Maine Writer

Its about people and issues I care about.

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Location: Topsham, MAINE, United States

My blogs are dedicated to the issues I care about. Thank you to all who take the time to read something I've written.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Congratulations to Maine's Royal Blue leadership

Maine's Democratic legislative leadership!

Senator Troy Jackson, Democrat from the Maine Allagash, will serve as Senate President, Libby as Senate Majority Leader and Vitelli as Assistant Majority Leader.  

Troy Jackson will be the Maine Senate President in 2019
AUGUSTA — On Thursday, the Maine Senate Democratic Caucus unanimously voted to elect Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston and Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic to the Senate Democratic Leadership team for the 129th Legislature. While Jackson received unanimous support for the Senate Presidency from the Senate Democratic Caucus, an official vote will be taken by the entire Senate on swearing-in day, December 5.

“Over the next two years, Senate Democrats have an opportunity to show the people of Maine what smart, fair and responsible leadership looks like. I don’t intend to waste any time. This means working together to lower property taxes, make health care more affordable and invest in education,” said Senate President-Elect Troy Jackson. “I’m incredibly humbled to have earned the trust, support and faith of my Senate Democratic colleagues to serve as President of the Maine State Senate. I look forward to working with lawmakers all along the political spectrum to get things done for the people of Maine.”

Jackson is a fifth-generation logger from Allagash, who began his official foray into politics 20 years ago with the 1998 logging blockade along the Canadian border. Since then, Jackson has emerged as a champion for working families, lower health care costs and supporting Maine’s natural resource-based economy. 

In the Legislature, Jackson has served on a number of Legislative Committees: Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development; State and Local Government; Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; and Energy, Utilities and Technology.

“This week, Maine people sent a pretty clear message that they want a change in how our state is run. But they also sent a clear message that they want us to achieve results. And we have a serious obligation to make good on the promises we made,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby. “At the same time, we must work diligently to ensure the era of bitter partisan gridlock and dysfunction in state government comes to a close. Maine people expect their government to work, and work well.”

Libby has represented Maine’s second-largest city in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and has served on the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and State and Local Government Committee. Last session he also served as the Ranking Member of Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. In the Legislature, Sen. Libby has focused his efforts on improving public education, community redevelopment and student debt relief.
Maine Senator Nate Libby
Maine Senator Eloise Vitelli
“For the past 38 years, I’ve spent my career in workforce and entrepreneurship development helping smart, passionate individuals make their vision a reality. And I intend to continue this work in the Maine State Senate helping make our collective vision a reality for the people of Maine,” said incoming Assistant Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli. “Each member of our caucus brings a different set of experiences, backgrounds and expertise to the table. By tapping into the strengths and talents of each member, we are going to be a stronger and more successful caucus. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues and getting back to work.”

Vitelli previously served on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee and the Special Task Force on Maine’s 21st Century Economy and Workforce. She is also a 1995 inductee of the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Sen. Vitelli retired after 35 years with New Ventures Maine (formerly known as Women, Work and Community), a statewide organization that helps Maine people create their own path to a career by finding jobs, continuing with education or starting a small business.

The leadership team was selected by the 21 members of the incoming Maine Senate Democratic Caucus. Lawmakers will be sworn in for the 129th Maine Legislature on December 5, 2018.


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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Republicans should now "fly over" Colorado - a George Will summary of 2018

This echo opinion succinctly describes how Colorado's shifting to blue politics appears to be a window into the future of the American electorate. This particular George Will column is refreshingly easy to understand and spot on with data.  

— Social scientists, say Colorado boosters, have plausible metrics identifying their state as the happiest and healthiest state, the former quality perhaps producing the latter. Or the other way around. Or maybe the tangle of causation cannot be unwoven. Be that as it may, 300 days of sunshine — this Mile High City is practically cheek-by-jowl with the sun — entice people into outdoor activities that help the state have chubby America’s lowest obesity rate.

Among the least happy and healthy Colorado cohorts is the Republican Party, which is less svelte than emaciated. This state is a glimpse of the nation’s future, so when national Republicans are done congratulating themselves on having lost only the most important half of what the Constitution’s Framers considered the most important branch, they should study Colorado’s changing tint, from purple toward blue.
Jared Polis, Democrat Colorado
When asked whether his party’s rout of Republicans on Nov. 6 indicated that many voters recoiled when they saw “R” next to a candidate’s name, Gov.-elect Jared Polis demurs, saying that what they effectively saw was: “T.” Polis, and many of the Democratic candidates who will be in lopsided majorities in both chambers of the next state legislature, did not need much more help than Donald Trump. This flight from the president’s party matters as a national portent because Denver and its suburbs contain 50 percent of the electorate. Eighty percent is in the booming urbanization of the Front Range from Fort Collins and Greeley down to Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

Also, Colorado’s population has a lower median age than those of 38 states, and its Hispanic percentage, 21, is the nation’s seventh-largest. The state ranks second behind Massachusetts in the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees. The state last elected a Republican governor 16 years ago.

Polis, 43, was born and now lives in Boulder, a university town that is the Paris Commune with skiing. He is a progressive apple that did not fall far from the tree: Both parents — one a poet, the other an artist — were anti-war warriors in the 1960s. But rather than manning the barricades to overthrow jackbooted capitalism, Polis opted for acquisition: As a Princeton sophomore, he and two friends started an internet access company. Soon, he founded two other internet-related companies, eventually selling the three for more than $1 billion, thereafter devoting his overflowing energies to public matters, including education, with charter schools aimed at helping immigrants thrive. 

Polis was elected to Congress in 2008, became the first same-sex parent in the House and will now become America’s first openly gay man elected governor, a fact that is interestingly uninteresting to voters.

Moreover, Polis’ progressivism is high-octane, from free all-day kindergarten to complete state reliance on renewable energy sources by 2040. But Colorado, which in 2012 became the first state — indeed, the world’s first jurisdiction — to fully legalize cultivation and sale of marijuana, has limits to its thirst for public-policy pioneering.

Two years ago, it resoundingly rejected, 79 percent (including Polis) to 21 percent, a ballot initiative to create a state-run universal health care system. Even Boulder County spurned it, 110,509-68,312. This was two years after Bernie Sanders’ Vermont flinched from the plan for a universal single-payer system. Vermont’s governor who proposed it decided that doubling the state’s tax revenue with an 11.5 percent payroll tax, and business and premiums costing up to 9.5 percent of an individual’s income, “might hurt our economy.” Might?

Colorado’s plan would have replaced private insurance, which probably displeased the state’s portion of the 157 million Americans who have employer-provided health insurance, most of whom like it. The issue got entangled with abortion. Because Colorado’s Constitution proscribes public funding of abortions, the state’s single-payer system would not have covered this, so Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups opposed the new system. Democratic presidential aspirants might want to trim their sails regarding government imperialism in health care.

Since George W. Bush carried Colorado by 8.4 points and then 4.7 points, it has voted Democratic in presidential elections by an average margin of 6.4 percentage points. Because Colorado is increasingly young, urban, educated and diverse, Republicans, who fancy themselves saviors of “flyover country,” might just as well fly over Colorado.

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Homelessness in America is unexplained and unresolved

"...will require an increased investment in services and housing to give the homeless a credible chance of moving off the streets..."

"...level and pervasiveness of a disgrace...."

The reduction of homelessness to the extent humanly possible must be America's priority. Homeless people should not exist in America, where the government spends trillions on defense and people throw millions of dollars to politicians, who do not provide any solutions to the homeless population.  In fact, a high percentage of the homeless are veterans and politicians receive many millions in campaign donations, without creating any ideas to create services to help Americans in need of affordable housing.

EDITORIAL echo originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle July 3, 2016, but the scourge is as current today and still unresolved. As America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, the homelessness tragedy is, frankly, inexcusable. I post this editorial because, rather than throwing money at homelessness without evaluating the results, the narrative, instead, calls for matching resources with needs.

Homelessness in America is a national embarrassment. 

It persists on the streets of San Francisco through boom times and downturns. It is alternately an incubator and a destroyer of political will, as elected representatives eventually discover that their pledges to address it become their undoing when it doesn’t go away. It takes a heavy toll on the ambiance of our neighborhoods, the cost of doing business for many enterprises and the experience of visitors who are stunned to encounter such deprivation in a city of profound prosperity.

It frustrates and polarizes San Francisco like nothing else. There are those who see it as a social-services challenge, those who reduce it to a law-enforcement matter, and a few who think the problem would simply go away if only there were more affordable housing in the city.

On one point we must all agree: The level and pervasiveness of homelessness in San Francisco is a disgrace. It is simply not acceptable to allow people to stay in the squalor of tent encampments or sleep in doorways, parks and freeway underpasses without attention to the underlying issues that prevent them from attaining shelter and stability in their lives. It’s bad for public safety, bad for public health, and bad as a matter of basic humanity.

Reduction to homelessness, to the extent humanly possible, should be a national "No. 1" priority.

The ultimate goal must be to eliminate, not manage, homelessness.

No mayor, no member of the Board of Supervisors — no resident with heart and a love for this city — should accept the status quo.

San Francisco spends $241 million a year on programs and still confronts human misery. This problem suggests those dollars are not being spent with anything close to optimal effectiveness. 

Homelessness in America is a national embarrassment 
Eight city departments and 76 private and nonprofit organizations draw from those funds in 400 contracts, yet the degree of accountability is highly suspect. There is no system in place to rigorously determine which of those endeavors might be duplicative or less effective. In Houston, for example, the city was able to realize considerable savings by shutting down a homeless-specific job training program and sending participants to other existing similar programs covered by state and federal dollars.

San Francisco has an entrenched Homeless Industrial Complex that is as difficult to track and control as it is to count people living on the streets.

Yes, it surely will require an increased investment in services and housing to give the homeless a credible chance of moving off the streets. It could require bond measures or general-fund spending that will need public support. That assent will be far more attainable if accompanied by confidence that dollars are being well spent.

Programs that are under-performing should be eliminated to free up dollars for those that are showing results.

One of the recurring themes has been the frustration felt from those on the front lines, in government and nonprofit services, that the available programs do not match all the essential needs of people trying to emerge from homelessness. That would include people who have made progress in substance-abuse or mental health treatment who could be in less structured settings — at much lower cost — and people stuck in the austere shelters who could benefit greatly from the array of support services available in the Navigation Centers.

America must find a methodology to evaluate and track people in homeless programs to assure that they are put in the most suitable settings for both effective use of taxpayer dollars and availability of services that will give individuals the support for moving beyond homelessness. Houston and Salt Lake City have established such tracking systems.

The SF Chronicle’s extensive reporting on the state of homelessness has offered a compelling template for solutions. Again, there are lessons to be learned from other cities. New York City’s FUSE (Frequent Users Service Enhancement) program identifies people most likely to end up in jail or emergency rooms, and directs them to housing and services. A 2014 report showed that 86 percent remained in housing two years after entering the program — more than double the rate in a comparison group.

The severe effects of chronic homelessness on the city budget and life on the streets is no secret in San Francisco. Those with the most acute dysfunction due to substance abuse or mental illness represent a disproportionate strain on the budget. They too often become caught in a brutal cycle of jail stays, ambulance rides and emergency care. Some 1,500 chronically homeless people cost the city about $80,000 a year each; the figure rises to $150,000 for the 338 considered the most needy in the city’s public-health database.

It’s a waste of money, and a waste of lives.

A focus on chronic homelessness will require a considerable public investment — perhaps starting with a bond measure of $200 million just for new housing — but the long-term savings would be worth it. It also will require a summoning of public will to overcome the inevitable neighborhood resistance to construction of supportive housing for the homeless in available spaces.

Pursuit of solutions to homelessness in San Francisco also demands a change of mind-set in significant ways. One: This is not just a San Francisco problem; it needs to be approached regionally, statewide, even nationally. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, is on the right track with SB1380, which would create a state Interagency Council on Homelessness to identify and share best practices around the state. The Legislature needs to pass SB1380 and move ahead with a proposed $2 billion homeless housing bond. San Francisco needs to work together with Oakland and San Jose, which are experiencing their own struggles with homelessness, to assure that they are not merely shifting the burden to one another.

Also, San Francisco, gets an influx of about 450 chronically homeless people a year. Obviously, the city needs to shed any perception that it is a sanctuary for people who are unwilling to participate in programs designed to get them off, and keep them off, a life in the streets. It is neither inhumane nor “criminalizing poverty” to enforce laws against aggressive panhandling, tent encampments or defecation and urination in public places. 

It would be a colossal waste of money to make the necessary investments in supportive housing and other services without a commensurate commitment to assure that the people who are offered this array of assistance are no longer afforded the option to flout the law with impunity.

This is San Francisco’s challenge of the times. There could be no greater legacy to this era of unprecedented prosperity than to accompany the resources and ingenuity it is bringing to the city with the will to solve this untenable predicament of the human condition before our eyes every day.

On any given day there are an estimated 6,686 homeless adults in San Francisco, according to a point-in-time count conducted by volunteers at the end of January 2015. While that figure is the most widely circulated estimate on the number of people living without shelter in the city, other databases show as many as 10,000 people experienced homelessness over the course the 2015-16 fiscal year. The true figure is most likely even higher. 

See past Chronicle coverage for more on the how many people are homeless, and the costs associated with the population.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Donald Trump is a stupid climate change denier

WASHINGTON – Climate change is happening “primarily as a result of human activities” and its damaging impacts – severe droughts, deadly wildfires, monster tropical storms, punishing heat waves – “are already being felt in the United States.” 

That’s the conclusion of the U.S. government, in an alarming new report the Trump administration doesn’t want you to read.

It can be no accident that the 1,656-page “Impacts, Risks and Adaptation” section of the latest blue-ribbon National Climate Assessment was released on the day after Thanksgiving, a graveyard of a news cycle when many Americans are focused on turkey sandwiches and Black Friday deals.

The report provides stunning new evidence for what we already knew: President Trump’s climate-change policy – ignore, obfuscate, delay, deny – amounts to environmental vandalism on a tragic scale.

Surely aware of what was coming, the president used his Twitter feed on Wednesday to pose as a weatherman and launch a preemptive attack: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Answer: It’s here, it’s all around us and it’s getting worse.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the report notes, global average temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees and global average sea level has risen by about 8 inches. These changes are accelerating. By the year 2100, if action is not taken to curb carbon emissions, the temperature climb could total 9 degrees and the sea level rise could exceed 4 feet.

Trump and other deniers can no longer claim with a straight face that no warming is taking place, since nine of the hottest 10 years on record have come since 2005. Instead, they try to blame some as-yet-unknown natural cycle. But the new climate assessment notes that “observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations.”

Instead, “the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause,” according to the report. As I have shouted until I am blue in the face, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen from around 280 parts per million at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to more than 400 parts per million now. That is an astonishing 40 percent increase since humankind began burning fossil fuels on a massive scale.

This is no coincidence and involves no guesswork. Scientists can directly and precisely measure carbon dioxide concentrations during past eras by drilling ice cores in Antarctica or Greenland and analyzing air bubbles trapped within. According to records maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ice cores show that over the past 800,000 years, levels of atmospheric carbon fluctuated between 170 and 300 parts per million – until recently zooming off the charts.

Resist any temptation to write all this off as scientific gobbledygook. Pay attention to the numbers, which are important and not very hard to follow. 

Denialist officials and commentators who throw up their hands and say “I’m not a scientist” are being disingenuous. There is no real scientific debate about the existence of climate change or the fact that human activity is driving it.

There is, however, a political debate about what to do. Trump is determined to accelerate climate change by boosting the production and use of coal – the “dirtiest” widely used fuel in terms of carbon emissions – and keeping oil prices low. This is the dumbest, most short-sighted policy imaginable.

Trump visited California to see the destruction of the horrific Camp Fire 
first-hand, which killed at least 85 people – with the death toll expected to rise as more remains are found – and destroyed more than 14,000 homes. According to the new climate assessment, the cumulative forest area burned in the western United States by wildfires since 1984 is fully double what it would have been if climate change had not occurred.

No, wildfires are not getting worse because not enough raking is being done, as Trump weirdly insisted. They are getting worse because of climate change.

So are tropical storms, flash floods and heat waves. Trump claims to be all about economic growth. But the new report predicts “climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.” It adds that “annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars.”

The report sounds one more ominous note: Thus far, climate scientists’ dire predictions have proved to be conservative. The world is on fire. We have a president who plays with matches.

Email (c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group.

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Trees - an echo commentary about the impact of loosing forests

Georgia fears $1 billion in crop damage as farmers report devastation

The value of a good tree goes far beyond its life-sustaining qualities, which are numerous for all living creatures. Georgia's tree farmers can attest to this fact.

Those folks took emotional and financial whippings estimated at upwards of $500 million as Hurricane Michael came ashore in the Florida Panhandle and moved inward through the Georgia forest, home of some of this nation's largest and most prodigious stands of pines and hardwoods.

I have heard it estimated that the Panhandle-South Georgia region lost perhaps one million trees during the Oct. 10, 2018 storm. It is my own estimation that half of them were in Early County, Georgia, where we live part-time near the county seat of Blakely. 

I know, It just seems that way.

More than a month later, Blakely still looks like the proverbial battleground of war with trees still resting on some rooftops and hundreds of massive trunks and limbs scattered across town. 

Relief workers have cleared many of them, but the number of felled trees seems almost insurmountable.

I was living in the Jackson area when Katrina hit the Mississippi Coast and inland territories on August 29, 2005. I remember that Flowood, 150 miles inland, registered winds at 100 miles per hour.

In the Georgia countryside, I believe Michael's winds matched that velocity. I never thought it could happen there. Most residents of the area could not recall the last such storm hitting this close to home, and say they never heard their forebears talk of such an event.

In Sunday School last week, our teacher talked of having a "servant heart." I have seen hundreds of aforementioned disaster relief workers descend on Southwest Georgia to spread just that — relief. These people from across America — and the utility linemen locally and from afar — definitely have a "servant heart." We can't say "thank you" enough times.

Our row crop farmers, who suffered economic losses estimated by the experts at $600 million for cotton and peanuts alone, had what appeared to be a record harvest in the field on the day Michael roared ashore.

There is a cotton farmer near us who probably thought he had defied the odds that exist when you depend solely on rainfall to nourish a crop. Most farmers these days use extravagant and expensive irrigation systems to help their plantings along. This particular fellow's crop looked better than I had ever seen it because he had enjoyed timely rains all season, and then Michael slammed it down. The odds beat him again.

All told, Georgia's agricultural producers suffered losses on the early estimates at around $2.5 billion. There is not much agriculture as you go northward toward Atlanta, so most of the damages occurred in what is known as "the other Georgia" of field and forest. These areas depend on agriculture for the majority portion of their economies.

Back to these good trees. They all have financial, aesthetical, medical and sentimental values. A few weeks before Michael, another storm brought down a red oak tree on our property estimated to be 150-years-old.

The man whose crew worked to clear the debris said he knew of only one other red oak in the region of similar size. He estimates that other tree to be almost 200-years-old, but that its circumference didn't match ours.

My wife Mary Lee's maternal grandfather purchased the land almost 100 years ago that held our tree. Family members nurtured it on what they consider sacred ground.

We were luckier than many friends and neighbors who saw their grand oaks and majestic pines tumbled by Michael. That tree landed on our driveway. God blessed us and we are thankful.

Mac Gordon is a native and part-time resident of McComb. He is a former reporter for the Clarion-Ledger

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Mississippi has dismal health and economic data

Mississippi has highest poverty and lowest income

Mississippi again unhealthiest state in the country

It's time again for the United Health Foundation's annual state health rankings report, and like last year, Mississippi comes in 50th.

Despite being a leader in telehealth and, historically, childhood vaccinations, Mississippi's high rate of childhood poverty, obesity and cigarette smoking contributes to it being the unhealthiest state in the country, according to the 2017 America's Health Rankings report.

Of the five categories examined in the report, Mississippi ranked overall 50th for one: clinical care. This has to do with Mississippi's doctor shortage, lack of mental health providers and preventable hospitalizations.

The state ranked 49th for behaviors and 44th for community and environment — both in which Louisiana came in last — 47th for policy and 48th for health outcomes.

Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate of any state with 8.8 deaths per every 1,000 live births.

Of the 35 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only Turkey and Mexico have higher infant mortality rates than Mississippi.
The health ranking report said Mississippi's rate of babies born underweight — still the highest rate in the nation at 11.4 percent of births — decreased in the last year.

However, according to the 2017 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, Mississippi's rate of premature births is rising, 13.6 percent this year, up more than half a percent from 2016.

Many of Mississippi's health issues are tied to the state's high rate of poverty.

"Poverty influences a family's ability to meet children's basic needs and may limit access to health care, healthy foods, educational opportunities and physical activity choices. Children living in poverty are three times more likely to have unmet health needs than other children," the report reads.

Nearly one-third of Mississippi children, or more than 220,000 kids, live in poverty. This disproportionately affects African-American children in the state, almost half of whom live in poverty compared to 17 percent of white children.

In the report, Mississippi also came in last for cardiovascular deaths, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, heart attack and heart failure — 352.5 of every 100,000 people.

"Cardiovascular disease is treatable and may be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy, participating in physical activity, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 17 percent of medical spending and 30 percent of Medicare spending," the report states.

In general, Mississippi had the highest rate of premature deaths, accounting for 10,950 years of life lost per 100,000 people. Mississippi also ties with Mexico for life expectancy at 75 years, the lowest in the country.

More than 12 percent of Mississippians lack health insurance, giving Mississippi the sixth worst uninsured rate in the nation.

Mississippi had the third-highest rate of diabetes and preventable hospitalizations and the fourth lowest number of primary care physicians, 105.9 per 100,000 people versus 149.7 nationally.

Mississippi also ranks 49th for its number of dentists, 42.2 versus the national average of 60.8 per 100,000 people.

"Nearly one-third of U.S. adults have untreated tooth decay, and despite steady growth in working dentists, many areas and populations do not have an adequate supply of dentists to meet current needs," the report states.

The state ranks 45th for its number of mental health providers, 132.6 per 100,000 people compared to a national average of 218.

Mississippi has often received praise for its high childhood immunization rate — 99.7 percent of kindergartners were fully vaccinated in 2014 — which can be partially attributed to the state's strict exemption laws. But in the 2017 health ranking report, Mississippi comes in last for adolescent vaccinations.

A statement from the Mississippi State Department of Health said the rate of Tdap vaccinations have improved since the state enacted a 7th grade entry requirement for the 2012-2013 school year.

"We actually received the CDC Healthy People 2020 Immunization Coverage Award for the most improved coverage among adolescents in September," said the statement from State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. "While there have also been improvements in the rates for meningococcal vaccination and some improvements in use of the HPV vaccine, HPV has been underutilized in Mississippi for both males and females. For childhood vaccination rates it is important to note that the Mississippi vaccination rate for kindergarten entry is greater than 99% and has been among the highest in the U.S. for a number of years."

Mississippi ranks near the middle for its rate of early childhood vaccinations with just over 70 percent of children between 19 and 35 months receiving all recommended doses.

Mississippi came in second to last for both obesity and inactivity behind West Virginia and Arkansas, respectively. Almost 23 percent of Mississippians smoke cigarettes, "which can damage nearly every organ and potentially cause respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer, preterm birth, low birthweight and premature death."

The report shows Mississippi with a relatively low rate of drug deaths — ranked eighth in the country — but that could be more indicative of the state's reporting of those deaths. Law enforcement officers have told the Clarion Ledger that overdose deaths in the state are underreported, making the prevalence hard to measure.

Presumably because of its historically high childhood vaccination rate, Mississippi ranked first for having the lowest rate of pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the nation.

Mississippi ranked 15th for a relatively low rate of violent crimes, 281 offenses per 100,000 people.

The state had the highest rate of Salmonella cases in the country.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Failed Donald Trump policies - auto workers betrayed
The General Motors  Layoffs Sure Look Like A Broken Trump Promise
Trump captured the White House beause he said that he alone ould reverse America’s industrial decline. 

In fact, Donald Trump promised to bring back manufacturing and fossil-fuel jobs, (wrongly) written off as casualties of global trade and over-regulation.

Donald Trump told the Ohio people that they shouldn’t sell their houses, because their jobs were coming back.

Tommy Wolikow remembers the day he became a Donald Trump supporter.
He hadn’t previously paid attention to politics, but in July 2017 he went with his mom and aunt to a Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio, where the president essentially promised to save his job.

“Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house,” Trump said, to applause. “We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. It’s going to happen.”

Earlier that year Wolikow had been laid off from the General Motors plant in Lordstown, where he’d worked since 2008. He had high hopes that the plant might once again ramp up production and call him back. The president bolstered those hopes.

“I believed what he said, and at that moment it turned me into a Trump supporter,” Wolikow said. “It made me feel that he wasn’t lying and he was being honest.”

On Monday, GM announced the plant would be “unallocated.” If the Lordstown jobs are coming back, it’s not happening soon.

The company has been dialing down production at the Lordstown plant since 2017 primarily because of weak demand for the Chevrolet Cruze manufactured there. Thanks in part to low gas prices, Americans have been buying more SUVs and crossovers (like the Honda CR-V) than smaller cars like the Cruze.

“In the past four years, GM has refocused capital and resources to support the growth of its crossovers, SUVs and trucks, adding shifts and investing $6.6 billion in U.S. plants that have created or maintained 17,600 jobs,” the company said Monday. It announced that two other plants, in Detroit and Ontario, Canada, would also be shut down. Several thousand factory workers are expected to lose their jobs.

Wolikow, 36, had hoped either that consumers would change their minds about the Cruze or that GM would repurpose the plant to make the Chevy Blazer. Instead, the company said this year it would make the Blazer in Mexico.

Trump said Monday that he was unhappy about the Lordstown plant stopping production, and that GM should use the factory for another car.

“They say the Chevy Cruze is not selling well. I say, ‘Well then, get a car that is selling well and put it back in,’” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “I have no doubt that in the not-too-distant future, they’ll put something else. They better put something else in.”

Trump campaigned on a promise of protecting American manufacturing workers from cheaper foreign labor, but so far his trade agenda has not stopped companies from making moves that are unfavorable to their U.S. employees.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who represents the area, said Trump should keep his word about jobs coming back to the Mahoning Valley.

“So far, President Trump has been asleep at the switch and owes this community an explanation,” Ryan said in a statement. “He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening.”

The United Auto Workers union said it would fight GM’s decision to close the plants. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes called the decision “profoundly damaging to our American workforce.”

By the end of this summer, Wolikow’s enthusiasm for Trump had faded, so much so that he attended counter-rallies organized by Good Jobs Nation, a union-backed worker advocacy group that has been calling attention to U.S. companies’ habit of offshoring American jobs.

Wolikow said he’s got three kids, and that he and his fiancee, who works at a Cracker Barrel, are racking up credit card debt just to pay for basic living expenses. He said he’s applied for dozens of jobs with no luck, even though he’s gotten a trucking license and a diesel mechanic certification.

“It’s really hard to be a Trump supporter at a time like this,” he said.

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Judicial point of view - Donald Trump does not understand the judiciary

Colleen K. Connell- an echo opinion published in the Chicago Sun Times (the hardest working newspaper in America!)

Illinois - As a lawyer who has practiced in courts including the Supreme Court of the United States, and as part of an organization that vindicates our clients’ rights in our courts, it is clear to me that we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States is engaged in a campaign to erode public confidence in our federal courts — so he can rule in an unchecked fashion.

The president’s nefarious and dangerous campaign emerged in plain sight this week in an ACLU case involving the Trump administration’s efforts to rewrite our nation’s asylum law. 

In fact, Donald Trump recently signed an executive order which purported to deny the ability to claim (immigrant) asylum to anyone who did not make the request at a port of entry. 

Asylum seekers are migrants and immigrants who are following the law
Congress has not made this requirement part of immigration law, so the president’s order was clearly in violation of law.

A district court judge, in response to a lawsuit by the ACLU and another human rights organization, temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s order for a few days while the court considers more detailed arguments on the matter. This is a perfectly normal process — giving the parties time to make their case but blocking enforcement of a measure that could do harm to vulnerable individuals.

Donald Trump's 
response was predictably over-the-top. He called the decision a “disgrace” and suggested that the judge (and all the judges of the Ninth Circuit even though they were not involved in this decision) was political since he was appointed by former President Barack Obama. He claimed he would be putting in a “major complaint” and suggested that the temporary bar on enforcement risked national security.

Seemingly disgusted by Donald Trump's wrong minded 
remarks, the usually taciturn Chief Justice John Roberts issued a measured, but strong rebuke making clear that one of our nation’s great hallmarks is an independent judiciary that carefully and faithfully interprets our laws and the Constitution. Again predictably, the president lambasted the chief justice on Twitter (after having called Roberts a “disaster” during the presidential campaign).

Putting aside the lack of decency and decorum from the Oval Office and the reality that the president gets nearly everything wrong about this situation, this latest attack on the judiciary must be seen in the larger context. Donald Trump simply does not understand our system of government with its checks and balances. And, his love for dictators and despots across the globe reflects his own desire to operate without limits or accountability.

In the nearly two years that Donald Trump has occupied the White House, we have seen this tendency grow and become less subtle. Trump’s attack on the media as the “enemy of the people” is evidence of his aversion to anyone who questions his policies, his misstatements and the malfeasance of his administration. When someone points out questionable activity by the White House or his cabinet, the president blames others and denies the right of the media or others to question him.

And when the courts seek to enforce the rule of law by holding the president accountable, he lashes out, suggesting to his shrinking base of supporters that the actions of the court, rather than the White House, are motivated by politics and self-interest. It is especially dangerous that this campaign against the courts is ramping up now that the administration will be held accountable by a House of Representatives led by a majority of the opposite party.

Let me be very clear. I do not agree with every decision by every court across our state and federal systems. But it is clear that the men and women who preside in courts across the nation do their best to make decisions on the basis of the law and the facts. It is a difficult job in the best of circumstances. It is made even more difficult when a demagogic president uses decisions he disagrees with to sow disrespect for the rule of law and division in our country.

We need an independent judiciary as a check to protect basic rights. It is exactly the role our founders designed for the courts. It is a threat to that constitutional order — and our very republic — when the president attacks the judiciary in an attempt to justify lawless actions. And, like the chief justice, we must be stirred to action and resolve. Our nation must not bend our principles to the autocratic will of Donald Trump. Instead, we must hold him accountable within that system.

Not doing so presents a fundamental threat to our the constitutional system that is the foundation for our democracy.

Colleen K. Connell, a lawyer, is the executive director of the ACLU of Illinois. (American Civil Liberties Union)

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America's elderly will see loss of support caused by tax cuts for the rich

Prophetic: In much of rural Maine, there won’t be any young families to fight with.

Maine demographics: This echo article published in Maine in 2013, has a stereo impact, as Americans are aging.  Another writer from Iowa supports the urgency of this issue.
Tax cuts for the rich have exacerbated the potential to improve quality of life for the growing number of elderly who are seeing cuts to benefits and social safety nets.
The "dependency ratio" refers to the number of working-age adults divided by the number of non-working dependents. 

As Maine's retired population grows, this ratio is expected to shrink dramatically: a smaller proportion of taxpayers will need to cover increased health care costs, and comparatively fewer working-age adults will be available to work as caregivers.
A letter writer in Iowa raised the issue in light of how tax cuts for the rich have exacerbated the urgency of providing social safety nets for the elderly, who are the growing segment of the US economy.

With an abundance of baby boomers and not enough babies, the state with the highest median age grapples with a reality that University of Southern Maine public policy expert Charles Colgan says paints a grim economic forecast.

It’s often been said that Maine is the oldest state in the nation. But how can that be true when other states have a higher percentage of senior citizens?

The answer is found in Maine’s demographic profile. We have a surplus of baby boomers and a shortage of young adults.

Maine’s age-distribution is “out of balance,” said Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

“It’s not that we are disproportionately old,’ he said. “It’s that we are disproportionately not young.”

Maine’s oldest-in-the-nation status comes from its median age of 43.5 years, according to a 2012 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau. New Hampshire and Vermont ranked second and third.

“Median” is a statistical term that identifies the middle number of a list of numbers. That means that half of Maine’s population is older than 43.5 years, and half is younger.

No other state has a higher median age. Utah has the lowest at 29.9 years. The national average is 37.4 years.

Maine’s median age is high because only one other state (New Hampshire) has a higher percentage of people between the ages of 45 and 64 – roughly the baby-boom generation – and no other state has a lower percentage of people between the ages of 15 and 44, according to a 2012 Census estimate.

Moreover, Maine trails only Vermont in having the lowest percentage of people under age 18, However, when it comes to the percentage of the elderly – people over age 85 – Maine is 10th in the nation, behind Rhode Island, North Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida, Connecticut, South Dakota, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Maine has 411,540 people between the ages of 45 and 65, but only 301,124 people between age 20 and 39.

So over the next two decades, as the baby-boom generation leaves the work force and retires, the number of available workers contributing to the Maine economy will decline, said Colgan, who has studied Maine’s demographic data for more than 30 years.

For individuals, the labor shortage will be good news because employers will be forced to increase wages, he said. For companies, however, higher labor costs will make it harder for them to compete with firms outside the state and grow.

The only solution is to bring more people to Maine, he said.

“If they don’t show up, Maine’s economy starts shrinking,” he said. “We simply don’t have the people to do that work.”

There has been a lot of discussion among politicians lately about Maine’s “skills gap,” the perceived mismatch between the skills needed by employers and the skills being taught in schools and colleges.

But just revamping the skills of the current population is not enough, said state economist Amanda Rector.

“There’s a people gap,” she said. “There are not enough warm bodies to go around.”

Rector is projecting that Maine’s population by 2030 will be about the same as it is today. However, it will be significantly older because the youngest baby boomers by then will all be older than 65.

The number of children in Maine has been on the decline for years. Since 1975 – the peak year for school enrollment in Maine – the number of children in school has fallen from 253,000 to 186,000, a decline of 26 percent.

Minorities have significantly higher birth rates. Because Maine’s population is among the whitest in the nation, the state has among the lowest birth rates in the nation, behind only New Hampshire and Vermont, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also, as the number of Maine women of childbearing age has been declining for the past three decades, so has the number of babies being born.

In 2011, for the first time in at least 70 years, more people died in Maine than were born here, according to data from the state’s Office of Vital Records. The same held true for 2012.

The trend has political implications that are just starting to emerge, Colgan said. As the state struggles to provide for the needs of a growing number of senior citizens in the face of a shrinking economy and tax base, pressure will grow to cut spending on schools at the local and state level, he said.

The constituency for schools – families with children – will find themselves outnumbered and out-voted in many cities and towns, particularly in rural parts being abandoned by young families due to the lack of jobs.

“There will be a lot of horrible fights about school budgets,” he said. “The worst fights will be in suburban towns where there will be a mix of young families and the elderly. In much of rural Maine, there won’t be any young families to fight with.”

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Message from Iowa has a national echo - too many tax cuts

This letter to the editor was published in the Iowa newspaper "The Messenger".  I've posted the echo in this blog because the writer could have been writing in any newspaper or in any US state, because the problem of tax cuts impacting the frail, elderly and indigent are a national urgency. There are too many homeless people in America and the cost of health are is increasing at a rate higher than consumers can afford.  
Republican tax plan ignores the needs of the elderly
Big issues facing Americans are mismanagement of health care and unfunded education. But the one issue that is always ignored is senior issues.  

Iowa is among the states with a high percentage of seniors living in it. One out of every four Iowans is a baby boomer approaching 60 and 70.  (Maine is among the states in this situation.

In the last two years the Iowan State Republican elected officials did nothing to help seniors. They cut elder abuse initiatives, cut services to Area Agencies on Aging, no funding to address violent or sexual offenders in nursing homes, failure to address needs of family caregivers, find solutions for long term care workforce shortages and forbid Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s regional staff can no longer visit nursing homes to investigate complaints because of budget cuts.

Iowans are better than that. (MaineWriter: Likewise, Americans should ask more questions about how our tax dollars are being allocated to agencies that support quality of life for seniors.)

This year Republicans are running on passing the biggest tax cut of history.
So far this year these companies have stated the following as profit: Wal-Mart $9.86 billion, McDonald’s $5.192 billion, Amazon $2.88 billion and Casey’s $317.9 million.

I don’t think companies need more tax cuts, those tax cuts should be rolled back and the money should be invested in senior issues and education.

Dale Struecker, Area Vice President For Iowa Alliance for
Retired Americans

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Ethical public health - vaccinations for the common good

MaineWriter - There was a time when people took great pride in being vaccinated to prevent diseases. Nevertheless, for some reason that seems to defy gravity, the anti-vaccination movement has created an unjustifiable fear among some people. As a result, many are more adverse to vaccinations than they are worried about the risk of being infected with preventable diseases.

An ethics's point of view explains how vaccinations contribute to improving the human condition published in The Conversation
People with weakened immune systems are likely to get sick more easily. Viruses do not affect everyone equally.
Joel Michael Reynolds - Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts Lowell

3 ethical reasons for vaccinating your children
Unfortunately, across the country, billboards are popping up suggesting that vaccines can kill children, when the science behind vaccination is crystal clear – vaccinations are extremely safe.

Researchers who study the beliefs of anti-vaxxers have found many different reasons, not just religious or political, as to why some parents refuse to get their children vaccinated.

As a bioethicist who investigates how societal values impact medicine, I consider such decisions to be downright indefensible. And here are three reasons why.

1. Failure to contribute to the public good

Public goods benefit everyone. Take the example of roads, clean drinking water or universal education. Public health – the health of the overall population as a result of society-wide policies and practices – also falls into this category.

Many ethicists argue that it is unfair to take advantage of such goods without doing one’s own part in contributing to them.

Years of research involving hundreds of thousands of people have proven vaccines to be safe and effective. One reason why they are so effective – to the point of complete eradication of certain diseases – is because of what scientists call “herd immunity.”

What this means is that once a certain percentage of a population becomes immunized against a disease through public health programs, it provides general protection for everyone. Even if a few people get sick, the disease won’t spread like wildfire.

Those avoiding vaccination are aware that their children might nonetheless benefit from protection on account of herd immunity. This is unfair. For if everyone acted in that way, herd immunity would disappear.

Indeed, this happened in California, where measles made a comeback because so many parents chose not to vaccinate their children.

These parents not only failed in their duty to contribute to the public good, they also actively undermined it, hurting others and also costing the economy millions of dollars.

2. Impact of health choices on the vulnerable

Viruses do not affect everyone equally. 

Oftentimes, it is the elderly, infants, and people with weakened immune systems, who are most at risk.

In my family, my brother, Jason, often had to be rushed to a hospital as he would easily catch a bug. So, when we had visitors, my family would inquire if they could let us know if they had any infections.

Often the answers were not truthful. Some would say that it was merely an “allergy,” and some others would be downright offended. My brother would end up catching the germs and more than once, nearly lost his life due to their lack of concern for his health.

Ethicists have long argued for special obligations towards the most vulnerable. And we need to be mindful of the impact of individual health choices on others, particularly the vulnerable.

3: Health is communal
Political philosophers like John Dewey have argued that democratic public institutions necessarily rely upon belief in scientific evidence and facts. People can hold different personal beliefs, but there are some truths that are irrefutable, such as the fact that the Earth is round and revolves around the sun.

Anti-science attitudes are dangerous because they undermine our ability to make decisions together as a society, whether about education, infrastructure or health. For example, if too many people treat the scientific consensus on climate change as just “one perspective,” that will hinder our ability to respond to the massive changes already underway. In a similar manner, treating the science on vaccines as just “one perspective” negatively impacts everyone.

In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence concerning the efficacy, safety and importance of vaccines, citizens have a duty to support vaccination and encourage others to do so as well.

At the foundation of each of these duties lies a simple and powerful truth: Health is communal. Health-related ethical obligations do not stop at our own doorstep. To think that they do is both empirically misguided and ethically indefensible.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Bigotry and racism in a mental health perspective

An echo opinion essay published in The Conversation 

Over a decade ago, Ronald W. Pies wrote a piece for a psychiatric journal entitled “Is Bigotry a Mental Illness?” 

At the time, some psychiatrists were advocating making “pathological bigotry” or pathological bias – essentially, bias so extreme it interferes with daily function and reaches near-delusional proportions – an official psychiatric diagnosis. For a variety of medical and scientific reasons, I wound up opposing that position.

In brief, my reasoning was this: Some bigots suffer from mental illness, and some persons with mental illness exhibit bigotry – but that doesn’t mean that bigotry per se is an illness.

Yet in the past few weeks, in light of the hatred and bigotry the nation has witnessed, I have been reconsidering the matter. I’m still not convinced that bigotry is a discrete illness or disease, at least in the medical sense. But I do think there are good reasons to treat bigotry as a public health problem. This means that some of the approaches we take toward controlling the spread of disease may be applicable to pathological bigotry: for example, by promoting self-awareness of bigotry and its adverse health consequences.

In a recent piece in The New York Times, health care writer Kevin Sack referred to the “virulent anti-Semite” who carried out the horrific shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018.

It’s easy to dismiss the term “virulent” as merely metaphorical, but I think the issue is more complicated than that. 

In biology, “virulence” refers to the degree of pathology, or damage, caused by an organism. It differs from the term “contagious,” which refers to a disease’s communicability. But what if, in an important sense, bigotry is both virulent and contagious – that is, capable of both causing damage and spreading from person to person? Wouldn’t a public health approach to the problem make sense?

The harm to victims and to haters

There is little question among mental health professionals that bigotry can do considerable harm to the targets of the bigotry. What is more surprising is the evidence showing that those who harbor bigotry are also at risk.

For example, research by psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Leitner has found a correlation between explicit racial bias among whites and rates of circulatory disease-related death. Explicit bias refers to consciously held prejudice that is sometimes overtly expressed; implicit bias is subconscious and detected only indirectly.

In effect, Leitner’s data suggest that living in a racially hostile community is related to increased rates of cardiovascular death for both the group targeted by this bias – in this case blacks – as well as the group that harbors the bias.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, Leitner and his colleagues at the University of California Berkeley found that death rates from circulatory disease are more pronounced in communities where whites harbor more explicit racial bias. 

Both blacks and whites showed increased death rates, but the relationship was stronger for blacks. Although correlation does not prove causation, clinical psychology professor Vickie M. Mays and colleagues at UCLA have hypothesized that the experience of race-based discrimination may set in motion a chain of physiological events, such as elevated blood pressure and heart rate, that eventually increase the risk of death.

It’s unlikely that the adverse effects of discrimination and bigotry are limited to blacks and whites. 

For example, community health sciences professor Gilbert Gee and colleagues at UCLA have presented data showing that Asian-Americans who report discrimination are at elevated risk for poorer health, especially for mental health problems.
But are hatred and bigotry contagious?

As the adverse health effects of bigotry have been increasingly recognized, awareness has grown that hateful behaviors and their harmful effects can spread. For example, public health specialist Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish and family physician Dr. Neil Arya, in an article titled “Hatred – A Public Health Issue,” argue that “Hatred can be conceptualized as an infectious disease, leading to the spread of violence, fear, and ignorance. Hatred is contagious; it can cross barriers and borders.”

Similarly, communications professor Adam G. Klein has studied the “digital hate culture,” and has concluded that “The speed with which online hate travels is breathtaking.”

As an example, Klein recounted a chain of events in which an anti-Semitic story (“Jews Destroying Their Own Graveyards”) appeared in the Daily Stormer, and was quickly followed by a flurry of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread by white supremacist David Duke via his podcast.

Consistent with Klein’s work, the Anti-Defamation League recently released a report titled, “New Hate and Old: The Changing Face of American White Supremacy.” The report found that,

“Despite the alt right’s move into the physical world, the internet remains its main propaganda vehicle. However, alt right internet propaganda involves more than just Twitter and websites. In 2018, podcasting plays a particularly outsized role in spreading alt right messages to the world.”

To be sure, tracking the spread of hatred is not like tracking the spread of, say, food-borne illness or the flu virus. After all, there is no laboratory test for the presence of hatred or bigotry.

Nevertheless, as a psychiatrist, I find the “hatred contagion hypothesis” entirely plausible. In my field, we see a similar phenomenon in so-called “copycat suicides,” whereby a highly publicized (and often glamorized) suicide appears to incite other vulnerable people to imitate the act.

A public health approach

If hatred and bigotry are indeed both harmful and contagious, how might a public health approach deal with this problem? Drs. Abuelaish and Arya suggest several “primary prevention” strategies, including promoting understanding of the adverse health consequences of hatred; developing emotional self-awareness and conflict resolution skills; creating “immunity” against provocative hate speech; and fostering an understanding of mutual respect and human rights.

In principle, these educational efforts could be incorporated into the curricula of elementary and middle schools. 

Indeed, the Anti-Defamation League already offers K-12 students in-person training and online resources to combat hatred, bullying, and bigotry

In addition, the Anti-Defamation League report urges an action plan that includes:
  • Enacting comprehensive hate crime laws in every state.
  • Improving the federal response to hate crimes.
  • Expanding training for university administrators, faculty and staff.
  • Promoting community resilience programming, aimed at understanding and countering extremist hate.
Bigotry may not be a “disease” in the strict medical sense of that term, akin to conditions like AIDS, coronary artery disease or polio. Yet, like alcoholism and substance use disorders, bigotry lends itself to a “disease model.” 

Published in The Conversation by Ronald W. Pies, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Lecturer on Bioethics & Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University; and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine, Tufts University, Massachusetts.

Is bigotry a contagious social disease?

Indeed, to call bigotry a kind of disease is to invoke more than a metaphor. It is to assert that bigotry and other forms of hatred are correlated with adverse health consequences; and that hatred and bigotry can spread rapidly via social media, podcasts and similar modes of dissemination.

A public health approach to problems such as smoking has shown demonstrable success; for example, anti-tobacco mass media campaigns were partly responsible for changing the American public’s mind about cigarette smoking. Similarly, a public health approach to bigotry, such as the measures recommended by Abuelaish and Arya, will not eliminate hatred, but may at least mitigate the damage hatred can inflict upon society.

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