Friday, February 19, 2010

Death Spiral

The following is a quote from a New York Times op ed piece by Economist Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, where he demonstrates, using the current California insurance crisis, the reasons we are headed to hell if we don't pursue insurance reform.  Folks, I know I'm pretty much preaching to the choir here.  But find this article and email it to your Congressmen and Senators.  Maybe they won't listen to you or me, but perhaps they'll be afraid not to listen to a Nobel Prize winning economist.

"Here’s the story: About 800,000 people in California who buy insurance on the individual market — as opposed to getting it through their employers — are covered by Anthem Blue Cross, a WellPoint subsidiary. These are the people who were recently told to expect dramatic rate increases, in some cases as high as 39 percent.

Why the huge increase? It’s not profiteering, says WellPoint, which claims instead (without using the term) that it’s facing a classic insurance death spiral....

Now, what WellPoint claims is that it has been forced to raise premiums because of “challenging economic times”: cash-strapped Californians have been dropping their policies or shifting into less-comprehensive plans. Those retaining coverage tend to be people with high current medical expenses. And the result, says the company, is a drastically worsening risk pool: in effect, a death spiral....

But here’s the thing: suppose that we posit, provisionally, that the insurers aren’t the main villains in this story. Even so, California’s death spiral makes nonsense of all the main arguments against comprehensive health reform."

Read the rest here:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Global Weirding!

"The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever."

That quote is from Thomas Friedman, who, in a recent New York Times article, suggests ways to quiet the fears and untangle the confusion of the American people on global warming.  Friedman attributes the confusion to constant berating and belittlement of the concept by certain politicians ("Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tweeting that “it is going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’”)  and others (see what Donald Trump said below).  What's a person to believe?   Read the rest of the article here:

Friedman prefers the term "Global Weirding," and I think he may be onto something well beyond the weather.  Take the things coming out of Donald Trump's mouth, for example.  He is so worried that China will gain a competitive business edge if the U.S. enforces scrubbers while China dilly dallies about getting its green act together, he'll say any old thing to head policy-makers off at the pass.  Trump's statements that Washington, DC snow is proof against climate change, and cause for retracting Al Gore's Nobel Prize have been widely reported, but it's much more fun to check the actual transcript of the Neil Cavuto interview from which these tidbits were extracted:,2933,586403,00.html.

I wonder, Mr. Trump - if the earth shifts and the world as we know it turns topsy turvy because we all ignore global warming - what good will our competitive edge be to us?

My mother taught me to look inside a man - not to focus on the superficial.  But just this once, Mom, please let me rub that ugly comb-over in his  face.  The things that come out of Trump's mouth are just as unkempt as the hair on his head.  Global weirding, indeed!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yes There Are Two Paths You Can Go By...

And in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on....

It's been written that Led Zeppelin meant pretty much nothing by the mysterious lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven."   But after I saw this random video featuring Jack Nicholson demonstrating an hydrogen powered automobile, and a fairly extensive business plan to develop safe hydrogen power resources across America, suddenly it had some meaning for me.   How is it that this plan simply evaporated?  I hate to be paranoid, but I can imagine those little old oil companies might have had a hand in that.

Ooh, it makes me wonder....

I found this video on EcoTube,  Thousands of interesting videos there.  Check it out.  Maybe the next thing you'll know, you'll be hearing old music too.  Below:  lyrics and a great 1973 YouTube clip of Led Zeppelin doing their best thing the best way they know how.

"Stairway to Heaven"

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
and it makes me wonder
really makes me wonder

And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forest will echo with laughter

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May Queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, Ooh, it makes me wonder

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady, can't you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she's buying the stairway to heaven

It's a TRAP!

Had to share this John Stewart show highlighting President Obama's invitation to the Republicans to come together for a public, media-covered health care meeting.  Republicans, apparently, think transparency is a trap.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweet Deception for Valentine's Day?

FDA INTRIGUE:   Ajinomoto, the current manufacturer of Aspartame (aka Nutrasweet, Equal and Canderel), launches a product name change to AminoSweet to promote the fact that the product is derived from two naturally occuring amino acids.  Meanwhile, two recent studies strongly linking aspartame to cancer place aspartame within the provisions of the 1958 Delaney Law, which, according to Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, requires an automatic ban on carcinogenic food additives. 

Excerpts from an Huffington Post article by Dr. Epstein about the two studies:  "In 2006, based on highly sensitive and life long feeding tests in groups of about 200 rats and at doses less than usual human dietary levels, the prestigious Italian Ramazzini Foundation confirmed that aspartame is unequivocally carcinogenic. A high incidence of cancers was induced in multiple organs, including lymph glands, brain and kidney...

This evidence on the carcinogenicity of aspartame was strongly reinforced in a unique 2007 feeding test, based on maternal feeding of rats in early pregnancy, resulting in their lifelong exposure to aspartame, beginning in fetal life. This resulted in a still higher increase in the incidence of cancers at sites including those previously reported. In April 2007, the results of this study were presented by Ramazzini scientists at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York."
Expect this not to be an easy row to hoe for the new FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.  The first comment below Dr. Epstein's article, written by a commentor identifying herself as Bethh09, an employee of the Calorie Control Council, foreshadows the coming knock-down, drag-out: 

"As a dietitian working in the area of nutrition communications, I am disappointed by this article. In the essence of full disclosure, I work with the Calorie Control Council (an association representing the low-calorie and low-fat food and beverage industry). However, as a health professional and mother, I take nutrition seriously and believe sound science should always be the cornerstone of nutrition communications. Unfortunately, there is a lot of nutrition "misinformation" and this is one example. Aspartame's safety has been confirmed on many occasions by both democrat and republican administrations. One of the most recent studies evaluating aspartame was published in 2007 in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. The study authors, experts in the fields of toxicology, epidemiology, metabolism, pathology, biostatistics, etc., reviewed over 500 studies conducted on aspartame and found that aspartame is safe. In regards to the Ramazzini study, health and regulatory authorities worldwide disagree with their findings (and have criticized the methodology/protocol of the study) and continue to re-affirm aspartame's safety.

In a world with obesity and diabetes epidemics, let's not take away tools that can help people reduce calories and manage their weight and carbohydrate intake. Aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners can be tools in the fight against overweight and obesity. As with anything, there must be many tools in the toolbox -- such as portion control, increased fruits and vegetables, exercise, etc. If someone chooses to include aspartame as part of their toolbox, they can be confident in its safety."

The confidence-building research Bethh09 refers to has serious detractors.  The history of Aspartame's FDA approval is riddled with controversy.  The following is an excerpt from an article on Natural,

"Aspartame was an accidental discovery by James Schlatter, a chemist who had been trying to produce an anti-ulcer pharmaceutical drug for G.D. Searle & Company back in 1965. Upon mixing aspartic acid and phenylalanine, two naturally-occurring amino acids, he discovered that the new compound had a sweet taste. The company merely changed its FDA approval application from drug to food additive and, voila, aspartame was born.

G.D. Searle & Company first patented aspartame in 1970. An internal memo released in the same year urged company executives to work on getting the FDA into the "habit of saying yes" and of encouraging a "subconscious spirit of participation" in getting the chemical approved.

G.D. Searle & Company submitted its first petition to the FDA in 1973 and fought for years to gain FDA approval, submitting its own safety studies that many believed were inadequate and deceptive. Despite numerous objections, including one from its own scientists, the company was able to convince the FDA to approve aspartame for commercial use in a few products in 1974, igniting a blaze of controversy.

In 1976, then FDA Commissioner Alexander Schmidt wrote a letter to Sen. Ted Kennedy expressing concern over the "questionable integrity of the basic safety data submitted for aspartame safety". FDA Chief Counsel Richard Merrill believed that a grand jury should investigate G.D. Searle & Company for lying about the safety of aspartame in its reports and for concealing evidence proving the chemical is unsafe for consumption.

Despite the myriad of evidence gained over the years showing that aspartame is a dangerous toxin, it has remained on the global market with the exception of a few countries that have banned it. In fact, it continued to gain approval for use in new types of food despite evidence showing that it causes neurological brain damage, cancerous tumors, and endocrine disruption, among other things."

The AminoSweet people don't raise any of this,  Instead, they publicize a white paper put out by the dieticians' professional association, the American Dietetic Association, promoting the use of "non-nutritive sweetners" including aspartame as a way of getting people to eat a healther diet, based on the increased enjoyment and palatability of foods.  That, however, is a bit circular, since the ADA did not conduct independent safety research, but rather, relied upon the old FDA safety data - prior to the 2006 and 2007 studies.  You can see the ADA white paper here:

I've included a YouTube video with interviews of several medical researchers, including some former FDA scientists talking about aspartame and the effects of ingesting aspartame products.  Obviously, I am not a medical researcher, but these reports make me very nervous. I hope Dr. Hamburg will get to the bottom of this. 

In the meantime, consider doing what I did.  Choose to sweeten foods naturally, e.g. add pineapple, banana or raisins to foods to add sweetness.  And for those times you really need sweetner, consider the Stevia, a leafy plant from the aster family, originally found in brazil and considered to be many, many times sweeter than sugar.   Of course, nothing is perfectly safe.  Here's an article by Naomi Starkman on Stevia's own rocky road to FDA approval,, and another listing the few known side effects.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dump those Chemical Products for Good!

Seventh Generation has a particularly useful  blog this month.  Thought I'd share one excerpt and refer you to the remainder.  If you've ever wondered what to do with all those toxic cleaning products under your sink, here's the skinny, and a link to the hazardous waste drop off sites in your area.

"So you've watched Seventh Generation's new television commercial, and have decided to replace all the toxic chemical cleaning products under your sink with natural versions. Getting rid of the old stuff is pretty easy. All you need is a big box or bag and a means of transportation.

Collect any cleaner that doesn't disclose all its ingredients or has hazardous ingredients. Put the box inside your car or in a bicycle bag. Head to your nearest hazardous waste collection site and drop off your old cleaners. That's it in a nontoxic nutshell.

You can find your nearest hazardous waste site by entering your zip code at Earth911 or by typing your city, state, and the term "hazardous waste" into the search box of an internet browser.

Different cities will have different schedules. Here in Burlington, VT, we can go to a local depot four days a week. In Thousand Oaks, California, on the other hand, there's a monthly collection day you sign up for in advance. Whatever you do, just don't pour anything down the drain. The reasons you don't want toxins in your home are the same reasons you don't want them floating around in the environment!"

Here's more articles from the 7th Gen Blog:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Text 90999 Haiti to Help

Text 90999 with the word Haiti, to donate $10 through Red Cross. Shows up on your phone bill.  If you've wanted to do something, this is so easy!