On Sustaining Hope

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

Maybe you’re reading this on a computer that, just thirty years ago, would have occupied an entire building. Or even more astonishingly, maybe you’re reading it on a cell phone. At your office, you can flick a switch and lights come on, turn a knob and have fresh water, or push a lever and flush your waste. In many public restrooms, you don’t even have to push the lever; a sensor sees when you stand up and flushes automatically. At your local market, you can find almost any kind of food at almost any time of year. Back at home, you can go online and chat with friends from anywhere in the world, share ideas, plan events, even fall in love. Humans have come a long way, at least in the developed world.

There are also seven billion of us now, heading toward nine billion by the end of this century. While most Americans have luxuries that would have dazzled kings just 200 years ago, and while a handful live almost beyond imagination even today, billions still lack basic necessities and wonder if they’ll have food tomorrow. As we saw last week, raising their standard of living will require more energy than we have and feeding them will push our climate to the brink. Just as we most need scientific breakthroughs, we find we’ve moved beyond the veil of cause, crunching data for patterns we cannot explain but dare not ignore. All of those amazing discoveries and inventions in the paragraph above were the “low-hanging fruit” of human innovation. The accumulated problem-solving that brought humanity to this century pales beside the problem-solving we’ll need to see the next.

Is There a Future?

When we look around at the problems that remain, hear the ticking clock of climate and environmental changes already underway, and meet the stubbornness of those who deny those problems … it’s easy to conclude that the clock may well run out, that we may be The Last Generation already pondering The World Without Us.

Even if we find solutions for agriculture and energy and slow or buffer the effects of climate change, we now know there are other dangers lurking. The Yellowstone Caldera is bulging, threatening a supervolcanic eruption causing a worldwide cataclysm. Eruptions in the Canary Islands or elsewhere could trigger megatsunamis. Laboratories now rush to develop nanotechnology to detect biohazards and pathogens, hoping to get warning time before a toxin or superbug spreads out of control. Add solar flares, stray asteroids, and geomagnetic reversals … and who would blame you for thinking we’re trapped on an unstable rock, waiting for a chaotic and dangerous universe to kill us. Unless we blow ourselves up first.

Watch Us Grow

All of those threats are real. Some we can’t even hope to prevent. But before you give up or start preparing for doomsday … take a breath and reread that paragraph about how far we’ve come as a species. Remember how we evolved to survive through communication and cooperation. Consider how much we can discover when we accept and learn from our mistakes.

Then take it out of theory and into the news around us. Look at what President Obama and Democrats accomplished over the past three years. Consider what activism accomplished in the past few months, from changing the story on income inequality to reopening the Trayvon Martin investigation, from protecting Planned Parenthood to pushing back ALEC.

Think about what it means that you can be part of solving problems like never before. You can donate a barnyard of hope to a family you’ll never meet, help finance their business, try to find a solution for a high-tech problem, and work to reelect our president … all with the same technology you used to read this essay.

Our challenges are bigger than ever before. But so are our tools, and our ability to support and encourage each other as we use them.

So yes … it still makes sense to hope.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))


Birth Control and Democracy

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

(By Mark Bridger, cross-posted at ThatMansScope)

The 7 – 2 Supreme Court decision Griswold vs. Connecticut (1965) established the right of married people to purchase and use birth control devices. Six years later, Eisenstadt vs. Baird extended this to unmarried couples as well. (I was living in Massachusetts when that happened and remember Bill Baird’s courage and dedication in risking his freedom to make this test case.)

Given the virtually total acceptance of birth control by Americans — even, or especially among Catholics — it is highly unlikely that this right can be denied. I would venture to say it is less likely than the re-imposition of Prohibition — in spite of ravings from lunatics like Rick Santorum and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

So, despite a lot of hyperbole, the issue these days is mostly: Who pays for it?

As it stands now, it is the issuers of health insurance, under the Affordable Health Care Act (popularly called “ObamaCare”), that are required to foot the bill. It is important to note, in this context, that it is not the “American Taxpayer” who pays for anyone’s contraception: that’s simply not the way it works, Rush Limbaugh to the contrary (except possibly in the case of Medicaid, which is barely in the controversy here anyway).

Arguments pro and con involve the following:

1. The Viagra argument
2. The Mental Health argument
3. The Running Shoes argument
4. The Prescription Drug argument.

1. Currently, both Viagra and The Pill are covered by ObamaCare, and neither is restricted by marital status or even one’s sex. It is possible to make distinctions, however. Some (mostly men) might claim that sex — for procreation or otherwise — is possible without The Pill, but in many cases is not without Viagra (or its equivalents). If you take the narrow and exceedingly unpopular view that sex is only for procreation, then this argument might have some force, however, medically, one can obtain semen without erection or ejaculation, so the argument from this perspective is not accurate. The many women who are on The Pill would claim that without it sex would be much more encumbered and far less enjoyable (hence less likely to happen). Furthermore, sex without The Pill would almost surely result in more dependence on condoms and other physical contraceptives, hence result in more unintended and unwanted pregnancies. This in turn would result in higher healthcare costs and/or more abortions. Thus, it is hard to make a realistic distinction between coverage of Viagra and coverage of The Pill, and from an economic perspective, paying for The Pill will, statistically, save money in insurance premiums.

2. The effectiveness of The Pill has enabled several generations of women to feel “in control” of their bodies with respect to sex and reproduction. Supposedly this has lead to an increase in overall mental health, though that is difficult to quantify; nevertheless, this has led to the argument that paying for The Pill is appropriate because its use is a women’s health issue — sort of like regular gynecological checkups. Of course there are other contraceptives available. Some are simply variations on the The Pill such as various “patches” or timed-release doses; others are doctor-based such as diaphragms and IUDs. Then there are condoms which, though not always under a woman’s control and subject to failure, do prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Whatever the validity of the argument for The Pill as important for women’s health, it is safe to say that the vast majority of women support this argument and hence are in favor of coverage under medical insurance; probably the opinion of men on this issue — though pretty nearly in agreement — is irrelevant.

3. Limbaugh et. al. have suggested that arguing the health benefits of contraceptives is similar to arguing the health benefits of running shoes; since the shoes are not covered under healthcare policies, neither should the contraceptives be. In point of fact, even though running shoes themselves may not be covered, many health insurance plans (including my own) regularly cover gym and fitness club memberships. The reason is that insurers know that having members physically fit — especially non-obese — actually decreases their chances for contracting chronic debilitating diseases such at diabetes and heart conditions. This in turn reduces insurance payments for treating these diseases.  This is sound economics and makes health care less expensive for all (since the reduced risks are spread around). By the same token, reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy reduces the costs of pregnancies and instances of abortions. Once again, paying for contraceptives is good competitive economics for insurers. The particular example of (the cost of) running shoes is probably too trivial, but the argument for covering preventative fitness programs is a good one and is already being widely implemented. The analogy with contraception reverses the argument (if there was a serious one) of Limbaugh and others who had hoped to mock it.

4. It has been traditional for health insurance to cover medicines and treatments that are prescribed by doctors. The physician-patient bond has long been recognized legally in many forms. The specter of the old HMO plans standing between a patient and doctor is still a source of discomfort, so modern plans attempt to give at least the appearance of granting the doctor the final say in treatment. Since The Pill, IUD and diaphragm are always doctor-prescribed, they tend to be covered by health insurance. That’s why condoms are not covered even though they could be even more expensive than other birth control methods — they are bought over-the-counter without doctor intervention.

In short, then, there is no one overwhelming and unanswerable argument that “proves” birth-control pills should be covered under “ObamaCare”. Probably the best talking points are that they promote women’s psychological health, and that they actually reduce the cost of health insurance premiums for all by largely eliminating the expenses of unwanted pregnancies; they also avoid many abortions. In any case, claims that tax-payers are financing anyone’s sex is total nonsense.


Cancer Is Political

Monday, February 6th, 2012

After the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s troubling decision last week to end funding of Planned Parenthood (which, contrary to media reports, Komen did not actually reverse) many writers criticized Komen for “politicizing” breast cancer.  The implication of this criticism is that breast cancer is somehow a non-political issue that everyone can agree needs to be addressed.  Or, as Ross Douthat said in his New York Times column this past Sunday, one of the “truths” about the Komen issue is “that the fight against breast cancer is unifying and completely uncontroversial.”

The problem with this view of breast cancer as a non-political issue is that it is simply not accurate.  Instead, the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy should serve as a reminder to all of us that cancer is and always has been an intensely political issue.  Everyone will say that they want to fight cancer, but the steps need to actually reduce the incidence of cancer, improve treatment of cancers that are not prevented, and to ultimately find a cure all require controversial actions that often face stiff resistance.

For example, a large part of cancer prevention is researching the carcinogenic impact of pesticides and other chemicals, pollution, and products such as tobacco, and then using the results of such research to regulate or ban such carcinogens.  Such research is controversial and, therefore, difficult to fund, and efforts to regulate or ban carcinogens invariably meet with stiff resistance from whatever entities are profiting off the use of those substances or products.

Similarly, perhaps the most important step we can take to improve the treatment of cancer is to make sure that everyone has access to quality health insurance and care, both so cancers are diagnosed at earlier stages and so cancer patients can afford the treatment.  As we have all seen with the fight over President Obama’s health care reform legislation and the GOP’s efforts to abolish Medicare, increasing access to health insurance is a highly controversial topic that requires massive political organizing to achieve.  And treatment of cancer also raises other political issues regarding the prices that pharmaceutical companies charge for their products and the tradeoffs involved in providing procedures or pharmaceuticals that extend life for only a few weeks or months yet cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As for finding the cure, there are critical political questions regarding the levels of funding that go into medical research, what diseases those research dollars go towards, and how to balance the public interest in widely distributing the results of promising research with corporations’ interests in preserving whatever rights they may have in such research.  None of these issues are non-controversial and all of them require aggressive political advocacy in order for us to make progress in tackling breast cancer and other diseases.

Our biggest problem with Komen is that it has largely shoved these political issues into the background and lulled millions of Americans into thinking that it is enough to simply wear a pink ribbon, buy a cup of yogurt, do a 5k run, or otherwise raise “awareness” about breast cancer.  But the regulatory and tax policies that will be needed to achieve national health insurance, the stricter environmental protections need to reduce the incidence of cancer, and the increased federal research will not be achieved through 5K races, pink ribbons, or yogurt cup lids.  Instead, what is needed is for the millions of Americans who are affected by cancer to demand and organize for political change.  But when people talk about getting involved in addressing cancer, the typical focus today is to do something safe like participate in a Komen 5K run.  And when people are constantly surrounded by claims that they are making a difference by, for example, buying a cup of coffee with a pink ribbon on it, they are less likely to see the need to take more substantive action such as getting involved in a political campaign, calling their Congressperson, or writing a letter to their local newspaper editor.

If there is a potential silver lining to the Komen/Planned Parenthood situation it is that it will hopefully remind all of us that cancer is political.  As such, we should be focusing our time and resources on organizations that are engaging in hard-nosed political advocacy, not simply perpetuating a pink ribbon industrial complex.  As we’ve noted in our previous posts on this topic, here are three organizations that we think understand that cancer is political and are taking action accordingly:

Breast Cancer Action (“BCA”) - the self-styled “watchdog of the breast cancer movement,” BCA focuses on advocating for policies that will reduce environmental exposures that increase cancer risks, address social inequalities that lead to disparities in health outcomes, and reducing the toxicity of cancer treatments.

National Breast Cancer Coalition - an organization that advocates for funding for meaningful breast cancer research and providing everyone with access to quality cancer care, with the goal of ending breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

Breast Cancer Fund - an organization that focuses on identifying, educating the public about, and eliminating the environmental and other preventable causes of cancer.

Susan G. Komen For the Cure Further Sullies Its Reputation

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A few months ago, Winning Progressive explained how Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization (“Komen”), the fundraising giant that uses pink ribbon themed cause-related marketing and 5K runs to raise money to fund education and research related to breast cancer, has used some of its money to file more than 100 challenges to small mom-and-pop organizations that use the phrase “for the cure” or the color pink to raise money to fight cancer.   Now, another incident has come to light to further demonstrate that, when it comes to the fight against breast cancer, there are far better organizations than Komen for progressives to support.

It was announced earlier today that Komen has decided to end its partnership with Planned Parenthood including cutting off hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding that Komen has been providing for breast cancer screening for low-income women.  While only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s spending is for abortion services, conservatives have long targeted the organization as part of their efforts to deny women the right to choose.  That conservative effort has included boycotting organizations such as Komen that provided funding to Planned Parenthood, and it appears that Komen has given in to such pressure.

Komen claims that it has ended the funding because of a new policy barring partnerships with organizations that are under federal, state, or local investigation.  But the investigation of Planned Parenthood at issue is an obviously politically motivated investigated that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) launched after Republicans failed in their effort to defund Planned Parenthood.  And Komen’s de-funding decision comes less than a year after the organization named as its senior vice president in charge of federal and state advocacy efforts Karen Handel, an anti-choice activist who ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Georgia on a platform of ending any state funding to Planned Parenthood.

Over the past five years, Komen’s funding had enabled Planned Parenthood to provide 170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals to low income women who typically lack access to quality health care.  If you are as outraged as we are by how Komen has sullied its reputation and given into right-wing pressure by cutting off such funding:

* Contact the national Komen office at 1-877-465-6636 and your local Komen affiliate, and respectfully let them know how you feel.

* Consider donating what you can to Planned Parenthood

* Support one of the following organizations that are leading the fight against breast cancer:

Breast Cancer Action (“BCA”) - the self-styled “watchdog of the breast cancer movement,” BCA focuses on advocating for policies that will reduce environmental exposures that increase cancer risks, address social inequalities that lead to disparities in health outcomes, and reducing the toxicity of cancer treatments.

National Breast Cancer Coalition - an organization that advocates for funding for meaningful breast cancer research and providing everyone with access to quality cancer care, with the goal of ending breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

Breast Cancer Fund - an organization that focuses on identifying, educating the public about, and eliminating the environmental and other preventable causes of cancer.



ACA’s Free Birth Control Won’t Be Enacted Without a Fight

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

(By Mark McCutchan)

Thanks to a provision in the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama last year, women may soon be able to obtain birth control cost-free.  The law could require insurance companies to offer prescription contraceptives without charging a co-pay, whether that insurance is employer-provided or purchased on the individual marketplace, whether inside or outside of the new subsidized health insurance exchanges.  Help make sure this happens by signing Planned Parenthood’s petition discussed below and by “Sharing” this post with family, friends, and colleagues.

An Institute of Medicine panel recommended Tuesday that the federal government require health insurance companies to cover contraception as one of eight recommended preventive services for women to be covered without copayments. Katherine Sebelius, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to issue the final coverage decision in August.

This is great news for all Americans, as the high cost of birth control has prevented some women from having the same control of their lives that men have always enjoyed.  Nationally,  one in three women has struggled with the high cost of prescription birth control.  Generic birth control pills can be as cheap as $10 per month, but some women can’t tolerate the side effects of the additional hormones.  An interuterine device (IUD) or other methods can cost upwards of $1000, making it unaffordable for many women.

The additional cost of these services will be picked up by health insurance companies, but it will be recovered by the savings in maternity and child care expenses for the children not born.  Birth control costs for women under Medicaid were estimated at $1.9 billion in 2008, but $7 billion was saved from the reduction in births. Employers who pay for some portion of their employee’s health insurance policies should see a similar reduction in costs related to maternal and child care, as a result of the ACA provision.

Almost half of all pregnancies are unintended, and over 800,000 legal abortions are performed each year in the U.S.  The fact that many of those abortions can be prevented through access to free birth control should have conservatives cheering about this rule.  Such is not the case, however. First, conservatives routinely condemn everything accomplished under the Obama administration in a bid to win back the White House in 2012, and calling for the repeal or defunding of the entire Affordable Care Act is part of that strategy.

Secondly, anti-abortion groups like the Heritage Foundation and the National Abstinence Education say they are worried about teenage girls and young women having coverage under their parents’ health insurance plan. “People who are insured don’t want to pay for services they don’t need or to which they have moral objections,” said Chuck Donovan, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation. “Parents want to have a say over what’s covered and what’s not for their children.”

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, also argues that some emergency contraceptives – “morning-after pills” – can cause very early abortions by preventing the implantation of fertilized eggs into a woman’s uterus.

“So those 7 to 10 days before a baby can implant, Plan B can prevent implantation and thereby cause the demise of that baby. So we’d be opposed to those drugs being included [in ACA coverage] because they act as abortifacients.” It is, of course, misleading wordplay to call a 0.1 mm blastocyst a “baby.”  The National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have been clear that this is factually incorrect; pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg is implanted. Plan B is recommended for a number of reasons: in cases of rape or incest or when a condom breaks.


Please sign Planned Parenthood’s petition asking Kathleen Sebelius to act on the IOM’s recommendation that requires insurance plans to cover prescription birth control with no co-pays. There is also a follow-up action that encourages you to email your friends about this petition.  You could also share the link which will be posted on the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

WP Comments on Mitch Daniels, Foreign Aid, and Torture

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Here are our latest NYT comments on how Mitch Daniels is a doctrinaire conservative, how increased foreign aid could help impoverished people, and that torture does not work.  Help spread these progressive ideas by using the links at our Letters to the Editor Campaign center to write a letter to your local newspaper.

My comment on Gail Collins NYT column Doctor, Patient, and Politician, which talks about how Mitch Daniel’s decision to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood shows how empty his claim to be a social moderate is

Good column pointing out the emptiness of Mitch Daniels’ claims to be willing to call a truce on social issues.  I would make two corrections, however.

First, “the peculiar strain in the political right that trusts people to make their own informed decisions without government intervention except when it comes to the most exquisitely personal choice a woman could ever face” isn’t exactly accurate.  The conservatives who are opposed to the right to choose typically are opposed to personal choice in a number of other areas.  For example, they typically seek to restrict access to family planning for people of both genders, they oppose the rights of LGBT Americans to love who they choose, and they are opposed to freedom regarding marijuana, pornography, assisted suicide, and other personal choices.  In short, these conservatives have no problem supporting “big government” so long as that government is telling others what to do in their personal lives.

Second, your references to Republicans who pretend to be concerned about the deficit as “moderate” is off base.  Today’s “deficit hawks” are really “deficit vultures,” who are using deficits created by conservative economic policies as an excuse to try to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and the social safety net.

The evidence shows that while Mitch Daniels may admirably decline to participate in some of the ridiculousness that mars much of today’s Republican Party, he is fully on board with failed conservative economic and social policies.

My comment on Nick Kristof’s NYT column Beyond Flowers for Mom, which highlights some charities that are working to help impoverished women and girls

These philanthropic projects are all admirable and important efforts to help people throughout our planet.   But what these stories also show is the amount of good we could do if we focused even a small portion of our government resources currently spent on the military instead on bringing basic health and educational services to people throughout the world.

Total U.S. foreign aid in 2009 was $44.9 billion, of which $11 billion was military aid, leaving $33.9 billion as aid for economic, health, and educational development.  By contrast, U.S. military spending is more than $700 billion per year.  Yet many of the critical health and educational deficiencies in undeveloped countries, such as access to clean water, family planning, and adequate amounts of vitamin A, could be address for relatively small investments.

Moving even a small portion of our military spending (say another $30-$50 billion per year) toward providing sanitary water sources or family planning would do far more to improve lives in those countries than does our military spending.  And by improving lives, we make societies more stable, and decrease the likelihood of those countries devolving into turmoil or becoming breeding grounds for terrorists.

In other words, such increases in foreign aid targeted toward provision of fundamental health and educational services could be an effective investment into our planet’s future that will do far more good for both our security and the lives of others than does spending that money on yet another weapons system.

My comment on the NYT editorial The Torture Apologists, which focused on how cynical and destructive efforts to justify torture are:

Of all of the arguments against torture, the most compelling is also the pragmatic one – it does not work.  Just about every credible analysis of torture shows that it does not elicit useful information.  Instead, it causes prisoners to either shut down and refuse to cooperate at all, or it leads them to make up stories that the prisoner thinks his torturers want to hear.  In fact, such fabricated stories elicited through torture provided at least part of the “intelligence” that the Bush Administration used to “justify” its unnecessary and unjustified invasion of Iraq.

If we want accurate information from detainees that will enable us to further infiltrate terrorist cells and capture or kill terrorists, our best approach is to use well-honed lawful interrogation techniques, not criminal and barbaric torture.