Fifteen years and counting

Tomorrow will be the fifteenth anniversary of my last alcoholic drink. I wrote my most frequented post nine years ago and it still resonates with many, as my struggles are not unusual. The echo of wanting a drink remains, but it is faint compared to what it once was.

If you or someone you know are having struggles with an addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, food or cigarettes, please read or share the post below. It is a daily battle – the mantra for me is “I am not going to drink today.”

Since we are creatures of habit, though, I encourage you to know your triggers and find better habits to substitute than the more addictive ones. In my case, it was fruits, popsicles, chewing gum, green tea, tonic water with a twist and non-alcoholic beer, etc. Dried fruits are an ideal snack when an urge strikes as things like figs, dates, apricots, et al are quite dense and filling.

Each person can figure out a substitute that works for them. But, know your triggers. Mine were grilling out on the weekend or coming home after a long day. My body would crave the alcohol at the end of work day, so I would get hot and my face would redden.

I don’t get red face anymore, but that craving lingers a little. Now, I can more easily kick the craving to the curb, so it does get better as the years pass.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones and friends with any addictive problems. It is not easy to escape the habit, so don’t let anyone tell you it is.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Medicaid expansion – letter to the editor

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, a key element was for people who made less than 133% of the poverty limit based on their family size. This group would pay no premiums through a state-by-state expansion of Medicaid. The federal government said it would reimburse each state for 90% of that cost.

At this point in 2022, there are twelve holdout states that have not expanded Medicaid. That leaves 2 million Americans with access to no healthcare coverage. The holdout states include my home state of North Carolina and big states like Texas, Florida and Georgia (see link below to a NPR article).

North Carolina was close to passing Medicaid expansion, but the effort stalled once again. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that they graciously printed this morning.

NC and Medicaid

As a retired benefits consultant and former benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company, I was hopeful that the N.C. General Assembly would at long last pass an expansion of Medicaid to fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. Failing to do this has harmed N.C. residents. Our economy has been impacted and some rural hospitals have either closed or are in financial trouble, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan healthcare advisor.

As former GOP presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich noted when Ohio expanded Medicaid years ago, it was a no-brainer with the federal funding the state has realized for years now. Please move forward on Medicaid expansion.

We have heard of food deserts in largely rural states which impact people in need more than others. But, we also have healthcare deserts as well. Taking only one data point, it is not a surprise to learn that maternal mortality rates in these states are worse than in other states and first-world countries. Note, this is mother’s dying in childbirth. That is a sad state of affairs, especially for a country who claims exceptionalism.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/01/1011502538/12-holdout-states-havent-expanded-medicaid-leaving-2-million-people-in-limbo

Company in New Hampshire knew of toxic poisoning and failed to act

Recently, I have written several posts about the poisoning in groundwater by companies who use these forever chemicals referred to by their acronym of PFAS. Dupont was highlighted in the movie “Dark Waters” about the true story surrounding their making of Teflon in a West Virginia plant, where they denied for years what they admitted knowing in their files. In short, PFAS (or per and polyfluorinated substances) “is a harmful manmade set of chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and can cause medical issues like some cancers if consumed enough.” See the fact sheet below from the CDC.

In an article in The Guardian yesterday by Tom Perkins called “‘They all knew’: textile company misled regulators about use of toxic PFAS, documents show,” we learned that Dupont was not the only company to hide the fact the making of and disposal of waste from their product was causing major health concerns in adults and children in the area. Here are a few paragraphs from the article that can be linked to below.

“A French industrial fabric producer that poisoned drinking water supplies with PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ across 65 sq miles (168 sq km) of southern New Hampshire misled regulators about the amount of toxic substance it used, a group of state lawmakers and public health advocates charge.

The company, Saint Gobain, now admits it used far more PFAS than regulators previously knew, and officials fear thousands more residents outside the contamination zone’s boundaries may be drinking tainted water in a region plagued by cancer clusters and other health problems thought to stem from PFAS pollution.

Saint Gobain in 2018 agreed to provide clean drinking water in the 65-sq-mile area as part of a consent agreement with New Hampshire regulators, and damning evidence suggesting it used more PFAS than previously admitted surfaced in a trove of documents released in a separate class-action lawsuit.

‘People are sick, there are really high cancer rates and people literally have died, so when you see what’s happening and the company acts like this – it’s really upsetting,’ said Mindi Messmer, a former state representative who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire attorney general and state regulators.

Saint Gobain has denied wrongdoing. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resist water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds don’t naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, birth defects and other serious health problems. They have been called ‘forever chemicals’ due to their longevity in the environment.

Saint Gobain Performance Plastics’ Merrimack, New Hampshire, plant had for decades treated its products with PFOA, one type of PFAS, to make them stronger. The company released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, once on the ground, moved through the soil and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells pull from the groundwater.

Please look through the CDC Fact Sheet below. If you have not seen “Dark Waters,” please watch it as it shows how Dupont knew and covered up their poisoning of others, then was shown verified causal data from the largest sampling of people in a scientific study and reneged on an offer to help and then lost successive lawsuits before they settled the remaining cases in a class action. I am sure there are some theatrics in the movie, but over all the movie will disgust you that leaders of a company could be so brazen. And, stop using Teflon cookware as their poison resides within many of us if we did.

Companies must be held to account. Leaders must be held to account. And, it cannot be so rarely done, that they make a movie out of the effort. Rob Bilott, the attorney who fought Dupont and Erin Brockovich cannot be the only folks recognized for fighting these battles.

https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/05/saint-gobain-textile-company-toxic-pfas

Veterans get screwed again

I am so very tired of politicians playing zero-sum games where they must make the other side lose, so they can get a political win. What uniformly happens is we the people get screwed. Just recently a bipartisan bill to help veterans with health care that passed in Senate by a large margin was slightly amended by the House and returned to the Senate for an expected passing.

Yet, enough Republicans decided to switch their vote and the veterans got screwed. Comedian Jon Stewart, who had led this cause along with a successful, but arduous 9/11 restitution cause a few years ago, has led a reaction that calls the Republican Senate members out for their bait and switch tactics.

Per the New York Times article this weekend, called “Jon Stewart blasts GOP after Senate blocks burn pit bill for Veterans” by Callie Patteson:

“Comedian Jon Stewart doubled down Friday on a viral rant ripping Republican senators who voted against advancing a bill that would boost benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxins from burn pits during their service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Forty-one Republican senators voted against cloture Wednesday on the Honoring our PACT Act, accusing Democrats of using the measure to hide a ‘budget gimmick’ that would permit $400 billion in spending unrelated to veterans’ health care. 

During an interview with Fox News Friday, the former ‘Daily Show’ host insisted the bill was no different from the version that passed the Senate 84-14 in June.

‘This bill is purely based on toxic exposure health care and benefits to veterans,’ said Stewart, who urged viewers to look up the text for themselves.”

Maybe the GOP is scared that other things are getting passed which make Democrats look good. I just don’t know. I do know this is not the first time veterans have gotten screwed by politicians. The VA Healthcare system was in dire straits a few years ago with a huge need for more doctors, specialists, etc. Senator John McCain led a bipartisan effort to meet a planned request for a $64 billion bill to hire more doctors and get more resources. It was defeated and created an outrage from Veterans’ groups.

Then a debacle of backlog on appointments occurred in Phoenix a few months later and members of Congress asked how could you let this happen? A few more months later, $16 billion in funding was passed. Note this is 1/4 of the total requested and six months after being requested. The veterans again got screwed.

And, it should be noted only recently was funding provided for compensation for poisoning Marines and their families with toxic water systems at Camp Lejeune in NC. It took decades to admit there was a problem and more time to get the restitution. Decades is not an exaggeration.

I get tired of people who like to tout how hawkish they are but won’t help veterans when they get home. Politicians are OK funding battles but not the aftermath. They will say thank you for your service, but you are on your own when you get back. I fully recognize that Democrats are not perfect, but the GOP makes a great deal about being pro-military. To be honest, with respect to its troops, I do not see it. Neither should the veterans.

https://nypost.com/2022/07/29/jon-stewart-blasts-gop-after-senate-blocks-veteran-burn-pit-bill/

Climate change bill may advance after all

Yesterday, The New York Times reported in an article called “Manchin, in Reversal, Agrees to Quick Action on Climate and Tax Plan,” that a Senate bill to help climate change may advance and be sent back to the House for a vote. Below is a link to the article following a few paragraphs.

“Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he had agreed to include hundreds of billions of dollars for climate and energy programs and tax increases in a package to subsidize health care and lower the cost of prescription drugs, less than two weeks after abruptly upending hopes for such an agreement this summer.

The package would set aside $369 billion for climate and energy proposals, the most ambitious climate action ever taken by Congress, and raise an estimated $451 billion in new tax revenue over a decade, while cutting federal spending on prescription drugs by $288 billion, according to a summary circulated Wednesday evening.

The product of a deal announced by Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, it would reduce the federal deficit by about $300 billion, while seeking to push down the cost of health care, prescription medicines and electricity.”

Since we are in dire need to move forward the US federal government’s response to climate change matching efforts of cities, states and more than several companies, this is good news if it can get passed in both chambers. With places like Texas leading the way on wind-energy and California on solar energy, and offshore wind energy about to launch so we can match places like Scotland, we are poised to do even more. As an independent voter who has been a member of both parties, this is a positive sign.

Texas Republicans want to deny STD and HIV screenings under ACA

In an article in Politico by Alice Miranda Ollstein called Obamacare back in court as Texans challenge coverage for STDs and HIV care,” yet one more try to gut certain preceived, unsavory provisions will be headed toward the Supreme Court. A few paragraphs are below, with a link to the article at the end:

“This challenge, filed in March of 2020 by a group of Texas residents and employers and backed by former Trump officials, argues that the ACA’s preventive care mandates violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that forcing people to pay for plans that cover STD screenings and HIV prevention drugs will ‘facilitate and encourage homosexual behavior, prostitution, sexual promiscuity, and intravenous drug use….’

‘Ending the requirement that preventive services be free to patients will have negative health and financial consequences for millions,’ warned Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Biden administration is arguing that the case should be thrown out because the Texans do not have legal standing because they aren’t being harmed by their insurance covering preventive services — a line of argument that has been successful in past defenses of the Affordable Care Act.

They also argue that there’s a clear government interest in preventing the spread of HIV and STDs for the health of the population at large which justifies the policy.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been used like a hammer since it came about to legislate some version of morality that suits a strident set of religious folks. Since many teens are going to have sex whether their minister or parents tell them not to and often it will be unprotected sex, having preventive coverage against STDs and HIV is important. And, with prostitution being the oldest profession and drug use more rampant now that drug companies have hooked people on pain-killers which are more expensive than heroin, exposure exists even to the teen and adult children of the most pious of us.

I have used this example before, but a pretty devout friend noted church parents would be astounded at the level of unleashed promiscuity that goes on even at the most ardent of religious colleges. College students are going to have sex. And, my guess is they will like it and want more. Further, I do not think whether their plan covers STD or HIV prevention will be too much of a factor in that decision. If Rx is a factor, it will likely be around a Plan B pill or daily birth control.

If certain ministers and priests are so concerned with sexual promiscuity, then they may want to govern some of their fellow ministers and priests about their sexual misconduct. While I fully recognize that the significant majority of religious leaders do not do these things, predatory sexual behavior is not good form for a religious leader.

Let’s protect people with health care preventive options. Health care is a private matter and is no business of a minister or even the parents, once the child is legally an adult.

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/obamacare-back-court-texans-challenge-110000749.html

Oranges and sunshine

Sometimes you come across a movie where the hero is unlikely. In this case she is an overworked social worker from England. Sometimes the problem presented is unheard of so the duty of the movie is to point out atrocious behavior on the part of people and entities that should know better. Sometimes the victims do not have a voice and really just wanted to find out what happened and who they are.

When you add these things into a pot, the movie “Oranges and sunshine” comes out starring Emily Watson. Watson is one of Great Britain’s finest actors in my view, but she has the misfortune of having a name close to another actress of Harry Potter fame, Emma Watson, so confusion results. If Watson is in a movie, it usually is a good one and this is no exception.

In short, it is about a social worker named Margaret Humphreys in the mid-1980s who learns something unsettling from an adult Australian woman who was visiting England to find out who she was and where she came from. She tells Humphreys she was transferred as a child from an orphanage in London to one in Australia, not to be adopted, but just rehoused. Humphreys does not believe her as that would be illegal, but she leaves the file.

With her husband’s (and later her boss’) help and support, Humphreys begins a process to find out what happened and locate parents, alive or dead, so that this woman and others who come out of the woodwork can get closure. Without giving the plot away, this true story tells of what Humphreys learns and how extensive a problem it is. With it so large, she hypothesizes it has to be systematic and involve folks higher up.

I will stop there. The movie is a must see. Will it make you angry – yes? Will it show you what one person can mean to many – yes? Will it show you the mental, family and physical toll trying to do the right thing causes – yes?

The movie was made in 2010 and also stars Hugo Weaving, Lorraine Ashbourne, Molly Windsor, Stuart Wolfendon, and David Wenham among many. The screenplay was written by Margaret Humphreys and Rona Munro – note the title comes from an adult telling the kids that Australia had plentiful oranges and sunshine to get them on the ship. It was directed by Jim Loach. Weaving played the father with PTSD in “Hacksaw Ridge” and people who watch British TV will recognize Ashbourne from numerous shows. Give it a look.

Top of mind issues that aren’t

Issues that need to be top of mind aren’t being discussed because we would rather talk about more exaggerated and contrived issues.

The global water crisis lives here, especially in drought prone areas like the Southwest United States, which is running dangerously low on water. Climate change only makes matters worse. And, this is even before we speak of the lead water pipe structures which have their own set of toxic issues as in Flint, Michigan.

Miami is the most at risk city in the world for encroaching sea levels due to climate change, but the governor calls more dramatic solutions liberal based ideas. Miami has built right to the coast and the limestone guarding the largest aquifer is porous. The fact the number of sunny days flooding has increased with sea water coming up through the street drains in Miami Beach should give people pause. Call me crazy, but when you are surrounded on three sides by sea water as Florida is, climate change should be a huge issue.

Toxins in our environment due to manufacturing run off of chemicals or middle of the night storage elsewhere are causing bell weather cancers years later. The water at Camp Lejeune in NC has been killing and making Marines, their spouses and their children sick for decades and yet we are still screwing around with a decision. Thank you for your service, just don’t drink the water. Recent stories on environmental cancers from Teflon and Round-up chemicals also continue to get press.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, biologist, author and speaker (who has testified to Congress and the EU Parliament), spoke at an event I attended. She noted our tests are designed for a 50 year-old man, but we really should be testing for children. Our children have lungs and brains that are not fully developed, they have lesser body weight and are closer to the ground, they mouth breath more and they touch things more and put their hands in their mouths. They are easy targets for toxins to poison them.

I want people to remember her words. She added some hope, though. When we act in a serious manner we can fix things. She used the example of the Rabies vaccine, as she and her son were exposed. Rabies is a horrible way to die and it only takes a bite. But, we long ago created a series of vaccines that prevent Rabies, even if exposed. We learned and acted. She said that is a lesson that we should follow on dealing with other environmental issues – learn and act whether it’s getting rid of arsenic on playground equipment, removing asbestos out of building materials or knowing how to handle PVC pipes in a closed environment.

People matter. Children matter. Short term profits matter less than human life. I would argue companies that aggressively act to fix things will do better with long term profits due to goodwill.* Let’s act like parents and grandparents in governing what is needed. Let’s shine a spotlight on legislators and business leaders who do not.

*Years ago, Dow Chemical had a huge chemical spill in India. Because of their reputation as a good community citizen and by acting quickly to fix things, the long-term profits of the company did not suffer. The same held true with Johnson and Johnson, the makers of Tylenol after product tampering incidents killed some people. They acted quickly to fix things and we now have tamper identifying bottles.

Mental health issues rise for adolescents, teens and young adults

A key article for all to see appeared in The Charlotte Observer yesterday called “Mental health crises on the rise among US teenagers. What parents can watch for” by Laura Brache. Here are the first couple of sections, with a link below.

“’A national emergency.’

That’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics calls a recent increase in mental health crises among children and teens in the United States. ‘It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in doing this for 20 years,’ said Gary Maslow, a child and adolescent psychologist at Duke University. Maslow joined fellow Duke pediatric psychologist Nathan Copeland and professor Sharika Hill in a virtual discussion Wednesday to help parents and caregivers help children and teens facing anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

YOUTH SUICIDE IN 2019

More kids died by suicide in 2019 ‘than at any point in American history,’ said Copeland. In fact, suicide was the second leading cause of death among youth that year. ‘Among the 10 to 24 age group, suicide accounted for nearly 25% of all death among kids,’ he said. ‘And among … individuals 15 to 24, suicide accounted for more deaths than the next seven core medical causes combined.’ Those causes include accidents, congenital issues, homicide, and cancer, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘The worst outcome is children dying by suicide,’ Maslow said. “That is happening, but that is the tip of the iceberg.” Just as in many facets of health care, Black youth were among the most impacted by suicide in 2019. ‘Where we were seeing things like systemic racism and how it was impacting Black youth, we were seeing that [suicide] rate increase faster for Black youth than for any other demographic,’ Copeland said. In Durham, Maslow added, Hispanic youth are also ‘presenting at much higher rates that we’ve seen before.’

PEDIATRIC MENTAL ILLNESS IS COMMON

Nearly 1 in 5 youth will experience pediatric mental illness during their childhood, Copeland said. People in this group often go undiagnosed and untreated for years, he said. It can take five to 11 years for a child to get treatment for mental health and behavioral issues from the moment they start experiencing symptoms. ‘For a kid that’s a significant 11 years,’ he said. ‘That’s a long period of time that a kid has been experiencing mental illness.’ What’s more, only 20% of youth experiencing mental illness end up receiving the potentially life-saving care that they need. Academic pressure and school in general also fuel “peer victimization” and bullying, Copeland said. ‘In Durham, what we frequently see or what we have seen is that when school starts, compared to when kids are on break, there is a 60% increase in rates of pediatric mental health emergency department visits,’ he said. Copeland said, before the pandemic, ‘mental illness was the most common cause of drop out in school of any disability group.’”

I encourage you to read the full article via the link below. And, note this is before the pandemic made the situation even worse. This is a key reason why guns need to be better governed and locked away. Homes with guns have a higher rate of suicide than homes without one. One impulsive decision and it is over.

There should be less stigma to getting help. We all may need it at some point.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/health-wellness/article263427108.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday wanderings – mid July, 2022

I need to do my walkabout in the morning as we expect more heat and thunderstorms. As evidence to me of climate change, the North Carolina climate seems a lot like Florida used to where I grew up. Daily thunderstorms following a hot day. Here are few thoughts as I wander.

I did learn this week the minor league baseball team in my hometown of Jacksonville is now called “Jax Jumbo Shrimp.” It doesn’t give off the competitive image that you want in a team name, does it? Put them on a slow boil, add a beer, and you will win every time against the Jumbo Shrimp. Some folks might like Old Bay seasoning, but the beer doesn’t smell as much in the house. In keeping with my inner George Carlin oxymoron are jumbo shrimp big shrimp or little jumbos?

Not that I am prescient, but I have been saying for well over a year that the former president’s political career is toast, it will just take some time for Republicans to realize it. Well, it has taken longer than I hoped, but more and more are realizing their demagogue has lied to them and still is. And, they are beginning to realize the ugly truth about the former president; he is the reason we had an insurrection against a branch of government. January 6 does not happen if someone else is president. Full stop. He invited, he incited and he refused to stop it, until he was forced to after way too many hours. There is a word for that – sedition.

The House Select committee testimony, under oath (which should mean something) by people who were involved in the seditious insurrection or who tried to talk the former president out of his furor over losing the election, is once again compelling. Of course, MAGA fans are told not to watch, but as former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, these are Republicans testifying under oath – Republicans must watch. Rep. Liz Cheney, another Republican, said one witness has told the House Select committee the former president called the witness presumably to influence her testimony. Frankly, this is not a surprise as some of his sycophants have been doing the same with others.

With my last three posts on the environment, this week an article about Dupont’s forever chemicals in Wilmington, NC reared its ugly head. Here are the first two paragraphs:

“A deadly cancer has already taken 43-year-old Amy Nordberg away from her family, also of Wilmington. Nordberg died in January after a three-year battle with a vicious cancer that followed the development of multiple sclerosis. The cancer moved through her body faster than doctors expected, enveloping her colon and invading her bone marrow.

Kennedy and Nordberg are only two among many sick and dying people who live in the Cape Fear River basin of North Carolina, where environmental testing has found persistently high levels of different types of toxic compounds known collectively as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.”

This stuff is real and it is here to stay. It is the chemical in Teflon. They are not called “forever chemicals” for nothing. And, in court Dupont settled individual court cases and a class action case because they knew of the danger and hid it. And, you likely have some in your body if you used Teflon.

So, the moral to these stories, is go boil some water. This is how summer is feeling. You can cook jumbo shrimp in it. You can purify drinking water (to a degree) and you can get a sense of how more Republicans are starting to feel about the former president. Boiling mad. I did hear the former president is boiling mad about the testimony. He should because I am over a president who would “burn it all down” to avoid losing an election per his calmer, more rational niece Mary.