Archive: March, 2012
Now it’s time to nervously take a seat in the waiting room while the Supreme Court decides whether to perform misguided elective surgery, or worse, on President Obama’s health-care overhaul.
Last week’s historic, three-day argument over the challenge to the landmark 2010 law by 26 Republican-led states made one thing clear: Everything’s on the line in deciding the legality of the law’s requirement that most Americans must acquire health insurance by 2014, or pay an annual penalty.
Along with that provision, designed to fairly spread the cost of health care and rein in runaway costs, the reform assures no one will be denied coverage. Those aspects, plus expanding government-run health care and creating subsidies so the working poor can buy policies, will mean coverage for 30 million of the uninsured.
A federal court has given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a legal push to stop the overuse of common antibiotics in animal feed and make the food supply safer.
The overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections among humans that are more difficult and costly to treat. It poses a growing problem in the food supply, putting the health of Americans at risk, especially children and people who are prone to chronic illnesses, experts say.
Those serious concerns were cited last week by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz in New York in ordering federal regulators to start proceedings to halt their use, unless drug makers can provide evidence that they are safe.
Even though a congressman boasts that his bill signed into law in January will assure steps are taken to safeguard new shale-gas pipelines snaking across Pennsylvania, safety regulators surveyed nationally say they still need convincing.
The state regulators’ fears, expressed to federal auditors about the public-safety threat from badly built or shoddily maintained pipelines, stand as a continuing concern for residents living amid Pennsylvania’s gas boom.
At issue is whether thousands of miles of pipeline stretched across rural areas will be subject to safety checks to safeguard against flaws or lax upkeep, given that federal law now exempts these lines from safety rules.
After an Inquirer series last year exposed the shortcomings in rural pipeline oversight, Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) ushered through a bill that will add a handful of inspectors nationwide, provide new scrutiny to older pipelines, and double safety violation fines to $2 million.
“We worked hard to strengthen the enforcement of current laws and to fill gaps in existing laws where necessary,” Shuster said.
But a new report from the research arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office, concludes that federal regulators need to step up their game when it comes to tracking the network of so-called feeder pipelines being built to ferry shale-gas from 3,000 wells in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Under current law, backed by industry lobbyists, there are miles of pipeline exempt from inspection because they run through less-populated regions.
The industry’s position is that it makes no sense to field inspectors in areas that one lobbyist characterized as the “far hinterland,” inasmuch as the risk of an explosion is lower than in urban areas, and pipeline companies have an economic incentive to maintain lines in good working order.
In a pilot program so small it is little more than symbolic, Bank of America is handling some of the trouble it and other lenders created: an overabundance of empty houses.
The bank will pick fewer than 1,000 families in Arizona, Nevada, and New York on the verge of foreclosure. They will be asked to surrender the titles to their homes to have their debts forgiven, and then pay rent.
This is no acknowledgment of the hurt that the mortgage industry put on the nation’s economy, individuals, investors, and entire neighborhoods. It does not erase the egregious behavior of Bank of America and its subsidiary, Countrywide Mortgage.
Congress will look like a bunch of blowhards who are all talk and no action if it doesn’t pass the DISCLOSE Act in time to have an impact on the November election, and the clock is running out.
The bill, expected to be brought before the Senate rules committee Thursday, would have a sweeping effect on the congressional and presidential elections. It requires any group seeking to influence an election to disclose its spending and donors within 24 hours of a $10,000-or-more expense or contribution.
The legislation reacts to widespread anger over a pair of ill-conceived Supreme Court rulings that allow corporations, unions, and other special interests to spend unlimited funds on elections, with minimal disclosure.
Already in the current Republican primary, these groups have drowned out candidates’ voices and dangerously confused voters. Spending by the so-called super-PACs, as well as their sneakier sisters, known as shadow or independent expenditure groups, has mushroomed.
Shadow groups are the most hazardous of the big-money influence peddlers. Donors, with their identities legally hidden by the tax code, fund political operations and advertising for or against issues. But they also pour unlimited funds into super-PACs, which can run advertising to support or slam specific candidates. Voters don’t know who is behind the money, but the candidates do.
So far, these groups have spent $83 million on the Republican primary, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The four surviving GOP candidates have spent $132 million. That gives the shadow groups extraordinary influence over the eventual nominee.
The groups have artificially extended the Republican presidential primary. Newt Gingrich, for example, has been unable to raise enough money to stay in the race, but the super-PACs supporting him have kept his candidacy on life support for weeks.
Prospective employers typically ask job applicants for references. But in the age of the Internet, some want much more. In a chilling disregard for privacy rights, some companies are requiring job seekers to turn over their Facebook passwords during the hiring process.
And in a competitive market amid a sluggish economy, many job seekers may feel that they have no choice but to share access to personal information on the popular social media site. The disturbing practice violates a basic Internet principle: Never disclose your password.
The demand may be perfectly legal, though that’s questionable. It’s a total invasion of privacy that should be prohibited. Toward that end, some members of Congress have correctly asked the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate whether the practice violates federal laws.
The death of yet another apparently malnourished child who ultimately succumbed to abuse has Philadelphians once again asking how these tragedies can be avoided.
For all the improvements made within the city’s Department of Human Resources since 14-year-old Danieal Kelly starved to death six years ago, there are still children who end up dead. The latest is Khalil Wimes, 6, who died last week of blunt-force trauma to the head. He weighed only 29 pounds. Medical examiners said he had suffered tremendously before being taken, unconscious, sunken, and sallow, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The child’s parents, Tina Cuffie, 44, and Latiff Hadi, 48, have been charged with murder. The mother said Khalil had slipped in the bathroom, but she could not explain the scars on his arms, face, back, and neck. How do such people retain custody of a child?
The political corruption conviction of State Sen. Jane Orie stands as another broadside against Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges, and it leaves a cloud over Orie’s sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
The jury Monday convicted Orie, a Pittsburgh-area senator, on 14 counts involving the use of her legislative staff to perform campaign work for herself and Melvin, then a Superior Court judge, who was elected to the high court in 2009.
Melvin, while not charged with any wrongdoing, reportedly has been named a target in a grand-jury probe. The understandable calls for Melvin to step back from hearing cases at least temporarily — or for her suspension under court disciplinary procedures — are unlikely to go away.
While the Orie jury saw daylight between the senator and Melvin’s political work — acquitting the senator of politicking specifically on the judge’s behalf — the same issues will be raised in the trial of another Orie sister.
In that case, Janine Orie, a former aide to Melvin, is accused of directing Melvin’s then-Superior Court staff to do campaign work in 2003 and 2009. Janine Orie also is fighting criminal counts for allegedly using the senator’s staff to campaign for Melvin.
The judge has not responded to calls for her to step down, but has recused herself from hearing Allegheny County criminal cases.
Trial testimony, though, was particularly damaging to Melvin. As justice-elect in late 2009, and just as the Orie corruption probe gathered steam, Melvin was said to have joined the senator in ordering an aide to remove materials that might tie Melvin to illegal campaign work done out of her sister’s Senate office.
It is a disgrace that 7,705 women and their children were turned away from Philadelphia’s domestic violence shelter, which is so woefully small that it only has 100 beds.
Some of these women found protection in other abuse shelters in nearby counties or states. Some went to city homeless shelters, which aren’t equipped to help them break the cycle of abuse. But even those shelters are overburdened and could not take care of all of those who were turned away in Philadelphia.
Too many went back to the clenched fists of their abusers.
The plan to expand Philadelphia International Airport hasn’t been cleared for take-off yet, but further talks between the Mayor Nutter and major-player US Airways offer welcome, renewed hope.
Officially, the mayor and the airlines remain on opposite sides of the key issue of whether the airlines should be required to fund a costly new runway that the city insists is needed to ease delays, especially in bad weather.
US Airways chief executive Doug Parker, who last week made a second trip to Philadelphia to huddle with Nutter, contends that officials at the city-owned airport eventually will be convinced the $3 billion runway should wait. The mayor, meanwhile, says through a spokesman that the expansion plans haven’t changed.