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Tag: health

Senate Adopts Massive Climate And Health Plan In Big Win For Biden

The US Senate's passage of a major climate and health plan is a significnat victory for President Joe Biden ahead of midterm elections

Washington (AFP) - After 18 months of arduous negotiations and a marathon night of debate, the US Senate on Sunday passed Joe Biden's ambitious climate, tax and health care plan -- a significant victory for the president ahead of crucial midterm elections.

Voting as a unified bloc and with the tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats approved the $430 billion spending plan, which will go to the House of Representatives next week, where it is expected to pass before being signed into law by Biden.

The plan, crafted in sensitive talks with members on the right wing of his Democratic Party, would include the biggest US investment ever on climate -- $370 billion aimed at effecting a 40 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

That would give Biden a clear victory on one of his top agenda items and go some way toward restoring US leadership in meeting the global climate challenge.

Biden hailed the passage of the bill, highlighting the work that went into it -- and acknowledging that not everyone is happy with the final result.

"It required many compromises. Doing important things almost always does. The House should pass this as soon as possible and I look forward to signing it into law," the president said in a statement.

Electric cars

The bill would provide ordinary Americans with a tax credit of up to $7,500 when purchasing an electric car, plus a 30 percent discount when they install solar panels on their roofs.

It would also provide millions to help protect and conserve forests -- which have been increasingly ravaged in recent years by wildfires during record heat waves that scientists say are linked to global warming.

Billions of dollars in tax credits would also go to some of the country's worst-polluting industries to help their transition to greener methods -- a measure bitterly opposed by some liberal Democrats who have, however, accepted this as a least-bad alternative after months of frustration.

Biden, who came to office with promises of sweeping reforms, has seen his hopes dashed, then revived, then dashed again.

Democrats' narrow edge in the Senate has given a virtual veto to moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who earlier had used that power to block Biden's much more expansive Build Back Better plan.

But in late July, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer managed to engineer a compromise with the West Virginian, whose state's economy depends heavily on coal mining.

And on Saturday, senators finally opened their debate on the text.

'Vote-a-rama'

Late in the day, senators kicked off a marathon procedure known as a "vote-a-rama," in which members can propose dozens of amendments and demand a vote on each one.

That allowed both Republicans, who view Biden's plan as too costly, and liberal Democrats, who say it does not reach far enough, to make their opposition clear.

Influential progressive Senator Bernie Sanders used that platform through the evening to propose several amendments aimed at strengthening social planks in the legislation, which were considerably weakened during the months of negotiation.

The bill would provide $64 billion for health care initiatives and ensure a lowering of some drug costs -- which can be 10 times more expensive in the United States than in some other rich countries.

But progressive Democrats long ago had to give up their ambitions for free preschool and community colleges and expanded healthcare for the elderly.

"Millions of seniors will continue to have rotten teeth and lack the dentures, hearing aids or eyeglasses that they deserve," Sanders said from the Senate floor. "This bill, as currently written, does nothing to address it."

But fellow Democrats, eager to pass the legislation ahead of November midterms when control of Congress is at stake, have rejected any change in the text.

To help offset the plan's massive spending, it would reduce the US deficit through a new 15-percent minimum tax on companies with profits of $1 billion or more -- a move targeting some that now pay far less.

That measure could generate more than $258 billion in tax receipts for the government over the 10 next years, by some estimates.

Senate Passes Aid For Veterans Injured By Exposure To Toxic Burn Pits

Washington (AFP) - US senators on Tuesday approved benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, which President Joe Biden, who believes his son Beau died of such exposure, has called a "decisive and bipartisan win."

Open trash fires have been commonly used by the US military in conflicts after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and are lit to get rid of everything from plastic bottles to human waste and old tires -- all incinerated with jet fuel.

But the fumes from these holes in the ground are suspected of causing a range of illnesses among soldiers, from chronic respiratory ailments to a variety of cancers.

Biden believes the pits are at the root of the brain cancer that claimed the life of his son Beau, who served in Iraq in 2008.

By 86 votes to 11, the Senate passed the PACT Act, which expands the window of eligibility for free medical care and ensures that, for certain respiratory illnesses and cancers, veterans will get disability benefits without having to prove they were made sick by exposure to the pits.

The passage came just days after Republican senators had rejected the bill, triggering withering condemnation from veterans groups and activists, including the outspoken comedian Jon Stewart, who had championed the cause.

Biden welcomed the approval of the act, saying, "While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today, the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation."

He said the new law would be "the biggest expansion of benefits for service-connected health issues in 30 years and the largest single bill ever to comprehensively address exposure to burn pits."

'Proper Care' For Exposure

Vice President Kamala Harris said that "too many of our veterans and their families have long waited for this day. With today's passage of the PACT Act, our veterans will finally see an expansion of their health benefits and proper care for burn pit exposure. They deserve it."

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that some 3.5 million US service members were exposed to toxic smoke in Afghanistan, Iraq or other conflict zones, and more than 200,000 veterans have registered on lists of people who came into contact with burn pits.

The Pentagon funded a $10 million study in 2018 that concluded there was "a potential cause and effect relationship between exposure to emissions from simulated burn pits and subsequent health outcomes."

Until now, nearly 80 percent of veterans' requests to have suspected burn pit ailments acknowledged by the government were rejected, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

A poll by the organization found that 82 percent of those questioned said they were exposed to burn pits or other airborne toxic chemicals.

Of these people, 90 percent said they are or may be suffering from symptoms linked to that exposure.

House Passes Abortion Rights Bills, But Senate Approval Unlikely

Washington (AFP) - The House of Representatives adopted two bills on Friday aimed at protecting access to abortion after the Supreme Court ruled that individual states can ban or restrict the procedure.

The legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House is unlikely, however, to advance in the Senate, where 10 Republican votes would be needed to bring the measures to the floor.

"Just three weeks ago, the Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to fundamental rights by overturning Roe v. Wade," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, referring to the landmark case that enshrined legal access to abortion.

"That is why today, our pro-choice, pro-women Democratic majority stands resolute," Pelosi said. "We will take further action to defend women's reproductive freedom."

The first bill, the "Women's Health Protection Act," adopted only with Democratic support, would legalize abortion throughout the United States.

The House passed a similar bill last year but it failed in the Senate.

The other bill adopted on Friday would provide legal protection to women who leave one state to undergo an abortion in another.

Several conservative states have already banned abortion since the Supreme Court ruling, and about half of the 50 US states are expected to impose near or total bans in weeks or months to come.

Democratic President Joe Biden denounced last month's abortion ruling by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court and has urged Americans to turn out in large numbers to vote in November's midterm elections.

The party in power tends to perform poorly in the midterms, however, and Democrats risk losing their majority in the House and their slim hold on the Senate.

Greene And Gaetz Falsely Blame Poor Families In Formula Shortage

Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are defending their vote to restrict low-income families' ability to buy formula during the ongoing shortage.

Two Republican lawmakers are upset that Congress overwhelmingly voted to ease restrictions for poor families to purchase infant formula during the current shortage, saying that allowing low-income families to obtain life-sustaining nutrition for their infants comes at the expense of more well-off families.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) were two of just nine House Republicans who voted against the Access to Baby Formula Act, which would allow low-income families who use benefits from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to purchase a wider variety of sizes of formula containers. WIC has rules on the size of cans beneficiaries can purchase, which has made obtaining formula during the shortage even harder for low-income families.

Greene justified her vote against the bipartisan bill by falsely claiming it would somehow hurt families who do not receive government assistance.

"The WIC program is making it more difficult for [parents not on WIC] to buy baby formula," Greene told a right-wing cable show on Thursday.

Greene went on to lie about lower-income families who use WIC, claiming they can "buy as much baby formula" as they want while non-WIC families are limited.

WIC still has maximum monthly allowances for ounces of formula a beneficiary can purchase. The law Congress passed would simply allow WIC beneficiaries to purchase a wider variety of sizes of formula cans to get to that allowance.


Gaetz made similar false claims about the impact of eliminating some restrictions on WIC formula benefits.

"H.R. 7791 would make baby formula shortages worse for most Americans," Gaetz tweeted on Wednesday. "It will allow WIC to utilize a far greater portion of the baby formula market, crowding out many hard-working American families."

Gaetz and Greene's position is far out of the mainstream, even among their own party.

They were two of just nine House Republicans to vote against the bill, which will ease restrictions for WIC beneficiaries and gives the Secretary of Agriculture the ability to "modify or waive any qualified administrative requirement" for state agencies that administer WIC benefits. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent.

"The Senate has just passed legislation to help ease the terrible nightmare parents are facing trying to find baby formula for their kids," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday. "It's rare that we have unanimity in the Senate on important measures, and I wish we had more. But this is one of these important issues and I'm glad we're acting with one voice."

According to the White House, about half of the formula in the United States is purchased by WIC beneficiaries. Florida and Georgia — where Gaetz and Greene hail from, respectively — have some of the highest WIC participation rates, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2021, about 403,000 families used the program in Florida, while about 185,000 families used it in Georgia.

While states determine the exact income eligibility for WIC, the federal government says that states cannot provide WIC benefits to people earning more than 185% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $51,000 a year for a family of four. On May 12, President Joe Biden's administration recommended that states ease restrictions on the size and types of formula WIC beneficiaries could buy in the wake of the formula shortage.

Infant formula has been in short supply since February, when Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest formula producers in the United States, recalled formula made at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan. Four infants who consumed formula from the plant were hospitalized with dangerous bacterial infections, two of whom died.

The Sturgis plant currently remains closed, and the few other domestic formula producers cannot keep up with the increased demand. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has reached an agreement with Abbott on the criteria needed to reopen the plant, it's unclear when the company will meet the criteria. Even when formula production at the plant resumes, it will still take six to eight weeks for the new formula to hit shelves.

This week, Biden announced more measures to help alleviate the formula shortage, including invoking the Defense Production Act to increase supply and using federal resources to quickly import more formula from other countries.

On Wednesday, the House passed a separate emergency funding bill on Wednesday to address the ongoing formula shortage, with almost every single House Republican voting against it.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Leaked Draft Opinion Shows High Court Set To Strike Down Abortion Rights

Washington (AFP) - The Supreme Court is poised to strike down the right to abortion in the United States, according to a bombshell leaked draft of a majority opinion that would shred nearly 50 years of constitutional protections.

The draft opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito and has been circulating inside the conservative-dominated court since February, the news outlet Politico reported.

The leak of a draft opinion while a case is still pending is an extraordinary breach.

The 98-page draft majority opinion calls the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision enshrining the right to abortion "egregiously wrong from the start."

"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," Alito writes in the document, labeled as the "Opinion of the Court" and published on Politico's website. "It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives."

In Roe v. Wade, the nation's highest court held that access to abortion is a constitutional right.

In a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks of gestation.

"Abortion presents a profound moral question," Alito wrote. "The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion."

"The inescapable conclusion is that a right to an abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions," he said.

Reproductive rights have been under threat in the United States in recent months as Republican-led states move to tighten restrictions, with some seeking to ban all abortions after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Senior Democrats denounced the court's apparent move to overturn abortion rights.

"If the report is accurate, the Supreme Court is poised to inflict the greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years –- not just on women but on all Americans," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

"The Republican-appointed Justices' reported votes to overturn Roe v. Wade would go down as an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history."

Right-wing politicians have launched an assault on abortion, with Democrats, led by President Joe Biden, fighting back to protect access to the procedure.

In December, hearing oral arguments about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, the Supreme Court's conservative majority appeared inclined to not only uphold the law but to toss out Roe v. Wade

'Mostly Just Mad' -

The nine-member court, dominated 6-3 by conservatives following the nomination of three justices by former president Donald Trump, is expected to issue a decision in the Mississippi case by June.

Politico, citing a person familiar with the court's deliberations, said four other conservative justices -- Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett -- had voted with Alito, the author of the first draft of the majority opinion.

It said the three liberal justices on the court were working on a dissent and it was unknown how Chief Justice John Roberts would ultimately vote.

Politico stressed the document it obtained is a draft and justices do sometimes change their votes before a final ruling.

Late Monday night, several hundred people, including abortion rights supporters and anti-choice demonstrators, gathered outside the Supreme Court building.

The pro-choice group chanted "My body, my choice!"

"We need access to safe abortion because making it illegal isn't going to stop it, it's just going to make it more dangerous," said 23-year-old Abby Korb, a graduate student and congressional aide.

Madeline Hren, a 25-year-old from North Carolina, said she was "really upset" when she heard the news.

"You know, I didn't cry," she said. "I'm mostly just mad."

Unprecedented Leak

The leak of a draft opinion is extraordinary while a case is still being decided. Politico said it was the first time in modern history a draft opinion had been disclosed publicly.

Neil Katyal, who served as solicitor general under president Barack Obama, on Twitter called the move the "equivalent of the Pentagon Papers leak," in a reference to the leaked documents outlining US involvement in Vietnam.

Asked about the draft being circulated, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said: "The Court has no comment."

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research group, has said that 26 states are "certain or likely" to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Liberal states that decide to do so could still legally allow abortion even if the court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood, which operates abortion clinics around the country, said the draft opinion was "outrageous" but cautioned that it "is not final."

Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican senator from Missouri, welcomed the Politico report.

"If this is the Court's opinion, it's a heck of an opinion," Hawley said. "Voluminously researched, tightly argued, and morally powerful."

Canadian Police Arrest Anti-Vax Protesters And Reopen Border Bridge

Windsor (Canada) (AFP) - A Canadian mayor Sunday declared the standoff on a key US border bridge over after police moved in and arrested protesters, but the trucker-led movement against Covid-19 restrictions remained defiantly mobilized in the capital Ottawa and elsewhere.

A heavy contingent of officers backed by armored vehicles made their way to the demonstration near Windsor, Ontario, to clear the Ambassador Bridge, a major border crossing to the US city of Detroit, Michigan.

Authorities began their operation Saturday but several demonstrators had remained, extending the protracted standoff and preventing traffic from flowing.

Police took more forceful action Sunday, placing bridge protesters in handcuffs, towing vehicles and reclaiming clogged lanes, saying on Twitter that "there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity."

The road to the bridge was cleared, but cross-border traffic had yet to be restored by midday.

"Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a statement, referring to the heavy toll on trade and other business by a blockade that had been in place since Monday.

"Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so and I defer to police and border agencies to make that determination," the mayor added.

The demonstrations have inspired copycat protests around the globe, including in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, and with some US truckers discussing a protest for March.

In Ontario, where authorities have declared a state of emergency, the provincial supreme court had ordered truckers late in the week to end their blockade of the Ambassador Bridge.

The protest has forced major automakers in both countries to halt or scale back production.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who blasted the blockades as "illegal," promised that "this conflict must end," but he has faced mounting criticism for failing to act more decisively.

Initially, no arrests were made at the bridge; but drivers were warned that they potentially faced major fines, jail time and loss of their driver's licenses if they continued blocking traffic.

Mayor Dilkens, apparently mindful of the division caused by the protests, urged tolerance and respect moving forward.

"I strongly urge all provincial and federal leaders to refrain from any divisive political rhetoric and redouble efforts to help all Canadians heal, as we emerge from almost two years of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions," he said.

4,000 protesters

The Ambassador Bridge is vital to the US and Canadian auto industries, carrying more than 25 percent of merchandise exported by both countries.

Truckers originally converged on Ottawa to press their demand for an end to a vaccination requirement affecting truckers crossing the international border.

But the movement has spread, as the protesters now seek an end to all vaccine mandates, whether imposed by the federal or provincial governments.

Ottawa has been the epicenter of protests. Police on Saturday estimated that some 4,000 demonstrators were still occupying the center city, in the third weekend of the movement.

The atmosphere among protesters has been festive, with music, dancing and constant sounding of air horns -- but the noise, obstruction and sometimes rude and aggressive behavior of demonstrators has harmed area businesses and infuriated many locals.

The truckers' message, however, has resonated more widely than authorities expected.

One opinion survey found that a third of Canadians support the protest movement.

The truckers have also found support among conservatives and vaccine mandate opponents in other countries, even as Covid measures are being rolled back in many places.

In Paris on Saturday, police fired tear gas and arrested nearly 100 people in an effort to break up convoys of vehicles coming from across France.

By Sunday hundreds of them drove their self-proclaimed "freedom convoy" of cars and trucks northward to Lille, en route to Brussels, where Belgian officials have already banned a demonstration called for Monday.

A vehicle convoy in the Netherlands brought The Hague's city center to a standstill in another Canada-style protest.

In Switzerland, hundreds of protesters marched in Zurich to protest Covid-19 restrictions, while several thousand others rallied against them, Swiss media reported. Police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

An estimated 10,000 Australian protesters marched through the capital Canberra to decry vaccine mandates.

US Sets Global Record Of 1 MN Reported Covid Cases

People line up at a Covid-19 testing tent in Los Angeles, California on January 3, 2022, with new cases soaring in the United States amid the rapid spread of the infectious Omicron strain

Washington (AFP) - The United States reported more than one million new Covid-19 cases Monday after the long New Year's weekend, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as the Omicron variant spread at a blistering pace.

There were 1,080,211 new cases in the country, a global record, although the number of cases reported on a Monday is usually higher than other days because of delays in weekend tallying, especially after such a three-day holiday weekend.

Still, the figure is double the number of daily cases compared to the previous Monday.

The rolling average over seven days -- which experts see as more reliable -- was 486,000 cases per day as of Monday evening, the university said.

The new figure comes a day after top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said the country was experiencing "almost a vertical increase" in Covid-19 cases, adding the peak may be only weeks away.

The heavily mutated Omicron strain -- the most transmissible to date -- accounted for around 59 percent of US cases in the week ending December 25, according to government modeling.

Fauci said the experience of South Africa -- where the strain was first detected in late November and peaked quickly, then subsided nearly as speedily -- offered some hope.

Rates of death and hospitalization in the United States have been lower in recent weeks than during previous Covid surges.

With 9,382 deaths over the past seven days, the nation's death toll has fallen by 10 percent, week on week.

In the last seven days, the country has recorded 3.4 million cases according to Johns Hopkins data.

The US record during previous waves was 258,000 cases per day, for the week of January 5 to 11, 2021.

Officials have struggled to find a balance that will protect public health without gravely damaging the economy or slamming key services like policing and air travel.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halved the isolation period for asymptomatic Covid cases to five days, in a bid to blunt mass Omicron-induced disruption as infections hit new highs in multiple states.

And on Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's Covid-19 booster shot for children as young as 12 ahead of the reopening of schools following the holiday break.

Covid-19 has killed at least 5,441,446 people globally since the outbreak emerged in December 2019, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources on Monday.

Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the World Health Organization estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

A Covid Head-Scratcher: Why Lice Lurk Despite Physical Distancing

PARKER, Colo. — The Marker family opened their door on a recent evening to a woman dressed in purple, with a military attitude to cleanliness. Linda Holmes, who has worked as a technician with LiceDoctors for five years, came straight from her day job at a hospital after she got the call from a dispatcher that the Marker family needed her ASAP. According to those in the world of professional nitpicking, Pediculus humanus capitis, the much-scorned head louse, has returned. “It’s definitely back,” said Kelli Boswell, owner of Lice & Easy, a boutique where people in the Denver area can get delous...