911 Is a Joke (Because It's Broke)

Wednesday, 09 March 2011 12:29 By Lindsay Beyerstein, The Media Consortium | News Analysis | name.

As the Great Blizzard of 2010 blanketed New York City, most residents were blissfully unaware that their city's 911 system was on the brink of collapse. The system fielded 50,000 calls in a single day, and at one point the backlog swelled to 1,300 calls. The mayor was called to account for the slow service and promised that it wouldn't happen again.

But David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick report in AlterNet that New York's close call is an example of a much broader and deeper problem. Cash-strapped state and local governments are raiding funds set aside for 911 service, and the system is hurting badly:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are collected annually by states and localities to support 911 services and much of it is diverted to plug state budget holes and meet a host of other demands. Most disturbing, 911 services are technologically bankrupt, held together by duct-tape and workarounds.

States siphoned nearly $400 million earmarked for 911 between 2001 and 2004. The law demands that the money, raised by a tax on every phone line, has to be set aside for 911-related services. Some states fudge the definition of "911-related" to fund things that had nothing to do with emergency services, like raises for courthouse staffers. Others just brazenly redirected the money into their general funds. New York collected $82.1 million in 911 taxes on phone lines in 2007, but only 19 cents out of the $1.20 monthly fee was spent on 911.

At least New York can account for its misdirected funds. South Dakota simply has no idea where its 911 money went, Rosen and Kushnick report.

Walker: Hurry Up and Die

Seemingly determined to cast himself as a Dickensian villain, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker presented a budget last week that would slash millions in funding for health care for the poor and the elderly. However, as I reported in Working in These Times, Walker recommended an increase in funding for a program that buries Wisconsinites who die destitute.

Medicaid Roulette

Some governors are clamoring for more control over Medicaid, the joint state/federal health insurance program for the poor, Suzi Khimm reports for Mother Jones. Currently, Medicaid funding is allocated primarily by a matching system, with the federal government kicking in a certain number of dollars for every dollar the state spends. The states must abide by federal rules in order to qualify. Now, some Republican governors want to see Medicaid funding doled out in block grants. The states would get a fixed amount of money, which they could spend as they saw fit.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House, is a leading proponent of this new scheme. She claims it would increase "flexibility" for states. In this case, flexibility is a euphemism for "massive cuts." Washington's Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, has already convinced the Obama administration to exempt her state from certain Medicaid rules. McMorris Rodgers applauds the move.

Crisis Propaganda Centers

New York City City passed a landmark "truth in advertising" bill last Wednesday that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities. CPCs are anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics. Among other things, the law will require city CPCs to inform potential clients that they do not refer for abortions or emergency contraception, Noelle Williams reports for the Ms. Magazine blog.

The Logic of Our Sex Laws

The cover story of this month's Washington Monthly is a provocative analysis of Dan Savage, America's most influential sex advice columnist, as an ethicist of contemporary sexual mores. The author, Benjamin J. Dueholm, is a Lutheran pastor and a longtime fan of Savage's syndicated column "Savage Love." Dueholm does a good job of summarizing some of the core principles of Savage's ethos: disclosure, autonomy, mutual pleasure, and personal commitment to achieving sexual competence. His central critique is that Savage's attitude is too consumerist and businesslike.

I would argue that there's nothing inherently capitalist about Savage's ethics. Yes, Savage's ideal sexual world is based on consensual, mutually beneficial exchanges, like an idealized free market--but that doesn't mean that realizing one's sexual identity, or finding true love, is on par with picking a brand of laundry detergent. In consumerism, the customer is always right. Savage is constantly urging his readers to be active participants in a mutually satisfying sex life, not passive consumers who expect their partners to cater to them without giving anything in return.

USDA Hearts Michael Pollan

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues guidelines for healthy eating. Parke Wilde of Grist explains why this year's edition is, in many ways, a radical and surprising document:

The new edition has a fascinating chapter on eating patterns, focusing on real foods and not just nutrients. This chapter on eating patterns provides a nice counterpoint to the reductionism -- what Michael Pollan calls "nutritionism" -- of scientific discussion of diet and health. The guidelines' healthy eating patterns may or may not include meat. For example, the USDA Food Patterns and the DASH diet each include moderate amounts of meat and plenty of low-fat dairy. At the same time, the guidelines explain clearly that meat is not essential, and near-vegetarian and vegetarian diets are adequate and even "have been associated with improved health outcomes."

This is a big departure for an agency that has historically been criticized for acting as a propaganda outlet for the livestock and dairy industries. But Wilde notes that, despite its enlightened discussion of the perils of "nutritionism," the USDA hasn't broken the habit of referring to nutrients rather than foods. The guidelines still recommend that Americans eat less saturated fat, without dwelling at length on which foods actually contribute most of the saturated fat to the American diet.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her seminal book, Food Politics, this mealy-mouthed advice is measured to avoid offending any lobby group that might take offense at the suggestion that Americans eat less of their product. There is no saturated fat lobby, but there are plenty of lobby groups representing the interests of industries tied to the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which include cheese, pizza, bakery products, ice cream, chicken, and burgers.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 12:29