The United States has fallen to 49th among the world's nations in life expectancy, according to a study published in the journal, Health Affairs. According to the study, which was done by Columbia University professors  Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied, we ranked 49th in both male and female life expectancies.

Just 11 years ago, we ranked 24th, so we're slipping pretty badly.

The report found the primary reason for the decline is our deteriorating health care system and its ever-rising costs and growing numbers of uninsured and under-insured -- people  who can't get access to care.

The authors noted that the United States spends more than twice as much per person on health care than other industrialized nations, and it says, “The observation that Americans are spending relatively more on health but living relatively shorter, less healthy lives has led some critics to allege that the US health care system is ‘uniquely inefficient.’”

Although the Right would have us believe we have the best health care in the world, this report once again shows how far from our potential we have slipped with our I-got-mine-get-your-own mentality.

We have the potential to have the best health care system in the world, yet we continually fall short on every benchmark -- health care outcomes, life expectancy, cost, access, chronic illness care, premature death ...

Here in North Carolina, people literally are dying in the streets. Each year, we lose a dozen or more homeless people to untreated psychiatric illness, treatable infections, and complications of chronic illness. Preventable deaths.

Three years ago, a man who had been to the emergency room here in Asheville for respiratory problems was released back to the street. He refused to go, saying he was too sick, so he was arrested. Later that night he died alone in his cell.

People who say everyone has access through the emergency room are wrong. No one can be turned away for inability to pay, but the patient need only be stabilized. Mike couldn't get a colonoscopy for his abdominal pain because the emergency room docs only had to deal with the symptoms. So, he got pain pills, antacids, laxatives and at least six incorrect diagnoses before he was admitted to the hospital so near death that it took five days to stabilize him for surgery.

That's why my son died at 33.  Two weeks after he died, I went back to work and did a story about three young men in North Carolina who had died within days of each other because each had been released from a psychiatric hospital without a follow-up plan. One was released to a shelter that had been closed for weeks, then he was put up in a seedy hotel, where he died from a drug overdose. It wasn't determined whether the overdose was an accident in an attempt to self-medicate, ot intentional.

These three young men died prematurely because our system is so broken they couldn't even get follow-up care after release from a hospital.

My son has a friend whose mother has type 2 diabetes. She couldn't afford her supplies, so she couldn't manage her illness. Her blood pressure skyrocketed and she had a severe stroke. Now, instead of being a taxpayer, we spend upwards of $100,000 a year to maintain her in a nursing home. It's not likely she'll live to a ripe old age.

Everywhere I go, I hear the stories of people who can't get care and of people who died prematurely because of our broken health care system.

I don't blame only the hospitals for the inability to care for people who can'y pay -- Mission Hospitals here in Asheville gives away millions of dollars in care every year, but it isn't enough to cover everyone who needs it.

So-called "Obamacare" is a step in the right direction. It laid the  foundation for a better system. To say it should be repealed is to say America is no longer the great nation it once was, that we can't take care of our own.

 There was a time we believed we were in this together.

Now we're number 49.

Have you seen the recent TV ads for Manwich sloppy joe sauce and Chef Boyardee Beefaroni?

They each have a whole serving of vegetables. Plus a lot of other stuff the makers aren't so quick to brag about.

Here's the ingredients list for Manwich:  Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Less than 2% of: Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Red and Green Bell Peppers, Chile Pepper, Tomato Fiber, Spices, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dehydrated Garlic, Carob Bean Gum, Natural Flavors.

Doesn't look particularly natural to me, especially with high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient. Then you get into all the dehydrated stuff and guar and xanthan gums. And what exactly are "natural flavors?"

The website has this to say about the nutritional value of Manwich:

"(A) serving is a quarter cup of sauce (not including the beef) which seems quite small. Mixing a 15.5 oz can with 1 lb of beef and then dividing to 7 portions as suggested will yield much less “joe” than is pictured in the  images on the product label and in the commercials. The “mini-serving” has 40 calories, 6 grams of sugar (1.5 teaspoons) and 2 grams of fiber (good, but comes from added ingredient called tomato fiber…). The sauce is not a substantial source of vitamins A or C, but cooked tomatoes are a great source of lycopenes, a kind of antioxidant that is supposed to help ward of cancer. The little serving has 410 mg of sodium, about 16% of the daily maximum value. A real manwich serving would be double the sodium though – upping sodium to a third of your daily max."

Here's the ad:

Here are the ingredients for Beefaroni: Tomatoes (water, tomato puree), water, beef, enriched macaroni (semolina wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], and folic acid), contains less than 2% of: high fructose corn syrup, salt, modified corn starch, enzyme modified cheese (cheddar cheese [pasteurized milk, cultures, salt, enzymes]), flavorings and soybean oil.

A single serving of 1 cup (a half can) has 260 calories and 10 grams of fat, plus 990 mgs of soidum -- nearly half of the recommended daily amount. It has just 3 grams of fiber -- just over 10 percent of the recommended daily amount for a healthy diet. I guess that's because it has "whole grain" pasta., or this one:

So, what is a busy parent to do?

Either of these things can be made from scratch and will taste -- and be -- much better.

For the sloppy joe, sautee a chopped onion and a minced clove of garlic  in canola or olive oil (you can substitute 1/4 tsp of garlic powder for the fresh). Add one chopped green pepper and sautee for about 2 minutes. Add 1 pound of lean ground beef and brown (pour off any fat). Add a large can of tomato puree, a little bit of dried basil and oregano, and stir. If you like your sloppy joes a little sweet, try adding 1 tsp. of  brown sugar.

As for the Beefaroni, here's something comparable and fresher. It's called American chop-suey:

Chop and sautee in canola or olive oil, one medium sized onion and one clove of fresh garlic, minced (or 1/4 tsp.garlic powder)

Add one chopped green pepper and sautee about 2 minutes.

Add 1 pound lean ground beef and cook through. Pour off any fat. Add a little oregano and basil to taste.

Add one large can tomato puree, one can of whole or chopped tomatoes, and one pound of pasta (macaroni, rotini or bow-tie) cooked and drained.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Either of these dishes can be enhanced with hot pepper or hot sauce to taste.

Yes, you can dump a can into a saucepan and heat, or you can spend about 20 minutes preparing something fresh and healthy with no high-fructose corn syrup or guar gum.



Health Care for America Now has produces two new videos starring Jack Black as an undercover person for corporate interests -- a misinformant, who infiltrates a school posing as 8-year-old Nathan Spewman, a child inflicted with "enlargitis."

OK, this is, like most of Jack Black's humor, somewhat profane, so if you don't like strong language, don't follow the link:

But for those who aren't offended by cuss words, this is a very funny series of videos that run under 4 minutes each, and well worth the time.

Sometimes we just need a good laugh in the middle of all this corporate mess.

The site also has information on the $75 million ad campaign by the US Chamber of Commerce and other efforts to misinform Americans. Take the time to have a good laugh and learn more about corporate tactics.

A judge in Florida has allowed a lawsuit that would gut the new health care law to go forward. That doesn't mean he agrees the law is unconstitutional, but he does believe the individual mandate to have health insurance is something that needs to be decided because it is something new.

The decision by Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, is only about whether the 20 states have a right to bring a lawsuit and it was expected.

But the far right is determined to repeal or gut the new law, meaning the insurance companies will have free rein to deny coverage and allow people to die at the rate of 45,000 or more a year.

The law isn't great, but it is a step in the right direction, and we all need to speak up -- and vote -- to protect what little progress has been made. The people who want things to be the way they were are mostly the big-money, special-interest types who want to make sure all the burdens remain on the working class while they skip away with more and more money, and they're not afraid to play dirty, to lie and to intimidate.

This morning, I gathered with about 100 other people to vote early. It was a Democratic event, but to me it was a party to celebrate my right to vote. As we were walking toward the polling place, a county Republican leader came driving by in a street-sweeping truck, beeping and flashing his lights, taking photos of people standing in line to vote. He parked the truck illegally in a spot reserved for voters, and he and another man began videotaping voters.

It's an intimidation tactic that I covered in elections while I was a reporter. Some voters are frightened by the cameras and will turn away. Several years ago, several people from a psychiatric group home who were registered to vote became frightened when someone from the Republican party videotaped them. They retreated to the van, and the man who was driving the van told me all but one were registgered Republicans. I call that irony.

Today, though, none of us was intimidated. We stood in line and waited. Some of us smiled and waved for the camera; one woman took out her camera and began shooting photos of them.

Bullying and intimidation are ways to keepvoters away from the polls. These people today knew about the gathering and the walk to vote together. As I said, to me it was a party to celebrate my right to vote, and no one is going to scare me away. The tactic is childish, but it can be effective.

When one party says it will send people to "monitor" voting in precincts where voters are mostly from the other party, it usually means they will challenge people's right to vote or find other ways to intimidate them.

The Republicans have said already that if they gain the majority in the House, they will work to repeal all the progress that has been made against big money and big corporations. They are running ads paid for by the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign money. Now that the Supreme Court has said corporations are people, the really big money is rolling in for candidates who will support them in their efforts to send more jobs overseas and otherwise trash the American economy and the working class.

Don't be discouraged. If you are a registered voter, go and vote. Don't let anyone other than an election official question your right to vote. Vote early or vote on Election Day. Vote for whoever you think will do the best job for Americans. In my mind, that would be the candidates who support access to health care, good paying jobs and a quality education for all Americans.



Rather than rock the boat during a contentious election, the Obama administration is issuing dozens of waivers to some businesses and insurance companies, giving them an extra year to comply with the new regulations that took effect last month.

According to an article in The New York Times, fast-food giant McDonald's threatened to cut off coverage to the few employees who qualify for it, and some of the big insurance companies threatened to stop selling some policies.

A couple weeks ago, some of the big insurance companies said they would stop selling child-only insurance policies if they were forced to cover children with pre-existing conditions, such as a birth defect or asthma.

That means if I'm a single mom with health insurance provided to me by an employer and I want to buy a policy to cover my children, these companies say they won't sell it to me, even if my children are in perfect health.

I've said all along that the success of health reform will be determined by the way the new regulations are defined and by the level of enforcement.

It appears that big business has found ways to get around the law already, with the help of the administration.

And innocent people die at the rate of one every 12 minutes.

To read the article in the NY Times, visit:

I found an interesting article on vitamin D and breast cancer that said the lower a woman's level of vitamin D, the higher the chances she will be diagnosed with a more advanced and aggressive breast cancer.

Having been diagnosed with low levels of vitamin D myself, it makes me more committed to taking the calcium/vitamin D supplement my doctor suggested, and to getting a reasonable level of unfiltered sunshine.

What surprised me about this study is the numbers among African-American women. It might account, at least in part, for the higher death rate from breast cancer among African-American women, and it can be prevented with simple dietary supplements.

I never heard much about vitamin D until a friend told me she had a deficiency. So when my doctor suggested I be tested, I agreed. That's when I started reading up on it and realized it's an important and underreported issue.

Especially if you're a woman, get tested if you can, and if you can't be tested, start taking a calcium/vitamin D supplement.

To read the article, visit