Religious Action Center :: RACBlog: “Choose Life, If You and Your Offspring Would Live”

I wrote this via the RAC blog post below Dec 4 –  prior to the current changes to the bill regarding coverage of pre-existing conditions – I am only in favor of changes that do not price citizens out of coverage for pre-existing conditions. I do not believe we will have progress without a public option and competition for the insurance companies.


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“Choose Life, If You and Your Offspring Would Live”

Owen Gottlieb is a fifth year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR.

Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life — if you and your offspring would live.”

We as a nation have a crucial choice ahead of us. Many lives hang in the balance. Will our friends, loved ones, and neighbors in this country have access to health care in the years to come?

How many of us have had friends and loved ones deprived of health care due to a ruling by their insurance company? I have a friend whose health insurance premiums are nearly $300 a month, yet the insurance won’t pay for more than $500 of tests a year. Now that my friend has had a single MRI, there is no more coverage for tests his doctor orders.


How many of us have friends and loved ones who have lost a job, and are at risk once their COBRA runs out because they will be stamped with a “pre-existing condition?” And then denied coverage by any company. I have a friend whose “pre-existing condition” is Multiple Sclerosis. He lost his job and was down to his last months of COBRA, soon to be classified as “pre-ex.” He managed to find a new job just in time – a lifeline, without which he could not have afforded thousands of dollars of medication to keep him alive.

But that was in the late 1990s. Nowadays, finding a job is far less easy and many more of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones are unemployed – and will be unemployed. For a long time.

How many of us have had their medication removed from the insurance company formulary?

How many of us know of people who were dropped from their insurance once they found out they had a serious illness?

Since the mid-1970s, the Union for Reform Judaism has called for a “national comprehensive prepaid single benefit standard health insurance with no deductible, to cover prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in all fields of health care,” and the Central Conference of American Rabbis has called on Congress to “enact a comprehensive national health insurance program.”

Of course everyone deserves health care. America is the last industrialized nation without universal health care.

We have an obligation to save lives and an obligation to choose life. We must reform our health care system starting today. Please call or email your Senator today in support of health care reform.

Posted by Religious Action Center on December 4, 2009 4:31 PM | Permalink


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Brain Power – Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them – Series

BUFFALO — Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

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Ryan Collerd for The New York Times

Students at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center get an early introduction to math concepts.

Brain Power

Wired for Math

For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ.

This is the sixth article in a series on some of the insights from the latest research.

Previous Articles in the Series »


Ryan Collerd for The New York Times

Melissa Hitzges, a teacher at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center, working with her students to help them recognize patterns.


City Council Overrides Bloomberg Veto on Kingsbridge Armory

The City Council dealt a final blow on Monday to a developer’s plans to build a mall inside the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, a significant defeat for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on a key project.

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Librado Romero/The New York Times

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance was among the plan’s opponents, saying jobs created would not pay well.

The Council voted 48 to 1, with one abstention, to override Mr. Bloomberg’s veto of its decision last week to defeat the plan, signaling the resentment the mayor faces on the eve of his third term.

Related Companies, the developer picked for the project, would have received more than $50 million in tax credits and exemptions for the plan. The company says the $310 million project would have created 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent ones in the Bronx, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the city. Mayor Bloomberg had backed the plan as a much-needed investment to spur economic development in the area.

But the City Council and local advocates objected to the mall, mainly because Related refused to require all prospective employers at the site to pay at least $10 an hour. Many of the jobs created would have paid at or around the minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.

A coalition of religious leaders, community advocates and labor groups pushed hard against Related’s plans, framing the mall as a boon for a well-connected development company that would be built at taxpayers’ expense. The group, known as the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, won the support of Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and many other local officials.

After the vote last week, leaders of the coalition said they hoped the armory would be developed to offer more space for cultural, educational and recreational activities.

But Mayor Bloomberg warned Monday that the soaring brick castle, which has been vacant for more than a decade, may now sit empty for many more years.

“I just think it’s so disappointing for so many people who want jobs,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s a great tragedy, but we have to move on.”

The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said that she was disappointed the two sides could not reach a compromise. The armory, she said, was “the only economic development project in the four years of the mayor and I working together where we haven’t been able to come to an agreement.”

The armory vote highlighted the political difficulties Mr. Bloomberg is likely to face after narrowly winning a third term last month. To the applause of his colleagues in the Council chambers, Councilman G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx said that although he regretted that the armory would stay vacant, “there is only one administration and one mayor to blame.”

Councilwoman Helen Sears of Queens, who lost her seat in last month’s vote, cast the lone vote in support of the mayor. She also cast the only vote in support of the project last week.

Council members said that in addition to the wage issue, they also objected to Related’s traffic and parking plans for the area, though those issues played a minor role through weeks of negotiations.

The armory, a federal, state and city landmark, was built by the city between 1912 and 1917 and was used to store arms and ammunition and to train troops. Since then, its many lives have included a shelter for homeless women and a concert space.

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A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2009, on page A33 of the New York edition.

Mazel Tov KARA!

Patient Money – A New Disquiet About Some Generic Drugs

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Pill containers in a clean room last year at Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest manufacturer of generic drugs.


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Tips on Generics

(December 19, 2009)

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Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times

Because of possible variations among generic drugs, Dr. James Reiffel, a cardiologist, is leery of prescribing them for some cases.

LET me start by saying I’m a fan of generic drugs. They save Americans billions of dollars each year and give us access to wonderful drugs at affordable prices. I’ve recommended generics in this column many times and use them myself when possible.

But there is a gnawing concern among some doctors and researchers that certain prescription generic drugs may not work as well as their brand-name counterparts. The problem is not pervasive, but it’s something consumers should be aware of — especially now that more insurers insist that patients take generic medications when they are available.

Let me also prepare the groundwork for what I hope will be full and frank reader comments, by acknowledging that this issue is controversial.

Joe Graedon, who has been writing about pharmaceuticals for three decades and runs a consumer advocacy Web site, the People’s Pharmacy (, was 100 percent behind generics for many years.

“We were the country’s leading generic enthusiasts,” he told me recently. But over the last eight or nine years, Mr. Graedon began hearing about “misadventures” from people who read his syndicated newspaper column, also called The People’s Pharmacy.

The stories were typically from patients who were switched from a brand name drug to a generic one and had side effects or found that their symptoms returned — or even became worse than before they were medicated. Most recently Mr. Graedon has been hearing complaints on his Web site about generic forms of the antidepressant Wellbutrin XL 300 (known as Budeprion XL 300 in one generic form), the heart medicine Toprol XL (metoprolol succinate) and the antiseizure medicine Keppra (levetiracetam).

“Consumers are told generics are identical to brand name drugs, but that is clearly not always the case,” Mr. Graedon said.

Some specialists, particularly cardiologists and neurologists, are concerned about generic formulations of drugs in which a slight variation could have a serious effect on a patient’s health. The American Academy of Neurology has a position paper that says, in part, “The A.A.N. opposes generic substitution of anticonvulsant drugs for the treatment of epilepsy without the attending physician’s approval.”

But insurers tend to argue otherwise. On Thursday, ExpressScripts, which handles drug insurance for big employers, put out a news release announcing results of a study it sponsored that found no difference in hospitalizations or emergency-room visits for people on brand-name epilepsy drugs compared with those taking generics.

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, says it stands behind generic medications and its methods for approving them.

“We have not seen any scientific studies that show generics do not hold up as well as brand name drugs,” says Gary J. Buehler, director of the agency’s office of generic drugs. “We believe the generic drugs we approve work in everyone.”

The American Medical Association concurs. A spokeswoman for the group told me in an e-mail message, “the A.M.A. position is that as a whole generic drugs do work as well as name-brand drugs.”

Yet, after hundreds of consumers posted messages about problems with the generic drug Budeprion XL 300 on the People’s Pharmacy Web site, Mr. Graedon worked with an independent laboratory,, to test the drug, which in other generic versions is typically known as bupropion.

The lab found that Budeprion XL 300 released the active drug at a different rate than the brand name Wellbutrin XL 300. Mr. Graedon and the lab conjecture that the different dissolution rates might be to blame for the reported side effects and lower effectiveness of Budeprion.

But Mr. Buehler at the F.D.A. explained to me that over the course of 24 hours a patient ends up with the same amount of the drug in the bloodstream, so there should be no reason for a variation in effectiveness. “We remain puzzled,” he said.

The maker of Budeprion XL 300, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, recently announced that it would conduct a clinical trial comparing its product against the original, Wellbutrin XL.

A Teva spokeswoman said in an e-mail message that the company was working with the F.D.A. on a study “specifically designed to answer the questions raised following the recent anecdotal commentary on generic budeprion.”

“We believe the study and the resulting data will provide further scientific support for the product’s bioequivalence to the innovator drug,” she said.

To parse that statement — or at least understand “bioequivalence” — it is worth taking a step back to consider what a generic drug is and how it gets approved.

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A version of this article appeared in print on December 19, 2009, on page B6 of the New York edition.

Fingerprinting For Food Stamps Under Scrutiny : NPR

December 18, 2009

The Obama administration may be trying to mount a case against digital finger-imaging of federal food assistance applicants, a practice four states are implementing in order to combat fraud.

Anti-hunger workers say it discriminates against the country’s poor and treats them like criminals when they are entitled to benefits.

New York City is one of the places that uses finger-imaging.

Angel Jean Seymore, a New York City resident, says she felt degraded when she had to give her digital fingerprint as part of her application to buy food under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A severe back injury forced her to stop working as a home health aide.

“They treated me in a disgusting way. They did not care that I had a disability,” says Seymore. “I’m a U.S. citizen, born and raised in the Bronx all my life. I have my identity in the health department and Social Security. And yet I’m being treated like a criminal.”

If she lived elsewhere in the state, it wouldn’t have happened. That’s because the rest of the state has opted out of the finger-imaging requirement. Advocates who work with many of the city’s poor are frustrated.

“It’s as if the mayor is saying his own constituents are more criminal,” says Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Berg says finger-imaging discriminates against people who can’t physically come to an office to have it done, either because of work or disabilities. People often feel like it’s a tracking system or they’ve done something wrong. And he says there are other ways to detect fraud, such as computer matching with Social Security numbers.

“There’s only one kind of fraud potentially captured by finger-imaging. That’s when a person actually creates a duplicate identity, like they’re in James Bond. It’s preposterous,” says Berg. “It’s hard enough for an eligible person on the program to get the benefits.”

An Urban Institute study found that finger-imaging deterred 4 percent from completing their application. Critics say that’s tens of thousands of people. But New York City counters that the practice has been one of the best weapons against fraud over the past decade.

Robert Doar, commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration, has not seen the study, but he says people aren’t being discouraged from applying. He points to the nearly 300,000 more New Yorkers who received SNAP benefits in the past year.

“It’s not an ink process, like what would take place in some criminal justice situation. It’s easy, it’s simple and fast, and the numbers prove our point,” Doar says.

Yet it puts New York City at odds with most of the rest of the country. Just three other states — Texas, California and Arizona — also use finger-imaging. But a few weeks ago, Agriculture Department Undersecretary Kevin Concannon was in New York City, where he said the practice is under scrutiny.

“We are examining that whole question of the efficacy of it. Does it really do what it’s alleged to do? My biggest concern: Does it have an unintended consequence of dissuading people from coming forward who need the benefits?”

Concannon added that if a state wanted to start the finger-imaging today, the Obama administration wouldn’t approve it. Anti-hunger workers say they’re hopeful a rollback is coming. After all, they say, President Obama is the first president to have grown up in a household where food stamps meant food on the table.


David Sirota: Howard Dean, Movement Leader

I want to take a moment just to recognize what has been recognized before, but needs to be recognized right here and now one more time: Howard Dean is a genuine hero.

In coming out against the Lieberman-gutted health insurance “reform” bill, Dean is leveraging every shred of power he can muster to create the political space for the final bill — whether passed now, or later after going back to the drawing board — to be better and more progressive. He has made a compelling case that the bill “would do more harm than good,” as he says in his Washington Post op-ed today — and in doing that he has made the power struggle between Joe Lieberman’s Palpatinian forces of insurance/drug industry darkness and the progressive movement far more symmetrical.

Before Dean’s move, the fight was asymmetrical, as Chris Hayes noted in my interview with him on my radio show yesterday. Before Dean’s move, Lieberman had the upper hand in that he was the only one who didn’t seem to care whether he alone killed the bill by joining with Republicans for a filibuster. Now, though, Dean has said to progressive members of Congress that they should be OK killing this bill if that’s what taking a stand for a better bill means. And you see some of them potentially starting to follow.

This is why the White House and the Beltway media is now publicly freaking out at Dean in a way they never freaked out on corporate Dems (Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, etc.) who were previously obstructing the bill: Because Dean is threatening to change the dynamic that the Beltway was always counting on — a dynamic that relied on progressives ultimately capitulating to the Joe Liebermans, the Rahm Emanuels, the insurance industry and the drug lobbyists. That dynamic only exists if progressive members of Congress — and the larger progressive movement and general public — believes passing the bill is more important than killing it to make it better. If they and we don’t believe that, as Howard Dean doesn’t and as new polls show we don’t, then suddenly progressive members of Congress and the progressive movement can feel free to be as cutthroat as Lieberman himself.

We can feel free to risk sending a bad bill down to defeat in the cause of making it better — because we know that the bill in its current, non-improved form is bad. And from that stand, we may get more progressive concessions before this thing is finally done. Just as the old dynamic was based on buying Lieberman’s vote with insurance/drug industry concessions, this new Dean dynamic could means progressives forcing the leadership and the White House to, say, add back a public option back into this final bill as price for progressive votes.

Of course, there’s debate about whether or not we think Dean is right on the substance — about whether the bill is good or bad. I happen to think Dean is right — I happen to believe that passing this awful bill is not worth it even if this awful bill has a few good things in it. Why?

Because we have the same president and the same Congress for at least another year and they will be forced to go back to the drawing board.

There is certainly a substantive rush to pass reform, what with thousands dying every year for lack of insurance. But there is not the political rush that seems to be the assumption in DC right now. That’s a manufactured bullshit assumption — the same one we heard when the very same set of bought-and-paid-for politicians used a financial crisis to rush through a Wall Street bailout with the very same “must pass it immediately” rationale. Now they’re trying to use a health care crisis to rush through an insurance industry bailout.

But here’s the thing: It’s not like Barack Obama won’t be president and Democrats won’t control Congress tomorrow. They can go back to the drawing board right now and have the same political topography before them when they come back to the House and Senate floors. And last I checked, when this bill was in more progressive form (ie. with a public option and Medicare buy-in) I didn’t hear any of these voices in DC say the bill needed to be on a “must pass immediately” track – only when the bill was gutted are these voices now screaming for it to be immediately passed…hmm…

All of that said, wherever you come down on the substance of the Lieberman-gutted bill, it’s clear Dean has created a new progressive dynamic here. He has made it more likely that something better will come out of the Congress either now or in the near future than the monstrosity Lieberman has created. How? By doing his part to create the political space and leverage for us to demand more.

Dean’s move, not surprisingly, is being lambasted by the sycophantic Washington press. As just one example, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza — one of the most perfectly calibrated barometers of Beltway conventional wisdom — lashes out at Dean as a “health care reform spoiler” (Cillizza, of course, never said this about Lieberman, Landrieu, Nelson, or any of the other conservadems who were threatening to filibuster the bill over the last few months). And tellingly, Cillizza insists Dean’s principled stand is “entirely in his own self interest” – an attempt to completely dismiss the substance of Dean’s criticism. Of course, if Dean criticizing the administration was “entirely in his own self interest,” he would not have been cheering on the bill before it was gutted. And so Cillizza’s refrain is yet more proof that in Washington’s “Church of the Savvy” movement participants taking principled stands are seen as selfish, petulant, stupid and unserious while politicians who exchange votes for industry campaign contributions (Lieberman, Baucus, etc.) and former politicians who are literally paid to lobby for Big Money (Tom Daschle, as an example) are depicted as thoughtful, selfless, “moderate” and “pragmatic” team players.

I have to say, Dean’s multi-year transformation is amazing. I remember when I worked for Bernie Sanders how Vermont had a DLC-ish governor named Howard Dean. To look at him now is to stand in awe, because today’s Howard Dean is not that Howard Dean. And I believe his transformation is entirely genuine because he had absolutely nothing to gain from it in the way we cynically define “gain” in today’s politics. There are many things to “gain” from shutting up and going corporate — there is little to “gain” from championing a progressive cause from a place of authentic conviction. Little to personally “gain” — but much to gain for the country.

Here is a person who has decided not to pull the usual post-retirement dance of worshiping the Establishment and joining The Club. Here is a person whose motives cannot be attacked and who has built an independent base of power the old fashioned way – not through Big Money or through insider connections, but through grassroots organizing, unvarnished policy credibility, and a willingness to stand for principles before party. Here is a person going on television to tell sitting Democratic U.S. senators the cold hard truth to their face: namely that they’ve sold out. Here is a guy taking on the same obsequious Professional Democratic Elites in DC that are saying we must pass any bill, no matter how destructive, just to give Democrats a political win (the same Professional Democratic Elite that told us to support the Iraq War and the bailout, by the way).

Here is, in short, a rare movement leader in the age of cynicism showing what a movement can do — or at minimum, have a realistic shot to do — when it musters a little bit of courage.

UPDATE: MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and SEIU’s Andy Stern pick up and carry Dean’s flag. This is the Dean Movement Dynamic at work.

The neuroscience of mindfulness | Psychology Today

The value of a secular approach
One of the reasons mindfulness can be difficult to talk about, in particular when discussing mindfulness with the busy people who run our companies and institutions, is that these people tend to spend little time thinking about themselves and other people, but a lot of time thinking about strategy, data, and systems. As a result, the circuits involved in thinking about oneself and other people, the medial prefrontal cortex, tend to be not too well developed. I write more about this in a paper called ‘Managing with the brain in mind‘ recently.

Speaking to an executive about mindfulness therefore can be a bit like speaking to a classical musician about jazz. It might look like they could play a little Coltrane, because they deal in sounds, but they don’t really have the circuits for it. We don’t take well to learning new skills, especially in later life, and any reason to not focus on a new skill, like it being linked to a religion other than yours, doesn’t help.

I have taught mindfulness to deans of medical schools, to senior executives at major technology firms, and to MBA students from dozens of countries. When you explain step by step, how it works and how it effects your brain, and give people a chance to experience it, even the most cynical, anti-self-awareness agitator can’t help but see that they will be better off practicing this skill. The key is to be able to explain the actual neuroscience involved. Here’s some of the highlights of how mindfulness impacts the brain, from Your Brain at Work:

Mindfulness and the brain

A 2007 study called “Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” by Norman Farb at the University of Toronto, along with six other scientists, broke new ground in our understanding of mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective.

Farb and his colleagues worked out a way to study how human beings experience their own moment-to-moment experience. They discovered that people have two distinct ways of interacting with the world, using two different sets of networks. One network for experiencing your experience involves what is called the “default network”, which includes regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, along with memory regions such as the hippocampus. This network is called default because it becomes active when not much else is happening, and you think about yourself. If you are sitting on the edge of a jetty in summer, a nice breeze blowing in your hair and a cold beer in your hand, instead of taking in the beautiful day you might find yourself thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, and whether you will make a mess of the meal to the amusement of your partner. This is your default network in action. It’s the network involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating.

Excerpted from full article at: