Politics and health


British atomic weapon

UPDATE: The CDC announced Friday it was postponing the nuclear preparation workshop in order to hold a session on this year’s flu season. The agency said it would be rescheduled, but didn’t say when, according to The New York Times. It also did not address whether the publicity the January 16 workshop generated in the Times and other large media outlets “influenced its decision to switch topics … or whether its decision was discussed with anyone in the Trump administration,” the newspaper reported.

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You like to see federal and state officials stay on top of potential natural and health disasters with a little advance planning. But I doubt there was a big public sigh of relief after reports that the Centers for Disease Control was holding a workshop this month to discuss community health responses to a “nuclear detonation.”

I don’t think there was a lot of, Oh good, they got this. Now we can get back to Netflix.

The meeting, with four speakers covering topics like “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness,” and, “Public Health: Preparing for the Unthinkable,” is scheduled for January 16 in Atlanta, where the CDC is based.

By the way, this workshop was planned long before President Trump’s tweet on how his nuclear button was bigger than Kim Jong-un’s, The New York Times says. It’s been in the planning stages since April, a solid three months into the Trump Administration.

We haven’t heard all that much about a nuclear attack since the Cold War ended.

Over the past several decades, most people have concluded that nuclear war would be, not so much a game-changer but a game-ender. Sure, there might be a few survivors hanging out in the Everglades coughing up blood and roasting iguanas, but it wouldn’t be Western Society’s finest hour.

As Jimmy Buffett said about preparation for a nuclear attack: “Don’t be scared, do not cry/ just dive under your desk and kiss your ass goodbye.”

The CDC is a little more optimistic.

“Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness,” the agency’s news release says. “For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”

I went back and looked at some of the old civil defense films from the 1950s and early 1960s and — I guess not surprisingly — that was their approach as well. The general message was, lay low for a couple of weeks, and then it should be OK to head back to soccer practice.

In Duck and Cover (1951), Burt the Turtle shows everyone how it’s done when an atomic bomb flash occurs.

“It looks something like this,” the narrator says. “There’s a bright flash, brighter than the sun, brighter than anything you’ve ever seen. If you’re not ready and don’t know what to do, it could hurt you in different ways … but, if you duck and cover, like Burt, you’ll be much safer.”

Families know, he says, “that even a thin cloth can help protect them. Even a newspaper can save you from a bad burn.”

In Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter (1960), Walt gives you simple step-by-step instructions on how to make one out of concrete blocks in your basement.

“You know, this shelter is a real good idea,” Walt tells a couple who came downstairs to see it. “If we would ever have a nuclear war, we could get a heavy fallout even though we were nowhere near the target area. So, Ruth and I got to thinking about it, and figured we’d rather be prepared than sorry.

“Ruth and I can live in here quite comfortably for at least two weeks … and when the grandchildren come this would be a great place to put them.”

Walt ends the video with a bit of whimsy, saying, “now, you really don’t have to paint your walls but my wife thought it would be nice if I did, so I better get busy painting!”

In the drama, Atomic Attack – The Motorola Television Hour (1954), schoolgirl Barbara gets tested for radiation with a Geiger counter by Walter Matthau, who calms her down after he gets a reading by saying: “It’s hardly stirring at all. Just picking up a tiny bit a radioactivity you picked up going from the school into the bus and from the bus to here.”

Barbara notes with excitement that the amount of radiation was below anything that might cause a health problem for her. “Correct,” Matthau says. “I have the honor to report that you are a very well-informed, 100 percent red-blooded American girl!”

In the past, it seems the CDC has discussed apocalypse under a couple of different guises — including the 2011 tongue-in-cheek blog, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.

“So what do you need to do before zombies…or hurricanes or pandemics for example, actually happen? First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house. This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored).”

Other CDC web posts reaching out to the public have centered around weather events, like hurricanes and tornadoes.,

But I was unable to locate another CDC concern about “nuclear detonation.”

Do they know something we don’t? Hopefully not. Maybe it’s just like Walt said, “We’d rather be prepared than sorry.”

 

Photo:  Detonation of Britain’s first atomic weapon on October 3, 1952. Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

Post headline with apologies to Bob Dylan

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A young adult captures an image of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a September 2015 campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa. (Credit:  Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE: Almost 40 percent of Americans with student loans may default on them by 2023, a new study says. Default rates are much higher among those who have attended a for-profit college.

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We already have class warfare in the U.S. — do we really need generational warfare, too?

Millennials worry that their future is not bright, with continuing trends toward low-wage jobs, high health care costs, and a Social Security system that may not be there when they need it. The cost of going to college is astronomical, and working millennials are finding it difficult to buy a house.

Sometimes, because of student loan debt or just the kind of bad financial decisions that people across all age groups make, their credit scores are so low they can barely qualify to rent an apartment.

The statistics keep pouring in, and they don’t look good.

Writing for Huffington Post’s Highline magazine, Michael Hobbes, explained “Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.”

He says millennials have taken on 300 percent more debt than their parents, are half as likely as their parents were to own a home when they were their age, and are saddled with a stunning poverty rate of 20 percent. “Based on current trends,” he says, “many of us won’t be able to retire until we’re 75.”

It’s an impressive analysis, especially his conclusion that fundamental changes in the job market — that over the last 40 years, companies have shifted from long-term investment in employees and infrastructure to short-term profit-making and stock run-ups — have taken a heavy toll on millennials.

“The Olds” (the term younger folks use to describe older people who “don’t quite get it,” the Washington Post explains) believe that the millennials’ problems “are all our fault,” he says.

“We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need … We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention ‘millennial’ to anyone over 40 and the word ‘entitlement’ will come back at you within seconds, our own intergenerational game of Marco Polo.”

A Q&A on Vox was more bitter, running under the headline: “How the baby boomers — not millennials — screwed America.”

It’s an interview with Bruce Gibney, author of “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.”

“The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it,” Gibney said. “They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.”

On his show, Morning Joe,  host Joe Scarborough basically echoed the sentiment in a whack at the recently passed tax cut.

“Millennials, you just had $1.5 trillion stolen from you,” he said. “Past Congresses have stolen $20 trillion from you, and over the next ten years, they’re going to steal another $10 trillion from you. And they’re going to die, and then you’re going to be left holding the bill.”

Gibney blames boomers for electing officials responsible for the tax cut — and the “fantasy about trickle-down economics” used to promote the tax package. “They’re still clinging to this dogma, and indeed the latest tax bill is the latest example of that,” he said.

It should be noted, though, that the Pew Research Center reported in summer that millennials and generation Xers — people age 36 to 51 — represented the majority of voters for the first time in 2016.

According to NPR, 69.6 million millennials and gen Xers cast votes in 2016, compared with 67.9 million baby boomers and older generations. And so apparently enough of the younger folks agreed that trickle-down economics deserved another shot, even after the historic flop of the Bush tax cut a decade-and-a-half ago.

Most people think millennials trend Democrat. But NPR says another 2016 study found that young people born between 1980 and 1994 were more likely to identify with conservatives than boomers and Xers at the same age.

The millennials — and to perhaps to a lesser extent the Xers — have legitimate beefs. The cost of college is a national disgrace, and loading college graduates down with crushing debt as they start their careers is a terrible injustice.

Politicians, and a lot of “The Olds” too, will tell you that young people waste their time with unusable degrees. But that’s not true. We don’t need the university system to churn out an endless stream of graduates with degrees in business, management and marketing.

In a society that desperately lacks perspective, the world needs art history majors more than ever.

But the costs of getting that perspective have reached new levels of absurdity. Forbes calls student loan debt “a $1.3 trillion crisis” and notes that total student debt is now higher than credit card debt and car loans. It’s second only to mortgages.

The magazine says 44.2 million U.S. borrowers are dealing with student loan debt. Everyone’s heard anecdotal accounts of people finishing a bachelor’s degree more than $50,000 in debt, or a law or medical degree with $250,000 worth of debt.

Helping people get this under control should be one of the top five issues in national campaigns. Democrats did bring it up in 2016, but it never gained much traction.

On the other hand, as a boomer myself, it won’t surprise anyone that I think Social Security and Medicare should be saved. And not just for The Olds, but for the younger people coming up the line who have already figured out that defined benefit pension plans won’t be around to see them through their senior years. Ditto for retirement health care programs; hence the argument for Medicare.

These programs — which workers pay into — should be around for everybody, not just the silent generation and the boomers.

So I would propose that like-minded boomers join forces with Xers and millennials to address a whole range of social issues, not just those peculiar to one age group.

Class warfare is dog-bites-man. It’s something that has roiled societies, and governments, since the first civilizations were created 5,000 years ago. It waxes and wanes. It certainly seems to be on the increase these days.

But really — is there any reason why a more just society shouldn’t be a cross-generational effort?

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Higher premiums for younger, healthier people helped fuel opposition to the Affordable Care Act early on. (Credit: Repeal ObamaCare/ Wikimedia Commons)

Democrats are howling about the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, but it’s likely to resonate with the GOP’s core supporters.

The Affordable Care Act changed the structure of health insurance, mandating that insurers couldn’t charge more for pre-existing conditions, and only three times more for older patients compared to younger ones. That artificially increased premiums for young, healthy people, including those who supported Donald Trump’s candidacy.

You might think, in order to create a better society, that people would be willing to pay for services even though they themselves don’t use them. Childless couples, for example, pay for public education. But somehow, the discussion on health care has become ask not what you can do for your country but ask what you can for me.

Men are complaining about having to purchase policies that include maternity care.

In December, the Kaiser Foundation conducted focus groups among Trump voters to find out what kind of health care plan they wanted. Members of the groups were “unmoved by the principle of risk sharing,” the New York Times reported on Jan. 5.

Although support for the ACA has edged up since the election, a sizeable minority continues to oppose it — a Real Clear Politics polling average puts opposition to the ACA at more than 42 percent, about the same level as President Trump’s approval ratings.

If the new American Health Care Act brings down premiums for younger and healthier Americans, don’t expect a great rush to oust Republicans who voted for it in 2018. They’re just giving their constituents what they want.

In the Kaiser focus groups, participants said they liked the pre-ACA days because they could purchase low-cost plans, “even if it meant that less healthy people had to pay more.”

This is exactly what the new Republican health care system may be about to deliver.

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TRUTH ABOUT DEDUCTIBLES: We keep hearing about how, with deductibles over $5,000 per person under the ACA, the health care plans are expensive and virtually useless. It’s seldom if ever mentioned that benefits kick in well before deductibles are met.

For one thing, plans include a wellness visit, so at least you can get a checkup to find out where you stand.

But let’s say your doctor decides that something needs to be checked out further, and orders an MRI. If you are uninsured, you will pay the full cash rate for that service — which could be up to $3,000. But if you are covered under a policy, even though you are paying for the procedure out-of-pocket, you’re paying much-reduced network negotiated rate.

Instead of the $3,000, you might owe $800. True, you haven’t satisfied your deductible, but you’ve saved $2,200.

The idea that a family of three has to pay a hefty premium of $1,000 a month — and gets no benefit until they fork out $15,000 out-of-pocket — is just dead-wrong.

But hey, if it fits into the anti-ACA argument, let’s keep using it!

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WATER WOES: There’s a lot of talk about how “poor lifestyle choices” contribute to chronic disease.

But there are many environmental risk factors that are clearly beyond our control.

A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said contamination of community drinking water is widespread, and provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 have not been adequately enforced by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our research shows that in 2015 alone, nearly 77 million people were served by more than 18,000 community water systems that violated at least one SDWA rule, and there were more than 80,000 violations of SDWA rules that year,” the NRDC said in its May 2 report, Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections.

“These violations included exceeding health-based standards, failing to properly test water for contaminants, and failing to report contamination to state authorities or the public.”

Here’s yet another example of the law of unintended consequences — one that could have a harmful impact on the already-struggling U.S. health care system.

About 260 foreign medical students could lose their medical residency assignments as a result of the Trump Administration’s order banning travel to the U.S. from seven countries.

The Association of American Medical Colleges says the order could have a far-reaching effect on medical research and may also ultimately cause problems for patients in the U.S.

The organization released a statement saying that it’s “deeply concerned” about the order, which has been challenged in the U.S. courts and has been suspended — for now.

“International graduates play an important role in U.S. health care, representing roughly 25 percent of the workforce,” the statement said. “Current immigration pathways —including student, exchange-visitor, and employment visas — provide a balanced solution that improves health care access across the country ….”
Atul Grover, executive vice president at the AAMC, told Kaiser Health News: “These are doctors. They could be exceptional practitioners and I don’t know if you want to stop them from coming here and serving their patients.”

The countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

One medical student from Sudan described the turn of events as “very devastating. Because you are born in an unfortunate situation, you have to pay the price for that.”

In addition to the 260 applicants for a residency slot — the positions were set to be announced March 17 — others who are already involved in a residency program fear that they won’t be able to complete it.

About a quarter of doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to KHN. AAMC projects that there will be a shortage of 94,700 physicians in the U.S. by 2025.

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CRACKING THE CANCER CODE: Certain kinds of hard-shelled nuts can help fight cancer, new research shows.

Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios help initiate “programmed cell death” in cancer cells, researchers found, although it’s unclear whether their anti-cancer power is reduced by roasting.

That will require further study, they said.

The studies were conducted by Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany.

Image: pistachios could help in the fight against colon cancer and other types of the disease. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

Just two weeks from inauguration day, the debate over the Affordable Care Act remains chaotic, with no clear consensus emerging.

Although Republicans seemed in December to be coalescing around a plan to immediately repeal the law — and then delay its implementation for a year or more — some party higher-ups have been contradicting that, insisting that a replacement law accompany the repeal.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has said a replacement law could be passed this year. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says it will take “several years” and a consensus with Democrats to come up with a workable alternative.

And now evidence is emerging that Americans don’t want outright repeal of the law. A Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll released Friday revealed that 75 percent of the public does not want to see repeal and delay, the option most often discussed by incoming officials.

Forty-seven percent don’t want repeal at all, and another 28 percent say the ACA shouldn’t be repealed until details of the replacement plan are announced.

“Views split not only on partisan lines but also within the Republican Party, where nearly four in 10 think that the government should guarantee health care is available to the elderly and to low-income people, even if it means more federal involvement,” reported Kaiser Health News.

On Thursday, Tennessee Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn asked in a poll on Twitter: “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare?” Eighty-four percent said no and only 16 percent said yes. (As any attorney will tell you, never ask a question you don’ t know the answer to.)

A focus group comprised of Trump voters expressed concern that a gap between repeal of the ACA and a replacement would lead to health care chaos. But one member of the group said she didn’t think “a smart businessman like Trump would let that happen.”

Interestingly, The New York Times said members of the group were “unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing,” a cornerstone of the ACA and in fact the insurance business in general. The insurance industry is built around the idea of combining low-risk customers with high-risk customers to create a profitable pool that can bail people out if a problem occurs.

But members of the focus group didn’t like the ACA’s insurance mandate, even though they want coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Overall, members of the focus group want health care to be affordable and understandable with adequate access to networks of care providers.

So what would the GOP alternative look like? The bill passed by Congress in 2015 — which was vetoed by President Obama — would remove the mandate, eliminate premium subsidies for low and middle-income Americans, and drop taxes on high income households.

The problem is if you remove the mandate but still require insurers to cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, those people would likely face sky-high premiums.

The two sides in this debate — the public’s demand for affordable premiums and simplified access to health care providers, and Republicans’ preference for market-based solutions — appear to be on a collision course.

An uneasy public can only sit back and wait to see what happens next.

There are media rumblings, in the aftermath of the election, that the Affordable Care Act might remain largely intact, or at least partially intact.

Don’t bet on it.

One popular provision of the ACA, which keeps adult children on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26, doesn’t cost that much and it’s entirely plausible that this could survive.

But there are other reports that President-Elect Donald Trump may be interested in keeping the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions, and this is where things get sticky.

The idea behind mandatory insurance coverage in the ACA was that risk would be spread out by getting healthy younger people to purchase a plan. If health insurance isn’t mandatory, and insurers can’t turn anyone down, people may not buy insurance until they get sick.

Of course, insurers could offer coverage for those with pre-existing conditions as long as they can charge whatever they feel is necessary to maintain profit margins. Under the ACA, an insurer can only charge based on age on and whether or not an individual is a smoker or non-smoker.

Let’s say the ACA was scrapped, but insurers were required to issue policies regardless of pre-existing conditions. Someone with breast cancer, for example, could be offered coverage at — just to throw out a figure — $5,000 a month.

Effectively, that would put policies out of reach for most people.

So trying to dismantle the ACA piecemeal doesn’t make much sense.

One alternative under consideration would allow consumers to buy policies across state lines. The question is, what does your local provider network look like? Having coverage on paper is pretty useless if you have to travel 100 miles to see a specialist.

At this point, there’s no reason to believe that the Republican health care agenda, which includes repeal of the ACA, won’t be vigorously pursued starting in January. Look for a switch to Medicaid block grants to states so they can run programs as they see fit, with limited federal control.

It’s also quite possible that Medicare could become a voucher program since that has been a goal of House Speaker Paul Ryan, although he prefers to call it “premium support.” Ryan has proposed gradually raising the Medicare age to 67 starting in 2020 and offering seniors tax credits to subsidize the premiums.

If you’re 66 and battling prostate cancer, and are faced with buying a health insurance policy on the open market, good luck.

Of course all of these proposals would face opposition, particularly from Senate Democrats who hold 48 seats. So getting legislation to the White House could take some time.

But not too much time.

As the Democrats learned in 2008, parties that control both Congress and the White House often have just two years to enact their big-ticket items. Beyond that, they risk the wrath of voters in the next congressional election.

The 2018 campaign isn’t that far away, and it may begin sooner than you think.

The answer to who will win the Nov. 8 election may be buried under the avalanche of tweets supporting each candidate, a new paper by the City College of New York contends.

Researchers analyzed 73 million tweets from June 1 to Sept. 1 and concluded that trends match the New York Times polling averages “with remarkable accuracy.”

“More importantly, for the CCNY team, the Twitter opinion trend forecasts the aggregated Times polls by 6 to 15 days, showing that Twitter can be an early warning signal of global opinion trends at the national level,” the college says in an announcement of the research.

clinton_and_trump_cartoon_illustrationHernan Makse, a physics professor at the school, said: “Our analytics, which are available at kcorelab.com, unleash the power of Twitter to predict social opinion trends from elections, brands to political movements. Our results suggest that the multi-billion public opinion polling industry could be replaced by Twitter analytics performed practically for free.”

While Donald Trump supporters are more active overall on a daily basis, Hillary Clinton supporters dominate during major events, such as the conventions, the researchers said.

According to the paper: “While Trump supporters might be gaining the race inside the strongly connected giant component, thus forming a very cohesive group with large influence at the core of the network, Clinton still wins the popular vote when we consider all the Twitter supporters, and not only those in the SCGC.

“Thus, while the Twitter campaign of Clinton seems to be less enthusiastic and dormant compared to the Twitter Trump machinery, candidate Clinton still wins the popular vote in the whole network.”

However, they said, “it remains a question” whether Clinton’s overall support — apparently much less fervent than Trump’s — translates into actual votes on Election Day. But analyses of services like Twitter could eventually replace costlier and more time-consuming polling efforts, the college says.

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OMG. People who lurk on Facebook without posting and get bombarded by friends posting selfies are probably going to end up feeling down in the dumps.

They’re more likely to suffer a drop in self-esteem and life satisfaction, a new study by Penn State University finds.

The people who post the selfies, on the other hand, enjoyed increased self-esteem.

“People usually post selfies when they’re happy or having fun,” said Ruoxu Wang, a Penn State graduate student in mass communications. “This makes it easy for someone else to look at these pictures and think his or her life is not as great as theirs.”

In other words, 21st century life is a cabaret — as long as you have a smartphone with a selfie stick and Internet access.

Image credit: VectorOpenStock via Wikimedia Commons

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