Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shocking True Tales of Health Care in America


Our foreign rivals don't face these health care costs

You've heard the naysayers complaining that President Barack Obama's $634 billion down payment on health care reform costs too much. We're in a global economic crisis, they say. How can we afford it?

But, having opposed reform for years, in good times and bad, their argument for leaving our health care system broken doesn't compute. By looking at costs but not benefits, they pretend not to know what the advantage of health care reform really is -- and why it's a major benefit to us all.

Think of it this way. You wouldn't balance your checkbook by counting the checks you've written, then ignoring the deposits you've made. That's exactly what many opponents of the Obama plan do, even though they know good health care is intrinsically linked to the health of our economy. 

Take housing. Recent surveys of homeowners in foreclosure showed that 25 percent to 50 percent fell behind on their payments because of a medical crisis. That means at least 1.5 million households are at risk of losing their homes each year to the high costs of medical care.

What's astonishing is that most of the people who fell behind had insurance, but not enough to cover the full costs of their medical treatment. A medical crisis isn't something one can put off. If you or a loved one breaks a leg, you go to the hospital.

Health care also affects wages. Take-home pay for most Americans hasn't risen for nearly a decade. Even if you were lucky enough to get a raise, the rising cost of insurance premiums almost always outpaced the additional income.

Health care costs have been rising 6 percent each year. Families now spend on average nearly $13,000 per year for their insurance. As reported in Americans for Democratic Action's "Unhealthy Handouts for Health Care," this staggering increase in cost hurts businesses as well as families.

The majority of Americans get insurance through their job. But now, fewer businesses can afford the benefit, so they're canceling it or passing the cost on to their employees. We can't compete internationally with other businesses when their governments offer publicly funded health care, which only the United States, among the world's industrialized nations, doesn't have.

Put that one simple fact in the context of today's news: The Big Three automakers could save $1,000 or more in overhead costs on every car they build just by moving their plants across the border from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, because the Canadian government has a national health service that covers every citizen. We need to level the playing field now or face further job losses as businesses outsource in order to survive.


It is feared bird flu could become more frightening


by M. Azis Tunny

There is a need to raise awareness of bird flu because of a real threat: It could turn into something much more frightening than the H5N1 virus.

The frightening thing would be if the virus caused a pandemic if  and when it became able to spread among humans, Coordinator of Surveillance and Monitoring at the National Commission on Bird Flu Control and Awareness on Influenza Pandemic (Komnas FBPI) Heru Setijanto said Friday.

Setijanto said Indonesia was currently ranked highest in the world in the number of deaths from bird flu, and was unprepared as to how to deal with a pandemic.  

"The incubation period of the virus is very fast and deadly when contracted by humans. We are
not ready to face a pandemic if the situation arises," Setijanto told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a national seminar on a Bird Flu Pandemic Response Simulation in Toraja, South Sulawesi.  

He said Indonesia was ill-equipped to face the bird flu pandemic because training was only provided so far to personnel at government ministries and agencies.

"When it turns into a pandemic, it becomes a multi-sector problem and would involve every sector. We are unprepared as of now, especially for other sectors to [cope with] the epidemic," he said.

According to Setijanto, the bird flu virus will always mutate and this is a cause for grave concern.
When contracted by humans, the incubation period of the H5N1 virus could cause death rapidly, in as little as  five days.

Indonesia so far remains on top of the world chart with the highest number of deaths from H5N1.

Data at the Health Ministry showed 121 of the 145 patients diagnosed as infected with the virus had died, a very high fatality rate.

He added a bird flu pandemic could claim many lives and that 30 percent of the world's population could be at risk.


Nathan Wolfe, "Hunting for the Next Killer Virus"

Illinois doctor offers free treatment in recession

One west-central Illinois doctor says he has no intention of cutting off care to his patients, even if economic woes mean they have to stop paying him.

In a small ad posted in the Greene County Shopper in March 2009, Dr. Gary L. Turpin offered this notice:

"For the duration of this calendar year, I will treat, free of charge, my regular patients who have lost their jobs or health insurance due to the current recession."

Turpin, 71, said he considered the ad the best way to get the word to every patient.

"I didn't see it as selfless, but just my way to do my part during this economic crisis," Turpin said. "My patients have been very good to me, and I wanted a way to be good to them. It's nothing new to me to take care of my patients."

Turpin said he treats between 30 and 60 patients a day at his practice, which includes one nurse and three secretaries. He said he decided to make offer free care after watching President Barack Obama give a speech asking Americans to do what they could to help each other during the recession.

The doctor doesn't want patients to skipping out on treatment over concerns about mounting medical bills.

"So, my sincere hope is that none of my patients will need to take advantage of my offer," Turpin said. "But I am here if they do."


Bring back banking regulations!

New Exoskeleton Gives Soldiers Super Strength

Illustration of HULC
The Incredible HULC
This illustration shows the Lockheed Martin-developed HULC exoskeleton, which could supplement human strength enough to let a soldier carry a 200-pound load while running at 10 mph.

by Eric Bland

April 6, 2009 -- Stronger, faster and harder is the promise of a new exoskeleton developed by Lockheed Martin for U.S. soldiers. Dubbed the Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC, the device helps a soldier carry up to 200 pounds at a top speed of 10 mph.

"The soldier has the feeling of maybe an extra five to 10 pounds," said Doug Medcalf, Business Development Manager at Lockheed Martin. Today some soldiers are carrying loads of up to 130 pounds into combat.

Unlike most exoskeletons built to boost human ability, the HULC, which Medcalf says does not owe its name to the popular green comic book character, isn't limited to the length of its power cable.

The titanium HULC instead runs on a four lithium ion batteries nestled into the small of a soldier's back. Eight batteries can power the HULC on missions up to 96 hours.


Study: 'highly engineered explosive' found in WTC rubble

by Stephen C. Webster

A team of scientists claim to have unearthed startling data from dust and debris gathered in the days and weeks after the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

In a study published by the Open Chemical Physics Journal -- a peer-reviewed, scientific publication -- Steven E. Jones and Niels Harrit level a stark allegation: that within the dust and rubble of the World Trade Center towers lays evidence of "a highly engineered explosive," contrary to all federal studies of the collapses.

"We have discovered distinctive red/gray chips in all the samples we have studied of the dust produced by the destruction of the World Trade Center," reads the paper's abstract. "One sample was collected by a Manhattan resident about ten minutes after the collapse of the second WTC Tower, two the next day, and a fourth about a week later. The properties of these chips were analyzed using optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray energy dispersive spectroscopy (XEDS), and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC)."

They claim their analysis has uncovered "active thermitic material": a combination of elemental aluminum and iron oxide in a form of thermite known as "nanostructured super-thermite."

Thermite, used in steel welding, fireworks shows, hand grenades and demolition, can produce a chemical reaction known for extremely high temperatures focused in a very small area for a short period of time.

According to the Navy's Small Business Innovation Research, super-thermite "is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services."

"This finding really goes beyond anything that has previously been shown," said Jones in a media advisory. "We had to use sophisticated tools to analyze the dust because this isn't just a typical explosive, RDX or CD4 or something -- this is a highly engineered material not readily available to just anyone."


Congo: Condition Critical

Second alliance of civilizations forum begins in Istanbul


The Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations began in Istanbul's Ciragan Palace yesterday with the attendance of heads of state and government and other top officials from 81 countries, high-level representatives of international organizations, religious leaders, scholars and many guests. Speaking at the opening of the forum, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who shares the alliance's co-chairmanship with his Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said the initiative is a rejoinder to those who argue a clash of civilizations is inevitable. Stating that Turkey and Spain began the initiative in the belief that dialogue is possible, Erdogan said, "We sincerely believe that the Christian, Muslim and Jewish peoples, and the East and the West, can understand and tolerate each other. Prejudices in a globalizing world can only be dangerous." Erdogan said that intolerance causes conflicts and separation, adding that it is necessary to enhance tolerance and strengthen dialogue, understanding and solidarity. Stressing that terrorism is an international problem, Erdogan said, "Those who see terror as other nations' problem may suffer from terror themselves. Thus, starting today, it is necessary to build a strong culture of solidarity." He said the Alliance of Civilizations, which became a UN initiative in 2005, is now creating concrete solutions and projects to improve dialogue and cooperation among different civilizations from all over the world. Erdogan concluded his speech by quoting famous Turkish mystic poet Mevlana Rumi: "Come, come whatever you are, it doesn't matter. Come, our convent is not a place of despair. Come, even if you violated your oath a hundred times, come again."


Peshawar's black market for stolen military goods

Vulnerable supply lines put US mission at risk

Six weeks after GlobalPost broke the story of stolen US military computers and hardware, the black market still thrives.


ISLAMABAD — As President Obama sets in motion a new strategic initiative in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  supply lines remain vulnerable to attack and a black market is still thriving in stolen military hardware and computers.

As the U.S. begins a surge of 21,000 troops and military advisers in Afghanistan over the summer, the threat to supply lines and the stolen equipment could compromise the mission, military analysts say.

More than six weeks after GlobalPost broke the news of American military hardware and software being sold openly in markets in Pakistan's northwest, the trade of American goods robbed from supply trucks and smuggled in from Afghanistan is still going on.

U.S. military officials in Pakistan would not comment on GlobalPost's special report titled "In The Wrong Hands," even as attacks on convoys are on the rise. 

The problem the U.S. confronts in keeping supply lines open is critical as the U.S. steps up its mission. More troops will need more uniforms, Kevlar vests, boots, canned food, sleeping bags, night vision equipment, and computers — a melange of supplies that enables the military to wage war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the hostile "Af-Pak" terrain.

But just as the demand for war materials is set to surge, the supply of vital equipment to American soldiers remains imperiled in its route through Pakistan and there are few signs of improvement.

Earlier in March another eight trucks laden with NATO supplies were torched outside Peshawar, the largest city in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Another dozen were damaged when militants armed with automatic weapons and grenades attacked a truck terminal.

Since 2007, several hundred NATO supply trucks have been torched and looted in similar attacks.

Noor Muhammad a trader in Sitara Market, a hub for stolen American military equipment where GlobalPost purchased a U.S. military issue laptop for $650 last month, says business is still good.

"We feel no threat from law enforcement," he says. "These are smuggled goods, but
we are just meeting people's demands."

The day after GlobalPost's story last month the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report that revealed that American forces had lost track of more than 87,000 weapons supplied to Afghan security forces between 2004 and 2008.



Nadir Gullu shows off his Obama portrait made of baklava
Nadir Gullu, chef and baklava master of Karakoy Gulluoglu, shows off his portrait of President Obama made of baklava, also known as the Baracklava.

Save the planet: Get rid of your cat

Evidence is mounting that having a cat isn't very green: Along with humans, they are having a devastating impact on birds and marine life.

We're willing to tax plastic bags to save the planet, but are we willing to give up our pets? There's increasing evidence that our love of cats and dogs is having an adverse impact on the earth. Sure, pet owners experience joy and even the release of endorphins when they cuddle with Fluffy, but benign Fluffy is not.

A new report on the state of bird populations in the United States paints a grim picturefor the future diversity of bird species. The State of Birds survey indicates that fully one third of U.S. species are in decline. There are many pressures, most of them human, including habitat destruction. But the second biggest reason for the decline of birds: non-native species predation, which includes invasive critters, domestic animals, and house pets. Among pets, cats are the major threat. There are an estimated 77 million pet cats (pdf) in the U.S. (that doesn't count feral or stray populations which could more than double that number). Numbers vary but experts believe pet cats kill millions of birds in this country each year.

Urban cats are part of the problem in part because habitat fragmentation turns your yard from part of the larger wild system into an ecological island. Visiting birds are more isolated and vulnerable and can be more easily picked off by hunting cats who have the place staked out. Islands are particularly rough on stressed species: The place native birds are doing the worst is Hawaii. Another problem: despite best intentions, keeping cats indoors is problematic. since only about a third (35%) of pet cats are kept exclusively indoors, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Well-fed cats hunt. Cats with bells on their necks are successful predators too.

Then there's the problem of cat food. The New York had a recent column on the earth-devastating, or more accurately, sea-devastating, impact of cat food. In an op/ed, author Paul Greenberg, writes about the problem with his cat:

Coco, like most American cats, ate fish. And a great deal of them — more in a year than the average African human, according to Jason Clay at the World Wildlife Fund. And unlike the chicken or beef Coco also gobbled up, all those fish were wild animals, scooped out of the sea and flown thousands of carbon-belching miles to reach his little blue bowl....

The pet food industry now uses about 10 percent of the global supply of forage fish. The swine industry consumes 24 percent of fish meal and oil — fish oil being considered the best way to wean piglets. Poultry meanwhile takes as much as 22 percent, which means that even when Coco ate chicken, indirectly he was still eating fish.

The bottom line is that wild fish runs, on which whales, seals, orcas and other species depend, is being radically depleted worldwide, and much of the catch winds up in your cat's bowl.


Afghan Women to Obama: We Must Be at the Table!

by Patricia DeGennaro

The author, a global affairs professor who has worked extensively in Afghanistan, talks to Dr. Masooda Jalal, a political leader and the subject of a new documentary. Her message: women must be involved in peace making; the Taliban and warlords are "only powerful because we allow them to be." 

United States President Barak Obama unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan last week.  In it he pledged both military and civil support to Afghanistan.  "And," he went out of his way to say, "we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans—including women and girls."  Despite this, Afghan women continue to be absent from the discussion when it comes to their futures and the future of Afghanistan.

As I write this, Brussels is hosting the largest international conference to date on Afghanistan and Afghan women are conspicuously missing.  It seems that international rhetoric for women does not translate into any vigorous action.

Ironically, while leaders sit and plan her future, Dr. Masooda Jalal, the only woman who ran for the Afghan presidency, tours the United States discussing a new documentary, FRONTRUNNER, a film that brilliantly illustrates the challenges she faced running for top office.

I was privileged to sit down with Dr. Jalal earlier this week.  Like many Afghan women, Jalal is a warm, serious individual.  She, however, has an intensity about her that brought her within steps of the Presidential Palace. 

Although she did not become the nation's leader, Jalal continues to work tireless to, in her words, "end racial, ethnic, gender and religious discrimination in Afghanistan." No easy feat for anyone in the world let alone a woman in Kabul, although Jalal seems to conquer endless and insurmountable obstacles with ease. 

She is a symbol of how the world does not put its money where its mouth is.  Although a formidable candidate, the world chose to put all its muscle behind a man instead—thinking, as former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad states, "Afghanistan is just not ready for a women president."  Well, I would bet if the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not get all that international attention and money, she would have definitely proven him wrong.

Jalal comes from an extremely supportive family.  One that encouraged her education and, later, her political campaign. After completing medical school, along with her practice, she became a medical professor at Kabul University.  She has spent her life taking care of the people.  "We are all human," says Jalal, "and as a doctor I know it is important to take care of everyone [the same way]." 

During Taliban rule women were prohibited from working.  Jalal continued her medical practice anyway using her home to treat women, children, and "even men," she says.  She worked for the United Nations as well.  When the Taliban found out about her activities she ended up in jail.  Fortunately, due to UN pressure, Jalal was released after only two days of incarceration.  She was lucky: many women jailed by the Taliban never made it out.


Snitch: the Magazine for Prisoners