The Government's Swine Flu Plan: Does it Measure Up?

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Government's Swine Flu Plan: Does it Measure Up?

Yesterday, the president held a press conference to update the nation about the government's preparedness for an impending outbreak of H1N1, or "swine flu." The briefing was lackluster, to say the least, and it came on the heels of some startling news: there's suspicion that three people in Egypt might have independently come down with both avian flu and H1N1 simultaneously, a viral partnership that could allow H1N1 to become more virulent. (For more, read this article from the International Society for Infectious Diseases.) Are we really prepared for that? To read between the lines of dry bureaucratic-speak, we've called in our swine flu guru, Dr. Richard Wenzler.

Click through for a transcript of the president's remarks or watch his speech below:


Why Are We Afraid to Call in Sick?

From acetaminophen to gargling with salt water, most people we know will do anything to recover from being sick... except skip a day of work. But this attitude won't jibe with the H1N1 virus: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that Americans who catch swine flu take at least 3-5 days off of work to prevent the illness from spreading. Even the thought of one hour of isolation from our cubicles gives us the jitters, so today, we're sitting down with clinical psychologist Robin Kerner to try to understand exactly why it is that Americans have such a hard time just staying home.

Need additional proof that Americans just don't vacation? Read Why we don't vacation like the French in the American Prospect, Please don't make me go on vacation in the New York Times, and Money vs. Time Off: Why we don't take vacations from The Digerati Life.

Read Robin Kerner's blog post



Cash for Clunkers Drives August Sales

The major automakers reported a big boost in sales for August.  It was the first monthly gain in total new vehicle sales in almost two years, and the reason for it turns out to be clear: it came directly after the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program spurred 700,000 people to upgrade their gas guzzling clunkers in exchange for $3 billion in cash. We take a look at what the new numbers say about the industry for the longer-term with New York Times auto reporter, Nick Bunkley.


Gmail Fail: Why Google's Head is (Still) in the Cloud

It used to be a bad thing to have your head in the clouds. Not anymore. These days "the cloud" is exactly where tech companies like Google want you and your business to be. Working in the cloud means no more software downloads, but instead, using online applications like Google Docs or their very popular webmail client, Gmail. But yesterday, Gmail went offline for around two hours, sidelining productivity and prompting apocalyptic imagery among the digerati. In the wake of yesterday's Gmail blackout, we speak with John Abell, New York bureau chief of, to learn about the nuts, bolts, merits and pitfalls of separating our computers from our data.

"I think anyone in the business would say: in a cage fight, would Google and Microsoft be equal partners in the reliability contest? You'd have a laughing match. Everything, to some extent, is unreliable."
—John Abell, New York bureau chief of, on the risks of "cloud computing".

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California Fires Take a Toll on Residents

Wildfires continue to blaze in Southern California. According to The Los Angeles Times, what's now being called "the Station fire" is now 22% contained after scorching over 127,000 acres.  Parts of Los Angeles, the Mt. Wilson Observatory and the communications station there are still threatened, however. Hundreds of homes have been lost and thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes.

How are residents handling the stress of evacuation? We check in with Sylvia Avanessian, a recent graduate of UCLA. She and her family were evacuated from their home in La Canada, California last Friday.


Fact Checking the Health Care Debate

Our health care roundtable discussions are sparking debate. One guest on Tuesday's show made a startling assertion: that the care her sick son received in the United States was far superior than the attention he would have gotten in Canada or England, a statement which jumpstarted the conversation among our listeners. To see just how America's health care system really stacks up against other countries, (and to check on yesterday's guest's assertion) we called Uwe Reinhardt. The Princeton professor of economics and public affairs has done extensive work comparing international health care systems.

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Muhammad Ali: Fightin' Irish?

A lot is known about Muhammed Ali: he's a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion; he was born Cassius Clay and changed his name when he converted to Islam; he was the self-proclaimed "Champion of the World"; he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. But what is less known about the famous pugilist is that he is of Irish descent. His great-grandfather, Abe Grady, left Ireland to settle in Kentucky in the 1860s, and married a freed slave. Their granddaughter, Odessa Lee Grady Clay, was Ali's mother.

Yesterday Muhammad Ali returned to Ennis, Ireland, his great-grandfather's hometown, for a sentimental look at his family's ancient homeland. Ennis Mayor Frankie Neylon was there for the champ's big homecoming, and joins us this morning.

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Flight 93 Memorial to Break Ground this Fall

On September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 93 was brought down by passengers in Southwestern Pennsylvania after the plane was hijacked. The federal government announced this week that it has finally reached a land deal—the Flight 93 National Memorial is set to begin construction this fall. We speak to two family members who were involved in the process: Patrick White, the cousin of Flight 93 passenger Louis Joseph Nacke II; and Carole O'Hare, the daughter of passenger Hilda Marcin, who sat on the design committee for the memorial. Patrick is leaving tomorrow on a motorcycle ride to retrace Flight 93's intended path from Newark to San Francisco.

Track Patrick White's motorcycle ride to retrace Flight 93's intended path.

We also talk to WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman about why there has been no construction at the World Trade Center site in New York City, eight years after the attacks of September 11th brought down the twin towers. Is it money, politics, or both that are delaying re-building at Ground Zero?

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Obama to Press Forward with Health Care Reform

It has been a long, arduous summer for Democrats pushing health care reform. Despite this summer's shouting campaign at town halls and President Obama’s falling approval rating – which recently dropped to 50% – the White House is expected to press on with more aggressive health care reform efforts. reports that President Obama will lay out his specific demands for health care legislation as early as next week, when lawmakers return to Washington. Can Obama get a bill back on track to be passed this year? We speak with Politico reporter Alex Burns and Paul Starr, a senior health policy adviser in the Clinton White House and author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry.

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Report Shows Surge in Wage and Workplace Violations

With Labor Day right around the corner, we speak with Annette Bernhardt, one of the authors of a report showing a surge in wage and workplace violations: Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them. The report compiled interviews with more than 4000 low-wage workers in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. What they described was an astounding number of violations — from unpaid overtime to employers not paying minimum wage — and an overall lack of enforcement.

Bernhardt is the policy co-director for the advocacy group National Employment Law Project. We also hear from Amy Carroll, an attorney at a community center in Brooklyn, New York: Make the Road New York.  The group represents thousands of workers who have seen workplace violations firsthand.

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Senator Russ Feingold on Afghanistan

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, states that the situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" ... and signs of this decline have been showing up more and more clearly. Despite the massive military operation in Afghanistan's Helmand province and a heavy military presence throughout the nation, violence continues to increase.  Just yesterday, a suicide bomber east of Kabul, in Laghman province, killed a top intelligence officer and 23 others.

While U.S., Afghan and NATO coalition forces continue fighting Taliban members, the difficulties have led American military commanders in Afghanistan to make a case for more troops. But Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) sits on the Senate's Foreign Services and Intelligence Committees and has been calling for the opposite – and he's not alone. There are calls from both the left and the right to start making plans to reduce the boots on the ground.

"I am making sure I get inoculated from all illnesses by going to town meetings."
—Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc) on how he is preparing for a resurgence of H1N1

Click through for a transcript of our conversation with Sen. Feingold.

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Arms are for Hugging ... Except in Iran

The five permanent members of the United Nation's Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China — are meeting in Frankfurt today, along with Germany. On the agenda: Iran's nuclear program. We talk to the BBC's Jonathan Marcus about whether stronger economic sanctions against Tehran may be in the works.


From High Waters to High Cuisine: The Resurgence of New Orleans Restaurants

When Hurricane Katrina roared through Lousiana, the flood waters rose in New Orleans, costing lives and livelihoods. Lost in the devastation were some of the city's biggest tourist attractions and beloved restaurants. Four years after Katrina, we check in with a few of the city's institutions: famed fried chicken purveyor Willie Mae's Scotch House and classic New Orleans restaurant Commander's Palace. Both were closed for months after the hurricane, but with hard work and perseverance their doors have re-opened. We talk to Kerry Seaton, granddaughter of Willie Mae, who now runs the Scotch House, and Tory McPhail, the chef at Commander's Palace, about their experiences in rebuilding. We also have Tom Fitzmorris, a lifelong New Orleans resident and food critic who has made a new hobby of counting the restaurants in the Crescent City.

The resurrection of Willie Mae's Scotch House was a work of love for those involved and it was captured in a documentary produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance called Above the Line: Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House. Watch it below:

Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House from Joe York on Vimeo.

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Worker Productivity Up, but Worker Morale?

New economic indicators are out this morning. Worker productivity grew at the fastest pace in almost six years—up 6.6%. Labor costs showed the biggest drop since 2000. New York Times reporter Jack Healy explains why these numbers are great for corporations, but may not be such good news for workers.


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