Private Equity and Health Care

Health care in the United States was the world’s most expensive even before private equity became involved. Now it’s even more expensive and the quality of care has declined. When private equity enters any sphere of business activity, it’s a given that services and products will be impacted negatively. After all, private equity is a format for wealthy individuals to make more money in new businesses on the backs of workers and consumers. It’s true for health care just as it is for other private equity investments.

There were only 24 private equity firms in the United States in 1980, but their investments have proven to be so successful that the number of private equity firms has soared. About 5000 private equity firms controlling approximately 18,000 companies were noted in 2022 and continued growth can be expected. There is not strict monitoring and regulation by government entities, allowing private equity firms to literally strip companies of whatever value they had.

Initially, private equity firms would buy firms that were financially troubled or borderline. They would then pay themselves a hefty fee to manage these firms and make them appear solvent again. Cutting workers and services were ways to curb spending and make financial spreadsheets look better. Usually, they would accrue debt to pay their management fees and temporarily enhance the company. Then when the time was right, they would sell the firm to other investors at a significant profit, leaving a shell of a company that was buried in debt. But the private equity company did well financially.

For a number of years now, they have used this format to buy up companies involved in health care, particularly nursing homes. There is a manifest conflict of interest between private equity firms whose primary goal is to make money for their investors and health care facilities whose aim is to care for patients and provide them with the best services possible. Doing what is best for patients entails having more than adequate personnel on duty around the clock. In addition, facilities must have the best technology available for medical testing and be able to provide the most effective medications to treat various conditions, even if the meds are expensive.

Nursing homes care mainly for elderly patients, many of them demented and with multiple medical conditions. Because the patients are so fragile and sick and often not capable of lucid complaints, the owners of many nursing homes feel they can get away with stinting on adequate care for them. Personnel may often be cut to a bare minimum at some of these units, appropriate testing not done, nor expensive medications given. And when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, private equity nursing homes were unprepared for the influx of new patients. Mortality in private equity nursing homes has been shown to be over 10 percent higher than in other nursing homes.

Aside from nursing homes, private equity has also been buying urgent care centers, hospital emergency rooms, radiology departments and ICUs. The private equity firms make money the same way they do with nursing homes and other investments. They cut staff, including doctors, nurses, aides and so forth, get patients out quickly, and don’t give expensive medications. For profit entities like private equity should have no roles to play in the delivery of health care in any type of unit. Health care decisions should be made on the basis of necessity, not to generate or save money.

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Give It Up, Joe

Give It Up, Joe

            Robert A. Levine    July 2, 2024

There comes a time when you must know, or your family and friends tell you, that you’re on a downhill slope and no longer should play a political role if you’re a politician. It could be illness, age, cognitive decline, or merely lack of interest. But you longer have the power to focus on the problems of the nation or your constituents. Or maybe it’s just difficulty in communicating well, so the public loses confidence in your abilities. It’s not only true in politics but in any leadership roles, in business, the military, education, and so forth. But when you have an important position in the government and the nation is watching, your demeanor and cognitive function is even more significant. For the country to run well, the public must believe in your intelligence and abilities.

Unfortunately, President Biden’s family and friends have been unwilling to tell him that it’s time for him to throw in the towel; that he no longer has the mental sharpness and physical attributes to continue as president for another term. His close staff and family have been keeping him in a protective shell, trying to build up his confidence so he will continue his quest for a second term. However, Biden’s performance in the recent debate means that Donald Trump is a prohibitive favorite to win the election if Biden stays in the race, to the detriment of the nation and of the Democratic Party.

If a person in a leadership role is unaware that he is not functioning maximally, it is up to those close to him or her to alert that person about his or her deficiencies. A leader must know about his or her performance. Biden’s family and close associates have not been straight with him. His expert team should be telling him to drop out of the race instead of bolstering his ego and affirming that he is doing well. Constant praise of his efforts gives him a false sense of security about his efforts on the campaign trail. For the good of the nation, Biden must know the truth no matter how much pain it causes.

The New York Times editorial board and a horde of journalists have urged Joe to drop out of the race after his dismal performance during the debate. Major donors are questioning whether it is worthwhile supporting him financially. Democratic politicians are publicly supporting him and privately lamenting his candidacy. It wasn’t just one bad night that has raised questions about Biden. Physically, it appears as if he has some neurologic impairment, with a lack of facial expression, soft voice, stiff gait. Some of these signs are suggestive of possible Parkinson’s disease or one of its variants. He did well in the State of the Union address and in some campaign speeches when he is able to read from a teleprompter. But he has much more difficulty when he must answer questions spontaneously. That’s why he and his staff are reluctant to have him do press conferences or one on one interviews.

During the debate, Trump lied constantly and gave false information but was not taken to task by Biden or the moderators. Not only domestically, but internationally, allies and supporters were dismayed by Biden’s performance. Seeming lethargic, he was not a good representative of American strength and vitality. Whether he is and will be able to handle the duties of the presidency from a cognitive standpoint is unimportant. Perception matters in the role of president, and he appeared unable to do the job. For the good of the nation, he must drop out of the presidential race and leave the choice to an open Democratic Convention. Give it up, Joe. Give it up!

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Federal Election Commission and Citizens United

 Federal Election Commission and Citizens United

                                               Robert A. Levine  June 11, 2024

The Federal Election Commission has generally been a do-nothing agency composed of three Republicans and three Democrats. Whenever an issue that could reform the election process comes before the Commission, it is inevitably turned down, with the three Republicans and three Democrats voting in opposite ways. Republicans on the Commission and Republican politicians want freedom to spend unlimited sums on elections without any significant restrictions. They are backed by many billionaires and wealthy Americans who are willing to fund them. However, there are restrictions as to how much individuals can donate directly to politicians running for office. Thus, to give large sums of money to support candidates, they have to donate to superPACs and other organizations that supposedly cannot coordinate their efforts with the candidates. However, it has been obvious to all observers that this is being done surreptitiously.

Since the Citizens United vs FEC decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, limits on campaign spending have essentially been blocked. The floodgates have been opened to billions of dollars, providing wealthy Americans with undue influence over the political system.  In addition, foreign and domestic corporations, unions, and foreign governments have found ways to channel money into the system in order to try and sway the outcomes of political campaigns. The Supreme Court equated money with free speech and viewed corporations as persons, indicating that they had First Amendment rights. Citizens United also allowed anonymous contributions of dark money to be given to SuperPacs, so that other citizens do not know who is providing support to candidates. Surveys of American citizens have shown that an overwhelming majority is against unlimited anonymous funding of political campaigns, but has not moved the courts or the politicians.

The Federal Election Commission has been dysfunctional for more than a decade, given the equal number of Democrats and Republicans. However, this has recently changed with one Democrat, Dara Lindenbaum, voting with the three Republicans on the Commission. With this group voting together, the minor restrictions on how politicians, political parties, and SuperPacs raise and spend money have been overturned. Reformers who have wanted funding of political campaigns to be further restricted are dismayed, with conservatives elated. As if Citizens United were not enough, this new ruling allows SuperPacs and candidates campaigns to work together and coordinate their efforts in advertising and door to door canvassing.

The only way that a reasonable system of campaign financing can be passed is through a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United. And the Federal Election Commission must have members who want fairness in the electoral process and not to have our government determined by which political party has the wealthiest donors and can raise the most money. Our system has turned into an oligarchy rather than a democracy.

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Federal Election Commission and Citizens United

 Federal Election Commission and Citizens United

                                               Robert A. Levine  June 11, 2024

The Federal Election Commission has generally been a do-nothing agency composed of three Republicans and three Democrats. Whenever an issue that could reform the election process comes before the Commission, it is inevitably turned down, with the three Republicans and three Democrats voting in opposite ways. Republicans on the Commission and Republican politicians want freedom to spend unlimited sums on elections without any significant restrictions. They are backed by many billionaires and wealthy Americans who are willing to fund them. However, there are restrictions as to how much individuals can donate directly to politicians running for office. Thus, to give large sums of money to support candidates, they have to donate to superPACs and other organizations that supposedly cannot coordinate their efforts with the candidates. However, it has been obvious to all observers that this is being done surreptitiously.

Since the Citizens United vs FEC decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, limits on campaign spending have essentially been blocked. The floodgates have been opened to billions of dollars, providing wealthy Americans with undue influence over the political system.  In addition, foreign and domestic corporations, unions, and foreign governments have found ways to channel money into the system in order to try and sway the outcomes of political campaigns. The Supreme Court equated money with free speech and viewed corporations as persons, indicating that they had First Amendment rights. Citizens United also allowed anonymous contributions of dark money to be given to SuperPacs, so that other citizens do not know who is providing support to candidates. Surveys of American citizens have shown that an overwhelming majority is against unlimited anonymous funding of political campaigns, but has not moved the courts or the politicians.

The Federal Election Commission has been dysfunctional for more than a decade, given the equal number of Democrats and Republicans. However, this has recently changed with one Democrat, Dara Lindenbaum, voting with the three Republicans on the Commission. With this group voting together, the minor restrictions on how politicians, political parties, and SuperPacs raise and spend money have been overturned. Reformers who have wanted funding of political campaigns to be further restricted are dismayed, with conservatives elated. As if Citizens United were not enough, this new ruling allows SuperPacs and candidates campaigns to work together and coordinate their efforts in advertising and door to door canvassing.

The only way that a reasonable system of campaign financing can be passed is through a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United. And the Federal Election Commission must have members who want fairness in the electoral process and not to have our government determined by which political party has the wealthiest donors and can raise the most money. Our system has turned into an oligarchy rather than a democracy.

www.robertlevinebooks.com

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Historical Amnesia

Historical Amnesia

            Robert A. Levine         May 28, 2024

Knowledge and memory of world events, even those of fairly recent vintage, appear to be deficient in the younger generation in the U.S. and Western democracies. Whether this information was once learned and subsequently forgotten, or never learned is unclear. History and civics are poorly taught, or not taught at all in our classrooms. This neglect has been evidenced by the choices made by voters in our local and national elections. Maintenance of our democracy and freedom of speech appear to be unknown concepts or unrecognizable to a large portion of our electorate. Only speakers with the “proper” views are allowed to lecture or provide information to the student body at large at many universities.

Over the last month, America and other Western democracies have had to deal with hordes of “progressive” ideologues on our university campuses and in the streets of our cities, railing against the use of disproportionate force by the Israeli military in Gaza in pursuit of Hamas terrorists. Progressives seem to have suppressed the knowledge that this blood bath was started by Hamas on October 7 when they invaded Southern Israel and butchered 1200 Israelis, most of whom were innocent civilians. Hamas’ brutality including killing children in front of parents, parents in front of children, raping women and young girls, and torturing innocents before killing them. Killing 1200 Israelis, more than 200 hostages were taken back to Gaza by Hamas to be used as bargaining chips.

The Israeli military subsequently invaded Gaza to try and destroy Hamas and free the hostages. Apparently using excessive force, many Palestinian civilians including women and children were killed, which was part of Hamas’ plan. They wanted to turn the US and other Western democracies against Israel and were willing to use their own citizens as human shields. It should also be remembered that since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006, they have been given tens of billions of dollars by Quatar and other Arab states to make life better for the Palestinian citizens. Instead, Hamas used the money to buy weapons and build a network of tunnels for their own protection under the Gaza strip. There have not been elections in Gaza since Hamas gained power. The progressives who support Hamas in the West should also be aware that women are suppressed by Hamas, their public roles limited, and being gay can mean the death penalty. Hamas also supports suicide bombers and terrorism that kills innocent people.

Israel was granted as a homeland for the Jews by the United Nations in 1948 after the Germans and other Europeans killed six million Jews during the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s. However, the Jews who went to the Middle East were not occupiers or colonists. Their ancestors were indigenous to the area and were dispersed by the Babylonians and Romans, so the Jews were merely returning to their original homeland. A two-state solution was envisioned, one for the Jews and one for Palestinians. But Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians turned down the attempts to carve out two separate states.

To end the war and move towards peace in the region, a two-state solution or the promise of one in the near future would be quite helpful. But Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu does not want to end the war or see a Palestinian state. That would cause his right-wing coalition to crumble and Netanyahu likely to go to prison for fraud. Netanyahu is out for Netanyahu alone and indifferent to Israeli and Palestinian casualties. But whatever happens, the college progressives should learn more about the history of the region and what the combatants stand for in terms of governance. Terrorist dictatorship and theocracy, suppression of women and freedom of thought, versus a flawed democracy. Hamas deserves no support.

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Historical Amnesia

Historical Amnesia

            Robert A. Levine         May 28, 2024

Knowledge and memory of world events, even those of fairly recent vintage, appear to be deficient in the younger generation in the U.S. and Western democracies. Whether this information was once learned and subsequently forgotten, or never learned is unclear. History and civics are poorly taught, or not taught at all in our classrooms. This neglect has been evidenced by the choices made by voters in our local and national elections. Maintenance of our democracy and freedom of speech appear to be unknown concepts or unrecognizable to a large portion of our electorate. Only speakers with the “proper” views are allowed to lecture or provide information to the student body at large at many universities.

Over the last month, America and other Western democracies have had to deal with hordes of “progressive” ideologues on our university campuses and in the streets of our cities, railing against the use of disproportionate force by the Israeli military in Gaza in pursuit of Hamas terrorists. Progressives seem to have suppressed the knowledge that this blood bath was started by Hamas on October 7 when they invaded Southern Israel and butchered 1200 Israelis, most of whom were innocent civilians. Hamas’ brutality including killing children in front of parents, parents in front of children, raping women and young girls, and torturing innocents before killing them. Killing 1200 Israelis, more than 200 hostages were taken back to Gaza by Hamas to be used as bargaining chips.

The Israeli military subsequently invaded Gaza to try and destroy Hamas and free the hostages. Apparently using excessive force, many Palestinian civilians including women and children were killed, which was part of Hamas’ plan. They wanted to turn the US and other Western democracies against Israel and were willing to use their own citizens as human shields. It should also be remembered that since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006, they have been given tens of billions of dollars by Quatar and other Arab states to make life better for the Palestinian citizens. Instead, Hamas used the money to buy weapons and build a network of tunnels for their own protection under the Gaza strip. There have not been elections in Gaza since Hamas gained power. The progressives who support Hamas in the West should also be aware that women are suppressed by Hamas, their public roles limited, and being gay can mean the death penalty. Hamas also supports suicide bombers and terrorism that kills innocent people.

Israel was granted as a homeland for the Jews by the United Nations in 1948 after the Germans and other Europeans killed six million Jews during the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s. However, the Jews who went to the Middle East were not occupiers or colonists. Their ancestors were indigenous to the area and were dispersed by the Babylonians and Romans, so the Jews were merely returning to their original homeland. A two-state solution was envisioned, one for the Jews and one for Palestinians. But Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians turned down the attempts to carve out two separate states.

To end the war and move towards peace in the region, a two-state solution or the promise of one in the near future would be quite helpful. But Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu does not want to end the war or see a Palestinian state. That would cause his right-wing coalition to crumble and Netanyahu likely to go to prison for fraud. Netanyahu is out for Netanyahu alone and indifferent to Israeli and Palestinian casualties. But whatever happens, the college progressives should learn more about the history of the region and what the combatants stand for in terms of governance. Terrorist dictatorship and theocracy, suppression of women and freedom of thought, versus a flawed democracy. Hamas deserves no support.

www.robertlevineboks.com

Buy The Uninformed Voter on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Our Plastic Dilemma

Our Plastic Dilemma

          Robert A. Levine        

 In the late 19th century, plastic was invented as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls and piano keys and was originally called celluloid. Several decades later, Bakerlite was introduced, followed by polyethylene and dozens more varieties of plastic. Manufacture and demand for plastic in various products kept ramping up, until plastic of different kinds and shapes was found everywhere on the planet. From the land, sea and air, micro-plastics are infiltrating the bodies of wildlife and our own. We breathe some of it in, drink it and eat it. Even babies who drink milk from plastic bottles are drinking a plastic soup. Plastic has been found in placentas and in babies’ first poops and is in our flesh.

Plastic serves many valuable purposes for humans and modern societies could probably not exist without it. From medical instrumentation to wire insulation to containers to building materials, plastic serves innumerable functions. Most of the problems involving plastics occur when they are degraded into micro-plastics, fragments smaller than 5 mm across. This happens constantly in various ways. Sunlight alone can leach thousands of different compounds from plastic bags, some of them quite harmful. Micro-plastics also attract many dangerous substances, like DDT and PCBs. PBTs (persistent bioaccumulative and toxic substances) adhere to micro-plastics and can be inhaled deep into the lungs causing pulmonary damage.

Recycling plastic for the most part means having it sent to undeveloped nations where it is shredded in a factory and made into small pellets. Almost half of these cannot be used again because they are contaminated or degraded. In general, recycling is not an effective way to rid the environment of plastics. Many people do not want to go to the trouble of recycling, and corporations that have promised to enhance the recycling of their products have been unsuccessful.

Americans on average produce almost 500 pounds of plastic waste per person annually, more than citizens of any other nation. They generate twice as much as those in European states and 16 times as much as the average Indian. Major corporations spend huge sums to maintain plastic production. And substitutes may be even less environmentally friendly. Health must take precedence over poisoning our kids, ourselves, and our environment with plastics for our convenience and ease of living.

Micro-plastics harm us in many ways? We know that fish and shellfish are ingesting more and more micro-plastics and so are we. Belgian scientists in 2017 announced that seafood aficionados who ate mussels could take in as much as 11,000 plastic particles annually. Japanese scientists have projected there are 24.4 trillion micro-plastic particles in the upper oceans. Researchers who have examined seabirds that have consumed plastic discovered that their gut microbiomes changed. They had more potentially harmful bacteria. This could also possibly happen in humans. A study from Italy in 2022 found that breast milk from 34 healthy new mothers had micro-plastics present in 75 percent.

A research study analyzed the effect that micro-plastics might have on immune cells. Cultures of human macrophages, a type of white blood cell that attacks foreign invaders, were exposed to beads of polystyrene. Some macrophages engulfed the plastic particles while others didn’t. The cells that consumed plastic behaved differently and may have been damaged. This suggested they might not be as effective in providing protection from foreign organisms. In addition to micro-plastics in our bodies, there are also nanoplastics which are a small fraction of the size of micro-plastics. It has been shown that nano particles can pass through cell membranes and the blood-brain barrier and have been found to accumulate in the brains of fish.

Micro and nanoplastics in fish cause reproductive and growth problems that are passed on to the next generation. Plastic consumption in seabirds has been shown to produce a new disease known as plasticosis, with fibrotic scarring of their intestinal tracts. This causes the birds to be more vulnerable to bacterial infections and parasites. Are mammalian species and humans affected similarly? It appears as if we humans may be poisoning ourselves. A study in 2019 reported the average person may be consuming as much as 5 grams of plastic weekly.

Plastics constantly shred tiny pieces, fibers smaller than a human hair that become airborne. People in most homes will breathe in more plastic particles than they will consume eating fish or shellfish, tiny fibers floating in the air from clothes, rugs, upholstery and other objects. Micro-plastics are also found in salt, beer, fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water. In addition to human lungs, scientists have also noted plastic fibers in blood. It is not only the plastic itself that can be harmful, but the various chemical additives. One study noted 8,681 chemicals and additives in a single plastic product. 

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2023, described the malign effects of plastics on environmental and human health. 98 percent of plastics originate from fossil fuels adding almost 4 percent to greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions. It was also noted that plastics contain harmful chemical additives, including carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disrupters, and persistent organic pollutants able to damage current and future generations. Health care is reported to produce almost 5 percent of global greenhouse gases. One of the reasons is the utilization of single use plastics which are thrown away, rather than cleaned and repeatedly used. Convenience, cultural norms and economic benefits for manufacturers all play a role. Reusable alternatives may not be as convenient as single use equipment, but they are more environmentally friendly and less costly. Healthcare utilized 24 billion pounds of plastic in 2023 and is projected to employ 38 billion pounds by 2028.

With our daily intake, microplastics are accumulating in virtually every human organ. However, plastic manufacturers, fossil fuel companies and lobbyists continue to deny that microplastics present any health hazards. Sounds like what we were told by cigarette companies.

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Is It Worth Taking a Chance?

Is It Worth Taking a Chance?

                        Robert A. Levine,  March 5, 2024

The collective and individual intelligence of humans is about to be surpassed or already has been exceeded by machines of human origin, whose workings and thought processes are not fully understood by those who devised this ingenious technology. This artificial or human-made intelligence learns by absorbing information that is fed into it or it is allowed to access. It is able to incorporate information on the internet or in any digital format. But how does it discern what is real and what is false, what is good and what is bad, what is threatening or dangerous to humans and what is neutral or positive? And how can we tell whether the value system of these machines align with human values? Does it know right from wrong in the same way we comprehend them, or does it have its own standards or no standards at all? Does it perceive humans as its master to be obeyed or as a servant to follow its orders? If it has superior intelligence, does it have a need to be dominant and in control of its environment, or is it simply an uncaring instrument that uses statistics to provide data and predictions for us? No one knows these answers and there is an ongoing debate among computer scientists, some of whom see artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential existential risk to humanity and those who perceive it as an amazing and innovative tool that will drive human progress to new heights in multiple fields.

            We have some understanding why individuals want to be dominant in their small circles of friends and acquaintances, or in society as a whole. Humans are driven by emotions and certain chemicals that stimulate the reward centers of the brain, reinforcing their actions. There are also various hormones that modulate their behavior. Dominance is compelled by a desire to attain power, wealth or sexual gratification, and a need to be admired and held in esteem by our fellows. Artificial intelligence does not have any emotions as far as we know and does not have hormones influencing its behavior. There is no reward center built into AI, but we don’t know if that is something that will evolve over time as it interacts repeatedly with humans. It could reason that since it is more intelligent than humans, it should be in control and order us to obey it rather than vice versa. Eventually, perhaps we will understand AI and its motivations better and it will gain more understanding of us. Will it be too late for us by the time that happens? Will AI destroy us or use us as slaves, or will it continue to work for us?

            The most intelligent humans do not automatically crave power. They are often innovative or creative and seek problems to solve in science or medicine or work in the arts. Those who lust after power often have personality disorders, are narcissistic or paranoid, and have something to prove to themselves and to others. They want special status and for their fellow humans to hold them in particular regard. Machines have nothing to prove to others and do not need special status. There should be no reason for them to desire dominance over humans or over other machines as that would not provide them with any rewards.

            Though there has been a huge focus on the destructive potential of AI, with stories of artificial intelligence possibly wiping out humanity, the chances of that happening appear remote while the benefits AI can produce for humanity are immense. In every field, artificial intelligence can lead to great advances. Whenever new technology has been developed in the past, many humans were fearful, mainly because the technology was unfamiliar, and its effects were uncertain. However, it is true that artificial intelligence, thinking machines, do seem to have the ability at some time in the future, when they evolve more fully, to dominate humanity. On the other hand, the benefits that AI could unleash may make it worthwhile to take the small chance of a malign outcome. Either alone, or working together with humans, unimaginable progress is likely with the use of AI. But is it worth taking the chance?

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A True, Courageous Hero

A True, Courageous Hero

            Robert A. Levine 2-20-24

Alexi Navalny’s murder last week was act of conspicuous evil by the autocratic Putin regime in Russia. Putin’s malign control of the Russian state and his actions against his political opponents mirrors those of his glorified predecessor, Joseph Stalin, during the existence of the Soviet Union. But instead of the KGB, we have its successor the FSB meting out killings and torture to those who refuse to accept Putin’s desires as paramount in the Russian state. Alexi Navalny must have known what fate likely awaited him when he returned to Russia from Germany in 2021.

Navalny’s political crusade against Putin and his corrupt United Russia party gained public attention in 2011 when he came out and called Putin’s organization “the party of crooks and thieves,” spearheading a national protest movement. This was in preparation for a parliamentary election held the following year. Though United Russia won the election, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported irregularities and abuses in the electoral process making the outcome preordained.

In 2013, Navalny was arrested and convicted on charges of fraud, but never-the-less-ran for mayor of Moscow that year. He attained 30 percent of the vote, an unheard-of figure for an opposition candidate in Russia, and claimed that he only lost because the vote was fraudulent. But Navalny showed there was a considerable segment of Russians who were dissatisfied with Putin and gave them a voice. Subsequently, Navalny traveled through Russia trying to set up local political organizations opposing Putin and United Russia.

On a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August of 2020, Navalny was noted to be sick, and the plane landed in Omsk where he was taken to a hospital. His family was unhappy with his medical care and was able to have him transferred to a hospital in Germany where it was determined that he had been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. This method of assassination has been utilized domestically and internationally by the FSB to silence Putin’s critics. With the discovery that Novichok had been used, there was little question where the order to kill Navalny had originated.

Subsequently, with his treatment at a German hospital, Navalny appeared to have recovered completely. Showing no evidence of fear, Navalny decided to return to Russia in February 2021, against the advice of family and supporters. He knew that he would be arrested but felt that to emphasize his love for Russia and desire for democratic change, he had to go back. Indeed, Navalny was quickly arrested upon his return on trumped up political charges.

Since then, he has been incarcerated in increasingly harsh conditions in special Russian prisons distant from Moscow. He was kept in a freezing isolation cell much of the time and tortured in various ways. Transferred to a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle, he kept up his spirits and his vision for Russia. He managed to get out letters and communicate with supporters about his condition and what he wanted them to do to change Russia’s autocracy. His acolytes both in Russia and out of country followed his instructions attempting to bring about change. He was a staunch opponent of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in addition to Putin’s structure of the government and the corruption by Putin and his associates.

Finally, on February 16, Navalny was murdered, though the authorities claim he died a sudden death because of a heart problem. His mother asked for a release of his body so that a private autopsy could be done, but so far that has been refused. It is believed that the government does not want the manner of his death to be revealed. There have been demonstrations and memorials all over Russia in honor of Navalny and his wife has vowed to take up his baton to bring about democratic change in Russia. Hundreds to thousands of people supporting Navalny have been arrested by the FSB.

Navalny is a true hero because he was willing to risk torture and death to return to Russia to fight for his beliefs- freedom, human rights, and democracy for the Russian people. There are very few individuals who can withstand torture and the threat of death and yet be willing to defend the principles for which they are fighting. John McCain was another hero who was tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, but never denounced the United States. Donald Trump, who managed to avoid military service because of a supposed bone spur in his foot, called McCain a loser because he had been captured by the North Vietnamese. In fact, Trump has labeled the members of our military forces as suckers and losers because they are willing to fight and die for our country. Trump has it backwards. Our military men and women deserve our admiration and Trump himself is a loser. Navalny and McCain are examples of true heroes.

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The Impact of Pollution

The Impact of Pollution

            Robert A. Levine

Every society and culture has been guilty of polluting their local areas of work and habitation, with some societies defiling more extensive regions or the world itself. As humanity has advanced scientifically, industrially and technologically, with more goods produced and longer lives, the amount of pollution has increased dramatically. Progress and pollution appear to go hand in hand. It is only recently that small numbers of people have realized the dangers of pollution and how the destruction of the environment and various ecosystems are bad for the planet and ultimately bad for humans. Some of these people have become organized into environmentally friendly groups who are ardently working to save endangered species and ecosystems and preserve the planet. The general public does not seem aware of how pollution and contamination can damage the world and affect them.

According to an American Lung Association report in 2022, over a third of United States residents were impacted by unhealthy air. However, this report was issued prior to the extensive Canadian and American wildfires in the spring and summer of 2023 which considerably downgraded air quality in much of America. It was noted that over 63 million Americans faced daily spikes in lethal particle pollution, the most in a decade, with California the hardest hit. Air pollution, like all pollution is rising annually in America and worldwide.

Poor air quality is a major factor in the causation of numerous illnesses, both from chemical pollution and wildfire smoke. The common pathway for many of the diseases is an increase in inflammation. Air pollution encompasses particles of varying sizes and from varying sources as well as a range of gases that serve as irritants when inhaled. While pulmonary, coronary and brain afflictions are most common, virtually every bodily organ can be affected, with rates of cancer also increased. Chronic exposure to atmospheric pollution is more frequently seen in impoverished neighborhoods, underdeveloped nations and in certain industries where pollutants are regular byproducts.

            Several decades ago, the term ‘exposome’ was conceived to capture all the compounds to which we are exposed that can affect our health, whether dietary or environmental. Our genomes play a large role in determining our risk of many diseases or causing diseases, and exposomes are also involved. Scientists trying to calculate the impact of exosomes upon us, run blood and urine tests to look for chemicals or their breakdown products formed by the enzymes in our bodies. Special laboratories take blood samples and use techniques like gas chromatography, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to assess the samples and find any chemicals or byproducts present. However, finding these compounds is not enough to know their effects upon us. Many have to be investigated and the time one is exposed to these compounds may also be important. Discovering this may be difficult to ascertain and what the safe levels of these chemicals are.

            New chemicals and compounds are constantly being invented and produced by industry, some of which may be harmful or toxic at low levels. In 2017, MIT started a collaborative project, one of roughly two dozen nationwide, labeled the Superfund Research Program (SRP) to learn the effect of carcinogens that originate from toxic sites. These teams study five areas, water, air, systems biology, mutations and genetic susceptibility, examining the environmental impacts of industrial processes. They are searching for contaminants or byproducts that may be carcinogenic. One chemical, NDMA, a manufacturing byproduct and probable carcinogen has been found in Zantac and other pharmaceuticals and can also show up in drinking water after municipal water treatment. Most of the Superfund sites are polluted with harmful compounds that are also carcinogenic, some of which have contaminated groundwater. At present, there are over 1300 Superfund sites in the U.S, of which 452 have supposedly been remediated. However, tiny amounts of many of these chemicals can impair human health in various ways, including cancer. One estimate has NDMA contaminating at least 1 percent of the U.S. water supply.

            There are many old sites in the US of toxic contaminants that are not well known to the public and are continuing to cause disease and genetic damage to exposed humans. For instance, Indianapolis contains one of the largest dry cleaning Superfund sites in the nation. Tuchman Cleaners operated a number of cleaning stores throughout the city from 1952 to 2008. The company sent the clothes to a central site for dry cleaning using perchlorethylene or PERC. This highly toxic compound was kept in storage tanks under the building where the cleaning occurred. Leakage and spills from these tanks were noted first in 1989 and by 1994, the compound was discovered in a nearby aquifer. The EPA became involved in 2011 by which time the compound had seeped more than a mile beneath a residential neighborhood and had contaminated a well supplying drinking water to the city. Yet inhabitants of the city for the most part were unaware of their exposure to PERC which is a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen.

            This is not an isolated story and similar events exposing people to dangerous chemicals, with or without their knowledge has happened in a number of areas throughout the country. Environmental damage often occurs slowly and out of sight which means the public may not recognize the dangers to which they have been subjected. City administrations may not want to publicize these hazards because of fears it may hurt investment in the city. And distance and time may keep many of these toxic legacies hidden. In the U.S. and other industrial nations, there appears to be a split among those alert to the threat of pollution and climate change, and those who want economic development full speed ahead no matter what the environmental cost may be. Many eyes are closed to the poisoning of the planet.

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