Monthly Archives: August 2010

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Gates Foundation boosts investments in Monsanto, a sign it supports GMO crops

Last week, the Gates Foundation came under criticism for significantly increasing its investments in Monsanto. Many took it as a clear sign the world’s biggest philanthropy is championing the use of genetically modified crops, since this is the company leading the world in the production of GM seeds and crops.

It was taken as a sign because the Gates Foundation has been relatively silent on this issue, usually noting that its primary support for agricultural improvement in Africa is for a project known as AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) and that AGRA is “neutral” on the issue of GM crops.

This is a bit disingenuous, and disappointing for those interested in honest and open dialogue.

Full story…

Infants living in poverty often have depressed mothers, new report says

A new study found infants living in poverty often have mothers with depression, The Washington Post reported.

Researchers found 11 percent of babies who lived in poverty had a mom dealing with severe depression, according to the study done by the Urban Institute.

In what was described as the first detailed portrait of its kind… (more)



Iraq’s deadly legacy

From Larry Johnson’s blog: Looking for Trouble.


Seven years after the invasion of Baghdad, the Iraqi people are experiencing a devastating legacy. Babies are being born with severe deformities and the cancer rate is skyrocketing. The following video from Australian Special Broadcasting Service’s Dateline program offers a visually disturbing look at this legacy.

Please be warned, journalist Fouad Hady, an Iraqi who went to Australia seeking asylum but returned to Iraq for a series of groundbreaking stories, pulls no punches in revealing the depth of the problem. The images are haunting.

(The embedding link has been disabled. When you click to start the video, you will get a message suggesting you watch it on YouTube. Please do. The video is long, but it is definitely worth watching.)



Here is a link to the study mentioned at the end of the video report:, and a wiki page on the suspected cause:

And here are links to stories I’ve published about depleted uranium:


Dateline is a multi-award winning international current affairs program with a brief to provide stories for Australians about life beyond Australia’s shores. The program is presented by George Negus, one of Australia’s most respected journalists, and is made up of a team of acclaimed producers and video journalists. Commissioned in 1984, it is Australia’s longest-running international current affairs program.

Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), according to an Australian government website, “is the voice and vision of multicultural Australia.” The principal function of SBS, is to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that “inform, educate and entertain all Australians, and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society.”


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ExxonMobil and Shell compete to drill in Arctic wilderness

In a few days’ time, officials at the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum in Greenland will reveal the winners of a new round of licences to drill for oil and gas in its waters. The announcement promises to be explosive.

Among those waiting are most of the world’s leading oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Norway’s StatOil. Watching with equal attention will be the planet’s leading green groups, who they have pledged to block every effort to drill in the Arctic.

“The Arctic is the last pristine refuge in the northern hemisphere and it is simply not acceptable for oil companies to come here to drill and risk triggering a disaster that would dwarf the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Ben Ayliffe, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace. Its ship, the Esperanza, is currently trying to disrupt drilling in the Davis Strait off the Greenland mainland. “We are going to make a real fight of this,”he said.

Last week the future of drilling in the Arctic hit the headlines when it emerged that BP, in the wake of the disastrous oil spill off America’s Gulf Coast, would not be bidding for contracts in the region. But the other oil giants will.

To read more, click here.


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What will the Indian health system look like?!3{2}Answers are up to us

What will the Indian health system look like a decade from now?

 That’s an impossible question to answer. There is the potential of a court ruling striking down at least part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And, there is always the possibility of Congress will rewrite the law (I view this as remote because there would have to be a Super Majority to enact something else.)

 But in the meantime there is a new foundation already under construction. The building that will rest on that structure will not be the same as the one in place now.

 Let’s start with the patient. Right now, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all American Indians and Alaska Natives are either uninsured or rely solely on the Indian Health Service. But health care reform changes that. Big time. Beginning in four years, hundreds of thousands of people will become eligible for insurance through government programs (such as Medicaid) because of new income rules. This insurance can be used to pay for services at Indian health system facilities – or at competing health care centers. (Think about how many private walk-in clinics promise no waiting.)

 Another huge change is that states have more at stake than ever in the success of the Indian health system. Let’s start with the premise that everyone who should be covered by these government insurance programs will be. (I know it’s a leap.)

 If a Native American patient goes into an IHS facility with that Medicaid card, then the state is reimbursed with a 100 percent match. Covering that patient does not cost the state (at a time when budgets are stretched to the max). However if that same patient goes to, say, a for-profit clinic outside of the Indian health system, then eventually the state must pay its share of the Medicaid costs (the same as it would for any other citizen). The amount of state funding is relatively small between 2014 and 2019 – the states share is more than $21 billion out of the estimated $447 billion Medicaid pie – but the costs down the road are significant.

 The point here is that state governments are now a full partner in the Indian health system and have a financial interest in making the system work better. This means there will need to be great scenario planning, exploring what happens when individuals make their choices. And there needs to be more discussion about the demand side of that equation in terms of hiring and retaining more doctors, nurses, pharmacists, midwives, nutritionists and administrators.

 I also think there ought to be a full public education program, explaining to patients how they can be part of the Indian health system solution because, if all of this works as planned, the increases in Medicaid participation should add real money to the Indian health system.

 What else will change?

 Health care reforms will likely speed up the shift from IHS direct services to clinics and hospitals run by tribes, urban organizations and other non-profits. A few years ago the economic equation for contracting for IHS services was so-so. And that’s still true – if you only count IHS money. But there are other players ranging from Medicaid to funds designated for rural and community health clinics. These new sources of revenue tip the advantage – I think significantly – toward independent, tribally sponsored health enterprises.

 This, too, has profound implications for the Indian Health Service. The IHS is Indian Country’s largest single employer with more than 15,000 employees. A generation from now that number is likely to shrink as funding is directed at tribal governments and other organizations. Yet the IHS role will remain critical – particularly in the sharing of medical information, best practices and standards – as well as acting as one funding conduit.

 Now forget everything I’ve written. This is just my view after looking at the system for a year. I could be wrong.

 What will the Indian health system look like a decade from now? I’m optimistic about the answer, but it really depends on the creativity and innovation that comes from Indian Country. The answer is up to all of us.

 Mark Trahant has spent the past year as a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. He is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and writes from Fort Hall, Idaho. Comment at His new book is “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.


 Additional resources:

 The Indian Health Service budget for 2011.

 Kaiser Family Foundation brief explaining health care reform and its implications for Medicaid.

Congressional expense reports slowly move online, but clunky format impedes transparency

The House of Representatives took a step toward greater government transparency last year by posting its expense reports online, but the clunky PDF format makes it difficult to compare lawmakers’ outlays or to pinpoint exactly how the money is spent. The Senate, on the other hand, is moving at a glacial pace and has yet to offer details about its plan to start publishing expense reports online in 2011.

Each U.S. lawmaker gets an annual allowance of between $1.3 million and $4.5 million to operate their offices, pay staff, buy equipment and supplies, and pay for travel. The amount varies according to whether a lawmaker is a member of the House or Senate, and how far away his or her home state is from Washington.

In June 2009, following an outcry in Britain over Parliamentarians’ expenses, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the House chief administrative officer to begin publishing the chamber’s expense reports online. The so-called Statement of Disbursements is a quarterly document that captures spending by House lawmakers and staff in three volumes totaling some 3,000 pages.

But now that it’s online, the House spending data is still difficult for taxpayers to analyze because of inconsistencies in how individual lawmakers report where the money went and the PDF format used to present the data.

“It falls short of many transparency standards that advocates and the general public expect from governmental entities today,” says Peter Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayer Union (NTU).

For example, the House allowances and office spending totals are listed in separate volumes. To compare them requires entering data by hand for all of the chamber’s 435 lawmakers, Sepp said, plus the chamber’s five nonvoting representatives.

Full story…

Juan Alonso – between ironwork and smoke

Juan Alonso is interested in the decorative flourishes of old Havana. In his paintings they are smoke – vaporous trails edging toward extinction. Flourishes are for him a family affair. His father was an iron worker from a family of iron workers, responsible for the designs of windows and gates. His mother painted flowers on pots.

Alonso was born in Havana in 1956, three years before Fidel Castro came to power. Alonso remembers food being scarce and people being taken away at night for speaking with less than revolutionary fervor. When he was six, his mother died, and when he was 9, his father sent him to Miami to live with relatives.

His career charts a quiet persistence, an insistence that he will one day produce something of consequence.

Full story at Another Bouncing Ball…

Bobblehead giveaways over, losing Mariners face attendance woes

    SEATTLE – The Mariners drew 37,798 fans Friday for the opening of their series with the Twins.

    There don’t figure to be many more games of 35,000-plus for the Mariners this year with Seattle 23 games out of first place.

    The only reason Seattle drew that many Friday was a bobblehead giveaway of Ichiro Suzuki which had fans lined up four hours before the first pitch. It was the fifth and last bobblehead promotion of the season for the Mariners. Seattle lost, 6-3, to Minnesota.

    At the beginning of the decade the Mariners could be counted upon to be one of the American League leaders in home attendance. From 2000-2003 the Mariners drew over 3 million fans per year to the then-new Safeco Field. It didn’t hurt that the club won 90-plus games a season during that stretch.

    In four of the previous six years before 2010, the club lost more games than it one, three times losing 90 or more. So the attendance has fallen off, and that brings us to Friday night, when the Mariners had their last big giveaway of the year. Seattle now can only rely on the appearance of visiting teams who are big draws, and the only team fitting that category is Boston, which itself is struggling this year. The Red Sox are in Sept. 13-15.

    The bobblehead night has generally been a good one for Ichiro, who had a single and a triple and scored the first of Seattle’s three runs Friday. For his career, the right fielder is 14-for-42, .333 when the Mariners have given away a bobblehead featuring him over the last decade.

    He hasn’t generally been a big fan of his likeness on bobbleheads over the years, although this year is different – as of Friday night, he said he hadn’t seen this year’s version.

    The lines were long outside Safeco Field for the giveaway, but the lines haven’t been long this year for the baseball. And Friday night was another example of the problem the Mariners have.

    If the starting pitcher isn’t on top of his game – and lefty Jason Vargas wasn’t – the Mariners are hard-pressed to win. Seattle was down 2-0 after two innings, got a run back thanks to an Ichiro triple in the third, then were down 6-1 after 5½ innings.

    Seattle would go on to score three runs in the game, getting one run in the seventh on an RBI hit by shortstop Josh Wilson and another in the ninth on a run-scoring hit by second baseman Chone Figgins.

    But it was the eighth inning that was the one that defined what has gone wrong for the Seattle offense this year. They went wrong when Don Wakamatsu was the manager, and they are going wrong now with interim manager Daren Brown in charge. Seattle is 8-8 under Brown but he has seen the team lose five of its last six.

    The root problem hasn’t changed. Specifically, but not exclusively, the Mariners aren’t coming up with big hits.

    Seattle got three runs Friday night, but none of them came when they should have – with the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning. A single by Russell Branyan, an error and a walk loaded the bases for Franklin Gutierrez. The Twins had Matt Guerrier take over for the shaky Randy Flores. Guerrier went 2-0 to Gutierrez, then got him to pop out. Adam Moore then grounded into a double play.

    “If we keep putting ourselves in those kinds of situations,’’ Brown said after the game, “I believe we will eventually get the big hit.’’

    Wakamatsu said variations of that same theme for four months, then got fired when enough of those big hits didn’t come.


John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (

Twitter: @JHickey3


Green groups see red over Obama administration actions — siding with major polluters

The environmental groups that helped propel Barack Obama to the White House are feeling betrayed during a summer of discontent and climate inaction.

The latest blows to the environmental movement came this week when the administration decided to side with major polluters, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that would have permitted “nuisance” suits against major greenhouse gas emitters. In a separate decision, the administration also approved loan guarantees for a U.S. maker of coal mining equipment to sell to India.

The Justice Department’s friend-of-the-court filing in the case involving giant utility American Electric Power Co. came as a complete surprise to the green lobby, and had many in the movement turning red.

“What the heck is happening at the White House on climate?” Clean Air Watch asked on its website.

“Some believe the Obama White House, having failed to enact climate change legislation, has adopted the old maxim when it comes to polluters: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the advocacy group wrote in frustration, opining the administration might be gun-shy heading into the fall elections.


Read full story…