Saturday, January 14, 2006

IRAN'S GROWING THREAT

After claiming that it would not tolerate any more nations becoming nuclear states, the Bush Administration has found itself in a bit of a pickle. On Bush's watch, North Korea announced the development of nuclear weapons, and now Iran is apparently attempting to join the atomic community as well.

The problem is that the U.S. has lost much of its prestige, not to mention its credibility, with the rest of the world in the wake of the ill-planned, and some would say ill-advised, invasion of Iraq. Around the world the invasion is widely considered illegal, and the toppling of a sovereign government viewed as as yet another example of imperial hubris. The American presence in Iraq is seen by many, including a majority of Iraqis, as nothing more than an occupation by a bullying superpower. In essence, the U.S. has developed quite a PR problem with much of the rest of the world.

If the U.S. was looking for a foothold in the Middle East, a place to launch a democracy in lieu of a totalitarian government known to have sponsored terrorism for years, and admittedly developing an ambitious nuclear program, then the Bush Administration might have picked the wrong country. Perhaps Iran would have been a better choice.

Seventy percent of Iran’s population is under 30, and the median age of an Iranian is just 24. Young people in Iran are fairly pro-Western and are fascinated by its culture. They are known to favor more freedom of all kinds, having repeatedly clashed with their authoritarian, ultra-conservative Islamic government in recent years. And, for the most part, they are ethnically and religiously united. They seem like exactly the kind of people who would favor a chance at democracy and a government of, and for, the people.

But the current Iranian government has continued to frustrate the West. On Tuesday, Iran removed some U.N. seals from its main uranium enrichment facility to resume research on nuclear fuel -- including some small-scale enrichment. And now Iran has threatened to end surprise inspections and to stop cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog if it is referred to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.

Britain, France and Germany have spent the past 2 1/2 years futilely negotiating with Tehran over its nuclear program. The three European nations, in conjunction with the U.S., may refer Iran to the Security Council due to its intransigence. They could call for economic sanctions, such as restricting oil and gas sales, but such action would have a negative impact on the world economy.

For that reason, they face resistance from China, which imports 300,000 barrels of oil a day from Iran and holds veto powers at the Security Council. China said it opposes putting Tehran before the world body for possible sanctions. Other nations may feel similarly for the same reasons. Japan imports more than half a million barrels of oil a day from Iran. Russia, another Security Council member with economic ties to Iran, has given mixed signals on how it would react to such a move.

While Iran insists its program is peaceful, intended only to produce electricity, much of the West is skeptical. An OPEC member's claim that it needs nuclear energy is laughable given that Iran controls 10 percent of the world's oil reserves and has the second largest gas reserves, after Russia. Yet, Iran insists it has the right to conduct uranium enrichment, a process that can produce reactor fuel or material for a nuclear bomb.

And with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, Iran seems to believe that it can get away with continuing its program. They've seen the Bush Administration talk tough with North Korea regarding it nuclear program, but do nothing about it. They may be further emboldened because the U.S. is currently grappling with a nearly three-year-old war in Iraq. The Iranians may be betting that the U.S. is unwilling, or unable, to simultaneously engage in another conflict.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany all fear that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons. And they have good reason to be concerned.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would not bend before the threat of sanctions.

''Iran is not frightened by threats from any country and it will continue the path of production of the nuclear energy,'' state-run radio quoted him as saying. ''Iranian people do not allow foreigners to block their progress.''

The ultra-conservative President has made a series of outrageous statements in recent months that have provided perfect examples of why many nations are deeply concerned about the possibility of Iran going nuclear.

In October, Ahmadinejad quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, saying that Israel "must be wiped out from the map of the world."

He insisted that a new series of attacks will destroy the Jewish state, and lashed out at Muslim countries and leaders that acknowledge Israel. "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," he boldly proclaimed.

Ahmadinejad said the "new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine, and the growing turmoil in the Islamic world, would in no time wipe Israel away."

The president concluded by saying: "And God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

Most recently, in December, he described the Holocaust as "a myth" and suggested that Israel be moved to Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, responded by saying: "The combination of a regime with a radical agenda, together with a distorted sense of reality that is clearly indicated by the statements we heard today, put together with nuclear weapons -- I think that's a dangerous combination that no one in the international community can accept."

The international community doesn't seem to want to accept it, but they may not be willing to anything substantive about it. Iran's regional neighbor Israel, on the other hand, would find its security jeopardized if Iran came into possession of nuclear weapons. According to media reports, before his recent stroke, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israel's military to be prepared for possible air strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran as soon as March.

While on the Fox News Channel last year, Sharon warned, "Israel — and not only Israel — cannot accept a nuclear Iran. We have the ability to deal with this and we're making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation."

Right now some European nations appear reluctant to even refer Iran to the Security Council, much less threaten them with military consequences for their actions. They seem to be as concerned with escalating the current war of words as with the advancing nuclear program in a country that has an unpredictable firebrand for a president. Ahmadinejad has the backing of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Council of Guardians, the ultra-conservative religious leaders with the ultimate authority in the country.

So it may fall to Israel to do something about the potential Iranian nuclear menace. In the wake of Iraq, the U.S. might find too politically risky to move unilaterally against Iran with a military strike. Israel, on the other hand, has never been politically popular and seems to have given up trying to curry favor with the rest of the world. Their number one concern, for good reason, is their own national security. And with a nuclear Iran, that security would indeed be threatened.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

THE AMERICAN DIABETES EPIDEMIC


During recent years, doctors have grown alarmed by the explosive rise of diabetes in the U.S. Local, state and federal officials share that concern. Diabetes is growing quickly, even as other scourges such as heart disease and cancers are stable or in decline.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that nearly 21 million Americans are believed to be diabetic, and the ranks of diabetics have swelled by a staggering 80 percent in the last decade.

Everyday, 4,100 people are diagnosed with the disease. This sharp rise in diabetes cases over the past decade has led the CDC to describe the situation as an epidemic.

And, according to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 6.2 million people are presently undiagnosed.

But this problem will only worsen. Another 41 million Americans are prediabetic; their blood sugar is high, and could reach the diabetic level if they do not alter their living habits.

In 2002, diabetes followed heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases and accidents as the leading causes of death in the U.S.

The American Diabetes Association says the disease could actually lower the average life expectancy of Americans for the first time in more than a century. Diabetes is thought to shave 5 to 10 years off a life.

But the death isn't the only concern. The degenerate quality of life associated with diabetes is of equal concern. A diabetic's final years can be downright miserable and agonizing.

As alarmed as health officials are about the present, they worry more about what's to come.

Doctors fear that, within a generation or so, a huge wave of new cases could overwhelm the public health system and engulf growing numbers of the young, creating a nation where hospitals are swamped by the effects of the disease.

Schools could be scrambling for resources while trying to accommodate diabetic children, and the work force could abound with the blind and the infirmed.

It's predicted that in coming years there will be too few hospitable beds for diabetics and the disease will place unsupportable drains on Medicaid and Medicare.

Right now, on any given day at certain New York hospitals, nearly half the patients are there for some illness related to diabetes.

One in three children born in the United States five years ago are expected to become diabetic in their lifetimes, according to a projection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The forecast is even bleaker for Latinos: one in every two.

Type 2 diabetes, the predominant form of the disease which accounts for 90%-95% of all cases, is creeping into children, something almost unheard of two decades ago.

Diabetes has no cure. It is progressive and often fatal, and even while the patient lives, the assortment of medical complications it sets off can attack every major organ.

People typically have diabetes for 7 to 10 years before it is even diagnosed, and by that time it will often have begun to set off grievous consequences.

Many of the chronic problems related to diabetes arise from damage to the blood vessels. Among the disorders that plague diabetics are vision loss or blindness.

Other maladies include infection and gangrene — which sometimes require limb amputation — kidney failure, heart disease and stroke.

In fact, diabetes is the most common cause of adult kidney failure, amputation, and blindness among non-elderly adults in the US.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetics are two to four times more likely than others to develop heart disease or have a stroke, and three times more likely to die of complications from flu or pneumonia.

Most diabetics suffer nervous-system damage and poor circulation, which can lead to amputations of toes, feet and entire legs; even a tiny cut on the foot can lead to gangrene because it will not be seen or felt.

Each of these symptoms is extremely expensive to treat. Diabetes is enormously burdensome for healthcare systems and governments.

Nationwide, the disease's cost just for 2002 — from medical bills to disability payments and lost workdays — was conservatively put by the American Diabetes Association at $132 billion.

All cancers, taken together, cost the country an estimated $171 billion a year.

The forces that are driving diabetes nationally are an aging population, a food supply riddled with sugars and fats, and a culture that promotes overeating and discourages exercise.

Type 2 diabetes has grown commensurately with obesity, and America is becoming fatter. Fully two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

A federal program studied people around the country at high risk of getting diabetes, and concluded that 58 percent of new diabetes cases could be postponed by shifts in behavior — most notably, shedding pounds.

Since Type 2 is spurred by obesity and inactivity, it can possibly be prevented by eating less and exercising more. But doctors say that getting millions of people to change their behavior will require some kind of national crusade.

By all indications, such a crusade needs to begin immediately.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about half of all deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to largely preventable behaviors and exposures. Tobacco use, poor diet, and physical inactivity account for the majority of preventable deaths.

Doctors anticipate that poor diet and physical inactivity may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Unfortunately, resources for fighting diabetes have been largely diverted to other, less urgent diseases.

For years, public health authorities around the country have all but ignored chronic illnesses like diabetes, focusing instead on communicable diseases, which kill far fewer people.

For example, New York has just three people and a $950,000 budget to outwit diabetes, a disease soon expected to afflict more than a million people in the city.

On the other hand, Tuberculosis, which infected about 1,000 New Yorkers last year, gets $27 million and a staff of almost 400.

Apathy and ignorance, combined with powerful lobbying by the food industry, are the confluence of forces that have allowed the scourge that is diabetes to flourish.

It will require the dedicated and joint efforts of the medical community, schools, insurance companies, legislators, and even churches to inform and persuade the public of the risks at hand.

Our nation's economy will be burdened as tax dollars that should be allocated elsewhere are directed toward diabetes treatment in coming years.

And the human costs are exceptionally high as well.

People don't die quickly with diabetes, but can linger for years dying a long, slow death. The burden of caring for them often falls on their loved ones.

So even those not directly afflicted are still affected. That means there is something for everyone in this effort.

There is much to gain, and even more to lose, for the entire nation.