Wednesday, September 29, 2010


No, don't bother reading it backwards or upside down: it's a new drug aimed at relieving the pain of osteo-arthritis. It was featured on the NBC News this evening (here's the video link) because the FDA has suspended testing of the drug -- at least temporarily. The reason: it's too effective.

Apparently a number (I don't know the percentage) of patients testing the drug had their arthritis condition sufficiently worsened so that they actually needed joint replacements. It was suggested that Tanezumab was so effective at reducing pain that people taking it over-extended themselves. The drug itself is not a treatment for the underlying disease: it simply masks the main symptom, namely pain. Without the pain, people were not tipped off that they were possibly doing damage to their arthritic joints and bones.

It seems to me that this raises, in a very pure way, the classic liberal vs. libertarian philosophical question: How or when should be "protect people from themselves"? Apparently the government decided that testing the drug should be suspended pending further analysis of its dangers -- certainly a prudent decision given the damage that some of the test subjects sustained. Immediately, however, critics suggested that testing continue, with the patients being warned about the effects that had been observed, and cautioned to avoid over-exercise and stress on their bodies.

Ultimately, the decision will have to be made whether to allow the drug on the market at all, and, if it is approved, whether to somehow "dilute" or attenuate its effect to protect people "from themselves" or simply to attach a warning and let people decide how to manage their pain and their risk. Assuming that the drug has no other side effects, this is a very interesting philosphical debate. Any comments?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I have no idea why Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats invited Stephen Colbert to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. Colbert is a funny guy and his satire is certainly pointed, but what was the point of displaying it here? Certainly he couldn't (and didn't) add any new facts that would be useful to the committee. Except for his sarcastic remark about the usefulness of congress, which drew a few laughs, his performance was actually a bit embarrassing since one expected a serious investigation of a serious topic. Other witnesses were reportedly miffed.

Once again the Dems have demonstrated a tin ear for politics. It's not that Congress doesn't waste time, but why underline the fact? There are "celebrities" who actually have done a lot of good things and have real expertise; Colbert does not seem to be one of them.

The whole thing is particularly sad because I have a strong feeling that the Dems are going to sell out on tax cuts for the rich when Congress takes it up again after the elections. Many of them are sorry excuses for representatives, and value their re-election more than they do passing laws that will benefit the country (and even their districts). The deserve Colbert's (and Stewart's and our) scorn -- but this was simply not the right time and place.

(The Republicans are, of course, beneath contempt -- or have I already said that?)

Monday, September 27, 2010


This has also been the warmest summer on record. We are in autumn now, and the temperature in downtown LA set a record today: 113 degrees F.

The idiot global warming diehards mocked climate change every cold winter day last year (and the years before). They are strangely silent now...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Insurance and sharing

There are always murmurings on the right about insurance -- most recently about health insurance.

This makes a lot of sense to me, since insurance really is a kind of "socialism." It is, in some sense, a genuine sharing -- in this case of risk. In general it's not "from each according to his ability (unless there is a subsidy), but it is exactly "to each according to his need." Everyone pays the premiums -- rich or poor. No one knows for sure who will collect. You can't beat the system by working especially hard. In fact, working hard -- say through cardio-vascular exercise or by driving carefully -- will cause you most likely to lose, since you're unlikely to collect.

Yet, interestingly enough, the socialism of insurance is also a means for making money by selling the stuff. It's really wonderful. All the insurees share in the risk, yet companies with good actuaries make money no matter who collects. That's what makes it (barely) tolerable for those of the capitalist persuasion. You can see that by their animosity toward "the public option" plan, where no one makes a profit, but all risk is shared.

And that, after all, is the key to the right-wing mindset: the suspicion -- hatred in fact -- of the concept of sharing. H. L. Mencken once defined a puritan as a person with "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." Perhaps a right-winger is a person with the haunting fear that some people, somewhere, may be sharing something. A pitiful and primitive ideology if you ask me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jill Johnston (1929 - 2010)

Ms. Johnston was one of the important radical lesbian feminists. She was articulate, fearless, and a major expert on modern dance and the avant-garde of the 20th century.

Here is an obit with a link to the famous 1971 Town Hall forum, "moderated" by Norman Mailer. I had forgotten how annoying Mailer was -- especially in person; check it out.

The military authorization bill

The Republicans used the phony 60 vote minimum to prevent the annual miliary authorization bill from being debated and voted on. They claim that their beef is the procedure by which a handful of amendments -- mostly Democratic -- were attached: majority leader Reid has limited Republican amendments at the same time. Among the amendments were a repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, and a measure that would provide an easier path to citizenship for certain illegal aliens who arrive as young children.

The PTR is, as usual, full of crap. The party has long been anti-gay even though it has its share of closeted homosexuals. It is also reluctant to allow the Dems to pass anything that would play well with Hispanics -- a constituency it has itself feebly courted, without much success. (Maybe we should make the traditional PTR trivium of God, Guns and Gays into a quadrivium by adding Gringos?)

Nevertheless, the decision by Reid and other Dems to pack these amendments into the authorization bill is simply continuing a totally crappy tradition long used by both parties. It is basically cynical and does an injustice to gays and hispanics. It's also a stupid tactic. They should have had separate measures and forced the Republicans to vote on each. Susan Collins and Scott Brown would then have had to put up or shut up on DADT. Also, the "DREAM Act" (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) would be very hard to vote against, even for the Scrooges in the PTR.

Bad politics all around.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More silliness in print

Ian Katz, from Bloomberg News, writes (today):

"Warren’s criticism of firms including Citigroup Inc. and American International Group Inc. led business groups and Republican lawmakers [my italics] to question whether the law professor, who has never run a government agency or large company, could be an unbiased leader of the consumer bureau."

I see: to criticize two firms universally acknowledged (even by Republicans) as principal causes of the recent financial meltdown means that one can not be unbiased about protecting consumers. Let me clarify: If I criticize Jeffrey Dahmer, noted cannibal and murderer, that suggests I may be unbiased in protecting us from people like him.

Now I get it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Words vs. action for Tea Screamers

It has been reported that Rand Paul, campaigning in Kentucky, has been "toning down" his Tea Screamer message. His opponent, Democrat Jack Conway, had been scaring people by actually quoting some of Paul's suggestions like ending Social Security and Medicare and abolishing government protection agencies. Now Paul hardly ever mentions anything he "would do if elected," since people really don't like him so much when they know what he actually stands for.

When Bush won his second term, Barney Frank pointed out in a local forum that, while things looked bad at that time, it would turn around once people began to realize that they didn't like the actual policy of the Republicans. Sure enough that came about. Unfortunately we had to fight an unnecessary and brutal war, and the "supply-siders" and deregulators came close to destroying our economy, before people realized what idiot(s) they had elected. Oooops...

So let's hope that the Democrats -- and the press -- will keep pushing the PTR and the Tea Screamers to tell folks exactly what they intend to do if elected. They mustn't be allowed to rant that "they've had enough" and want to "return this country to the people" as Rand Paul and company have been doing recently. That kind of hot air enables them to take a free ride on the vague anger at "government" and discontent with the terrible employment situation.

Also, of course, it never hurts to remind the many with short memories that the right-wing was given its chance, and their policies turned out to be disastrous. Bush and his cronies controlled the presidency, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court for more than 4 years. The disasters that occurred can be blamed only on them. (This includes the much hated bank bailout: TARP was a Bush program. Of course, Obama should have nationalized many of the big banks, but that's another story.)

Oh, one more thing: As usual, Paul Krugman has a another great column. Click here to read it if you haven't already. He talks about the anger of the (gasp) rich.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How far beneath contempt can you go?

Is it possible to get viler than Newt Gingrich and Dinesh d'Souza?

As you probably know, d'Souza has a piece in the recent edition of Forbes Magazine which claims that Obama's mindset is that of a Kenyan anti-colonialist, and that this mindset was inherited from his father via some sort of generic hate-the-West gene. That d'Souza has no apparent qualification to make any such statement (perhaps any statement about anything) is dwarfed by the total incoherence of his article; read it here. It starts with the preposterous assertion that there is some mystery as to why Obama and the "business community" are a loggerheads. This must be news to General Motors or the various banks that his adminstration bailed out. Of course there are plenty of companies that don't want to be regulated -- oil and coal come to mind -- and that in itself explains a lot. This is a cheap rhetorical technique: take a situation that is reasonably transparent and simply distort the facts to create a new situation that doesn't exist, then proceed to analyze it. We've seen this in milder form: "Why are you healthcare reformers creating death panels to kill our grandparents?" (Or "When did you stop beating your wife?")

Outside Forbes, extreme right-wingnuts and the Club for Growth, d'Souza is, frankly, considered an idiot. There is no way any of his rants could be published in any sort of refereed journal or otherwise serious journal.

OK, enough for d'Souza. Newt Gingrich, former House speaker and one of the real lowlifes on the current scene, has picked up on d'Souza's article and is pushing it on that most willing of anti-Obama recepticles: the Party for The Rich (PTR, formally the GOP). Newt's political and personal life are cut from the same cloth: deception and infidelity, cloaked in high-falutin language and the mask of seriousness. He was so wrong about things, including strategy, that his own party dumped him. He cheated on at least two wives while talking about family values and "Contracts for America", and while working to impeach Bill Clinton. If there's anything worse than an immoral and self-centered person it's one who's hypocritical to boot; I can't say this any better than Times reporter Maureen Dowd, who's recent piece on Gingrich pretty much sums up this travesty of a human being.

Look, I'm disappointed in Obama for not being the populist President I had hoped he'd be. I'm also aware that his party contains some Democrats in name only -- many of which are allied with anti-people interests. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman come to mind, but there are lots of others in both houses. Yet, basically, the Democratic party is the party that supports, at least, attempts to make government work for most people. Sure there are crooks within, just as there are in the PTR. But: the Republicans are still, basically, the party of the rich: monopoly capitalists and fatcat bankiers. This has been true for a hundred years. FDR knew it and made his contempt for them and their cronies public. Would that Obama do the same.

BTW: I hope to be back to regular blogging now. This past summer was a difficult time: my mother-in-law Lillian Levine Simon, a talented artist, bridge player and wonderfully prickly personality, passed away at age 94. She entered college at age 16, when few women could or were willing to take that route. Her paintings and pointillist needlepoint scenes were legendary, and she continued her artwork, card-playing -- and e-mailing -- almost to the end. She will be missed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Healthcare and Social Security items

Merrill Goozner points out in his health blog Gooznews, that employer contributions to healthcare premiums is, basically, an independent variable, which fluctuates not necessarily with actual premium costs -- as asserted by proponents of the "Cadillac Tax" on healthcare plans -- but with the amount of power held by employers. Actual healthcare costs have risen about 3% this year, while out-of-pocket premiums rose 14%; meanwhile, employer contributions have remained basically level. The reason: In times of unemployment and very low union membership, workers have little clout; thus, employers are free not only to pass along increases, but to up their workers' share. Goozner describes this as, basically, a hidden tax and drag on family income -- hence a drag on the economy as a whole.

Earlier this month I wrote in a blog that using the argument of increased life expectancy as a reason to up the age of Social Security retirement was misleading since this increase was mostly due to decreased child-mortality rates. In a recent column in the Washington Post by Ezra Klein: "Making Social Security less generous isn't the answer." Klein's argues further that the gain in real life expectancy taking child-mortality into account is, in addition, uneven through the economic classes. Since 1972 the increase for higher-income people (above the median) has been about 6 years, while the increase for lower-income people has only been about 2 years. Thus, raising the retirement age results, statistically, in a greater payout to the first group. Of course, one may argue that wealthier people pay more into the system (because SS payments are a percentage of income); on the other hand, they have more disposable income, and their tax cuts out these days at income above $106,800). Most if not all of the shortfall in the SS system can be solved either by eliminating this cutoff; in fact, a government report stated:

"Making all earnings covered by Social Security subject to the payroll tax beginning in 2002, but retaining the current law limit for benefit computations (in effect removing the link between earnings and benefits at higher earnings levels), would eliminate the deficit. If benefits were to be paid on the additional earnings, 88 percent of the deficit would be eliminated."
(Social Security Advisory Board (July 2001), "Why Action Should be Taken Soon" ) .

Social Security could also be made solvent for another 3 generations by rescinding the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 (see Klein's brief piece on the latter at: Fixing SS.)

I'm passing along these links in case you need ammunition to argue SS issues.