What you Need To Know

Opinions expressed in my articles are my own, and opinions in the articles and comments section written by others are strictly those of the author or commenter and not me.

Please be civil, it adds nothing to the conversation to engage in name-calling.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why All the Criticism of The White House Garden?

Michelle Obama and a group of school children broke ground on the new White House vegetable garden yesterday. And the fun begins.

It's just a token, the White House Staff will wind up taking care of it. Okay - so what? It's not like the people who live in the White House have nothing better to do. The fact that even if this were true, the people who live in the White House and their guests will be EATING THIS FOOD is more to the point. Also, that you can have a garden anywhere, in your front lawn if you have one.

Why isn't Michelle Obama talking about sustainability, etc etc etc? One of the things you learn early on if you are dealing with the public is you have to relate to them where they are. People who live in inner cities and poor rural communities already think 'organic' is elitist. By its very nature, an organic garden IS sustainable. Michelle Obama is appealing to the mothers and fathers out there who want their kids to be healthy. That's why she talks about fresh and healthy. And if you can find it and afford it - organic. People in this country need to be engaged in a dialogue about our food, and Michelle Obama is off to a great start.

Oh, the lawns there are all full of pesticides and herbicides so this whole exercise is useless. Well maybe they were. The fact that Michelle Obama has declared that this will be an organic garden means that the groundskeepers have undoubtedly been instructed not to continue to spray toxic chemicals on the lawns. I would think this has been in place since the swingset was installed - after all, who wants their kids playing in that stuff? All in all - this is a win-win for the environment on so many levels. They will have this working mini-farm, they will show people you can still have lawns without polluting so much. The garden is an educational tool - and getting kids involved first is often the best way to reach parents. When their kids want stuff, or make points about issues, parents tend to change behavior more than if you talk directly to them.

Most people don't have acres of lawn to dig up for a garden like this so I don't see how anyone else will be able to do this. One of the reasons the Obama garden is so large (1,100 square feet) is because it will be feeding the Obama family, guests at State dinners, and the school children and their families who are helping do some of the work. And there may be leftovers which I suspect will wind up at local soup kitchens. You don't need acres. I personally grew a garden in a space 10 feet by 11 feet. I canned and froze enough veggies to see us through the winter, plus we ate out of the garden all year. That is a tiny space. You can grow a tomato plant, a pepper plant and a cucumber vine in a large pot on your patio or porch. You can grow lettuces and herbs in a window box. In this era of belt-tightening, there are lots of options for growing fresh food no matter where you live. Have you seen those 'topsy-turvy' upside-down tomato plant things? Ha!

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing pictures of the First Family pulling weeds, and hearing about the meals that are being prepared by the White House chefs for formal affairs as well as the school kids harvesting and cooking what they have helped grow.

Hooray! This is a story we should all be celebrating instead of criticizing. How about it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Are We Going To Get Rid Of The Ban On (Re)Importation of Drugs?

I realize that this is waaaaaaay down on the list of priorities for the Obama Administration, but for people who don't have drug coverage with their health care plan, and some who do (Medicare Part D) this is an important issue.

Remember when all the Republicans (and Blue Dog Democrats) were howling and screaming and the Bush FDA joined in the fray telling us that drugs from other countries were 'too dangerous' and that we could not trust those 'foreign' companies to have rigorous standards for their own populations? A total farce but I digress.

Well, what caught my eye today (h/t to FDL) was a little story that all these old impotent white guys like Bob Dole need to get a grip. Seems that Viagra is made in...drum roll please...Ireland! If that's not a foreign country, I don't know what is!!

But wait, it gets worse. Practically every person who has had a heart attack, angina pain, a stroke, or is at risk for any of these is now taking a drug called Plavix. It supposedly reduces the risk of re-occurrence of one of these episodes. By a reported 20%. Of course, that is 20% over and above an....drum roll please...aspirin. Aspirin can be obtained at Wally World for about a buck for a 100 pills. Plavix on the other hand, costs about $100 for 30 pills. Now here's the deal. Aspirin has never really had the kinds of efficacy and safety studies that are now routine for new drugs. It is on the GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe). So we really don't have a lot of good data telling us how much (if any) aspirin reduces these risks. If it does a lot - then Plavix does quite a bit as well. But if, as I suspect, aspirin does very little, then Plavix does even less. And the rest of the story (h/t to the late Paul Harvey) is that Plavix is produced in...rimshot please...FRANCE! Now that's a country that the Republicans love to hate!

Freedom fries, John Kerry looks too 'french' to be allowed to be POTUS, the French are total wimps and should be on their knees kissing our feet for us saving them from the Germans in WWII.

Which brings me to my next story. Most of you probably remember that actor Dennis Quaid and his wife had problems with the drug heparin. Their problem was actually an error by that hospital. But it did bring to the forefront a bit how ubiquitous the use of that particular drug is. It is actually quite useful - anyone who has had an IV in for a period of time, or a chemo-port knows that heparin is used to keep these devices from clotting closed. Heparin (coumadin, warfarin) is also used to reduce clotting in the blood the same way Plavix/aspirin and those drugs are - only more aggressive. It is being prescribed so much that in the bigger clinics people on coumadin actually have their own check in window since they have to get blood tests on a weekly or monthly basis.

So...most heparin in the US market is produced by Bayer. A German company. Well, not so bad, right? I mean the Germans are nothing if not models of efficiency, quality control and great design. Oops. The actual factory where the heparin is made is in ...gong please...China!

I guess this last example is more of a proof for why we DO need to be careful about 'foreign' drugs. But my point is that we have a lot of drugs in this country that are produced in foreign countries. And why the importation of drugs doesn't seem to be a problem, even when it should, as with the heparin from China.

But drugs that are produced here in this country for export cannot be brought back into this country why? They are made in the USA. The same companies that make them for US citizens make them for Canadian citizens. Are you telling me that they make them differently and dangerously for our friends up north?

This whole thing is really stupid. Let's get rid of this reimportation ban and reduce the cost of drugs for everyone. If we were allowed to reimport these medicines, I suggest that the cost of drugs here in this country would go down - simple competition. Don't get me started on Medicare Part D!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Do We Get Some Good News?

There was one piece of good news this week. President Obama announced the creation of a Commission on Women and Girls in his administration.

This is one of the recommendations of the CEDAW process - and the goal of that is to provide programs and policies that really do help women and girls have equal rights.

Many people in this country think we already do - but that just is not the case.

Here are just a few examples:
1) Women in this country make up 51.7% of the population. However, women in all parts of our supposedly representative form of government amount to just under 17%.
2) Women still earn on average only 76 cents for every dollar a man earns. The fact that we had to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act speaks to this - even when a woman is doing the exact same job - she is still paid less. Never mind pay equity between 'so-called traditional' women's work (nursing, teaching) and traditional men's work (construction, police, fire etc).
3) If a married couple applies for a loan the man's name is almost always listed first - unless the woman objects. This happens even if the woman is the main negotiator, the larger money-earner, and if the man only shows up to sign the papers at the end of the deal.
4) If a single woman applies for a loan, she is more likely to be either turned down, or asked to get a co-signer, regardless of her credit score and earnings history.
5) Women are still discriminated against in hiring on the basis of the 'baby factor'. It is assumed by HR people that career women will at some point 'take time off to have a baby' and therefore, if a similarly or even less qualified male applies, they will be hired so the company doesn't have to deal with maternity leave, and the insurance for this.
6) Studies of the outcomes of divorce show that the majority of men are better off financially one year after a divorce, while the majority of women are worse off. This has mainly to do with the fact that women still retain physical custody of children and that child support payments are woefully low compared to the actual costs of raising a child. Some states have pretty good laws for joint/shared custody and or equal treatment of fathers requesting custody. But the majority presume the woman is more qualified/better suited to care for children - even when she patently is not.
7) In government contracting, women are still treated as a 'minority' - which does qualify them for some preferences - but this speaks ill of a society and the place of women in it.

I won't even get into the mess that minority women face - just take the list above, add about fifty racist things to it and then double up on the whole thing.

Women have been making gains in getting equal education, in fact in some areas of the country, women now make up a majority of graduates from college. This has disturbed the status quo so much they are thinking about putting limits on the number of female students that will be allowed to enroll in the impacted programs (kind of like the limits they talked about in the 1970s and 1980s for Oriental people in the math and sciences).

And despite all the ranting and raving by the Mormons and the Catholics and the Religious Right-wing about saving traditional marriage, the truth of the matter is that over 62% of women are now raising children alone, or are single with no children. The majority of women are now in the workforce - by necessity. The so-called traditional family of the 1950s has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.

So this new commission is good news. I am hopeful it means what it says - that the issues that face women and girls will finally get some real and focused attention, and that some new policies and laws will be put into place to stop some of the discrimination that is faced on a daily basis by the biggest "minority" on the planet.