Here in my tiny outreach maternity clinic on the west side of Orlando, we achieved in 12 months something that the U.S. health care industry has failed to accomplish in more than a quarter century. We dramatically improved birth outcomes among poor pregnant women living in central Florida, an area desperately lacking in health-care services. What’s more, all the women we cared for–including several with risk factors, such as pre-existing health problems and poverty–had healthy hospital births.
Since we didn’t prescreen or select our clients, we can only surmise that these gains, measured by a 2007 independent study of 100 clients by the Health Council of East Central Florida, were the direct result of providing consistent, quality prenatal care for pregnant women who would have otherwise faced nearly insurmountable obstacles to getting it.
Maternal mortality is a domestic human rights crisis that kills hundreds of American women and affects thousands more every year, according to Amnesty International’s new report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the United States. Here in the wealthiest country in the world, two or three women die daily from complications of pregnancy or childbirth and the rate of maternal death for African-American women is four times that of white women. These grim statistics do not include more than 34,000 “near misses” –severe complications in which women nearly die–each year. Our country prides itself on pioneering medical advances and spends more than any other country on health care, yet it ranks 41st in the world in maternal mortality and 29th in infant mortality.
“Mothers are dying not because the United States can’t provide good care but because it lacks the political will to make sure good care is available to all women,” says Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
As a midwife working in the trenches of Florida’s poorer neighborhoods, I have witnessed firsthand the many reasons for this failure. What overwhelms me the most is the sheer number of hours my staff and I must spend performing bureaucratic triage for pregnant women trapped without health care in the purgatory of this broken system.
Most of the pregnant women who come to our clinic have been turned away elsewhere, or have already visited a local emergency room. Medicaid has instructed women to apply online. Yet to qualify for coverage, they must fax in proof of pregnancy in the form of a letter signed by a physician or a registered nurse. Private medical practices require uninsured women to pay up to $200 for a lab test or exam upfront, unless they can provide proof of Medicaid coverage. Sometimes a woman will successfully jump through all the hoops required to get Medicaid coverage, only to be turned away by doctors because by then she is 20 weeks pregnant and considered “high risk,” since she has gone through nearly half her pregnancy without prenatal care.
In many other countries health care, including maternity care, is understood as a basic human right. The unwillingness of the United States, however, to guarantee pregnant women access to quality maternity care contributes to the high number of childbirth-related deaths from common causes. Standardized protocols exist but are applied inconsistently, and too often race and economic status are factors.
As the Amnesty International report recommends, the United States can make substantive immediate gains. First and foremost, the government should establish a single office within the Department of Health and Human Services that ensures that all pregnant women have access to quality maternal care. In addition, our elected officials must support federal oversight and accountability for maternal health standards. Nothing less than the survival of hundreds of pregnant women each year is at stake.
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will release a first-ever set of regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s existing fleet of power plants. The agency recently issued similar rules for new power plants, which will be finalized next year after a public comment period. The rules for existing plants will undergo a similar process.
But before the political storm around the rules begins in earnest, here are the basic points everyone needs to know about why EPA’s carbon rules are so important.
It’s The First Step Towards A Global Solution
One of the points the Chamber of Commerce made Wednesdayin their premature analysis of the EPA regulations was that, by 2030, the cuts would only amount to 1.8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. The point is technically accurate — climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions driving it are a global problem — but it assumes U.S. policy occurs in a weird sort of civilizational vacuum.
The projections of future emissions the Chamber used are based on the assumption that business-as-usual continues and that various countries’ climate policies don’t change much. That, in turn, is an assumption about how countries will behave in the future. But as Obama has made clear, half the point of the new regulations is to change the way other countries behave.
America may be the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, but it remains by far the largest on a per-person basis. It’s also emitted more than any other country historically. And while China and India’s economies are huge, they’re spread over far larger populations than the U.S., and they’re still trying to lift hundreds of millions of their citizens out of very deep poverty. So Americans effectively emitted their way to our current prosperity. Furthermore, because we have so much more wealth per person, we have far more economic room to cut carbon emissions and take risks on developing clean energy than China or India.
What this all means is that trust and goodwill between countries is enormously important to building a cooperative international response to climate change. Because of its position and prosperity, the United States can’t build that goodwill without taking the initiative to cut its own emissions: “It’s not [that] I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us,” Obama told the New Yorker a few months ago. “It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort.”
So when the next round of global climate talks occurs in 2015, we’ll have a far better chance of actually locking down an international treaty to cut global emissions if the United States has already stepped up. Then we can bring other countries on board with their cuts, and then circle back around in a few years for an agreement to cut more. And suddenly that 1.8 percent isn’t a mere 1.8 percent anymore.
“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama said yesterday at West Point. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
Climate Change Is A Threat To America And The World
Because carbon dioxide molecules absorb heat well, the more we dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the more heat the atmosphere can absorb. This raises the overall temperature of the Earth as a system, in what’s called the “greenhouse effect” — carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat within the atmosphere, like the glass walls of a greenhouse trap heat within its interior. We can actually measure it: satellites have trackedthe heat imbalance as the Earth absorbs more energy from the sun, while ice cores and other measurements show a a long period of climate stability going back thousands of years, followed by a sudden spike in carbon dioxide and global temperatures around the arrival of the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution.
What does all this mean for the Earth’s climate? Hotter average global temperatures mean more heat waves, more wildfires, and faster evaporation leading to more drought. But it also means more moisture in the atmosphere, so precipitation becomes heavier when it does come, and wetter areas become wetter while dry areas become drier. Sea levels rise from ice melt at the poles and cyclones become stronger from the oceans’ rising heat content, leading to more flooding and storm damage on the coasts. The poles heat up faster than the equator, destabilizing global weather patterns. Species and ecosystems collapse on both land and sea as climate change and ocean acidification alter their habitats. Crop production and food supplies are upended, fresh water becomes harder to come by, and vectors for pests and disease increase. Basically, rising global temperatures shift the range of possible weather so that destructive and extreme events become more likely.
The scientific consensus is that global temperatures can warm 2°C before those changes become truly catastrophic, though some research suggests even that threshold is too much. At humanity’s current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, we’re set to blow past that limit and get somewhere near 5°C of warming by 2100. Simply put, that would bring a degree of climate change far beyond anything that’s occurred the entire time human civilization has been on the planet. It might not even be possible, much less likely, for us to adapt to those circumstances.
U.S. Carbon Emissions Are A Sizable Part Of The Problem
At about 14.5 percent of 2012′s global emissions, the United States is the world’s second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, with China now in first and India in third. That same year, electricity generation made up almost a third of the greenhouse gas emissions from America’s economy, with cars and other vehicles also making up close to a third, and industry emitting a fifth. The rest was filled in by commercial and residential buildings and agriculture, each for a tenth a pop.
EPA’s rules for new and existing power plants will address the electricity sector only, but the rest of President Obama’s climate action plan aims to use the executive branch’s regulatory authority to cut emissions from those other sectors as well — by ratcheting up emission standards for cars, improving energy efficiency in homes and buildings, changing forestry and land-use practices, and plugging the various holes in our economy that release other greenhouse gases such as methane.
So while the carbon dioxide pumped out by America’s power plants is ultimately only a slice of the problem, the regulations to cut them down are the central pillar of the Obama Administration’s interlocking effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy. And the political, social, and economic effort to sustain that central push will flow into all the other efforts as well.
Congress Isn’t Going To Do It Anytime Soon
It’s been well-documented by political scientists that partisan polarizationhas increased significantly in the legislative branch over the last few decades, meaning both parties — but the Republicans especially — move more in ideological lockstep.
In 2009, when the Democrats still dominated Congress, that unity actually helped them pass bills like the stimulus, financial regulatory reform, and Obamacare. But policies to cut carbon emissions are different. The benefits are spread across the entire population, and are still mostly to come in the future, while the costs will be here and now and fall the hardest on some specific and very influential groups — namely the fossil fuel industry. So when President Obama and the Democrats tried to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress that year, moderate Democrats — especially in the coal-dependent states like West Virginia and Kentucky — felt enormous pressure to jump ship. And moderate Republicans were pressured by their own ideological cohort to not jump on board.
As a result, cap-and-trade passed the House but went down to defeat in the Senate. Now that the Republicans have taken back the House, the situation is even worse for climate policy, and it will likely take several election cycles before another chance emerges for Congress to pass something. And we simply don’t have that much time. Global carbon emissions quite literally need to peakwithin the next few years and then start falling fast if we want a good shot at staying below the 2°C threshold.
Fortunately, Congress has actually already handed the executive branch the tools to address this problem. Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 require EPA to regulate emissions that threaten public welfare, and in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled the agency could regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it found they posed such a threat. EPA came to that exact conclusion in 2009, citing the rising seas, stronger storms, heavier floods, more intense heat waves, disrupted food supplies, shrinking fresh water supplies, and increased vectors for disease climate change would bring. By carrying through with the new regulations, the Obama Administration and EPA are in fact carrying out the will of Congress — just not the will of this particular batch of congress members.
The Supreme Court handed down a decision on June 17 that has been ignored by most media outlets, despite its devastating effect on one of the most fundamental rights protected by the Constitution.
In a 5-4 ruling, the justices ruled that a person no longer has the right to remain silent as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. In relevant part, the Fifth Amendment mandates that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
It’s official: African Americans are the nation’s most important swing state.
Last summer, I predicted that the African American vote would tip the scales in the 2012 election of Barack Obama. My organization, the National Urban League, foresaw a continuation of a trend that proved to be a decisive factor in Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The Census Bureau has now confirmed our analysis. Not only did the 2012 black vote make the difference in several key swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the biggest prize of all, Ohio, but black voters turned out a higher rate than white voters.
Since 1996, black voter turnout rates have risen 13 percentage points, and the number of blacks who voted in 2012 rose by about 1.7 million over 2008. This is even more remarkable given that overall voting among eligible citizens declined last year.
This boost in turnout also demonstrates that, in the face of a widespread voter suppression campaign, a record number of blacks heeded the National Urban League’s call to “Occupy the Vote” — a campaign that reached 10 million people through traditional and social media, phone banking, and grassroots and community outreach. In fact, all Census divisions where voting rates of blacks exceeded those of whites included states that introduced major voter suppression tactics in the year leading up to the election.
While the National Urban League doesn’t endorse individual candidates, we do encourage civic engagement, and our affiliates have always played leading roles in voter registration drives. That’s why we are also pleased that African Americans registered in record numbers last year. The registration rate for blacks rose from 69.7 percent in 2008 to 73.1 percent in 2012 — the highest registration rate ever recorded.
In Ohio, where Obama won 96 percent of the African-American vote, the black registration rate was 74.4 percent. In North Carolina, a state he lost this time around, African-American registration increased from 71 percent in 2008 to 85 percent in 2012 with 80.2 percent of eligible black voters going to the polls, up from 68.1 percent four years ago.
The increase in black voter participation is a turning point for several reasons.
First, it’s clear that Mitt Romney would have eked out a victory in 2012 if voters had turned out at 2004 levels. White turnout was higher and black turnout was lower in that presidential election.
Second, due to an increase in overall minority voting, people of color will be wielding even more electoral clout in the coming years. According to the demographer William Frey, “by 2024, their vote will be essential to victory.”
Third, this demographic shift is prodding both major political parties to increase their outreach and appeal to minority voters and to reassess the impact their policies are having on those communities.
As the Associated Press put it, “The findings represent a tipping point for blacks, who for much of American history were disenfranchised and then effectively barred from voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.”
There’s no doubt that the opportunity to re-elect America’s first black president contributed to record black turnout last year. But, no matter who is on the ballot in 2014 and 2016, we must continue to exercise our voice and Occupy the Vote.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League and the former mayor of New Orleans. http://www.nul.org Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
When John Oliver went to Australia to confront the charlatans claiming to have effectively regulated guns, he quickly discovered that maybe some of the arguments from American anti-gun-control groups were flawed. All the arguments, to be more specific. Skip to 3:58 for my favorite logical extension of why gun control is futile.
Watch part two and part three in the gun control series starring the hilarious John Oliver.
Washington, DC – Today, Representative Steven Horsford (NV-4) co-sponsored the bipartisan Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act, which was introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-17). Currently, veterans face a five-year window in which they must seek treatment for mental illnesses before losing their higher priority status. This legislation would eliminate the five-year window and allow veterans to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifest themselves.
“We must renew our commitment to provide the men and women who have served our country in uniform with the healthcare services they deserve,” said Horsford. “The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would ensure the services and treatments that are available to recently discharged veterans are available to all who have served in combat. This bill maintains the role of the VA to treat service-related disorders and allows its healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders and illnesses according to established procedures.”
Currently, the VA offers healthcare treatment and services to our nation’s veterans who suffer from service-related physical or mental disabilities. While the diagnosis of physical injuries typically is made before or shortly after separation from the military, mental illnesses may not manifest themselves until years later. Serious mental health issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were virtually undiagnosed in veterans of previous wars, having only been added by the to the American Psychiatric Association to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) nosologic classification scheme in 1980. As the United States military and the VA continue to improve treatment for those who have served, there remains a gap for veterans struggling with mental illnesses that this legislation seeks to address.
Please pardon my sarcasm at the ridiculousness of their reasoning:
Being gay is not natural. Yeah … like real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester and air conditioning.
Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay. Gee … I guess they think that hanging around tall people just might make them taller.
Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets. Right, because their dog actually has legal standing under the Constitution and can actually use a pen to sign that marriage contract.
Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all. Hmm…really? How do they explain women no longer being treated like “property” — or inter-racial couples now being able to marry — or the concept of “divorce” which didn’t used to be legal?
Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed. And how might that be? Is your Congressional Representative proposing to eliminate your marriage deductions if gays get to marry. Or better yet, should the sanctity of every marriage look like that of Britney Spears or your favorite talking heads, e.g., Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, etc.
The only valid marriages are those which produce children. Oh come on, give me a break! Justice Sotomayer shredded that reasoning in about one minute’s time yesterday morning. Are they seriously trying to argue that gay couples, infertile couples and old people should be allowed to marry because they can serve a governmental requirement to procreate? Get Real!
Obviously, gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children. UHHHH … read reason #6. If gay couples can’t procreate, how the heck are they going to bear and raise gay children. Apparently GOD gave some “straight” couple a gay kid. Maybe you should talk to GOD about that …. just sayin’
Gay marriage is not supported by religion. Excuse me … but for all the Constitution-thumping you folks do, what exactly is it that you do not understand about the separation of church and state dictated by the Constitution …. or do you read the Constitution like you apparently read your bible? I’m sorry, but our Constitution does not permit you to impose “your personal theology” on others.
Children can never succeed without both a male and a female role model at home. Sure that’s why we have so many dead-beat dad who not only don’t show up to lend a helping hand from time to time, but who fail to provide any monetary support. Oh … and please enlighten me. Just exactly when was it we passed a law saying it was forbidden for single parents to raise children?
Gay marriage will change the foundation of our society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Excuse me? Like we haven’t been able to adapt to electricity, cars, the internet, making slavery illegal, finally allowing women to vote and own property?
LGBT folks have been around, and have been incessantly ostracized, since the time of Moses — you know, that guy who climbed the mountain back in the eye-for-an-eye old testament days — in the time BEFORE Jesus Christ walked the earth. Sunday is Easter, an anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ, who supposedly died for the sins of mankind. Folks opposing marriage equality — who call themselves “Christian” — should take some time this weekend reflect on the true teachings of their “savior.”
Marriage is more than a religious rite. It’s an economic issue. It’s a tax issue. It’s an inheritance issue. It’s a Social Security benefits issue. But, most of all it’s a love, commitment and family issue. It’s well past the time we should put the discriminatory policy of marriage inequality to an end. Those of you who are against marriage equality need to stop drinking, smoking or ingesting whatever substance is leading to all this hate-mongering. Get over it. Grow up and get a life.