Monday, June 24, 2019

On the Anniversary of My Daughter's Death by Jean-Marie Kauth

This is what happened on the anniversary of Katherine’s death this year: I was sitting in a remote cabin overlooking the Wisconsin River, one of our favorite places on earth, when I thought I smelled through the open window the horribly familiar smell of pesticides. Impossible! I thought. No one would spray out here – it must be fetid mud from the lagoon by the river. Five minutes later, my son walked in and asked if I knew there was a “TrueGreen” (Chemlawn) truck in the neighbor’s driveway. We rushed to close all the windows, open to what we had thought was the pure, pure breeze. Despite being now chemically sensitive, I went out to confront the young man spraying the toxic chemicals.
“I can smell the pesticides all the way inside,” I said, though the cabin is a good 100 feet from the neighbors, on its own 10-acre plot.
“It’s the neighbor’s, not you.” (Moot point, if I can smell it.) “I can give you a number to call….”
“What about you? Do you know that these chemicals increase not only your own risk for cancer, but for any children you might have? Please don’t do it anymore.”
Though perhaps I should have given him more information to look up himself, I took refuge inside. One son reminded me we had laundry on the line, which at least we could rewash, and the other son had to be asked please not to sleep on the porch, which was most contaminated. If you can smell pesticides, there are, without doubt, molecules in the air. I dealt with PTSD from Katherine’s exposures and death all night.
Incidents like this have happened more often than I could count, driving down the highway, staying in hotels, or in my own home. It is impossible to completely avoid such exposures. Why do people, for negligible reasons, spray pesticides for weeds or mosquitoes?
Even people I respect in public health have a blind spot about spraying for mosquitoes, and indeed, in cases of multiples deaths from West Nile, or God forbid, malaria, as climate change creeps up on us, it may be worth the trade-off to adulticide. But first should come larviding, and education about emptying breeding grounds for mosquitoes. And if spraying occurs, everyone should be thoroughly notified and behaviors altered; they must close windows, not go outside, and not touch items that were outside for several days afterwards at least. 

But mostly, these chemicals are sprayed without thinking things through: if we understand that these same organophosphates drifting off farm fields cause higher levels of cancer, autism, and lower IQs in children of immigrant farm workers, why do we think suburban children, sleeping under a haze of these chemicals sprayed straight in their windows at night, are not equally vulnerable? Research shows that they are. According to some studies, ALL rates are about as high among rich white kids in the suburbs as kids of other ethnicities. Hispanic children in California are a different story (cf. Brenda Eskenazi’s work). We count deaths from West Nile; we do not account for those cancer deaths caused by pesticide exposure.

Don’t get me started on people who spray chlorophenoxy herbicides like 2,4-D and other pesticides for lawns. There are absolutely no tangible benefits, while they, their children, and their dogs all incur higher rates of various cancers, Parkinson’s Disease, and other maladies. Whole provinces in Canada have banned cosmetic pesticides for these reasons, so most Canadians are safe from casual exposures like this.
All this is to say – you cannot imagine the price you could pay for negligent decisions about seemingly trivial matters in a society that does not regulate chemicals that are designed to kill all life. Rachel Carson made this case more than 50 years ago, and surprisingly little has changed. We are killing our children to avoid minor nuisances. Shockingly, we are killing other people’s children as well. What may be legal can be very far from moral or ethical. Particularly because of the lack of commonsense regulation, we each have a responsibility to make sure not to do more harm than good – to our loved ones – and to others.’

Katherine Kauth (February 12, 1994 - June 22, 2002)

More articles by Jean-Marie Kauth can be found here. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Walgreens: “By Any Other Name Would [Be Greed]”

Walgreens Will No Longer Provide Health Benefits for Retired Employees:

“Walgreens said in a September letter reviewed by CNBC that it would no longer subsidize medical benefits for its former employees who hadn't turned 64 by March 31, citing ‘rising and unpredictable healthcare costs’…

“Some 550 retirees receive the subsidies from Walgreens before they turn 65 and are eligible for Medicare. Under the age restrictions laid out in the September letter, they won't receive the payments, which vary in amount based on employees' years of service.

“Neither will employees who were eligible for the benefit upon retirement under the old rules, which made it available to employees who had turned 50 by May 2017 and had worked at the company 20 years. (Employees still needed to be at least 55 with at least 25 years of service at the time of retirement to receive the benefit).

“Walgreens tightened the requirements for the subsidies in the past, eliminating eligibility for new hires and younger employees, but until last fall, the company had stopped short of touching the payments of retirees who were already receiving them.

“‘Pre-65, I do think it's unusual to take people who already have a subsidy right now and eliminate that subsidy,’ said Derek Guyton, a partner in the health and benefits business at Mercer, owned by Marsh & McLennan. ‘What's more common is you tell people way ahead of time you're not going to have this subsidy when you get to 55 or what have you. That obviously has happened a lot and continues to happen, but taking it away from people, some employers consider that almost an employment contract.’

“Walgreens has said it is working on a ‘lower-cost, unsubsidized retiree health program starting in 2020,’ according to an October letter it sent to retirees. It has yet to provide details on its plan.

“Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said that the company reviewed a host of factors before deciding to change eligibility requirements for the subsidies.

“‘We are continuing to work toward a new retiree healthcare program for 2020, paying particular attention to the transition impact for those with current subsidized coverage,’ he said. ‘We will continue to update our retirees.’

“The drugstore chain employed roughly 354,000 people as of August, according to its annual report

“Despite its profits [Recent Quarter Earnings Rose 4.6% to $34.53 Billion], the drugstore chain is under pressure from investors to cut costs.

“Pharmacies are getting paid less to fill prescriptions as insurers squeeze them. Prices of the drugs they're dispensing aren't increasing at the same rates they used to as drug makers face pressure from lawmakers. People also aren't buying as much candy and soap at drugstores, instead buying convenience items online on sites like Amazon.

“The company earlier this year ramped up cost-cutting after CEO Stefano Pessina called its second-fiscal quarter the most difficult quarter since Walgreens acquired Boots Alliance in 2015. [Pessina’s Net worth Is $10 Billion. His Net Worth Was $15.3 Billion in 2015. He Earned $14.7 Million in 2017. The Average Hourly Rate for Employees Is $12.33]. Walgreens now expects to save $1.5 billion annually by 2022, executives told Wall Street analysts on a conference call in April.

“In cutting the subsidies for early retirees, Walgreens reduced its benefit plan obligation by $201 million in 2018 from the previous year, the company said in its annual report…” [There Are 13,200 Walgreens Stores in 11 Countries. The Company’s Net Worth Is $47.95 Billion (as of June 21, 2019). The Average Hourly Rate for Pharmacy Technicians Is $12.88; the Average Hourly Rate for Retail Shift Supervisors Is $12.98; the Average Hourly Rate for Customer Service Associates Is $8 - $12].

For the entire article, click here.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

“We are in the midst of a national crisis”—Kurt Bardella

“Thursday, May 2, 2019, felt like the end of checks and balances in America. It was the day that the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee stood by and supported the executive branch’s decision to ignore a lawful subpoena issued by the legislative branch. At this moment in time, we no longer really have co-equal branches of government. And without this system, created with care by the Founding Fathers, we edge ever close to a dictatorship.
“I spent five years working for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee during the Obama administration and I can tell you the level of blatant obstruction we are seeing from Trump and his cronies is on a totally different level from what the GOP was dealing with. At this point, the only real recourse for Democrats is to compel cooperation is to initiate impeachment proceedings and activate broader powers to enforce their subpoenas as Congress did with President Richard Nixon. This executive branch is flagrantly undermining the legislative branch. And it clearly thinks it can get away with it.
“Our entire federal system is predicated on the idea that fidelity to our constitutionally mandated rules of governance supersedes political party. That even in the most partisan of environments, Republicans and Democrats acknowledge and respect the role that the branches of government play in limiting absolute power. But what happens when that respect is obliterated? When one branch of government decides to go rogue and ignore the constitutional authority of another?
“Unfortunately, this is no longer a theoretical exercise to be examined and debated in the safe confines of a civics class. It is happening right now, before our very eyes.
“Democracy is about choice. The people who serve in Congress weren’t installed by decree or birthright, but by a free vote of free people. By ignoring the authority of the Congress, Trump and his followers are ignoring the will of the American people. By shutting out the legislative branch, Trump and his administration are thumbing their noses at the Framers’ framework, and everything it represents.

“If there is a policy this White House does not like, it unilaterally changes it. If there’s a question Trump officials don’t want to answer, they don’t show up, as Attorney General William Barr did. If there’s information they want to keep hidden from the American people, they sue a co-equal branch of government to keep it secret.
“And the problem is just getting worse. Barr, who sounds increasingly like a White House spokesperson and not top law enforcement officials, defied a subpoena to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on May 2. The Department of Trump — I mean, Justice — ignored a subpoena deadline to produce to Congress the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the underlying evidence used to compile it. This prompted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to send a final counteroffer to Barr. But on Monday, Barr again failed to comply with the subpoena; the committee will vote to hold him in contempt on Wednesday.
“Also last week, the White House informed House Democrats that it would not comply with a request for documents related to security clearances. Our Supreme Leader — I mean President, Donald J. Trump — has sued two banks in an effort to block them from complying with subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee related to his and his family’s finances.
“Partisanship and obstruction is sadly not uncommon in America’s political system. But by continuing to push the boundaries, Trump has exposed a flaw within the framework of our political composition. Congress is effectively powerless to make the executive branch do anything. They can issue subpoenas. Those subpoenas can be ignored. They can hold people in contempt. But of course, any U.S. attorney capable of prosecuting contempt can be fired by the attorney general. If they go to court, it’ll take years to get resolved.
“Moreover, when it comes to Trump and Congressional Republicans, there is little good faith left — if any. There certainly isn’t much trust. With the backing of the White House, Republicans believe they can effectively bully Democrats. And Democrats, led by the conventionally cautious wisdom of lawmakers like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, are increasingly trapped by the process. If they remain unwilling to deviate from conventional tactics, they will not be able to gain much progress in these very unconventional times.
“Last November, millions of Americans voted in favor of having a stronger check on power by ushering in a new Democratic majority in the House. They voted to give Democrats the power of the congressional gavel, the power to issue subpoenas, the power to conduct vigorous oversight. That mandate is being ignored by the president and his henchmen. It is up to Democrats to protect and defend the will of the people and they must do so boldly. There is no place for traditional tactics or negotiations. We are in the midst of a national crisis — a real one, not the manufactured one at the southern border. Who will stand up for the Republic?”

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Cancer-Causing Ingredient in Weedkiller Found in Cheerios

Glyphosate is found in the weedkiller Roundup, which is sprayed on oats before harvest.

ALMOST TWO DOZEN CEREAL and snack products were found to contain glyphosate, the cancer causing ingredient in the weed killer Roundup.
An analysis released today by the Environmental Working Group's Children's Health Initiative found that 21 of General Mills' oat-based cereals and snacks were contaminated with glyphosate and all but four products contained levels higher than what EWG scientists consider safe for children. The nonprofit environmental research organization's benchmark for levels of the ingredient deemed safe for kids is no more than 160 parts per billion.
The product containing the lowest level of glyphosate was Nature Valley's Dark Chocolate & Nut version of Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars, which measured at 76 ppb. The highest level of glyphosate, 833 ppb, was found in Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch.
Regular Honey Nut Cheerios contained 147 ppb. Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cheerios contained 729 ppb. Nature Valley's Maple Brown Sugar Crunchy Granola Bars measured glyphosate at 566 ppb, while its Soft-Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Squares measure at 206.
The ingredient used in the weedkiller, which is sprayed on oats before harvest as a drying agent, was classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015. It was classified as a known carcinogenic by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in 2017.
There have been several lawsuits brought against Roundup's manufacturer Bayer-Monsanto alleging that its weedkiller causes cancer and that the company has known about it for years. More than $2.2 billion has been awarded to victims.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

“The Adjunct Underclass”

“How did we discard the idea of college faculty? That is, how did we decide to systematically eliminate an entire class of professionals whom we once trusted to conduct the final distillation of our children into capable, confident adults? How did we come to decide that college teachers didn’t deserve job security, didn’t deserve health insurance, didn’t deserve to make more than convenience-store clerks?

“It wasn’t hard, really.

“We discarded college faculty in the same way that we discarded medical general practitioners: through providing insane rewards to specialists and leaving most care in the hands of paraprofessionals.

“We discarded college faculty in the same way that we discarded cab drivers: by leveling the profession and allowing anyone to participate, as long as they had a minimum credential and didn’t need much money.

“We discarded college faculty in the same way that we discarded magazine and newspaper writers: by relabeling the work “content” and its workers “content providers.”

“We discarded college faculty in the same way that we discarded local auto mechanics: by making all of the systems and regulations so sophisticated that they now require an army of technicians and specialized equipment.

“We discarded college faculty in the same way that we discarded bookkeepers: by finally letting women do it after decades of declaring that impossible, and then immediately reducing the status of the work once it became evident that women could, in fact, do it well.

“Our contemporary religion of innovation has as one of its tenets the following belief: Rather than defeat your competition, make your competitors irrelevant. This is exactly what we see in higher education. College faculty were not defeated after great struggle, after a battle with a winner and a loser. College has simply been redefined, over and over, in ways that make faculty irrelevant. College teaching, as a profession, is being eliminated one small, undetected, definitional drop at a time…

“The problems with the adjunct structure of higher education are not merely quantitative. It’s not just about how badly adjuncts are paid, not just about the inadequate opportunities for our students to build enduring relationships with the faculty who guide them. It’s also about fear, despair, surrender, shame — the messy, hidden human elements that finance and policy always miss.

“The story of the adjunct faculty, of the postdoctoral scholars, of those in ‘alt-careers’ — that story will be incomplete unless we recognize that we are refugees from a nation that would not have us. We have found our way to innumerable continents, but still hold that lost home in our hearts. We still, many of us, in quiet moments, mourn the loss of our community as we make our scattered way across diverse lands.

“The decision to join a community is never solely rational. We discover a way of life we find appealing, learn more about it, start to make friends with others who hold similar values. We shift our vocabulary, our terms of engagement, our enthusiasms. Our calendars are marked by different constraints — rather than birthdays and Thanksgiving, we attune ourselves to semesters, grant-proposal deadlines, the week of our discipline’s national conference.

“We become new people in order to join this new culture. We know that our proposed membership in that community will be subject to great competition. We offer ourselves as contestants in a pageant for people who can’t even describe their own desires. We imagine that with the right costume or the right theme music, we might be chosen. We sniff the air, hoping for a phrase to borrow, to learn this year’s color, to please the taste makers as we pass by in the parade of the damned, hoping for the rare and unpredictable nod that will allow us to move from the slush pile to the long list to the short list to the campus visit to — dare we think it? — an offer of membership.

Some few will get in. Some larger number will not. But the peculiar cruelty of higher education is its third option — the vast purgatory of contingent life, in which we are neither welcomed nor rejected, but merely held adjacent to the mansion, to do the work that our betters would prefer not to do…”

Herb Childress is a partner at Teleidoscope Group, LLC, an ethnography-­based consulting firm. This essay is excerpted from his new book, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission (University of Chicago Press).

Monday, June 3, 2019

Illinois Legislature Repeals 3% Cap on Pensionable Teacher Salaries

Struck from Amendment to Senate Bill 1814:

“…For academic years beginning on or after July 1, 2018 and for earnings paid to a participant under a contract or collective bargaining agreement entered into, amended, or renewed on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 100th General Assembly, if the amount of a participant's earnings for any academic year used to determine the final rate of earnings, determined on a full-time equivalent basis, exceeds the amount of his or her earnings with the same employer for the previous academic year, determined on a full-time equivalent basis, by more than 3%, then the participant's employer shall pay to the System, in addition to all other payments required under this Section and in accordance with guidelines established by the System, the present value of the increase in benefits resulting from the portion of the increase in earnings that is in excess of 3%.

“This present value shall be computed by the System on the basis of the actuarial assumptions and tables used in the most recent actuarial valuation of the System that is available at the time of the computation. The System may require the employer to provide any pertinent information or documentation.

“Whenever it determines that a payment is or may be required under this subsection (g-1), the System shall calculate the amount of the payment and bill the employer for that amount. The bill shall specify the calculations used to determine the amount due. If the employer disputes the amount of the bill, it may, within 30 days after receipt of the bill, apply to the System in writing for a recalculation. The application must specify in detail the grounds of the dispute and, if the employer asserts that subsection (g) of this Section applies, must include an affidavit setting forth and attesting to all facts within the employer's knowledge that are pertinent to the applicability of subsection (g). Upon receiving a timely application for recalculation, the System shall review the application and, if appropriate, recalculate the amount due.

“The employer contributions required under this subsection (g-1) may be paid in the form of a lump sum within 90 days after receipt of the bill. If the employer contributions are not paid within 90 days after receipt of the bill, then interest shall be charged at a rate equal to the System's annual actuarially assumed rate of return on investment compounded annually from the 91st day after receipt of the bill. Payments must be concluded within 3 years after the employer's receipt of the bill. This subsection (g-1) does not apply to (1) Tier 2 hybrid plan members and (2) Tier 2 defined benefit members who first participate under this Article on or after the implementation date of the Optional Hybrid Plan…” (pg. 351-353).