The Hightower Report

By 'Charity,' Do You Mean Charity?

As Lily Tomlin says, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

The truth of Tomlin's observation struck me when I read that lobbyists for America's charity hospitals are campaigning to kill reform legislation that would require charity-care hospitals to provide – get this – charity care. I sat there blinking for a while, thinking: "You mean they don't?"

As it turns out, no. Although they're called "charity hospitals," and although they are tax-exempt, and they get some $6 billion a year worth of special tax breaks on the grounds that they provide free health care for low-income folks, they either don't or provide very little. In fact, it's hard today to tell the difference between these nonprofit entities and your run-of-the-mill for-profit hospital chains. The charitable outfits often turn away the poor from the hospital doors, and when they do provide treatment, they're likely to use nasty, bullying tactics to try to collect money from the poor.

They've gotten away with this by claiming that they meet the charitable standard by holding some health fairs, offering occasional screening days for cholesterol, and doing medical research. A bipartisan proposal in Congress, however, says that tax-exempt hospitals could no longer refuse service to charity cases, and the bill also would rein in the hospital roughhouse bill collectors. In other words, this reform provision would require the nonprofits to put the charity back in charity care – or lose their tax exemption.

Hospital lobbyists are squealing like stuck pigs. They recently sent out an astonishingly cynical call for charity hospital executives to "oppose charity care." To help battle this greed, join the e-mail campaign by Community Catalyst. Contact the organization by e-mail at, or call 617/275-2896.

Burping Bovines

Here's something you might not have known: Cows belch. A lot. Great big buuuuuuurps.

Why should we care? Because these cow belches are a threat to the planet. Emanating from deep within one or more of the four tummies that cows have, the belches are essentially little explosions of methane – the potent, greenhouse gas that's contributing to climate change. Oh, come on, you might think, those docile, sweet-faced, cud-chewers can't really pose a serious problem ... can they? Yes, and the danger has been documented. By putting cows in airtight tents and using some sort of device we probably don't want to know about, ag researchers have found that your average burping bovine expels up to 400 pounds of methane a year. There are 400 million cows in the U.S. alone, so those "eruptions" add up.

This gaseous reality has prompted the good folks at Stonyfield Farm, the organic yogurt company, to launch a methane-reduction program for cows on 15 farms in Vermont. The most promising method turns out to be something simple: diet.

Over the eons, cows evolved to thrive on grasses that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote less burpy digestion. As today's industrial agribusiness developed, however, cows were taken off their natural diet and put on feed mixes of corn and soy, which lead to acid reflux and cow tummy aches.

By switching the diet to include such plants as flaxseed and alfalfa that have high omega-3 content, methane eruptions are down 18%. Moreover, the health of the cows improves, their breath is sweet, their coats are shinier, and they're able to live longer and produce milk for more years. As one of the farmers says of his cows, "They are healthier and happier, and that's what I really care about."

Maybe there's a lesson in this about our own diets.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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