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August 28, 2009

Ask Maggie Mahar

Meet Maggie Mahar. You’ll be seeing more of her on the JOURNAL this week, when we present MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE, a film produced by Academy Award winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARKSIDE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM). Ms. Mahar was kind enough to take questions from The Moyers Blog readers, so, over the next two weeks, as you watch the debate over health care reform unfold please submit your questions here. We’ll post her answers after next week’s edition of the JOURNAL.

[Note: We are no longer accepting questions for Maggie Mahar, but you can read her answers here and here.]

Why Maggie Mahar? She was kind enough to introduce herself below.

I began to learn about the healthcare industry while I was a writer and senior editor at Barron’s -- from 1986 through 1997. During that time I covered both Wall Street and Washington, and wrote stories on a wide range of subjects.

Many of those stories focused on healthcare companies: drug-makers, device-makers, insurers and for-profit hospitals. I also wrote about managed care, the FDA and its battle against Big Tobacco. I analyzed the Clintons’ plans for healthcare reform. I compared non-profit HMOs to for-profit HMOs.

What I learned, during those years, is that in our health care system, profits often trump patients. A great many people are selling and selling hard. By law, for-profit corporations are supposed to put their shareholders’ interests first: this means that they must strive to maximize profits. And this goes a long way toward explaining why U.S. healthcare is so expensive.

In 2003, I began writing MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE: THE REAL REASON HEALTH CARE COSTS SO MUCH. (Harper/Collins, 2006) At the time, I believed that when President Bush left office, the country would be ready for a political pendulum swing—and health-care reform would, once again, become a possibility. (Admittedly, I didn’t foresee that Bush would be re-elected. The book was early.)

When I began to gather material for the book, I knew that I wanted to talk to a great many doctors—and I started calling them. The great majority did not know me. I expected responses from perhaps 20 percent. Instead four out of five called back. Most talked for 30 minutes—or longer. To a man, and to a woman, they were most passionate about what many saw as the declining quality of health care. With few exceptions, I was struck by their genuine concern, not only for themselves, but for the plight of their patients, the state of their profession, and their own inability to cope with the problems.

“We want someone to know what is going on,” explained one prominent Manhattan physician as he explained how much care had deteriorated in many of New York City’s major hospitals. “But please don’t use my name,” he added. “You have to promise me that. In this business, the politics are so rough, that would be the end of my career.”

Currently, Ms Mahar edits the blog Health Beat,a project of The Century Foundation, where she is a fellow. As a financial journalist, she wrote for such news organizations as INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES, BARRON’S and Bloomberg News. Her first book BULL! A HISTORY OF THE BOOM—1982-1999, was recommended by Warren Buffet in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report.

Michael Winship: Even Camelot Needed Health Care

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Even Camelot Needed Health Care"
By Michael Winship

Toward the end of George McGovern’s failed presidential bid in 1972, I was helping advance a bus trip for vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver. The final weekend of the campaign, his caravan would start in New Hampshire and work its way down the Eastern seaboard, holding rallies along the way and winding up in Washington, DC, just before Election Day.

As we spoke with mayors whose cities would be visited, the draw wasn’t Shriver but the news that his brother-in-law, Senator Ted Kennedy, would be accompanying him. Even though Chappaquiddick had taken place just a little more than three years before, it was the Kennedy charisma, the power of that family that still got even the most seasoned local politico excited.

Imagine how popular we were a few days later when we had to go back to tell them Teddy wasn’t coming. His bad back from that near fatal plane crash in 1964 made a long bus journey impossible to endure. Shriver still drew crowds but it just wasn’t the same.

Nearly 20 years later, I ran into Kennedy on an escalator at the AFL-CIO convention in Detroit as he arrived to make a speech. No bodyguards (visible, anyway), no entourage. I thought that I had never seen him look so healthy and vigorous. The gregariousness that made him such a consummate politician was on full display as we chatted and he loudly greeted union officials as we ascended, each a hail fellow, well met.

To those belonging to the post-baby boomer generations, it may be difficult to comprehend the change that took place in America when Ted Kennedy’s older brother Jack became President in 1961 – although the successful embracing of the Obama candidacy by young people comes close.

As we ended the years of the Eisenhower administration, even though the nation was more prosperous than ever, there was a grayness to everyday life that seemed to shift to Technicolor with the advent of those brief Kennedy years, like Dorothy shaking off the dust of Kansas for Oz.

John F. Kennedy’s presidential race against Richard Nixon split my family neatly in two. My dad and older brother were for Nixon, my mother and I favored JFK (but I still have a gold Nixon tie clip my father prized, with an engraved caricature of Tricky Dick that looks more like Bob Hope than the presidential incubus we all came to know and love).

My father and brother came around. I witnessed Kennedy’s inauguration on the elementary school’s TV set, and was allowed to stay up late to watch the inaugural balls. My mother kept scrapbooks about Jack and Jackie and Caroline and John-John. All of us snapped up stories about family life in the White House and wept when the President died in Dallas. A few years later we would do the same for Bobby.

As time went by we would learn that we had been fooled about a lot of it; that the Wizard was a man behind a curtain, that much of the Camelot legend’s glitter was media hype as bogus as fool’s gold. But there remained about the Kennedy family a sort of grand, Shakespearean sublimity that applied as equally to the hubris and heartbreak as the good luck and achievement.

Or, in the words of playwright, journalist and Republican Clare Boothe Luce, cited in some of this week’s obituaries, "Where else but in gothic fiction, where else among real people could one encounter such triumphs and tragedies, such beauty and charm and ambition and pride and human wreckage, such dedication to the best and lapses into the mire of life; such vulgar, noble, driven, generous, self-centered, loving, suspicious, devious, honorable, vulnerable, indomitable people?"

But how interesting that despite their grossest and most callow foibles and failings, throughout the life and times of the three Kennedy brothers who survived their older brother Joe there was a deep, moral concern for the nation’s health that continued right up through Ted Kennedy’s death. Notice in their memories of him this week how many friends and colleagues mentioned help that Senator Kennedy got for them during medical crises of their own.

Vice President Joe Biden remembered that when his two sons were recovering from the car crash that took the life of his wife and daughter in 1972, Kennedy “was on the phone with me literally ever day in the hospital… I’d turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I had never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.”

And in Thursday’s WASHINGTON POST, Howard Kurtz reported that, “Chris Matthews, a Type 2 diabetic, spoke of Kennedy calling him with advice after the ‘Hardball’ host had an attack of hypoglycemia. Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, recalled on CNN that when his father had received a cancer diagnosis, Kennedy called and ‘gave me the name of one of the world's foremost experts in cancer treatment. He said, “He's expecting your call. I just talked to him." And he helped pave the way to get my father the treatment that, frankly, saved his life.’”

Perhaps such concern was inspired by the example of the matriarch Rose’s selfless devotion to service in the name of the Catholic Church or simply all the time the Kennedy family has spent in hospital wards through the years, nursing or mourning their own.

The first time I ever heard the dreaded phrase “socialized medicine” was during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, when the GOP fought his administration’s attempts at health care reform. And during his own, all too brief presidential campaign in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy told audiences that decent medical care should not be a luxury of the rich, he quoted Aristotle: “If we believe men have any personal rights at all, then they must have an absolute moral right to such a measure of good health as society can provide.”

The only one of the brothers to live beyond the age of 50 and make it to senior citizenship, Ted Kennedy honed his skills as a legislator over nearly as many decades in the US Senate, and universal health care was, in his words, the cause of his life.

Through his years there, Kennedy pushed for it incrementally with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-Chip), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allowing folks to hang onto their insurance after leaving a job, the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), increased funds for AIDS and cancer research and community medical centers.

But many believe the time for increments has passed. In Edward Moore Kennedy’s name, it’s time to do the right thing, the big thing; time to revive flagging support and step up to universal reform. Already there has been far too much shouting and far too little healing.

In NEWSWEEK last month, Kennedy wrote with his longtime speechwriter and advisor Bob Shrum, “I’ve thought in an even more powerful way than before about what this will mean to others. And I am resolved to see to it this year that we create a system to ensure that someday, when there is a cure for the disease I now have, no American who needs it will be denied it.”

Ted Kennedy, resolute in his faith and passionately, unabashedly liberal to the last breath, said he wanted “a good ending for myself.” Universal health care – at its best with a public option – would be it.

August 21, 2009

The Human Toll of America's Health Disaster

This week, the JOURNAL presented CRITICAL CONDITION, a heart-rending documentary that follows several working families facing a terrible ordeal – getting treatment for ailing loved ones without the aid of health insurance.

Several people featured in the film speculated that access to public health insurance might have helped them afford basic preventative treatment long before they needed financially devastating emergency care.

With an estimated 47 million Americans without health insurance, President Obama and others have argued that the federal government should set up a national public health insurance plan to help more families avoid the difficulties captured in CRITICAL CONDITION. Opponents believe a public plan would be a fiscal disaster that would ration treatment and undermine quality of care.

What do you think?

  • Have you or loved ones faced major illness without health insurance? Please share your stories.

  • Do you believe current proposals for health reform will improve America’s health system?

  • August 20, 2009

    Michael Winship: Tom DeLay and the Woodstock Nation

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    "Tom DeLay and the Woodstock Nation"
    By Michael Winship

    A sorry state of affairs. If it wasn’t for all the 40th anniversary celebrations of Woodstock, the primary cultural contribution of the month would be the announcement that Tom DeLay of Texas – birther, born again and former Republican House Majority Leader -- will be a contestant in the next round of DANCING WITH THE STARS.

    Still, better to see DeLay trotting the boards of ABC’s hit “reality” show than back marauding the halls of Congress – or roaming faraway Saipan with now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, praising the US possession’s sweatshops as “a perfect Petri dish of capitalism.” (“It’s like my Galapagos Island,” DeLay enthused.)

    When he makes his debut on DANCING WITH THE STARS, you have to wonder if Tom will specialize in that favorite Lone Star dance, The Cotton Eye Joe, or more appropriately, some variation of The Sidestep, immortalized in Broadway’s THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.

    The corrupt governor in the show sings, “Ooh, I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't. I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step, cut a little swathe and lead the people on.”

    No doubt there will be a lifting groundswell of GOP voting that will keep DeLay light on his feet through at least the first rounds of the competition. But as far as leading people on, the ex-congressman would do well to remember what happened the last time he tried to jury tamper with the scorekeeping on DANCING WITH THE STARS.

    You see, this is not The Hammer’s first time at the rodeo. Three years ago, several weeks after his resignation from Congress, he sent a letter to his fan base urging them to vote for country singer Sara Evans, a DANCING WITH THE STARS contestant.

    “Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media,” DeLay wrote. “From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in… One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans.”

    Jerry Springer wound up outlasting Evans, who dropped out of DANCING WITH THE STARS in the midst of a messy divorce during which she accused her husband of serial adultery. He made similar charges against her. So it goes when bad things happen to good people.

    Now if DeLay equated the comparatively harmless Springer with smut on TV, goodness knows what he would have made of Woodstock, the peace-love-music, free-for-all celebration that in 1969 churned upstate New York dairy farmer Max Yasgur’s pastures into mud.

    DeLay was 22 back then, perhaps just a hair past prime for the Woodstock generation, but still in his pre-probity days. He might have enjoyed himself (remember that while in the Texas state legislature his nickname was “Hot Tub Tom”).

    At the time, he was working on his final credits toward a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston. He majored in biology, which before he went into politics led to a career not, surprise, in evolutionary science but insect extermination.

    Me, during the summer of Woodstock I was getting ready to go away for my freshman year of college. I saw one of the first ads for the festival in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and enlisted one of my high school English teachers and her husband to go with me – they even had the requisite Volkswagen microbus. And the concert site was only a four-hour drive away, tops.

    Alas, my plan fell through for that most rudimental of reasons: my mother said no.

    Several months later, at the end of my freshman year, some friends and I hitchhiked to a midnight showing of Michael Wadleigh’s extraordinary Woodstock documentary. Hard to imagine that four decades later anyone would have the creative courage – or chutzpah – to try to recapture the experience.

    But two sets of filmmakers have done just that and the results are terrific. TAKING WOODSTOCK, a feature film directed by Ang Lee and written and produced by my friend James Schamus, is a funny, touching look at the festival from the periphery. The performances are on pitch and the movie captures the period and the event perfectly, without once slipping into caricature or retrospective smugness – not a whiff of contemporary filmmakers betraying their subject matter with a “weren’t they adorable and feckless back then” attitude.

    (In fact, Schamus told me the only thing people who were there in 1969 think TAKING WOODSTOCK lacks for atmosphere is the stink created by acres of muck and half a million people.)

    So, too, with WOODSTOCK: NOW & THEN, directed by the great documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Using footage from the original Wadleigh documentary, combined with a wealth of other archival material and new interviews with many of the participants, Kopple tells the story of the concert from its inception through the bitter financial wrangling that tore its promoters apart from the moment the music was over.

    In his NEW YORK TIMES review, critic Mike Hale wrote, “In one way her film is probably truer to the actual experience of the average Woodstock attendee than Mr. Wadleigh’s was. She focuses less on the music, which for some portion of the half-million people in attendance was merely a rumor.”

    There is a fearful, ironic symmetry in the TIMES’ praise of Kopple’s documentary, for one of the most interesting points of her film is how that paper, as well as other publications at the time, initially tried to shape their coverage to match a prejudiced preconception.

    It was a “Nightmare in the Catskills,” the Times editorialized. "What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?... Surely the parents, the teachers and indeed all the adults who helped create the society against which these young people are so feverishly rebelling must bear a share of the responsibility for this outrageous episode.”

    NEW YORK TIMES reporter Barnard Collier, who was covering the actual concert, pushed back. Interviewed in Kopple’s film he recalled, “When the stuff started getting back to New York, the editors there said, this is not what we want. We want a story about what a mess this is. They wanted me to write a story that said Woodstock was a catastrophe about to happen. I said I wouldn’t write it. They said, you gotta write it. I said, I refuse to write it, unless it gets in [my] way. I said, and you gotta read it to me before it goes in, so that I know somebody hasn’t penciled it, you know, taken it apart.

    “Finally, I got to [TIMES executive editor] Scottie Reston, and Scottie Reston said, okay, we’ll go with it the way you see it.”

    In this time of dying newspapers and the domination of television news by cable networks featuring bombastic opinion and little else, it’s wistful to remember a time when a reporter could persuade an editor to do the right thing. Wistful as well to reflect on a Woodstock Nation that never really materialized, its moment of rhythm and harmony trumped by the heavy-footed dance stylings of men like Tom DeLay.

    (TAKING WOODSTOCK opens at theaters in New York and Los Angeles August 26 and nationwide on August 28. WOODSTOCK: NOW & THEN already has premiered on the VH1 and The History Channel cable networks. Keep your eyes open for repeats. )

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    August 14, 2009

    Towards a Healthier Debate on Health Reform

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked three veteran observers for their perspectives on the health care debate playing out across the country. Each suggested that media coverage has presented unhelpful and misleading narratives that have not adequately informed the public about important issues.

    Media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, argued that raucous town hall meetings have not allowed for constructive dialogue, and that media coverage has further obscured the complexity of the issues:

    “[The town hall meetings are] not creating context in which misinformation on both sides can be corrected, and that’s the problem. We don’t have a deliberative process here taking place in public to inform public opinion. Instead, we’re potentially distorting it... You’d like people to attend, raise legitimate and important questions, give the other side a chance to respond, and then engage in a dialogue about it because then everyone learns. We ought to applaud that. That’s the way democracy should work. And that the attacks are coming from left and right is an important realization. There’s been a tendency in news to feature those that are coming from the right without indicating there’s substantial dissatisfaction from some on the left about the fact that this isn’t single payer.”

    Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, suggested that both would-be reformers and the media have confused the public by focusing more on Washington jargon than the human stories of our dysfunctional health system:

    “The debate drifted for a while and the message drifted for a while. It wasn’t defined in terms that average people could understand... People just couldn’t answer the question, ‘What does this mean for me and my family?’ And so they didn’t know what they had to lose if this didn’t happen. But more importantly, that left the field open for the critics and the opposition to define it the way they wanted to and even scare people a little bit that this might be a government takeover of the healthcare sytem... In a sense, what happened was the media and the debate focused on the issues which were in contention on Capitol Hill, that they were debating on Capitol Hill, because media coverage follows the controversies instead of the people issues that brought us this debate in the first place.”

    Republican author David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that his fellow conservatives have focused too much on opposing Democrats’ proposals at the expense of offering proactive plans for reform:

    “I think what happens for a lot of these political fighters [is] they’re like racehorses. The bugle goes and the blood stirs and there’s a fight and you have to join the fight – and I think there are some tactical opportunities the Republicans see... But if the Republicans win, this is not going to be a great victory for individual liberty. It’s going to be a victory for the status quo... What I am concerned about is in the desire to defeat President Obama, the Republicans are going to fossilize a status quo that is unacceptable to them... If you want to hold the line on the growth of government over the next two decades, this system has to be reformed.”

    What do you think?

  • How well do you think the media has informed the public about the complex issues of health reform? Are the important issues being discussed?

  • In your view, what dimensions of health reform deserve more scrutiny than they’ve received in the media?

    Click here for resources to help fact-check the health care debate.

  • Michael Winship: The Gorilla Dust of Health Care

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    ''The Gorilla Dust of Health Care''
    By Michael Winship

    When I was 15, my father was in a near-fatal car collision with a semi-trailer truck. At Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, he lay in a coma for two months.

    As the medical bills mounted and the insurance was running out, my mother had to make an agonizing decision. My father would have to be airlifted to the VA Medical Center in Kansas City, where his veteran’s benefits would defray the costs. She would go there with him; arrangements would have to be made for someone to take care of her home and kids while she was away. For how long, no one was certain.

    Miraculously – almost as if he realized what was going on – Dad suddenly emerged from his coma and was released from Strong a short time later. He never fully recovered from the accident, but for that moment, at least, further domestic upheaval and financial chaos were averted.

    Flash forward nearly 30 years and it was my mother who was now in the hospital, diminished physically and spiritually by dementia. Her children made the choice together but it was my sister, who had become her chief caregiver, who bore much of the brunt of the decision not to resuscitate.

    In the months and years prior to my mother’s death, the kind of end-of-life counseling that health care reformers are talking about – not the bizarre, phony “death panels” falsely conjured by Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Betsy McCaughey and others, now including Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley – would have been welcome.

    Everyone has personal stories like these, or certainly friends and colleagues who have had similar difficult experiences with our current health care system. We know it has to change, which makes it even more infuriating and frustrating that the national, you should excuse the expression, “dialogue” on the issue has deteriorated into so much gorilla dust, a hurling of invective, menace and disinformation meant to intimidate and force a retreat.

    Those vein-popping, pistol toting, don’t confuse me with the facts town hall meetings are more like hockey brawls than an open exchange of ideas. But this uncivil disobedience and bullying are just the tip of the spear, the front line of an all out offensive on the streets, in the media and on Capitol Hill aimed at turning the debate over health care reform on its head and possibly keeping any kind of change from happening at all.

    On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that 3,300 Washington lobbyists are working on health care: “That’s six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate, according to Senate records, and three times the number of people registered to lobby on defense. More than 1,500 organizations have health-care lobbyists, and about three more are signing up each day. Every one of the 10 biggest lobbying firms by revenue is involved in an effort that could affect 17 percent of the U.S. economy.”

    According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, in the first half of the year, this adds up to $263.4 million worth of high-level kibitzing around the House and Senate office buildings and various other DC locales where ears and elbows are bent in advance of twisting arms. Bloomberg notes, “Drugmakers alone spent $134.5 million, 64 percent more than the next biggest spenders, oil and gas companies.”

    The attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s plan for health care reform back in the ‘90s were a tiptoe through the tulips compared to the current assault. That’s because it’s about a lot more than attempting to ease the financial pain of illness – or a socialist government takeover of medicine, depending on your point of view. Organizers (such as former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks), special interests and people who are just plain mad as hell have turned it into a shrill national referendum, reigniting age-old prejudices and fears that bubbled at the surface during last year’s presidential campaign.

    What’s interesting is that there appears to be an emerging backlash from some of the more reasoned thinkers of the conservative movement. It seems to have begun late last week with a blog entry by former Bush speechwriter David Frum on his Web site, NewMajority.com. He asked, what if the right wins the health care fight? What happens then?

    “The problem,” he wrote, “is that if we do that… we’ll still have the present healthcare system… We’ll have entrenched and perpetuated some of the most irrational features of a hugely costly and underperforming system, at the expense of entrepreneurs and risk-takers, exactly the people the Republican Party exists to champion.”

    Frum elaborated while in conversation with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of public television’s BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. “They're going to pass something,” he said of the health care reform fight. “So the question for Republicans is what do you want that to be? You have an interest here, too. You would like to see the rise in healthcare costs slow. And you would like to see more room in the federal budget for tax cuts in the future… But if the Republicans win, this is not going to be a great victory for individual liberty. It’s going to be a victory for the status quo.”

    Frum’s sentiments have been echoed and amplified by conservative economist Bruce Bartlett. He’s worth citing at length. Writing on the Daily Beast website on August 12, Bartlett noted that, “Because reforming Medicare is an important part of getting health costs under control generally, Bush could have used the opportunity to develop a comprehensive health-reform plan. By not doing so, he left his party with nothing to offer as an alternative to the Obama plan. Instead, Republicans have opposed Obama's initiative while proposing nothing themselves.

    “In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies…

    “Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect.”

    One way to reestablish some shred of that credibility would be any kind of viable health care reform alternative from the GOP. Another would be to engage in a more reasoned debate. Neither has happened so far, and in the heat of the current ugly fray, neither seems likely.

    Too much of the gorilla dust they’re throwing has blown back into their own eyes.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    August 6, 2009

    Another Chapter, Another Adventure

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers conversed with sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot about her book, THE THIRD CHAPTER: PASSION, RISK, AND ADVENTURE IN THE 25 YEARS AFTER 50, which explores the challenges and exciting opportunities for people in that age range.

    Lawrence-Lightfoot said:

    “All of us, at this point, to some degree are on a search for meaningfulness, for purposefulness, and we want to find what this next 25 years – the penultimate chapter of our life – is going to be about. We’re ready for something new, for a new experience, for a new adventure... My favorite thing about this period is restraint – how wonderful it is to know a little more about when not to talk, when not to move forward, when it’s best to listen and sit back, when it’s best to just witness and observe. That kind of slowness of pace offers us the opportunity to see things newly, to discover things that we hadn’t seen before, to see the small incremental steps rather than expect the large leaps forward.”

    What do you think?

    Whatever your age, have you lived chapters of "change, growth and new learning"? Tell us about your experience.

    Chris Jordan: In Katrina's Wake

    In 2005, 10 weeks after Hurricane Katrina, photographer Chris Jordan documented the devastation in a series entitled, "In Katrina's Wake: Portraits of Loss From an Unnatural Disaster," published by Princeton Architectural Press, NY.

    Below, Jordan discusses some of these portraits. We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    Michael Winship: Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    ''Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth''
    By Michael Winship

    For a bit of change, let’s talk about a different kind of health care reform – the kind that affects the health of the planet.

    The other evening, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. Robert Siegel was interviewing Dr. Hal Levison, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, about the king-sized comet that slammed into Jupiter a few weeks ago.

    The comet’s impact – it punched a hole the size of the Pacific Ocean, and would have annihilated a lesser planet, like Earth – was discovered by an amateur astronomer in Australia. Siegel asked how such an event escaped the notice of the world’s great observatories.

    “There are only a few really large telescopes,” Levison explained. “They're hard to get time on, and so they're dedicated to particular projects. And the amateurs really are the only ones that have time just to monitor things to see what's happening.”

    “Part of the Neighborhood Watch looking out the front door,” Siegel suggested.

    Neighborhood Watch. Dr. Levison liked that analogy and so do I. Combined with the recent passing of space enthusiast Walter Cronkite and the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, it got me thinking about the value of exploring the cosmos at a time of economic destitution on the ground and a national deficit that makes the word “astronomical” seem inadequate.

    As a kid, I was in thrall to the space program. Squinting into the night above rural upstate New York, my family and I sometimes could see those early, primitive satellites traverse the dark sky, and my younger brother, a skilled amateur astronomer to this day, would haul out his telescope for us to look at the craters of the moon, or Jupiter or Saturn’s rings.

    In the auditorium of my elementary school, a modest, black and white television set was placed on the stage so we could watch the space flights of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and for a class project in the sixth grade, I tracked the mission of astronaut Gordon Cooper, dutifully moving a tiny, construction paper space capsule across a map of the world as Cooper orbited the planet 22 times.

    Six years later, in 1969, we sat downstairs in the family room of our home and watched the mission of Apollo 11. I remember Cronkite’s exultant, “Oh boy!” as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface, and staying up through the night to watch the first moonwalk. (Years later, editing a TV series on the history of television, colleagues and I noted how, in his excitement, Cronkite almost talked over Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”)

    As time went by, America became blasé about space exploration. The budget for moon landings was curtailed after the first few, and flights of the space shuttle became commonplace save for the horrific, fatal explosions of Columbia and Challenger.

    We speak now of returning astronauts to the moon and manned missions to Mars yet efforts to do so seem half-hearted. But there can be no denying the greater understanding of the universe gained from the amazing images obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope, and data from satellites and unmanned interplanetary probes. And beyond the jokes about Tang and Velcro, NASA and the space program have generated advances in a range of technologies.

    Which brings us back to that notion of the Neighborhood Watch, for one of the most valuable contributions of our exploration of the skies has been the knowledge gained from being able to examine our own earthly neighborhood from the distance of space.

    Invaluable information is obtained from satellites monitoring weather and the damage created by drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and climate change. But that fleet is aging and few new satellites are being launched to replace them.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, Jane Lubchenco, the new head of the National Oceanic and Administrative Administration (NOAA), was quoted in the British newspaper THE GUARDIAN. "Our primary focus is maintaining the continuity of climate observations,” she said, “and those are at great risk right now because we don't have the resources to have satellites at the ready and taking the kinds of information that we need… We are playing catch-up."

    The paper went on to report that, “Even before her warning, scientists were saying that America, the world's scientific superpower, was virtually blinding itself to climate change by cutting funds to the environmental satellite programmes run by the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. A report by the National Academy of Sciences this year warned that the environmental satellite network was at risk of collapse.”

    This news comes on the heels of a NOAA report that the world’s ocean surface temperature for June was the warmest on record and the release of more than a thousand spy satellite photographs of Arctic sea ice that were withheld from public view by the Bush Administration.

    On the morning of July 15, the National Research Council issued a report asking the Obama administration to release the pictures; the Department of the Interior declassified them just hours later. A source told the Reuters news service, “That doesn’t happen every day… This is a great example of good government cooperation between the intelligence community and academia.”

    The images are remarkable. You can see a selection of them online at http://gfl.usgs.gov/ArcticSeaIce.shtml. Arctic ice is in retreat from the shores of Barrow, Alaska, along the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and west of Canada’s Northwest Territories, and from the Bering Glacier, among many other sites.

    “The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic,” THE GUARDIAN noted. “More than a million square kilometres of sea ice – a record loss – were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year. Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.”

    One reason, of course, for the Obama White House’s release of the dramatic photographs is to bolster support for the climate change bill narrowly passed by the House and now awaiting action in the Senate.

    The bill’s a thin soup version of what many believe needs to be done. It inadequately reduces emissions, gives away permits and offsets to industry, and, as Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth recently told my colleague Bill Moyers on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, strips away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

    But even this watered down version of the climate legislation is in jeopardy, collateral damage from the health care reform fight. “A handful of key senators on climate change are almost guaranteed to be tied up well into the fall on health care,” the Web site Politico.com reports. “Democrats from the Midwest and the South are resistant to a cap-and-trade proposal. And few if any Republicans are jumping in to help push a global warming and energy initiative.”

    If true, it’s hard to imagine a bill passing before December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. Harder still, without a law of our own, to imagine the United States being able to convince China, India and developing nations to pass climate regulations and change polluting behaviors.

    In other words, there goes the neighborhood.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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