June 7, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 183

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Hunger crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria; Trump’s move to privatize air traffic control. People: Bill and Nate Produced: June 5th, 2017.

Episode 183 (50 min):
AFD 183

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Selected reading materials on the humanitarian crises

Washington Post: UN aid chief in Yemen warns of cholera rise without more aid
Washington Post: UN: 3,000 to 5,000 suspected new Yemen cholera cases daily
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: The untold story of how Africa’s poor are rescuing people from famine
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: Somalis are fleeing famine — only to find death in a place of refuge

March 15, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 173

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Republicans de-funding infectious disease prevention, why Democrats are very bad at taking credit for achievements, and Bill’s experience signing up for health insurance on the individual exchange in Massachusetts. People: Bill, Rachel, and Jonathan. Produced: March 13th, 2017.

Episode 173 (49 min):
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Dec 28, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 163

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Second of a two part series: Greg and Jonathan join Bill to discuss the fate of the health insurance industry and what the left should counter Republican proposals with. Produced: Dec 19th, 2016.

Episode 163 (50 min):
AFD 163

Last week: Greg and Jonathan join Bill to discuss what worked and didn’t work in Democratic health reform as well as what really bad ideas Republicans have for replacing it.

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Dec 21, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 162

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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First of a two part series: Greg and Jonathan join Bill to discuss what worked and didn’t work in Democratic health reform as well as what really bad ideas Republicans have for replacing it. Produced: Dec 19th, 2016.

Episode 162 (52 min):
AFD 162

Coming next week: In part two (already recorded), we’ll discuss the big philosophical questions surrounding how societies provide for people’s health, and what Democrats should be proposing as an alternative to destructive Republican plans

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What is the debate about Planned Parenthood really about?

Hint: it’s certainly not about science.

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Since the release of five highly doctored videos of Planned Parenthood executives appearing to sell fetuses, much has been said about Planned Parenthood and the women who use their services. However, few people appear to have asked “Who was buying fetal tissue and why?” Little attention has been paid to the importance of research on fetal tissue and the typically bipartisan support that this research receives. (Even Senator Mitch McConnell, now spearheading the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, voted to support the donation of fetal tissue from abortions in 1993.)

On July 29, 2015, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards sent a much-ignored letter to the director of the National Institute of Health. She wrote:

“It has become clear in the ensuing public debate … that there is widespread confusion about fetal tissue research and that government officials, medical researchers, health care providers, and the public could benefit from a review of the research and the procedures surrounding it by an independent expert panel. The last time such a review occurred was in 1988 during the Reagan Administration. We believe it may be time for another expert panel to examine these issues in light of the advancements achieved in medicine over the past 27 years.”

 
The 1988 panel to which Richards refers was overseen by a conservative judge opposed to abortion. Nonetheless, “a decisive majority of the panel found that it was acceptable public policy to support transplant research with fetal tissue.” The panel even concluded that aborted fetuses were acceptable donations to the medical community, so long as the decision to abort a fetus and decisions regarding the time or method of abortion were not interfered with in order to collect the tissue.

Fetal tissue is no longer a central focus of transplant research, but remains important for many other kinds of medical discovery, including the study of birth defects, genetic causes of diseases, and even possible cures for degenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers at MIT are even able to use fetal tissue to implant the human immune system into mice, allowing them to study tumors and human responses without using human test subjects.

Fetal tissue has a long history of being incredibly valuable in the medical field, most notably in the development of vaccines. In the mid-1960’s, an aborted fetus allowed researchers to isolate the Rubella virus and develop the vaccine for the deadly disease which is still used today. The researcher central to this discovery, Stanley Plotkin, spoke out:

“Human fetal cell strains, derived from voluntary abortions, have been extremely important for vaccine development, specifically for rabies, rubella, hepatitis A, and chicken pox. It is important to understand that the cell [lines] are stored and no new abortions are done to produce those vaccines.”

 
(The last line is presumably meant to clarify that the fetal cells are used only in the research and development phase, not the actual manufacture of the developed vaccines. –Ed.)

Richards’ letter to the NIH explains the limited, but important role that Planned Parenthood plays in fetal tissue donation. Planned Parenthood exists in all 50 states, but currently, in only five states are women able to donate tissue through Planned Parenthood. She writes:

“We participate in fetal tissue donation and occasionally partner in research not because this research is a core part of our mission, but because we are supporters of medical research and serve women who chose to make donations.”

 
In an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the influential journal threw their full support behind Planned Parenthood and their work:

“We strongly support Planned Parenthood not only for its efforts to channel fetal tissue into important medical research but also for its other work as one of the country’s largest providers of health care for women, especially poor women. The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions…We thank the women who made the choice to help improve the human condition through their tissue donation; we applaud the people who make this work possible and those who use these materials to advance human health.”

 
An opinion piece in the Washington Post this week brought into light the similarities between the policies of Planned Parenthood and the donations of fertilized embryos by in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. The author, Margo Kaplan, an associate professor at Rutgers Law School, believes that one of the biggest differences between perceptions of the two donations is which women are making the donation.

Women who donate through the IVF clinic are women who want to become mothers and have waited a long time to get the treatment. (Oh, and they are typically white and wealthy.) Those women who decide to end a pregnancy at a Planned Parenthood clinic are admonished by society for their “irresponsible lifestyles” and unwillingness to become mothers at the moment.

It seems to me that if the outrage that has continued to smolder since the public viewing of these doctored videos was truly over the use sale of fertilized embryos and the use of fetal tissue in research, people would be talking about those things. (GOP Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson himself used fetal tissue in research, but claims that since the specimen was already dead when he used it, he is in no way in the wrong.) Instead, once again, it appears that the target of the public’s thinly-veiled outcry is actually the women who use the services of Planned Parenthood.

Brazil 2016: The Swimming in Feces Olympics

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Devastating Associated Press investigation into next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.
[…]
Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.
[…]
More than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations are expected to compete in next year’s Olympics. Nearly 1,400 of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, swimming off Copacabana beach, and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake.

Read the rest.

John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, examined the protocols, methodology and results of the four rounds of AP tests in the three outdoor water sports sites. All three sites were found to be unsafe.

Kristina Mena, a U.S. expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses, examined the AP data and estimated that international athletes at all water venues would have a 99 percent chance of infection if they ingested just three teaspoons of water — though whether a person will fall ill depends on immunity and other factors.

 
The IOC should have pulled the plug on the Rio Olympics after the infrastructural trainwreck that was the 2014 Brazil World Cup, which was by comparison a much easier task to begin with.

Instead, the IOC responded to the AP report by saying Brazil should just stick to bacteria testing and that it would all be ok. In reality, many athletes already training on site reported becoming extremely sick repeatedly.

Even local Brazilians aren’t benefiting from this hosting opportunity:

As part of its Olympic project, Brazil promised to build eight treatment facilities to filter out much of the sewage and prevent tons of household trash from flowing into the Guanabara Bay. Only one has been built.
[…]
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has said it’s a “shame” the Olympic promises wouldn’t be met, adding the games are proving “a wasted opportunity” as far as the waterways are concerned.

 

Good news about … malaria?

Yes, there is good news about malaria: the rate of annual mortality from the disease has reached an all-time low. The United Nations reported on July 6th that deaths due to malaria were projected to be just 20 per 100,000 people in at-risk-populations in 2015, down from 48 per 100,000 people in 2000 – a decrease of 58%, which indicates that more than 6 million lives have been saved in the past 15 years.

malaria-progress-2000-2015-united-nations

Malaria is a parasite spread to humans through mosquito bites. Symptoms of malaria are flu-like and include high-fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and can lead to death if not treated properly. The United Nations and others committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals have been fighting malaria largely through the distribution of hundreds of millions of insecticide treated mosquito nets, education campaigns of the symptoms of malaria, and improved treatment of malaria-infected patients.

The United Nations also announced that they would need at least another decade to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which were originally slated to be achieved by this year. The fight against malaria is hardly over, yet it is still serves at as a reminder of what can be achieved when resources and appropriate technology are committed to a problem in the developing world.

Information and chart from the United Nations’ Millennium Goals Report 2015.