Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on Oct. 13, 2007

We had our seventh social event of 2007 at Will and Sharon’s on Alki. We had a nice turnout with approximately 36 guests to hear our guest speaker Dr. Stephen Bezruchka. Thanks so much to Will and Sharon for opening up their home!


The Aurora Project Alice Woldt gave a brief overview of The Aurora Project. The Aurora Project seeks to create a political movement in this country that politically empowers all its people--inclusive of every race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation: first by speaking to the values shared by those who believe in true democracy and representation; second, by providing a apparatus that works nationally, regionally, and locally, to address the needs of everyday people--especially needs that connect to political solutions; and finally, through a political entity outside the established parties, that represents a new political identity for those who believe in the values of Aurora and that can both elect political candidates and hold them accountable. Aurora is a response to the lopsided dynamics of representation in this country that result in democracy being selective and partial. Race, ethnicity, gender, and class have combined (with other factors such as sexual orientation) to marginalize the voice of some and raise the voice of others.

Special interests that are moneyed tend to gain access and influence policy decisions, again to the detriment of the majority of people in this country. People from every circumstance recognize the deterioration of our politics, but most feel powerless to do anything about it. This turning away is painful; it's not natural; and it forms the basis of an opportunity to build something new--an opportunity for most of us to participate in a politics that is in line with our values. Aurora seeks to bring people back and bring people in, by making politics relevant to everyday folk and achieving electoral victories in a repeating cycle that leads to a culture of political engagement by a broad spectrum of people in this country who share a set of core values. The end-result is an engaged electorate that has the habit of participating in the political process and holding elected officials accountable.

Approximately ten inSPIRe members attended the kick-off meeting for the local Puget Sound chapter of The Aurora Project. We were truly inspired by the large turnout of local activists and the possibility that this project has towards its goals stated above. Seattle Statue of Liberty Fundraising Libby Carr provided us with an update of efforts regarding the restoration of the Statue of Liberty on Alki: They are fundraising for a new base for our new lady. Information on how you can order a brick or otherwise donate to this effort up on their website: In the meantime, if you want to write a check right now, please send it to: SSLC/Urban Sparks, 4701 SW Admiral Way, Box 234, Seattle, WA 98116-2340.

inSPIRe Book Club!

We will be reading for our October 24, 2007 gathering Fiasco by Tom Ricks. To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to

Keynote Speaker

Emergency Room Physician and University of Washington Senior Lecturer Dr Stephen A. Bezruchka - Dr Bezruchka provided us with an extremely engaging discussion on “health”, versus “healthcare”. His goals were to provide us with an understanding as to what it means for a society to be healthy, and to clarify for us how we currently stack-up in America and what we can do to improve our “health” standing. Dr. Bezruchka has worked thirty five years as a doctor, including eleven in Nepal. He currently teaches at the University of Washington and works as an emergency room doctor. Dr Bezruchka began the discussion by engaging the audience with many questions regarding health, such as:
“What do you do to stay healthy?”;
“How do you know if it’s effective?”;
“What do you do to keep your family healthy?”;
“Why do women live longer than men?”;
“What is your way to measure how healthy one is?”;
“Who in the room thinks they are currently healthy?”;
“What is a good measure as to how happy a family is?”
“What is a good measure as to how healthy a country is?”
“What are a country’s vital signs?”, etc.

The point of Dr Bezruchka’s questions was to get us all thinking and engaged in the discussion and to bring out our own current ideas regarding these health related items. Many answers were given to all questions (inSPIRe folks tend to not be overly shy of sharing their views!). After a robust discussion on these questions, Dr Bezruchka proposed a key metric for measuring the health of a country: life expectancy (including the impact from infant mortalities). The United States spends approximately 50% of the world’s healthcare dollars, yet ranks poorly against other countries in regards to life expectancy. The CIA’s ranking, which includes many very small countries, has the US ranked 45th in the world. The United Nation’s ranking which excludes some smaller countries has the US at number 29 as of 2006, right next to Cuba. All of the world’s richer countries are ahead of the US, as are many poor countries. Sixty years ago, the US ranked quite high, but we’ve seen a steady decrease in our status. Would a single-payer healthcare system work better? Most experts don’t think it really would. Yet, many countries with universal, single-payer systems are much healthier than the US. The question is why? What is the key metric that drives the health of a country or a community? The answer is income/wealth disparity.

In the United States, the divide between the rich and the poor has been increasing on a steady basis for the past 40 years, and with this our life expectancy ranking has been dropping. Yet arguably most Americans seem either unaware or willing to keep promoting this wealth disparity. Taxes on the wealthy keep getting cut. In the 1950s the highest tax rate on the super-rich was 90% and the US was rated in the top 5 healthy countries. Today the maximum tax rate has been reduced to near 35% and the US is rated #29 in healthiness. In addition, capital gains taxes have been dramatically reduced to just 15%, and given that the vast majority of securities are owned by the wealthy, this tax break has directly been to their benefit. Americans may be expecting a great “trickle-down” benefit to the rest of us, but the numbers don’t reflect this. Dr Bezruchka provided us with many charts to emphasize and validate the income distribution and life expectancy connection.

Besides redoing the American tax code to significantly benefit the rich, corporate deregulation has been a key towards promoting economic inequality. Political attention from both the Republican and Democratic parties has been very beneficial to American corporations, and this has significantly helped in the transfer of wealth. We have been transferring approximately $1 Trillion EACH YEAR to the rich from the rest of us. The multiplier between the annual incomes of a CEO vs an average worker has reached almost 500 to 1. In many other countries it’s closer to 20 to 1. At the far extreme, the CEO of a hedge fund made $1.7 billion in 2006, which equates to about $850,000 per hour if measured on a 40 hour work week.

Most of us tend to believe that it is our individual behavior that drives our health. If we eat right, don’t smoke, exercise, etc. then we should be healthy, right? But how do we know this? Answers this is what the media tells us, and we believe it. But much data doesn’t support this. For example, in America the smoking rate of American men is down to 19%, but in the country with the highest life expectancy, Japan, 54% of men smoke! Dr Bezruchka provided many other startling examples like this.

Many scientific studies have been performed to attempt to pinpoint what could be the cause of our ill-health in America, taking into account that most Americans suffer from this income disparity. The answer: stress. Stress-related issues are at the core of many of the elements of our health crisis. Human’s ability to put stress on ourselves to remove ourselves from a dangerous situation, such as a bear attack, was hugely critical for our early survival. However, in today’s environment most of us suffer from high stress levels on a daily basis, and this literally “kills” us when stress is kicking in all the time.

Our culture in America is very, very different than in healthier countries. At the core of the Japanese culture is “social harmony”, working together, etc. Clearly, after World War II Japan was a pretty unhealthy place, but they rapidly grew into the healthiest society in the world. How? An important impact was provided by US General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur provided three key actions towards a healthy Japan when he was responsible for Japan’s reconstruction after WWII:

1) The requirement that Japan remained a de-militarized country
2) Democratization (including a Public Health clause)
3) Decentralization, including the breaking-up of ownership of wealth/land by corporations and the rich.

These items have enabled Japan to focus resources on health and reduce income/wealth disparity, which, combined with their more harmonious culture, has lead to their extremely high life expectancy rate.

The income gap between the rich and the poor matters the most to the very young. Most of our health for life is established from the time of pregnancy to our reaching five years of age. In the US, we don’t do a good job of promoting pre/post-natal health. The US is only one of four countries in the world that don’t have a federally mandated maternity leave policy (along with Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and Lesotho). In contrast to the US’s policy and culture towards childcare is a healthy country such as Sweden. In Sweden there is a mandatory 12 month maternity leave for Moms along with a mandatory 12 week maternity leave for Dads both 100% paid. Mom’s can take a 2nd year at 80% pay. When they return to work, they can put their child in a government-paid childcare. To work at this childcare one must have a “Masters degree in Play” serious! The key point is that there is sound biology behind this type of policy works towards healthier babies, kids and families. A solid social system reduces stress, and society benefits.

What happens if a native moves from a healthy country to the US? Studies show that their health drops to the US level, I.E., it’s the culture, not the genetics. The one social group in the US with healthier status is Latinos. This is because of a strong family structure and support system which helps reduce the stress caused by the income disparities.

Russia has experienced a dramatic change in health status since the dissolution of the USSR and its government sponsored healthcare and their move to democracy. Approximately 20 million Russians have died since the fall of the USSR that would not have with the old social systems. At the same time, wealth in Russia has been severely concentrated among a few. Russia now has the 3rd most billionaires in the world, but also these 20 million extra dead folks. Is this progress?

Nothing produces violence as does disparity of income. Studies have shown that hardened, violent criminals are typically trying to redress some inequality; some indignity they feel they have suffered. They do this through violence. The US has the highest homicide rate in the world. Young men tend to take out their stress through violence, where as young women tend to take their stress out through becoming pregnant. It’s a common thing for a young woman to deal with the stress in our society by seeking someone/something to love and care for, I.E., a baby. This is a highly common phenomenon.

There are more important things towards health than wealth distribution, but these things are more relevant in the poorest countries, such as India. These things include having enough food, potable water, arable land and having a shelter. However, some of the cultural ways of the peoples in the poorest countries help with their help. An example is the southern state of Kerala in India. Although not a wealthy place, Kerala is as healthy as the US. Some of their systems include providing women significant rights, the shunning of free-trade zones, etc.

How can we change the state of our ill-health in the US? There are many things we can do, but they are all very challenging and will take our committed, repeated, continuous efforts. They include working towards the end of corporate subsidies, reversing our tax code to a more progressive system, taking royalties from industry (our corportacracy), lowering our military spending and redirecting these funds towards a healthier America through the providing of universal healthcare. Today in America, when one combines our taxpayer dollars spent on healthcare at the federal, state and local levels, America has the highest taxpayer-funded healthcare costs in the world! We just don’t get good results. The “for-profit” system doesn’t work with healthcare. Mortality rates are higher at “for-profit” hospitals. Of the wealthy nations in the world, the country with the lowest chance to actually reach the “American dream” is America. This is a very sad state of affairs.

To learn more, watch for the new PBS eight-part series upcoming in the spring of 2008 entitled “Unnatural Causes” which address this issue of the impact of income disparity on health.

Also, Dr Stephen Bezruchka has an upcoming NPR Alternative Radio talk entitled "Is America Driving You Crazy?" It can be downloaded now or heard either October 24th or 31st on KUOW 94.9 FM at 8 PM. See

There are, also, three very worthy archived talks by Dr. Bezruchka delivered on Alternative Radio. Please see

Finally, Dr Bezruchka will appear on inSPIRe member Bill Alford’s Public Access TV Program Moral Politics, 8 PM December 21st, to discuss "LEISURE: Important to Health."

As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded. Sorry!

Many thanks to Dr Bezruchka for his informative and important talk!

See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!

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