Friday, July 31, 2009

Republicans Trying To Kill You?

Not really, but their bullshit speeches against any bill ( H.R. 2749 ) to make our food supply safer is downright funny. This is pointed out by Jill Richardson over at
Fri Jul 31, 2009
Well, that's not 100% true. It wasn't all Republicans, just most of them. And they really couldn't care less if you die or not, so long as they can obstruct the Democrats and protect the interests of Big Business. And if that results in your death, well... so be it.
Yesterday, I lost my C-SPAN virginity. I don't have a TV and I've never watched C-SPAN before, but yesterday was the House debate and vote on the most major food safety reform to the FDA since 1938. So I listened to the debate on C-SPAN, and it was FASCINATING. The Republicans who spoke had obviously received their faxes with their talking points, and they'd done a good job memorizing them... they didn't do as good a job fact checking them, but they are Republicans so what can you do?
The bill DID pass, so it will continue to be relevant to us as it moves on to the Senate. Below I've summarized the debate and also given you the pros/cons of the bill.
The bill in question is H.R. 2749. Here are some facts, before you dig into the debate.
The bill charges $500 fees to all 'food facilities' (excluding farms & restaurants).
The bill requires that the fee income is used for food safety, including inspections.
The bill calls for a dramatic increase in FDA inspections, from once a decade to as frequently as once every 6 months for the most high risk facilities. This will cost a lot of money, which the FDA does not yet have (but will get some of from the fees).
Prior to the vote on the House floor, the bill's sponsors (Dingell & Waxman) from the Energy & Commerce committee worked out a deal with House Ag Committee chair Collin Peterson and his concerns were all successfully addressed in the bill that was voted on.
Several progressives voted against the bill because there ARE legitimate problems with it for small/organic producers, but their reasons for opposing the bill are different than the stated reasons the Republicans gave for opposing it.
I liveblogged the debate here and here. Here are the highlights of the Republican arguments:
We don't like that the Democrats are manipulating the rules and stifling debate (I agree - but I bet you the Republicans wouldn't have minded one bit if Republicans were in charge and doing the same thing).
This bill does not require the FDA to spend one penny on inspections. (That's bull... it requires the inspections and gives them some cash that must be used for food safety, including inspections. They won't be able to pay for the inspections if they don't use the money from fees for them.)
This bill will not make our food supply any safer. (The bill's not perfect, but that's total BS right there. It won't be a 100% fix but it's giving us some badly needed reforms.)
The federal government can deny registration to food processors, thus deciding who can and can't sell food. (I haven't heard ANYONE from industry bring up such a fear or complaint in any of the hearings.)
We want to protect industry from big government bureaucracy. (In this case, the packaged food industry was actually FOR the bill. The meat industry opposed it but they got a bunch of exemptions that they wanted, and they are mostly regulated by USDA, which isn't included in this bill at all.)
This bill spends the money of our children and grandchildren. (Right - so does the war, and I'll bet the Republicans are for that. Food safety problems are often the worst for the very young and very old. A number of young children have died from E. coli. I think our first concern is making sure our food doesn't kill our children and grandchildren, and we can worry about the money after that.)
The bill never went through the Ag Committee. (That's because the Ag Committee's concerns were addressed by the bill via negotiations. If they weren't, the Ag Committee chair was threatening to take the bill into his committee and put the changes he wanted in there himself.)
It was pretty astounding how they all stood there with a straight face and opposed food safety. Rosa DeLauro gave perhaps the best speech in which she pointed out that more people die from food poisoning each year (5000) than from 9/11 (3000). We went to war over 9/11 - yet some are willing to do nothing about food safety?
Don't get me wrong, the bill's not perfect. In terms of its effectiveness, often food safety issues aren't discovered until much of the food in question has already been eaten. Recalls happen too late, routinely. It's very hard to link a specific food to food poisoning because there's often a lag time between eating something and getting sick from it, and if you don't have some of the food leftover for testing, then it's impossible to confirm what made you sick. Plus, a lot of people just don't report their illnesses. No bill can fix all of that.
However, in the specific case of the peanut butter outbreak this past winter, the bill does a lot of things that would have saved lives. If positive test results for salmonella were sent to the FDA, then people would not have died. Instead, PCA quietly hid its positive test results for salmonella and then went ahead selling its tainted peanut butter anyway. Eight people died. The increased FDA inspections would have made a difference too. So would allowing the FDA to look at PCA's records and mandate a recall once the problems were discovered. Those are things this bill addresses.
As for the legitimate problems in the bill - there was a great exchange on the House floor that addressed that. It was between Dingell (who sponsored the bill) and Sam Farr and Earl Blumenauer, who are concerned about small, sustainable farms. Dingell had already put some changes into the bill for them, and promised to meet their other concerns.
Dingell circulated a memo with a rebuttal to the concerns of the sustainable ag community, insisting that the bill addressed all of their needs. Today, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition put out a letter that replied to him. They appreciate a handful of exemptions given to small farmers (particularly those who sell direct to consumer) in the bill, but they feel that those exemptions are not enough, and they ask for very specific changes to the bill. This gives us a good starting place for what to ask our Senators for as they begin to debate the bill sometime after the recess.
In the end, the bill passed 283-142. 229 Dems and 54 Republicans in favor. 20 Dems and 122 Republicans opposed. 8 didn't vote. You can see how your rep voted here. I'm glad that the bill is moving forward but I hope that the National Sustainable Ag Coalition's concerns are addressed in the Senate version of the bill. Food safety is important but it shouldn't come at the expense of our small farmers who aren't the majority of the problem.

" Cash for Clunklers" Breaks Down..

... and this is going to be somewhat of an embarrassment for the Obama administration.
The " cash for clunkers " program had just gotten started this past Monday, with some $950 million dollars of taxpayer cash and the cash has already been used up! I guess that the government hadn't counted on the program being so popular as it is.
This leaves the Obama team having to search for some more cash in order to keep the program active. Auto dealers have let the government know that the funds are gone and this little problem also has the dealers concerned because they are worried that the funds will not be around in order to complete some of the deals that are already in the works.

Calls to suspend the plan came after auto dealers warned the government
that it was in danger of losing count of how many trades had been made. Since
the program was to run as long as there was money left in the $950 million pool,
dealers have been concerned the fund could run dry before they were
reimbursed for all their deals — which require them to junk the clunker.
The plan offering owners of old cars and trucks $3,500 or $4,500 toward
a new, more-efficient vehicle has proven wildly popular, with 22,782 trades
certified by federal officials since Monday. But the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration told dealers Wednesday that a vast majority of
transactions submitted were being rejected for incomplete or illegible

A survey of 2,000 dealers by the National Automobile Dealers
Association, the results of which were obtained by McClatchy Newspapers,
found about 25,000 deals not yet approved by NHTSA, or about 13 trades per
store. With 23,005 dealers asking to be part of the program, auto dealers
may have already arranged the sale of more than the 250,000 vehicles that federal officials expected the plan to generate.

Several Michigan lawmakers have vowed to press for more money for the program, which had originally been set for $4 billion. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has said she would block additional money unless the program was changed to boost the gains in fuel economy between old and new models.

Maybe the Congress could take back some of the casg given to the big brokerage firms and hand it over to this program. This would be a stimulus that the people of America can live with, seeing that the cash is actually going in at the bottom and then working its way up throughout the economic chain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swine Flu Update...

...and this is as of July 24,2009. As of this date, 43,771 cases are confirmed as laboratory identified cases of the new H1N1 virus. There has been 302 deaths reported in the United States with more expected as the season runs into the fall and the winter. The CDC thinks that there have been over a million cases of swine flu thus far, with 20 states having reported widespread or regional activity. This H1N1 is here to stay for a while folks.

But as we've been saying, that's really just the tip of the iceberg, so we're no
longer going to expect the states will continue this individual reporting
and we're going to transition to other ways of describing the illness and
the pattern. On our website you can see something called "FluView,"
which goes through much more detail about what's happening in different
parts of the country. We believe there have been well over a million
cases of the new H1N1 virus so far in The United States. As I said, it's
very unusual for that kind of illness to be occurring at this time of the
year. The Novel H1N1 viruses are making up 98% of all the subtyped
viruses we have, subtype influenza A viruses, and we're seeing them dominate
here in the U.S.
Yesterday we provided a little update about the clinical patterns that we were
seeing with the H1N1 virus. There was a report about four children who
had severe neurologic complications. Fortunately, most of these
children have done well. But it's just a reminder that seizure,
encephalitis and other neurologic complications can occur in
influenza. This is reported in the literature -- quite a bit for
seasonal influenza -- and now it's also occurring with this new H1N1
virus. We don't know whether neurologic problems will be more common
with this virus, but we want clinicians to be on the lookout for that and to
think about testing and treating for influenza in such circumstances.
We know that neurologic problems like seizures are very concerning for
parents and we want them to have this conversation that that is one more
thing to be on the lookout for in conjunction with influenza. And
another reason that we're taking this new H1N1 virus so seriously, in terms
of what we're working on and the things that we're busy preparing for,
there's a lot of work going on at CDC, HHS and across the government to be
ready for the fall.

All of this info was provided at a CDC press conference, which also had a little question and answer session. Following are a couple of the questions and answers.

Miriam Falco: Hi. Dr. Schuchat, thanks for taking the questions.
Would you say that, especially given the information we got from NOWR on the
neurological problems, would you still characterize this strain of flu being
mild, causing mild and moderate illness, or is it more severe than that?
Anne Schuchat: I don't like to use the word "mild" for the new H1N1
influenza virus. I actually think this is a virus that's capable of
causing a spectrum of illness that includes severe complications and
death. Each person is different and each person experiencing this virus
has a slightly different scenario. We've seen people with high fever and
cough and respiratory illness and really not able to do much more than four or
five days. Then we've seen people who have difficulty breathing, severe
respiratory failure and need to be in intensive care unit for weeks. So I
think there's really a spectrum. The neurologic features that we heard
about in the NOWR yesterday are just the reminder of the many ways influenza can
cause disease. Of course this new strain of influenza is causing some of
the complex presentations as well, encephalitis, high fever and seizure.
So I think, you know, it's very important we take this virus seriously.

Maggie Fox: Hi, Dr. Schuchat. I'm sorry to ask you to do this because
you say you don't like to say how many but the million number is getting kind of
old at this point. We're trying to explain to people all around the world
how many might truly be affected so we can get away from the count thing.
Is there a better estimate how widespread this is likely to be, given that we
have 500,000 deaths every year from seasonal flu which suggests many tens of
millions are affected.
Anne Schuchat: For The United States for
seasonal flu we have about 36,000 deaths and about 200,000
hospitalizations. And we think that millions and millions of people are
affected. Probably 20 million or more people are infected every year with
seasonal influenza viruses. What I can tell you that we know right now is
that in communities where this particular virus has circulated, we saw community
attack rates of 6% to 8%. But this virus didn't circulate everywhere this
past spring. We had the 6% to 8% attack rate just during the spring
months. So we think in a longer winter season, attack rates would probably
reach higher levels than that, that we would see quite a bit more than
that. Maybe more two or three times as high as that. So I think that
when people are trying to really get their arms around just how bad this will
be, what I like to say is that we need to be ready for it to be
challenging. We have lots of ways that we can limit the impact that it
has, but it's going to take us working together. We know that our
emergency rooms are often crowded in the regular year, and particularly in the
winter season they can be crowded. This particular virus might crowd the
emergency department season more. So one of our goals is to work with the
medical community and the population to help people know when you don't really
need to go to the emergency department and when you do so we can free those up
for the most relevant cases, the cases that really need management there.
And so unfortunately with influenza we just can't put numbers down to
this. I suspect years after next year we'll have a good idea exactly how
large the impact was and how much we prevented through the efforts that we work.

Get your vaccine people, this is going to get ugly. If you are a diabetic, as much as I hate to say this, go and get your shot. You will be glad that you did.

CDC Swine Flu Update...

Obama's Health Plan and ERISA... not a very good mix for those of you who may be enrolled in an employer sponsered health plan. It would seem that the Obama administration is in the process of flat out trying to do away with ERISA altogether. This is not good for you.

The reality is that the House health bill, which the Administration praised to the rafters, will force drastic changes in almost all insurance coverage, including the employer plans that currently work best. About 177 million people—or 62% of those under age 65—get insurance today through their jobs, and while rising costs are a problem, according to every survey most employees are happy with the coverage. A major reason for this relative success is a 1974
federal law known by the acronym Erisa, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
Erisa allows employers that self-insure—that is, those large enough to build their own risk pools and pay benefits directly—to offer uniform plans across state lines. This lets thousands of businesses avoid, for the most part, the costly federal and state regulations on covered treatments, pricing, rate setting and so on. It also gives them flexibility to design insurance to recruit and retain workers in a competitive labor market. Roughly 75% of employer-based coverage is governed by Erisa’s “freedom of purchase” rules.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Okay, here's the deal people. I'm at a library on one of their computers. I have a fifteen minute time limit on this thing so there will not be a post today. One more week and my own stuff will be ready to go again. YES!
I'll have a few things tomorrow to say about Obama's health care plan, and it will not be to nice.
Have a great day!!