Patt Morrison for August 2, 2011

Mercer 19924
In a move sure to feed the controversy over the federal health care reform bill, yesterday the Obama administration announced new standards requiring private health care insurers to cover all government-approved contraceptives and a comprehensive list of preventive measures for women without co-payments or other fees. Supporters say this will remove long-time barriers to birth control and increase the use of preventive services that will now be available without cost sharing requirements, including mammograms, immunizations, HIV screening and counseling, gestational diabetes screening, well-woman visits, breastfeeding support and counseling, and domestic violence screening. Opponents say the new standards, which follow recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, should not include coverage for contraception, and indeed there is a clause in the regulations that allows certain religious employers to be exempt. In a recent interview with CBS, Stephanie Cutter, a deputy senior advisor to President Obama, said "This isn't about abstinence. This is not about preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is about women's health.” The rules, which take effect for most insurance policies on August 1, 2012, set the stage for increased participation in comprehensive preventive health care, which if successful, could translate to better health outcomes and significant financial savings. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, chronic disease, which is often preventable, is accountable for 75% of the nation’s health spending. Will these new rules convince you to check in with your doctor and save the country a dollar or two in the future?
Mercer 19929
It’s an ongoing debate in American society whether class or race is a stronger bond. A new study from the US 2010 Project shows that race is still more determinant than class when it comes to where you live.   The study found that in almost every measurement, the affluent black or Hispanic American in a household earning more than $75,000 lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average white or Asian American living in a household earning under $40,000.   John Logan, professor of sociology at Brown University and director of the US 2010 Research Project, says that the findings were not a surprise to him. Nevertheless, he said, sociologists continue to study the subject area in hopes for changes in neighborhood trends: “Over the decades, sociologists have kept looking for some sign that there’s a breakthrough in the neighborhoods. Logan adds that sociologists are also interested in seeing if “…the civil rights movement would have finally had an impact on housing segregation.”   Washington, D.C. and Atlanta were the only two major outliers in the study that looked at 308 metropolitan regions. It didn’t account for amenities like schools, parks, libraries, private doctors and grocery stores, or trends like crime rates, but the census data suggests that even highly paid minorities live in communities without the same resources available in communities where their white class-counterparts live.   Logan acknowledges that there may be an element of choice that leads minority families to reside in certain neighborhoods. But he adds that constraint may be just as powerful a force. “For African Americans, I think there’s a very strong historical legacy and continued pattern of constraint where people live,” Logan says.   Some point to the economic crisis that forced the re-segregation shift, as people who moved up and out of their neighborhood had to move back in. But Logan says there are deeper factors at play. Recalling a personal experience in Rhode Island, wherein a real estate agent assumed he did not want to live in a predominantly African American neighborhood, Logan says that he was suddenly made aware of  “…how much steering is done by the real estate industry.”   Logan says that ethnic segregation could also be partially attributed to disproportionate lending by banks. “There ends up being a much lower approval rate for Latinos and African Americans than for Whites,” Logan says of bank loans. 
Mercer 19928
Turned on your air conditioner yet? Normally by August 2nd, Southern Californians have been baking in 95-100+ degree heat for a couple of weeks or more already, but this year is different. While the Mid-west, South, and East Coast are struggling with record breaking temperatures lasting a record breaking number of days, the West Coast is relatively and unusually cool. Indeed for much of the rest of the country July was truly a scorcher, with high temperatures breaking or tying records 2676 times, nearly double the number of 2010. Does this weather pattern signal a major change for us, who have grown to expect hot, hot beach weather all summer long, or is it just an anomaly? We check in with weather expert Bill Patzert at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the forecast.
Mercer 19925
The radio advertisements are ominous in their tone and message—sign a petition to place a proposition on California’s ballot and you are exposing yourself to possible identity theft and fraud. While it sounds like a public service message there’s something more political in nature behind these ads and a larger debate over the role of signature gatherers in California’s initiative system. The State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, a labor union coalition, is sponsoring the radio ads and claiming that they are simply warnings about “the seamy underbelly of paid signature collectors and the abuses that can occur,” according to the group Californians Against Identity Theft that’s mentioned in the ad. It probably isn’t a coincidence that there are several proposed initiatives for the 2012 ballot, currently gathering signatures on petitions, that would target unions by banning collective bargaining and reforming public employee pensions. There was another attempt to curtail the activities of paid signature collectors in Sacramento, this time in the form of a bill that passed through the legislature but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. SB 168 would have made it a misdemeanor for any person to pay or receive money for collecting signatures on state or local initiatives and referendum based on the number of signatures collected. It’s always a little disconcerting to be approached by a signature collector when you’re walking into the grocery store or bank—it’s usually hard to gauge exactly what you’re signing or the goal of the initiative that you’re helping to get on the ballot. But petitions for propositions are the linchpin of direct democracy in California. Should signature gatherers be more closely monitored and do you sign petitions when you’re asked?
Mercer 19933
Eight senators call them “frankenfish” and are asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to halt its approval process for the genetically engineered salmon—an approval the could land the first GE animal on a dinner plate near you. The fish, produced by AquaBounty Technologies, come from embryos that have been sterilized in Canada before being shipped to a land-based facility in Panama, where the males are exposed to estrogen, sex-reversed and sterilized to prevent further breeding. The senators’ opposition is far-reaching: concerns about public health for consumers; GE salmon escaping and mating with or out-competing other fish in the sea; a lack of transparency in the review process; and a hit to local economies in those Senators’ home states, where fish are a vital component. There is no timeline for the FDA to complete its environmental impact assessment on the salmon, which it started last September, even though AquaBounty brought its product before the organization 15 years ago. Are these genetically modified fish an answer to humans’ unsustainable appetite for seafood or a serious threat to a delicate ecosystem? And would approval of GE salmon open the floodgates to other GE animals for human consumption?
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