Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Democratic Party's Next Challenge

Glenn is right about one thing - if we don't support primary challeneges, we're all saying we are ok with things the way they are. I'm not ok, are you?

Republican Positions on Healthcare Reform - the straight face test FAILED

Today we finally got some clarity on the Republican Party’s official position on healthcare reform. That clarity came from Party Chair Michael Steele, in a morning drive time radio interview. The interview, on today’s Morning Edition on NPR was full of all sorts of contradictory double speak by Mr. Steele, and a lot of defense when Inskeep tried to call him on it. I hope NPR posts a transcript today, so that I can update this with quotes and highlights. The transcript is now HERE

In a nut shell, Mr. Steele proposed in a recent Washington Post Opinion piece, that we preserve Medicare as it currently exists, not impose any cost controls, but refrain from creating further government run healthcare. Mr. Steele’s point today, which is more nuanced then his written word, is that Medicare exists, it has been here for 40 years, so we shouldn’t mess with it. Republicans, he said, still oppose government run healthcare, though he failed miserably to explain how Republicans reconcile to two diametrically opposing views. Mr. Steele was consistent in his interview, however, that current healthcare delivery, including the “bureaucratic” decisions of private insurers relating to treatment availability, is just fine with him. Even the Post’s Steven Pearlstein – he of capitalism is generally the preferred answer – said this is bunk.

This isn’t the first times Steele has said flat out that government can’t do anything right – like create jobs – even while the market in which he places his faith fails so miserably to do what America needs. Mr. Steele has bought the Social Darwinist construct lock, stock and barrel. And as the spokesperson for the Republican Party, he gave us two important messages today.

First, if you are a baby boomer, you needn’t worry – the Republicans are going to take care of you by allowing Medicare to continue, and allowing it to swallow an ever large portion of our tax dollar. And if you are everyone else, Republicans will throw you into the market, despite a classic market failure, because government has NO BUSINESS delivering healthcare (except when t already does).

Even more telling, however, is that Mr. Inskeep tried harder then most journalists to dig into these contradictions. Already, the NPR commentors are dissing him for having the audacity to question Steele’s assertions. I sent an email to the show through their comment section letting him know I appreciated it.

I want to award a thousand bonus points to Mr. Inskeep for his interview today with Michael Steele. Mr. Inskeep did not, as too many in the MSM do these days, let Mr. Steele's contradictory assertions go unchallenged, and Mr. Inskeep managed to keep his cool (I can imagine him turning of the mike to laugh) even when it became exceedingly clear that Mr. Steele was speaking from both sides of his mouth.

FYI, I'll be blogging this later today at http:/

Keep it up!

Frankly, I think that if more journalists did this, we’d all be better off.

Contrast that with an email exchange I had with the Washington Post Ombudsman, Andrew Alexander over the same Op-ed:

There are rare instances when Post ombudsmen have addressed issues on the editorial page. But that has not often occurred. Indeed, a few months ago at the annual meeting of the international Organization of News Ombudsmen (incredibly, there is such a thing), none of those attending said they venture into editorial page matters. One reason is that you inevitably get bogged down in unresolvable debates over the validity of opinions. That said, I know that my predecessor wrote once about a lack of gender diversity on the editorial page. And there are a few similar issues that I may tackle. But they're pretty low on my priority list. Thanks again for writing.

Best wishes, Andy Alexander

Washington Post Ombudsman

Philip H 08/26/2009 03:38 PM


Subject RE: Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reform

Mr. Alexander,

Thanks for your prompt response. Given Mr. Hiatt's track record in the aforementioned George Will incidents, I am not at all confident that he would be open to my concerns. I understand your primary mission is to the newsroom, but if the Washington Post is going to have only one Ombudsman, that person may need to wade into the water of Op-Ed from time to time. Turning a blind eye to the Editorial Page (and thus to something that has enormous influence on how the paper as a whole is perceived) may not be in the Post's long-term circulation interests.


Philip L. H


CC: ombudsman@washpost.comSubject:

Re: Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reformDate: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 15:26:14 -0400

Thanks for writing. As the news ombudsman, I focus on the news pages. You may wish to redirect your e-mail to Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt (

Best wishes, Andy AlexanderWashington Post Ombudsman

Philip H 08/26/2009 12:44 PM

To cc

Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reform

Mr. Alexander,

As one of the legions of the Post's on-line readers (who also buys the Early Sunday Edition nearly every week at the news stand rate), I am aghast that your Editorial Pages would print the recent editorial by Michael Steele on the Republican's take on healthcare reform. Just as is the case with Mr. George Will's many columns on global climate change, Mr. Steele's piece is riddled with factual inaccuracies; it is in essence a bag of lies meant to derail meaningful reform. The Post holds itself out as a standard barer in print journalism, but the decisions to print these pieces, even as Op-Eds, reeks of sycophantic solicitousness of certain well moneyed, business oriented groups, most of whom have absolutely no interest in what is really the best thing for all Americans.The Post needs to do better in handling these. And your column and blog alone, while good at pointing out the factual errors, doesn't cut it. I'd really hate to have to switch to the New York Times to get my DC area news, but if this shoddy, blatantly partisan hacking that passes for journalism continues, I fear I will be left with no choice.


Philip L. H

Unlike Mr. Inskeep, and NPR, Mr. Alexander ducked any responsibility, essentially conceding that anyone can print any unfounded lie on the Editorial pages and he won’t go after it. I suspect he’s still feeling burned from the George Will affair earlier this year. And while I do feel a modest bit of sorrow for Mr. Alexander – he does have to work there, after all, the whole reason that Mr. Steele believe he can go on NPR and not be challenged on his statements is that people like MR. Alexander will not work on our behalf to keep him honest in other media venues.

Thus the healthcare “debate” rages on with little of substance for Americans to consider. Maybe it is better that Senator Kennedy is now gone, so he doesn’t have to watch this ugly, un-American episode in our history play out.

Over at Almost Diamonds, Stephanie talks about what "Pre-existing conditions" really mean in the health insurance "market." What I find so interesting about her comments, especially in light of Mr. Steele's position on behalf of the Republican Party, is that she illustrates the significant economic impacts that the current health insurance structure has on the U.S. If, as the Republicans postulate over and over, the U.S. is at its best when small business are opened, then removing barriers to that entrepeneurship SHOULD be important to Republicans. Stephanie's position illustrates how the Republican adherence to totally free markets stiffles that small business creation, by perpetuating a significant barrier - namely the exorbitnat cost of health insurance for small business owners. That Republicans are willing to do this -in the name of regional and national insurance companies that are, essentially, monopolies, should tell you something about how Free Market oriented they really are.


Here's who isn't served by the current market oriented approach. She has my daughter's eyes. And were my daughters not automatically covered by my plan, the older two would likely not have insurance, as they both have asthma and the middle one has a heart condition as well. Thanks to Stephanie for making the video for me to crib.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Now the Oil Companies intend to manufacture climate legislation opposition

Oh the irony . . . . I wish they were just always honest about this sort of thing. H/T Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

And what really guals me is the $$ spent on this sort of thing could easily be spent on engineering our energy future. Its homeostasis run amok!

Healthcare reform in America - an idea well intentioned is now sunk!

So over at Ames's place, I weighed in on the health care reform "debate" currently going on in our nation. I wasn't planning to write a full blog post over there, but it just sort of started to flow. I can't say if there will be more later - I have a lot in the queue that I want to write about, and decreasing time to write this month, but this is worth looking at.

It seems that Megan McCardle still misunerestimates liberals, and our position on this issue. Yet another thing on my To-Post list.

It now seems that one former industry insider is confirming some of the worst suspicions of liberals about where, and how, opposition is mounting.

Now it seems that Democrats are FINALLY considering the go it alone approach. The President had the political capitol to do that at the beginning of this debate, but he still faces a party discipline battle with the Blue Dogs. I have to wonder if he has enough moral suasion on his side now to get them in line.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Almost Diamonds posts a gem - what the shouting at townhalls is all about.

One of the handicaps of not being a professional writer is that I often stumble in trying to make a point. Stephanie Z of Almost Diamonds, however, doesn't. She posted this about the health care "debate" currently going on in our country,, and the behavior of so called conservatives:

It's easy to tell yourself you're not like them, that you merely disagree
with the changes that are happening. After all, you're not insane, just

Will that matter when the next person dies over this? Representative David
Scott has had a swastika painted on his office sign. Another representative was hung in effigy. Representative Brad Miller received a death threat. Senator Arlen Specter invited people to tell him what they thought about health care reform--held back the police who were concerned about violence and disruption--and still people screamed
in his face
and called him a tyrant. A man showed up to protest the president's town hall meeting today wearing a gun and carrying a sign that said, "It is time to water the tree of liberty" (referencing Jefferson's "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.").

Those are just some of the politicians who are on the receiving end of violent anger. Fights are breaking out outside these meetings on health care. My husband was accused earlier this week, by someone who should know better, of planning to turn an old friend in for an "incorrect" political position. I can't buy ammunition right now to go target shooting because it's all sold out and has been for months. This whole thing is teetering on the edge. Someone else is going to die soon. Maybe lots of someone elses.

It will be your fault.

She is right - there is a definite fault line being drawn by conservatives in this battle. Tactics deployed against President Bush - which were necessary at the time to fight an emerging tyranny - are now somehow to be accepted because we're dealing with a domestic issue. the Republican Party, having so long sold its soul to both the ultra conservative Christians, and the corporatist oligarchs, now finds itself reaping what it sowed. If this is the best the party can do on a critical national economic issue (and health care IS an economic issue), then they have lost their place to speak to America morally.

Unlike Stephanie, and some of her commenters, I don't think we liberals should stop. We made as much, if not more, noise then this in the last Administration. We can do it again. can drown out these voices. If we don't. they will pull the Nation I love dearly even further back to the days of the robber barons and white supremacist tyrants. We need to stop them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the continuing saga of the mouse that roared - TARP is NOT funding toxic asset reductions

Wasn't TARP created to deal with this?

Curently Reading . . . .

With apologies to amazon for borrowing the image

Positive and Normative Statements - Finally, we focus on the challenge in scientific communication.

Mike the Mad Biologist makes a very salient point about the use of language. In his further musings on Unscientific America, he notes that (if I get this right) he's willing to make positive statements about things like diabetic conditions, or climate change, or any other host of topics which are within his professional purview as a scientist. In short, he is perfectly willing to talk about and defend what is.

Where he feels shaky, semantically speaking, is in making normative statements - those statements as to what should be. And his conclusion is, to the extent that he makes normative statements, he should make them from his perspective as a human, and not place the mantle of scientist on his shoulders when he does.

Here's my problem with this - policy makers can more easily dismiss a scientist making positive statements then they can a scientist making normative statements. We've had this problem in ocean commercial fisheries management for decades, and its one reason that Atlantic tunas may well be fished to extinction in my life time. See, fisheries scientists, like most scientists, are trained in the precise reporting of their findings as positive statements. And, given a range of policy options, they can make positive statements (based on statistical analyses) about the probability of an outcome.

All of which is fine - but policy makers, natural resource managers, and politicians don't want probability. They want certainty, and so when faced with a scientists making probability-based positive statements (which are generally anything but certain) and an industry lobbyist making normative statements (which sound really certain even if they have no facts behind them), the normative statement is chosen. We're seeing this play out now in the health care debate.

What Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshecnbaum are trying to do then, is shake the scientific community out of its positive narrative, and start getting us to launch into some normative narrative. They posit, as I have read UA that if scientists don't make this move, we'll get left in the proverbial dust at precisely the moment our expertise is most needed by our society and economy. Seems to me its a fair request, and one scientists should jump to fulfill.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Investigating Torture - and How the Obama Administration is hiding from the truth.

Long-tme readers should know by now that I am no fan of the Bush Administration's torture policies. What started as thinly veiled contempt ahs now run to full-blown disgust.

The problem is, as Digby so elequently notes for the vacationing Glenn Greenwald, the Obama Administration is about to destroy our newly re-energized intelligence services to protect this disgusting chapter in our history. I keep expecting the Spanish Inquistition to rear its ugly head - and not the Monty Python version either.

The Racist Roots of the Birther cause - why a Black President gets under so many people's skin

Over at Submitted to a Candid World, one of my favorite bloggers is taking on the racist roots of the "Legal Birther movement." The expose is well written, and I commend it to you. Like it or not, and many liberals do not, we are NOT in apost-racial era in American history or politics. Many in this country are discriminated against daily, be it on the basis of race, economic status, or religion (including atheists). We have, I htink, burried our collective heads in the sand on the issue of discrimination, and we need to unbury them in a hurry.

Defending Civil Rights - My Latest Letter to the Washington Post

Today I sent the following Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post about the Post's complete lack of coverage of the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers bus ad controversy. I've been fortunate to have two Letters to the Editor published previously, so I'm hoping this one makes the cut. I'll post any reply I get from them, as well as a link should they publish it. Meanwhile, here's what I wrote:

To the Editor, Washington Post:

Over the past two weeks, there has been a civil rights battle brewing in Iowa, and Post readers have been denied coverage of this important news. The Des Moines Area Rapid Transit authority first posted, then removed, then reposted ads on the sides of buses that read “Don’t Believe in God, You’re Not Alone.” The ads were sponsored by the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, and complaints came from right wing Christians religious groups. Iowa’s governor professed to be “personally disturbed” by the ads.

Yet an exhaustive search of the Post’s online archive I conducted today reveals not a word about this incident. Atheists, like all Americans, enjoy the freedom of (and from) religion and the freedom of speech as explicitly protected in our Constitution. Their ads should be just as welcome on the side of a bus as an ad for the Crystal Cathedral, or for the latest Ferragamo shoe. The Washington Post should also be covering discrimination against atheists, wherever it occurs, just as you routinely cover other kinds of racial and religious discrimination. Shame on you for not doing so.

Philip L. H

Friday, August 7, 2009

ATheism - the next big civil rights battle

I’ve been having a discussion today about atheism, and at least one of the discussants really doesn’t like my position. It seems he, and many of the others at Stephanie’s place, have been really abused by their fellow Americans because they do not believe in the Christian God – or any other God for that matter. Because of that intensely personal experience, they are on fire, and have taken me to task as a Moderate Christian, who I think they view as only marginally more useful then a door stop.

It is tough to be called out so forthrightly, and I have to say I am not at all pleased by it. Folks who want to have an equal seat at the table are charging hard at me and telling me I’m art of the problem simply because of one of the many labels I use to describe myself, even though I have not, to my knowledge ever met them in person (much less treated them in a way that would provoke that response). Of course, I am also melancholy about how they’ve been treated, because I see no point in the approach of a fundamentalist in attacking them that way - just as I see no point in racism, sexism, or intolerance to various gender identity and sexuality monakers.

So, rolling all this around, what should I do? I’ve stayed in the fight thus far, in part because I do believe that America as a nation can benefit from a lot more discussion, and a lot less internal warfare. I am also of the belief, based on what I was taught in church, that my response as a Christian needs to be acceptance of everyone, and the extension of as much understanding, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance as I can to those who do not share my beliefs. And, if they are being discriminated against, in any way, I have to stand with them against that discrimination.

So over the next few weeks (but perhaps not regularly) I’ll be returning to the topic of discrimination in America. I hope to focus on it in all forms, racial, gender, religious, marital, housing – you name it. I won’t spend a lot of time looking exhaustively at history, but I want to go deeper into the question and see both what the state of play is on the ground, and what my response is to that.

And to Lou FCD – I am serious about writing that letter.

Health Care reform - the Republican Party's Waterloo

When it comes to the health care debate raging in this country, its getting ugly. The back and forth is no longer even remotely civil, and even the doctors are fuming.

So when Steven Pearlstein over at the Washington Post weighs in, I am interested. I am not in agreement with him on a lot of issues, but I think he got it right here:

Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs.

This, dear readers, is one of the legacies of the divide and conquer Bush administration approach to politics, economics and social justice. And if we ALL continue to act this way, we will bring down the Republic. Not exactly what I want my generation, or my parents’ to be known for in history.

That aside, he fails to say why he thinks Republicans want this failure to occur. I think it is a simple, pernicious reason - they want the economic, social and moral power they thought they had under the Bush Administration back, and they do not care what they do to achieve it. They tasted absolute power for 8 years and it corrupted them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

American Exceptionalism and its negative impact on our world image

I know regular readers are probably tired of me beating the drum that America's government officials, all the way up to the President need to stand accountable in the legal system for their actions, but I'll keep at it. Why you ask, because . . . .

As we send murderous, crusading civilian units around the world to accompany our invading armies -- while ushering a regime of torture wherever we go -- and then announce we will only Look to the Future, Not the Past, when their crimes are exposed (despite our best efforts to keep them concealed), do we actually expect anyone to take these sermons seriously? (H/T Glenn Greenwald)

The United States is NOT an exceptional country. Despite what so many neocon commentators claim about our superior way of life, the people we elected to lead us made choices that defamed our ideals and trampled on the very notion that we have anything to teach (anymore) about the rule of law. Instead, I think we need to look to others, like Pakistan, and ask what have they done to overcome internal tyrrany. Then we need to apply those lessons here in the U.S.

And a little humility wouldn't hurt us either.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Goldman Sach to Employees - Don't spend it all in one Place!

That Goldman Sachs would actually say this to employees shows just how big a gulf exists between this firm and the rest of the country.

Human garbage in the oceans - two perspectives

First, consider this from CNN about using Stimulus money to remove ghost nets in Puget Sound.

I have along personal interest in this, as this is a project that I was affiliated with while working in Seattle several years ago. Interestingly, the story fails to mention two important factors. First, the stimulus fund in question came from the NOAA Fisheries Service Office of Habitat Conservation, and second, the Army Corps of Engineers has been leading a similar effort for some time.

Second, the 2009 SEAPLEX expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now underway. The blog is here. Oh to be young and a grad student again! Seriously, the fate of plastics in the ocean is not to be taken lightly, and as the expedition goes forward, I hope folks will stay tuned.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vitamin D deficiancy higher in kids, but the WaPo won't help

Today’s online edition of the Washington Post has a great example of how hard it is to communicate science to the public, especially when you operate under the mis-guided notion of a “fair balance” and thus have an need for two sides to a story.

Titled “Millions of Children In U.S. Found to Be Lacking Vitamin D – Links to Diabetes, Heart Disease Examined” seems, at first read, to be a straightforward report that 9% of children don’t have enough Vitamin D in their bodies to ward off a variety of both early and late life diseases. The WaPo authors note that scientists studying this question point to a decline in the consumption of Vitamin D enriched milk, and the lack of outdoor play time as significant causative factors.

Had they left it there, the story would have given parents and doctors something to talk about – how much sunlight does a nine year old Hispanic girl need to make adequate Vitamin D, and how can we help her get it? Why aren’t kids drinking as much fortified milk as before and is this really the best way (nutritionally) to supplement the lack of natural production? These would have been great questions, and great conversations.

Sadly, they aren’t likely to happen if you read the full piece. Ten paragraphs in, after the study and it’s findings are explained we hit this:

"The bottom line is that these numbers are interesting," said Frank R. Greer of
the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who served on a panel that recently
doubled the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for daily Vitamin D
intake. "But I'm not ready to make a great hue and cry until we have more data.
I think we should use them for further research to determine their

Why is this a significant paragraph? Isn’t it just an expression of the uncertainty that is inherent in science? Shouldn’t we do more studies after a finding like this to replicate them?

If you are a scientist, those are sensible responses. But the average reader, looking at the Citations to Authority presented here (i.e. Greer is a University academic who sits on an important panel of doctors who make important recommendations so we’d better listen to him), this is a contradiction to the findings presented in the prior 9 paragraphs. “Joe Sixpack” is thus likely to conclude that, since there is not a “scientific consensus” presented (i.e. the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t agree with this finding), he shouldn’t do anything differently, nor should he worry about his kids and whether they have Vitamin D deficiencies.

In addition, the WaPo fails to tell its readers that it’s counter-expert may have a vested interest in further study going a certain direction. If you Google Dr. Greer (who is, thankfully, a pediatric MD); you find this at

Position: Pro to the question "Is drinking milk healthy for
Reasoning: "Milk is one of the richest dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D, critical for building strong bones in kids and teens, and providing the best defense against developing osteoporosis later in life. While calcium supplements and non-dairy foods such as calcium-fortified beverages are an alternative, these products do not offer milk's unique nutrient package."

Clearly, Dr. Greer will have to advocate for more milk consumption if the study proves true, and will have to admit his efforts so far have not gone far enough. Even if he were neutral on the subject in his interviews, demanding more study and better numbers is often the tactic of deniers, or those with specific agendas that run counter to the conclusions of study authors.

So what could the Wa Po have done differently in presenting the story? First, I see no reason to have someone on as a counter point to these conclusions. Perhaps the WaPo editors thought that someone urging an ounce of caution before making major life changes was a good idea. Afterall, no use going off half cocked. But given the urgent need for some sort of change (9%) of kids suffering form this is not good) they might have done better to focus on the need for more outdoor play and exercise to increase sun exposure, and the need to increase milk intake. At the very least, they could have suggested talking to your kid’s pediatrician earlier in the article.

The bottom line, for me, is that while science is iterative, and thus never “done” and possessing “conclusions” as most people understand this term, the WaPo did its readers yet another science disservice by implying a need to wait for something more concrete, instead of evaluating your health now, and making better choices. This is why the media are failing so badly in communicating science to the general public.