Monday, August 31, 2009

Healthy Brain Symposium: Food for Thought

Many of us have heard that two-thirds of adults are overweight and that the incidence of childhood obesity is skyrocketing. But did you know that if you eat at fast food restaurants, you will get a fast food brain? Or that as your weight goes up, the size of your brain goes down? And that when it comes to brains -- size does matter? So says brain expert and best-selling author of Change Your Brain Change Your Life Dr. Daniel G. Amen.

Amen spoke to a standing-room-only crowd this last Wednesday at a special Commonwealth Club Member Led Forum afternoon series on brain health. He focused on the connection between what we eat and the health of our brain, because after all, "we are what we eat.” He said that the reasons diets don’t work is because most weight problems are “between the ears” and that, in fact, the word diet is “a four letter word.” So, to lose weight, argues, people have to employ what he calls “a life plan.”

Amongst Amen’s 10 critical steps to changing our brain and changing our bodies are boosting our brains to lose our bellies and knowing our motivations for eating. He said it is important to identify the kind of eaters we are, citing several types: compulsive, impulsive, impulsive-compulsive (the combination of both), sad (seasonal-affect disorder), or anxious. He noted how important it is to use brain supplements to boost our bodies. He also said that it is critical that we know our numbers -- the number of calories that we intake daily, the number of our body mass index, the levels of our hormones and cholesterol, and the number of hours we sleep. In fact, sleep is so important to brain health and weight that sleep deprivation can actually lead to overeating and, in fact, doubles the risk of obesity.

Amen emphasized the “need to eat right to think right.” He recommended replacing artificial sweeteners with the natural herbal sweetener stevia and eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three big meals at designated times. He said people should avoid drinking calories, and he advocated a diet high in protein and fiber, stressing the importance of eating fruits and vegetables “from the rainbow.” Even certain spices -- such as tumeric, sage, rosemary, ginger, mint, cinnamon, and oregano -- are considered salubrious for our brain health. In particular, saffron is known to decrease depression.

Dr. Amen was one of six special guests to address what it takes to keep our brains healthy at all ages. Nutrition coach and health educator Patty James, a Commonwealth Club volunteer who helped organize the program, prepared healthy snacks for the reception that kicked off the afternoon’s talks. As the first speaker, James explained why she selected the reception's menu. Noting the importance of eating what she called “brain food,” she described the health benefits of raw walnuts and seeds, and fish (especially salmon).

Referencing the Monterey Aquarium's free helpful fish guide, she noted that the essential fatty acids found in salmon are also abundant in herring, mackerel, and blue fish. Because the brain is composed of 80-percent water, it is critical to drink lots of it. “However, this doesn’t mean a glass of wine at night and coffee in the morning, but at least 8 glasses of water a day.” She also pointed out the value of anti-oxidants in the diet, stressing the importance of consuming at least five to nine cups of different colored vegetables every day. Antioxidants, she said, counteract the damaging effect of oxidents on the tissue. “But almost everything” she concluded, “is okay in moderation.”

The series also featured talks by Dr. Bill Grant, chair of the Club’s Health and Medicine Member Led Forum and health researcher for SUNARC, who underscored the important role of Vitamin D in brain health, and UCSF’s neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazelle, who explored the crossroads of memory and attention. Also addressing the crowd were Phil Jacklin, past president of Palo Alto’s alternative health group, the Smart Life Forum, who shared information on Alzheimer’s disease prevention and reversal, and renowned psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, who emphasized that people need to harness their biology and attitude to reduce stress and optimize brain health and fitness.

--The Commonwealth Club's Media & Public Relations Department

New Era Dawns with Japanese Election Landslide

Sometimes even huge stories get pushed down the news page as a result of a different ongoing media event. While much of the United States was focused on the high-profile laying to rest of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy this weekend, there was a political change of potentially gigantic proportions over in Japan. After more than five decades of almost uninterrupted rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, yesterday the Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide victory in Japanese elections, beating the LDP by a margin of 3-1 and capturing an outright majority in the lower house of that nation's parliament (it already controlled the upper house, albeit with the help of smaller parties allied to it).

There has been much talk in the media about what this could mean for Japan's relationship with the United States, as well as how the DPJ will carry out its promises to increase assistance to consumers, increase welfare, and end the cozy relationship between the government bureaucracy and big business.

But long-time Japan-watchers in the United States will likely also be looking into what this means for Japanese society and whether it is changing. On October 17, 2006, Michael Zielenziger, author of Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, spoke to The Commonwealth Club that "Japan is an unhappy county going through a form of rebellion." He suggested that the country's rigid social and educational establishment had led to a group of lost young people who didn't fit in and who were ostracized by peers and the society at large.

It is a pity that Zielenziger's blog hasn't been updated since 2008. He's most likely very engrossed in the developments in Japan this week. But in the meantime, you can listen to the streaming audio of his Commonwealth Club program and see if it influences the way you see this week's big news from Japan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Public Option Remains Health-Care Reform Hurdle

As the health-care debate continues at full throttle, many people in resource- and cash-strapped California are trying to figure out just how federal mandates impact the state where 37 percent of people are uninsured. A June 19 panel at the Commonwealth Club ("California Health Care and the Stimulus: The Promises, Possibilities, and Pitfalls") hosted four key players in the overhaul of the system, who weighed in on the need for a fundamental shift in not only action, but in thinking and planning.

“We want reform that is sustainable, that is long-term, that is not something short-lived that’s going to make everyone feel good and then in a year we find that we’ve failed on it,” Elizabeth Imholz of the Consumers Union told the Commonwealth Club crowd. “I think if there’s ever been a moment, this is it.”

And the proverbial ball has started rolling, albeit fraught with some snags. The fiscal stimulus package infused California with a huge amount of cash in February, increasing the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for Medi-Cal, which introduced the idea that the veritable down payment on health care could be an economic boon. However, the budget cuts made in July to close the massive, $24-billion budget deficit equaled a $1.4 billion slash to Medi-cal, which serves 7 million people. Currently, Medi-Cal serves as the state’s de-facto “public option,” for those who qualify; cutting it would require an even larger effort to essentially start from scratch.

As the federal health-care bill continues to work its way through Congress, California’s cuts usher some provisions of the bill to the forefront. States will be required to expand their health-care programs to more of the uninsured, even though federal funding for such programs by 2015 will be dramatically scaled back. All major health-care bills moving through Congress would use Medicare as a vehicle for expanding coverage, adding perhaps 11 million people, a 20-percent increase.

“Medicare, which we’ve all relied on [or, our parents have] for a very long time, will go broke in about eight years at the current rate of spending and the current rate of revenue coming into it,” said David Lansky, president and CEO of the Pacific Business Group on Health. “To make Medicare sustainable -– if we don’t do any healthcare reform –- someone has to find about $13 trillion to put into the trust fund.”

President Obama has received criticism for uncertainty over whether his plan will include a public option for the uninsured, and those currently dependent on Medicare and Medicaid have few other options. Further complicating the issue is the perplexing fact that the system is currently without a designated administrator. How can the debate continue without this crucial position? Medicare and Medicaid crucially need someone who is working with Congress and preparing for a possible new, expanded role.

As Dr. Cortese of the Mayo Clinic recently told The New York Times, Medicare is, in effect, the nation’s largest insurance company and the president and Congress function as the board of directors. Former Medicaid director Vernon K. Smith says an administrator is needed to address the “future fiscal stability of the Medicaid program.”

While the debate continues, the numbers of uninsured are not decreasing. Employer-provided coverage doesn’t always provide the reassurance it did in the past because of uncertainty over employment during the recession. People who have lost their jobs -- as nearly 64,000 Californians have -- and their coverage along with it may be looking to none other than Medi-Cal as a provider.

“More and more people -- as we sink deeper into the recession -- are going to become eligible for Medicaid and going to need those services,” said Imholz.

If the stated goals of a new health-care system -- reducing the cost of health care, ensuring quality insurance service for consumers, providing affordable coverage to uninsured, and not adding to the deficit -- are to be realized, some observers are saying that is will be necessary to streamline the systems already in place.

“One of the other major components of the [proposed] framework ... is an expansion of the Medicaid program as well as increased payment to Medicaid providers,” said Toby Douglas, chief deputy director of the California Department of Public Health. “It could be a very good thing, but it brings up the question of who’s going to pay for it.”

Opponents of government-run health-care worry that if it is provided, tens of millions of Americans would leave their employer-provided coverage for the cheaper public option, in turn bankrupting the federal government. More market-oriented approaches were broached at a June 11, 2009, presentation at The Commonwealth Club. [See the video here.]

At the panel discussion on overhauling the system, Douglas further explained that all parties -- on the right, the left and elsewhere -- must stay involved to hash out a solution. “There is discussion that can be built on that type of framework,” he said. “But it also isn’t clear exactly when people talk about a public plan if they are talking about that local, state public plan or more of a national one, and that’s what really needs to be worked out more in detail.”

– By Heather Mack

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gen. Anthony Zinni Discusses Lessons in Leadership

Gen. Anthony Zinni (left) discusses the crisis in leadership, during a discussion at The Commonwealth Club with President and CEO Dr. Gloria C. Duffy. (Photo by John Zipperer)

With an estimated three-fourths of Americans seeing a widespread leadership crisis, a high-profile veteran of America's foreign wars came to The Commonwealth Club on Tuesday (August 18) to talk about where leadership has succeeded and failed. In conversation with Commonwealth Club president and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy, General Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of the United States Central Command, told a lunch hour Commonwealth Club crowd that as of late there has been a leadership crisis in all aspects of society -- both at home and abroad. He underscored how the leadership lessons he learned on the battlefield could actually be applied to help people understand how to succeed in many areas of everyday life.

The surveys Zinni conducted for his new book Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom, indicated that by 2008, 77 percent Americans felt that there was a leadership crisis in every facet of society. “In not one element of society did the leadership rise above 50 percent in approval rating. Not one political leader in the world received an approval rating of over 50 percent,” he said. From the corporate world to the political arena, leaders are failing.

General Zinni argued that in the current technological environment, a new and different type of leader must emerge. Factors and personality traits that contribute to successful leadership citing include “thinking creatively and strategically, knowing how to guide and communicate, being a unique decision maker, understanding the complexity of a new environment, and having a visionary approach,” he said.

Dr. Duffy, a former nuclear arms negotiator and assistant deputy of defense under Bill Clinton, remarked that we have witnessed numerous examples of failure in leadership recently -- from Detroit to the airline industry to Katrina -- and asked Zinni to share examples of good role models. General David Petraeus is a great leader who executed a “different approach to Iraq,” Zinni responded. “He liked to think out of the box.… He was more analytical and invited in contrary views. He operated outside the norm and did things on the ground that went far beyond the military dimension. Patreus saw the scope of what was required.” Zinni also highlighted how Patraeus deployed his troops to assist in all aspects of Iraqi life, from helping rebuild communities to job training. On a recent visit to Iraq, Petraeus told Zinni, “You’re not going to shoot your way to success here.”

Zinni observed that great leaders sometimes have to take great risks and suffer the most, doing their utmost to understand the needs of the people they lead. It was Israeli leader Shimon Perez who told Zinni that great leaders must also ignore “the righteous and the debaters.” Zinni commented that good leaders allow people to fail and show them how to improve saying, “They reach across lines to help others and believe in participatory decision making.” Amongst great world leaders, Zinni cited Jordan’s King Hussein, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also said the Bush administration failed to adequately acknowledge the leadership skills of Colin Powell, whom Zinni thinks was a tremendous asset to the country.

In the business world, Zinni attributed the success of Toyota and Honda to “the ability of their leadership to assess consumer desires, needs and expectations.” He also praised the charismatic attributes and skills of airline magnate Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways. In an industry of bankruptcy and failed models, Zinni noted, Branson succeeded.

Though he mentioned all of those leaders whose qualities impressed him, Zinni lamented that “we are living in confusing, complex times. The focus and cry now is for leadership. We are going to have to find human solutions.”

Zinni, who currently teaches at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, is a retired four-star general in the United States Marine Corps and former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command. In 2002, he was selected to be a special envoy for the United States to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While serving as a special envoy, Zinni was also an instructor in the Department of International Studies at the Virginia Military Institute.

--Commonwealth Club Media & Public Relations Department

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Barbara Lee on What Fuels Her Fire for Change

The desire to make a difference in the world came at an early age for Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “My life has got to be about changing things,” she wrote in her diary as a girl of only 13. In her new book, Renegade for Peace & Justice: Congresswoman Barbara Lee Speaks for Me, she wrote about growing up in segregated El Paso, Texas, where African Americans made up 2 percent of the population. The congresswoman said she was very young when she was made aware of the injustices many Americans faced and became determined to help rectify them.

In an August 17 conversation with Belva Davis, a Bay Area news veteran and host of KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” Lee shared with a Commonwealth Club of California audience the story of her birth, and stated that her passion comes from “almost not being born.” She revealed that her mother, who was scheduled to have a c-section at the local hospital, was refused admittance because of the color of her skin. “The story confused me as a girl,” she said. “I began learning about racism at a very early age.”

Lee moved to California when she was 13 years old, and she attended Oakland's Mills College, where she was elected president of the Black Student Union. Lee told the story of a political science course she took while at the university, for which she was required to work on a presidential campaign in order to pass. However, “I didn’t believe in any of the candidates,” she said. “I told the professor I would rather fail than support someone I didn’t believe in.”

Yet, that all changed when Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president, visited her campus. Chisholm inspired Lee, who was previously unregistered to vote, to become active in her campaign. As a result she “passed the class with an A, registered to vote, and basically founded Chisholm’s campaign in Northern California,” she said. “The rest is history.” Lee also credited her predecessor, Rep. Ron Dellums, with her successful run in 1998 for Congress’s 9th District, a constituency she called “the most enlightened in the country.”

She chronicled her rise from being a young, single mother of two, working for the Black Panther Party’s Community Learning Center to one of Congress’s most progressive voices. As congresswoman, Lee has taken on causes in both the United States and abroad. She said she believes her political career has become defined by her personal experiences, and she explained why she strives to speak for those in need of a voice in Washington. From the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the genocide in Darfur, Lee has fought what she called the grossest injustices of our time.

Lee is now tackling health-care reform head-on, and she has been very vocal about her support for President Obama’s health care proposal. “You have to go against the grain if you want to take on the status quo,” she said. Over the weekend, Lee, who also chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a statement noting that "the Congressional Black Caucus remains committed to ensuring that health reform is meaningful, and that means making sure that a public option is part of the package." The proposed health-care option has become one of the most contentious elements of legislation taking shape in Congress, with critics maintaining that it is a step toward a federal takeover of health care and supporters arguing it is essential to create competition with private firms.

Rep. Lee said that she has visited Cuba on a number of occasions and believes that the United States could greatly benefit from studying their comprehensive health-care system. She was adamant that the embargo must be lifted, as she believes it has only served to isolate the United States, rather than Cuba. “I think we’re moving forward,” she said. “But it’s not fast enough.”

Another cause about which she is passionate is the genocide occurring in Darfur. She has visited the war-torn impoverished country on three occasions, and she stated that she believes that she can’t relinquish her activist role on this issue, even though it did result in her arrest in 2006 during a protest in Washington, D.C.

The congresswoman garnered national attention in 2001 when she was the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution granting President George Bush almost unlimited authority to declare war against nations he deemed responsible for terrorism. Lee, who has become one of Congress’s most vocal opponents to the war in Iraq, has long promoted policies that she believes foster international peace, security and human rights.

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department

Friday, August 14, 2009

News: Taiwan Typhoon Claims 500, Government Faces Criticism for Response

The death toll from the typhoon that recently hit Taiwan could reach 500, according to Ma Ying-jeou, the island's president. Australia's The Age reports that thousands are still trapped, with as many as 50,000 troops taking part in the rescue efforts.

The government has come under criticism for its response, which some say has not been fast enough. The government has promised to get the job done, and it has expressed gratitude for the millions of dollars worth of assistance from other countries, including the United States and mainland China.

Nearly US$20 million dollars came from mainland China and Hong Kong, notes Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. China is also sending disaster teams to help with the recovery.

Bay Area residents will get an opportunity to hear from a high government official from Taiwan next month, and the recent natural disaster is sure to be a topic. On Wednesday, September 23, Taiwan's deputy foreign minister, Andrew Li-Yan Hsia (pictured), will speak to The Commonwealth Club's Asia-Pacific Affairs Member-Led Forum at 6:00 p.m. You can get more information or reserve your spot for the event here. The program is in association with the Truman National Security Project Education Institute.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Truths behind the “MythBusters”

(Left to right: Moira Gunn, Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage. Photo by Beth Byrne.)

Stars of the hit TV show “MythBusters,” Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage addressed a packed house at The Commonwealth Club last Thursday night. On the show the daring special effects masters employ basic elements of the scientific method to test the validity of the gamut of common rumors, myths, movie scenes, internet videos and news stories in popular culture. Dispelling everything from the notion that elephants are afraid of mice, to the theory that running in the rain helps one stay dry, to instructing viewers on how they might survive an airplane crash or escape from a sinking car, “MythBusters” has become one of the most widely viewed programs on the Discovery network, garnering a tremendous cult following.

NPR’s “Tech Nation” host Moira Gunn moderated the talk and began by asking the two men if they viewed themselves as scientists. Hyneman and Savage, who both live and work primarily in the Bay Area, agreed that rather than scientists, they see themselves as “curious, like dogs after a scent. We definitely don’t know more than you do,” replied Savage, who pointed out that he only has a high school diploma.

The conversation then turned to Hyneman and Savage’s pre-“MythBuster’s” career, which includes a stint as contestants on “Robot Wars.” Their robot, “Blendo,” became notorious among fans for being one of the fiercest competitors in the show’s history. “The first time we turned it on, it sliced through the wall of sandbags that was protecting us,” Savage explained. Because of the robot, they “acquired an aura of badness,” he continued. And, more important, they caught the eye of the future producer of “MythBusters.”

After producing a successful demo, Hyneman and Savage began taping the TV show at Hyneman’s shop, located at the base of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Though fans have shown concern that the hosts will run out of myths, the men assured the audience that there are enough to produce entertaining episodes for years to come. When asked what they have learned about blowing things up, as they so often do, Savage lightheartedly replied, “Any day you don’t die is a good day.”

As Gunn began fielding questions from the audience, the conversation turned to what the men enjoy most about the show. “The most thrilling thing about doing what we’re doing is what goes on in our heads,” Hyneman said. And as the years wear on, Savage says, they are getting better at spotting risk and avoiding it. “If you see us on the street and we’re running, do your best to keep up,” Savage joked.

The discussion concluded with the men describing the impact the show has had on their lives, as well as the lives of their fans. Though they didn’t set out to make an educational show, they take pride in the response they have received from children and adults alike. Inspiring children is “the most humbling aspect of what we do,” Savage stated.
--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North Korea: Dr. Duffy on the Ronn Owens KGO Radio Program

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy, a veteran of international diplomacy during the Clinton Administration, will be on the Ronn Owens program this morning at 10 am to discuss North Korea and the return of the two journalists.

You can listen live to the program on KGO Newstalk AM810 here. If you miss it, you should be able to catch the archived audio here.

Duffy has also spoken about this topic to KGO TV news, KTVU Channel 2, and KCBS Radio.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Changing the Direction of North Korea-U.S. Relations

In his private mission to North Korea today, former President Bill Clinton secured the release of the two American journalists arrested along the Chinese North Korean border in March. In this unpublicized visit, Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong II and negotiated the release of Euna Lee and Laura ling, the reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV. The two young women had been sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and allegedly committing “hostile acts.” It has now been reported that the two journalists are returning to the United States on Clinton’s plane.

The official Korean central news agency said that Clinton and the North Korean leader discussed a wide range of topics, including the release of Ling and Lee and the status of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

The dramatic events come at a time of heightened international tensions. The Obama administration had voiced concern about North Korea’s recent testing of nuclear and ballistic missiles, which violates UN Security Council resolutions. In late May, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned North Korea that it could face “unspecified consequences for this aggressive behavior.” Meanwhile, for the past several months she had also been working to negotiate the release of the two journalists.

Senior North Korean officials greeted Clinton with a warm welcome and bouquet of flowers at the airport, after which he was treated to a banquet at the state guesthouse. Analysts say that, though Clinton is no longer president, the broad smile on Jong II’s face indicated a possible upturn of events in what seemed to have become a downward spiral of Western-North Korean relations.

Experts believe that Bill Clinton’s visit came at the behest of North Korean leaders, who had indicated they might release the two young women with a formal apology and a visit from a high-profile U.S. emissary.

When asked in a KCBS radio news interview for her reaction to Clinton’s success, Dr. Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Club, responded, “I not surprised. I am very pleased by the pardon. And I am wondering what this will lead to. What other topics were discussed? Why was North Korea so interested in opening the door to perhaps further positive developments?

Duffy, who worked with President Clinton as a nuclear arms negotiator during his first term in office, added, “The last successful agreement that was negotiated with North Korea about its nuclear program was under the Clinton administration. So there is a positive history there. That was the Agreed Framework negotiated in 1994 that was dispensed with some years later during the Bush administration. That’s important symbolism. The North Koreans have wanted to meet with a United States president for some time. Kim Jong Il has wanted to be seen as a world leader…, so the symbolism is very important to him being equated with a senior American leader –again, one [Clinton] who had a relatively positive relationship with North Korea. In fact under President Clinton’s leadership, many positive things happened.”

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department