Under U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Rule 1330.09, U.S. military bases are supposed to sell tobacco products at no more than 5 percent less than the lowest price in surrounding civilian markets, but army and air force bases across the country are routinely violating this rule. An investigation revealed 15 military bases offer discounts on cartons of cigarettes that range from 10 to 40 percent. Those big discounts on cigarettes lead to big costs for taxpayers. Almost 40 percent of smokers in the military say they starting smoking after joining, and in 2008 alone the Veterans Administration spent over $5 billion treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a tobacco-related illness. Smoking also affects troop readiness by decreasing physical fitness, motor coordination, stamina and increasing the amount of time it takes for wounds to heal. The DOD claims service members use tobacco to relieve stress, but Dr. Benjamin Gonzales, who served in the Air Force and Army for 24 years as a trauma doctor, says nicotine addiction causes the stress and using tobacco just reduces withdrawal symptoms. He says the relationship between tobacco use and price is well documented. An investigation showed that, to set prices, military pricing coordinators look at cigarette prices at other military bases instead of basing prices on those at local stores. For those who comply with Rule 1330.09, some of those "local stores" are as much as five hours away, or on an Indian reservations. When these pricing coordinators were asked if they would stop doing that and set prices as defense policy dictates -- by just looking at prices in the local convenience stores, retailers and gas stations -- they wouldn't give a straight answer.
Of the many supporters of a single-payer health care system in the United States, some of the most ardent are small business owners who have struggled to continue offering coverage to their workers.
Among them are David Steil, a small business owner and former Republican state legislator in Pennsylvania who earlier this year became president of the advocacy group Health Care 4 All PA.
Another supporter is Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who last Thursday signed a bill that sets the stage for the country's first single-payer plan. If all goes as Shumlin and the bill's many backers hope, all 620,000 Vermonters will eventually be enrolled in a state-run plan to replace Blue Cross, CIGNA and other private insurers whose business practices have contributed to the number of Vermonters without coverage -- approximately 60,000 and growing.
Yesterday three special elections were held in Wisconsin to fill the
seats of legislators tapped by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to fill
vacancies in his administration.
In a special election, Democrat Steve Doyle defeated Republican John Lautz for the Wisconsin District 94 Assembly, flipping a seat held by Republicans for 16 years. The hot topic in the race was Gov. Scott Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees.
A 33 year old Pakistani computer programmer who lives near Osama bin Laden's hideout unknowingly first broke the news about the U.S. raid on bin Laden's compound after he tweeted about hearing a helicopter hovering over the area at 1:00 a.m., saying it was an unusual event for his town, Abbottabad. Sohaib Athar subsequently tweeted that he heard a "huge window shaking bang" which turned out to be a U.S. helicopter crashing nearby. The copter apparently had mechanical difficulties and was intentionally blown up by its crew. Athar reported on the location of the crash site and posted a photo and video of bin Laden's compound. Athar describes himself on his Twitter page as "An IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops." His tweets about the incident began a full seven hours before the mainstream media broke the story of the raid, demonstrating how ordinary people can now offer real-time, blow-by-blow coverage of important gobal events far ahead of the mainstream media simply by virtue of being in the right place at the right time and being connected via social media.
The White House is circulating a draft Executive Order requiring disclosure of contributions to "third party" or "independent" expenditure groups by corporations receiving government contracts. During the 2010 elections, much of the unlimited election spending made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was kept secret by groups taking advantage of the 501(c) section of the tax code. The President's proposed order would lift the veil on secret spending in time for the 2012 elections.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees aquaculture, or fish farming, in the U.S., both in freshwater and marine environments. Since the U.S. imports 84 percent of its seafood, about half of which is farmed, there is need for growth in the domestic fish-farming industry. Thus the NOAA has proposed a set of policies to guide American aquaculture. But a group of about 30 organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy, has sent comments to the NOAA (pdf) expressing dismay that the proposed aquaculture policies fall short, in part by failing to maintain a neutral view of aquaculture. The draft policies seem more aimed at boosting the aquaculture industry at any cost than rationally and scientifically evaluating the pros and cons of this type of development in any given circumstance, place and time.
George Kenney's Electric Politics (EP) podcast is one of the top ten political podcasts in the country. Produced once a week on Friday mornings and boasting a theme song written by BJ Leiderman (who also writes the music for NPR radio shows), EP is more than just a wonky political theory show. Kenney has informal, timely conversations with fascinating guests on hot topics. Recently Kenny spoke with Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and a leading authority on nuclear fusion who has 37 years of experience in nuclear energy issues.
For people who assume that older nuclear plants in the U.S. are being replaced with safer, newer designs and that nuclear waste is now being safely and securely disposed of off-site, think again. The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant -- and this interview with Dr. Makhijani -- will change your mind.
Last January, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and New York radio station WNYC sought help from the public to find out which senator put an anonymous secret hold on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, killing the bill at the end of the last congressional term. The bill would have assured protection for government workers who expose illegal activities, waste and corruption. It was tremendously popular with the public and had won unanimous approval in the House when a single, unnamed senator put a "secret hold" on the bill, preventing it from going to the full Senate for a vote. The Government Accountability Project vowed to conduct "a relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers." WNYC asked listeners to call their Senators and ask if they were responsible for the secret hold that killed this important bill. Finally GAP narrowed the field to two possibilities: either Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), or Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). In January, the Senate voted 92-4 to change the rules governing the secret hold to make it harder to use, and GAP's project to expose the senator who used it against the Whistleblower Protection Act has made senators more hesitant to use it. It also brought new attention to the Act, which will be reintroduced in the Senate in the current session.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.