Saturday, March 26, 2011

Common Sense Family Doctor: Coronary CT: nonindicated and costly screening test

Another excellent post by Common Sense Family Doctor Kenny Lin, MD, on the incredible fact that Texas, bankrupt largely due to Medicaid costs and limiting elective Caesarean sections to decrease Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) costs, will pay for the non-indicated (but very profitable) coronary artery CT screening test. Dr. Lin also calls to task Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson for her inaccurate article criticizing the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for "interfering" with decisions that should be made by a patient and doctor.

Some years ago, after the sudden death of St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Darryl Kile of a heart attack at age 33, I met someone who asked me if he should get a coronary CT. I said I didn't recommend it, and wondered why he wanted it. He said if it was negative he wouldn't have to worry. I pointed out that he was very overweight and smoked, and that what would help him to live to see his children graduate from High School was not a coronary CT, but eating less and stopping smoking and beginning to exercise.

He was hoping that a negative CT had would mean he wouldn't have to do the hard work of changing his lifestyle.

Sorry, Charlie. It's not a good screening test for coronary artery disease and it is certainly not protective against developing it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

US Medicine and Medical Education: The Good Part

I have often, and I think with good justification, been highly critical of the US health (non-) system, particularly in two areas: the fact that we do not have universal financial access to health care (a completely intolerable situation, which cannot be justified or defended morally, although it often is – always by those who have coverage!), and the fact that we have a great deficiency of primary care physicians. I thought it might be time to address two areas in which I think US medical education and practice is superior to that in Europe and much off the rest of the world.

The first is our medical education system. In specific, I am very happy that our medical schools are graduate schools, entered by students after achieving a bachelor’s degree. This is unlike the situation in most countries, such as Britain, where the medical degree is indeed a bachelor’s degree, MBBS, bachelor of medicine/bachelor of surgery. Medicine as a graduate school is the norm only in the US and in Canada; in virtually every other country, students enter medical school out of high school at 18, and graduate 6 years later. While this still can produce excellent physicians, it is in my opinion less desirable. First of all, they do not have the advantage of the broader education that comes with a bachelor’s degree. Secondly, they are very young. In the US, a student entering medical school right from undergraduate studies would usually be 22, but because many take off for a few years (or have another career first) the actual mean entry age in most US medical schools is about 24 (with the median a little lower). This means a more mature student body, with life experiences – at least the experiences of 4 years of college, if not in another profession, in business, in the Peace Corps, etc. This makes a difference. It also means that US medical students are more likely (and, throughout this piece, when I say “more likely”, that is what I mean – greater probability, not 100%) to really want to be doctors, rather than being there because, at 18, their doctor parents told them that they were going to medical school.

I believe that this greater maturity and life experience lead to greater independent community involvement, creation and management of free clinics, etc. As an example, at the University of Kansas Medical School, the Jaydoc student-run Free Clinic is not only completely student-run, it was student developed, maintained and expanded. There are physicians who supervise at each clinic session, but that is their entire role; the students make the schedules, recruit the volunteers, organize the operation, follow up the results, raise the money (including writing grants and doing benefits). When the clinic was created, a call went out from a student, and over 80 students attended the first meeting. They identified what had to be done: find a venue, decide on frequency, raise money, organize scheduling, on and on. Hands went up from volunteers: “I was an accountant!” “I was a community organizer!” “I was a grant writer!” “I was a teacher!” Even those who had not a previous job or career had their college experiences behind them: “I organized the fund raisers for my sorority!” “I volunteered in the free clinic in the community where my college was located!” I don’t think this happens – could happen – in a school whose students all entered at 18.

Moreover, US medical schools use a variety of criteria for choosing the students to admit. They look for such volunteer work, demographic diversity, achievements in a variety of arenas. While many students are “pre-med”, majoring in biology and chemistry, as we have seen in Medicine, science, and humanities: what is their role in medical education?, August 26, 2010, many are history, English, or art majors. (“What is the course for pre-med?”, a Brazilian medical student, in his 4th year at 21 and still confused about the 4 years US students do before medical school, asked me.) In most countries a cognitive examination is the sole criterion for entry into medical school, and social values are not even considered. Thus, say, in São Paulo (which I know a little) to say that the top 200 scores go to the most prestigious medical school, 201-400 to #2, 401-600 to #3, etc., would not be far off! I have been critical of US medical admissions because they are so skewed to upper-middle-class suburbanites (80% of our medical students come from the top 20% of income), but this skew is even more pronounced in other countries where the cognitive exam is the only criterion, and the greatest likelihood predictor of doing well on these exams is going to the “best” (and most expensive) private preparatory schools. The top 2 medical schools in São Paulo are both public and free – something the socialist government is proud of – but the catch is that it would be virtually impossible for a public school student to get a high enough score on the exam to get into one of them. To get into the free, public medical school requires attending the most elite private prep schools!

The second area in which I think American medical practice – here I am talking about the practice of family medicine – is better is that, to a large degree, our family doctors take care of their patients in the hospital. In Hospitalists, December 4, 2008, I bemoaned the fact that this was changing and that primary care doctors are more and more often choosing to (or being required by their employers to) delegate the care of their hospitalized patients to others. I will not reprise all the reasons why I think this is largely a negative trend, since they are detailed in that piece; what is relevant here is that in most other countries primary care physicians (who are, in most other countries, all family doctors or general practitioners), never cared for their own hospitalized patients, turning them over to internists or pediatricians. In this sense, the trend in the US to hospitalists is emulating practice in Europe and elsewhere; unfortunately, in my opinion, it is emulating one of the more less-desirable aspects of that practice.

Indeed, the trend over the last several decades to increase the proportion of medical students with a broad liberal education is being challenged by a counter-trend, which sees education not as important in itself, but as “job training”-- whether this is in trade school, technical college, professional school, or university. In Medical Student Selection, December 14, 2008, I present my concerns that we will narrow the cohort of medical students rather than broaden it.

Thus, as I take this opportunity to laud some of the aspects of US medical education and practice, I also caution us to continue the positive aspects of our system and guard against adopting the negative aspects of the health system in other countries, as we continue to stand rigidly against adopting their proven effective strategies of providing access to health care for all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Men’s Health? Women’s Health? Valid screening opportunities or “Hallmark Holidays”?

This blog has previously discussed the use of PSA as a screening tool for prostate cancer (March 21, 2009: PSA Screening: What is the value?, and a guest column by Robert Ferrer, MD MPH in October 27, 2009: PSA Screening: “One of Medicine's Great Success Stories"? ), and indicated that it was not only a poor test, but a dangerous one, leading to unnecessary biopsies, diagnosis of disease that was unlikely to progress and treatment that would probably not change the outcome but would almost certainly lead to significant morbidity.

A new study by Vickers, et al., published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (An Empirical Evaluation of Guidelines on Prostate-specific Antigen Velocity in Prostate Cancer Detection, JNCI, doi: 10.1093/jnci/djr028, first published online: February 24, 2011), shows that the use of “PSA velocity” as a screening test for prostate cancer, is flawed and not a valid indicator. PSA velocity refers to the rate of change (presumably, increase) in the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) over time; the theory, which this study demonstrates to be invalid, is that the faster the rate of rise (velocity), the more likely someone is to not only have prostate cancer, but to have aggressive cancer needing intervention. In fact, the study shows that “Biopsying men with high PSA velocity but no other indication would lead to a large number of additional biopsies, with close to one in seven men being biopsied….We found no evidence to support the recommendation that men with high PSA velocity should be biopsied in the absence of other indications; this measure should not be included in practice guidelines.” And so another effort to find a way to use PSA to diagnose prostate cancer, like “highly sensitive PSA” before it, bites the dust.

Unfortunately, the issue of PSA screening will probably not die out, despite this study and the recent change in the recommendation of the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), downgrading PSA testing from an “I” recommendation (evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against testing), to a “D” – not recommended. The political pressure from physicians, hospitals, and others who are at best “true believers” (they know that eventually their faith will be proven correct) to, at worst, motivated by the fear of losing a major source of income, will continue. Indeed, the “PSA velocity” was never even seen as a way of confirming the veracity of a high single PSA value (which, for the true believers, was sufficient) but a way to identify men who had a normal PSA – but maybe slowly rising from one normal value to another – as a market who could be treated.

The USPSTF recommendation was in fact ready several months before it was released, as discussed by Kenny Lin, MD, on February 28, 2011 his blog Common Sense Family Doctor, PSA testing: will science finally trump politics?. Dr. Lin was, at the time, the staff member at the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) that put together the evidence review upon which USPSTF based its recommendation, and then quit over political interference from the White House: “The USPSTF scheduled its "re-vote" on prostate cancer screening for its November 2010 meeting. As reported in the Wall Street Journal and on this blog, the Task Force was forced to cancel that meeting due to the unfortunate "scheduling conflict" with the critical midterm Congressional elections.” (Editorial note: postponing the recommendation didn’t help the President’s party in those elections!)

The attraction of PSA screening and prostate cancer goes beyond that single disease; it is the cornerstone of the ostensible discipline of “Men’s Health”. This is a conceit developed by astute marketers to compete, or more correctly, profit from the cachet associated with, the long-established “Women’s Health”. After all, if Women’s Health is a good and established (and profitable) area, why should men – and particularly, those who want to make money caring for men – be left out? Women’s Health (capitalized) has its own specialty, obstetrics and gynecology, but, because this is essentially a surgical discipline, has brought in also providers in family medicine, internal medicine and some of its subspecialties (especially endocrinology, because of the issue of bone loss and osteoporosis), nurse practitioners, and others. There are Women’s Health clinics, journals, and meetings all over the place; surely Men’s Health should be just as important?

The centerpiece from which Women’s Health derived is the classic “Well-Woman Exam”, an annual ritual for most adult women, so deeply enshrined in both the national culture and insurance reimbursement system that it is no danger of being overturned by a USPSTF recommendation, or probably anything else. The essential characteristic of the Well-Woman exam is the provision of preventive services because the woman is, well, Well. This is a critical concept – once someone has symptoms that are addressed by any examination (more history questions, physical exam, laboratory, imaging) or treatment, this is no longer “Well-woman”; these are problems, conceived of, addressed, and even billed separately. “Well-woman” means that the women has no symptoms and involves only screening. This screening has long been centered around the Pap smear for cervical cancer, and the internal examination (medical: bimanual = using two hands) that is so associated with the Pap that popular usage considers them together. In addition, breast health is addressed through some combination of provider exam of the breasts, teaching of self-breast exam, and referral for mammography. All of these have been re-evaluated by evidence-based studies and recommendations have changed, often for fewer tests.

Breast cancer screening has been a subject of intense controversy, with USPSTF recommending that not all women over 40 receive mammography screening, reversing a position that they took 8 years earlier, and which even at that time was not based on evidence (see October 30, 2010: Breast cancer screening: conflicting evidence? what are the important questions for health?). The political response from the “breast cancer” community – and it was a political and emotional, not evidence-based scientific response, was huge, and was likely a major reason for the White House pressure on USPSTF to not release its PSA recommendation. In addition, teaching self-breast exam was no longer recommended (this is not to argue against doing self breast exam, a major way women find lumps, but rather to acknowledge the evidence that routinely teaching it does not add benefit). Pap smears themselves, the single best cancer screening tests among a group that are mostly less effective than we would hope, are no longer recommended in women under 21 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and do not need to be done annually if they have been normal. Bimanual exams never had any evidence to support their routine use in asymptomatic women, because they cannot screen for any disease. Osteoporosis treatment with bisphosphonate drugs can sometimes lead to serious fractures; recommendations are now to treat only frank osteoporosis, not the less severe osteopenia, and then only for a limited time. Even calcium supplementation has been found to have risks (August 2, 2010, Calcium, Heart Attack and Osteoporosis).

Does this mean that there is no valid place for Women’s Health as a concept or even a discipline? Not necessarily. Women do have risks for conditions that are different from those of men, including for a number of things that men are deeply involved in – contraception (not a risk if there are not men involved), sexual abuse, domestic violence. Asking about these issues is critical, with counseling about them necessary, even if this is not what “Well-Woman” exams usually pay for. And, to the extent that it increases the likelihood that these issues are addressed, Men’s Health may have a place. But in general, the examples above indicate the slippery slope of creating such a field, because there is a need to justify its existence. This means finding tests that can be done, expanding the use of these tests beyond those in whom they were originally found to be useful, and even implementing treatment for which there is no evidence, and which are often found to create net harm.

Prevention is a good thing, but if a test or intervention has not been shown to actually prevent something, doing it is useless and costly at best, and maybe dangerous at worst. Women and men should get the screening tests that are indicated, but not those that aren’t. These include Pap smears and mammography (in the appropriate women), colon cancer screening, blood pressure screening and treatment, counseling about tobacco and alcohol, contraception and investigation of risks of violence and abuse. There are others, particularly in certain sub-populations. But we need to be cautious about the creation of new disciplines and the motivation for their creation – is it increasing health or increasing revenue? Providers, doctors and hospitals, like to do things that make money and promote the fact that they do them; cancer prevention and care is particularly emphasized (January 16, 2010: Cancer Care and Hospital Advertising).

We have “Hallmark holidays” (and as a resident of Kansas City, home of Hallmark, I have to be cautious here), like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, created and promoted to sell things, that have become very beloved by a large number of people. We don’t need “Hallmark medical care”, designed by marketers to fill a niche as an opportunity to make profit.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Education of Health Professionals and Prospects for Transformation

This is a guest blog post by Seiji Yamada, MD, University of Hawaii.

The Commission on the Education of Health Professionals for the 21st Century, chaired by Julio Frenk (Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health) and Lincoln Chen (President of the China Medical Board), published its report in the December 4, 2010 issue of the Lancet. Titled “Health professionals for a new century: transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world,” the report was released in the centennial year of the Flexner Report of 1910. In contrast to the Flexner Report, however, the current report broadens its focus from medicine alone to include nursing and public health education. In addition, instead of focusing on the U.S., the report takes global health to be within its purview.

As noted by Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, "A strong case is made that the present content, organisation, and delivery of health professionals' education have failed to serve the needs and interests of patients and populations."

The commission reviews a century of reforms in health professional education, identifying the Flexner Report as a key document of the first generation. The Flexner report is widely credited with placing American medical education on a scientific basis and leading to the closure of institutions that did not meet its standards. (A critical view of the Flexner Report, that it was a means for allopathic medicine to enhance its dominance over competing philosophies of health and healing might be gleaned from Paul Starr’s The Social Transformation of American Medicine.)

The Commission associates the second generation of reforms with the “instructional breakthroughs” of problem-based learning (PBL) and disciplinarily integrated curricula. Identifying McMaster University as its pioneer, the key aspects of PBL are identified as its learner-centered philosophy and small groups. Newcastle and Case Western are identified as the pioneers of disciplinarily integrated curricula. Other second generation instructional innovations include the use of standardized patients, a focus on the patient-doctor relationship, earlier introduction to patients, and expanding clinical sites to include community settings. (p. 1932)

My own medical school experience (University of Illinois at Chicago, 1983-1987) was singularly uninspired and had none of these elements. I’m assuming (hoping) that UIC is doing better now. It was not until residency (family practice at Cook County Hospital, where Josh Freeman was one of my teachers) that I was introduced to training in the community setting (the South Lawndale Health Center). But it does make me wonder to what extent these “second generation” reforms have been instituted in U.S. medical schools.

I was introduced to PBL (as well as disciplinary integration, discussions about the patient-doctor relationship in the family medicine clerkship, clinical experiences for MS1s, and student rotations in community health centers) when I joined the faculty of the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM). Initially skeptical, I have become a proselytizer for PBL in a way that only a former unbeliever can be. (My friend Mark Durand prefers to say that he once was a sinner, now he’s a preacher.)

I do know that PBL has become the organizing principle of medical education in only ten or so U.S. medical schools. The institutional barriers to changing over an entire curriculum to PBL are significant. Basic science departments generally have to give up ownership of courses, as disciplinary integration is inherent to PBL. In addition, the faculty resources for conducting small group tutorials are significant. PBL fails without faculty enthusiastic about serving as tutors.

The Commission calls for a third generation of educational reforms. They call for health professional education that is patient-centered and population-centered. By “population” is meant the global population. The goal is that all people around the world have access to health care. “The ultimate purpose is to assure universal coverage of the high-quality comprehensive services that are essential to advance opportunity for health equity within and between countries.” (p. 1924)

This point is what makes this report of interest for the readers of Medicine and Social Justice. Our educational system is charged with creating the next generation of workers who will transform the health care system into one that will serve all of humanity. This cannot be achieved without inculcating an ethic of social justice.

The Commission calls for two educational outcomes in this third generation of reforms: transformative learning and interdependence in education. “Transformative learning is the proposed outcome of instructional reforms; interdependence in education should result from institutional reforms.” (p. 1924) Generally, we tend to view our role as educators as informative and formative: we transmit knowledge to our learners (inform) and place them in settings to develop professional attitudes (form), so that they become competent and eligible for licensure. However, if we expect the next generation to lead the reform of the health system so that it delivers health for all, then we must train them to become agents of change, that is, we must inculcate transformative learning.

The second outcome called for by the Commission, interdependence in education, reflects the need for teamwork in the delivery of all health services. Disciplinary boundaries among the health professions can be overcome by interprofessional and transprofessional educational models. [The Commission defines interprofessional as teamwork with other health professional students and transprofessional as teamwork with "basic and ancillary health workers, administrators and managers, policy makers, and leaders of the local community" (pp. 1943-1944).] This will require integration of institutions as well as disciplines. Curricula will need to take more advantage of global flows of information and educational resources.

The University of Hawaii made a foray into community-based interprofessional education in the early 1990s, when the schools of social work, nursing, public health, and medicine collaborated education at community health centers. Initially funded by the Kellogg Foundation, then by the Area Health Education Center (AHEC), this effort petered out after about ten years. With external funding running dry, the various schools involved failed to commit resources to the effort.

With regards to the transprofessional educational model - in a separate piece, Marshall MacLachlan of Trinity College, calls for integrative expertise in research and research training for global health. Noting that global health is a composite field, MacLachlan proposes “integrating research about ‘what’ (content), with research about ‘where’ (context) and ‘how’ (process).” (p.2) As an example, he offers “Paul Farmer’s work on HIV/AIDS (Content), his socio-political analysis of power relations (Context), and his service delivery role in Partners in Health (Process).” (p.3) Of course, Farmer is a neo-polymath (to use MacLachlan’s term), but MacLachlan’s point is that “these people tend to emerge individually, we don’t have an explicit way of producing or encouraging such skills, or encouraging a more integrative orientation in general; and we don’t have a structure for teaching it.” (p.3)

But the fact of the matter is that our learners are demanding such teaching. As Skip Burkle points out (personal communication), young people and second career adults are demanding educational programs in humanitarian assistance. He notes that the majority of people responding to the Haiti earthquake were under thirty years old, and for many, it was their first experience in disaster assistance. Young people recognize that their working years will be spent in a globalized world, and that much of the world is characterized by poor governance and poor social and physical protections. Burkle, Clarke, and VanRooyen point out that humanitarian community inadequately translates humanitarian action into public policy. Young people recognize that they will also need to lead at the policy level.

At UH JABSOM, students formed their own organizations, the Global Health Interest Group (GHIG) and the Partnership for Social Justice (PSJ). Students in the PSJ are organizing their own leadership workshop to learn about how to improve the health system. They are motivated by a moral belief in health as a human right and the need for more social justice in health and medicine. The tasks in store for us as teachers are self-evident. Our students are demonstrating their commitment to globalism, to social justice, and to a conception of health that transcends narrow disciplines. We need to make sure that we can help prepare them to achieve these goals.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fighting for freedom abroad -- and at home

In two side-by-side Op-Ed pieces in the NY Times on Sunday, February 27, 2011, Nicholas Kristof and Frank Rich discuss apparently very different topics. Rich’s piece, “Why wouldn’t the Tea Party shut it down?”, can be described as “depressing-with-a-glimmer-of-hope.” It compares the current situation in Congress, with a new, empowered, Republican majority with 83 freshman and firm ideology, to that of 1995, when a similar class of mid-term-elected Republicans took control under Newt Gingrich with their “Contract for America”. The similarities are obvious, but he points to the differences as well. Structurally, these include the advent of FoxNews trumpeting the GOP line that this is all about cutting spending and reducing the deficit, and pressures such as Gingrich himself urging current Speaker of the House John Boehner to push ahead with this agenda. Importantly, it highlights the role of massive funding of this agenda by the secretive-but-being-dragged-into-the-open billionaire Koch brothers, whose financial self-interest is being massively served by the Republican policies of tax cuts for the wealthy, and even more by gutting of all regulation of the oil industry (EPA) and financial industry (SEC, IRS and others). As the House moves toward actually shutting down funding for the government, it hopes (believes?) that it can convince the public to blame the President.

What is the “glimmer”? First of all, this strategy did not work in 1995, when the Republicans, not Bill Clinton were blamed for the government shutdown. Second, in 1995 the economy was in very good shape, while now it is still a disaster. While the unemployed and fearing-unemployment portion of the public, may not want to pay taxes, they are their slightly-better-off countrymen both need and want the services provided by the government in that small sliver of discretionary spending (not counting Medicare, Medicaid, and the military) that is on the table. People want their Medicare and Social Security and Veteran’s benefits and are not going to be happy if the checks don’t come because the Republicans shut down government. Moreover, Rich notes that “…the latest Pew survey found that Americans want to increase, not decrease most areas of federal spending – and by large margins in the cases of health care and education.”

Republicans think that they can continue screaming “deficit” and Americans will ignore the fact that the cuts that they propose, targeting social programs they are ideologically opposed to (Head Start, Planned Parenthood, etc.), will not make any significant difference in the deficit, while the cuts they oppose, such as repealing the tax-cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, would. Maybe people will. Hopefully, especially if the President can make these points clearly, they won’t.

Kristof, on the other hand, provides a tale of inspiration and hope-with-a-serious-measure-of-caution. In “Unfit for Democracy?” he challenges the “crude stereotype” that the peoples of the Middle East (along with those of Africa, China, and other parts of the non-western-European world) are “too politically immature for democracy.” He acknowledges the state failures of Yugoslavia after Tito and the Congo; he is aware of the fears that regime change led to civil war in Iraq, chaos in Somalia[1], repressive theocracy in Iran. I have had friends tell me that the uprisings in the Middle East are about economic opportunity, not freedom. I’m sure economics, in these very poor countries, are part of it, but people are bravely dying for freedom, and they are at home, and not in the military.

Kristof tells us of unspeakable tortures endured in Bahrain, of the bravery of the double amputee he met in Cairo who wheeled his chair to the front lines as Mubarak’s thugs attacked with “rocks, clubs, and Molotov cocktails, of people marching unarmed in Bahrain toward security forces who had opened fire on them the day before.” That while there have been bad, even horrible, outcomes when people have overthrown repressive governments, “countries usually pull through”. That the solution cannot be the continuance in power by the current corrupt and brutal dictators. This is a myth perpetrated by the very dictators themselves to justify their continuance in power, to justify both pocketing most of the money and oppressing their own people.

What is the relationship between these two stories? Tyrants in power share with elites in power the professed (and often believed) myth that those who they oppress are lesser peoples, inferior races, too “childlike” to manage themselves not to mention be “trusted” with managing their country. Bigotry and exploitation exist in a homeostatic relationship, one used to “justify” the other, in a history of atrocities, from the colonialist “White Man’s Burden” to Hitler’s attempt to exterminate all Jews in the Holocaust. This position characterized attitudes toward American Indians, black people, immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century, workers and the labor movement, and women. It justified – in our country, built on the idea of freedom and democracy – not only discrimination, degradation, and intimidation, but violent repressive attacks on: American Indians (genocide), black people (slavery and Jim Crow), immigrants, workers, and even women.

Well, these days are not over. American Indians and Black Americans, as well as other minorities continue to be on the bottom rungs of our economic and social order. Attacking immigrants is the new paradigm, with Arizona and its continued escalation of ignoble and often unconstitutional laws being hand-in-glove with the iron fists of those such as the Sheriff of Maricopa County (a worthy successor to the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood’s nemesis on the old television program). Wisconsin moves to the front lines in attacks on workers, with its governor seeking to eliminate collective bargaining under the myth that it is about money, despite the complete accession of the public sector unions to the financial cuts (and despite the fact that it is their own money they are giving back).[2] An astute observer notes: “You look at what is happening in the Middle East where people long kept "under the thumb" are expressing their yearnings for freedom and then contrast that with the fomenting battles over pensions and collective bargaining here in the US. It doesn't take long to start asking "What is wrong with this picture?![3]" What indeed?

In Egypt and Bahrain in recent weeks,” Kristof writes, “I’ve been humbled by the lion-hearted men and women I’ve seen defying tear gas and bullets for freedom we take for granted. How can we say that these people are unready for a democracy that they are prepared to die for?”

Most of us in the US, those who are not the mostly young and mostly poor and working class people deployed in the at-best-futile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are not in danger of dying from government-directed violence. But we are certainly in danger of losing the freedom as our rights are all sold off to the highest bidder, and we must stand against it.

[1] See also the article on the Somali pirates and what the response might be,
[2] See Rick Ungars piece on, “The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions”.
[3] R. Aistrope, personal communication.

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