Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scientific Discoveries Extending Human Lifespan



Deacetylation of Telomers Crucial to Longevity in Humans

Protein Regulating Movement of Mitochondria Keeps Oxygen in Neurons from Oxygen Cutoff

Epigenetics: 100 Reasons To Change The Way We Think About Genetics

Mutations of Live Attenuated TB Vaccine Believed to Cause It to Lose Its Effectiveness

New Study Genetic Study Shows Humans and Mice Have Only Four Fifths of Common Genes Explaining Failures of Treatments Working on Mice, but Not on Humans

The Good Guide to Health

Women Better Off Choosing Unattractive Males for Mates to Increase Chances for Successful Son

Melting Ice Sheets May Threaten Northeast USA and Canada

Depleted Water Tables Induce Droughts as Experienced in Northern China and India



Lewis H. Lapham is the National Correspondent for Harper’s Magazine and the editor of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.


... The courses of undergraduate instruction at our prestigious colleges and universities no longer encourage or reward the freedoms of mind likely to disturb the country’s social and political seating plan. During the early years of the twentieth century, before America fell a foul of the dream of empire, the students on the lawns of academe, most of them inheritors of wealth and social position, already were assured of their getting ahead in the world. They could afford to take chances, to read or not to read the next day’s letter from Virginia Woolf or Julius Caesar, to mess up the protocols of political correctness, worship false gods, maybe go to Paris to try their luck with absinthe, their hand and eye at modern art or ancient decadence. If they strayed into the wilderness of politics, they did so in the manner of both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, with the enthusiasm of the amateur explorer. ...


(I have hope for President Obama because Columbia University requires reading the classics to understand the foibles of man, and the only one of the Ivy League schools to require such classes. Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” shows that leaders, even those who head the Church, can be stupid, vain, and corrupt all at once. Since President Obama occupies the middle politically while talking left, but acting as a centrist, I have had difficulty predicting where he will fall on any particular program or policy. As you may have surmised, I don’t live in awe of the Best and the Brightest because I have seen the Clay Feet of many I have seen and experienced as a chemist in both an Academic environment and in industrial research, and my considering reading about politicians who came from the Best Schools. I love Lapham because he is from that Class, but sees the clay feet of those who run our government, financial system and unfortunately our lives. You can scroll through the various topics below and read what you might enjoy and learn. Jim)

President Barack Obama’s Christmas shopping for cabinet officers in December of last year prompted the national news media to rejoice in the glad tiding that his campaign slogan, “Change you can believe in,” was just and only that, a slogan. Instead of showing himself partial to “closet radicals” who might pose some sort of deep downfield threat to the status quo, Obama was choosing wisely from the high-end, happy few, dispensing with “the romantic and failed notion” that individuals never before seen on the White House lawn could provide the “maturity” needed “in a time of war and economic crisis.” David Brooks assured his readers in the New York Times that the incoming apparat, its members “twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them,” embodied “the best of the Washington insiders.” “Achievetrons . . . who got double 800s on their SATs,” said Brooks, taking pains to list the schools from which they had received diplomas (Columbia, Harvard, Wellesley, Harvard Law, Stanford, Yale Law, Princeton, etc.) attesting to the worth of their wise counsel.

Karl Rove, former advance man for President George W. Bush, informed the Wall Street Journal that Tim Geithner (Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins) as secretary of the Treasury and Larry Summers (M.I.T., Harvard) as director of the National Economic Council were “solid picks,” both investments rated “reassuring” and “market-oriented.” ... Barack Obama’s Christmas shopping for cabinet officers in December of last year prompted the national news media to rejoice in the glad tiding that his campaign slogan, “Change you can believe in,” was just and only that, a slogan. Instead of showing himself partial to “closet radicals” who might pose some sort of deep downfield threat to the status quo, Obama was choosing wisely from the high-end, happy few, dispensing with “the romantic and failed notion” that individuals never before seen on the White House lawn could provide the “maturity” needed “in a time of war and economic crisis.” David Brooks assured his readers in the New York Times that the incoming apparat, its members “twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them,” embodied “the best of the Washington insiders.” “Achievetrons . . . who got double 800s on their SATs,” said Brooks, taking pains to list the schools from which they had received diplomas (Columbia, Harvard, Wellesley, Harvard Law, Stanford, Yale Law, Princeton, etc.) attesting to the worth of their wise counsel. Karl Rove, former advance man for President George W. Bush, informed the Wall Street Journal that Tim Geithner (Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins) as secretary of the Treasury and Larry Summers (M.I.T., Harvard) as director of the National Economic Council were “solid picks,” both investments rated “reassuring” and “market-oriented.”

The mood was not as festive in the workshops of the romantic left, but even the churls who thought the appointees insufficiently progressive in their views of the American future took comfort in the remembrance of their candidate saying somewhere in a post-election speech, “Understand where the vision for change comes from. First and foremost, it comes from me.”

David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, told the Washington Post that although the hotheads among his acquaintance were “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied,” they held fast to the belief that Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) would set the agenda, reprogram the operatives complicit in the stupidity and cynicism of the Bush and Clinton administrations; pragmatism was the watchword, and the dawning of a bright new day was guaranteed by the installation of what Brooks proclaimed a “valedictocracy,” post-partisan and non-ideological, its shoes shined, its hair combed, its ambition neatly pressed.

The recommendation deserves to be ranked with the ones until recently in vogue at the Palm Beach Country Club among the members acquainted with the achievetron Bernie Madoff. For the past sixty years the deputies assigned to engineer the domestic and foreign policies of governments newly arriving in Washington have come outfitted with similar qualifications— first-class schools, state-of-the-art networking, apprenticeship in a legislative body or a think tank—and for sixty years they have managed to weaken rather than strengthen the American democracy, ending their terms of office as objects of ridicule if not under threat of criminal arrest.

The Harvard wunderkinds (a.k.a. “the best and the brightest”) who followed President John F. Kennedy into the White House in 1961 hung around the map tables long enough to point the country in the direction of the Vietnam War. Henry Kissinger, another Harvard prodigy, imparted to American statecraft the modus operandi of a Mafia cartel. The Reagan Administration imported its book of revelation from the University of Chicago’s School of Economics (“privatization” the watchword, “unfettered free market” the Christian name for Zeus) and by so doing set in motion what lately has come to be seen as a long- running Ponzi scheme. Take into account the Ivy League’s contributions to the Bush Administration—Attorney General John Ashcroft (Yale), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Princeton), director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff (Harvard)—and I can imagine a doctoral thesis commissioned by the Kennedy School of Government and meant to determine which of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning over the past fifty years has done the most damage to the health and happiness of the American people.

It’s conceivable that the Obama Administration will prove itself the exception to the rule, but when the president says that his vision for change “comes from me” he leaves open the question as to whether he intends to generate itex cathedra (Barter) or ex nihilo (Out of Nothing ) . Neither method offers much chance of success if what is wanted or required is a recasting of the American democracy on a scale comparable to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Socioeconomic alterations of a magnitude sufficient to be recognized as such tend to be collective enterprises, usually brought about by powers of mind and forces of circumstance outside, not inside, the circle of A-list opinion—the barbarians at the gates of fifth-century Rome, the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation _personae non gratae _at the Vatican, the authors of the American Constitution far removed from the certain truths seated on velvet cushions in eighteenth-century London. Ulysses S. Grant, perhaps Lincoln’s most effective general, was virtually unknown to the War Office in Washington before the bombardment of Fort Sumter; during the Great Depression of the 1930s, FDR composed a “Brain Trust” of individuals (some of them academics, others not, none of them rounded up from the quorum of usual suspects) as willing as the president to “take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly, and try another.”

Deacetylation of Telomers Crucial to Longevity in Humans ... Scientists have long known that a class of proteins called sirtuins promotes fitness and longevity in most organisms ranging from single-celled yeast to mammals. At the cellular level, sirtuins protect genome integrity, enhance resistance to adverse stresses, and antagonize senescence. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms have remained poorly understood.

The team, led by senior author Shelley Berger, Ph.D., Hilary Koprowski Professor at The Wistar Institute, demonstrated for the first time a molecular target for a member of this class, Sir2, in regulation of aging in yeast cells. Sir2 removes an acetyl group attached to a specific site (lysine at position 16 or K16) on histone H4—histones are proteins that package and organize the long strands of DNA within the nucleus and also are central regulators in turning genes on and off. The study reveals that removal of this acetyl group by Sir2 near the chromosome ends—the telomeres—is important for yeast cells to maintain the ability to replicate. Researchers found that Sir2 levels decline as cells age, and there is a concomitant accumulation of the acetylation mark along with disrupted histone organization at telomeres.

Deacetylation of H4K16 by Sir2 and consequent telomere stability play a major role in maintaining long lifespan in yeast. Since sirtuins deacetylate many different proteins, these results clarify a key role of Sir2 protein in control of lifespan.

"Some modifications on histones, like this acetylation on histone H4 lysine 16, are persistent and are maintained through generations of cell divisions. This DNA-independent inheritance is called epigenetics," Berger says. "Characteristic epigenetic features have been discovered for various developmental processes in recent years. Understanding epigenetic changes associated with aging is a hugely exciting direction in aging research. It will provide insights and ideas not only for new therapies to regulate cells that have lost control of proliferation, such as 'immortal' cells found in cancers, but also for new strategies to maintain health and fitness." ...

Protein Regulating Movement of Mitochondria Keeps Oxygen in Neurons from Oxygen Cutoff

... Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the movement of mitochondria may help scientists identify how the brain's cells ward off and potentially repair damage. An example is the role that mitochondria play as a calcium buffer. One of the mitochondria's functions is to help control the concentration of calcium in the cell, which the organelles can rapidly absorb and store. This capacity is important, particularly in instances when calcium levels in the cell spike during a stroke, a condition which contributes a cascading series of events that ultimately lead to a state called excitotoxicity and cell death.

One of the keys to identifying the function of HUMMR has been the appreciation in that the body operates at a relatively low oxygen level. While the air we breath consists of approximately 20% oxygen, the cells in the brain sit at somewhere between 2-5% oxygen. This creates a "normal" state of hypoxia in the brain.

However, the concentration of oxygen in the brain can drop even further in instances such as a stroke, when blood flow to a portion of the brain is cut off. This decrease in oxygen promotes the expression of HUMMR which, in turn, mobilizes mitochondria. More mitochondria in the correct position may mean the cell has a greater capacity to filter out toxic levels of calcium. Rempe and his colleagues are now investigating the role that HUMMR may play in stroke models, particularly whether or not this activity helps protect vulnerable cells that lie just outside the core areas of the brain that are damaged by stroke. ...

Epigenetics: 100 Reasons To Change The Way We Think About Genetics

ScienceDaily (May 20, 2009) — For years, genes have been considered the one and only way biological traits could be passed down through generations of organisms.

Not anymore.

Increasingly, biologists are finding that non-genetic variation acquired during the life of an organism can sometimes be passed on to offspring—a phenomenon known as epigenetic inheritance. An article forthcoming in the July issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology lists over 100 well-documented cases of epigenetic inheritance between generations of organisms, and suggests that non-DNA inheritance happens much more often than scientists previously thought.

Biologists have suspected for years that some kind of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the cellular level. The different kinds of cells in our bodies provide an example. Skin cells and brain cells have different forms and functions, despite having exactly the same DNA. There must be mechanisms—other than DNA—that make sure skin cells stay skin cells when they divide.

Only recently, however, have researchers begun to find molecular evidence of non-DNA inheritance between organisms as well as between cells. The main question now is: How often does it happen?

"The analysis of these data shows that epigenetic inheritance is ubiquitous …," write Eva Jablonka and Gal Raz, both of Tel-Aviv University in Israel. Their article outlines inherited epigenetic variation in bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and animals.

These findings "represent the tip of a very large iceberg," the authors say.

For example, Jablonka and Raz cite a study finding that when fruit flies are exposed to certain chemicals, at least 13 generations of their descendants are born with bristly outgrowths on their eyes. Another study found that exposing a pregnant rat to a chemical that alters reproductive hormones leads to generations of sick offspring. Yet another study shows higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in the children and grandchildren of people who were malnourished in adolescence.

In these cases, as well as the rest of the cases Jablonka and Raz cite, the source of the variation in subsequent generations was not DNA. Rather, the new traits were carried on through epigenetic means.

There are four known mechanisms for epigenetic inheritance. According to Jablonka and Raz, the best understood of these is "DNA methylation." Methyls, small chemical groups within cells, latch on to certain areas along the DNA strand. The methyls serve as a kind of switch that renders genes active or inactive.

By turning genes on and off, methyls can have a profound impact on the form and function of cells and organisms, without changing the underlying DNA. If the normal pattern of methyls is altered—by a chemical agent, for example—that new pattern can be passed to future generations.

The result, as in the case of the pregnant rats, can be dramatic and stick around for generations, despite the fact that underlying DNA remains unchanged. ... /releases/2009/05/090518111723.htm

Mutations of Live Attenuated TB Vaccine Believed to Cause It to Lose Its Effectiveness ScienceDaily (May 24, 2009) —

Not fully realized by researchers about how attenuated vaccines can mutate back to the more virulent ones as seen in the polio vaccine in India due to excretion of the modified virus into to the water supply. Viruses mutate by breaking up and recombining with fragments of other viruses. In this way they might be able to change the attenuated vaccine back to the more virulent one. So I question whether some of the weakness of vaccines could be due to the introduction of more more virulent or less effective species.

In this case the TB bacteria vaccine became less effective because it still produced antioxidants because our immune response works by an oxidation process. When the researcher first author Lakshmi Sadagopal, Ph.D., research instructor of Medicine proposed this approach, many negative responses occurred, but she was able to convince Professor Kermodle.

One good result of all the smart students going into higher income areas such as finance is that it left room for the so-called lesser students such as women and foreigners to make many of the recent breakthroughs in research such as Lakshmi Sadagopal. Bill & Melinda Gates looked into the future effects of global warming where migration of both people and bugs will bring diseases to the Developed Countries. So they have heavily funded research in Malaria and AIDs and Drug development neglected by Big Pharma to prepare us for our certain future.

Jim Kawakami

May 24, 2009

The Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has already licensed the modification technology developed by Kernodle and colleagues. Aeras is working to make the best possible modified BCG vaccine, and it has built the infrastructure to conduct clinical trials in South Africa, Kenya and India – countries with a high incidence of TB. ...

A team of Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigators has cracked one of clinical medicine's enduring mysteries – what happened to the tuberculosis vaccine. The once-effective vaccine no longer prevents the bacterial lung infection that kills more than 1.7 million people worldwide each year. ...

The current TB vaccine, known as BCG (bacille Calmette-Guérin), has been around since the 1920s. It was made by weakening (attenuating) a strain of bacteria that causes tuberculosis in cows and that genetically is 98 percent identical to the human TB germ. ...

Kernodle and colleagues came to the problem of BCG's poor activity against pulmonary TB from a different angle. They had reported in 2001 that one way TB itself evades the immune system is by producing antioxidants. Since BCG also produces antioxidants, they suggested that removing BCG's antioxidant-producing capacity might improve the vaccine.

"Our idea to take something away from BCG – and therefore theoretically attenuate it even further – was met with a lot of skepticism," Kernodle said. "But we believed our data that we could make BCG more immunogenic and safer." ...

In the current studies, first author Lakshmi Sadagopal, Ph.D., research instructor of Medicine, vaccinated mice with a modified BCG (genetically changed in three ways to reduce or eliminate the production of several antioxidants) and examined the immune response in the days following vaccination and later with a "challenge" dose of BCG.

She found that, compared to BCG, the modified BCG induced greater cytokine (immune regulatory factor) production during the early phase of the immune response, more CD8 cell-killing T cells at the peak of the primary response, and more CD4 helper T cells during the memory phase. Modified BCG also produced greater recall immune responses and was eliminated better by the vaccinated host animal than the parent BCG vaccine, which might correlate with improved safety in humans.

"At each time point of the immune response, the modified BCG vaccine worked better than the parent BCG vaccine," Kernodle said. "By targeting antioxidants that had increased in expression during decades of cultivation, we ended up making BCG more like it was back in the 1920s when it was 80 percent effective against pulmonary TB. We fixed it."

Using modern molecular techniques to reduce the activity of antioxidants below levels in naturally occurring strains, "it should be possible to make it even better than the original BCG," he added. ...

New Study Genetic Study Shows Humans and Mice Have Only Four Fifths of Common Genes Explaining Failures of Treatments Working on Mice, but Not on Humans

ScienceDaily (May 27, 2009) — A new article in PLoS Biology explores exactly what distinguishes the human genome from that of the lab mouse. In the first comprehensive comparison between the genes of mice and humans, scientists from institutions across America, Sweden and the UK reveal that there are more genetic differences between the two species than had been previously thought.

One-fifth of mouse genes are new copies that have emerged in the last 90 million years of mouse evolution. These large differences between genes in humans and the mouse are likely to reflect many of the differences that distinguish human and mouse biology.

These findings are reported in a landmark publication describing the finished genome sequence of the mouse, which, after the human, is only the second completed sequence for any mammal. That humans and mice have four-fifths of their genes in common – and that these genes have been identified - directly enhances scientists' abilities to pick out mouse genes that are most applicable to human disease. In effect, what this new research has shown is how to neatly separate biology that humans share with mice from biology found in one species only. ... /releases/2009/05/090526202722.htm

The Good Guide to Health


Published: June 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — These days, every skin lotion and dish detergent on store shelves gloats about how green it is. How do shoppers know which are good for them and good for the earth?He realized he did not know what was in the lotion. He went to his office and quickly discovered that it contained a carcinogen activated by sunlight. It also contained an endocrine disruptor and two skin irritants. He also discovered that her soap included a kind of dioxane, a carcinogen, and then found that one of her brand-name toys was made with lead.

And in looking for the answer, he hatched the idea for a company that used his esoteric research on supply chain management. “All I do is study this, and I know nothing about the products I’m bringing into our house and putting in, on and around our family,” Mr. O’Rourke said. But when he wanted to find that information, he could. Most consumers would struggle to do so.

Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past the package’s marketing spiel by entering a product’s name and discovering its health, environmental and social impacts. ...

Women Better Off Choosing Unattractive Males for Mates to Increase Chances for Successful Son

(I am unusually attracted to actress types according to Jung. Unfortunately I found them to be unsuitable marriage material. But I did notice many of the men who go into acting are Gay or of undetermined sexuality at UCLA. Anyone have a different opinion? Jim)

... In a research paper published in the Oct. 7 edition of the prestigious journal Science, UBC zoology professor Sarah Otto and graduate student Arianne Albert propose a model that explains why males in some species have extravagant displays for attracting females, while males in other species look just like females.

Many groups of animals, including humans, have an “XY” sex-determining system through which the father determines the sex of the offspring -- the offspring is female if it receives an X chromosome from the father, and vice versa. For these species, the chromosome on which flashy displays is coded will determine whether the sons or the daughters inherit the physical trait.

“If the genes coding for flashy displays are on the X, the genes from a sexy dad only appear in his daughters, making them visible to predators without improving their reproductive success, and thus favouring the evolution of preferences for dull males,” says Albert, lead author of the paper. ...

Money Worries Make Women Spend More

ScienceDaily (May 23, 2009) — At times of crisis women are more inclined to spend themselves out of misery than at stable times, a new survey suggests. Psychologists say that the recession could force more women to overspend or increase their risk of mental illness.

A survey conducted by Professor Karen Pine, from the University of Hertfordshire and author of Sheconomics, to be released on 21 May 2009 found that 79% of women said they would go on a spending spree to cheer themselves up. Professor Pine’s research concludes that some women use shopping as an emotion regulator, a way of anesthetising themselves to negative feelings or dissatisfaction with life. So worrying about money could, paradoxically, lead women to spend more.

Of the 700 women surveyed, four out of ten named ‘depression’, and six out of ten named ‘feeling a bit low’, as reasons to go on a spending spree and overspend. Women commonly expressed the view that shopping has the power to make them feel better.

Professor Pine’s research found that an intense emotional state, high or low, could send women to the shops. “This type of spending, or compensatory consumption, serves as a way of regulating intense emotions,” she said.

This ability to regulate emotions is crucial for mental and physical wellbeing and humans adopt a variety of means of doing so, including drugs and alcohol. Shopping is one method increasingly adopted by women.

“If shopping is an emotional habit for women they may feel the need to keep spending despite the economic downturn,” said Professor Pine. “Or, perhaps worse still, if they can’t spend we might see an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.” ...

Melting Ice Sheets May Threaten Northeast USA and Canada

This visualization, based on new computer modeling, shows that sea level rise may be an additional 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher by populated areas in northeastern North America than previously thought. Extreme northeastern North America and Greenland may experience even higher sea level rise. (Credit: Graphic courtesy Geophysical Research Letters, modified by UCAR)

ScienceDaily (May 28, 2009) — Melting of the Greenland ice sheet this century may drive more water than previously thought toward the already threatened coastlines of New York, Boston, Halifax, and other cities in the northeastern United States and Canada, according to new research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study, which is being published May 29 in Geophysical Research Letters, finds that if Greenland's ice melts at moderate to high rates, ocean circulation by 2100 may shift and cause sea levels off the northeast coast of North America to rise by about 12 to 20 inches (about 30 to 50 centimeters) more than in other coastal areas. The research builds on recent reports that have found that sea level rise associated with global warming could adversely affect North America, and its findings suggest that the situation is more threatening than previously believed.

"If the Greenland melt continues to accelerate, we could see significant impacts this century on the northeast U.S. coast from the resulting sea level rise," says NCAR scientist Aixue Hu, the lead author. "Major northeastern cities are directly in the path of the greatest rise."

A study in Nature Geoscience in March warned that warmer water temperatures could shift ocean currents in a way that would raise sea levels off the Northeast by about 8 inches (20 cm) more than the average global sea level rise. But it did not include the additional impact of Greenland's ice, which at moderate to high melt rates would further accelerate changes in ocean circulation and drive an additional 4 to 12 inches (about 10 to 30 cm) of water toward heavily populated areas of northeastern North America on top of average global sea level rise. More remote areas in extreme northeastern Canada and Greenland could see even higher sea level rise.

Scientists have been cautious about estimating average sea level rise this century in part because of complex processes within ice sheets. The 2007 assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that sea levels worldwide could rise by an average of 7 to 23 inches (18 to 59 cm) this century, but many researchers believe the rise will be greater because of dynamic factors in ice sheets that appear to have accelerated the melting rate in recent years.

The new research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and by NCAR's sponsor, the National Science Foundation. It was conducted by scientists at NCAR, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Florida State University. ... /releases/2009/05/090527121055.htm

Depleted Water Tables Induce Droughts as Experienced in Northern China and India

The Amazon Rain Forest water evaporation from trees produces its own source of heavy rains. So since we are depleting many of the water tables in Texas, Colorado, and Montana, it is likely future droughts will become more severe. Northern China went from green fields to expanding desert sands by depleting their water tables by excessive farming. The frequent dust storms in Beijing are something to dread for visitors as well as residents near these northern desert regions.

Jim Kawakami

June 4, 2009

ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2008) — Will there be another "dust bowl" in the Great Plains similar to the one that swept the region in the 1930s?

It depends on water storage underground. Groundwater depth has a significant effect on whether the Great Plains will have a drought or bountiful year.

Recent modeling results show that the depth of the water table, which results from lateral water flow at the surface and subsurface, determines the relative susceptibility of regions to changes in temperature and precipitation.

"Groundwater is critical to understand the processes of recharge and drought in a changing climate," said Reed Maxwell, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who along with a colleague at Bonn University analyzed the models that appear in the Sept. 28 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.

Maxwell and Stefan Kollet studied the response of a watershed in the southern Great Plains in Oklahoma using a groundwater/surface-water/land-surface model.

The southern Great Plains are an important agricultural region that has experienced severe droughts during the past century including the "dust bowl" of the 1930s. This area is characterized by little winter snowpack, rolling terrain and seasonal precipitation.

While the onset of droughts in the region may depend on sea surface temperature, the length and depth of major droughts appear to depend on soil moisture conditions and land-atmosphere interactions. ...

The models showed that groundwater storage acts as a moderator of watershed response and climate feedbacks. In areas with a shallow water table, changes in land conditions, such as how wet or dry the soil is and how much water is available for plant function, are related to an increase in atmospheric temperatures. In areas with deep water tables, changes at the land surface are directly related to amount of precipitation and plant type.

But in the critical zone, identified here between two and five meter's depth, there is a very strong correlation between the water table depth and the land surface.

"These findings also have strong implications for drought and show a strong dependence on areas of convergent flow and water table depth," Maxwell said. "The role of lateral subsurface flow should not be ignored in climate-change simulations and drought analysis." ...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Physician Rethinks Healthcare System. Single Payer Our Only Choice

Summary of Weekly News June 5, 2009  

Rachel Maddow discusses the eight Third Rail statements made by President Obama in Egypt. 

Less consumer Spending and Less Credit Cards Indicates Slow Growth for Economy in 2009 By LOUIS UCHITELLE

Published: September 18, 2008

The latest outgrowth of the housing crisis, the breakdown on Wall Street, threatens to gradually corrode economic activity on Main Street, mainly by disabling the credit on which so many everyday transactions depend — but also by frightening people. ...

Bail-Out of Mortgages Planned Soon Edmund L. Andrews ... While details remain to be worked out, the plan is likely to authorize the government to buy distressed mortgages at deep discounts from banks and other institutions. The proposal could result in the most direct commitment of taxpayer funds so far in the financial crisis that Fed and Treasury officials say is the worst they have ever seen.

Senior aides and lawmakers said the goal was to complete the legislation by the end of next week, when Congress is scheduled to adjourn. The legislation would grant new authority to the administration and require what several officials said would be a substantial appropriation of federal dollars, though no figures were disclosed in the meeting. ...

Investors Skeptical on Stock Market Rebound, Peter Garnham Financial Times June 1, 2009 The majority of the world’s leading investors do not believe the recent strong performance of stocks and other risky assets is sustainable ... 

Leverage Creeps Back onto the Radar Gillian Tett FT 6/2/09  Michael Hintz, a former Goldman Sachs trader who co-founded CQS sees modest shift in increasing use of leverage.

Those Who Know Her Said Sotomayor Rose on Merit Alone NY Times Michael Powell and Serge F. Kovaleski ... The Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who recruited her from Yale Law School, said the comforts of corporate law held no great attraction for her. Her striving to make a difference was partly due to her life long diabetes I. Because of Sotomayor’s superb academic credentials and recommendations, the Republicans tried very hard to keep her off the Appeals Court appointment because they were afraid she was Supreme Court material which is obvious now. Peter Baker NYT  Sotomayor spent a lot of time on supporting diversity struggle. 

Jim- Judge Mayor is truly an outstanding candidate for the court who may be able to speak to Kennedy to bring him over to the good guys and gals. The conservative court members show quite clearly that genetics and experience has shaped how they make decisions. The huge number of 5-4 decisions indicate that everyone is shaped how they think by forces they cannot necessarily control. Sotomayor realizes that she gets over-emotional on Latino equity issues so she sometimes bends over backwards too far.

Your are What You Eat Holds for Cows Too! NY Times Leslie Kaufman June 5, 2009 Methane output dropped 18% when fed plants like alfalfa and flaxseed--substance that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat. Corn fed cows need to be treated with hormones and antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. The cows are healthier and coats shinier. Methane has 20 times more global warming effects that carbon dioxide. Eat cow belches out 400 lbs of methane each year. 

President Obama Wrote Letter to Congress on Wednesday that He Strongly Favors a Public Insurance Option-- NY Times Robert Pear and John Harwood Fri June 5,2009

Physician Rethinks Healthcare System. Single Payer Our Only Choice Daily Kos June 4, 2009

... How About Medicare as a model?

Medicare was a deeply flawed system from the get-go because the insurance companies were able to force their will on Congress to make Medicare greatly dependent on the insurance industry -- most people do not realize that even plain ol' fee-for-service Medicare is administered by private contractors, {updated: who have been given a great deal of latitude in interpreting and implementing the regs put forward by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). And because Medicare only covers 80%, that still gives the insurance companies a large role in selling supplemental insurance for the other 20%; insurance that a significant minority of seniors cannot afford. Patients without a supplemental policy are almost never denied care, and it's providers who are stuck covering the difference.} And of course, Medicare Advantage is simply managed care, except that for the insurance companies, it's EVEN MORE PROFITABLE -- in fact, under the current system, they are guaranteed huge profits, while providers are often in the red for every Medicare patient they see, and patients and their physicians have to put up with all the administrative burdens that are part and parcel of managed care.

There continues to be tremendous concern about the way Medicare is structured. Part A and Part B are financed entirely separately. Part A covers inpatient hospital care, and Part B covers outpatient care given by physicians, and has grown tremendously in recent years as outpatient care as taken over much of the care that formerly was done in hospitals. Yet, current law mandates budget neutrality for Part B (only), so that as the volume of care has grown, a very badly flawed formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate requires draconian cuts in physician reimbursement in the face of ever rising costs of providing care, causing an annual crisis in Medicare funding. Congress to date has refused to fix this, as it's become a useful political football, and there is much hand-wringing about where-oh-where the money would come from. So, we have annual emergency fixes. In fact, average reimbursement for regular Medicare is currently slated to by slashed by 20.5% in January, 2010. Congress will almost certainly not allow this to happen -- it would destroy Medicare almost over night. But needing an annual emergency fix for cuts based on an obsolete formula that everyone agrees is wrong, but nobody will fix, is an insane way to run a health care system. I mention this primarily to explain perhaps the foremost source of physician apprehension about single payer -- if Congress cannot even muster the political will to fix SGR, how in the world can we rely on Congress to come up with a single payer system that works? But ...

Stories: patients

There are untold numbers of stories. One I heard just this morning, from a construction supervisor who is doing some work for me. His former employer went out of business. He has tried to convert his previous plan -- offered by the dominant, integrated system in our state -- into a family insurance policy. But this hard-working laborer has had two compressed vertebrae. Not even a chronic illness! So? Presto -- he's uninsurable. When he questioned this, he was told, "Sorry, that's our policy."

Stories: physicians

Physicians and their employees spend inordinate amounts of time fighting with multiple insurance companies, each of which has myriad sets of rules that vary with different policies. It is absolutely impossible for physicians to keep all of the rules and restrictions straight, even with computerized records. And patients wind up paying the price, when their care is denied "because your doctor didn't prescribe an approved medication" or "your doctor forgot to get prior authorization". Even incredibly conscientious physicians who try their best, and who are willing to fight with insurers on their own time, can't keep up with this.

So, Single Payer?

Single payer health care might mean the death of private medicine in this country. It would likely mean that the clinic that my family member spent an entire professional career proudly building using loans that the clinic's physician partners took out on their own risk, would go out of business, because unless reimbursement rates were substantially increased above current Medicare rates, medical practices, even successful group practices, that are not owned by huge corporations or integrated systems that can take advantage of tax scams like those described above and preferential pricing only available to hospital owned practices -- will not be able to stay in business.

But you know what? Private, independent medicine is being slaughtered now. It's going extinct. And with its loss, an important part of what in the past made American medicine so vital, so personal and of such high quality will disappear, too.

That may be the price we have to pay. I have concluded that it's time to get private insurance out of the business of running and paying for health care, even if we were able to get every man, woman and child a health insurance policy, especially when insurance is used, as it often is now, as a way for huge corporations to gain a stranglehold on markets, and take all choice away from patients. Even if it means that many of my colleagues, including in my own family, wind up having to sell (probably at a substantial loss) what they've spent their lives building.

You see, while I understand capitalism, I also firmly believe that in an enlightened, wealthy society, we really have to do what does the most good for the most people. And if we believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, polishing the edges of a system that is rotten at the core will never get there.

I say this knowing that the overwhelming majority of physicians whom I represent at the AMA are vehemently opposed to the concept of single payer health care. Some of the opposition is not rational, but much of it is. If single payer were implemented poorly, it could turn our current system into something even worse.

Coming Out

So, I'm "coming out". I will say it: We need a true single-payer system in this country, but unlike Medicare, it has to done right. If it's done via insurance contractors, with all the control given to powerful hospitals and integrated systems, we will continue to have a disaster, perhaps worse than the one we have now, with the same disconnect in the marketplace that we have now between purchasers and users of health care and all of the upside-down incentives and rewards that have so perverted our current system.

We have to copy the very best of successful systems elsewhere. We have to make sure that physicians who have invested their careers and risked their own finances in developing practices are not destroyed. As a country, the last thing we an afford is to force physicians in their 50s into early retirement -- we already have severe shortages in many specialties and geographic areas, so a "tough shit" attitude about physicians is in NOBODY'S best interests. We need the input from the people who actually understand and provide health care in designing and running the system.

IF single payer were done right, the extinction scenario for practices not owned by huge conglomerates might not come to pass. In fact, it's possible that the opposite would be true. But that would take a huge amount of political will. More political will than we have ever seen to date from the likes of Harry Reid and Max Baucus.

I'm looking forward to the discussion I'm hoping this diary will generate -- especially from you physicians lurking out there.

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UPDATE (midnight MDT): I posted this diary right before going to dinner with two physicians I respect greatly -- the major topic of discussion was health system reform! -- and returned home to find this atop the Rec List. Thank you all for the incredibly gracious comments, and even more for the excellent discussion. I hope you'll forgive any comments of mine below that aren't as clear or as concise as they might be after two glasses of wine.  :-)

But most importantly, I really have a renewed sense of optimism that we can all work together to bring about meaningful reform.

I'll be attending the annual meeting of the AMA in Chicago that starts a week from now. I'm sure that health system reform will be topic #1 for the entire meeting. I'll be happy to provide updates.

And -- go get 'em nyceve!!

UPDATE (Friday morning) -- I must mention Paul Krugman's column today on health system reform, entitled Keeping Them Honest. Two guesses on who "Them" refers to:

... let me offer Congress two pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t trust the insurance industry.
  2. Don’t trust the insurance industry.

I can't think of a better possible way to close this diary.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Re: Debt Based Financial Collapse. "The Death of Kings: Notes from a Meltdown."