Nel's New Day

October 12, 2013

Day Twelve of the GOP Government Shutdown: Other News Out There

Am I the only person irate that Congressional GOP members are willing to dismantle the United States of America in order to keep giant companies from paying 2.3 percent on medical devices? Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), perhaps the most reasonable senator, is including this proviso in her proposal for passing a Continuing Resolution, the same CR that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) promised last July would have no attachments.

That 2.3 percent tax would be on the $13,000 charge that companies make for a device that costs $350 to produce. Michael Shopenn found out about this cost when he needed a hip replacement. To have this procedure in the United States, he would have to pay an additional $65,000 for the procedure—not including the surgeon’s fee—over the $13,000 artificial hip cost. Other patients are charged two to three times that amount for the artificial hip.

His cost for having a hip replacement was $13,660 in a hospital outside Brussels, Belgium. The charge covered not only the hip joint, made by Warsaw (IN)-based Zimmer Holdings, but also all doctors’ fees, operating-room charges, crutches, medicine, a hospital room for five days, a week in rehab, and a round-trip ticket from the United States. The GOP is willing to destroy the U.S. for a 2.3 percent charge on outrageously marked-up medical devices. Belgium also has the lowest surgical infection rates in the world and is known for its excellent doctors.

The medical-device industry spent nearly $30 million last year on lobbying.

While government shutdown talks stall, time has stopped on Capitol Hill. The people hired to wind the clocks have been furloughed. The almost 200-year-old Ohio Clock, famous for a place where senators hide whiskey, stopped at 12:14 last Wednesday. The stoppage is symbolic of the stoppagefor millions of people in the nation who are furloughed, sickened, injured, hungry, and growing poorer each day.

During the shutdown, the media has suspended reporting much of the news around the country. Here are a few events:

Two days before the shutdown on October 1, over 20,600 barrels of oil, 865,200 gallons, fracked from the Bakken Shale, spilled onto a wheat field from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga (ND) in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history. The U.S. National Response Center, responsible for responding to chemical and oil spills, didn’t make the report available for ten days because of the government shutdown. These reports are usually posted within 24 hours. The spill is far larger than the 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands spilled into a residential neighborhood last April in Mayflower (AR) from a faulty ExxonMobil pipeline.

With only 1,285 barrels cleaned, the oil spread out over 7.3 acres. The oil, spilled through a hole in the side of the pipe and ruining the fields for planting, was destined for an Albany (NY) holding facility along the Hudson River.

Food-borne pathogens are sickening and killing Americans in more than 18 states as employees for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are being recalled as “essential” employees. The dual outbreaks of a salmonella outbreak and a hepatitis outbreak in Hawaii are linked to contaminated Foster Farms chicken products and the Dallas-based USPLabs LLC dietary supplement, OxyElite Pro. As of yesterday, more than 300 people have gotten sick, including 87 hospitalized, and one is dead with reports of antibiotic resistance for the precipitating strain of salmonella Heidelberg.

With more than 45 percent of all FDA employees furloughed, daily operations such as crucial inspections of food imports are on hiatus until the government reopens. The skeleton crew of ten in the CDC has been trying to maintain updates for tracking food-borne pathogens and outbreaks.

Even without the government shutdown, the FDA, USDA, and CDC—responsible for keeping food safe through inspection and prevention programs—are so seriously understaffed that people in the U.S. annually report 3,000 deaths, 128,000 hospitalizations, and over 48 million annual instances of food-borne illness. Only 6 percent of domestic food producers and 0.4 percent of food importers were inspected in 2011 after George W. Bush gutted the FDA budget.

Foster Farms has done no recall. A law passed in 2011 will give the FDA authority to legally mandate a recall of contaminated food, but it has not been completely enacted yet. Although the law should take effect by mid-2015, amendments from the GOP in Congress may weaken the act. Currently, the government also permits a privatized inspection scheme in which meat producers self-inspect.

If you avoid food-borne illness, you might want to watch out for nuclear disasters. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to furlough approximately 90 percent of its workforce. Supposedly, the agency will continue to respond to emergency safety and security matters, and onsite inspectors will stay on duty. Although the media has reported extensively on the Japanese problems with nuclear explosions, it has largely ignored the problems at nuclear sites in the U.S., such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in southeastern Washington along the Columbia River. Last spring, a nuclear safety board reported that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.

Six months earlier, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) told the Department of Energy about their concerns of no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. An explosion would “have considerable radiological consequences,” they wrote. Six of Hanford’s 177 tanks, holding 56,000 gallons of radioactive water, leak about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. Construction of a waste-treatment plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and keep the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground, but Bechtel, responsible for building the plant, has been purchasing parts with no quality guarantee.

Other nuclear sites needing to be cleaned are in California, Colorado,Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, and Texas. Thirty-four nuclear reactors—one-third of those in the U.S.—face flooding hazards. This week, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission called for shutting down the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City and the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth (MA) citing safety concerns. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon (VT) and Kewaunee Power Station near Green Bay (WI) have already closed. Mechanical failures and safety concerns have hurried the demise of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the California coast and Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Citrus County (FL). Sequester cuts have already reduced the cleanups at these nuclear facilities.

Although the potential default could be catastrophic with spiking borrowing costs and interest rates accompanied by plummeting stocks, some people can benefit.

  • Short sellers: Betting that the value of a stock or bond will drop instead of going up is an investment strategy employed by financial firms and the wealthy. A stock market crash will short almost every U.S. stock.
  • Investors in gold and silver: Gold and silver typically rise in value when the stock market is volatile, because they hold their value better than paper money or other assets. The price of both metals rose this week as default fears heightened.
  • Bitcoin investors (maybe): The value of this untraceable virtual currency has tracked closely with gold over the past year.
  • Currency traders: Traders who bet that the US dollar will decrease in value relative to foreign currencies stand to profit off of a US government default.
  • Pawn shops: If credit markets freeze, as they did during the 2008 meltdown, pawn shops will do well as they did after the last crisis.
  • Bankruptcy lawyers: Loss of jobs and other income bring people to the edge.
  • Mortgage servicers: Spiking interest rates can cause somehomeowners to default on loans and end up in foreclosure. Investors take the losses while servicers make back the money they are owed in a foreclosure sale as well as getting the fees that borrowers pay on delinquent loans.
  • The canned and freeze-dried food industries: Doomsday preppers are readying for the collapse of civilization by stocking up on these foods.

Thus people betting against the United States will make money, and  members of Congress keep getting paid and going to their gym.

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