Guide to Health

Gabbie, Joshua, and Claire


Article Number 1 "We're No. 1! We're No. 1! We're ... uh ... not?" -Joshua

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Mon July 2, 2012

  • The United States is not No. 1 in several measures
  • Businesses admit shortcomings; why is it hard for government?
  • Other countries offer lessons in health care, education, even business
  • Current political polarization doesn't help, observers say; we need some pragmatism

Editor's note: This is the second in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Sunday, we examined its powerful effect on the country's development and politics.

(CNN) -- In the opening scene of the new Aaron Sorkin show, "The Newsroom," a news anchor goes on a tirade when asked why "America is the greatest country in the world."
"It's not the greatest country in the world," he fumes. "We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. ... So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don't know what the f*** you're talking about."
It's another slab of "Network"-esque bravado from Sorkin -- the creator of "The West Wing" -- but the point is well taken, even if his statistics could be a bit off. By a number of objective measures, America is not No. 1.
Good luck in saying that aloud, however. Forget Social Security. The third rail of American politics is acknowledging we may not be the greatest country in the world.
"If you can think of a politician who can say consistently 'We're not No. 1; we're not No. 1,' then I'd be very surprised," says Melvyn Levitsky, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and former ambassador to Brazil.
It's not like acknowledging flaws is the same as acknowledging failure. The business sector seldom rests on its laurels. Successful companies assume there's room for improvement, and they'll put themselves through ISO 9000, Six Sigma, benchmarking, best practices and any number of other assessment programs to get there. (Some sectors of government -- which is often unfavorably compared to business by critics -- do that, too, but it doesn't grab anyone's attention unless its Vice President Al Gore illustrating his '90s "Reinventing Government" initiative by smashing an ashtray on the David Letterman show.)
If businesses don't evolve, they end up like Atari, Pan Am and Woolworth's, onetime industry leaders that crashed against the rocks of strategy, innovation and competition. So the successful ones aren't shy about borrowing good ideas from others.
Then why is it so hard for the United States to admit its shortcomings and do the same?
Craig Wheeland, a political scientist at Villanova, believes it has something to do with America's innate wariness of government.
"We have a peculiar set of approaches to how government should act in our economy and in our society," he says. "That creates a barrier to looking at best practices and borrowing ideas. The business world doesn't think like that. They look at ideas that seem to solve problems and test them out, and if they don't work, they change. They're more pragmatic."
Former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis is blunter. He describes the problem in one word: Hubris.
"Some interest in what's happening elsewhere and how other people are doing this would benefit us enormously," he says. "I think a little less hubris and a little more focus ... would do us a lot of good."
But Gerry Keim, a management professor at Arizona State University, isn't quite so harsh.
"We're not exceptional in all categories, [but] we're clearly exceptional in some categories, and I think we should be proud of that," he says, mentioning America's entrepreneurial spirit as an example.
However, he adds, "There are other areas [in which] one could learn a lot from other countries."
In that vein, here are a few lessons the U.S. may draw from leaders in the rest of the world.
Health care: What the doctor ordered
It took almost two years, hundreds if not thousands of meetings and reams of pages to produce the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. After all that, almost nobody was happy with it; it was criticized as going too far, not going far enough, too complex and too much. The Supreme Court upheld the law on Thursday, but it still faces headwinds from critics and a skeptical public.

Nevertheless, virtually everybody agrees that the United States has a health care problem. Almost 50 million Americans are without insurance, creating a burden on hospital emergency rooms and forcing people who need services into deep debt. Too few take advantage of primary care.
And it's costing a fortune: In 2011, the United States spent 18% of its gross domestic product on health, much more than its allies.
Contrast those figures with Japan. The Asian country of 125 million spent just 8.5% of its GDP on healthcare in 2009, among the best figures in the developed world. Yet, despite lower costs, it's No. 3 on the list of life expectancies (behind tiny Monaco and Macau) and 220th (out of 221) in infant mortality, according to the CIA Factbook. The United States ranks 50th in life expectancy and 173rd in infant mortality.
What's so special about Japan?
Sabine Fruhstuck, a professor of modern Japan at the University of California-Santa Barbara, attributes some of the system's success to Japanese ideals.
"The social contract is very different," she says. "There's an expectation and a commitment by the state to the welfare of the people."
In the United States, she observes, there's an emphasis on personal choice; in Japan, there's a more sympathetic relationship between the individual and the state.
Like the U.S. system, the Japanese arrangement is a combination of public and private. Insurance is mandatory, and citizens who can't afford the premiums are assisted by the government. The majority of hospitals are private, as are medical practices. Patients can pick their doctors and hospitals. Patients are not shy about using the system; a 2009 Washington Post article reported that Japanese citizens visit a doctor 14 times a year.
Nor are doctors shy about seeing patients, since they receive a payment for each visit. That's one of the system's flaws, says political science professor T.J. Pempel, a former director of UC-Berkeley's Institute for Asian Studies.
"Doctors have every incentive to move people through quickly," he says. "So you can get the feeling you're part of an assembly line."
The Japanese system doesn't pay for childbirth, nor does it cover cosmetic surgery. The system also has suffered from issues with Japan's aging population. The elderly consume more medical care than the young, and Japan's society hasn't added enough young workers to support retirees. Like other industrialized countries, it's struggling to keep costs under control.
However, the government is particularly committed to care throughout life, whether it's prenatal care or employee health, Pempel says. Pregnant women are given a wealth of information; many corporations, because they have a stake in the system, have clinics on site.
"There's a lot of [primary care], and it's covered. There's strong encouragement to go into a clinic at the first sign of problems," he says.
What's important to you?
The OECD has an interactive chart, the Better Life Index, on its website that allows visitors to compare countries across a variety of topics. How do countries perform on areas you care about? Visit the site and find out.
Indeed, the U.S. individualist tradition in health care generally runs counter to the rest of the industrialized world. Free-marketers like to point to the Swiss system, in which individuals buy their own insurance. But it, too, has a mandate. Many countries have cost controls in place, some more extreme than others. And the culture of the citizenry -- whether it's regarding diet, abortion, gun control, child and elder care traditions or personal responsibility -- can't help but play a role.
In the case of health care, Fruhstuck says, there's something to be said for group accountability.
"In Japan, there's attention to harmony, and the sense that everybody is responsible for everybody," she says. "The way you are has an impact on everybody around you, so you think about your behavior."
Education: Teach to the best
Today, Finland is regularly ranked as having one of the best-performing education systems in the world. The country's literacy rate is tops, its math proficiency second, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international trade group. Students from elementary through high school are among the world's best in test scores.
A generation ago, that wasn't the case. In the 1970s, Finland's schools were among the worst in the developed world.
What changed?
The problem was attacked on all sides, says Pasi Sahlberg, a former official in Finland's education ministry.
The country invested heavily in teacher education, requiring master's degree-based, five-year qualifications instead of three-year bachelor's degrees. Child poverty was addressed with meals, health care, dental care and counseling -- all free of charge for children. Finally, the system pursued what Sahlberg calls "intelligent accountability" that combines standardized testing with teacher assessment and school self-inspection -- with an emphasis on the teachers, not the tests.
Where did they get their ideas? Actually, they got a lot of them from the United States.

"Within your 15,000 districts and 100,000 schools you have probably all the educational innovation that anybody needs to build good schools or well-performing districts," he says. "The Finnish education system owes a lot to these American ideas."
And yet Americans are forever lamenting the state of their schools. As Diane Ravitch, education historian and former assistant secretary of education to President George H.W. Bush, points out, we've been fretting about the American system and looking enviously over our shoulders for decades, whether it's to Germany, England, the former Soviet Union, Japan or China.
"We have this narrative that we're failing, failing, failing. The rest of the world would like to be like us, and we're saying, 'What's wrong with us? We're so terrible.' It must be some kind of American inferiority complex," she says.
Yes, of course there are schools with problems. Some districts have been damaged by cheating scandals, others suffer from poor facilities. The battle to improve test scores, led by federal programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, has provoked criticism (including Ravitch's). Some officials want to give more money to charter schools at the expense of the public system or offer "school choice" through vouchers.
Finland, which is small, homogenous and has less income inequality between rich and poor, managed to completely remake its structure. Is that possible in the polyglot, poverty-pocked United States?
It's already happening. West Virginia has instituted some of Finland's ideas -- some of which, of course, originated in the United States. Sahlberg believes they can work throughout the country, but they have to start with respect and training for the teacher.
"I think there is far too much loose rhetoric criticizing public school systems and blaming teachers in the U.S. that has no ground," he says. Finland has such respect for teachers that the job is now seen as being "on par with other academic positions, such as lawyers and doctors," he says. But it's because the country invested in the profession and continues to do so.
Ravitch adds that society has to join in. "There's a youth culture that's very disobedient, and the laws are such that it's very hard to maintain any kind of standard of discipline, and everybody blames the teachers," she says. "But it's kind of a vicious circle, because you have a lot of parents who are not particularly responsible either. The most common complaint at schools is if there's a parent night, there are many schools where nobody shows up."
Business: Making the sale
Perhaps surprisingly for a country that prides itself on its ability to do business, the United States does not lead the world in several indices of commerce. The International Finance Corporation and the World Bank ranked 183 countries in 11 areas; the United States didn't finish first in any of them, ending up fourth behind Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand in ease of doing business, 20th in trade across borders, and a dismal 72nd in paying taxes.
New Zealand, in fact, ranks highly in several areas. It's No. 1 in the world for starting a business, protecting investors and incorruptibility. The World Bank list placed it No. 3 overall. On last year's Forbes list of best countries for business, it was No. 2, behind Canada. The United States was 10th.
Richard Laverty with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise office attributes the country's status to its aggressiveness in addressing business needs, though not at the expense of what makes the country special.

"We're a small country. We need all the help we can get," he says. But, he adds more seriously, New Zealand has a "regulatory regime that's simple and transparent and applies across the country."
There's some need for investment. The country's economy is highly reliant on natural resources and not exactly an entrepreneurial center, especially compared to another small country like Israel, which is known for its trailblazing high-tech and pharmaceutical industries.
In recent years, New Zealand has become a filmmaking hotbed and has a growing high-tech sector, thanks to one of its leading citizens, "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson. Director James Cameron bought a place there and plans to get going on "Avatar's" sequels; investor Peter Thiel, a big supporter of entrepreneurship, established a venture capital fund.
If New Zealand's small scale makes it challenging for the United States to emulate -- the country has more sheep than humans and, says Laverty, operates by "two degrees of separation" instead of six -- there's another country that may be more comparable, despite stark differences: Germany.
Not only has it been the world's leading exporter for several years in the past decade, it does so with a heavily unionized, relatively expensive labor force that gets six weeks of vacation a year and works a slightly shorter week than U.S. workers.
The Germans succeed by investing in their people from an early age, says Arizona State's Gerry Keim. A student from a German business school will likely speak three languages and have spent two semesters at two different partner schools outside of Germany.
"When they graduate, they'll be your competitor," he tells his students. "In terms of doing business globally, who do you think will have the advantage?"
His students, many of whom have never traveled outside the United States, are shocked, he says.
"They've never heard anyone raise these questions before," he says.
Germany can compete, despite its more generous benefits, because it has leaders who are knowledgeable about global markets. "They go to these other places and they're sponges," he says.
Americans, on the other hand, focus on what's different about other countries and why they're not more like the United States, Keim says. That provincial attitude frustrates him to no end.
"When you live in a country where if you can speak a foreign language it costs you points in an election poll, I wonder about the whole idea of American exceptionalism," he says.
The individual and the community
Can these success stories work for the United States? Other countries are more homogenous and have traditions of top-down government and higher taxes. The American Experiment arose out of something messier.
Throughout its history, the United States has balanced uneasily between honoring the group and venerating the individual. Thanks to the ongoing economic crisis, the issue has once again come to the fore. Why should we fund mass transit, some people ask, when 95% of American households own a car? Why should we invest in public schools when 1 out of every 10 students goes to a private institution?
Back and forth the debate goes.
If we wanted to follow the path of other countries, it wouldn't just take effort and money. It might take something even harder to put a price on, a soul-searching sense of what America is, which is at the very heart of the debate over "American exceptionalism."
Given the country's polarization, it's not an issue that will be settled easily, says Villanova's Wheeland.
"I see ideology as a driving force in national politics now," he says. "It seems the way to mobilize your core constituency in order to get them out in primaries and ultimately turn out in a general election. In American politics now, you have legislative institutions that are really drawn or created in a way to filter out people of more pragmatic, more centrist, more moderate, more problem-solving approaches, and you get the most ideologically oriented people elected today."
However, he observes, America is still creative, still willing to take risks. Levitsky, the former ambassador, notes that the reach of American culture is unparalleled.

Dukakis says "we have a degree of freedom other countries envy." They're strengths that foreign observers -- even if their countries are ahead of the United States in one area or another -- still look at with respect.
"One of the things Kiwis really admire is Americans' entrepreneurial attitude," says New Zealand's Laverty. "I think that there's a greater appetite for risk and a greater acceptance of failure in the U.S. There's a cultural, go-at-it, you-can-do-it nature that we admire."
Wheeland agrees -- but hopes we're able to do more.
"Our political culture is one that almost celebrates the individual's ability to start over, and we take great pride in that," he says. "I think we just lose sight sometimes of the common good -- what helps us all as a community do better."

Summary of Article Number 1

The US has a healthcare issue and it has cost the United States quite a lot of money to keep up with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The US spends 18 percent of it's GDP on this healthcare compared to the 8.5 percent GDP that Japan spends on healthcare. Who's at fault? Well we know that fifty million Americans do not have insurance and this puts stress on the emergency and hospital care and also puts people in desperate need for help into deep debt. So even though Japan is spending less money on health, they are 3rd in the world for life expectancy, and are 2nd in lowest baby death rates. They discuss that that what the Japanese expect from the government is quite a lot different from what Americans expect. In Japan, insurance is mandatory, and citizens who cannot afford it are assisted by the government. This is a combination of private and public health. In America, we emphasize too much on choice, and this is something that is hurting us. So Japanese healthcare is private because they choose their own doctors and public because the government makes sure everyone has insurance. They have gone as far as paying doctors according to the amount of patients they see. A study shows that a Japanese citizen will visit their doctor 14 times a year on average. Other good things about their healthcare include the fact they do not cover cosmetic surgery and does not pay for childbirth. The system is also under reevaluation though, because it has not increase to accommodate the aging population of Japan. Americans need to look toward Japan as a role model for a future healthcare plan, but we need to make it so that it fits the American beliefs, high standards, and dreams. There needs a healthcare that makes it clear that everybody is responsible for everybody, and if one of the everybody doesn't contribute, everyone suffers.

*This is a summary of the parts in the article that had to do with health.

Current Event Number 2 "The Most Destructive Organization in America" -Claire

Revealed: The Most Destructive Organization in America

Summary of Current Event 2

Some of the biggest weight loss mistakes people make happen in mid-December. Most people don’t know how to lose weight, because they don’t have the motivation to do it. Many people know how to lose weight; they know to eat Special K and oranges and low fat bagels. But now, that is one of the worst breakfasts you can have, because it sends your blood sugar through the roof. Now we have too many food groups, instead of just the ones we had so many years ago. We used to have fruits, vegetables, meats, grain, dairy, and fats and oils were the smallest. A second mistake people most often make is getting dietary advice from magazines. People are so genetically and metabolically different, that each food affects people in different ways. A third major mistake most people think is that psychology has nothing to do with dieting. It affects the way we think about foods and dieting. We have triggers, like the smell of popcorn at the theater makes us hungry. The brain isn’t getting the signal that we need to stop eating when we are full. We have to break the chains that have tied us to food.

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Recipe Number 1 Breakfast Parfait -Gabby




3/4 cup low fat cottage cheese or low fat plain yogurt
1 cup of pineapple chunks papaya chunks or cling peaches
2 teaspoons toasted wheat germ.


Place cottage cheese or yogurt in a small bowl. Top with fruit and sprinkle with wheat germ.

Recipe Number 2 Lunch Seafood -Joshua






Recipe Number 3 Dessert -Claire




2 1/2 cups orange sections, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup slivered almonds

2 1/2 tablespoons chopped pitted dates

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ground cinnamon (optional)

Grated orange rind (optional)


Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl, tossing to combine. Cover; chill 20 minutes.

Garnish with cinnamon and rind, if desired.

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Make a healthy dessert with Claire!

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Exercise Idea Number 1 -Joshua

Would you like to spend time studying while exercising without breaking into sweat? Then try this! First you can get something to study that does not require you holding anything. For example, maybe some vocabulary list or a textbook to study. Now you should start by finding a wall you can lean on without destroying it. You will be upside down and your toes would touch the wall. Your palm should be placed on the ground and toes resting on the wall. Now your face is facing the ground and you may place something to study now! Have fun studying and keep your body healthy! You can stay in that position as long as you want, but before ending your upside down adventure, you could attempt to do a handstand. You might want someone close by who can call in case of an emergency.

Exercise Idea Number 2 -Joshua

Have you ever had free time and didn't know what to do? Well if you live somewhere with internet access, you can go on YouTube and search "Watermelon Tai Chi". I promise you this is real! You can find a tutorial that is in your language or in a language you can understand. If you think you're epic, you can just choose a random one and watch how the demonstrator does it. You should repeat it until you can do it on your own without the video playing and showing you how to do it. This should calm nerves and Tai Chi can extend your life! Live long and prosper!

Exercise Idea Number 3 -Claire

Swimming is an activity that is fun, and keeps you constantly active. A 150 pound person swimming at a moderate pace for about an hour will burn 270 calories- the same as walking quickly for a full hour. Swimming works the upper and lower body at the same time, your arms slicing through the water ahead, while your legs propel you forward. Here in Coppell, we have the Andy Brown Aquatic center. It is easily accessible, and very inexpensive.

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*If you notice anything missing, the assignment parts were just never sent to the other group members and it was never added to this s'more. That's all we know. What we've finished has been labeled with our names because we're proud of our work!