Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

23
Apr
17

Open Letter to Senator Franken (also sent to Senators Warner & Klobuchar) Re: SSCI Investigation of Russian Interference

If one of the primary goals of Russian interference in our election was to undermine our faith in American democratic institutions, it must now be acknowledged that they have succeeded. While our intelligence services and the FBI decided for the American people that we were not entitled to know what had been done by a hostile foreign actor to compromise the election prior to November 8, we have at least been led to believe since then that this assault on our foundational democratic process was a matter of serious concern to those elected to represent us. It is glaringly clear that this is not the case.

It is now six months since election day. Officials in the administration, the intelligence communities, the FBI and in both houses of Congress have known about attempts by Russia, possibly with collusion of the Trump campaign, to alter the outcome of our election for many months more. Yet on April 2, the Financial Times reported that the FBI has ‘plans to create a special unit to coordinate Russia probe.’ Six months in and the FBI is just now creating a team to deal with what could be the biggest threat to our ongoing democracy in our lifetimes? We assumed this was happening all along. How could this be?

We watched the stunning ‘theater of the absurd’ that was the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ‘probe’ under Devin Nunes (abetted by Speaker Ryan) over a month ago. It was blatantly obvious that this was a mortally compromised committee from the very first hearing, yet the charade continues.

With the FBI investigation apparently moving at a sloth-like pace and top DoJ officials involved in the investigation leaving (Mary McCord), it is clear that this investigation is not a priority for law enforcement–or that it is purposely being derailed for political reasons. The HPSCI has demonstrated–for all the world to see–that it is inadequate to the task of managing a fair and bipartisan investigation, ultimately calling into question—also for all the world to see–the value of our three-branch government and Constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances. That leaves the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—the oversight body we have been reassured by the media will take this task seriously and represent the American people.

How, then, to explain this, published tonight in the Daily Beast: “Senate Trump-Russia Probe Has No Full-Time Staff, No Key Witnesses.’ 

I cannot even describe to you the level of despair I felt reading this article. As someone who for nearly five decades has fully believed that our sometimes bumbling and messy democracy would always prevail in the end, this was as damning an indictment of our institutions and the systems set up to protect them as I have ever seen.

Senator Franken, what is going on? We are told to be patient. We are told that the tradeoff for a proper investigation is secrecy and we accept that this is so–with the understanding that our elected reps and law enforcement agencies are acting in good faith for the American people. Now we find out that the lack of transparency also serves another purpose. It keeps the American people from fully understanding the disinterest, neglect, and possible malfeasance of these agencies who are supposed to be acting on our behalf on this critical matter.

This is not politics as usual. People are confused, afraid and angry. Despair is setting in. I am sobbing as I write this letter. For the first time in my adult life I feel compelled to ask myself if our institutions truly are as corrupt and craven as the propaganda from a third-rate thug from a second-world economy would have us believe. Distrusting and disparaging our democracy is no longer on Russia. This is on us now. Either the system we have works, and it can and will address and remedy threats, or it is fatally flawed, unable even to perform in the face of something as blatantly dangerous to our national interest as a potential foreign threat. So which is it?

Justice delayed is justice denied. We need an independent investigation now. Short of this, we will have our very dismal answer about the health of American democracy.

 

 

 

 

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08
Dec
15

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

You may (or may not) be familiar with this famous poem from Martin  Niemöller, a Protestant pastor and an outspoken, if tardy, critic of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists. His lament describes the inevitable consequences of apathy in the face of the slow creep of fascism–creep aided by bigotry and the irrational fear of others.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Unlike you, Mr. Trump, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Muslim faith. In fact, I only know one Muslim. I know her because she is the main reason my daughter and others like her have a diagnosis for their rare genetic disorder. I know her because I work with this brilliant geneticist in a joint effort to make sure that all people–regardless of religion, gender or national origin–can benefit from early diagnosis and to provide them with hope for the future because, thanks in large part to her work, we have targets for potential therapies.

In over 15 years of partnership with Dr. Z and her colleagues, the only ‘radicalization’ I have ever seen in her is her eagerness to employ radical new genetics technologies in aid of helping patients faster. I have never–not once–heard her speak a negative word about her adopted country, even as the rest of us lament the idiocy of modern American politics with each election cycle. Unlike you and your followers, she has never suggested or recommended that patients who are Christian, Jewish or of any other faith should be banned from the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Americans on the basis of their religion. She would find it unthinkable to suggest that any patient, regardless of their beliefs, be denied access to the health services we all take for granted.

So, Mr. Trump, I want to let you know right now that if you come for my friend, I will be the first in line to speak out. If you come for her family, I will be the first in line to stand in your way. If you come for her fellow Muslims, I will be first in line to stop you. I will not, as pastor Niemöller did, regret remaining silent in the face of clear injustice until it is too late. We know better than to let this happen again, even if you don’t. We have had the benefit of history as our guide, even if you refuse to learn from it.

This has got to stop before there is no one but the most bigoted and foolish among us left to speak out.

03
Jul
14

If Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Petitioned the Supreme’s

Dear IRS,

I am a lifelong member of a religious order that counts pacifism among the tenants of our faith. This not because we do not love our country, but because we feel the Bible clearly shows (based on our interpretation) that human life belongs to God and taking a human life, for any reason, is an abomination. Even supporting the mechanism to take a life indirectly is considered a sin. So strongly do we hold this belief that we will not serve on juries where the death penalty is a possibility—again, not because we don’t feel some people are worthy of death, but because we feel that decision belongs to God and we will have sinned if we take it upon ourselves.

We are also taught that it is important to obey the laws of whatever land we live in. This means that if we go against those laws, for instance refusing military service during a draft, we must willingly subject ourselves to the legal punishment proscribed by law.

It was with some relief, then, that I heard about the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court which makes it clear that laws can be subjectively applied to suit religious beliefs. Based on my clearly held religious convictions, I demand to be reimbursed for any portion of my tax payments for the past 36 years that have gone to support the US military in missions that have resulted in loss of life. This violation of my beliefs has created an undue burden for my conscience, which can finally be rectified thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision that federal laws do not apply to people of faith.

If possible, can you provide line item data to indicate how many lives were lost and how they were lost. Just like Hobby Lobby, I demand the right to pick and choose what forms of state-sponsored murder I will support.  Since I don’t object to ALL military loss of life—just loss of life from active military actions, I will still cover friendly fire incidents and unfortunate accidents through my tax contributions–for now.

I would appreciate your attention to this matter immediately, as I am very busy combing through federal laws to see what else I may be exempt from.

Thank you

15
Nov
13

Note to MSM: Some Perspective is in Order

Speaking of stenography, we have this from the NYT’s Michael Shear this morning:

Health Law Rollout’s Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush’s Hurricane Response (paywall).

Yes. They are exactly the same. Mr. Shear does not add that these parallels are being made, of course, by partisans on the right and that the NYT is dutifully and uncritically transcribing them.

I think Dread Pirate Mixmaster’s response on Balloon Juice sums up the absurdity and lack of perspective quite well:

This was the top story on my NYTimes mobile this morning, and like Michael Shear, I’ve been noting the similarities between these two events. Just outside my window, the bodies of people who haven’t been able to access a website are stacking up in the streets. The lucky who have survived are huddled together in their own filth in hot, overcrowded stinking shelters, waiting to log in.

And well I remember how Democrats worked for years to gut FEMA. Every Democratic governor pushed all disaster preparedness up to the federal government to make FEMA’s job as hard as it could possibly be, and the forty separate votes by the Democratic Congress to defund FEMA are still etched in my mind.

Amen, brother. Way to trivialize the pain and suffering of actual Katrina victims, Mr. Shear. In no universe ever (ever, ever) should complete and utter physical devastation and loss of home and life be compared to temporary inconvenience when accessing a website. It’s called perspective–look it up.

The actual reporting that needs to be done here (you know–‘journalism’) relates to who is making these absurd comparisons, why they are being made and what, if any, credibility they have. Merely transcribing the totally-lacking-in-perspective rantings of partisans without critically evaluating them is stenography. Mr. Shear needs to decide whether he is a secretary or a journalist.

[UPDATE] So the NYTs is not alone. This is an actual meme being pushed by the right. When will someone tell the MSM that the jig is up? We all know how the rightwing media ‘talking points’ thing works now, so why doesn’t the MSM? Why are they more afraid of being accused of liberal bias then they are of actually demonstrating their complete lack of journalistic ethics when it comes to printing any talking point given to them by the right, regardless of how blatantly absurd or dishonest it is?

16
Oct
13

Charles Pierce on the ‘Reign of Morons’

Here is  Charles Pierce (Esquire) with a characteristically dead-on overview of how we got here.  What is missing in all the current hand-wringing/fainting couch analysis by the MSM and moderate conservatives is the historical context for our current situation. This is CUD writ large and it was entirely predictable.

I have yet to see any MSM source point out that the Heritage Foundation, chief antagonist and foe of the ACA, are the people who ACTUALLY WROTE THE ACA.  This plan, that essentially forces Americans to support private insurance companies, was the brainchild of free-marketers and it was specifically adopted by the administration (against the wishes of pretty much every progressive in the country) to avoid a divisive showdown with conservatives. Let that sink in for a moment. Democrats adopted an healthcare reform plan that many found odious in order to prevent a tantrum and the group that actually wrote said odious plan incited a tantrum over it.

There is no way to win with these people. No concessions will ever be enough and attempts to reason with them are pointless. They are missing the components for reason and are a pathologically entitled minority who have no compunction about forcing their will on everyone, in violation of the most basic values of a democratic society.

 

 

18
May
13

None So Blind: The U of MN and Dan Markingson

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the death of Dan Markingson, a victim of (at the very least) questionable clinical research at the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry. For his mother, Mary Weiss, Dan’s loss must surely be compounded by the knowledge that nothing has changed at the U of MN.  This tragic reality was brought home for me a week ago when I was challenged by U of MN researchers (from an entirely different part of the medical school) about inviting Dr. Carl Elliott to speak to patient advocacy groups about research ethics. They objected strongly to his inclusion on the schedule.  I heard them out–people see things differently and I was interested in their perspective. What bothered me is not that they objected to Dr. Elliott, their fellow faculty member at the U of MN, but why.

This conversation took place in the context of a meeting of investigators who are part of a rare disease clinical research network at NIH. My role in this network is as chair of the patient advocacy group arm of the network, which is focused on patient welfare in the research process, as well as on advocating for research to improve access to therapies. Obviously, there are a number of diverse interests  involved in a network such as this and there can be competing priorities and conflicts of interest. However, the role of the patient advocates should not be murky to anyone.  Our job is to represent the patient interest first and foremost, even it that requires opposition to investigators,  pharma or government interests at times. I assumed this was clearly understood by all.

Which is why it was so odd to have investigators track me down immediately after the meeting to express their concern that I would consider asking Dr. Elliott to speak.  They were crystal clear about where their loyalties lay–‘Dr. Elliott is too anti-pharma and that could jeopardize our current working relationship with ______ .’  They were dismissive, disdainful and made alternative suggestions naming people who have distinguished themselves primarily (IMO) for being ‘ethics for hire’ folks.  One of their suggested speakers is someone who has actually taken the utilitarian ‘bean counter’ position regarding rare disease research, suggesting in writing that it is a waste of funds that could be better used to help diseases that impact more people. Why in the world would rare disease patient groups want such an individual to speak to them (not to mention he was intimately involved in a notorious case of research misconduct involving current researchers in this network)? Why would they assume their deference  to pharma would/should supercede my obligation to the patient groups and, by extension, rare disease patients?

A top-level government staff person involved with the network was present for this conversation.  I was a bit flabbergasted by the position of the U of MN group, so the following day called the staff person to be sure I had accurately interpreted the conversation. I had. It turns out that pharma is essentially controlling the agenda of several of these research consortia in a way that is potentially impeding progress for disease groups that are participating in consortium activities, but whose specific condition is not of interest to  the pharma ‘partner.’ These groups were enticed to participate in a ‘collaborative’ research consortium, only to discover collaboration means accepting whatever research priority pharma dictates.   Researchers have, in effect, surrendered control of their own projects over fear of losing pharma support.  I think most people would call that bullying, yet the researchers from the U of MN seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they had essentially just acknowledged–to a patient advocate no less–that patient interests come second to appeasing pharma.

Happily, most of these consortia have very transparent and productive interaction with their pharmaceutical partners and if other researchers have been threatened with loss of support should the investigators fail to dance to their tune, I am not aware of it. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that this issue came up with U of MN researchers, however.

The reputation of the U of MN has been tarnished by their handling of Dan Markingson’s case and, if current experiences are any indication, it will not be rehabilitated any time soon.  On the anniversary of this tragedy, my heart bleeds for Mary Weiss and for Dan.

15
Dec
12

Do Guns Kill People? 22 Children Alive in China vs. 20 Dead in CT Says ‘Yes’

Pretty tired of gun-rights enthusiasts smugly trotting out the ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ catch-phrase as if it is the most clever thing anyone has every come up with. I think they have to repeat this as a mantra in order to rationalize their support for our inexcusably deadly, violent, gun-worshiping culture–one they helped create and continue to support despite massacre after massacre.

Yes, guns do kill people when they are in the hands disturbed individuals, something our current system allows to happen far too often. Let’s not keep acting like we are blind to that fact or that repeating some catchy-sounding phrase changes it. 22 children were stabbed by a nut in China on the same day the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre happened. All 22 of those children are still alive. In contrast, 20 children and their teachers are dead in CT. The difference was access to guns, so clearly, guns kill people.

That said, I think sane, law-abiding people should be able to own guns. But I don’t think any nutter with a god complex should be able to legally acquire them and I don’t think any individual citizen needs to have a personal arsenal of assault weapons. I think we are a nation growing weary of violence and the excuses for it and the constant focus by gun enthusiasts on their rights over the rights of babies sitting in classrooms not to be killed by a crazy person who should never have been able to get his hands on automatic weapons. This self-serving focus on rights and disregard for responsibilities is wearing pretty thin.

No Constitutional right is absolute. People are not allowed to make human sacrifices to their god despite the fact that the First Amendment guarantees their right to religious freedom. The ‘right’ to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence is waived when we as a society deem that someone is dangerous and needs to be locked up for the protection of others. Why is the Second Amendment alone treated as sacrosanct and not subject to reasonable limitations like all other amendments and founding principles?

Gun worship has  become a mental illness in our society that causes people to deny the evidence of their own eyes. The notion of many gun-enthusiasts that somehow their right to firearms is God-sanctioned and approved is nothing short of creepy and you have to wonder how deeply immersed in the cult of guns one has to be to seriously believe this.  At the very least, these Christians exhibit a serious lack of faith in God’s ability to protect them if they feel they need to be packing at all times. Somehow the irony of professing belief in a pacifist with supernatural powers while paranoid-ly packing heat manages to escape them.




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