Letters to the editor

Take care of your heart this Valentine’s Day

Medical Review of North Carolina, Inc. (MRNC) wants you to think of more than chocolate hearts this Valentine’s Day, which falls in the middle of National Heart Failure Awareness Week. During this time of year when so much attention is focused on hearts of all types, we think it is appropriate to spotlight heart failure — a treatable chronic disease.

This disease is the number-one cause of hospital readmission among Medicare patients in North Carolina. Heart failure is responsible for more hospitalizations than all forms of cancer combined, with over 20,000 hospitalizations among N.C. Medicare beneficiaries in 1998.

Heart failure, a weakening or stiffness of the heart, is a common condition that makes the heart work harder to keep blood flowing through the body. The diagnosis of heart failure is not a death sentence. With treatment and lifestyle modifications, patients can and do live productive lives. If you’re diagnosed with heart failure, there are a number of medications that work together to improve your symptoms and help keep your heart failure from getting worse. Taking medicines, in addition to eating right and getting regular exercise, will help improve your health.

MRNC has been working with hospitals around the state to improve the quality of care among heart-failure patients and ensure that appropriate diagnostic tests are performed and proper medications are prescribed. Currently, North Carolina is among the top 10 states for ACE-inhibitor use among Medicare patients with heart failure. Although we are doing well, we believe that we can boost our rate to more than 90 percent.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, make a Valentine’s date with your doctor and ask them what your ejection fraction (EF) is. Your EF is a measurement of how much blood your heart is pumping. Anyone with an EF of less than 40 percent should also ask about medications called ACE-inhibitors and beta-blockers, which are recommended for treating heart failure.

There has never been a more promising time for patients with heart failure. Proper diagnosis and treatment are important to slow disease progression. MRNC encourages heart failure patients to take care this Valentine’s Day and make it a heart-healthy day in every way!

— Dr. Carla Sueta
UNC cardiologist and clinical coordinator for MRNC
Cary, N.C.

Keep your coffee local

During the past year, my work has involved traveling all over the country. It’s always a thrill to tell people about my hometown and what a great place it is. Most people I meet have heard of Asheville, many have been here, and all have very positive impressions of the beauty and charm of this area.

One of the things I love describing to people is our wonderful variety of locally owned coffeehouses. There are at least a dozen great spots in this town to get a great cup of coffee, each in an atmosphere which is quite different from any of the others. Most areas of this country have lost this diversity, largely through the proliferation of Starbucks shops. Until a few months ago, I took extra pleasure in telling people that in my town, there wasn’t a Starbucks outlet anywhere nearby.

Of course, that’s changed now. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but Starbucks is here, nestled within the new Barnes and Noble bookstore near the Asheville mall. To me, this is yet another indication of Asheville’s “having arrived” on the corporate map as an urban market worth pursuing. Many other huge chains are setting up camp in the huge new area that’s part of the mall itself. I shudder to think where it will all end.

In particular, I really hope that there won’t be a Starbucks outlet in the Grove Arcade. This could make a major dent in the ability of downtown coffeehouses to keep their doors open. Recent history shows than when chains move in, independent owners are squeezed out. The marketing power of big corporations has doomed thousands of small businesses in this country, and it would be a terrible shame if that began to happen to any of our local coffeehouses.

How can we make a difference? The main thing we can do is to be conscious of our choices as consumers. Get that great cup of coffee from a locally owned establishment. Not only will you enjoy the coffee and the atmosphere, but you’ll feel good about helping to maintain one of the unique charms of our mountain non-metropolis.

Change is here. Inevitably, more change will come. If each of us does our little part, we can make a difference in keeping that change under some degree of control.

— Mort Jonas
Asheville

Let’s build creative spaces for youth, not new jails

So we taxpayers are buying a new jail for the city [Xpress, Jan. 24, “Shock waves”]? Why are we so quick to build new homes for the criminals, but won’t even give the disadvantaged youth of Asheville a place to sit? With continuous threats, intimidations, arrests, etc., the authorities effectively denied Pack Square this summer [to] the houseless kids who bring gobs of culture to this town. Now they are forced to “spare-change” the locals so they can sit somewhere without horse cops pooping on their parade. Excuse me, but this situation is getting a bit ridiculous. The only reason we need a new jail is because the overabundance of police officers is creating an overabundance of small-time criminals, many of whom are the kids who colorize this town. Rather than spend more tax money on criminals, let’s invest it in our youth so they don’t turn to a criminal lifestyle.

There are groups in town who are focused on establishing help centers for youth who are in desperate situations, youngsters who have not been given the chance they deserve. They need a place to go where they can be free to create, a place for unconditional support, a place to call home sweet homeless. A hostel downtown would do essentially the same thing as a jail, except with positive results instead of negative consequences. Free art centers create more culture. New jails create more crime. Let’s support groups like the Mosaic Vortex, who have been working on getting a free art space for over one year now, without any monetary support from the city. Now it has come to our attention that the powers-that-be want to spend millions on another jail?! Speak out against the reckless, dangerous spending of our tax money on another haven for criminals, and let’s turn these impressionable youth into creative human beings instead of hardened cons. Let them create, don’t throw them in jail!

— Ism Love
Asheville

Strategies for reducing animal euthanasia

A recent letter in the Mountain Xpress [Jan. 24] misstated the number of animal euthanasias in our community. The letter claimed that “Buncombe County euthanizes close to 10,000 dogs and cats annually.” Asheville Humane Society operates the County Animal Shelter, and in the last 12 months, we euthanized 6,367 animals.

To be sure, even a single euthanasia of an adoptable animal is a tragedy. Every year, thousands of wonderful animals die in our community for lack of a good home. Euthanizing these animals is unquestionably the hardest job at the animal shelter, and we devote a lot of energy to finding ways to decrease euthanasia. Our strategy for reducing euthanasia has three parts.

Pet overpopulation remains the primary cause of euthanasia in our community. There are simply more cats and dogs than there are homes. Until this changes, we advocate that all dogs and cats be spayed or neutered at an appropriate age. Our community has a wonderful organization, the Humane Alliance, that offers low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for all dogs and cats.

As important as it is to spay and neuter companion animals, we also strongly encourage anyone seeking an animal companion to adopt from their local humane society or animal shelter. The more animals that we find homes for, the fewer animals we must euthanize. And all animals adopted from the shelter are spayed or neutered, in turn helping our community reduce animal overpopulation.

Many people decline to adopt from the shelter because they’re seeking a purebred animal. While mixed-breed animals make wonderful pets and often prove healthier than purebreds, your shelter can also help you find a fantastic purebred animal. In fact, about 25 percent of the animals at the shelter are purebred. We encourage people who are looking for a specific breed to contact the shelter. We keep lists of people looking for specific types of animals, and we can also put you in touch with breed placement programs, which help shelters find homes for homeless purebred animals.

The third part of our approach is education. One of the most common reasons that people bring animals to the shelter is that their pet is exhibiting undesirable behavior – excessive barking, soiling, aggressiveness and so on. Many, if not most, behavior problems can be corrected with humane training techniques. Asheville Humane Society can help you locate the resources you need to teach your pet proper behavior.

Although our current critical level of animal overpopulation means we must euthanize healthy dogs and cats, in the long term we must look to sustainable, humane solutions to the animal overpopulation problem. Please spay or neuter all your companion animals. Please adopt animals from your local animal shelter. And please contact us for information about pet behavior modification before you surrender an animal for behavioral problems.

Together, we can make a difference.

— Daniel Withrow, executive assistant
Asheville Humane Society

Bush’s proposed family-planning cuts are misguided and dangerous

Each year, 600,000 maternal deaths occur; essentially all take place in developing countries, and 72,000 are a result of unsafe abortions. Currently, U.S. law bans the use of international funds for abortion. If President Bush cuts all international family-planning aid to organizations that merely provide information about abortion, it will cost women in developing countries years of progress — and possibly their lives.

Ironically, this misguided move will increase abortion as it indiscriminately punishes organizations that provide comprehensive family-planning information.

Based on predictions made by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, adequate unrestricted international family-planning aid would mean:

• 11.7 million more couples in developing countries would have access to modern contraception, which would enable 4.3 million more women to avoid unintended pregnancy each year;

• 1.5 million fewer unintended births [and] 2.2 million fewer abortions; and

• 15,000 fewer women and 92,000 fewer children would die each year as a result of preventing high-risk pregnancies.

Improved access to family planning promotes a woman’s overall health and autonomy and enhances her educational and economic opportunities. Access to family planning is the key to saving the lives of women and children.

— Kristen Carswell, public affairs associate
Planned Parenthood of North Carolina — West
Asheville

U.N. sanctions against Iraq have punished the already-victimized

It is time to end the U.S.-led United Nations sanctions against Iraq. The 10-year-old sanctions, instituted after the Gulf War, have been completely ineffective in deposing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. In the meantime, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, more than 1 million Iraqis — mostly children under the age of 5 — have died from malnutrition and lack of medicine. Instead of punishing the tyrant, the U.N. sanctions have punished the tyrannized. A policy that kills children in an effort to spark political change is a wrong-headed policy. Please write Congress and the U.N. Let’s stop the sanctions now.

For more information, visit the Web site of the Campaign of Conscience for the Iraqi People at http://www.forusa.org/.

— Art Mandler
Asheville

New jail will make criminals out of more citizens

What!? You mean to tell me this city really needs another jail [Xpress, Jan. 24, “Shock waves”]??? This is the last city that needs another jail. The people who make decisions like this need to get their priorities straight.

A new jail does nothing to improve the quality of life; rather, it just makes criminals out of more and more citizens. It may be true that the current facility is overcrowded (I can attest to that), but what is needed is a change of the system. The current political power system enforces many laws that deserve a second look. People being booked and jailed on account of minor infractions is an everyday occurrence in this overpoliced mini-metropolis. For instance, any given day at the courthouse one can find many defendants who have only been arrested for a charge called “resisting arrest without violence.” Only resisting arrest!? It seems the police officers sometimes just send people to jail for not wanting to go to jail. Argh!

But most of the nicer-dressed citizens would never check to see if the scoundrels they hired to protect the city are abusing the obscene amount of power given to them. Plus, have you ever noticed how many of these power-mongers are driving, walking or biking around this beautiful city? Cops are people too, it’s true, but an overabundance of anything is shown to be harmful. Instead of spending the tax dollars we pay on another criminal factory, maybe we can reduce taxes by cutting back on the number of officers on duty. Honestly, would you feel less safe if you only saw two cop cars pulling over Joe Q. Taxpayer instead of the three, four or five [that] is usually the case now? What if there were only four officers arresting someone for peeing outside or trespassing instead of the seven, eight or nine witnessed last summer? Ironically, it is shown that crime actually increases with more police on the streets; that is why we seem to need another jail. But if we could just see what crimes the people currently in jail are committing, we would probably find an abundance of marijuana, trespassing and resisting arrest charges — crimes that essentially harm no one, yet are frequently enforced by the Bored in Blue. And we would find a large number of social outcasts, deviates, etc. — the poorer citizens who cannot afford a good lawyer or even bail, so they are forced to sit in jail and get even more pissed off at the system. A new jail will bring new criminals, believe that. With more space to lock people up, what kind of ridiculous charges will they think of next? Let’s solve this problem before it happens, or we will all suffer the consequences.

— J. Moon
Asheville

Faith-based charities: a bad idea whose time has come

The government doesn’t belong in the business, and it is mostly a business, of religion. The Constitution seems to say so. Now, along comes a new stealth attack on the separation of church and state, promulgated mainly by the very people who used to stand tall for separation of church and state.

A new effort requires a new buzzword, so we have “faith-based charity.” The term is one of those combinations of words intended to quickly capture the hearts and minds of that vast sea of people who prefer to let someone else do their thinking for them.

“Faith-based charity” ought to look terrific on a bumper sticker: short and dumb. But when it’s held up to the light, faith-based charity supported by taxpayers sounds like taking our money and letting the government decide which religious cause is best for us. Even if you don’t have a religion, we’ll get you one.

Whether the idea will stand close study may depend on things we don’t even know about yet. Take the example of the proposal for people to put some of their Social Security money into the stock market when it seemed to be headed for outer space — a market that didn’t have the decency to continue its trip into the stratosphere and now seems to be trying very hard to tank. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. With the plan being proposed, I could take a tax deduction and the government would spend the money I didn’t give them to support a religious group I might not agree with. I could quit donating to my church because Washington has a better idea.

Some large organizations have fought very hard to maintain their tax-exempt status despite their political activities or because sometimes they don’t seem to be religious at all — e.g., The Church of Scientology. Does this mean, then, that an organization that can’t meet the IRS standards for a religious organization can still qualify for taxpayer money as a “faith-based charity”? Surely they’re not trying to have it both ways — that would be hypocritical.

Awareness of what is happening in the rest of the world should help keep us from getting too carried away. A recent Christian Science Monitor carried a story about work in India after their huge earthquake. Workers from a relief organization (Roman Catholic) attempting to provide help in one small-town hospital were “chased off with sticks, curses and threats” by townspeople, protesting the presence of foreigners of the “wrong” religion. Faith-based charity includes cuts and bruises?

I give freely, whenever I can, to the Salvation Army — fully aware that they are highly active in a religious way different from my own. If someone wants to support a faith-based charity, there are plenty of opportunities like this already available … but the government should stay out of it. My taxes go to support a lot of things I don’t approve of, but religion isn’t one of them (unless you call murdering nuns, priests and bishops in Nicaragua religious work).

That’s how I believe the Founding Fathers wanted it. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. As innocent and appealing as the term “faith-based charity” may sound rolling off pious and sanctimonious tongues, to this reader it sounds like a bad idea whose time has come.

— Allen Thomas
Asheville

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