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“Biden Urges Us To Regain Our Sense Of National Purpose”: The Vice President Struck A Chord Too Long Missing From Our Public Debates

After Joe Biden’s Rose Garden announcement, news reports naturally focused on his decision not to seek the presidency. But the overarching theme of his short address was something more powerful and less political: This is a great country that ought to be more optimistic about its potential, more ambitious in its goals, more confident about its future.

That theme underlay Biden’s clarion call for a “moonshot” to cure cancer. As he noted — “It’s personal,” he said — his grief over the untimely death of his son, Beau Biden, fueled his sense of urgency. The younger Biden, Delaware’s attorney general, died in May at the age of 46, after a long battle with brain cancer.

Still, the vice president struck a chord too long missing from our public debates, too little heard in our partisan warfare: We have the ability to accomplish great things when we summon the will to do so.

“I know we can do this. The president and I have already been working hard on increasing funding for research and development, because there are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine. The things that are just about to happen, we can make them real with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today. … If I could be anything, I would want to be the president that ended cancer, because it’s possible.”

Whatever happened to that feisty spirit in our civic life? Whatever became of our sense of never-ending achievement, of unbridled national ambition, of great national purpose? Why don’t we reach for the stars anymore?

Instead, we’ve become brittle, limited in our expectations, dour in our outlook, afraid that the nation’s best days have already passed. While the lingering effects of the Great Recession, as well as the global threat of terrorism, have undoubtedly worked to dampen our optimism, history teaches that we’ve faced down more daunting odds before.

Indeed, the long-running Cold War, when the Soviet Union represented an existential threat to the United States, inspired the great space race that led to Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. The United States poured money into the sciences, down to the high school level. That period of bountiful scientific research benefited not only NASA, but also countless other streams of inquiry — including the pioneering communications work that led to the Internet.

Since the 1970s, though, Congress has slowly drained away money from the sciences, a process that has sped up over the last few years. In their current obsession with reducing federal government spending, GOP budget cutters have hacked away at everything from medical research to space exploration.

Nowadays, Congress can’t even agree to fund things that we know work. While all reasonable people agree that the country needs to repair and rebuild its aging infrastructure — bridges, highways, dams — Congress cannot manage to set aside the funds that are necessary.

During his first presidential campaign, President Obama called for a massive revamping of the nation’s electric grid, a plan to put in place the energy infrastructure for the 21st century. But that’s rarely even discussed anymore.

Instead, a small minority of vociferous partisans holds up routine legislation, such as raising the debt ceiling to pay the bills we’ve already incurred. That’s how a great nation behaves?

It’s not clear that even a massive infusion of research dollars — Biden’s “moonshot” — would lead to a “cure” for cancer. Scientists would likely even debate the use of the phrase, since cancer is not a single disease but rather a group of diseases that share the phenomenon of abnormal cell growth.

Still, Biden’s call for pouring national resources into the search for better treatment options makes sense. When President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon!” our scientists weren’t certain we could do that either. But they dared to dream big dreams. Why don’t we do that anymore?

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Winner for commentary, 2007; The National Memo, October 24, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Joe Biden, Scientific Research | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Compelling Statement Of Belief In Things Not Seen”: Jimmy Carter’s Image Of Faith Truest To What Faith Should Be

To want what I have, to take what I’m given with grace… for this, I pray.” — From “For My Wedding,” by Don Henley

America is a nation of faith. So it is often said.

In faith, a baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. In faith, a minister prays for the president to die. In faith, terrorists plant bombs at the finish line of a marathon. In faith, mosques are vandalized, shot at and burned. In faith, a televangelist asks his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet.

And no one is even surprised anymore.In America, what we call faith is often loud, often exclusionary, sometimes violent, and too frequently enamored of shiny, expensive things. In faith, ill-tempered people mob the shopping malls every year at Christmas to have fistfights and gunfights over hot toys and high-end electronics.

You did not hear much about faith last week when Jimmy Carter held a press conference to reveal that he has four spots of cancer on his brain. The 39th president made only a few references to it in the nearly 40 minutes he spoke, and they were all in response to reporters’ questions. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling statement of belief in things not seen. Unsentimental, poised, and lit from within by an amazing grace, Carter discussed the fight now looming ahead of him, the radiation treatments he will undergo, the need to finally cut back on his whirlwind schedule.

He smiled often. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said, in such a way that you believed him without question. And it was impossible to feel sorry for him.

Partially, that’s because we all die and if — still only an if — cancer is what takes James Earl Carter Jr. away, well, there are worse things than to go having reached 90 years of age, having been president of the United States, having been married to the love of your life for almost seven decades, having sired a large and sprawling family, and having done significant work toward the eradication of disease and the spreading of democracy in the developing world.

But here’s the other reason it was impossible to feel sorry for him. Feeling sorry would have felt like an insult, a denial of the virtues he showed and the faith he didn’t need to speak because it was just… there.

For all its loudness, all its exclusion, violence, and ubiquity, the faith that is modeled in the public square is often not particularly affecting. It is hard to imagine someone looking on it from outside and musing to herself, “I’d like to have some of that.” What Carter showed the world, though, was different. Who would not want to be able to face the unknown with such perfect equanimity?

Carter presented an image of faith we don’t see nearly as often as we should. Which is sad, because it is also the image truest to what faith is supposed to be — not a magic lamp you rub in hopes of a private jet, not a license for our worse impulses, but, rather, an act of surrender to a force greater than self, a way of being centered enough to tell whatever bleak thing comes your way, “So be it.” Even fearsome death itself: “So be it.”

The heat and hubris of human life are such that that state is difficult to conceive, much less to reach. Our lives are defined by wanting and by lack — more money, new car, new love — and by the ceaseless hustle to fill empty spaces within. Media and advertising conspire to make you feel ever incomplete. So it is hard to feel whole within yourself, at peace with what is, whatever that turns out to be.

But who, gazing upon the former president, can doubt the result is worth the effort?

In faith, terrorists kill the innocent. In faith, televangelists swindle the gullible. In faith, so many of us hate, exclude, hurt, curse, and destroy. And in faith, last week, Jimmy Carter told the world he has cancer in his brain.

And smiled as he spoke.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 26, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | Faith, President Jimmy Carter, Religion | , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Are All Fragile Beings”: Obamacare Saved My Family From Financial Ruin

House Speaker John Boehner and his tea party friends shut down the U.S. government because of people like me. I am the mother of an insurance hog, someone who could have blown through his lifetime limit of health coverage by the time he was 14. My son has managed to survive despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, and he wears his preexisting condition like a Super Bowl ring.

Mason, now 16, was probably born with his brain tumor. We discovered it six years ago. Biopsies showed a slow-growing mass, which was the good news. The bad news was that the tumor could not be removed because it had grown around essential structures in his brain. Under the care of some of the country’s finest specialists, Mason had frequent scans. There was little we could do between tests but hope for the best. Like other children his age, Mason played basketball, argued with his siblings and avoided cleaning his bedroom. He managed to undergo chemotherapy for eight months without getting too sick. He insisted on finding ways to laugh, saying things like: “I have brain cancer. What’s your problem?” It was an uneasy peace — until the tumor ruptured in December 2010, three years after his initial diagnosis, and Mason suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Mason spent most of eighth grade in the hospital. In the six months he was hospitalized, he spent 65 days in the pediatric intensive care unit. He underwent four brain surgeries. Halfway through his hospitalization, the Affordable Care Act was passed, alleviating lifetime limits on coverage and saving us from the financial abyss. Mason moved to a rehabilitation hospital where he was retaught the most basic skills — sitting up, eating and standing. We faithfully paid the premiums on the employer-sponsored plan through which our family is covered, along with the rest of our bills, thanking God and whoever else would listen for our good fortune to have coverage.

The biggest fear for families such as mine is that we will lose our health insurance and be rendered uninsurable because one of us has been sick. The Affordable Care Act does away with dreaded clauses barring preexisting conditions. It also enables us to keep Mason on our insurance until he is 26; then, he will be able to purchase his own coverage on an insurance exchange. At least, that was the plan until last Tuesday, when the government was shut down in protest of such excesses.

As far as the brain tumor goes, our family might have drawn the short straw. Maybe our story lacks a certain universal appeal. People might be thinking to themselves, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, but odds are it won’t happen to me.” I hope it doesn’t, really.

But having lived in hospitals with Mason for months, I have seen that bad things — accidents, freak illnesses — happen to smart, cautious and otherwise undeserving people. It’s one thing we all have in common. We are fragile beings. So what is wrong with allowing us to purchase a financial safety net? What’s so un-American about that?

If I could get John Boehner and Ted Cruz on a conference call, I would explain this to them. I would tell them that, while they were busy trying to derail the Affordable Care Act over the past two years, Mason has again learned to walk, talk, eat and shoot a three-point basket.

 

By: Janine Urbaniak Reid, a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, is working on a memoir about her son’s diagnosis; October 9, 2013; Published in The Washington Post Opinions Section, December 4, 2013

December 5, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conservative Newspeak?: Grover Norquist Compares GOPers Who Support Lifesaving Health Care Programs To Cancer cells

In the annals of Orwellian Newspeak, Grover Norquist, president of the libertarian group Americans for Tax Reform, may have established a new precedent for what kind of logic-defying propaganda is accepted in our political discourse — and for what journalists will uncritically reprint sans context or question.

In Monday’s Washington Post story on how deep the anti-tax fervor runs inside the Republican Party, Norquist is quoted criticizing three Republicans, including Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), for considering anything other than cutting government programs like Medicare and Medicaid as a solution to the national debt. As the Post reports it (emphasis mine):

The work of reducing the national debt must be done entirely by shrinking government, he said. Any compromise that includes taxes would hinder that goal and taint the Republican brand.

Norquist compared Coburn, the most outspoken of the Senate trio, to a “malignant” cell in the body politic. “So,” Norquist said, “we use chemo and radiation to protect all the healthy cells around it, so it doesn’t grow and metastasize.”

That’s right, Norquist is unequivocally saying that efforts to preserve health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid that often use chemo and radiation to cure cancer — these efforts are, in fact, the real malignant cancer that require chemo and radiation to kill.

Orwell long ago warned of a political system that would insist with a straight face that “war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.” But my guess is that he never envisioned one of the leaders of a major political party claiming that curing cancer is actually cancer — and my guess is that he certainly never envisioned one of the world’s leading newspapers printing that allegation without at least questioning it’s logic.

 

By: David Sirota, Contributing Writer, Salon, June 6, 2011

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Medicaid, Medicare, Neo-Cons, Politics, Press, Republicans, Taxes | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Oz’s Shameless Play For Ratings Discourages Life Saving Procedure While Demeaning True Cancer Survivors

The cardinal rule of practicing medicine is that old adage, “First do no harm.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the TV physician who was given his big break by Oprah Winfrey, apparently missed that day in medical school.

In this week’s Time Magazine, Oz manages to scare people away from getting important colonoscopy procedures while trivializing anyone who has ever faced a truly life threatening bout with cancer or some other potentially life-ending disease – and all in the service of delivering a few rating points.

The piece is entitled, “What I Learned From My Cancer Scare.”

Sounds like a real page-turner, yes?

It’s not.

It’s not because, by any reasonable person’s definition let alone what we might expect from a licensed physician, Dr. Oz didn’t have a cancer scare- unless you consider a cancer scare to include being told that you could possibly develop cancer in 10 to 15 years if you don’t have a simple, routine and painless procedure that people all over the world experience every day which, in virtually every instance, completely resolves the problem.

Indeed, Dr. Oz’s terrifying cancer crisis was something more akin to a child skinning his knee and being told that if his mommy doesn’t put a little iodine and a band-aid on the boo-boo, the open wound just might possibly fall prey to a flesh eating bacteria that will take the poor child’s life.

In his Time Magazine story, the doctor recounts his harrowing ‘brush with death’. We learn of the shock the Oz experienced on learning he had a pre-cancerous polyp – the same kind that one of every four men who has a colonoscopy routinely discovers and one that simply requires being quickly snipped from the colon.

Oz goes on to describe the extraordinary difficulty of sharing this heartbreaking news with his wife and the pain of informing his children that not only was their dad facing this life-threatening crisis (that wasn’t) but that his situation meant that they would be more likely to face this problem in their own lives. Tragically, his children would have to begin getting their own colonscopies at 40 years of age rather than the more typically recommended age of 50.

Oh, the humanity!

Oz goes on to express his angst over the question that filled his psyche, “How could this happen to me?”

The story is dramatic, heart rendering, poignant… and absolute hogwash. What the good doctor experienced was, by his own admission, something completely and utterly routine.

Here is how one of the nation’s top colorectal specialists described what afflicted Dr. Oz–

… this was a tiny adenoma, the same as anybody else. Adenomas are frequently found on colonoscopy with a minimum rate of 15% for women and 25% for men. Adenomas are the type of polyp that could turn cancerous over time (10-15 years) and that is why we remove them.”

That sums it up rather nicely.

The reason a colonoscopy is recommended for those over 50 is because, with age, we are more likely to have these pre-cancerous polyps in our colons just as we are more likely to find pre-cancerous growths on our skin. These polyps, if allowed to continue growing may become cancerous in 10 to 15 years, are routinely snipped out of the colon just as pre-cancerous skin growths are removed before the growth can become something dangerous.

As a result, anyone with any knowledge of this medical procedure knows that having a polyp removed during a colonoscopy is nothing to lose a moment’s sleep over and a great advertisement for why colonoscopy is a worthwhile procedure for us all.

Remarkably, Oz discusses how people avoid getting this procedure because they are afraid to face up to the result. He’s right. It is no secret that human psychology is such that we tend to think that if we don’t know a problem is there, we can pretend there is no problem at all. We avoid the test to avoid any bad news.

That kind of thinking is exactly what gets people in trouble-particularly when any such problem can easily be brought to a successful conclusion simply by having the colonoscopy procedure.

Yet, after pointing out this problem, Oz goes on to scare the you-know-what out of anyone who falls into this category by making his own story far more dramatic than the reality.

It’s really very simple.

If you’re 50 years old – or 40 if there is a family history – get the colonoscopy. Any polyps you have will be removed and you will leave the physician’s office comfortable in the knowledge that you have nipped any future problem in the bud. Repeat the procedure every five years so that any polyps that may have gotten going during the interim can be removed. The result is that your colon will remain happy, healthy and cancer free.

So, why was Oz so freaked out?

Beats me.

In describing Dr. Oz’s polyp, the physician who performed his procedure, CBS medical correspondent, Dr. John LaPook, said,

Statistically, most small polyps like his don’t become cancer. But almost all colon cancers begin as benign polyps that gradually become malignant over about 10-15 years.

Indeed, Oz was just another of these statistics-nothing particularly threatening or dramatic – except, of course, when Oz tells the story.

So, either Dr. Oz’s psyche is so sensitive that a routine matter easily resolved is enough to send his world reeling – despite allegedly having the medical knowledge to know that this was nothing much to sweat – or he knows a great ratings grabber when he sees one. I’ll leave it to the reader to reach a conclusion as to what might be the driving force behind Oz’s tale of terror.

I can, however, tell you how the Colorectal Cancer Coalition reacted to Oz’s histrionics when he first made a fuss over his experience on his TV show last September-

Did Dr. Oz scare you today?

The chances of your colonoscopy resulting in the made-for-TV near-death experience that Dr. Mehmet Oz detailed in a six-part video series on his show and website are highly unlikely. See, Dr. Oz didn’t have a near-death experience, and his colonoscopy story is very common. So can we cut it out with the hysterics, Dr. Oz? You’re scaring people.

Yes, there was a 10 percent chance it could have become cancerous over time, which is why it was removed. The rest of his overblown, overdone, overly-dramatic story, including his heartbreaking anecdote of having to tell his children (sob!) are for the mere benefit of getting people to watch his show.

Unfortunately, a side effect of Dr. Oz’s histrionics is that he’s taken a common condition and turned it into a death-defying act that will scare the living daylights out of anyone who may be approaching the screening age – or who may have already passed it. (If you’re like Dr. Oz and putting off that colonoscopy you naughty kid, go get screened!)

But the damage doesn’t end there.

Like many others before me and since, I happen to be someone who has had to tell my wife and children that I had been diagnosed with a cancer that could mean the end of my life in a rather short period of time. Not a pre-cancerous growth. Not “I might have a problem in 10 years and, oh, they can resolve the problem by just snipping something out in a fifteen minute procedure.”

No, it was looking like I was in some very immediate and serious trouble.

Of course, relaying this bit of information to your family is not a particularly pleasant experience and I’m one of the lucky ones who, after 6 months of chemotherapy (not a fifteen minute painless procedure), is still here to tell the story.

Imagine, if you will, how I -and the millions of others who have faced this difficult experience – might feel when Dr. Oz makes such a fuss about telling his wife that he might have gotten cancer in ten years if he hadn’t had the procedure that virtually insured that this wouldn’t happen?

It’s wrong on so many levels.

Yes, Oz is a television performer and, as such, must be concerned with his ratings if he wants to keep the big bucks flowing.

However, he is still a doctor and that comes with some responsibility- responsibility that Dr. Oz has sadly ignored. For this he should be very ashamed.

As for Time Magazine, would it have killed them to actually look into the reality of Oz’s non-crisis before putting this on their cover?

By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, June 2, 2011

June 3, 2011 Posted by | Consumers, Education, Health Care, Media, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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