Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I am reading this morning about the terrible shape 12th graders are in with respect to reading abilities. Apparently, test scores reveal that a substantial percentage of graduating seniors do not read well enough to comprehend pretty basic concepts. Now here's where I go off the radar. I have thought for some time about the wasting of one of the largest resources in our country; retired people. There are millions of retired people sitting around with little or nothing to do, all of whom have substantial skills and a fondness for young people. One of these substantial skills, for example, is the ability to read well inasmuch as we were taught reading at a time when reading was considered to be the cement for all learning. What I propose is this; For children at all levels who are having difficulty, set up a classroom based on a family structure. The teacher is the Mom (or Dad) and retired seniors would be the grandparents. In a classroom of twenty children, there could be four or five grandparents, each one assigned to four or five kids where the emphasis of each pairing would be assisting the kids to read; the grandparent would read to each small group and each kid could read to the grandparent and maybe the rest of the kids in the small group. From experience with my kids and grandkids, the biggest key to successful reading is the amount of one-on-one time between the parent and child spent in a quality reading environment such as this. It would be a cinch to recruit enough willing seniors to participate in this type of acitivty. It would cost nothing. It wouldn't interfere with teacher union concerns. Why not try it?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Want a Refund

Last fall Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow joined forces with George W. Bush to vote for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The most heinous part of that Act is the denial of habeas corpus to detainees in the following language, "No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”

Some of my friends and my kids accuse me of being a Democrat simply because I express liberal opinions when it comes to matters of individual liberties and rights. Let me go on the record here; I am not a Democrat, but I have given money to support the campaigns of various Democrats in the past including Michigan junior Senator Stabenow's recent campaign for re-election to a second term. When I discovered that she had voted in favor of suspending habeas protection I immediately sent her an e-mail demanding my 'investment' back. I wanted a refund because, most simply put, I could not support a candidate who thought that the suspension of a right guaranteed in the first article of the U.S. Constitution would somehow advance the cause of freedom in our world. Habeas protection is one of the features of our system of government that distinguishes us from third world banana republics.

I guess that Senator Stabenow did not read my e-mail because I have not received a response to my request, but I still recive information from her. In a letter she sent out to Michigan constituents justifying her vote for the Military Commissions Act, she wrote, “This bill does not amend the Geneva Convention in any way.” That statement is false as indicated by the above passage in the Act. To clarify any possible misunderstanding, the law contains the following additional language: “The President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions” and “No alien unlawful enemy combatant subject to trial by military commission under this chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights.” Either Senator Stabenow was too busy to read the bill before she voted for it, or if she read the bill did not understand the significance of what she was agreeing to destroy (i.e. a fundamental value preserved in our constitution), or she is willing to distort the truth of what she has done for political gain (Maybe there are some voters out there who still believe anything a politician says is true).

In any event, she was re-elected, but I still want my thousand bucks back.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mr. Bush, You're No George Washington

About the only thing that George Bush and President George Washington have in common is the same first name. In his President's Day address, Bush intimated that his acts in the conduct of the Iraq War were somewhat akin to those of our first president, the real George W. The chutzpah of the man is enough to make one gag. (For those that do not understand the meaning of the term 'chutzpah', a reasonable example would be that of a man who murders his parents and then asks for mercy from the court because he is an orphan). The most striking and basic difference between the two men is the ability to tell the truth. Generation after generation of children in the United States have heard the story of George Washington admitting (i.e. telling the truth) that he cut down the cherry tree. This story has become a significant part of our national lore and symbolizes the moral character of our first president in a way that is both simple and effective, setting an example of model behavior to be emulated. Bush, on the other hand, seems not to understand the meaning of truth, nor of admitting fault. No Mr. Bush, you're no George Washington. Not even close!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How It Works: Part Two

A handy example of our democratic process is at work this week in Washington. The demonstration of the process is so refreshing that it deserves a special mention. Congress, the House and Senate, is pushing the finishing touches on a bill that raises the minimum wage and gives small business a tax break. Both political parties gave a little and took a little and arrived at a reasonable compromise that serves the public well. We've gotten so used to negative strawmen being placed in the way of the artful process of debate and compromise that this result stands out. This is truly how it works.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Who's at Risk?

Decisions about what government can do for (and to) citizens need to be placed in an appropriate perspective. In Virginia and 17 other states, lawmakers are considering requiring young girls to be immunized against a little-known virus that public health officials say is responsible for nearly 7,000 cases of cervical cancer each year. Legislatures are doing so at the urging of New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., which in June earned approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Gardasil, its new vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV). Suffice it to say that Merck stands to earn millions, if not billions, if its efforts to require the vaccination of female children are successful nationally.

There are two specific points here; first, this virus is transmitted by sexual activity, so why not require the vaccination for young boys too? (Just think how popular that would be with the electorate). Or better yet, why not vaccinate just boys and leave the little girls alone? If the contentions about this vaccine are correct, these male devils, eventually fueled by Viagra (does Merck have an erectile dysfunction drug?), will have a heck of a lot more sexual partners than the little girls over the course of a lifetime. As they sow their wild oats, they will also convey the virus to every sexual contact they make unless they have been vaccinated. Thousands of young women died or were maimed by blood clotting from the side effects of birth control pills and intrauterine devices, so why not let little boys take the inevitable risks of being exposed to another pharmaceutical product this time? (Author's note; I am not a 'manophobe' as I have four wonderful grandsons in addition to four wonderful granddaughters. I am just trying to make a point here).

Second, what level of risk to the general population is required to trigger, absent the obvious profit motive of Merck in contributing financially to politicians, governmental action to protect the electorate? It is said that nearly 7000 women a year will develop cervical cancer as a result of the transmission of this virus. Let's talk about Texas inasmuch as it is the first state to mandate the use of the vaccine in young girls, not boys. As large as that state is, it is obvious that a figure substantially smaller than the total of 7000 will be "protected" from cancer. A generous estimate might be that less than 500 young Texas girls in the entire state are at annual risk if this vaccine is not administered to the entire young girl population. While there is no intent whatsoever to deman a young woman who has a diagnosis of cervical cancer, oftentimes the treatment is simple outpatient surgical ablation of cervical tissue. In short in many cases it is a minor procedure. But in fairness, the disease does have its victims and the figures suggest that it is important to diagnose and treat the disease early. The mortality rate for cervical cancer is stated to be:
2.7 white women per 100,000 in the US 1996-2000 (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute, 1975-2000)
5.9 African American women per 100,000 in the US 1996-2000 (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute, 1975-2000)
2.9 Asian American and Pacific Islander women per 100,000 in the US 1996-2000 (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute, 1975-2000)
2.0 American Indian and Alaska Native women per 100,000 in the US 1996-2000 (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute, 1975-2000)
3.7 Hispanic Latino women per 100,000 in the US 1996-2000 (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute, 1975-2000)

A brief purview of these statistics suggest that certain ethnic groups are at greater risk which carries with it the implication that these groups deserve better medical care than they are currently receiving. Perhaps the millions of dollars that Texas (and other states) are willing to spend to expose millions of young girls to the risks, known and unknown, of this vaccine (Yes Virginia, there are risks) would be better committed to the provision of a higher quality of medical care to these ethnic groups.

By way of comparison, Texas is the state with the second most drunk driving deaths of any state, having been edged out of first place by California in 2005. At least 1500 people each year since 1982 have died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in Texas. Do the math. That's more than 36,000 deaths! This is illustrative of a problem which is a national disgrace several degrees of magnitude greater than cervical cancer. All states have similar numbers proportional to the size of their respective populations. There is a drug called Antabuse which will make a person ill, nauseated, flushed, headache, etc. if alcohol is ingested while taking the drug. I propose putting Antabuse in the nation's drinking water. The stockholders of another pharmaceutical house, Wyeth, would love it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

How It Works

Our elected (and appointed) officials in Washington and in the various state offices of the country perform their functions in the midst of a plethora of offerings and influences which significantly impact their official actions to the ultimate detriment of the people they are chosen to represent. What follows is my recount of a significant event in which I was involved which has radically changed American tort law:

Barry Nace, a highly regarded lawyer, was the president of the American Trial Lawyers Associoation (ATLA) in the year in question (late 80s). Barry and I were heavily involved in many cases in which the drug Bendectin was contended to be the cause of limb defects in children born of mothers who ingested the drug during the critical period of limb development in the first trimester of pregnancy. In late spring of the year of his presidency, Barry called me and asked if I would participate in his place in a panel discussion at Yale Law School on the subject of science in the courtroom. Upon agreeing to do so, I was sent a large packet of materials which included, among others, a detailed essay by Peter Huber on his favorite subject, so-called 'junk science'. The schedule called for an hour long presentation by Mr. Huber on this topic and I was to be given five minutes to respond.

The audience was an interesting makeup; three hundred (300) federal judges brought to the Yale Conference Center by the Aetna Insurance Company, wined and dined, housed and flown by first class air. I paid my own way,stayed in an out-of-the way hotel room and was not invited to any of the three dinners and lunches sponsored by Aetna for the judges. At the conference itself, I was the only plaintiff's attorney on the premises, the other speakers being law school professors and the like. Chief corporate counsel for Aetna began the proceedings by emphasizing to the august collection of attendees (with a wink and nod) that the mere fact that Aetna was the sponsor should not unduly influence them in the consideration of the various presentations.

Huber, a lawyer and subsequent author of the book, Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom, had as his thesis the contention that juries are typically manipulated with emotional arguments to aid the plaintiff's case and that the science used to present plaintiff's cases in diverse areas such as brain damage obstetrical cases and Bendectin was unscientific and not worthy of being presented. I had (barely) the time to make the point that in Bendectin cases, for example, the plaintiff's proof consisted of detailed scientific research from a plethora of discplines (microbiology, vertebrate embryology, pharmacology, epidemiology, etc.) and succinctly made the point (as was constantly reiterated in courtrooms throughout the country before and after this conference) that no one area of science had all the answers as to what causes human birth defects and that it was necessary to consider and integrate all areas of science when addressing the question.

The fallout of this conference, from that weekend forward, has seen the ARROGANT PRESUMPTION OF THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY that they know more about science in terms of its implications to human health than do scientists who have devoted their lives and careers to finding answers using the scientific method. Federal judges throughout the land began dismissing cases out of hand as based on "junk science" in a rapidly growing collection of laughingly ignorant decisions. As an example, the opinion of the fifth circuit court of appeals in Brock versus Merrell Dow set aside a substantial verdict oof miine on behalf of a little girl born without a hand, which included punitve damages, against Merrell Dow. The appellate court opinion stated that I needed to prove by epidemiology alone that it was scientifically certain that Bendectin causes birth defects. Conveniently overlooked, but considered by the jury as part of my trial proofs was the fact that epidemiology doesn't ask and answer questions like this. In other words, no single area of science can and should be relied upon to the exclusion of other areas of scientific discipline. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court in Daubert versus Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, a Bendectin case in which I co-authored an amicus brief on the subject of epidemiology, gave federal district court judges the role of being the "gatekeeper" for keeping out questionable scientific evidence and established a list of criteria that judges could use to make such a determination. Kind of like sending a high school kid to the grocery store with a shopping list and then claiming that the kid had the expertise to evaluate a French chef's culinary effort. What followed is that the phrase "junk science" has become firmly embedded in the lexicon of legal lore.

What has also followed has been the abrogation of common sense. Even the high school kid with the shopping list knows that if the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off for a while, brain damage will result. But a series of amateur scientists (judges) urged on by the insurance industry (let me see, is Aetna an insurance company?) require epidemiological evidence to prove that allowing a woman to progress in labor an extra hour or two in the presence of documented fetal distress so that the obstetrician can catch a couple of hours of sleep can damage the brain of the child.

It took me a long while to connect all the dots including observing the conduct of the current adminstration to understand how important of an issue this is, the influence of money on the acts of our officials. Quite simply put, this is how it works.

Crying Wolf: Bushian Policy

The front page of the New York Times reports today (February 10, 2007): "It took far too long, but a report by the Pentagon inspector general has finally confirmed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s do-it-yourself intelligence office cooked up a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda to help justify an unjustifiable war.

The report said the team headed by Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, developed “alternative” assessments of intelligence on Iraq that contradicted the intelligence community and drew conclusions 'that were not supported by the available intelligence.'"

Just across the same page is another article that reads (in part): "The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran. The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.

"In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq."

Testing my memory was it Peter and the Wolf in which the boy called 'wolf' so often that when the actual wolf appeared, the boy's cries went unheeded? The current administration has placed Americans between the proverbial rock and hard place in deciding who and what to believe anymore in matters of such great importance to the lives of our young American soldiers, not to mention the threat to the integrity of our country. Is this another phony conjured-up threat designed to set the stage for a Bushian (new term, I take full credit for its origin) attack on Iran?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


The Case for Impeachment

There I've finally said it, put it in writing, made up my mind that action needs to be taken. My silence to this point in time is quite definitely akin to the silence of Congress, and the majority of Americans on the run up (and the run down) to the Iraqi war. We are not used, it seems, to question the authority of the President (unless it involves decision making at the below the waist level). Our stupor on the acts of the current president is crying out to be lifted. The welfare, integrity and principles of our great nation are at stake and we are in the process of losing them one by one, en masse, at the hands of a petty little bully who, being born with a gold spoon in his mouth, swaggers around in his Texas pretentiousness and says things that are simply dumb, or at the very least, reflect a lack of true intelligence. For instance, "intelligent design" should be taught as an alternative to evolution in science classrooms. But I lose myself in the minutiae of relatively insignificant stuff and risk the appearance of being labeled a partisan. I don't want that with the points I need to make, because the stakes are too high. There is a veritable laundry list of greivable offenses this president has committed that rise to the level of impeachable conduct; warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, removal of federal prosecutors without cause, abuse of signing statements, rendering (the process of turning suspects over to countries known to use torture as a method of interrogation), to name but a few. Above all, the worst by far is the conduct that led to the Iraq war, i.e. lying to the American public on the rationale for placing soldiers in harm's way, the shifting justifications for war (the weapons of mass destruction replaced by the need to establish a democracy in the heart of the middle east with a couple of others which don't come right to mind scattered somewhere in between).

Bottom line: The president took an oath (on a Bible I might add) to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land when he assumed the office of the presidency. He has paid only lip service to that oath in many ways, some reflective of incompetency (Query; should incompetency be a basis for impeachment?) but others demonstrating a callous, wilful and wanton disregard for the principles upon which this country was founded, acts which suggest he was lying when he took the oath of office. Wake up America. this is a call for the impeachment of the president of the United States who has undertaken to dismantle our system of government.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Restraining Ourselves

I have entitled this piece 'Restraining Ourselves' because it seems that our actions, singly and collectively, tend toward curable self destruction. Perhaps it’s a function of my age, or my predilection for sophomoric idealism (at the tender age of 66), but I am caught up this morning with the remembrance of President Kennedy’s exhortation during his inaugural address more than forty years ago to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." We Americans, rich and poor, live in a good society. We’ve (all of us) have it pretty damned good. Anyone who has traveled abroad knows without serious dispute that all of us live a lot better than the rest of the world. A certain mentality has crept into our consciousness; nothing is ever quite good enough for us. We need more, we want more, and if we don’t have it, we feel threatened and victimized by the void that is created. We expect others to bail us out of our self-created predicaments or simply ignore the future consequences of our behavior. The net result is a psychopathological mechanism akin to denial resulting in real and serious harm to us and the rest of the world.

This tendency has as its core feature disregard for the future ramifications of present acts or omissions. Let me be more specific. Singly, we all face the battle of the bulge and the threat of chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, all of which can be ameliorated by undertaking certain activities; regular exercise, trans-fat free diets, limited or no alcohol intake, cessation of smoking, etc., you get the idea. Knowing all this, we stuff ourselves with pizza while watching hours and hours of TV in an immobile state where nary a calorie is expended. Some of us smoke or drink ourselves silly, or dead, whichever comes first. We use our credit cards as if money grows on trees and then submit to bankruptcy proceedings with the same lack of restraint that we demonstrate toward our physical bodies.

At the collective level (governmental) there are a couple of seemingly unrelated examples which point out the collective failure to look beyond the end of the day in terms of understanding and appreciating the consequences of actions and omissions. In a touching eulogy to the recently deceased Molly Ivins in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff quotes her pre Iraq invasion writing;
[Nov. 19, 2002]: "The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win?" and
[Jan. 16, 2003]: "I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side . . . . The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’ "
In other words, it is clear that the administration and the vast majority of us simply chose to ignore what might be the ramifications of invading Iraq. Bush’s landing on the carrier of a returning vessel carrying the message that the mission was accomplished makes him the poster child of this collective denial.

Similarly, it is clear from ample scientific evidence that our planet is at risk and that we have contributed to this risk in a substantial way. The available science underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable. John P. Holdren, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an energy and climate expert at Harvard University states, "Since 2001 there has been a torrent of new scientific evidence on the magnitude, human origins and growing impacts of the climatic changes that are underway. In overwhelming proportions, this evidence has been in the direction of showing faster change, more danger and greater confidence about the dominant role of fossil fuel burning and tropical deforestation in causing the changes that are being observed." He continues, "This new report should spur policymakers to get off the fence and put strong and effective policies in place to tackle greenhouse gas emissions." (New York Times, Jan 29, 2007)

In piecing these disparate thoughts together, the common thread is one of lack of restraint. What seems most obvious to me is that if one examines a potential future course of conduct, whether it be individual health, or dealing with a humanitarian crisis abroad, it seems logical that the decision maker should be asking himself or herself, what are the potential consequences of my behavior. If I am a citizen of the world, what are the consequences of my continuing to drive a gas guzzling SUV which, if continued unchecked, will have our descendants, some six or seven generations down the road, gasping for oxygen on our dying planet? What are the consequences of my daily decisions to sit and stare at the TV set munching on potato chips in lieu of physical exercise? What are the consequences of my willingness to let others carry the burden of correcting our society’s problems. What are the consequences of my willingness to remain silent when wrongs are being committed daily by those chosen to represent us? Can I remain silent in the face of actions by our government in direct contravention of the principles upon which this great nation was founded? What are the consequences?

Friday, February 2, 2007

Global Warming

This is the link to a newly released 20 pages summary of significant findings re global warming. www.ipcc.ch. "The new report powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable,” said John P. Holdren, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an energy and climate expert at Harvard University. “Since 2001 there has been a torrent of new scientific evidence on the magnitude, human origins and growing impacts of the climatic changes that are underway. In overwhelming proportions, this evidence has been in the direction of showing faster change, more danger and greater confidence about the dominant role of fossil fuel burning and tropical deforestation in causing the changes that are being observed.

“This new report should spur policymakers to get off the fence and put strong and effective policies in place to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.” New York Times, Feb. 2, 2007