Saturday, April 2, 2016

Forget Trump. . . . "It's the people who don't see the madness that you have to talk sense into."

Salma Hayek,  Mexican-American film star of the biopic of artist Frida Kahlo, was recently a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  She had the perfect response to Kimmel's suggestion that, having met Donald Trump, she could perhaps talk to him, get through to him. 

"I haven't seen him since he started this part of his entertainment career, [but] . . . .  No. You don't need to talk sense into him.  Everybody is entitled to their own madness.  You have to talk sense into the people who are not seeing the madness," Hayak replied.


Sen. Grassley "hoist with his own petard."

"Hoist with your own petard," loosely translated means getting caught in a trap you set for someone else.   This has just happened to Senator Chuck Grassley -- and by a high school student !!

Sen. Grassley, (R-IA) is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the one who is refusing to give a hearing to President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, saying that he is a lame duck president and the nomination should be left to the next president.   Or, as he likes to state, piously, "Let the people decide."

Jake Smith is a high school senior in Des Moines and thus a constituent of Sen. Grassley, who represents Iowa.    Jake wrote an open letter that was published in the Des Moines Register:

An Open Letter to Senator Grassley,

This year I and thousands of other young Iowans will be voting in their first election.

The argument many Republicans are making is that Barack Obama is a “lame duck” president, and, because “the people have not spoken,” he should not be allowed to nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia.

you are running for reelection in Iowa this November. At that time, Iowans will go to the polls and their voice will be heard. Until then, who speaks for the people of Iowa? You, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, carry significant power in determining who gets to become the next Supreme Court Justice. But senator, since you, too, are in an election year, how can you possess the authority to make a decision that will affect the future of our country ifthe people have not yet spoken? Following the direction of the Republican’s logic, I politely ask you to step aside as chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee until the elections take place.

If you want to make critical decisions based on a constructed rationale, at least apply your creative thinking to all elected officialsincluding yourself.

— Jake Smith, senior, Roosevelt High School

Responding to a call from the Huffington Post, Jake said that he will be starting college this fall, and he plans to major in political science.


Friday, April 1, 2016

At war with Big Pharma over TV drug ads

The practice of advertising medications on television is a very bad idea.   I came of age in the medical profession when doctors didn't advertise (just a discreet listing in the yellow pages).   It was considered unseemly to do more, and advertising medicines?   That put your product in company with Carter's Little Liver Pills and Hadacol -- what we used to call "snake oil," hawked by shysters.

Somehow we got from that to now, with drug ads a multibillion dollar business.  And, for me as a tv consumer, it is intolerably annoying --how many times during one tv program do we need to be informed of the benefits of Cialis?    But it's more serious than just annoying.  It has reached the danger zone -- in the U.S., that is.

Jonathan Cohn has written an important piece for Huffington Post on where things stand. 
"In fact, the U.S. is one of only two developed countries in the world that allow drug companies to advertise their products on television. (The other is New Zealand . . .) One study, from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 57 percent of claims in drug ads were potentially misleading and another 10 percent were outright false. . . .

"Last year, the pharmaceutical industry spent $5.2 billion on ads promoting specific drugs—an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. At a time when most other industries are spending less on television advertising, drug companies are spending more. They are also devising new forms of so-called direct-to-consumer outreach, like smartphone apps that consumers may not even realize are a form of marketing and that the FDA is still figuring out how to regulate. . . . 

"Concerns about direct advertisements of pharmaceutical products have become so acute that last November the American Medical Association called for an outright ban, saying that the practice was 'fueling escalating drug prices.'  Spending on prescription drugs already accounts for about one in every six dollars that go into medical care. . . .One of the reasons for the increase is the massive sum that manufacturers pour into advertising."

And then there is the much more serious ethical problem of the pharmaceutical industry pretending to supply reliable information, when in fact they are employing very skillful marketing techniques to create a demand.  Or they promise faster or better relief, then offer a slightly modified drug that is often minimally effective -- at much greater cost than existing remedies -- to a captive audience that has no way of evaluating the truth of their advertising.  Manipulating research data, the coercive influence of their money on academic studies, control over what gets published in scientific journals -- that's all part of the problem.

One current instance of this is Belsomra, a new sleeping medication marketed by Merck, which they tout as a completely new approach to insomnia -- and which they expect to generate more than $300 million in sales this year.  It seems that this does work at a different neurophysiological level than the standard Ambien and Lunesta, which Merck hopes to displace as the leading insomnia drugs.

But, according to information that Jonathan Cohn has unearthed from an academic scientist who reviewed Merck's research data for the FDA, all the hype conceals the fact that, in Merck's clinical trials, Belsomra is not really significantly better.   The company's own data -- in contrast to their advertising hype -- shows:
"People taking Belsomra fell asleep, on average, only six minutes sooner than people taking a placebo and stayed asleep for a mere 16 minutes longer."
And note:  this was in comparison to a placebo -- not to other insomnia drugs.  In addition, there were serious side effects: 
"Some test subjects experienced worrying side effects, like next-day drowsiness and temporary paralysis upon waking. For a number of people, these effects were so severe that the researchers halted their driving tests, fearing someone would get into an accident. Because of these safety concerns, the FDA ended up approving the drug at a lower starting dosage than the company had requesteda dosage so low that a Merck scientist admitted it was 'ineffective.'”
This is what Merck is presenting to an unsuspecting public as a "sea change" in insomnia treatment.

I think we need to take the drastic step of banning television advertising of pharmaceuticals -- like most other countries.   But, with Big Pharma's lobbyists on Capitol Hill, and the Supreme Court likely to rule in favor of the "free speech rights" of the business community, we may be stuck with it.    Remember, "corporations are people."  Thus saith the Roberts Court.

But there are intermediate steps that could be taken.   Hillary Clinton reportedly favors eliminating the tax deduction for advertising costs.    Bernie Sanders has even more radical plans for reforming health careI'm sure we'll hear more about this.   With the AMA calling for an outright ban on tv ads, it's going to be an ongoing discussion, one that we need to have.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Republicans going down the slippery slope into chaos and insanity.

So here are some things that happened in the past couple of days.

1.  North Carolina's restroom regulations bill (which requires people to use the public restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate) also includes  license to discriminate for all kinds of things.   In fact, it's very similar, but even worse, than Georgia's "religious freedom" bill.   So it makes Georgia look not quite so bad, by comparison;  and makes our Gov. Deal look downright courageous in contrast to NC's Gov. McCrory, who eagerly rushed to sign the NC thing.   But Deal still gets only two cheers, not three, from me.    He has a lot of negatives to make up for.    Virginia governor Terry McCauliff just yesterday vetoed an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" bill -- and he did it without dithering around until threats of business losses to the state forced his hand. 2.  A transwoman (meaning a person whose birth certificate says male but who now identifies as a woman) tweeted out this very attractive photo (presumably of herself) with the attached caption to Gov. McCrory:
"And  it's the law for me to g0 in the men's room with you, governor."

Exactly.   That's what they just don't seem to get.

3.  North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper, says he will not defend the new law in a suit filed against the state by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.   It's not a surprise.  Not only is AG Cooper a Democrat, but he is also running to replace the Republican Gov. McCrory.

4.  Donald Trump told Chris Matthews, in an interview on MSNBC, that there "has to be some form of punishment" for abortion if it is banned -- as he thinks it should be -- and that the woman should be the one who is punished.   He said he would be far more lenient on the man who impregnated the woman;  the man would not bear the same level of responsibility.

His campaign rushed to walk it back, putting out a statement from The Donald saying that -- if abortion were banned -- it would be the person performing the abortion, not the woman, who should be punished.  Then the statement added, "My position has not changed -- like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions."    Even so, both pro-life and pro-choice groups have denounced his original position about punishing women.

5.  This latest will certainly not endear him to women, who already dislike him.  An NBC poll of women overall shows 21% positive and 70% negative opinions of him.   Even Ann Coulter, who has been a Trump supporter and once called him "fantastic," scolded him for his late night re-tweeting of the unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, calling him "mental."  She said, “It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.”

6.  Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been arrested for misdemeanor battery on a female reporter -- who happened to be reporting for the conservative Breitbart news, which has endorsed Trump.   At first Lewandowski and Trump denied it ever happened, saying she was "delusional."  Then a video turned up, which convinced the police enough that they arrested him.    She was simply trying to ask Trump a question as he walked through a crowd after a press event.   Lewandowski grabbed her by the arm, pulling her away from him, but he did it forcefully enough to cause bruises on her arm.  Her story was corroborated by a reporter for the Washington Post, who was standing just behind her.   Now Trump is saying say that maybe his manager thought the reporter's pen was a knife and was trying to protect him.

7.   A number of large corporations, who usually provide lots of sponsoring money for the conventions, are questioning whether to get involved with the GOP this year, because of the chaos and negativity Trump evokes and the risk of violence.  Coca Cola, who contributed $660,000 to the GOP convention in 2012, has given $75,000 this year and said that's it.   The city of Cleveland is taking bids for 2,000 sets of riot gear for its police forces.   Xerox, Google, Apple, and others are concerned that donating to the GOP event would be akin to endorsing Trump's "hateful and racist rhetoric."

8.   Hillary Clinton sent out a tweet, saying:  "Just when you thought it couldn't get worse . . . "   Bernie Sanders simply tweeted:   "Your Republican front runner, ladies and gentlemen.   Shameful."

That's enough for today, lest we all lose our sanity.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Veto of "religious freedom" won't end controversy

Yes, Gov. Deal vetoed the objectionable GA HB 757 "religious freedom" bill (see ShrinkRap 3/28), but that battle is not yet over.  Already, damage has been done to the state's reputation as being more enlightened than the rest of the south -- although North Carolina, our traditional rival for that title, has jumped even deeper into the mire of covert anti-gay and racist discrimination, thanks to Republican controlled legislatures in both states.   See what happens when you let those people take charge?

Let's face it.   Proponents of HB 757 have been convinced by its sponsors that it does not discriminate.   Dave Baker, of the Faith and Freedom Coalition said, "This was a compromise bill, and we made sure it protected people of faith without discriminating against anyone."

That may be what they think -- and, more important, what they have convinced others to believe.   But that is, to use Rachel Maddow's favorite dismissal, "Bull-hockey."   Opponents are equally convinced that it does allow discriminationWhat that difference hinges on is the section that says that nothing in the bill should be construed to permit discrimination based on anything that is prohibited by federal or state laws.

As explained in my 3/28 post, this ignores two facts:   (1)  there are no federal or Georgia laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression;  and (2) HB 757 omitted "local ordinances" in its list of non-discriminatory laws that could not be violated.    This intentionally targets some 60 city or local anti-discriminatory regulations that can now be legally ignored.

The bill was rushed through under time pressure, and legislators barely had time to read the proposal, much less study the implications.   Whether that was by design, or just from running out of time, the result is the same.   People voted on something they did not understand.

But do they now understand what it does?   It leaves the fate of city and other local ordinances outlawing anti-gay and anti-trans discrimination to be upheld or overturned in the courts -- with all the delay, furor, and expense that will entail.   We know it wasn't an oversight, because we know they discussed it.   So there has to be a reason why they didn't simply add in the one word that would have solved that problem,   Make it "federal, state, and local laws."

There is one obvious answer.   They didn't want to.   With no federal or state laws that prohibit discrimination against gays and trans, it was safe to include "federal and state laws."  But, in Georgia, there are some 60 local ordinances that are now in question.

Further proof of intentions came early in this process, during negotiations over a 2015 bill to "protect pastors" from having to perform same-sex weddings.   At one point, some negotiators wanted to leave out expanded language that would have been interpreted as discriminatory.   The bill's sponsor objected strongly, saying that "would gut the bill."   They called it a "pastor protection" bill;  but the author insisted that it have the clause that allows discrimination;  otherwise it would "gut" his bill.

In other words, the discriminatory language was the part they really wanted.    Now in the version that finally passed on March 16, 2016, they thought they had found a sly way to have it both ways -- protect religious freedom and also disguise the fact that they cleverly snuck in the discrimination part.

It didn't work, folks.   And you're not going to get the votes to over-ride Gov. Deal's veto.   You didn't have 2/3 in the House on this vote.   And, as people actually read and think about the bill -- and hear more of the consequences to the economy and reputation of the state -- you will have even fewer votes than you snuck through under the pressure of time.   So don't even think about bringing it up again.   It will only do more damage to the state than you've already done.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Secret Service says "no guns" at GOP convention

The law gives the Secret Service great authority in carrying out its duty to protect certain government officials, including presidential candidates.   Thus, when a petition was collecting tens of thousands of signatures demanding that the anti-gun policy be lifted at the arena where the GOP convention is be held, the Secret Service stepped in and said "no."

No guns at the GOP convention.   Not even the NRA can change the decision.   Now that's real power.


Sanders vs Clinton: revisited

The progressive Rolling Stone has just endorsed Hillary Clinton, and writer for the publication, Matt Taibbi, writes to explain why he disagrees with his boss and editor's choice in a piece called "Why Young People Are Right About Hillary Clinton."

It's too long to re-post here, so I'll try to summarize the first part.   Taibbi understands his editor's reasons for supporting Clinton, which are the reason the centrist Democrats, led by the Clintons, have moved away from the leftist, progressives like George McGovern and now Bernie Sanders.   It was, basically, an attempt to stop losing to fringe candidates by adopting a socially liberal, fiscally conservative position.

Here, picking up Taibbi's own words:
*   *   *
"And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.

"The new Democratic version of idealism . . . . was about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which we were led to believe were hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young. . . .  saluting the value of "incremental politics" and solutions that "stand a chance of working." The implication is that even when young people believe in the right things, they often don't realize what it takes to get things done.   [RR note:   This is the position I've been taking too in my defense of Obama.]

"But I think they do understand. Young people have repudiated the campaign of Hillary Clinton in overwhelming and historic fashion, with Bernie Sanders winning under-30 voters by consistently absurd margins, as high as 80 to 85 percent in many states. . . .  the millions of young voters that are rejecting Hillary's campaign this year are making a carefully reasoned, even reluctant calculation about the limits of the insider politics both she and her husband have represented.

"For young voters, the foundational issues of our age have been the Iraq invasion, the financial crisis, free trade, mass incarceration, domestic surveillance, police brutality, debt and income inequality, among others.

"And to one degree or another, the modern Democratic Party, often including Hillary Clinton personally, has been on the wrong side of virtually all of these issues. . . .  You can go on down the line of all these issues. Trade? From NAFTA to the TPP . . . .  Then of course there is the matter of the great gobs of money Hillary has taken to give speeches to Goldman Sachs . . . .  Her answer about that — 'That's what they offered' -- gets right to the heart of what young people find so repugnant about this brand of politics.

"One can talk about having the strength to get things done, given the political reality of the times. But one also can become too easily convinced of certain political realities, particularly when they're paying you hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour.  Is Hillary really doing the most good that she can do, fighting for the best deal that's there to get for ordinary people?

"Or is she just doing something that satisfies her own definition of that, while taking tens of millions of dollars from some of the world's biggest jerks?  I doubt even Hillary Clinton could answer that question. She has been playing the inside game for so long, she seems to have become lost in it. She behaves like a person who often doesn't know what the truth is, but instead merely reaches for what is the best answer in that moment, not realizing the difference.

"This is why her shifting explanations and flippant attitude about the email scandal are almost more unnerving than the ostensible offense. She seems confident that just because her detractors are politically motivated, as they always have been, that they must be wrong, as they often were.

"But that's faulty thinking. My worry is that Democrats like Hillary have been saying, 'The Republicans are worse!" for so long that they've begun to believe it excuses everything. . . .  But in the age of Trump, winning is the only thing that matters, right? In that case, there's plenty of evidence suggesting Sanders would perform better against a reality TV free-coverage machine like Trump than would Hillary Clinton.  This would largely be due to the passion and energy of young voters.

"Young people don't see the Sanders-Clinton race as a choice between idealism and incremental progress. The choice they see is between an honest politician, and one who is so profoundly a part of the problem that she can't even see it anymore.

"They've seen in the last decades that politicians who promise they can deliver change while also taking the money, mostly just end up taking the money.
"And they're voting for Sanders because his idea of an entirely voter-funded electoral 'revolution' that bars corporate money is, no matter what its objective chances of success, the only practical road left to break what they perceive to be an inexorable pattern of corruption.  Young people aren't dreaming. They're thinking. And we should listen to them."
*   *   *
I'm still on the fence -- still not wanting to have to decide, as I have been thinking, between idealism and pragmatism.   But Matt Taibbi has almost convinced me that it's time to stand with idealism and make it win.

It's just that -- more than any time in my memory, even considering Richard Nixon, the Republicans really are so much worse, and the consequences so much more dire, that I'm afraid to take the chance of losing to them.    If for no other reason than the direction of the Supreme Court for decades.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Gov. Deal vetoes anti-gay discrimination bill

Gov. Nathan Deal has vetoed the hastily passed HB 757, which would have codified discrimination against LGBT people in Georgia.   We may doubt that he would have done so without pressure and boycott threats from corporate America (including the burgeoning movie industry in the state).   But, I'm willing to give him the benefit of doubt and think he might have done it anyway just because it is the right thing to do.


Georgia legislature did one good thing

This year's Georgia legislative session is now officially over, although the fate of some bills remains for Gov. Nathan Deal to decide whether to sign or veto them.  These include the "religious freedom" bill, the campus gun carry law, and others that I've paid less attention to.

But they did pass one good piece of legislation, and I assume the governor will sign it.   It revises what privileges police officers have when they are charged with misconduct, such as illegal use of force against a suspect/detainee (all those shootings of unarmed,  young black men, for example).

In the past, Georgia was alone in allowing an officer to sit through the entire grand jury proceedings, hear all the evidence presented against him, and then make a statement in his own defense -- without being questioned or cross-examined.

This bill changes that.   They will still be allowed to testify, but without hearing the other testimonyNor will they be exempt from questioning by the prosecutor or the grand jury.   This is a step in the direction of correcting a terrible injustice toward the victims of police brutality that, until this year, had not had an indictment of a single police officer in the last 144 killings.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Stunning wins for Sanders in all three caucus states

With all precincts reporting in the caucuses in Alaska, Washington state, and Hawaii, Bernie Sanders has pulled off three more stunning victories for a clean Saturday sweep, defeating Hillary Clinton by margins of 40 to as much as 63 points.    He took Alaska 81.6% to Clinton's 18.4%;  Hawaii by 69.8% to 30.0%;  and Washington by 72.7% to 27.1%.     That's yu-u-ge!!  Republicans had no voting scheduled this weekend.

It's time for the Clinton campaign and for the media to stop saying "it's time for Bernie to get out of the race."

[updated 3/27  11:00 am]

North Carolina governor signs anti-LGBT bill

The North Carolina General Assembly held an emergency special session with the specific purpose of passing the most regressive anti-LGBT bill in the land, and Gov. Pat McCrory promptly signed it into law.  What it does is prevent cities in the state from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people -- along with other areas of taking control away from local governments.

What made this special session "necessary" was that the city of Charlotte had recently passed an ordinance that allows transgender people to use public restrooms according to the gender with which they identify themselves.   Conservatives were horrified that a biological male, who now publicly identifies as female, would use the same public facilities as girls and women.

A person who was identified at birth as male must use restrooms for males -- even if now dressing and appearing to be a woman.  And vice versa.  Can you imagine the reverse?   A biological woman now identifying as a man -- who now dresses as a man, perhaps has gone through hormone transition and now has a beard -- being forced by law to use the ladies' room?    Just imagine how quickly the police would be called -- about "a man in the Ladies Room."   How much danger would this transman be in -- simply for obeying the law?

What are they afraid of?     Certainly not rape by someone who is trying to renounce his maleness?    Do they think predators will now simply dress up in women's clothes in order to gain access to women's rest rooms and assault women and girls?    Well, yes, that is exactly what they claim will happen.   Come one, people.  Do you have one shred of evidence that this has happened in the many cities that did exactly what Charlotte did?   No, there is none.  That is a completely bogus issue.

The level of ignorance (frankly, it is often willful ignorance) among social conservatives is sometimes stunning.   If they can't tell the difference between a predatory man and a transwoman, then perhaps we need some elementary sex education for the adults.

It's worse than that.   This hastily passed law paints with a wide brushYes, it blocks local governments' anti-discrimination laws but it also preempts city policies involving wages (presumably to prevent cities setting a minimum wage), and benefits (for same-sex partners) and other regulations that would go beyond state regulations.   In other words, the state is taking away its cities' autonomy to be better than their state governmentThese conservatives are just not going to let that happen.  No, siree !!

The backlash from corporations has already begun, just as is being threatened in Georgia if Gov. Deal signs the "religious freedom" bill.   But it's a little late in N.C.   Signed, sealed, and delivered into law.