-cigarettes are a fundamentally different product from combustible tobacco cigarettes and should not fall under the same rules and restrictions. Rather, we should encourage current smokers to move down the ladder of risk by implementing regulations that recognize these differences.
As a society, we should continue our laser focus on eliminating tobacco use. But a premature "regulate first, ask questions later" approach that equates e-cigarettes to combustible tobacco cigarettes only serves as an obstacle to that goal. The Los Angeles City Council should pause its campaign against electronic cigarettes until the FDA experts offer guidance on how the product should be regulated. To do otherwise is to ignore an opportunity to save millions of smokers from a lot of harm.