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Senate GOP blocks bill on contraception coverage

 

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill aimed at restoring free contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies with religious objections, a legislative setback for Democrats that they hope will be a political winner in November's elections.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Man using 'blowtorch' to kill spider started fire

 

SEATTLE (AP) — A man who used a can of spray paint and a lighter as a makeshift blowtorch to kill a spider in his laundry room started a blaze that caused $60,000 worth of damage, Seattle fire officials said Wednesday.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Typhoon kills 20 in Philippines, spares Manila

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A typhoon blew out of the northern Philippines on Wednesday after causing at least 20 deaths, knocking out power in entire provinces, damaging two parked jetliners and forcing nearly half a million people to flee from its lethal wind and rains, officials said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Israeli strike kills 4 Gaza youths on coastal road

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli war planes and naval vessels intensified attacks across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, targeting senior Hamas leaders and bombarding a coastal area, where four Palestinian boys were killed.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Lawyer: Mother of boy left in hot car devastated

 

ATLANTA (AP) — A lawyer for a suburban Atlanta woman whose husband was arrested after their son was left for hours in a hot SUV said Tuesday that she is devastated by the boy's death.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Once a niche, local foods becoming big business

 


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Once a niche business, locally grown foods aren't just for farmers markets anymore.

A growing network of companies and organizations is delivering food directly from local farms to major institutions like Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in downtown Philadelphia, eliminating scores of middlemen from farm to fork. Along the way, they're increasing profits and recognition for smaller farms and bringing consumers healthier, fresher foods.

Over the past five years, with more than $25 million in federal aid, these so-called food hubs have helped transform locally grown foods into a bigger business, supplying hospitals, schools, restaurant chains and grocery stores as consumer demand grows.

Major institutions like Jefferson have long relied on whatever giant food service companies provide, often processed foods that are delivered efficiently and are easy to heat and serve. But with a steady supply of locally grown food from the Common Market food hub, Jefferson now serves vegetables like bok choy and asparagus, creamy yogurts from Amish country and omelets with locally sourced cage-free eggs and spinach.

The model is simple: Common Market, a nonprofit, picks up food from 75 regional farmers and small food companies and quickly turns it around in its Philadelphia warehouse. The food — everything from vegetables to turkey to tofu — is then sent to 220 city customers along with detailed information about where it was grown or produced. There are about 300 other similar food hubs around the country.

Shelley Chamberlain of Jefferson's dining services says the hospital hopes to eventually source 10 percent of its food from Common Market. The items can be a bit more expensive and take more labor and training to cook, but Chamberlain says it's worth it to serve healthier foods.

"We can't go out to farms and say, 'I'd like to buy your cucumbers,' 'I'd like to buy your bok choy,' 'I'd like to buy your carrots,'" she says. "They provide an infrastructure for us to trust what is coming in the door."

Dawn Buzby of A.T. Buzby Farm in Woodstown, New Jersey, says it's a movement toward "farm to institution." Three times a week, Common Market picks up tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplant, cantaloupes and other produce from her farm and sells the food in Philadelphia, 35 miles away.

She says Common Market is helping her business get urban name recognition. And her farm sets the price of sales, something that isn't an option at the auction down the road.

"People are just becoming so interested in their food and where it comes from," Buzby says. "I only see it getting better."

It's a cultural transformation for the agriculture industry — and the Agriculture Department — which has long been focused on the biggest farms and staple crops like corn and soybeans. Most fruits and vegetables are shut out of major subsidy programs as billions of federal dollars flow to large growers.

USDA has upped its commitment to building small farms and locally grown food with a program started in 2009 called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food." Boosting food hubs like Common Market has been one of its priorities. There isn't good data yet on locally grown food sales, but USDA says it has touched almost 3,000 separate projects.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it's a part of a government effort to revitalize rural areas, which have been losing population — and important political clout.

"It's all designed to reconnect people with the food that they consume so that there is a better appreciation, a greater appreciation, for the amazing story of American agriculture regardless of what production system you favor, or what sized operation you have," he says.

Haile Johnston says he co-founded Common Market in 2008 after seeing how little farmers were making at wholesale and how much customers were paying for the same foods in the city.

"The two anchors of the chain, the producers and consumers, are really the most marginalized in this system," he said.

Johnston says hospitals like Jefferson, along with schools, were a part of their model from the start because they could be a steady source of business and serve a large number of low-income people who may not have much access to produce.

In 2008, Common Market generated $125,000 in sales. This year, the organization is set to surpass $2.5 million — all money reinvested into the nonprofit. Last year, Common Market received a $300,000 USDA grant designed to improve access to healthier foods in low-income communities.

New York City's Greenmarket Co. and Detroit's Eastern Market are running similar models, both with help from USDA. Like Common Market's, their customers are varied, from large institutions to grocery stores, restaurants and farmers markets in low-income areas.

USDA has helped these hubs and farmers that supply them with research dollars, technical support, microloans, infrastructure such as hoop houses for winter growth and help buying equipment. USDA also facilitates farm-to-school programs and has heavily invested in promoting farmers markets.

In Mississippi, Wal-Mart has started buying purple hull peas — similar to black-eyed peas — directly from farmers in the Mississippi Delta, a deal cemented with USDA help. One of the farmers, Charles Houston, says the checks from Wal-Mart have helped many of his area's small farms survive, paying for new irrigation and infrastructure.

Ron McCormick, Wal-Mart's senior director of sustainable agriculture, says many of the company's distributors are getting into the local game. The company, the nation's largest retailer, pledged to double its share of locally grown foods between 2009 and 2015.

Consumers are continuing to want more of it. Consumer and market research company Hartman Group found that nearly a third of consumers bought more local products than in the previous year.

Dan Carmody of Detroit's Eastern Market says he compares local foods to the craft brew industry — once on the sidelines, it's now making a dent in the country's beer sales.

"You see the same thing happening in food," he says. "It's really changing the narrative."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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Dems seek political edge in contraception ruling

 


WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats see a political winner in the stinging defeat they suffered when the Supreme Court ruled that businesses with religious objections may deny coverage for contraceptives under President Barack Obama's health care law.

A four-term senator — Washington state's Patty Murray — and a vulnerable freshman — Mark Udall of Colorado — have pushed legislation that would counter last month's court ruling and reinstate free contraception for women who are on health insurance plans of objecting companies.

The Senate was expected to vote Wednesday on moving ahead on the bill, which backers have dubbed the "Not My Boss' Business Act." Republicans who have endorsed the court's decision as upholding the constitutional right of religious freedom are expected to block the measure.

The GOP has dismissed the bill as an election-year political stunt, designed to boost struggling incumbents. The contraception bill, Republicans say, has no chance of becoming law.

That hasn't stopped Democrats from trying to use the issue to motivate female voters, crucial to the party's hopes of keeping its tenuous Senate majority, in typically low-turnout midterm elections in November.

"Women across the country are watching," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters on Tuesday, leaving no doubt that GOP opposition will be part of an upcoming campaign ad or news release.

Countering the Democrats was Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who stood with male GOP leaders and accused Democrats of peddling erroneous information about the impact of the court's decision.

Nothing in it "allows a company to stop a woman from getting or filling a prescription for contraception," Ayotte, one of four female GOP senators, told reporters.

On the Senate floor, female Democratic senators — and a few males — spoke out in support of the legislation as they warned of further discrimination against women and more changes in health coverage for millions. Democrats are counting on their argument resonating with female voters.

"Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions," Murray said.

National statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 99 percent of women ages 15 to 44 who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one form of contraception.

"I trust women to make their own health care decisions, and I don't believe their employers should have a say in them," said Udall, who faces a tough race against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in November.

In Colorado in 2008, female voters were critical to Udall's election to the Senate, favoring his candidacy 56 percent to 41 percent while men backed him 50 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and other news organizations.

In the 2012 presidential election, Democrats overall captured the female vote by double digit margins as did the party in House races — 55 percent to 44 percent — as Obama won re-election. Democrats enjoyed a slightly better edge in the 2008 elections as Obama captured the presidency and Democrats maintained their congressional majority.

It was far different in the 2010 midterm elections, some eight months after Obama signed the health care law and as the tea party energized the GOP. Female voters backed Republicans 49 percent to the Democrats' 48 percent, basically an even split, in a low-turnout election that enabled the GOP takeover of the House.

No wonder that on the other side of the Capitol on Tuesday, Democrats stood with various women's groups to speak out for the legislation. They cast the Supreme Court decision in the case of Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision, as five male justices on the court voting against the interests of women.

"I wish they could have had a conversation with their mothers, their wives, their daughters," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the court's decision has "awakened the pro-choice majority in this country."

In Kentucky, NARAL launched a 30-second, black-and-white ad criticizing Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for his opposition to the legislation with the tag line, "Mitch McConnell will never do the right thing for Kentucky women."

In one of the most closely watched races in the country, McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in his bid for a sixth term.

Answering critics of the GOP, McConnell has argued that the health care law has proven more harmful to women. He joined Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in backing a bill that reaffirms current law on access to contraception and calls for a Food and Drug Administration study on whether contraceptives could be sold over the counter with a prescription.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Democratic bill is "just political messaging, inartfully done." He said the Congress could be acting on plenty of legislation, but at the "end of the day, we're doing nothing."

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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New guidelines could help many pregnant workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — New federal guidelines on job discrimination against pregnant workers could have a big impact on the workplace and in the courtroom.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014

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